Monday, May 26, 2008
Memorial Day 2008
Don't forget, because the best way to keep those graves to the necessary minimum is to remember them. Peace is not the natural state of mankind, and peace dies the day there are no more soldiers.
Update: Shrinkwrapped posted a similar short comment on the day, and his sourcing was questioned in the comments. That led me to a spate of industrious googling and Orwell's Notes on Nationalism. This essay is acutely relevant to the current attitude among some of the elitist types in the US. Orwell defined nationalism as blind partisanship:
The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief.As Orwell uses the term "nationalism", it stands for blind adherence to any cause:
By 'nationalism' I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled 'good' or 'bad'.[See note, below] But econdly--and this is much more important--I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.He then went on to distinguish it from patriotism:
By 'patriotism' I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.The difference between the two forms of identification is that one stands for the positive desire to seek one's own welfare, and thus is ultimately rational and self-limiting, whereas the other is merely a desire for conquest:
It is also worth emphasising once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist--that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating--but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.In other words, it is a very perverted form of tribalism. Orwell then proceeds to skewer the type of pacifism among British intellectuals which he considered to fall under his definition of "transferred nationalism":
PACIFISM. The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, thatAnyone who cannot see how the above-described attitudes are not still governing a segment of the leftist elite should worry more about removing the rocks from his or her head than the flag pin from his or her lapel. See a spirited debate at NOFP on the topic.
the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.
And this is our Jimmy Carter, the man who feels that dictators speak for their people, the man who never met a dictator he didn't like, nor a fixed foreign election over which he did not coo, a man who can ignore bodies, unless they can be laid in some fashion at the feet of an American serviceman.
For some reason I have never understood, many of the pacifists of this type are anti-Semites, which may or may not be why they hate Joe Lieberman with such a passion. Of course, Joe does ask difficult questions, and maybe they just hate him for those.
I know that you have suffered, lad
But suffer this a while-
Whatever makes a soldier sad
Will make a killer smile
I'm not sure what Cohen was getting at in this poem, but it is clear that many of those who object to "soldier" are very approving of "killers."
Of all the wars fought by the US, name those which were fought for the defense of freedom?
Revolutionary War yea
War of 1812 nea
Indian wars nea
Mexican war nea
Civil War, yea and nea depending on side.
Spanish American war, nea
Banana Wars, nea
First Gulf war nea
Second Gulf war nea
So most military casualties were for the benefit of some elite or another and then their deaths are seized as fodder for the benefit of other elites and to silence their opponents.
But not for freedom.
Just to pick an example, the War of 1812 included as motivation (from the US side) freedom of its citizen's from unfair and internationally illegal (per the US position) impressment of US citizens into the British Navy. A secondary rationale was freedom of trade. Sure you can argue the contested trade was in favor of elites, but trade is fundamental to anything resembling post-hunter/gathered existance, so the fight for that freedom, like the fight against impressment, was to the benefit of all Americans of the time.
Similar points can be made illustrating the advance of freedoms in most of the other wars you reject. Granted, the beneficiaries of the freedom were more circumscribed then than now, but no less so than just about every other country and culture existing at the time.
The Second Gulf War overthrew one tyrant and changed the geography of power by isolating Iran and creating an blocking state between Iran and Syria. Given that the Iranian and Syrian regimes are not only tyrannical but eager to spread their control and their influence, this is also in the defense of freedom.
You have an isolationist's view of freedom, but neither a man nor a nation is an island. And the community of nations is very like a bad neighborhood into which the police do not go. You have to find a way to survive, and the strategies that work for small states will not work for large, nor the strategies of the poor for the rich nor the strategies of the vassal for the independent.
South Vietnam consisted of Buddhists and Catholics who were opposed to Communism. North Vietnam was under Ho Chi Minh's Communist control.
If a war to kee an area free from Communist rule was not about preserving freedom, Idon't know what would be.
I do not have rocks in my head. You're entitled to your opinion of course.
Had NOFP targetted his vitriol at "a segment of the leftist elite" (though 'elite' in this sense is a misnomer), I'd have had less issue with his statement there. As it is he linked the words "The left doesn't support our troops" with another of his own posts that started: Well, unless "supporting" is defined as "killing,".
People who can't stand the mess the neo-cons made of the Iraq war (and you would have to blind to say it wasn't a godawful mess from 3 minutes after the fall of Sadam until very recently, if not the present) tend to get exercised if they see this as targetted at them.
Carl's circuitous agrgument that I consider the troops "thuggish, uneducated" and whatever else he deludes himself into thinking I said is additionally angering. His logic seems to be that some are re-enlisting, therefore they are in favor of the war and all of Bush's fantasies, and therefore I am denigrating them. This is inane. It also neglects the need for lowered recruitment standards, longer and more numerous deployments to keep up the troop numbers, and the rising suicide rate among current and former soldiers.
Now onto pacifism: if that is the belief that any peace is better than any war, I don't subscribe. But insisting that a war have a reasonable purpose and a reasonable plan is not to say that any peace is better than any war, just that not getting into this mess and blowing it as badly as Bush/Rumsfeld did would have been a really good idea.
I will agree that some of the comments Carl documented at Right Wing News are vile. In particular the Marcy Kaptur and Michael Moore comments, equating the suicide-bombing swine in Iraq with the Amrican Revolutionaries, are to be despised. And if Carl had, as you do, attributed this to "a segment of the leftist elite" rather than the left, or liberals in general, I probably would never have even involved myself in this.
By the way, when folks decrie the actions of mercenaries, are they always talking about the troops, or are they talking about the *real* mecenaries we have over there? Sometimes they actually do mean our volunteer trops, in which case it is crap - our troops aren't paid anything like enough to do this. On the other hand, some of the hiring practices of Blackwater look a little dubious.