Who is right, and who is … perhaps also right.

There has been a lot of loose talk lately (which I won't link to, so you can't find out how well-written and persuasive it is, or on the other hand whether it exists at all) about how the anti-war faction has been proven wrong by events.

Now, first of all, events don't always prove advice wise or foolish, as it's always good to be lucky, but not good to rely on luck. That's a general statement, by the way, not necessarily specifically applicable to The War.

More important, this loose talk betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the anti-war movement. Not that I understand it all that well, but it seems to me (please correct me) that there are four different camps:

The pacifists: These are both the hard-core it-doesn't-matter-what-the-objective-is-or-if-we-achieve-it pacifists, and the the-only-practical-answer-in-the-long-run-is-love pacifists, neither of whom will be proved wrong by events, as they are simply passing a moral judgment. It's a basic principle, and as such not susceptible to concrete proof.

The Bush-haters: This group doesn't acknowledge Bush has any legitimacy to invade, based on a variety of aspects of Bush's history and the history of his group of advisors. Also, there are people in this group who feel very strongly about Bush's domestic policy; they attend anti-war rallies as part of a general protest against Bush. Some of this is rational, some is irrational, but it isn't going to be proved right or wrong by events in Iraq.

The Where's-the-Threatistas: These are only in favor of war to protect US national security, and didn't think that Iraq under the Baathists was a threat. They, for the most part, didn't believe that Iraq had any effective means of using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against Americans, either directly or through terrorist links (which many didn't really believe existed). They also, for the most part, felt that any possible threat was not imminent. If they have been proven wrong, I haven't noticed it.

The At-What-Costniks: These are the people who feel, on the whole, that an invasion of Iraq was a good idea, and that they support the right to intervene either because they saw an imminent threat or for humanitarian reasons, but felt that the cost, in dollars, blood, and diplomatic capital, was too great. Some of them estimated that cost higher than others, and some of them placed greater or lesser weight on the various aspects of that cost (I, for instance, am more worried about Global Repercussions than about the dollars, although I am sure going to be cranky when we "can't afford" bridges and libraries). For some of them, the main issue was the Butcher's Bill, and I think most of those expected it to be much higher (and are relieved to be mistaken). As for the rest, the accountants haven't really seen the Rebuilding Bill, and the Diplomacy Bill is never easy to tot up, but they both could be a lot less than I thought.

I break these down as if most people broke down their responses in logical terms; I am well aware they do not, on any and all sides of an issue. Most people who called themselves anti-war are in more than one of these groups; some are in more than one of the mutually contradictory ones. Also, very few people are going around saying "I was wrong about this"; so to the extent that the proof exists, it is not very persuasive. Perhaps it never is. But to say, in a lump, that the anti-war movement has been proven wrong, is to totally misunderstand the opposition to Bush's policy.

Thank you,

6 thoughts on “Who is right, and who is … perhaps also right.

  1. irilyth

    One way in which the anti-war movement may have been proven wrong is in dire predictions about how awful the war would be. So far, it seems to have been fairly non-awful, especially for a war. I don’t know if that’s what the people who say such things have in mind, and it’s not necessarily clear that those who tought it would be easy and non-awful were right or just lucky, but still. There were some who were saying that we’d be fighting ordinary Iraqis house-to-house for months if not years, and that pretty clearly didn’t happen.

  2. chaos

    so, i think those people fit pretty cleanly into category four, what ed calls the “at-what-costniks”. yes, if your only measure of the cost of the war was in terms of american lives lost in the invasion, and you made a dire prediction, you were probably wrong. but we still don’t know the financial or human costs of the reconstruction, and, unless you’ve been reading better news sources than i am, we still haven’t a clue about the eventual costs and benefits to the iraqis.

    granted, if you’re the opposition party, it’s very tempting to nitpick the specific strategies and policies of the majority party. the more specific predictions of doom you make, the more specific ways you’re likely to be wrong — that doesn’t necessarily mean that no actual doom has occurred.

  3. Vardibidian

    I suppose what I was getting at, in my muddled way, is that being wrong about how the war would go (predictively wrong, if you will) does not mean being wrong about support or opposition to the war unless that support or opposition was based on that prediction. For some it was, but for most it was not. I think.

  4. irilyth

    V, I’d agree: If I said “I oppose the war because it’s unjust; it’s going to go very badly”, and then it didn’t go badly at all, you could say that my prediction was wrong, and thus perhaps that I was wrong, but not necessarily that my opposition was wrong.

  5. david

    i think you left out the chomsky-ites, or the anti-imperialists, i guess. not necessarily specifically pacifist, anti-bush, unconvinced, or unthreatened, they (or “we” i guess since i fall more into this group than any other, including pacifist TYVM) weigh military activity on what those calling for ACTION stand to gain from it.

    at-what-cost is maybe a little bit of a rhetorical category. behind that could be questions of who will pay the bills, and who will collect the money, which is a different question and one that is apparently discredited or impermissible in a “post-communist” world.

    maybe what this means V is that your categories are oriented around possible responses to stated purposes for the invasion. where do people go if they believe the most publicly stated purposes are bullshit, but this is not related to who is currently holding office, or to rejection of armed intervention.

  6. Vardibidian


    You are absolutely right; that’s a fifth category, and may as well be called the Chomsky-ites. They, of course, will never be proved wrong by the success of military action. Most of these (whom I’ve talked to) are Bush-haters, some are pacifists, and most did not consider the Baathists a threat, and held the cost of war to be high as well, but the root of their dissent was, as you point out, based on the ultimate allocation of resources (a Marxian priority, but not a mistaken one, imao).


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