The law of unintended consequences

From today’s Best of the Web:

Yesterday we noted the sad story of Nathan C. Gagner, a depressed 27-year-old Kittery, Maine, man who committed suicide by burning himself to death on a public street, and the ludicrous reaction of an unidentified resident of nearby Eliot, who wrote in a newspaper that he hoped Gagner’s act was a protest: “Was this an effort by this buddha of Kittery to stop the madness in Iraq?”

[A reader] offers some perspective:

I read “Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides” by Christian Appy (Viking, 2003). One aspect I’d never heard before was that one American Quaker, Norman Morrison, in November 1965 immolated himself on the grounds of the Pentagon to protest the war, as had the Vietnamese Buddhist monks. Apparently there would be seven other Americans who would do the same thing later.

The key aspect about Morrison’s story, unfortunately, is that contrary to his own intentions in protesting violence of any kind, the enemy took it as an act of camaraderie and solidarity with their struggle. He was protesting the war itself, his wish only to stop the carnage. However, the North Vietnamese and communists in the South took it as an inspiration to continue the fight, because they believed he had shown that normal, everyday Americans were on their side. Morrison’s widow recounts one story of how a Vietnamese grandmother shamed her grandson into fighting by holding up Morrison’s example, and describes how hard it was for Morrison’s family to realize how his immolation was being interpreted, although she lays no blame on the Vietnamese for doing so (p. 154).

I think this message is worth highlighting today to those who protest against U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps their motives are purely anticonflict and pro-peace–but when war is upon a country, it is zero-sum. Anything that adversely affects one side can only aid the other. Perhaps the “antiwar” protesters will realize whose side they have chosen.

As the Australians say, too right. I think of this unintended consequences problem every time I see the antiquated yahoos pouring out of a local Old Age home in my community to make their daily roadside protest demanding Bush’s impeachment and the troops’ withdrawal from Iraq. These people are too old for the instant gratification game, but they play it any way, completely oblivious to the consequences that will flow from their short-sided demands (such as a Cheney presidency and a holocaust in Iraq).