Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A War Weary People

In my recent readings, a quote from General Philip Sheridan in his memoirs has struck me as both appalling and relevant. Sheridan is describing the autumn campaigns of 1864 in which he, under the orders of President Lincoln and General Grant, was pursuing an extreme scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah Valley. In retrospect, he offered this as his justification:

Reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does the destruction of human life.

It nauseates me--and I use that term only because I cannot think of any stronger or more visceral image--just how true this continues to be. For nearly a decade, America has been at war, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. For ten years, a substantial amount of the population cried eagerly for more, even as the combined multinational body count (civilian and military) is estimated to have exceeded 200,000. In the past two years, the political rhetoric and the popular mood has undergone a profound shift toward withdrawal. The motive, as Sheridan's prescient quote indicates, is not disgust with the carnage, the wanton loss of human life. Our blood lust, God help us, has not been satisfied. No, instead the calls to finally end the mindless violence spring from the dire state of the American economy.

If poverty really is the herald of peace, I hope this recession never ends.

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