November 28, 2004

The Legacy of the Long Peace

The peace movements of the last 150 years have been animated by "wishful thinking," which helps to explain their often self-destructive behavior. But .... it's not merely a wish for, but a lust for peace that's the root of this evil. -- Demosophia: Lust for Peace

It isn't always the case that a politician's promise is the birth of a lie. More often than not, it just turns out that way. It turns out that way not because, I hasten to add, the politician lied at the time of the promise, but because the promises of politicians are most often descriptions of a future that can never come to pass.

The promises of our politicians are but articulations of our own fantasies about the future and, since we know in our bones these things can never come to pass, we hear the promises as lies, but go with them anyway if they reflect our own childish wishes. In the political theater of our days, each side gets the audience to chant, "I do believe in fairies," that Tinkerbell might fly. And Tinkerbell does, while all agree not to notice the wires.

The big lie of the bitter season just past was unusual in that, at the bottom, it was a promise not about the future (although both camps insisted it was), but about the past. The big lie promised a return to the lost lands of September 10, 2001 when all was calm and secure. The big lie was "We'll keep you safe."

Neither side wanted to go too deeply into the "how" of this in very specific terms. But a nod is as good as a wink to a willfully blind electorate, and we all knew "how" our candidate of choice would handle things.

Bush would continue the war and expand it, while putting our enemies on notice that there was always worse waiting in the wings should anything "too unfortunate" happen to the homeland. He would engender respect through strength.

Kerry would wind the war down and place his bet on the kind of diplomacy and bribery that had failed in such a spectacular fashion on September 11. He would "regain respect" through apology, so that those Americans who valued summers in places like the French countryside could once again rent villas without having to parade around the village with an "I'm so sorry" placard hung about their necks.

In either case, the big promise and the big lie was "You'll be safe. Vote for us and we'll stop any more attacks on the homeland." The election did not end this lie from either side and we can expect the messages to continue to be placed before us for years to come.

On November 3, we each chose the party that seemed to us to represent our favorite fantasy future and cast our ballots. We went with Door Number 1. We nearly went for Door Number 2. It didn't matter. Both doors open into the same long tunnel, and the best we can really hope for is that the light at the end of said tunnel is not an approaching freight train.

We knew, deep in our bones, that it didn't matter because the promise made by both parties was, is, and will be a lie. It will remain a lie until we understand that we no longer live in the era of the Long Peace but in the time of the Long War. We will come to understand this on some terrible day in the months or years ahead when the next unstoppable and unavoidable attack occurs. Until then, we will be content to dream, and our leaders on the right and on the left will continue to assist us in the dream with the lie.

Those of us aged 60 or less have lived our entire lives in the Long Peace; that time beginning in late 1945 and continuing until late 2001, that saw no global conflicts that slaughtered millions and swept up whole nations into a state of total war.

Those 56 years were a respite and a refuge from the tragic nature of humanity as expressed by the decades that came before. The Long Peace in America meant that several generations could work on a new vision of humanity, one that was softer and more optimistic. It meant that vast institutions such as the media and academe could be populated with true believers in the perfectibility of man by man. It allowed an free economic system powered by peace to prosper to such an extent that it was able to crush a slave economic system without a nuclear confrontation. And with the collapse of the USSR, the full promise of the Long Peace blossomed as the shadow of nuclear annihilation faded.

But it did not, as we know today, fade away, but only withdrew into the caverns of the human soul for a moment to return now into the light and cast a darker and more sharply defined shadow on all those who live in the cities. Other disturbing possibilities lurk next to it, but the advent of a nuclear attack remains the most vivid since it will be the most dramatic evidence that no promise of the September 1oth world can be fulfilled.

The unfortunate legacy of the Long Peace is that many of our fellow citizens still believe peace can return through either the careful modulations of the policies of the present administration, or the continuing carping and insistence on the policies of the opposition. Both policies however are not the policies of an era of a world at war, but extensions of those of the Long Peace; both seek a middle-way of management rather than a path towards victory. Both seek, if not a status quo ante, a status quo of an endless series of days in which "no attack" is seen as the equal of "victory." It is not, but for the moment it seems to please many to believe it.

The election of 2004 turned, in the end, on the question, "Who can make you safe?" Both sides claimed the capability. Neither side had the power or the policy. Now one side has the power but not yet the policy. It will discover the policy, I am sure, just as I am sure we will all discover to it. All it will take will be a terrible day of human sacrifice.

While waiting for that day, you'll excuse me if I don't lust for another Long Peace for a long, long time.

Posted by Vanderleun at November 28, 2004 9:52 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.


Well, that "long peace" was also called the "Cold War" for a reason. And it got pretty hot every once in awhile. I do think it's at least possible that we can limit the consequences of the present war to similar numbers, if we play things right. I wouldn't be supporting our project in Iraq if I didn't believe that.

But I'm not lusting for peace, and I'm not willing to trade an unreasonable need to believe in peace now for the high probability of an internecine war later.

That said, it's not yet clear that this strategy of our Vanguard for Democracy cancelling their Vanguard for Islamo/Fascism will work. The way I see it we've decided to attempt to defuse the bomb, but that in itself is no guarantee of success, and the defusing process (or perhaps it's more accurate to call it the dewarring process) could take a long time.

As Natan Sharansky puts it: "It's better to have democracies that hate you, than fear regimes that love you." If they hate us, but they're reliably democratic, it'll be a reasonably soft landing.

The question for us ultimately will be: How do we move from a predominantly democratic world with a weakness for social democratic "third way" institutions, to a predominantly Lockean world that reveres individual sovereignty?

So, what is this Long War going to look like?

Posted by: Demosophist at November 28, 2004 4:56 PM

Good post, and about time too. Actually, this bothered me quite a bit during the campaign. We are at war, and I just can't see how safety can be promised during wartime. I would gladly give up safety in order to win the war.

Posted by: Jeff at November 28, 2004 7:53 PM