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Today’s argument-starting essay excerpt


 

“…the United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures glorify and exalt the military, a sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945 but quite unknown today. Politicians in the US surround themselves with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess; even in 2008 American commentators excoriate allies that hesitate to engage in armed conflict. I believe it is this contrasting recollection of war and its impact, rather than any structural difference between the US and otherwise comparable countries, which accounts for their dissimilar responses to international challenges today. Indeed, the complacent neoconservative claim that war and conflict are things Americans understand—in contrast to naive Europeans with their pacifistic fantasies—seems to me exactly wrong: it is Europeans (along with Asians and Africans) who understand war all too well. Most Americans have been fortunate enough to live in blissful ignorance of its true significance.”

— Tony Judt, “What Have We Learned, If Anything?New York Review of Books (emphasis added)

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Wells here again. During my travels in Afghanistan last autumn I spent some time with an American fellow who had a reasonable expectation of high-level State Department work if Hillary Clinton became the next president. Any visitor to Afghanistan soon starts discussing the robust but doctrinally timid German military deployment in the country’s northern provinces. I ventured that a timid German army was, given the lessons of history, probably not the worst problem anyone could imagine. He scoffed. “I’m satisfied that Germany has learned its lessons. And now we need them in the fight.” In so many ways, I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.


 

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