Saturday, October 25, 2003

Den Beste on NK: redux

Get your daily dose here. Some choice quotes:

[re: "first-strike nuclear saturation bombing of NK"]

First off, I could never support such a thing, ethically speaking. I wanted to get that out of the way up front because the rest of this will discuss the practical consequences of such an attack.

Ignoring the entire question of ethics, the broad and long-term consequences of such an attack would be catastrophic for us. It would drastically change our relations with the rest of the world, for the worse. It is, for instance, one of the few things I can think of which would cause even our closest friends to turn against us. America would become an international pariah, a nation afflicted with the moral equivalent of leprosy.

There's a risk that it could lead to a larger nuclear war. The Cold War is over, but the missiles we built for that war still exist, and so do the ones in Russia and China. We can't ignore the possibility that one or the other might respond against us, deliberately or through operational mistake, setting off the nuclear armageddon we all hoped we'd never see. The chance is low but the consequences would be horrific.

But I think the worst consequence is that it would eventually destroy this nation, from within. America survives and prospers because for all our arguments with one another, deep down most of us are glad to be part of it and support what this nation stands for, and are proud of it. That is the bedrock on which the foundation of our governmental system stands.

Such an attack by us could shatter that commitment. It could convert collective pride into collective shame; collective support into collective opposition, not just to the administration which ordered the attack but to the system itself, and to the nation itself.

Before dismissing SDB as alarmist, please gaze long upon the phrase he uses: "The chance is LOW."

Elsewhere, SDB writes:

If we were to preemptively launch a saturation nuclear strike on NK without provocation, I think most Americans would see it as a terrible thing, a collective sin perhaps even worse than the Holocaust. But its effect on us would be greater than the effect of the Holocaust on Germans; we (most of us) would see it not as an anomalous event but as a demonstration that our system was horribly wrong, and that our belief in it was wrong, and our commitment to it was wrong, and that we collectively were responsible.

There's no close correlation between the facts of an event and the emotional impact it has on those involved. Emotional impact is more complex than that. Some people can be deeply traumatized by relatively mild things; others seem able to go through far worse with only minor effects. Any argument based on a rational comparison of the events of the Holocaust versus a hypothetical American saturation nuclear strike of NK, which tried to rationally argue that the Holocaust was worse, misses the entire point that this is not ultimately about facts, and that feelings aren't rationally derived from facts.

Then again, the concluding paragraph does sound rather alarmist:

So if we were to launch a preemptive saturation nuclear strike on NK without any significant provocation, then it would ultimately lead to the destruction of the United States of America as a nation, and as an idea, and as an ideal. I can think of nothing which would be worth such a high price.

I need to chew this essay over. It warrants some comment, and I'm not sure where I stand in relation to it quite yet.

No comments: