I say all this to say that if I regret anything it is my pose of powerlessness — my lack of faith in American democracy, my belief that the war didn’t deserve my hard thinking or hard acting, my cynicism. I am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every “sensible” and “serious” person you knew — left or right — was for the war. And they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right.
This is true. I was all for the Iraq War at the time. The case for it seemed so clear to me that the only reason anyone could be against it was cowardice, stupidity, or some form of bad faith. This magazine, The American Conservative, was launched as an antiwar voice from the Right. Though I certainly didn’t believe its founders were “unpatriotic,” I nevertheless didn’t understand what their problem was.
I covered a big antiwar march in Manhattan in the spring of 2002, and the radicals were a disgusting bunch. “Bush = Hitler” signs, and so forth. As foul as it was, the event was a pleasant thing to see, in a way, because it made me feel more secure in the rightness of the war the US was about to undertake. And it shouldn’t be forgotten in those days that some antiwar people were nasty and hysterical, and impossible to talk to.
For all that … they were right about the only question that counted — Should the US launch a war on Iraq? — and my side was wrong. I was wrong. I had allowed myself to be swayed by emotion, even as I spited the emotional hysteria of the antiwar crowd.
I don’t think this makes radicals always right, or beyond mockery. But I learned that sometimes, radicals of the left and the right see things, however imperfectly, that most of us don’t. When “everybody” knows something is true, right, and necessary, we should damn sure question it.