Reading this interesting article in Forward about the potential consequences of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities (presuming we even know where they are) I am struck once again by the right's willingness to violate important taboos. (Some of you may not find this surprising considering their rather shocking public obsession with bestiality, but this goes beyond their usual bedroom hypocrisy.)
They talk a lot about the decline of western civilization and worry incessantly about gay marriage and changing gender roles, but they quite casually violate some of the most important taboos of the last half century or more. Big honking important taboos at that.
First, they declare that the taboo against wars of agression, formed in the blood of more than 70 million dead people in the 20th century's two world wars, is out. Not even a second glance at that taboo. They simply repackage it as "pre-emptive" war, changing the previous definition of troops gathering on the border to somebody some day might want to attack us so we must attack them first.
Then there's torture. This society used to teach its children that there is no excuse for torture. Indeed, until recently, people who torture were considered to be either evil or sick. We didn't make exceptions for "except when you suspect the person is a really bad person." We said torture is wrong. Now we have sent a message far and wide that torture is necessary and even good if the person who is committing it is doing it for the right reasons. Those right reasons are usually that we "know" that the victim has information but is refusing to tell us what it is. How we "know" this is never spelled out. All we know is that if the person is on our side they are "good" and the ones who are refusing to tell are "evil" and that should be good enough for anybody.
Finally, we seem to have crossed the rubicon with respect to nukes. We are openly discussing using them on television, much as otherwise decent people tossed around the idea of torture after 9/11. People like Joe Klein think it's not only ok for George W. Bush to say nukes are on the table --- but it's desirable becaue then people will think we are crazy and run like hell when we say boo. However, just as with torture, once you start talking about how it might be ok in certain circumstances, then you have begun to break down the taboo against it.
Much of our safety in the post-Hiroshima world has relied on the fact that nuclear war is too horrible to contemplate. It's not just the horror of the explosions themselves, it's the visions of radiation sickness and cancer and deformities and half lives of thousands of years. It's apocalyptic (which may be why the Left Behind faction thinks this is such a great idea.) For the sane among us, letting the nuclear genie out of the bottle is simply unthinkable. It's not and never can be "on the table" because once you start talking about it as if it's just another form of warfare somebody is going to do it.
I'm trying hard to think if there are any taboos left after endorsing launching pre-emptive nuclear war and I don't think there are. The only thing left is actually exploding a "tactical" nuke and considering this administration's determination to break as many civilized norms as possible we would be fools not to take them seriously.
Hat tip to Gene Lyons for the Forward article. Here's his excellent piece on this subject. I think this is particularly good:
Once again Bush has denied hostile intent, just as he did for many months after secretly ordering the Pentagon to draft detailed war plans against Iraq. Writing in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh suggests that all systems are go at the White House, including possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. He hints that the neo-conservative ideologues around Dick Cheney have deluded themselves that bombing Iran would lead to internal rebellion and the overthrow of the nation's Islamic regime.
Yeah, sure it would. Ever noticed how much the neo-cons' ignorance of basic human psychology rivals only Osama bin Laden's ?