Progress in degeneracy

Mark Twain hoped that the supporters of the Spanish-American war would be horrified at the suffering that war inflicted on the Filipinos is was supposed to “liberate.” I wonder if that’s true of the supporters of the War in Iraq?

Kevin Drum links to a superb animated version of Mark Twain’s horrific “War Prayer.”

Twain’s point was that the Americans who prayed for victory in the Spanish-American War would have been horrified to learn what our “victory” in support of their “liberation” really meant to the Filipinos: that they wouldn’t really want to pray that the Almighty

… blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears.

Twain was probably right, in his day. But the Hearst newspapers, the Fox News of the time, made sure the voters never knew.

Here’s the problem, though. I doubt that Twain’s idea applies to contemporary political circumstances. We didn’t enter the Spanish-American war because we were scared of the Filipinos, or angry at them. But the War in Iraq is linked, in the minds of its supporters, with retaliation for 9/11:

George W. Bush:

These people attacked us.

Tom Friedman:

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? … Suck. On. This!”

Mark Steyn:

If you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em.

And, of course, Ann Coulter:

Raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences

In that context, and in the minds of the dead-enders who constitute the Bush Administration’s political base “blighting the hopes” of Muslims in general and Arabs specifically is a feature, not a bug. Their test of “anti-terrorist” seriousness is the willingness &#8212 even eagerness &#8212 to inflict torture.

As Lincoln said in a different context, “Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: