Are you serious or frivolous?

October 12, 2006|By Thomas Sowell

With a war going on in Iraq and with its neighbor Iran moving steadily toward a nuclear bomb that could change the course of world history in the hands of international terrorists, the question for this year's elections is not whether you are or your candidate is a Democrat or a Republican but whether you are serious or frivolous.

That question also needs to be asked about the media. In these grim and foreboding times, our media have this year spent incredible amounts of time on a hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney, a bogus claim that the Bush administration revealed Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA "agent" - actually a desk job in Virginia - and are now going ballistic over a congressman who sent raunchy e-mails to congressional pages.

This is the frivolous media - and the biased media. Republican Mark Foley of Florida was wrong and is out on his ear. But Democrats in Congress and the White House have gone far beyond words with a page and an intern - and they did not resign. Bill Clinton's perjury, obstruction of justice and suborning of perjury by others were treated as if these were irrelevant, private matters.

Even when serious issues are addressed, they can be addressed seriously or frivolously. If you are content to see life-and-death issues of war and peace addressed with catchphrases such as "chicken hawk," or to see a coalition of nations around the world fighting terrorism referred to as "unilateral" U.S. action because France does not go along, then you are content with frivolity.

You may deserve whatever you get if you vote frivolously in this year's election. But surely the next generation, which has no vote, deserves better.

Weak-kneed members of both parties have been calling for a timetable to be announced for withdrawal from Iraq. No other war in thousands of years of history has ever had such a timetable announced to the enemy. Even if we intended to get out by a given date, there is not the slightest reason to tell the terrorists that. It is frivolous politics at its worst.

There has never been any reason to doubt that American troops will be removed from Iraq. They were removed after the first Persian Gulf war. Before that, they were removed from Grenada and from other Western Hemisphere countries throughout the 20th century. Millions of American troops were removed from Europe after World War II.

Why should there be the slightest doubt that they will be removed from Iraq? The only question is whether you can run a war on a timetable like a railroad and whether you need to announce your plans to your enemies.

All this rhetoric about a withdrawal timetable is based on trying to make political hay out of the fact that the Iraq war is unpopular. But all wars have been unpopular with Americans, as they should be.

Even World War II, won by "the Greatest Generation," was never popular, though the home front was united behind the troops a lot better than today.

The exuberant celebrations across this country when World War II ended showed that we weren't looking for more war or more conquests. We weren't even trying to hold on to all the territory we had conquered. There has probably never been a time in history when a military force in the millions was disbanded so quickly.

Even after the gulf war, with its quick success and low casualties, the biggest ovation that the President George H. W. Bush got when he addressed Congress afterward was when he announced that our troops would start coming home.

Those who discuss the current war in terms of frivolous talking points make a big deal out of the fact we have been in this war longer than in World War II. But if we are serious, we would know that it is not the duration of a war that is crucial. It is how many lives it costs.

More than twice as many Marines were killed taking one island in the Pacific during World War II than all the Americans killed in the four years of the Iraq war. More Americans were killed in one day during the Civil War.

If we are going to discuss war, the least we can do is be serious.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is

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