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Logic 101 could break the cycle of war

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Don Williams
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You know better.

Yes, I'm talking to you in the media, especially big, electronic media. You should know better.

Logic 101 could break the cycle of war

    by Don WilliamsYou know better.

Yes, I'm talking to you in the media, especially big, electronic media. You should know better.

Every journalism school should require a course in logic if for no other purpose than to improve what comes out of the mouths and fingertips of reporters and commentators. Maybe then we'd stop pandering to the lowest common denominator by embracing the Political Correctness of the Right. I know it's a novel concept to say political correctness is not the sole creation of the left, but I'd argue that PC notions from the right are more insidious and harmful to our loved ones, our country and our world. I can prove that assertion using the principles of Logic 101. Take the self-serving reasoning by which one arrives at the notion that opposing the War in Iraq is not only impolite but that it's damaging to the troops. Pro-war folks all too often use such logic as conversation stoppers. But this line of reasoning courts two logical fallacies (look it up) that journalists should be ashamed to fall prey to.Do I have to spell them out? All right then, but first, let's state the argument the way advocates of war often do: "When you say the war in Iraq is wrong, you're saying the deaths of our brave soldiers have no meaning, and that's an insult." If your goal is to end a private conversation, fair enough, I respect your right to deal with grief, even collective grief, however you wish. But when such reasoning is uttered in the public arena, where lives, treasure and national destinies are often at stake, media people have a duty to ask simply:How is that logical? It's arguing in a circle, a big no-no in Logic 101. You say the war is worth fighting because otherwise the deaths of soldiers have no meaning, therefore the war must be good to give meaning to those killed and wounded.Such circular reasoning, or backward reasoning, amounts to political correctness, and it's dastardly logic, even when well-meaning people use it, because it allows other interested parties--arms manufacturers, generals and politicians, to exploit grief in pursuit of self-serving goals. Moreover that logic is ruinous for civilization because it implies that the more horrendous the war, the more ennobled it becomes. By that logic, Napoleon's invasion of Russia, in which at least half a million of his soldiers were shot to death, frozen to death, ripped apart by wolves, blasted, burned up and trampled on--along with untold numbers of peasants and enemy combatants--becomes a brilliant and noble idea. Lots of people have died needlessly on this Earth, but don't assume I'm suggesting their deaths had no meaning. When you do that, you're exhibiting another logical fallacy--the "fallacy of the false alternative." It doesn't follow that because I'm against the war that I hold any opinion at all about the meaning of anyone's life and death. Trust me, I'm something of an existentialist in that regard, believing that each individual is responsible for whatever meaning his or her own life and death hold, and that others can't have much say in that. I think of my father's death to cancer. He wasted away over six months. Death by cancer is ruinous, and it doesn't make the world safer for democracy, near as I can tell. So did my father's death have no meaning? I can't answer for him, but if pressed, I'd say my father died a heroic death. He set an example when it comes to fighting the good fight and dying the good death. Of course his death had meaning to me. It had meaning to my mother, as he used his last remaining bit of strength to bunch his lips, reach up and kiss her goodbye. So did the way of his death have meaning? To me, yes, it's helped enrich my life in a way. Given the many ways people get killed and wounded in war, it would take not only an insensitive heel but a moron to think the growing body count in Iraq contains no soldiers whose deaths or wounds hold meaning for someone, so please don't suggest I'd ever say otherwise. It's not my call to make, and it's beside the point I'm making, which is other than what you suggest. In other words there are truer alternative ways of looking at what I'm saying. Let's look at them in relation to a more pertinent formulation of the "fallacy of the false alternative," given the ongoing debate between the President and Congress. It's this one:"You're for setting a deadline to bring the soldiers home? Why don't you support our troops?"Again, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, the New York Times, the News-Sentinel and others should challenge such logic. All sorts of alternative explanations are not only possible, but are indeed likely. One could reply:"I'm for setting a deadline, because the troops should be brought home where it's safe." Or because…"The government has failed to provide sufficient equipment and sound healthcare and rehabilitation." Or..."The war was based on lies that were deliberately kept from soldiers and their loved ones.""The war has brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and I don't believe we should make our troops a party to that.""It's become a civil war that we can't stop.""It's created more enemies everywhere, and our own government says it's made terrorism more likely, not less.""That's not where bin Laden is.""The war has endangered our liberties here at home.""It's unfair for our soldiers to be away from their families so long.""A majority of our troops believe we should leave." Yes, according to a Zogby poll conducted more than a year ago, an overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq thought the U.S. "should exit the country within the next year." (http://www.zogby.com/NEWS/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1075).Do you see the common thread in all these alternatives? They all suggest those of us who oppose the war want the best for our young men and women who wear the uniforms. Only by making their well-being synonymous to the questionable goal of killing and dying in Iraq can you challenge our support for their beating hearts and yearning minds. But making support for our policy in Iraq synonymous with "supporting the troops" is not only sappy logic, it's dishonest, unworthy and contemptible. It makes it impossible to have an honest debate until we're deep in a quagmire. Media ignorance, exploitation or indifference to fuzzy and sentimental logic is akin to complicity in the brainwashing techniques spelled out in novels like Orwell's 1984.

I recently heard George Will use such logic against an opponent on This Week with George Stephanopolous. Shame on him, and shame on everyone who embraces lazy, dishonest and destructive tactics of debate. They lead not only to circular thinking but to circular history, in which we're not permitted to see the error of our ways until another million corpses lie rotting in some God-and-Reason-forsaken land. And that's only the beginning, for such circles roll down the ages, powered by neglect and outright complicity of journalists who should know better.  Copyright © 2007 by Don Williams, All Rights Reserved 

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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)
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