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The New, Principled Anti-Americanism

It's the last valid argument against war, it's the budding core of a new international coalition, and it's still wrong.

11:00 PM, Mar 16, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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For millennia, war has been ugly and brutal. Losers were often enslaved, pillaged, slaughtered, or worse. And not just during the Dark Ages, mind you. As recently as 60 years ago, wealthy, industrialized nations bayoneted babies, put people in ovens, and raped the citizenry. In 1942, for example, the Japanese massacred 250,000 Chinese in reprisal for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo. And this type of cruelty existed not just on the macro, policy level, but in the rank-and-file as well. In "The Pacific Campaign," Dan van der Vat quotes a Japanese soldier describing how a camp doctor at Guadalcanal vivisected two prisoners as part of an anatomy lesson for the officer corp.

Against this historical backdrop, consider the last three major actions taken by the United States: 3,500 Iraqi civilians were killed during the Gulf War, 500 in Kosovo, and 1,000 in Afghanistan.

For the impending war, the military is using brilliant guided munitions to spare both civilian lives and infrastructure. As the New York Times reports, "[The Pentagon] has designed an air campaign that tries to avoid destroying bridges, roads and other public works so that the country can be rebuilt quickly and peoples' daily lives are not completely disrupted. . . . It has even required planners to calculate whether bombs that drift too short or too long might hit civilian targets--and to readjust lines of attack if they do."

In addition to this caution, the Pentagon has intimated that a wave of relief workers will follow immediately behind the front-line troops, passing out food and blankets to Iraqis, providing medical care and fixing any vital infrastructure that does get damaged. And to top it all off, the Bush administration is hard at work on a Marshall Plan to rebuild Iraq before the first shot has even been fired.

Whatever you think about the morality of going to war, taken as a thing, the plan put forward by the United States is a civilizational advance on the order of magnitude of Hammurabi's codification of laws. No one has ever waged war the way America is preparing to wage it in Iraq. If this precedent becomes the human race's new standard for warfare, then it will be a happy day indeed.

Which is why the principled anti-Americans are wrong. A society that fights in this manner is not to be feared.

BUT EVEN IF you grant them their premise, by their own strategic lights, the principled anti-Americans are wrong to oppose the coming war. An ambitious America is much less fearsome than one which is wounded or insecure. Imagine that France wins the debate and the United States walks away from Iraq. Saddam is left intact, and those who would do America harm are emboldened. Imagine if, as Mansoor Ijaz has speculated could happen, a dirty bomb goes off in an American harbor. What if the next September 11 involves not just the destruction of three buildings, but a major U.S. city?

America might decide that action is necessary and that the niceties of war aren't. A very different precedent might be set. After all, an arrogant hyperpower is less dangerous than a scared hyperpower: The strong do what they can, while the weak do what they must.

So even if you are inclined to believe the worst about America, the world will still be better off once Saddam has been removed. At the end of the day, even the most principled anti-Americanism is wrong on Iraq.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.