Andrew Sullivan’s Case Against War — and For War

February 6, 2015

Today is the last day of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish, a blog I’ve been reading steadily for a decade. “Biased and balanced” has been its tagline: he’s offered strong opinions, but he’s also carried the opinions of his detractors and critics. He’s stopping because he’s just worn out from the daily grind of blogging. I’ll miss him and what he’s assembled.

In these last days he’s been more ruminative, and this morning he offers some thoughts on The War: “That’s what changed me – and this blog. That’s what changed America. And that’s why Obama is president.”  Sullivan was an early and vigorous proponent of the invasion of Iraq. And then he changed his mind: he became a strong opponent of the endless war against terrorism.

The attack on the twin towers “showed me the depth of human evil in the dark recesses of al Qaeda and Zarqawi and now ISIS,” he notes. An observant Roman Catholic, Sullivan does believe in evil and the possibility of redemption, he has made clear over the years. Then he adds that the Iraq war “showed me that merely dramatically opposing this evil is not enough to stop it – and may even unwittingly embolden and strengthen it.”

That’s the beginning of a general case against war: the beginning of a case for pacifism. We all need to recognize the temptation to meet force with force. It’s not that pacifists aren’t tempted to use violence against violence. It’s rather that we have the next thought: that violence in response only begets more violence: does yet more damage. But Sullivan doesn’t go there as a general proposition.

“I should hasten to add that the war has not left me a pacifist,” Sullivan quickly adds.  “I still believe in the necessity of military force in confronting evil in the world that threatens us.” Sullivan doesn’t say why he hasn’t gone the full distance, and I wish he had, especially given how much his beliefs are grounded in Christianity. I imagine he simply sees no other way to stop the most monstrous violence.

Sullivan continues, “I am merely far, far more convinced than I used to be about war’s capacity to make things worse, its propensity to upend the precious legacy of security and gradual change from which all true progress is made.”

What would it take to convince Sullivan to become a pacifist? What would it take to convince anyone who has looked hard at the reality of war to become a pacifist. That’s thr question on my mind as Sullivan takes his leave.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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