Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sobering Thoughts From Mark Helprin

The novelist (A Soldier of the Great War and, most recently,Freddy and Fredericka) and Claremont Institute Senior Fellow denounces Bush’s foreign policy record and fears the worst from Obama, in yesterday’s
Wall Street Journal

A sample:

The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war -- although not the war we have waged -- could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter....

The pity is that the war could have been successful and this equilibrium sustained had we struck immediately, preserving the link with September 11th; had we disciplined our objective to forcing upon regimes that nurture terrorism the choice of routing it out with their ruthless secret services or suffering the destruction of the means to power for which they live; had we husbanded our forces in the highly developed military areas of northern Saudi Arabia after deposing Saddam Hussein, where as a fleet in being they would suffer no casualties and remain at the ready to reach Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh in three days; and had we taken strong and effective measures for our domestic protection while striving to stay within constitutional limits and eloquently explaining the necessity -- as has always been the case in war -- for sometimes exceeding them. Today’s progressives apologize to the world for America’s treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.

Discussions - 12 Comments

"Today's progressives apologize to the world for America's treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed)."

The first part of that sentence is absurd on its face. To start with, there's a huge, problematic assumption being made here that those who have been tortured are terrorists. A large number of prisoners, from Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and the CIA black sites, have been held and released without charges by any American body. There's substantial evidence that some of them were tortured (although this is absolutely impossible for those who appear to take the position that if America does it, it isn't torture). For the most part, we'll probably never know if those who were held, tortured, and released (months to years later) were indeed terrorists before they were captured. Of those relative few who have actually been given some sort of trial to prove in some serious way that they were terrorists (as in people who plot to inflict damage upon civilian populations, a la 9/11), there are 9/11 victims' families who have themselves questioned the legitimacy of such show trials. It is a very simple task to find someone from the FBI, CIA, or US military who, having been involved in the various prisons and/or interrogations involved, will relay that this notion that many, most, or all of these prisoners are terrorists is a complete sham. As has been noted numerous times before, many of the prisoners were turned in for bounties by greedy or vengeful neighbors, looking to make some bucks, or in neighborhood sweeps that simply nabbed anyone unlucky enough to be there. It might make some feel that they're playing macho hardball in winning the War on Terror, but a situation that presumes guilt until innocence is proven leaves a lot to be desired on many fronts.

As for Helprin's parenthetical that "not a single one" of the "terrorists" has been executed thus far, if I may borrow a recent line from the Leader Who Shall Not Be Questioned at NLT, "So what?" See, it ought to be conclusively proven to a reasonable standard that any of these prisoners actually ARE terrorists before we get around to determining their fate. Waterboarding someone (or worse) until they "admit" they're a terrorist who was plotting to kill innocent Americans, this just doesn't cut it.

Further, I don't expect any manly neocons (largely keyboard commandos) to give a moment's consideration to any moral objection to executing these terrorists, but perhaps the strategic argument against it might be deemed appropriately prudent, if lacking in cigar-chomping machismo.

We are at war with EastAsia, We have always been at war with EastAsia. If you just view the world with Orwellian glasses then it becomes a hilarious dark comedy. The absurdity of saying that we needed more wars, we did not kill enough people and topple enough regimes. Where i am standing the only people who have ever benifited from terror are dictators, bankers and arms dealers. I love hate just as much as the next guy, but lets get it into the open. I want the savage, sweaty, rage were we all jump around like the apes in 2001 a space odessy. If only Oriely would grow a pair and just do a segment called two minutes hate every night. I am ready to throw my newspeek dictionary at the screen when they show some arab patsy saying things i don't understand with captions calling our democracy a sham.




Helprin is actually at least as good a novelist as Orwell, whose primary virtue was in his non-fiction. The sign of philosophic, political, and theological maturity is the ability to take death seriously. Progressives and moderns generally don't.

I'm glad someone is making this very public criticism now. I maintain a non-interventionist foreign policy is in the best interests of the nation; however, retaliating against an act of war--and foreign terrorists killing Americans is an act of war--is not only in our bests interests, but is necessary. And, when we respond, it should not be under the guise of wanting to spread democracy or liberate these nations. Our response should be a message that any government that enables or breeds terrorists that kill any American will be met with total disaster.

Tough to swallow, since we Americans tend to be so concerned with what is moral in war and what is not. However, our opponents don't play by any conventional rules of war and don't care about morals. They use children and women to sneak bombs around to kill people, and have themselves massacred countless men, women, and children-- many of whom did not even know some of the countries they came from existed. If we want to solve this problem, we need to show them that when they kill Americans, the consequences will be utterly devastating.

"The sign of philosophic, political, and theological maturity is the ability to take death seriously. Progressives and moderns generally don't."

Progressives don't take death seriously? So, when they protest all of the killing involved during the prosecution of an elective war that has not only failed to make Americans safer, but has actually increased the levels of hatred toward the US (and thus increased the numbers of potential terrorists), that is just treating death as no big deal? Is it progressives who refer to civilians killed by Americans in such a conflict as "collateral damage"? Or is that the terminology employed by those who take death ever so seriously?

Your assertion, Mr. Adams, is only that.

R.O.B. - You're making the dicey assertion that the US has struck back against the group who attacked us on 9/11, and that is, at best, only partially true. Al Qaeda is far from destroyed, and many of the Iraqis and Afghans who have perished thus far had no connection to either Al Qaeda or 9/11, no matter how strongly some may fantasize that to be the case.

You also assert that inflicting "total disaster" on "any government that enables or breeds terrorists" (this could include about any government, btw) might be "[t]ough to swallow, since we Americans tend to be so concerned with what is moral in war and what is not." Then I take it you're deeply concerned about those who have been tortured and died in American prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gitmo, and at the CIA black sites? Do the "we Americans" to whom you referred and who are "concerned with what is moral" include you? Or was that just a hollow assertion as well, mostly designed to make you feel righteous regardless of what the government actually does in your name?

Impossible to know who Helprin is talking in these broad sweeps. Whoever they are their number is small, contrary to what he seems to think. By the way, one wonders: is Helprin a "modern"? Is Ken Thomas? Have the last seven years (since 9/11) obliterated our capacity to make distinctions and destroyed our sense of proportion?

One detail that Helprin left out of his rant (apparently) advocating a grab-zap-and-bury approach to our current, non-comparable situation is this: 2 of the 8 Germans caught in that operation were spared death in exchange for their cooperation, and were sentenced (at a tribunal held in the US) to 30 years in prison, but served less than 6 before being sent back to Germany.

Frankly, THAT penalty (

I have not asserted we have struck back against those responsible for 9/11. I believe we tried to, but got distracted by the foolish nation-building effort in Iraq. We should have gone full-force into Afghanistan and completely eliminated the Taliban and al Qaeda, and not remove our troops until said groups were gone and the people understood what it means to kill an American. We should have left Iraq alone, unless they began harboring people responsible for killing Americans. Then we ought to have demanded that Hussein removes said terrorist elements, and if he did not then we ought to have removed him from power and destroyed the threats ourselves, and tell whoever would have replaced him that if they allowed terrorists to strike Americans from their nation, they would suffer the same fate as the attackers.

And, yes, that does include me. I do have moral qualms with killing of any sort. If there is a man who is starving, perhaps not through his own means, that comes after my family for food, I will not hesitate to shoot him. I'll feel bad about it, I'll question myself if it was a right thing to do, I'll worry about the moral consequences, but I'll also realize that it was necessary for self-preservation. We may not like what we have to do to those who threaten us, but that does not change the fact that we have to do something about it. So long as we feel bad about doing it, though, I'm not too worried about the "soul" of the country. It is when we start doing the "dirty work" and don't feel bad about it that we have a problem.

Steve Thomas-- I do not support proportion. All it does is help maintain some sort of status quo; it never changes the future. If we always use proportional responses, it's just a tug-of-war and we never eliminate the problem. We need some disproportional responses. As I said, those who kill Americans ought to realize that the consequences for such an action will be utterly devastating.

And to clarify further my foreign policy position, as I said, I'm non-interventionist. I think we ought to trade with whoever we want, and when someone is doing things we don't like we can use trade and economic and diplomatic means to change their mind. I think our military should only be used when done in retaliation*. And I think the military should be used for its purpose-- an army exists to destroy cities, not build them.

*I do think there are, of course, exceptions, and that Congress ought to decide what those exceptions are. When one nation is, without provocation, assaulting the sovereignty of another (Nazi Germany invading Poland, Iraq invading Kuwait), for example, I believe it merits a response should the Congress vote to go to war. Also, if something is totally within our power to fix, without it posing a threat to American lives or interests, then we perhaps ought to do something-- a peacekeeping mission in Eastern Europe or Africa, for example.

Craig Scanlon #5: One doesn't take death seriously without pondering the meaning and purpose of life. The progressive world-view seeks to eliminate the meaning of tragedy and hence diminish the significance of death. That is the progressive abuse of science. Death is not merely a biological phenomenon.

Ken Thomas: I suppose, what with this simply being a blog, that I should be pleased to have received any response at all from you regarding my previous comment. Yet I'm actually disappointed. You have merely explained your assertion with some wholesale character smears and wildly broad generalizations about your political enemies which read as though they've possibly been copped from the dustjacket of Ponnuru's last screed.

So, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're saying that progressives have not (or have not adequately) "ponder[ed] the meaning and purpose of life"?

And what exactly do you mean by the "progressive abuse of science"?

"One detail that Helprin left out of his rant (apparently) advocating a grab-zap-and-bury approach to our current, non-comparable situation is this: 2 of the 8 Germans caught in that operation were spared death in exchange for their cooperation, and were sentenced (at a tribunal held in the US) to 30 years in prison, but served less than 6 before being sent back to Germany.

"Frankly, THAT penalty (

Let me address a reasonable point you made, which I reprint above. You don't take the death penalty seriously, because you don't appreciate the tribunal's prudence in showing mercy to the collaborators. Denazification was an essential part of winning the peace (cf. Iraq), and the "rather light" penalty was a key part of that strategy.

The Progressive abuse of science takes various forms, among which are: the notion that the natural sciences are the model for all knowledge (positivism), the faith that more control of nature will inexorably lead to an improvement of the human condition, and the assumption that science can replace moral judgments.

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