In the movie Quiz Show, which is about the quiz show scandals of the 1950s (and a wonderful period piece), there is a scene at the end of the movie which has always stuck with me. Van Doren, the disgraced upper-class professor who cheated, gave a teary mea culpa in front of Congress. The gallery applauded, but was shocked into silence when a congressman called him out, and noted that he doesn’t get credit for admitting his wrong doing–he still did the wrong thing.
You can, however, always get more psychological. I was 21 years old and kind of a jerk. Being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite. My observation is that this kind of fake-dissident posture is one that always has a lot of appeal to people. The point is that this wasn’t really a series of erroneous judgments about Iraq, it was a series of erroneous judgments about how to think about the world and who deserves to be taken seriously and under which circumstances.
To his credit, Yglesias has recognized his mistake, and hasn’t engaged in the reflexive “Punch a Dirty Hippie in the Face” response. He also hasn’t gone into the silly mode of “Ever since 9/11, I’ve been against the New Deal.”
But what I want to know is why he felt, if he truly believed that the Iraq War was just, that he shouldn’t go to his nearest recruiting station and join up. I don’t mean this in a “fuck you” sort of way, but I remember, around that time, many people who were definitely of fighting age (and had no discernible impairments) who supported the war…as long as someone else fought it.
When I asked myself if supported the war, one of the criteria I used was the simple question: would I be willing to volunteer to serve in this war?* And I wasn’t just thinking of the obvious issues of death or serious injury, but also would I be willing to kill for this? Would I be willing to spend time away from friends and family? To put my life on hold, possibly for years? Would I want to live in a combat zone for an extended period of time? Were all of those things worth the supposed benefits?
Yglesias probably doesn’t read my shitty blog, but I would be interested in hearing how one concludes that we should fight a war when you, yourself, are unwilling to serve.
*Being drafted raises a whole different set of issues.