The Long War

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy asks a useful question regarding WW I,

An equally important question and one with considerable contemporary relevance is: why did the war last so long?

The answer is not simply historical, the reasons extend to all sorts of conflict. Why do we keep on fighting? He outlines three lessons:

First, and most obviously, it is much easier to get into a war than it is to get out of one. This is true not only of war, but our political conflicts (think partisanship) or even marital conflict. Once you’re in, the reasons all seem to line up to convince you to stay in.

Second, the long and bitter experience of World War I reminds that truth is the “first casualty” in war. Often it is not the “lie” but the bubble that prolongs the conflict. We lose sight of the impact of the conflict, sometimes because we are too removed (e.g. the turn to easy answers on immigration as in “just send them back.” As if.), and sometimes because of our own optimistic and finally self-referential self-talk. We opt for propaganda because it matches our political goals. This is the path that the philosopher Henry Frankfurt rightly labeled as bullshit.

Third, the tendency to demonize and dehumanize the enemy remains a central feature of modern warfare. And not just warfare, but in most conflict. This is an extension of the propaganda, instrumental use of communication. Demonization is the necessary component of the bubble, it misrepresents.

Thus, to get out of the long wars, interpersonally, politically, and certainly internationally, it takes a commitment to truth. And that invariably appears as the harder task. Harder, but ultimately the only path for whatever salvation we seek.

 

 

Blame the Culture War?

Think Christian points to a Capital Commentary from Michael Gerson, and asks, “How can Christians rise above political polarization? ”

The appropriate Gerson comment is this:

“(partisanship) turns near every political disagreement into a culture war debate, making social compromise far more difficult. “

That’s the issue, it would seem. How do you unwind the cultural war?

No matter how much Matthew Anderson wants to play it down, the point of the cultural war was to weight political decisions with values, such that the usual pragmatic concerns, those that split the difference, could not be acted on. This weighing of political discussion with values, where nominal decisions become freighted with (eternal) significance is the product out of any number of religious disputes. It is peculiarly the creature of American church conflict and its myriad of self-differentiating sects, and of American culture’s natural bent towards an individualism. So the same tactics, the same type of over-the-top invective so useful for (religious) product differentiation, becomes the stuff of the every political task.

But in one sense we are at the end of the cultural wars. The great clarification, the sorting in the Protestant church and in the political sphere, both sides have seized their appropriate ground. So as long as you keep going to the cultural war well, you end up with the same stalemate.

The stalemate is a trap. It’s very frustration, it’s deadlocking encourages participants to the path of power, to basically forcing the issue by might. For Christians that is a trap since it trades short term success for long term disability in the public sphere. (Win and the losers resent, lose and the winners discount your belief. Lose-lose either way).

Gerson gets the point that maybe we need to move sideways. Talk about Africa, say. As part of that, one must necessarily also die to self. We need a new vision of what it means to serve God in this world other than that conventionally political one which the cultural wars have brought us.