Thursday, March 20, 2003

Democracy through death. Josh Marshall, who writes the Talking Points Memo weblog and who is normally the most sensible of centrists, has written a truly bizarre little commentary for the Hill.

Marshall argues that US plans to democratize Iraq are likely to go astray because we're not willing to kill enough Iraqis to effect the kind of culture shift that's needed. The devastation we wreaked upon Germany and Japan in World War II, he writes, was a necessary precondition for the subsequent democratic transformation of those societies.

He continues:

Violence, death and destruction on such a massive scale have a profound conditioning effect on the psyches of individuals. And the same applies to whole nations. Japan and Germany weren't just "defeated" or "occupied," they were crushed -- not just their armies, but their civilian populations too. This led to a sort of national humiliation and a transformative willingness to embrace defeat and change.

Mind you, Marshall isn't in favor of destroying Iraq's civilian population in order to save it. ("If everything goes according to plan, the loss of civilian life in Iraq will be minimal. Certainly, we all hope so.") He just thinks that, absent such destruction, it's going to be pretty much impossible to accomplish the White House's long-term goals.

Here's where I think Marshall is wrong. Japan and Germany were infected by virulent nationalism. Their countries were composed almost entirely of true believers, with tiny resistance movements. Can you imagine Japanese or German soldiers surrendering without firing a shot, as thousands of Iraqi soldiers did during the Gulf War, and as many are already doing or trying to do as the latest conflict gets under way?

Marshall compares the people of Iraq to the citizens of Japan and Germany. A more apt comparison might be to Germany's Jews. Iraqis don't need to be reconditioned; just saved.

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