Ragged Claws

Monday, January 23, 2006

My letter to the New York Times


In his article "Why Not a Strike on Iran ?," David Sanger outlines several strategic and political reasons why such an attack would be unwise. However, the piece is curious in that it seems to regard these abstract strategic concerns as determinative, implying that bombing another country carries no more moral weight than a move in a chess match. By discussing a possible attack in such antiseptic terms, Sanger manages to neatly circumvent consideration of the hundreds or thousands of Iranians who would die in U.S. strikes, the vast majority of whom would have no connection to any nuclear activities. It may be that in this age of preemptive war, raising the issue of civilian casualties will be seen as naïve or even gauche. Still, I doubt that the Times would regard the moral dimension as similarly irrelevant had a leading Iranian newspaper run an article entitled "Why Not a Strike on the U.S.?"


The chess analogy was an attempt to make the letter classier - the real comparison I wanted to make was to some kind of world domination video game, where the obliteration of thousands of imaginary people is only problematic if it triggers some kind of retaliation. The version in my head also had a lot more profanity directed against people who act as if a "realistic" approach to geopolitics demands that we ignore the real death and suffering which result from military action. I should say that this criticism may not apply to Sanger himself - he had limited space to express his ideas, and the article was titled by a copyeditor who needed to create something snappy and expressive using a small number of characters. Still, it's scary how rapidly the doctrine of preemptive war has been normalized. Had Sanger's piece run four years ago, it's hard to believe that it would have displayed such a blase attitude towards the murder of civilians for the sake of a dubious future benefit.