Limited war is stupid

Here in Left Blogistan lots of folks are upset at Shelby Steele for linking America's impending defeat in Iraq to white guilt. And, to be fair, most of what Steele has to say is transparently stupid and much of the rest of it is a transparent attempt to preemptively blame lefties for the consequences of neoconservative foreign policy. Still, there is a grain of truth in Steele's analysis. Namely, that war is a brutal affair and that a fighting force which shrinks from violence will do less well in battle than a force which uses all of the resources at its disposal.

All of which I mention by way of saying that when Billmon writes the following he's a little bit right and a little bit wrong:
His little dissertation isn't just a Hoover Institute seminar on criminal justice run amok. It's an ingenious, if muddled, attempt to push the old law-and-order buttons in order to justify a more directly genocidal approach to warfighting. Just as filling prisons with bad guys (or, if you're Charles Bronson, gunning them down in the street) is still the conservative answer to crime, massive firepower is still the conservative way to win a guerrilla war. |link|

Yes, Steele is arguing for 'a more directly genocidal approach to warfighting.' The thing is, that's about the only thing Steele has to say that's exactly right.

I'm reminded of the hand wringing that sometimes follows police shootings, where the complaint focuses on the number of bullets fired. My own view is that most police shootings are unjustified, but it still seems to me that emptying the magazine is a reasonable course of action once the shooting has begun. Partly this is just prudence. When a conflict has escalated that far, prudence dictates that the police should employ sufficient force to guarantee that the confict won't go any further. More importantly, it seems to me that the decision to fire a gun at someone should always be based on the assumption that the person you're shooting at is going to die. Anything less allows deadly force to be used without sufficient justification.

The great merit of Steel's genocidal proposals is that they lay bare the essential inhumanity of war. There's no benefit to pretending, as too many Americans seem inclined to do, that it's possible to fight a war without committing untold atrocities. On the contrary, maintaining the fiction that war can be less than excessively awful contributes to a political climate in which it is easier to choose war than to live with the compromises of peace.

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