The perfect war, the perfect peace
Dr. Sanity has written here about our current desire for a perfect, error-free war. No, not our desire; our demand.
It often does seem as though the prosecution of this war is being held to an impossible standard, quite unlike any before in history. In some ways this is related to the progress we've made in technology; we've effectively reduced civilian casualties as compared to the bluntly massive killing instruments of WWII and even Vietnam, which caused a huge number of civilian deaths whether that was the aim or not.
The "smart bomb" saw its debut during the 1991 Gulf War, and bombs have only gotten smarter since. Now they're really, really smart; in some cases, they can actually vaporize a single person and leave those not too far away from him/her (but it's usually a "him") unharmed.
But the smart bombs of that Gulf War also gave us the vision of a future in which wars would be surgical and relatively "clean"--at least, as far as civilian casualties go, and even (or perhaps especially) for casualties in our armed forces--as compared to previous wars of the 20th century.
It's interesting that, as our desire and our ability to minimize civilian casualties increases, the enemy has become more and more wedded to exactly the opposite tactic: the deliberate murder, with malice aforethought, of civilians. And this is contemplated and executed not as unavoidable "collateral damage" in the pursuit of other targets, but as a purposeful strategy to strike terror into the heart of what they perceive to be our softened and excessively tender Western sensibilities. They realize that that is a very good way to reach us, perhaps the most economical and parsimonious of all.
What a paradox: our own desire to wage war that is more humane, and our incredible advances in war technology, have resulted in an enemy strategy aimed to counterbalance our advantages with exactly the opposite modus operandi. And in the meantime, our military planners are criticized for conducting a war that has any casualties at all, one which features the usual errors attendant in any war.
This demand for an unreasonable standard--the near-perfect execution of an inherently imperfect endeavor, war--seems to me to be linked to a similar desire for perfection in our everyday lives. It's easier than ever (although never quite easy) to leave a marriage if it doesn't fulfill our every need. We expect perfect health and extreme longevity as our birthright. And we try to arrange it so that our children never know want or fear (or that horror of horrors, a blow to their sacred self-esteem).
This is all part of an understandable impulse to better our lives. But alas; perfection is unattainable, in war or in peace. And its pursuit, although a worthy goal, can lead to unexpected consequences: a war that may end up bloodier than the one it aims to prevent, for example; or a child lacking the emotional strength to face the ordinary disappointments of life.
It's a conundrum. We don't want to go back to the days of more generalized suffering, when unhappy couples were yoked together, when people died in droves of diseases that are now easily prevented or cured, and when there were massive civilian bombings in wartime. But the law of unintended consequences sometimes seems determined to extract its full measure of payment nevertheless.