We all probably heard something that fit our predispositions, listening to the President speak about his Libyan war tonight. My predisposition is simple: I've nearly reached retirement age. In my lifetime, no U.S. war has lived up to the moral billing offered by its supporters. Most -- Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan -- have been dreadful, immoral quagmires. The few brief ones (think Grenada, Panama) have been shameful atrocities built on lies. I'm hard to sell on wars.
In truth, the President sounded like his predecessor speaking tonight -- the one who said told us baldly, "I am the Decider." Here's Obama:
Being Commander-in-Chief ("CoC" in military speak -- "Cock of the walk" I usually hear) seems to have this effect on an incumbent president.
Historically, though we usually look back with fond pride on my parents generation's war, on World War II, some decider has just about always plunged the country into wars without the consent or enthusiasm of much of the population.
President James K. Polk led the country off to conquer much of Mexico; in response, Henry David Thoreau famously refused to pay his taxes and much of the Northeast was in near revolt. When President William McKinley coveted Cuba and the Philippines from the decaying Spanish empire, it took the best efforts of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers, the Fox News of that day, to whip up a war frenzy.
President Woodrow Wilson's 1917 war in Europe was so unpopular that the government preemptively outlawed speaking against it and imprisoned several thousand people for that crime. Even in the case of the "good" WWII, there was a quite widespread conspiracy theory that President Franklin Roosevelt allowed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in order to bring the US into the war on Hitler and Hirohito.
We don't easily rush to war if we actually deliberate about it. It takes the work of a decider to move a fractious democratic nation to war. We have such a one; he announced it tonight.
Let us hope this war is brief; that minimal numbers of people are killed; and that the hopes of Libyans for a freer, safer, better life are realized. I'd like to believe this war would be different, that everything would work out as the current Decider claims it will. I can distrust the likelihood of good outcomes and still hope.
But nothing in my lifetime or knowledge of past U.S. wars suggests that good will come of this adventure.