Wednesday, November 08, 2006

War as a choice of policy

One of the things I've really come to think in the last few weeks as we've suffered through those endless "people on the streets" interviews is that too many people--particularly the less-engaged--view war not as some sort of cataclysmic upheaval and not as the last resort in a bad situation, but simply as a policy choice.

"I'm for higher taxes, and I'd like us to find alternative sources of energy, and oh yes, I think that the war in Iraq is the right choice."


No no no no no.

War is something entierly different from normal policy. Choosing to go to war isn't the same as choosing to raise taxes or to spend more on this that or the other program or improving education or tweaking social security.

But the problem is that the brunt of war is now born not by everyone in the country, but simply by (generally) poorer and more disadvantaged people.

Think back to the Second World War (particularly in the countries that were there from the outset). There was a draft, and the percentage of the population that fought was dramatic (by way of example, in the First World War, almost a million were moblized in Canada out of a population of 8 million.) Food was rationed. Taxes were raised.

i.e. Normal life didn't go on.

But now--what sacrifices are being asked of anyone, other than that tiny percentage of the population who served? NONE. We still get our taxes cut. We still get our cheap gas. Our waistlines are still expanding.

And so people view it as an abstract policy choice. Most policy choices don't have direct and meaningful impact on our lives when they're taken--the environment, social security, education, healthcare--they're all things that eventually we'll have some awareness of change.

But if we were all in the war together, it would be different. It would be a sudden, meaningful change to our lifes.

Until we can get people to realize that their policy choices ("I'm for the war in Iraq") mean that people are going to die, they'll simply treat it as a glib policy matter rather than what it is: a titanic, destructive cataclysm that brings overwhelming misery and suffering on a vast scale.

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