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Wednesday, October 3, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Michael Kelly / Syndicated columnist

Few pacifists would accept logical outcome of their stance

Last week, I argued that those Americans who preached pacifism in response to the attacks of Sept. 11 were (borrowing from George Orwell) objectively pro-terrorist, objectively in favor of letting the masters of this attack escape to live and to commit more mass murders of Americans.

This upset some people. One Pennsylvania man issued what in pacifist circles must constitute a violent threat: "You may expect a series of letters from me and other folks in this regard, until such time as you deem it appropriate to issue a complete retraction of, and unqualified apology for, your comments." Please, not the dread Series of Letters.

Let me see if I may cause further upset. Two propositions: The first is that much of what is passing for pacifism in this instance is not pacifism at all but only the latest tedious manifestation of a well-known pre-existing condition — the largely reactionary, largely incoherent, largely silly muddle of anti-American, anti-corporatist, anti-globalist sentiments that passes for the politics of the left these days. The second is that, again in this instance, the anti-war sentiment (to employ a term that encompasses both genuine pacifism and an opposition to war rooted in America-hatred) is intellectually dishonest, elitist and hypocritical.

That the anti-war sentiment is in general only a manifestation of the larger anomie of the reactionary left is clear. The first large anti-war demonstration was held last weekend in Washington and the most obvious fact about it was that this protest against war was planned before there was ever any thought of war. It had been intended as just another in the series of protests against globalism that have been serving as a sort of kvetch basin for all sorts of unhappy people who like to yell about the awfulness of "Amerika" or international corporations or rich people or people who drive large cars or drug companies that test their products on bunny rabbits or life its own unfair self.

When the terrorists murdered more than 6,000 people and the president said that America was going to do something commensurate about this, the organizers of the Washington protest realized they had found a fresh complaint and a fresh cause. They thought up a few new instantly tired slogans ("Resist Racist War") and printed up a few new posters and — presto-changeo — thus was born an anti-war movement. Or something.

As to the second proposition, Osama bin Laden has told us by word and action that he sees himself and his cohort as engaged in a total war against the United States and that this war is one not just of nations but of cultures: Holy Islam vs. a corrupt imperialist America. He has promised further attacks such as Sept. 11 unless the United States sues for peace under impossible terms, the abandonment of Israel being only one. In short, Osama bin Laden wishes to defeat the United States. So do others; for instance, Saddam Hussein.

Do the pacifists wish to live in a United States that has been defeated by Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein? Do they wish to live in a United States that has been defeated by any foreign force? Do they wish to live under an occupying power? Do they wish to live under, say, the laws of the Taliban or the Baath Party of Iraq?

These questions, you may say, rest on an absurd premise: Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein cannot ever hope to defeat and occupy the United States. Yes, but that is true only because the United States maintains and employs an armed force sufficient to defeat those who would defeat it. If the United States did as the pacifists wish — if it eschewed war even when attacked — it would, at some point, be conquered by a foreign regime. What stops this from happening is that the government and generally the people of the United States do not heed the wishes of the pacifists.

The anti-warriors must know that their position is a luxury made affordable only by the sure bet that no one in authority will ever accede to their position. The marchers and shouters and flag-burners in Washington pretended to the argument that war should not be waged. What they really mean is that war should not be waged by them. It should be waged by other mothers' sons and daughters.

How many pacifists would be willing to accept the logical outcome of their creed of nonviolence even in face of attack — life as a conquered people? Not many, I would think. How many want the (mostly lower-class) men and women of the United States armed forces to continue to fight so that they may enjoy the luxury of preaching against fighting? Nearly all, I would think.

Liars. Frauds. Hypocrites. Strong letters, no doubt, to follow.

Michael Kelly's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. The Washington Post Writers Group can be contacted via e-mail at writersgrp@washpost.com.

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