Peters: On History and War


Diamond Member
Nov 22, 2003

Back to the mainstream

The Age of Ideology still echoes in Latin America, but the great "isms" of the 19th and 20th centuries are essentially dead, unlikely to rise from the grave. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean we've entered a new era of peace: We've simply returned to the mainstream of history, to conflicts over religion and ethnicity.

As globalization paradoxically revived old identities of faith and tribe in traditional societies, such default allegiances became worth fighting for again. Men are once more killing to please an angry god or to avenge (real or imagined) ethnic wrongs.

The turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan today, and that which we are bound to face elsewhere tomorrow, is asymmetrical not only in military terms, but in the motivations that stoke the violence. We have ideas, ranging from the universal validity of individual freedom and the power of democracy, to equal rights for women. Our enemies have passions — the ecstatic intoxication of faith and the Darwinian bitterness of the tribe — that give them a ferocious strength of will.

Iraq has been a terrible disappointment to many who believed in the galvanizing power of our ideas. Instead, we unleashed the killing power of faiths struggling for supremacy and the savagery of ethnic strife. This is the warfare of the Old Testament, of the book of Joshua, an ineradicable pattern of human behavior. For our part, we try to fight with lawyers at our elbows.

Our two major political parties may have different views on Iraq, but what's deeply worrisome is their shared view of the world as amenable to the last century's solutions: Negotiations first and foremost, with limited war when negotiations fail. But our enemies are only interested in negotiations when they need to buy time, while our limited approach to warfare only limits our chance of success.


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