Saturday, June 1, 2024

The Perfect War: A Reconsideration


The Perfect War: A Reconsideration

Peter Schultz


                  I have been reconsidering The Perfect War, a book by William Gibson on the Vietnam War and its meaning.


                  A common question posed post-war was: Who lost Vietnam? Now, this question assumes that the war was there to be won, if waged correctly. So, in assessing the war and its loss, people look for mistakes or incompetence of one kind or another, because these explain why what should have happened didn’t happen.


                  There is, however, a more general assumption at work here, viz., that politics, done correctly, guarantees success. But what if that is wrong? That is, what if it is politics generally, “the political” even at its best that fails? If it is the political that leads to failure, then even a “perfect war,” that is, a war perfectly waged or conducted, will fail. No one lost the Vietnam War. Although perfectly waged, that war failed. It was doomed to fail, even before it began.


                  It is the political that needs to be questioned. The political itself needs to be questioned because it leads to war and repression and neither war nor repression will be successful, or if successful desirable. The greatest political achievements, say, the Roman or British empires, of the abolition of slavery in the United States, were built on war, repression, even terrrorism. Hence, “the political” should not be embraced or “affirmed.” The political and political elites should be contained, stymied, challenged, limited, disrespected, e.g., by someone like Socrates who sought deliberately and actively, i.e., in the marketplace, to subvert the Athenian political order.


                  This is the meaning of the expression that “Education is or should be a subversive activity.” One of the most important human activities isn’t being patriotic or being a good citizen. It’s being a good human being, which seems to necessarily involve being subversive.

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