by Dale Graham
Rush Limbaugh (program on July 26, 2010), while discussing his discontents with the rules of engagement that US military forces operate under in Afghanistan, made the following comment: “It used to be back in the days when we fought wars to win them that civilian deaths were the object.” One of the purposes of the Allied bombing of civilian centers in World War 2 was to put pressure on the Axis governments to cease hostilities. “We wanted the civilian population to demand that their government surrender. That’s how you win wars. The other guys surrender because they’re losing too much.”
“War is a terrible thing,” says Rush, and then cautions his audience not to take his remarks out of context.
What context is he talking about? Mr. Limbaugh wasn’t merely making an observation that modern wars have been characterized by a casual and too often calculated killing of civilians. No, he was making a prescriptive remark. You win wars by, among other things, killing as many of the enemy’s women and children and sick and old as you can. Then, when you’ve killed enough, your enemy will surrender. Sadly, Limbaugh is not alone in believing this.
“One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic” ~ Stalin
This well-known image illustrates in a pure form what Limbaugh is advocating. A soldier is killing an enemy woman and child. According Limbaugh this act will aid this soldier’s country in its quest for victory. According to Limbaugh, while this act is “a terrible” thing, it is a proper application of state power in time of war against an enemy.
Most people will recognize this action as an atrocity.
Rush Limbaugh’s understanding of war is fatuous. Why? We know, in fact, that the act of murder recorded in the above photograph did not help Germany win its war with the Soviet Union. The Germans killed between 23 and 25 million Soviet people, soldiers and civilians alike, but did not succeed in breaking their enemy’s will to resist. Actions like that recorded above only steeled the will to resist and exact revenge. As we know, the Soviet Union prevailed against Germany, grinding down the bulk of Germany’s military might and planting its flag atop the Reichstag, the symbol of German power.
The German bombing of London during the “Blitz” did not cause the British people to petition the British government to surrender to Hitler. On the contrary, British courage during this period is celebrated. While the bombing of Germany’s cities killed over 300,000 civilians and wounded over 780,000 this effort likewise failed to get the Germans “to demand that their government surrender” to the Allies. According to The United States Strategic Bombing Survey (European War):
The mental reaction of the German people to air attack is significant. Under ruthless Nazi control they showed surprising resistance to the terror and hardships of repeated air attack, to the destruction of their homes and belongings, and to the conditions under which they were reduced to live. Their morale, their belief in ultimate victory or satisfactory compromise, and their confidence in their leaders declined, but they continued to work efficiently as long as the physical means of war production remained. The power of a police state over its people cannot be under-estimated.
And while it is an article of faith among many, including Limbaugh, that Japan surrendered because of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, modern scholarship shows that other factors had more significance in producing this outcome than the killing of approximately 230,000 people (immediate and long-term effects, including 7 Allied POWs).
In sum, the instrumental argument that targeting civilians is a victory-enhancing policy is false. The mass slaughter of civilians does not achieve much except a pile of dead civilians, unless that is your goal.
While Limbaugh argues that he is a defender of freedom he seems not to notice that approving of the targeting of civilians in war is endorsing one of the tenets and consequences of the concept of Total War. If there was ever a totalitarian concept, it is the idea of total war. Here, every part of the enemy society is considered a legitimate target because everything in a society is a resource of the warring state. Every newborn child is a potential soldier or worker and therefore a valid target. Every woman of childbearing years is a potential source of such potential soldier/worker babies, and therefore a legitimate target. And so it goes throughout the whole of the society. To endorse the concept of total war is to adopt the Fascist mantra of “Everything within the State, nothing outside the State.” By viewing the opposing nation through this prism, whether valid or not, the logic of total war will see the movement to impose totalitarian measures on one’s own society to prosecute a war. Limbaugh’s argument for targeting civilians is, therefore, an implicit endorsement of totalitarian state power.
A common argument that could be offered in support of Limbaugh’s prescription is that “there are no rules” in war. One does what one must to survive. This argument looks upon moral concerns in war as foolish at best and fatal at worst. “War is a terrible thing,” says Limbaugh, but necessity should rule the day. The end (victory or survival) justifies the means. This is the code of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler. The image above illustrates where this principle leads. But then, if survival is the primary value and justifies anything for its attainment, why not just surrender straight off and spare yourself the risk of getting killed? If the Islamic jihadists want you to become a Moslem then is that too much a price to pay for survival? If anything is justified in surviving, then surely becoming a Moslem is an easy price to pay. But surrender is not what those who offer the argument that no act is out of bounds in war, have in mind. The unstated assumption is that they want to survive in a preferred condition or state or with a set of values intact: to survive as a Pole, as a Christian, as a free person. However, if by defending your values you abandon them in the process and adopt the evil means of your foe then what in fact are you defending?
Interestingly, three days after the program we’ve been discussing, Limbaugh discussed his dismay at the depravity of contemporary American culture. He explained that this was a result of a loss in a belief in God. Limbaugh says he believes in God. He believes in absolute values of right and wrong. He believes in the concept of universal morality. And, he also believes that targeting civilians in war is proper. Atrocity is an absolute good?
There are fundamental contradictions in the political and moral views among many Americans who describe themselves as “conservatives” and Limbaugh exemplifies them. Limbaugh asserts that he believes in human freedom, limited government, decency and eternal values of right and wrong. He is one of the Good Guys. The Bad Guys are opposed to what Limbaugh upholds. Yet, the contradiction can be seen in his endorsement of the targeting of civilians in war. The Just War doctrine, developed by St. Augustine, Erasmus, and others holds that the deliberate killing of non-combatants is impermissible, that Christians should observe limits in the application of deadly force, even in war. Limbaugh’s prescription is not within this tradition, but in the “tradition” of Total War. As I suggest above, Total War is a concept that is congruent with the concept of the Total State. Total War is a totalitarian concept, a concept that asserts the primacy of state power. “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Limbaugh has demonstrated, certainly since 9-11, that he is comfortable with the exercise of state power in some of its most malign forms: torture, the killing of enemy wounded, and, now, the slaughter of the unarmed. Limbaugh, I believe, loves militarism and the American warfare state more than he loves freedom. There is more Leninism than libertarianism in Limbaugh’s soul.
Look at the image above. Is this what we want America to be? Remember, the means color the ends.
August 12, 2010
Dale Graham [send him mail] is a software developer. Once upon a time he was an infantry officer.
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