Tuesday, September 10, 2002

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NEWS FLASH: SONTAG'S WRONG!! Sullivan, Chatterbox, InstaPundit, and Tapped have all commented on Susan Sontag's op-ed, but none of them have pointed out an obvious flaw in Sontag's reasoning: her statement that: "Real wars are not metaphors. And real wars have a beginning and an end."

Actually, real wars usually aren't this tidy. Even between nation-states, wars don't necessarily have a natural end, and it takes a very long time for some of them to fade away. India and Pakistan have had three conventional wars in the past 50 years, the last war occurred after both of them acknowledged the possession of nuclear weapons. Legally, I believe we're still at war with North Korea. Historically, enduring rivals (France and Germany a century ago; France and England two centuries ago; Sparta and Athens 2500 years ago) have fought conflicts that make the War on Drugs seem as long as a Lewis-Tyson fight. And the vast majority of wars are fought between enduring rivals. Even Sontag acknowledges that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be unending. More conflicts resemble the intractable ones Sontag laments than her "real wars."

Is this cause for depression? Not necessarily. These type of intractable wars can have happy endings -- look at the Cold War. And, even though that conflict caused a dramatic expansion of government power, Aaron Friedberg and Walter Russell Mead have pointed out that the national character of the United States places unique constraints on such expansion. I'm glad there are people like InstaPundit who worry about this, but that worry should not lead to Sontag's doom and gloom.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan makes the same point in his Salon essay -- a day later. Advantage: Drezner! [Yes, but people read Sullivan --ed. Advantage: Sullivan! He takes on the entire essay, too.]

posted by Dan on 09.10.02 at 04:51 PM