The cost of moral certainty

I’ve been reading Shelby Foote’s three volume Civil War history lately. It’s wonderfully well written, and does a nice job of bringing out the personalities of the War. Something that has really made an impression on me is the characteristic– I’m calling it moral certainty– that pretty much everyone with any involvement in the Civil War had in excess. Maybe it’s just a prerequisite of a civil war, but everyone involved seemed certain of the moral goodness of their respective causes, and were very excited about the prospect of fighting this war.

I thought about this sort of attitude in comparison to the public attitude toward our more modern-day fiascos in Vietnam and Iraq. I would assume that the people fighting and dying still had some moral certainty, but I hear stories and see things that cause me doubt Of course now that the government is known to essentially co-opt our military for their own private pissing contests, it’s no wonder that people aren’t morally certain about our ongoing military pursuits.

Is this a bad thing? Or am I sorry that moral certainty has faded? I don’t know. Of course, the bad thing about the decline of moral certainty is that if America becomes involved in another “necessary” war (if you subscribe to that idea- I’m thinking WWII sort here), our own people and military are probably second guessing it before it begins. On the other hand, isn’t that what we as Americans are supposed to do– endlessly second-guess everything our government does? We exist in a system of checks and balances and public opinion may be just another unseen check.

I’d like to pull out an old trick of mine and blame popular media, but I don’t know if that’s legitimate. There have probably been anti-war journalists since there has been written history. Another thought I had is that perhaps the speed and tactical sophistication of war has in some level changed the picture. I don’t know. Does anybody?

Joe

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