Pointing out bad arguments in opinion articles that appear in this newspaper is like shooting fish in a very small barrel. Nonetheless, I feel that the robust, rich, and thoroughly truth-based philosophical and practical tradition of pacifism does not deserve the type of straw man it got last week.
I would like to sum up the gist of the author’s argument against the anti-war movement. Here we go: Some guy says obviously false things about American actions in the Iraq war. Guy happens to be against the war in Iraq. Ergo, the anti-war position is weak, since it has to make up obviously false things to support its position.
I’m being charitable, actually. This was the biggest problem with the argument, but there were many more. At any rate, one guy in the student center does not an anti-war position make. Recklessly misrepresenting the anti-war position (as if there were only one) by claiming that an obviously misguided person accurately represents that position is bad logic and bad journalism. Certainly that one individual’s argument was bad, but there are plenty of other very good arguments, both against the war in Iraq and against war generally.
Robert Holmes makes a good argument in the latter category, and it can be found in our handy-dandy Ethic and Values textbook, right next to good arguments for why war could be a good idea. How convenient! A side-by-side comparison of some of the strongest arguments on both sides! For some good anti-Iraq-war arguments, perhaps the author (and the readers) could stop by any local bookstore. They aren’t hard to find.
Do I fault the author of last week’s article for making a terrible argument? Yes. Entirely. Just as much as I fault the protester in question for making false claims. A responsible journalist would have done actual research instead of calling up the Pentagon and asking them whether or not they’ve mishandled some aspect of the war, and then calling it good.
While the protester in the student center may have been wrong, asking the Pentagon whether they’ve done something wrong in the war is like asking a criminal whether they have committed a crime and simply accepting their word; it is a straightforwardly silly idea. The author should have sought information from multiple sources invested in knowing precisely what the war practices of the United States are.
I imagine neutral parties like the Red Cross or some other non-governmental organization whose very project is to monitor war practices would have been a good start.
Here’s the point. It’s very easy for someone with a preconceived conclusion to find another view to tear to pieces with emotionally charged writing and logical fallacies. It’s quite another to genuinely engage in a debate involving genuine ideas. Perhaps before this author chooses to write another article, he should reflect on the hypocrisy involved using these irresponsible tactics in an attempt to "expose" the "lies and rhetoric" of others.
David Self Newli