April 26, 2005


The Moral Complexity of War: A conversation with Max Hastings. (Interview by Donald A. Yerxa, March/April 2005, Books & Culture)

Can there be anything else to say about the collapse of the Third Reich—anything worth saying, that is? Sir Max Hastings, one of Great Britain's most respected military historians, convincingly shows that there is much more to the end of the Third Reich than speculations about mystery weapons and accounts of those murky final days in Hitler's Berlin bunker. Hastings' new book, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945 (Knopf), is an impressive and disturbing account of the last stage of the European war. This was nothing short of a cataclysm, and Hastings recounts some of the "extraordinary things that happened to ordinary people" on both fronts. What emerges is a picture of suffering, degradation, dignity, and profound moral complexity. [...]

What about the other side of this coin? What about those writers who are also unwilling to embrace moral complexities not because of celebratory sentiments, but because they want war to yield to purist moral standards?

I don't buy such arguments at all. Of course, no war is morally perfect. One of the worst diseases of our time is the notion that we must pursue moral absolutes. Most of life is about making very difficult marginal choices about morality. It is never going to be 100 percent, and that's why we should always exhibit some sympathy for our rulers when they make decisions about peace or war. I happen to be a critic of the Iraq business. There well might be a case to be made for using force against the North Koreans, Iranians, or someone else who threatens the peace of the world with weapons of mass destruction. What caused some of us to say before the Iraq war began that we were skeptical about going in was that we were fearful that it would compromise the case for using force in a better cause. So it is madness, I think, to say that nothing is worth the use of force. When civilized societies lose the strength of purpose to be prepared to use force for relatively good causes, we might as well all give up. We must have the confidence to make these decisions, but obviously every time we use force in a cause that is not very good, it weakens our ability to muster the will of our society to use force in a better cause. In the current situation, a lot of us are very worried about what the Iranians are doing with their nuclear capability. And we do feel pretty sore toward Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld because we feel they have made it harder to use force on something that looks as if it may really matter.

You rarely hear someone so directly accuse himself of making the better the enemy of the good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2005 10:29 AM

Mr. Hastings is merely confusing the moral complexity of war with his own moral confusion.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at April 26, 2005 10:35 AM

i think most people are now pretty aware that if we had gone into iran first, then that would have been wrong and iraq should have been first. childish gotcha games just don't work the same anymore, not least because of the msm running around constantly predicitng the sky will fall.

Posted by: cjm at April 26, 2005 12:16 PM

Yes, to him a "better" cause would have been Saddam continuing to keep the shredders churning and the mass graves filling.

Posted by: ray at April 26, 2005 8:04 PM

Excellent Barry.

Posted by: Genecis at April 26, 2005 9:17 PM
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