Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our Long National Nightmare is Not Over

Well, it looks like we're just about out of Iraq. Just about, kinda, sorta... except for the troops that are staying for “security” purposes, and as “trainers” and “advisors”. (Remember how Vietnam started?) And of course, we will stand offshore, at the ready, in case anything goes wrong, fully prepared to go in again in order to protect “American interests” -- which can include virtually anything, including nothing.

But shame, shame on the people out there who would claim that Obama is only getting us out of Iraq in order to contrast himself with the would-be warriors of the Republican party, who have, basically, promised to drastically escalate the war on Islam the minute they get into office. Why, those are the real war mongers, aren't they? -- compared to whom, the Democrats are the party of peace, etc. Well, it all depends on whom you ask, and the time frame of reference. World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam were all Democrat wars – or at least started during Democrat administrations, and then (in the case of Korea and Vietnam) a Republican administration had to go in and do the clean-up (successfully, more or less, in the case of Korea, and disastrously in the case of Vietnam). But more recently, there has been a bit of a sea change, and now the roles have been reversed – the Republicans start wars, and the Democrats are expected to go in and do the clean-up... and so far the only “success” in this regard has been Iraq, which is ending in more or less of a stalemate, not unlike Korea. Heck, we could pull out and the terrorists and insurgents could move on Baghdad five minutes later; who knows? And as for all the troops who were sent home in body bags having died in vain – well, those are words that will never cross any mainstream politician's lips. Wars are worth fighting more or less by definition... and you'll notice that the criteria for starting, and ending, wars have deteriorated of late so that now there really are no effective criteria. An American president can attack any foreign country on the globe for no damn good reason, and then turn around and leave, or stay, for no damn good reason. (And, BTW, so much for "division of powers".) And yet the populace at large still fails to realize that this is the way things are, and insists that we “support the troops” by supporting the tyrants who send them off to die for unworthy causes. We have become numb to absurdity to the point where the perpetual war program doesn't seem to bother anyone; no one sees anything amiss in being on a war footing at all times, and in devoting the bulk of our national wealth to fighting other nations and entities that really don't have bad intentions toward us – or, if they do, it's typically our own fault.

So yes, Obama and the Democrats are only continuing the madness that started under the Republicans – but that madness has overtaken the entire nation, so it doesn't really matter who's in office. One would be tempted to think that, as Pat Buchanan has suggested, a vote for the Republicans in next year's election is a vote for war. Perfectly true, but a vote for the Democrats is also a vote for war. Would the Republicans attack Iran (or North Korea, or China, or Russia) any more readily than the Democrats? They claim they would (speaking primarily about Iran), but who knows? History shows that the Democrats are enamored of war, not least because it creates an opportunity for government to grow by leaps and bounds, both in power and in resources. The Republicans, on the other hand, are enamored of war because they're still enamored of the Monroe Doctrine (especially as applied to places like ex-Soviet Georgia), Manifest Destiny, “spreading democracy”, and “defending the American way of life” -- which, again, can include almost anything. The Republicans have the added advantage of being dominated by the Evangelicals, who are completely unabashed about desiring a holy war on Islam, not only on their own behalf but for the benefit of Israel. It somehow makes perfect sense for the United States to go to war in order to speed the realization of some (alleged) Biblical prophecy – even though we are, supposedly, a “non-sectarian” nation.

So if you're a pacifist these days – as some of the “Occupy” crowd seem to be – times are tough. But they have never been good – I mean, there have been periods in our history when we enjoyed a “peace dividend”, but the most recent was the 1920s and 1930s, and look how that turned out. As a nation and a culture, we definitely do a much better job at war than at peace. We find peace disorienting, somehow – after all, there are ideas and causes worth fighting for, and we hold a brimming hand of those ideas and causes... enough to justify wars into the foreseeable future and beyond. When, for instance, one of the causes is spreading American-style democracy around the globe, we find that this is, in fact, a fool's errand and can never be achieved, and yet we keep at it -- much to the delight of our military leaders and armaments makers. Wars with a definite goal – like conquest, or peace – are just so out of fashion these days; it seems almost quaint to recall that we felt our work was done when the armistice was signed at the end of World War I... or when the Germans and Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II. What an idea, that wars can (and should) actually end! We know better now – or, at least, our thinking is programmed better now by the powers that be. Now there is no “morning after”, or hangover, from war, because it never stops. Neither are there any “peace dividends” because they only spoil people into thinking that things are going to stay that way. No, we have become like one of those “rogue states”, like North Korea, that considers itself at war continuously with the rest of the world – and we're doing our best to make this a reality. I mean, when you take on Islam, and then start threatening China and Russia... well, who's left? Sub-Saharan Africa? Oh no, wait, we've gone in there too at this point. I guess maybe New Zealand doesn't have much to worry about, but you never know.

In any case, Obama has – perhaps cynically... OK, for sure cynically – now positioned himself as a war-ender and peacemaker, even as Hillary marches up and down Southeast Asia huffing and puffing about the “law of the sea” vis-a-vis China. Is he only trying to free up resources to go elsewhere? I mean, the stalemate in Afghanistan should be enough to satisfy anyone. What I think he's trying to do is contrast himself with the Republican candidates, who – with the exception of Ron Paul, as always – are all foaming at the mouth to start as many wars as possible as soon as possible after they get into office... believing in what they say, and believing that's what the American people want, and, unfortunately, they're probably right. Or if the American people don't exactly “want” what amounts to a world war on six or seven fronts, they at least won't object, and will ever be willing to “support the troops”. Obama, on the other hand, must think, or suspect, on some level, that Americans are truly “war-weary”, as they are so often described by the mainstream media – so he's willing to take a chance of letting peace break out in Iraq.

But I always argue with this; I don't think Americans are “war-weary” at all. I think they are a combination of misled, conned, numb, and delusional... and that war is about the only thing that brings light and life into their otherwise dull and despairing lives. OK, this is somewhat of an exaggeration, but you get my point – I hope. We are a warring nation because we are an ideational nation, and one of our ideas – the “meta-idea”, if you will – is the insistence that everyone else on the planet should share in those ideas, and be willing to adopt them... or if not, we will be glad to help them along... to gently change their attitudes through persuasive techniques like bombing. One idea that has never really taken root in this country – or, if it ever did, it was quickly uprooted – was the simple one of “live and let live”. We think we believe in it – you know, with the Bill of Rights, the “Four Freedoms”, etc., but we really don't. We may believe in it, up to a point, for individuals, but we believe just the opposite for nations, cultures, and even religions if you're talking about Islam. In those cases, whenever their ways are not our ways, we pronounce their ways “evil”, and do everything in our power to change them. And one of the perennial rationales for this is that it will make people freer, happier, more content – they will enjoy the many fruits of democracy (think “inky thumbs”). And indeed, many of the “beneficiaries” of our largess have become adept at putting on an act of being, or feeling, freer, happier, more content, etc. -- except that when it's only on our terms (as in the case of Iraq) then they are forced to deny their cultural (and maybe also religious) heritage... and this, in turn, causes resentment, hostility, and rebellion, and in the long run things wind up worse than if we'd never interfered.

As much as we are loathe to admit it, other nations and cultures prefer to be left alone – yes, even in what we consider to be their benighted state. They may be ruled by tyrants... be fond of “cruel and unusual punishment” (as if we aren't)... embrace ignorance and “superstition” (AKA traditional religion of the non-Protestant kind)... eat funny-smelling foods and wear weird clothes. But dammit, it's their culture and it's where they feel at home. We step in, trash what they have, and offer what in return? A sort of watered-down and distorted version of American culture, which as we all know is succeeding so admirably these days, ahem. An American overlay where all the bad things are amplified, and the good things are minimal or non-existent. A mess of pottage in exchange for a birthright! But we are all too familiar with this bad deal, since we've imposed it on so many of our own – so many immigrants as well as non-conformists among the native-born.

And really, what, after all, is this all-hallowed criterion of what it means to be an “American”? I guess if you wouldn't fit readily into a Norman Rockwell painting you don't qualify. It all comes, ultimately, out of New England, which was settled by religious fanatics who got thrown out of England. And they set the tone for the rest of us, from that day forward. Yes, don't ever think that we are not still a Puritanical society. Nothing proves it more readily than our foreign policy and our attitudes toward other nations and cultures – and, in fact, toward the bulk of our own citizenry. It is the most bizarre of things – oppression by a dead minority. I have yet to see an active church or congregation up in New England, or anywhere else, identified as the “Puritan Church of...”, and yet their cold, clammy hands continue to reach out, after lo these many years, to influence everything we do. Consider, as one case, the “War on Drugs”; pure Puritanism! (And what, after all, was Prohibition?) The buckled, blunderbuss-toting Pilgrim fathers could not be more proud. Consider the domination of anti-life attitudes in our culture – not just abortion, but the ridiculous battles about breast-feeding “in public”... about medicine and health care... about diet and nutrition... and so on. Behind them all, looming in the background, is the glowering visage of Puritanism – hating life, loving death, counseling despair. It is so ubiquitous that we can hardly imagine what its opposite is... what life would be like without that constant, nagging fear of living and resentment of those who seem to know how to do it. I actually suspect that most of the nations, and cultures, we wage war on are better at embracing life and existence than we are – which is, I suspect, one reason we are so anxious to wage war on them, because we see them as a metaphysical threat. Their cultural successes only serve to point out our cultural hollowness. People in those places squabble, fight, and kill each other cheerfully and with abandon... but in the meantime they “live large” -- at least much larger than so many Americans, with their pinched, intimidated, fear-ridden approach to things. I always marvel at photos of sub-Saharan Africans, living in some of the most horrendous, violent, flea-bitten places on earth, and they have bigger, and more genuine, smiles on their faces than almost any American I ever see. What's their secret? Are they idiots? Or do they know something we don't? They are part of an authentic culture, the value of which we've long since lost track of – and maybe that turns out to be the most important thing for true quality of life, as opposed to just “stuff”. Their lives may be “nasty, brutal, and short” to our way of thinking, but what if they're really living, as opposed to merely pretending to live, as so many of us do? Doesn't that mean they have taken the better part? And what does it then say about our attempts to destroy them?

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