The nobility of a war all depends on who says it
In a recent column in the online publication Common Dreams, a colleague of mine chastised the media for not calling attention to the lack of military participation among the families of Iraq hawks.
When confronted with a public figure who is decidedly vocal in expressing their support for the war, particularly if they characterize it as a noble war, it is suggested that reporters ask “Who in your family is fighting this war?”
As one might imagine, this has caused quite the commotion in the blogosphere. Rank-and-file conservatives are stumbling all over themselves to expose an apparent fault of logic in the proposition that one can connect the “nobility” of a given war to the sacrifice (or the lack thereof) of those who bang the drum for that war.
The only convincing defense the conservatives have put forth is that one need not participate in a cause in order to recognize its character as noble. On his website, saintknowitall.blogspot.com, blogger Saywhat correctly observes that “(o)ne can see the ‘noble cause’ of the Salvation Army without one of your family members belonging to that organization. One can see that fighting the Nazis was a ‘noble cause’ without having a family member who fought during WWII.
One can see the ‘noble cause’ of finding a cure for cancer without having a family member who is dieing [sic] of the disease. One can see the ‘noble cause’ of stopping genocide in the Sudan without having a family member directly involved.” In other words, if a cause is “noble,” it remains such independent of the qualities of any individual who chooses to characterize it that way.
But who determines the nobility of a cause in the first place? As we see, it’s not a matter of personal participation that confers the authority necessary to credibly characterize a cause. Is there a quality that does?
It is quite reasonable for us to ask of a hawk, “Who in your family is fighting this war?” The answer we get in response, however, contributes nothing to our inquiry about the character of the war, i.e. whether or not it is noble. It does, however, give us some insight into the character of the hawk to whom the question is put.
The relevance becomes much clearer as we increase the size of our sample, directing the question not to one but all the officials and commentators who stridently proclaim their support for the war. The overwhelming majority of these “patriots” have absolutely no family fighting in the current Iraq war according to sourcewatch.org. Even more revealing is that given the opportunity to serve their country in a time of war, again a vast majority demurred, utilizing, I might add, a wide variety of artful approaches
As our blogger illustrated earlier, it is quite possible for one to credibly characterize a cause sans personal family participation. However, it is quite disconcerting to recognize the complete lack of personal sacrifice among the families of those who bang the drum the loudest (and question the patriotism of those who protest the war). If a whole group of people is unwilling to sacrifice themselves or a family member for a cause they vociferously claim to be just, then we would be remiss were we not to carefully consider their character, first individually and then as a group, in an effort to determine the validity of their claim.
This leads us to the connection between personal sacrifice and the character of the war. The war may or may not be noble regardless of a single individual’s nobility. But the answer to the question “Who in your family is fighting this war?” helps us determine whether that individual is noble or, more importantly, whether he or she understands what it is to be noble.
Once the “hawks,” as a group, have responded to the question, we can then ask ourselves, “Are those who send or support the sending of our troops to war noble people?” If they are not, how can they possibly know if a war is noble?
Tim Ackerly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org