Ever since the first war there have probably been people like Fred and Kimberly Kagan, two of the staunchest advocates of imperial slaughter, diligently carving out on stone tablets all the noble reasons why Dear Leader needed to wipe out the Canaanites. So long as people continue to view power with awe and respect instead of disdain and disgust, there will always be a class of professional worshippers eagerly expounding on the virtues of state-sponsored mass killing, from the supposed links between a strong army and a superior culture — Sparta of course fondly remembered for its wealth of philosophers and poets — to the effectiveness of war as a promoter of peace (an argument most recently made by President Obama’s Nobel speech writers). And those that join this class, however, are invariably creepy and banal, not exactly a winning combination.
A profile of the Kagans in Newsweek illustrates this point, showing our modern courtiers to be the, well, pathetic creatures that you already suspected they were:
The wonkish, heavy-set Frederick, who grew up reenacting battles with cardboard cutouts, earned a doctorate at Yale in Russian and Soviet military history, then spent 10 years at West Point teaching about wars. Along the way, he married Kimberly Kessler, a fellow Yalie with interests almost eerily like his. (She now heads a small Washington think tank called the Institute for the Study of War.) From the outset, Frederick Kagan, who’d long been dubious about the kind of high-tech warfare Rumsfeld championed, also felt the war in Iraq had been mismanaged, and, with the help of retired Gen. Jack Keane, convinced Bush this was so. Enter the surge. One of those most impressed was Gen. David Petraeus, now head of Central Command. Petraeus (the recipient of the 2010 Irving Kristol Award, who will deliver the Irving Kristol Lecture at AEI in May) calls Fred Kagan “brilliant,” “exceedingly hardworking,” and “a true student of history.”
At his invitation, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, an odd sight in flak jackets, have taken seven inspection tours of Iraq since April 2007. “They don’t have kids, so this is their child,” Petraeus said in a phone interview. Twice last year they went to Afghanistan, the second time as one sixth of a 12-member civilian team advising Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The group’s findings buttressed McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional troops.
Possessing neither the physical ability nor courage to fight in the wars they attempt to provide intellectual justification for, and having few interests outside scholarship in the field of mass death and destruction, the Kagans live vicariously through armed conflict and the killing of others by others. Their personal lives so obviously lacking, they find meaning through murder. Say what you will about it, but war is not something that can’t simply be ignored; it’s something destined for the history books, and it may be many things but dull isn’t one of them (the popular cultures of countries that perpetuate war — *cough* Jersey Shore — on the other hand . . .). Boring people who find peacetime unfulfilling, then, are attracted to the excitement and purpose they perceive as the prime qualities of war.
As former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges has written:
“The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in live. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble.”
There’s no reason to doubt that the Kagans view themselves as quite noble. But instead of fetishizing war and fucking over a bunch of poor foreigners to find meaning in life, couldn’t the Kagans just go fuck themselves?