War Is No Time For Idealism

by John Hawkins | January 18, 2012 10:27 am

I received an email yesterday titled “Not In My Name” that read in part…

“…People all over the world want peace.

What I’d like to ask you is what is your agenda? I love the USA and all the liberties it provides me. I’d like to see it offered to other nations but I am not of the belief that we can force it upon them.

Surely, we have to address the despotism of someone like Saddam Hussein, but his anger is generated from perceived injustices. How do we empower other nations without the threat of war? Why can’t we do it from a loving space and know that communicating about the fact that we all have a loving Divine Spirit, in the voices of all of our prophets, will bring our nations together?

I’m a voice speaking out. Your agenda seems convoluted to me. Do we really want to escalate this war on terrorism?


That sounds lovely doesn’t it? Here we have “a voice speaking out” from a “loving space” about how “we all have a loving Divine Spirit.” Now if we can simply address Saddam’s “perceived injustices” we can “bring our nations together”. Then when that’s done, maybe she can “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and then she can “buy the world a Coke And keep it company,” la la la…

Now I’m trying not to be mean to this poor, deluded woman, but I’ve had about enough of this pie in the sky, “can’t we all just get along” idealism. If it were just this woman and say a few inexperienced high school kids who thought this way, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But unfortunately, this sort of thinking has become an epidemic in the West. Even Nobel Peace Prize winning ex-Presidents have been known to give in to this sort of witless fantasizing. Witness:¬†Jimmy Carter’s[1]:¬†latest intimation that the United States should destroy its nuclear arsenal in order to set an example for the rest of the world. I’m sure Kathleen and her ilk would probably loudly applaud Carter’s suggestion, but what happens after we get rid of our nuclear weapons? What if for example, China tells us they’re going to invade Taiwan and if we get in the way, say goodbye to our left coast? What do we do then, tell them about our “loving Divine Spirit?” Perhaps we could stand by, paralyzed like a deer in the headlights as Jimmy Carter did during the Iranian Hostage Crisis? Maybe we could suggest that China and Taiwan attend a conflict resolution class together?

That’s the problem with blind idealism. Its practitioners believe they’re taking the high road, but in reality, they’re curling into fetal position and refusing to walk down any road at all. Because if you’re not willing to suggest a position based on the world as it is, instead of the world as you’d like it to be, you have not contributed anything of use to the debate. Like Don Quixote jousting with windmills, idealists grapple with the issues of the day in circumstances divorced from reality. Almost 500 years ago, Machiavelli spoke of these sorts of people when he said,

“And many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for there is such a gap between how one lives and how one ought to live that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation: for a man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good.”

You’d think that in 500 years people would have learned to deal with reality instead of reacting as if the world they have “imagined for themselves” exists, but alas, it’s not so. Anti-Americanism largely springs from these sorts of idealistic imaginings. Instead of judging the United States by the actions of other nation that have been in our same preeminent position in the world, we’re judged against unobtainable standards that no nation has ever lived up to or ever will. The idealists act as if we live in some fantastical world where there is a clear-cut choice between good and evil at every turn. But in the real world, the choices are often between despotic, maniacal, strongmen who hate us and despotic, maniacal, strongmen who might be willing to work with us if the price is right. Just to help the dreamers among us get a handle on this concept, think of ‘Lord of the Rings’ with the Orcs trying to stick a sword in Gandalf’s gut and the hobbits trying to stick a knife in his back – and we’re Gandalf.

Speaking of running around in “rings”, pay attention to the number of people with their heads in the clouds who demand that we “ask permission from the UN” before defending our nation. This is despite the fact that the opinion of the United Nations is about as relevant as the opinion of the Easter Bunny on most matters. Any nation may defy the UN at will with no fear of consequences and many nations do. That’s because the UN is incapable of even forcing a Third World dictator to return a video to Blockbuster if he’s of a mind to do otherwise.

Of course, that sort of Hobbesian worldview grates on the nerves of idealists like fingers across a chalkboard. But the world is not some sort of benign zoo where nice men bring us meat when we’re hungry or a fairy tale featuring a friendly mouse to pull thorns out of our paws as needed. To the contrary, the world is a wild place where the law of the jungle prevails. International law, the UN, and the little rules diplomats agree to in air conditioned rooms while they nibble on lobster tails are all well and good, but only the specter of consequences, particularly the threat of violence, makes any agreement between nations feasible. The most silver-tongued diplomat is no match for a man who can put a 50,000 of your people out of work with a percentage point increase in a tariff or who can have a laser-guided smart bomb fired though your bedroom window with a mere phone call. That is the reality, whether people like Kathleen, or Jimmy Carter, or the rest of the idealists wish it to be so.

All of that being said, I am now ready to answer Kathleen’s question, “Do we really want to escalate this war on terrorism?” Yes Kathleen, we do. This may shock you, but I don’t care why they hate us, I don’t want to understand their position, and I’m not interested in negotiating with the people who want to kill us in hopes that we’ll make some sort of unprecedented breakthrough. Getting “Happy Ramadan fruit baskets” from Osama Bin Laden and his like isn’t in the cards. You don’t convince people who say they’re not going to stop fighting until all Americans “convert to Islam[2]” with a gentle reprimand or by asking them to “respect our boundaries.” More to the point, we won’t stop the terrorists and the regimes that support them with words, protest marches, international law, the UN, seminars, sit-ins, boycotts, finger-wagging, heartfelt pleas for justice, group hugs, or idealism. Instead, as David Warren said, “real progress’means putting bullets through the right foreheads.” Some people may not like that answer because it’s based on reality, but dealing in reality while discussing the ‘war on terrorism’ is a prerequisite to being a useful part of the debate.

  1. Jimmy Carter’s: http://abc.net.au/news/justin/weekly/newsnat-16nov2002-32.htm
  2. convert to Islam: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,70600,00.html

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