September 10, 2002

I’M SURPRISED TO SAY that this piece by Susan Sontag isn’t entirely stupid. In fact, it could be read as expressing the same kind of concern about a “war on” (as in the “war on drugs” or the “war on poverty”) versus a “war” (as in “World War II”) that I’ve expressed before. Excerpts:

Wars on such enemies as cancer, poverty and drugs are understood to be endless wars. There will always be cancer, poverty and drugs. And there will always be despicable terrorists, mass murderers like those who perpetrated the attack a year ago tomorrow — as well as freedom fighters (like the French Resistance and the African National Congress) who were once called terrorists by those they opposed but were relabeled by history.

Okay, she’s covering her ass by mentioning the ANC and the Resistance to show she’s still okay with The Revolution, but she’s making clear that the Ladenites are despicable thugs, rather than understandable symptoms of American evil. And then she adds:

I do not question that we have a vicious, abhorrent enemy that opposes most of what I cherish — including democracy, pluralism, secularism, the equality of the sexes, beardless men, dancing (all kinds), skimpy clothing and, well, fun. And not for a moment do I question the obligation of the American government to protect the lives of its citizens. What I do question is the pseudo-declaration of pseudo-war. These necessary actions should not be called a “war.” There are no endless wars; but there are declarations of the extension of power by a state that believes it cannot be challenged.

America has every right to hunt down the perpetrators of these crimes and their accomplices. But this determination is not necessarily a war. Limited, focused military engagements do not translate into “wartime” at home. There are better ways to check America’s enemies, less destructive of constitutional rights and of international agreements that serve the public interest of all, than continuing to invoke the dangerous, lobotomizing notion of endless war.

Now, I agree with this entirely — though my definition of “perpetrators” and “limited, focused military engagements” is probably a lot broader than hers. But this is actually quite a statement coming from Sontag, and though people are criticizing other, dumber observations in her piece, it’s worth noting just how far someone who was identified as part of the Chomskyite Left last fall has come.

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg says I’m wrong.

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