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Reflections on war

Richard Leib writes about the war in Syria.
Posted on May 25, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 25, 2013 at 2:06 p.m.

Richard Leib

The day before Memorial Day may seem to be an awkward time to write an anti-war column. Or it might be a very good time to do so.

It seems proper that this holiday should not only honor those who paid the ultimate price for our well-being, but might also be an inspiration to avoid the horrors of war — especially when the cause is questionable.

The Syrian conflict appears to be that sort of questionable situation. Utopian hopes to save that nation do not seem supported by reality. Even if we were to send our blood and treasure to that battlefield, it would be impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Humanitarian reasons that seem so reasonable upon first glance fade upon examination. Life does not arrange its affairs neatly. In Syria there are many factions, each with its own leader. And the factions are often clashing with each other.

As horrible as the present regime is, there seems to be no evidence that it would be replaced by anything better. As Dexter Filkins wrote in The New Yorker, “The biggest argument against intervention is that no one can envision a good outcome.”

Some writers have written that achieving democracy would be reason enough for us to intervene. But what is democracy when one breaks it down?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Democracy is (a) government by the people: rule of the majority (b) a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

OK, it’s a good thing — or maybe sometimes it’s not. It depends. What appears wonderful in theory can be very different in practice. James Madison, the father of our Constitution, was worried about a “pure democracy,” as were many of our founding fathers.

Madison envisioned huge protests in “general assemblies.” He spoke of the inevitability of factions that were based on “the various and unequal distribution of property.” He was fearful that there would be intense disagreement and fighting over what the various factions thought was fair.

A short history lesson about the French Revolution would support his concerns dramatically. The new French “democracy” quickly deteriorated into a slaughter of innocents. Even some of the original heroes of the revolution were later executed by those who had once followed them.

Certainly the democracy that is envisioned in the Mideast is not the democracy that is envisioned by most Americans. In fact, the world that is arising following these uprisings appears to be increasingly anti-American.

Looking at Egypt is instructive. Once upon a time it was all about the birth of a new democratic Egypt. News reports were proclaiming the emerging of a new and free friend of America. It hasn’t turned out to be what our dreamers were dreaming.

I am not a libertarian isolationist. I am grateful that the U.S. has two peaceful neighbors and oceans on both sides. But the idea of “Fortress America,” an isolationist republic holding the entire planet at bay, is absurd.

Our military is the flesh and blood wall behind which we live in a safety that is the envy of most of the world. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who have died to give us that wall.

And yeah, it’s a day, too, to pray for peace.

Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.




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