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December 16, 2007

The New York Times and Its "Good Wars"

The Times last August:

How a 'Good War' in Afghanistan Went Bad

Today's editorial:

Unless the United States and Europe come up with a better strategy — and invest more money and troops — the “good war” will go irretrievably bad.

The obvious question: how can a war be good? But since this blog shuns the obvious like the plague, I shall ask instead: why the quotation marks? Note that the "good war" is going bad, not "bad." What's going on?

Shirley Temple ate candy on the good ship lollipop, not the "good ship" lollipop. Peter Beinart doesn't want your children to fight the "good fight." He wants them to fight the good fight. But let me not bore you with all that advanced linguistic theory.

Only bloodthirsty perverts can see goodness in war. So if the Times sees goodness in a war, it must credit that horrible thought to the Great Anonymous Pervert out there. That's the purpose of the quotation marks. In other words, the difference between a good war and a "good war" is this:

A good war is fuckin' good, whereas a "good war" is f*ckin' good.

That's the difference.

Written by Bernard Chazelle

Posted at December 16, 2007 09:49 PM

This is why I wish I'd kept up with my Chinese.

Posted by: StO at December 16, 2007 10:30 PM

"Nice" post, Bernard.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at December 16, 2007 10:55 PM

Well, WWII became known as the "the good war." (It's even the name of Studs Terkel's collection of WWII oral histories and of a PBS special.) So there is precedence for using the term "the good war" to refer to a popular war widely considered just and successful. I suspect The Times had this sort of thing in mind, even though it seems kind of awkward to me too.

Posted by: DB at December 16, 2007 11:46 PM

As long as WWII and Afghanistan are "good wars" then we know they really weren't, which is the case. (But they are profitable.)

The total estimated human loss of life caused by World War II was roughly 72 million people. The civilian toll was around 47 million, including 20 million deaths due to war related famine and disease. The military toll was about 25 million, including the deaths of about 5 million prisoners of war in captivity. The Allies lost about 61 million people, and the Axis lost 11 million.--Wikipedia

Abstract. What causes the documented high level of civilian casualties -- 3,000 - 3,400 civilian deaths -- in the U.S. air war upon Afghanistan? The explanation is the apparent willingness of U.S. military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 17, 2007 12:10 AM

wow, a war in afghanistan didn't turn out so hot, whodathunk

Posted by: hapa at December 17, 2007 01:13 AM

A "good war," by elite definition, is not necessarily one that achieves the economic and political goals of the elites prosecuting the war, but is one in which the propaganda goals fed to the domestic population remain largely accepted. Hence, WWII, Clinton's "humanitarian" bombings of the Balkans, and the occupation of Afghanistan remain, at least for the moment, "good wars."

The occupation of Iraq, on the other hand, even if it achieves the economic and political goals of its prosecutors, will never be considered a "good war," as the public justifications for it are tattered, worn, and can't be mended.

Posted by: Rojo at December 17, 2007 01:31 AM

The War of the Roses (1455-1485) was a good war. But then, it was fought for a great cause: feudalism. Feudalism worked.
If that ain't so, how come it's still working today? No longer Tudor or York, but Wal-Mart or Gap.
Carry on, vassals.

Posted by: donescobar at December 17, 2007 07:30 AM

Like, "whoa".

Posted by: at December 17, 2007 08:01 AM

One legitimate reason for calling it a good war was that the Taliban were arguably the worst government on the planet, keeping half the population in virtual slavery and with social policies like that, it's guaranteed you are going to have a very high mortality rate.

The "good war" was supposed to end that, and since the Taliban had harbored the people who caused 9/11, there probably wasn't a government on earth that wouldn't have gone into Afghanistan under the circumstances.

I was initially opposed to the war in Afghanistan because I thought it'd cause a mass famine. There was a good chance it would have, if the Taliban had held out through the winter. But their lines collapsed and when the people in Kabul were obviously joyful at their liberation (by the Northern Alliance, the same people who had partially destroyed Kabul in the 90's), I figured I was wrong. Who am I to argue with the people in Afghanistan? Plus Nicholas Kristof in the NYT was saying that now we could bring vaccination and women's rights to Afghanistan and it would become a much better place to live, with much higher life expectancies.

Then I read Jonathan Steele's piece in the Guardian in May or June 2002 about the number of famine deaths from the aid cutoff (around 20,000, he estimated) and Afghanistan hasn't turned out to be quite the paradise that was advertised, so it wasn't such a "good war" after all.. It wasn't a "good war", but I'd want to know what people in Afghanistan think before I'd say it was a completely bad war.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at December 17, 2007 09:13 AM

"OH Afghanistan--- what a world" Firesign Theatre, The Fighting Clowns 1979

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 17, 2007 12:05 PM