Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s lecture yesterday, “America versus Americans” at the Ford Hall Forum was incredibly provocative (Links: Audio Only, Video Modem, Video Broadband). I had felt myself getting complacent recently with my nice neoconservative New York Sun–I was even beginning to feel downright mainstream. Sure enough, Dr. Peikoff showed once again how radical Objectivism is compared to anything else out there, even on a subject like the war.

I didn’t take notes, but here’s a brief–and I hope accurate–summary: We’re fighting the wrong wars, for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way. While Dr. Peikoff supports the troops, and believes that attacking Iraq was better than sitting on our hands and doing nothing, he argued that we’ve taken on Iraq because George W. Bush lacks the moral courage to identify and go after the true enemy, Islam. (He did at one point say “Islamic militancy,” but he also maintained that the militants were the consistent practitioners of Islam, so I believe I’ve got his intention correct here.) If we had done so, we’d be attacking Iran.

Dr. Peikoff maintained that in war our only concern should be victory and the destruction of the threat–and that we should then leave Iraq and the Iraqis to their own devices rather than being concerned with forming their next government. Our ultimate goal should be simply to create an overwhelming fear in that part of the world–a fear of what would happen if any terrorist act were ever tried again. This goal warrants an utter lack of concern for civilian casualties, including the deliberate targeting of civilians if necessary. (He illustrated the point with a description of the Allied firebombing of Tokyo–and in general contrasted our conduct of the current war with our actions in WWII.) Needless to say, he believes the groveling before the UN, the humanitarian aid to the enemy, the concern with civilian casualties, and the desire to be seen as liberators all reflect a fear of being seen as conducting a war for our own selfish reasons. (In the question period, when asked about the “No Blood for Oil” slogan, he answered: “If we are going to conduct a war, oil would be a pretty damn good reason…”–though he went on to say that this isn’t Bush’s reason.)

The overarching theme of the talk, however, was that the American people have compliantly followed along behind George Bush in all this because altruism has completely swamped the remnants of the original American sense of life. It isn’t just the intellectuals any more; it’s everybody.

The talk prompted one indignant outburst–when Dr. Peikoff came out in favor of deliberately targeting civilians, a man in front shouted “That’s disgusting!” and then angrily left the auditorium. Other than that, the audience was civil.

I wish I had the text of the talk in front of me–I’m still not sure if I agree with it entirely, or if my uneasiness is just a lack of nerve. I certainly don’t believe civilians should be spared if doing so endangers American lives, and I agree that the battle orders have put American lives needlessly at risk. But is fear the only motivator we need, or should want? All other things being equal, wouldn’t it be in our long-term interest to have a free Iraq at the end of the war, if it’s possible? Wouldn’t that make it less likely that we’d have to go in again in the future? And so wouldn’t it be preferable to refrain from destroying people and things we don’t need to destroy?

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