Is War Ever Worth It?
Hilzoy outlines an argument against military intervention that reads remarkably like an argument against war, period.* I commend the essay to you in its entirety; my excerpting of it below will necessarily remove much of its nuance.
Noting that war is, in fact, hell, and that when it seems easy, that’s generally due to some combination of very hard work, massive military superiority, and sheer blind luck, is an easy lesson to draw . . . is as good an example as any I can think of of why I think there’s something badly wrong with the writers of editorials and columns in the mainstream media.
Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.
And another was this: liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse?
Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse. [Emphases in original]
Indeed, with rare exceptions, it is almost always worse in the near term. Surely, life in the American colonies was worse during the War for Independence than under the very modest tyranny of George III; just as surely, the generations that followed are far better off for having won our independence. The French Revolution changed the course not only French but European history; it likely took three generations, though, before the French people were better off than under Louis XVI. The American Civil War sped the end of slavery but at the cost of more than half a million dead; was it worth it? World War II freed the world from fascism but at an incredible price.
Are the Iraqi people better off now than under Saddam? Doubtless, many of them are. At the same time, though, the streets of Baghdad are now undeniably more violent and less safe than ever before with no end in sight. Many would surely vote to turn the clock back if it could end the bloodshed, let alone bring back loved ones who have been murdered by terrorists. The hope is that a free, stable, democratic society will emerge from this mess and that the improved lives of generations to come will compensate for the short-term tragedy.
That such trade-offs are worthwhile apparently has less support than it once did. A new poll of Britons indicates that most would reject Ben Franklin’s maxim that, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Three out of four Brits would happily hand over their civil liberties in exchange for better security against terrorist attacks, according figures from pollsters ICM.
It is interesting to note that this is the same general public that rails against any attempts to make them drive more slowly, or with more care. This is in spite of the fact that in 2004, 671 pedestrians were killed
The ICM/Guardian-backed survey found that 73 per cent of Brits overall support a trade-off between liberty and security. Tory voters are even keener than average to do so, with 79 per cent of respond ants backing the idea. Labour voters and Lib Dems came in at 72 per cent and 70 per cent in favour, respectively.
Now, certainly, the nature of the “trade-off” matters. Still, it’s rather shocking that the descendants of those who withstood the Blitz with a stiff upper lip are now so ready to give up the fight.
*UPDATE: Hilzoy responds in the comments section, expanding on her views when war is and is not worth the costs.