Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Winning the War by being better

Gene Veith writes some interesting thoughts in this weeks World . His thesis is that the war on terror is won not so much by bombs and bullets but by ideas and ideals:

The Washington Post's Phillip H. Gordon recognizes that the conflict with radical Islam is an ideological war, like the struggle of the free, capitalist West against communism. He points out, however, that victory in the Cold War came not from armed warfare but from winning the ideological argument. He says that instead of using military might against Islamists, we should be demonstrating to the Muslim world the superiority of Western ideas
Veith goes on in the article to question whether America has the stomach to enter into an ideological war ... have we become such a pluralist society that we have nothing to offer but a meek shrug to those who call us the great Satan?

Interestingly, The Economist this week features an analysis of eroding civil liberties during the current war on terror. They too use the Cold War analogy to the War on Terror -- but apply it in a different, though not contradictory, way (as in this quote):

A hot, total war like the second world war could not last for decades, so the curtailment of domestic liberties was short-lived. But because nobody knew whether the cold war would ever end (it lasted some 40 years), the democracies chose by and large not to let it change the sort of societies they wanted to be. This was a wise choice not only because of the freedom it bestowed on people in the West during those decades, but also because the West's freedoms became one of the most potent weapons in its struggle against its totalitarian foes.

If the war against terrorism is a war at all, it is like the cold war—one that will last for decades. Although a real threat exists, to let security trump liberty in every case would corrode the civilised world's sense of what it is and wants to be.

When liberals put the case for civil liberties, they sometimes claim that obnoxious measures do not help the fight against terrorism anyway. The Economist is liberal but disagrees. We accept that letting secret policemen spy on citizens, detain them without trial and use torture to extract information makes it easier to foil terrorist plots. To eschew such tools is to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind your back. But that—with one hand tied behind their back—is precisely how democracies ought to fight terrorism.

The point of both articles being this...there is much more at stake here than simply security from future terrorist attacks. What is at stake is what kind of society we ought to be. What is it that we stand for as a people.

Now please, don't think that I'm advocating an uncritical look at our society...we have our problems and our dysfunctions. Every society does. The social prophets out there who look upon pain and suffering need not think I'm telling them to pack their suitcases and head to Canada. We need self examination so we can be stronger.

But for Pete's sake, if we're to prevail against a growing tide of angry radicals, then we need to do more than beat our chests and say how great America is (or analyze our decline -- see this interesting and provocative discussion between Rod Dreher and Cullen Murphy).

We need to demonstrate the greatness of our society. This goes back to the principle of being builders (see also these posts) Where are the areas where individuals and private organizations can demonstrate truth, beauty, and goodness on such a scale that the rest of the world marvels. How can we build local institutions, customs, businesses, and neighborhoods that are so strong that the radicals will come and know that they haven't a chance? The parable for our age is World War Z (see my review of this great book).

So your thoughts... how do we as a society not succumb to the cynicism of despair, but rather build in hope?

Sola Gratia.... Sola Gratia