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Stinky Enterprises

by Barnabas
May 29, 2002

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Stinky Enterprises_Barnabas- The news itself has not been especially funny this week, but as always some of the news reports have been. My pick is the announcement by the Bush administration, as reported by The Washington Post, that the United States is going to delay the invasion of Iraq for at least a year, if not indefinitely.

There is nothing funny about invasions, whether imminent or delayed, but there is something odd about telling your enemy when you are going to attack. The announcement aroused the fantasy of a telephone call from the President to Saddam Hussein: “ I wanted you to know that we plan to invade your country, subject your nation to humiliation and unbelievable suffering, and to kill you if possible. Would a year from this July be convenient for you?... You’ll be ready for us? Great.”

If you are going to attack without a declaration of war — which has been the custom of the United States since 1950 — why not keep the element of surprise, at least as a polite fiction? Besides, the amassing of 200,000 troops is pretty difficult to hide, and would give adequate warning to Saddam that We Mean Business. A year’s public notice seems excessive.

The announcement signals quite a change since George the First was President. When a reporter asked him whether he was planning any covert operations, George the First hid his amazement at such a puerile question and said evenly, “Well, if I were planning any covert actions, I wouldn’t tell you now, would I?”

Espionage and war are the work of honorable and brave men and women, but that doesn’t keep them from being stinky enterprises made necessary by even stinkier situations. So if we must engage in them it’s a lot better to succeed than to fail. (Unless the stars in their courses are fighting against you, but that’s another story. More than one story, in fact - in The Iliad and the Book of Judges, to name two sources.)

Doing well at war entails deceiving your enemies and ganging up on them. No general or admiral in his right mind ever wanted a fair fight. Contrast this ethic with its ordinary meaning of fair play, straight dealing, and regard for your neighbor, and you realize the degree to which war turns ethics upside down. As philosopher Austin Farrer said, “Nothing is too bad to be true in war” One of the field commanders in the Gulf War, not a philosopher, was even more blunt: “There is no nice way to kill people.”

So Barnabas, with his take on absurd or ethical implications in the news, is not on his usual turf. If the announcement is true and our leaders really are communicating our intentions to the enemy, they are violating the principles of war. If the announcement is false, they are lying to their own side, you and me — which leads to the question of what exactly it is we are fighting for.

Maybe absurd is all we’ve got.

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