The Faith-Based War

Yesterday, Jonah Goldberg wrote an article for the LA Times admitting four years too late that the Iraq War was a mistake. Of course, having rooted for it for a good part of his political life, he has to call it a “worthy mistake” and say “Congress was right to vote for the war given what was known — or what was believed to have been known — in 2003,” and on top of it he opposes getting out of Iraq now.

But even that non-opposition opposition is angering Dan Riehl. First, he says, “Unfortunately for Goldberg, that is something which simply cannot be true. No mistake is worthy if it results in the loss of 3,000 American lives. So, if the war were truly a mistake, it was a most unworthy one, at that.” That actually makes sense, although I’d say 650,000 mostly civilian Iraqi deaths – or even 30,000, if you really believe that figure – are a more important indicator of wrongness than 3,000 American military deaths.

But then he goes into an analogy with the Book of Jonah, and says,

Jonah Goldberg has lost his faith, not in God, but in what freedom can bring to a free Iraq and ultimately a more free Middle East. Nothing else is going to eventually lance the festering boil which is radical Islam.

Yes, I know it’s hard. I know more people will die. And I know it’s easy for me to say because I’m not one of them. But I also know how easy it is to lose faith when you set out upon a noble cause.

The Book of Jonah is a book that promotes blind obedience. God tells Jonah to preach to Ninveh. When Jonah tries to flee, God sets him up with a disaster that can only be stemmed if everyone involved, including innocent people completely unrelated to him, repents and prays to Yahweh (but not to other gods).

The overall moral of the story is that no matter what happens, you must always obey God. It’s never explained what the people of Ninveh did wrong; in most Old Testament books, God only punishes or requires penance for a specified reason, even if it’s as heinous as testing someone’s faith.

Riehl’s rhetoric about the Iraq War is the same. It doesn’t matter that it has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, or that it strengthens the terrorists, or that it promotes religious fundamentalism in the Middle East. When Bush says that the War is good for freedom, let no dog bark.

A few days ago, Santorum compared the Iraq War to Lord of the Rings, a long fictionalized apologia for authoritarianism, fanaticism, and faith over liberty, humanism, and reason. Now Riehl is comparing the USA’s destruction of a country to another book promoting blind hatred and fanaticism.

A few years ago, neoconservatives tried arguing from liberal principles: democracy, secularism, human rights. Since then, they’ve given up, starting to argue from faith and intolerance instead. People who don’t care about reality tend to change their rhetoric like that when the facts make it clear that they’re wrong.

8 Responses to The Faith-Based War

  1. SLC says:

    Goldbergs’ mother is a more interesting case. She was responsible for the Lewinsky affair and has also claimed to have had a sexual relationship with former president Harry Truman. Apparently, Jonah is a chip off the old block.

  2. MTraven says:

    I’ve heard Tolkien accused of harboring a sort of crypto-fascist esthetic before — semi-plausible I suppose, but reaching a bit. I’ve never heard someone assert that Sauron and Mordor represent “liberty, humanism, and reason”. That’s almost as weird as Santorum’s analogizing.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Sauron doesn’t represent liberty, of course. He represents nothing but Pure Evil. But the characters on the side of good who are presented as bad or insufficiently committed tend to have the sort of faith crises that everyone who’s reality-based does. Boromir doesn’t accept Aragorn’s authority; Denethor wants to cut and run in face of sure defeat; Saruman studies Sauron in order to know the enemy. In all three cases the heresy results in misery, but when you write fiction you can make sure the impossible happens and Aragorn and Gandalf will always turn out to be right.

  4. Delia says:

    Riehl’s fatal flaw: he is assuming that God really told Bush to invade Iraq. It wasn’t God; it was Dick Cheney, the mad neocons, and his own fevered imaginings. Then they all lied to canoodle the country into going along with them and never bothered to plan for contingies for after they arrived in Baghdad. None of this has anything to do with Jonah or the Almighty. Or anything to do with Tolkien’s tale, either, for that matter.

    These people are getting really desperate and looking for somebody else to blame for their mess before it gets worse.

  5. DAS says:

    I’ve never found the Book of Jonah to be pro-authoritarian at all (but you’ve got me thinking). I would think the intended readership of the book of Jonah would not need to have the sin of Ninevah pointed out to them — they’d figure Ninevah was a corrupt place, etc. And I always figured the “everyone prays to their gods” bit was actually a pro-religious tolerance message.

    And the whole point of the book is Jonah getting smacked down for wanting God to just destroy the city … Jonah actually comes off as a chickenhawk, don’t he?

  6. DAS says:

    a long fictionalized apologia for authoritarianism, fanaticism, and faith over liberty

    I’ve heard of this argument too, and it does seem rather convincing but for the context in which the book was developed: there are so many parallels in the book to the fight against fascism, that it seems rather odd to call the LoTR trilogy crypto-fascist.

  7. grendelkhan says:

    I can’t seem to find the best recasting of LOTR as a neocon fable that I remember, but you can see Osama as Sauron and GWB as Frodo. The one I was thinking of had Osama as Sauron, Saddam as Saruman, Bush as Aragorn, Blair as Theoden and Michael Moore as Grima Wormtongue, which tells you about how old the analogy was.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    there are so many parallels in the book to the fight against fascism, that it seems rather odd to call the LoTR trilogy crypto-fascist.

    The thing is, the analogy is not so much to the fight of liberty against fascism but to a general Crusade. In World War Two, it took the form of a fight against fascism, but as Huey Long noted, when fascism comes to America it’ll be called anti-fascism (the UK is similar to the US in that regard).

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