In Newsweek, we read this disturbing account of an Army chaplain's prayer:
Then the battalion's chaplain asks the men to join him in a short prayer. "Lord, there are bad guys out there," he says, bowing his head. "Just help us kill 'em."
This, in short, seems to be the Bush Plan for World Peace. All we need to do is kill all the bad people.
Glenn Tinder discusses the origins and implications of such a moral scheme in his neat little book, Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions:
… It is often assumed today that affirming the goodness of humankind, if an error, is a generous and harmless error. Hence political discussions are often punctuated with complacent expressions of trust in human nature. But this trust can have paradoxical results. If people are fundamentally good, then how does there happen to be so much evil in human affairs? It is hard to avoid concluding that this must be because some people are exceptions to the general human norm. … It is apparent how sinister a line of thought this is, for the next step is deciding that to free the world of evil it is necessary only to eradicate the few who are the sources of evil. Through so natural a logic as this, a benign and generous judgment becomes murderous.
In both the war on Iraq and the vaguely defined war on terrorism, the Bush administration's goal seems to be exactly this: "to eradicate the few who are the sources of evil." They thus divide the world into two categories: the "bad guys out there," and everybody else.
These categories are fixed and finite. Thus in this scheme there are a set number of terrorists, and better to fight them on the streets of Baghdad than the streets of Baltimore, as President Bush likes to say. In this view, every enemy combatant killed in Iraq or Afghanistan reduces the total number of terrorists and "bad guys" in the world from X to X-1.
No need, then, to fret about "root causes." No need to worry about winning the "hearts and minds" of the rest of the world. Just kill the bad guys, then everybody else — these noble savages with their childlike inherent goodness — will sing us hosannas of grateful praise.
I do not pretend to have a grand master plan for nation-building in Iraq. I would suggest, however, that we begin remembering that the 25 million people who live there are, like us, human beings and neither devils nor angels.