Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why That Rudy is so Rude

What, Obama not a patriot? I won't hear of it! Doesn't love America? Balderdash and pooh. He absolutely loves America. Or... he would, if he could only succeed in transforming it into the country it ought to be (and should always have been) – basically a vast horde of helpless, mindless, thumb-sucking serfs, afraid of their own shadows and totally dependent on government for everything, with him in charge. This is, and has always been, the dream of liberals, going back to the the progressives of more than a century ago. The basic premise is that the “common people” are hopelessly ignorant, superstitious, and hate-filled, and have no idea what is good for them – but that the intellectuals have all the answers and all the skills required to transform society into a Utopia, and that they should, therefore, be put in charge for perpetuity. The first president who fully embraced this notion seems to have been Theodore Roosevelt, but many others followed in his footsteps – most notably FDR, Johnson, and now Obama. And it matters little what the personal foibles and failures of a given leader are; all that counts is good intentions (alleged), good presentation, and “optics”. And a bit of political or financial pressure applied at the right time to the right people – regrettable, of course, but fully justified given the nobility of the cause.

This is what it would take for Obama to love America – for who doesn't love his own creation? Think about Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. If FDR were still around (having given up smoking, of course), he would be ecstatic when surveying the current political scene, because even though the New Deal did not survive fully intact, what we have now includes all of its ideas, most of which have been implemented beyond his wildest dreams. And as far as LBJ and the Great Society -- “If you seek his monument, look around you”, in cities like Washington, D.C., Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, etc. Far from being the abject failures that conservatives accuse them of being, they are a stunning success, if your definition of “success” is, first and foremost, increasing the power and scope of government at the expense of the citizenry. That, and not only defining deviancy down, but defining it out of existence. The agents of social change have done their work in our large cities, and proud of it; the only sour note was that many people were insufficiently enlightened to appreciate their efforts, and so fled to the suburbs. (But that's change too, and change is always good, right?)

And as for Obama's patriotism – why, who has ever waved the flag higher? By which I mean the flag for things like “diversity”, which is little more than totalitarianism and enforced uniformity in disguise. He could lead a very long parade of victim groups (both official and self-styled), as long as they all fit into the liberal-progressive-secular-materialist agenda. God-fearing religious people need not apply, nor do small businessmen, “angry white men” (who are, undoubtedly, also racist, sexist, and homophobic), stay-at-home moms (terribly oppressed, don'tcha know), families who opt out of government schools, and anyone who believes in freedom of economic choice.

Champions of “the people” are never the least bit interested in the hopes and dreams of real people – especially when said people are “held back” by ancient loyalties to race, religion, ethnic group, and tradition. “Diversity” to a progressive is one long “It's a Small World” ride, with colorful stereotyped costumes and stereotyped music... a sanitized street festival with all sorts of foodstuffs, kumbaya and drumming... but heaven forbid anyone try to insert real handed-down traditions and attitudes, and – yes – prejudices into the proceedings, because that is not the kind of world we want, is it? Racial, ethnic, and religious groups have been defined down through the millennia as having pride in themselves and in their own kind, and a healthy suspicion of strangers – of “the other”. This is, in fact, the key to any group's survival, and no one has questioned it up until the current era – especially when it comes to minorities. But this cannot be permitted in the New World Order; human nature must be changed, and the progressives are the ones to do it (just as the Bolsheviks were the ones to do it a century or so ago). The way must be made straight through tangled, messy human nature, and all the rough places made plain. There must be a great leveling process, starting with equal opportunity and gradually evolving into equal outcomes (once we've passed the quotas/affirmative action/reparations stage, that is). And the battle cry from the beginning to the end of this process must be “fairness” (at all costs)!

Conservatives, on the other hand -- while not perfect in this respect -- are much more capable of seeing, and accepting, human nature as it is, whether applied to individuals or groups, rather than what we might want it to be based on some idyllic image of a past that never existed, or of a future that is highly unlikely this side of the Apocalypse. They are neither offended by the way people actually are and how they behave, nor do they put “the people” on an impossibly high pedestal based on pure Utopian fantasy. Conservatives are even willing to accept the reality that some people really are dependent and need charity, while at the same time allowing others (hopefully the majority) to seek their fortune without impediment and harassment by the government. (This, by the way, is how “compassionate conservatism” should have been defined, but the people promoting it didn't have sufficient insight to do so, with the result that the term became an object of derision.)

So, when every flag is a rainbow flag, but all true differences and individuality have been snuffed out, then you can expect Obama and his ilk to be the greatest of patriots. They will look upon that which they have created, and pronounce it good.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Real Life is Small and Local

I made the following observation in a recent Facebook post:

The rich and powerful have always been in charge. Always. You say, "But what about communism?" Well, any communist dictator (and communist countries all have dictators) is powerful by definition, and it's funny how they always manage to accumulate a huge amount of wealth as well. "But how about socialism?" Again, the rulers are powerful, and socialist countries have banks. That's where their money is, and someone runs them. "But how about democracies?" (like ours) Politics is the way to power, and also the way to wealth. Wealth is the way to political power. It's a perfect symbiosis, and the bigger government gets the more extreme the power/wealth gap becomes. People think that if we only had even bigger government we could eliminate that gap; actually, it's just the opposite. We will not return to (or have, for the first time) a true democracy until we drastically reduce the size and scope of government, and start thinking in terms of distributism and subsidiarity. If we are not willing to do this, we have to live with Leviathan.

A correspondent commented thusly:

(This) led me to find and read some commentary on the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI on subsidiarity. Also, the work of Chesterton and Belloc on distributism was a central discussion point of the recently read "Hobbit Party". Those authors...wholly Libertarian (best government)...don't like distributism, essentially seeing it as merely another form of communism/socialism.

To which I reply:

OK, let me see if I can break this down a bit. Subsidiarity, to begin with, is not about the form of government per se as it is about a concept of government – not just “that which governs least governs best” but the notion that government “of the people” should be as close to the people as possible, i.e. not thousands of miles away in some capital full of whited sepulchers. Any function appropriate to government should be performed at the lowest, i.e. most local, level possible. Among other things, this has the advantage of taking into account things like racial/ethnic composition, religious faith and observances, local economies, local customs, the history of a place, physical constraints (climate, geography, soil, etc.) -- and also makes government officials more accountable since they are known and accessible by the populace. The result should be more like true democracy, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers – not a “people's republic” where there is a remote, elite ruling class and a bunch of faceless serfs who are all treated the same way. This idea is certainly compatible with libertarianism – or can be. What it's not compatible with is tyranny and radical (i.e., enforced) collectivism, or what I call “hard socialism”. But on the other end of the scale, it is not at all the same as anarchy; there is still structure, but it's a kind of structure that is more compatible with human nature as it is, not as we might like it to be. (Even defense could be provided on different levels – defense against foreign invaders on the federal (as should be now), regional defense by state national guard units (ditto), and local defense by the “militias” of 2nd Amendment fame.)

So much for the easy part! Now, as to distributism, this is the radical notion that the laborer should own his tools, and have an economic interest or share in the success (or failure) of the enterprise. It's not the same as a “workers' paradise” where the government owns and runs all of industry in the name of the worker or of “the people”. (We already see how it's compatible with subsidiarity on the conceptual level.) Obviously, for the self-employed, the situation obtains automatically. But not everyone can be self-employed, i.e. not all industrial, commercial, or even agricultural enterprises will lend themselves to self-employment – which is to say that economic subsidiarity has its limits.

But here's where the challenge comes in, and I think this is what you were referring to. In a highly industrialized, mechanized, high-tech economy where even “traditional” occupations like agriculture have become mechanized and high-tech, there will be a tendency, over time, for economic and commercial enterprises to become more centralized, with greater numbers working for the few. This can happen (or perhaps is more likely to happen) under conditions of “free enterprise” and “capitalism” -- and this is what Marx was talking about, as perhaps the most serious drawback of the Industrial Revolution. What happens is that competition and the desire for profit tend to enforce economies of scale, and push the individual craftsmen, artisans, and small businessmen out. (Please note that Hitler had no use for the “Arts and Crafts” movement, considering it scandalously inefficient. For him, standardization and mass production were the keys to success.)

So – if distributism is a “good thing” from the point of view of the nature of man, and self-fulfillment, etc., but a “bad thing” in the strict economic sense (setting aside politics)... and if capitalism and free enterprise naturally aid and abet its opposite... what is to be done? Well, let's take a case that is by now familiar to everyone, namely the Wal-Mart syndrome, where the Wal-Mart out on the bypass “kills Main Street” (as it has in my home town, for example). It's the product of free enterprise, after all, and should be just groovy with both “conservatives” and libertarians. (And the only reason liberals dislike Wal-Mart is that it puts a lot of money into the hands of just one family. If it were a government agency they'd be happy as clams.) And the thing is, Wal-Mart didn't kill Main Street – it's the people who shopped at Wal-Mart instead of on Main Street who did that. And what converted them into big-box shoppers? Low prices, selection, bright light, mood music, etc. Do they miss the kindly old gent who knew every single item in the store? Not that I'm aware; they're perfectly content dealing with idiots at checkout and no one who really knows anything. But – bottom line -- are they to be denied the freedom to shop where they like? (Especially, should sentimental reasons and nostalgia trump free enterprise?)

And I'm not talking about the monopolies and “trust busters” of old. This is a very here-and-now question. Should the government step in and try to enforce distributism, the way Mao had everyone building back-yard iron smelters (with disastrous results, I might add)? And, are Wal-Mart workers any more “alienated” (Marx's term) than the guy who used to work at the small town shoe store? If you look at the obituaries in the Pittsburgh paper, they are full of guys who spent their entire working life at U.S. Steel or one of the other industrial monoliths, and proud of it! Did they mourn the fact that they weren't the proprietor of a one-man body shop or shoe repair? Not that I'm aware. They probably made more and had better job security (think: unions) in the gigantic mill. And would all the people who work for giant agriculture conglomerates in the Midwest want to go back to dirt farming like their grandfathers? I'm sure some would, but I'll bet a lot wouldn't. (This, by the way, is what “farm aid” is all about. The agra-business giants don't need charity; they're happier than pigs in shit. It's the small, independent farmer who, like the small businessman, is being shoved out of the economic picture by the big boys, with the government's help.)

I think the answer on the distributism question has to be, number one, don't leave it up to government to enforce things one way or the other. That is, respect economies of scale when appropriate, but also don't punish small businessmen the way they do now. But “if government doesn't do it, who will?” -- the common plaint of people who can't imagine life before the New Deal. I think what has to happen is that “capitalists” should have a more charitable attitude toward their workers – and yes, there is such a thing as profit-sharing and rewarding performance with stock in the company; this is not a Utopian pipe dream. (We have a distorted view of these things because of the adversarial history of labor/management relations in this country. But the experience in Europe and Japan is entirely different.) But at the same time, the consumer needs to have his or her consciousness raised, and again this is a matter of charity directed to the craftsman, artisan, tradesman, small farmer – a “preferential option” (to borrow a term from the popes) to, whenever possible, deal on the local, personal level even if the cost is a bit higher. It's a matter of values, in other words. And again, we see this everywhere these days, with farm markets, artisanal foods and beverages of all sorts, local crafts, etc. And it's certainly not enforced by any governmental body on any level – on the contrary, it's frequently discouraged for all kinds of bogus reasons. (The FDA has agents prowling around farmers' markets looking for “violations”.)

So... if people want to shop at the big box stores, let 'em. True societal change comes about very slowly and is typically not so much a matter of changing hearts and minds as of the older generation dying out and being replaced by people with new ideas. People gripe because they can't find “home cooking like Mom used to make” at McDonald's – well duh. They could find Mom's old recipe book and try it out themselves the way I do. A conscious attempt to shop locally will inevitably have “distributist” results. And so on. The main thing is, just keep government out of the way. I don't think you can “enforce” distributism any more than you can enforce charity; the minute coercion gets into the picture, charity no longer exists – then it morphs into politics. So yes, a libertarian will be suspicious of distributism because he thinks it means collective farms. Well, it might – if those collectives were strictly voluntary (like the hippie communes or Utopian communities of old). But I can't imagine a libertarian objecting to any of the thousands of co-ops scattered across the land.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Life of Brian

People who are surprised, dismayed, depressed, outraged, etc. about the Brian Williams kerfuffle have either forgotten, or they don't want to admit, that “journalists”, especially at the highest, rarefied levels, are a bunch of fantasists. Not only do they “spin” the news to conform to their agendas, but when that's insufficient they make things up out of whole cloth. And this extends beyond the news per se, to their persona and reputation, as shown by the Williams incident. And it's not even that they're consciously making things up, although that happens as well. On some profound level, they have a radically different concept of “the truth” from the rest of us. For them, truth is not an absolute – not a characteristic of reality -- but a political construct, and it can be infinitely manipulated in order to meet political ends. Another way of putting this is that the truth is whatever they make of it – whatever they declare it to be. And the higher you climb up the media totem pole the more intoxicating power you have to define what is true for millions of your fellow (if inferior) humans. If you can define what is true, you have defined reality, and thus the entire basis for action (or the lack thereof). And the “media”, after all, stand, by definition, between events and the reader/hearer/viewer. If we were all omniscient, we wouldn't need them – but this is not to say that they are omniscient, only that they would like us to believe that they are. They would like us to believe that the only facts that exist in the world are the ones they choose to present – and that nothing else is worth bothering about... that nothing else really exists.

Now, this is is not to say that there is never any factual basis for “news” stories; there may be some facts – some real events – hiding in there somewhere... some tiny kernel of “ground truth”. But that is only the beginning – a mere seed, which can only be brought to full fruition by assiduous spin, interpretation, analysis, coloring, shading, and filling in the missing pieces. Did you ever notice that, as messy as life can be, the “news” is never messy? It's clean, clear, and immediately understandable, with no pesky ambiguities or loose ends. There is a reason for this. Messy facts are thrown into the journalistic mill, and everything that might cause doubts or skepticism is excised... and the parts that are guaranteed to stampede the public into another orgy of dependence and begging directed at the Regime are magnified.

Try this experiment. (I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating.) Take any issue of any daily newspaper, put it away for a year, then take it out and read it again. Notice how many of the stories turned out to be distorted, half-baked, or wildly inaccurate? How many were simply the product of hysteria? How many were just plain false – and intentionally so? Now think about today's paper (or this week's news magazine, or tonight's TV news). The same thing will be discovered a year from now, and so on. So what are we being fed on a daily basis, and by whom, and to what end?

Journalists pride themselves on being “agents of change” -- like public school teachers, librarians, and social workers. They are meek, humble public servants just trying to do their job on behalf of “the people”, and to help foster “an informed public”. Right? No. They are part of the vast propaganda apparatus that the Regime uses to keep us both fearful and reassured at the same time – aroused and soothed... outraged and comforted. And let's admit, it's a delicate balancing act, and guys like Brian Williams got where they are because they are good at it. Every tone of voice, every facial expression, is designed to lift us up on some emotion or other, and then to set us down – gently, but not so gently that we forget to retain some degree of anxiety. This has to do with both content and mode of presentation – the message and the medium, if you will. The story has to be compelling, and you have to have good hair.

The bottom line is to make people so dependent on government that they will react with outrage and hostility if anyone dares to suggest that it might be otherwise. And part of this strategy is to build a dream world – a world of heroes (presidents) and villains (“terrorists”)... of looming threats (measles!) and miracles by which to escape them (vaccines!)... of nasty, ill-smelling, babbling foreigners (Islamists!) and all-American heroes (the military, police, etc.)... of blighted ignorance (pretty much any foreign country except the English-speaking ones and Israel, plus Islam and Catholicism) and wise men (and women) who are dedicated to its eradication (Congress, professors, scientists and, of course, journalists).

But, but – you might say – what about journalism school, the training ground for all these people? Don't they teach ethics and objectivity? And how about logic... questioning... skepticism? Isn't their highest goal to turn out skilled seekers after truth? Well, I don't know. Maybe some do, or at least try to. All I know is when their graduates spread out across the land, and the world, like a plague of locusts, they all seem to have an agenda, and it has less to do with the truth than with arranging things into a preconceived set of ideas – a “vision”, if you will, not of the world as it is but as it ought to be (which is, for some reason, completely secular and almost invariably more collectivized and more totalitarian, with crushing pressures to conform – for the ordinary citizen, that is, as opposed to the ruling elite). Start with a vision of the world, then do everything in your power to make it happen – not a bad idea if you're, say, in a science or engineering field... or even the social sciences... or even theology. But journalists, AKA “reporters”, need to be satisfied with the facts, and if they indulge in analysis this needs to be made crystal clear at the outset. And yet isn't it easier – and more effective – to editorialize non-stop, and make every news report a kind of call to arms against enemies, real or imagined – or if not a call to arms, then its opposite – a call to relax, not worry, shut up, and stop thinking? And don't they delight in pitting various segments of the public against each other, then writing it up as such a terrible, regrettable development? It's all about social control – about the great carrot and the great stick.

“If the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” If journalists have ceased to seek after the truth and to pass it on, then who can we rely on? Only ourselves? But what is the scope of any one person's perceptions and daily experience? The failure of journalism leaves us in ignorance and darkness regarding the events of our time – events which can have a life-and-death impact. We can retreat into the immediate – into what's right in front of our noses – and drown our epistemological sorrows in “games and circuses”, or we can seek out one of the few remaining truth tellers (you will know them by the fact that they have been banished from all the establishment media). It's depressing... but it's preferable to being brainwashed (even though those who are seem happier than we).

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Universal Sniper

I hadn’t intended to see “American Sniper” because all the discussions I’d heard about it fell into one of two categories -- it was either a shameless militaristic propaganda piece, or a stirring patriotic depiction of an authentic American hero.  Since neither description particularly appealed to me, I was giving it a pass -- but then I was persuaded, and I came away with, let’s say, a much more “nuanced” impression.  I don’t think anyone could credibly describe it as a “pro-war” movie, nor could it be unambiguously described as an anti-war movie; there would be both supporting evidence and counter-evidence for both positions.  It is certainly a pro-America movie (even without the closing credits), but is it an anti-Iraqi or anti-Arab or anti-Islam movie?  The characters are certainly unabashed in calling the opposing forces “savages” and the Iraqis “hajjis”, but is that enough to prove that we are just hopelessly chauvinistic and provincial?  And is it enough to prove that our soldiers have to be brainwashed into “thinging” or hating the “enemy” before they are considered fit to go into battle?  Or is this just part of our (allegedly) racist, xenophobic culture that people inevitably bring with them when they join the service?  Wars always involve name-calling -- both of the known enemy and of the hapless civilians who are caught in the middle.  (I suppose they have some pretty choice names for us as well -- a bit more colorful than “Yankee”.)  It’s in the nature of the game --  you can never see the other side as having equal merit to your own, or enemy combatants as just as human as you are.  It has never worked that way throughout recorded human history.  The other side always has to be viewed as bad, if not downright evil… and our side has to be viewed as good, because… well, just because it’s our side.

I think the intended point of the film was to explore some of the motivations behind the people who sign up, join outfits like the SEALS, and become snipers.  Are those motivations honorable or not?  Is this strictly a personal and subjective matter, or does it depend, as some would argue, on whether the war that is being fought is honorable -- i.e., it is moral, just, and legal (that is, Constitutional)?  Which is to say, are we allowed to judge, and if so, can we judge individuals, or strategy, or only overall policy?  At any rate, it is clear that there is something addictive or habit-forming about war, and about combat -- there’s always the feeling (demonstrated by many veterans) that this was, for better or worse, the time of their life, and that nothing that happens from then on is going to measure up.  (And this seems to happen regardless of whether a soldier comes home wounded, or the severity of the wounds.  There are few, if any, anti-war patients in VA hospitals.)  So the temptation is to keep going back for more, as Kyle did -- telling himself that the job was not yet finished, but I suggest other motives as well.  There is something deeply appealing and satisfying, on a primitive level, about danger, combat, violence, and near-death -- not to mention inflicting death on the enemy.  Human beings are violent, and any nation worth its salt, if you will, is going to be war-like, at least a good deal of the time.  This is just the way things are; I’m not applauding.  I’m sure the peacemakers of this world would like to have it otherwise, but they are fighting an uphill battle against human nature, DNA, and -- yes -- evolution (which they pretty much all believe in, after all).  What’s surprising about war in our time is not how common it is, but how rare it is; any given moment most places in the world are at peace -- and it doesn’t have to be that way, and hasn’t always been.  We, of course, in this society, have the privilege of being able to wage war without experiencing its effects -- at least not directly (with notable exceptions like 9/11).  This is why, even though, by rights, we could be the most pacifist society on earth, we are among the most warlike. 

But let’s say that there is such a thing as just war, which the Catholic Church believes, but most people don’t, feeling that all wars are equally just or unjust.  And let’s even say that the concept of “rules of war” is not absurd; this was certainly the premise behind the Nuremberg Trials.  The notion that there are things one can do in wartime, and things one can’t -- even though the goal is to kill as many of the enemy as possible and destroy their means of making war -- this is a fairly new idea, and yet most countries since World War I have been willing to agree to it most of the time.  So what are they responding to here?  It is just politics or diplomacy, or do I detect a hint of Natural Law?  And yet we find that the idea tends to be more popular in Europe and the English-speaking countries; so are we more highly morally developed than everyone else?  I’m not going to go into that now, but you’re welcome to consider the issue at your leisure. 

I have to point out that Kyle had his ambivalences.  He didn’t want to have to kill anyone without having a damn good reason -- and a person who was an obvious danger to our troops qualified.  And yet he hesitated when it came to women and children, even if they were combatants (possibly forced into it, possibly not -- who knows?).  What did he believe in totally, uncompromisingly, and without any shadow of a doubt?  America -- i.e. the U.S. -- and our way of life.  (His way of life, at least -- I don’t think too many service members are fighting in the Middle East for gay rights parades in the U.S.)  And he believed in the military -- and in their mission, which was (and continues to be) to pursue all known (or suspected, or potential) enemies to the ends of the earth.  The questions that were never asked were the ones asked quite frequently after 9/11, namely:  Who are these people, anyway?  And how did they come to be our enemies?  And why do they hate us?  Whoever asked that last question typically had a ready, and completely wrong, answer.  Our handicap in dealing with that issue was, and is, that we are still clueless as to the power of religion, and religious belief, and faith -- even (or especially) when the actions based on that faith are considered (by us) wrong.  This is because our own society was founded as a secular society -- one of the few in history to explicitly ban religion from the public forum and from the “marketplace of ideas” -- and so, for us, religion has been rendered relatively toothless when it comes to motivating real action, with the possible exception of the Evangelicals.  We treat religion as “a private matter” and shun anyone who tries to bring it into play in real-life, especially political, situations, considering it an “intrusion”.  But try that “wall of separation between church and state” argument out in the Middle East some time -- you’ll be lucky to just get laughed to scorn rather than arrested and shot.  We’re dealing with true believers, as I pointed out in a previous post -- they may be wrong, we may not like it, but that’s the way it is.  And, I might add, they are not only true believers, but, for them, death is the most important thing in life -- a mind set that we simply cannot fathom.   

The other begged question -- out of many -- is, why do we always wind up fighting the people who live there on their home turf?  What compelling need do we have that we keep having to go overseas at great risk and expense, and attack other countries while most of sit warm and cozy at home?  Do we even have any idea as to the true costs of war?  Of course, it was argued that 9/11 was an attack by Islam -- well, “radical” Islam -- and that our response ought, quite naturally, to be to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, even though most of the alleged attackers were Saudis.  If you accept that, then I daresay you could be talked into waging war on anyone at any time for any reason.  (Anybody for invading Canada?)  The least that can be said about 9/11 is that it brought the war home -- and yet did it sober anyone up as to the costs of war?  Not that I’ve ever noticed. 

But the real issue -- which I alluded to before, and which is not dealt with in the movie at all -- is that of responsibility.  And here we have the full range of opinion (and law).  On one extreme is what I will call the authoritarian view, namely that a soldier’s job is to follow orders no matter what, and to suspend personal judgment (not only at the time, but in retrospect as well).  And this is how most militaries have operated down through history -- with a premise that seems not only necessary but possibly essential for success and victory.  That last thing a commander in the field needs is a debating society second-guessing his every order, right?  The last thing he needs is to have to deal with “sensitive” people.  So failure to follow orders is an occasion for severe punishment -- or even summary execution, if in the heat of battle.  No one cares what your hopes and dreams were when you joined up; it’s time to “strap ’em on” and go kick raghead butt.   

And yet we don’t seem to completely accept this premise.  Once in a while soldiers wind up before a court martial for having done the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time -- and they are invariably baffled as to what the problem is, and claim they are being singled out, treated unfairly, made a scapegoat, etc.  And it almost invariably comes down to this:  They were given legitimate orders but did something else -- something “above and beyond” -- that was not legitimate.  But who judges whether orders are legitimate?  Very seldom are orders questioned, and when they are it is usually confined to the lowest rank capable of issuing orders -- i.e. the ones who have been given responsibility beyond their capacity.  Senior or general officer orders are never questioned; for them authoritarianism is alive and well. 

But some will ask, well, who got this given soldier or given unit into this impossible predicament in the first place?  How far up the line do you have to go before you find someone who’s responsible (or until responsibility evaporates -- depending on your point of view)?  The problem with this approach is that it’s not based on the big picture.  Ultimately, the responsibility for any given soldier being in any given place at any given time rests with the commander-in-chief, i.e. the president (and, less directly, with Congress, who approved the funding).  Then it becomes a matter of how far _down_ the line you go -- is the secretary of defense also responsible?  How about the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff?  How about the four-stars, three-stars, two-stars, one-stars, bird colonels, etc. etc.?  Whenever one of these things blows up, the buck gets passed up and down the line like a leaf in a hurricane -- and eventually disappears once everyone (meaning the media) loses interest.  Then it turns out that no one is responsible, and no lessons are learned, and the same thing happens again and again.   

A subset of this argument is this.  Setting aside specific instances (war crimes, atrocities, etc.), if a U.S. president starts, or continues, an illegal (un-Constitutional), immoral, or unjust war, how far down the line does the responsibility for that go?  And especially, does it go all the way down to the individual soldier?  Should he be expected to make a legal, moral, or philosophical decision as to the justification for his being in that place at that time with his personal weapon, and for his use of said weapon against the enemy, or alleged enemy?  This is the other end of the spectrum -- what I call the “universal soldier” position, after the protest song of the same title:

According to this point of view, every soldier is expected to be a moralist, legal expert, and philosopher -- and to keep universal principles in mind even in the heat of combat.  But is this realistic?  And isn’t it a betrayal of trust when the authorities put a bunch of, basically, young kids into that position -- kids who trust the leadership, are loyal to their unit and their comrades, and have regard for their native land and heritage?  Aren’t they being terribly misused?  (And this is for the ones who stay alive and well, not to mention the countless dead and wounded.)  Sure, you can talk to them all you want about “why we fight”, but what if it really is just deception and propaganda?  What if the real agenda is entirely different -- something they could barely perceive?  One can argue that every war we have ever fought was fought more for economic reasons than for “survival”, i.e. responding to an “existential threat”.  Or if not for economic reasons, then for pure political reasons… or psychological ones.  Or, once again, for no reason at all except just plain human nature. 

So yes, Kyle went over there, and went back three more times, based on premises that he believed in and that seemed sound.  And within that context -- accepting all of those premises -- he acted properly and did his duty.  But what happens if we start having doubts about those premises?  What happens if guys like Kyle wind up on trial for war crimes because they happen to be on the losing side (military or political)?  Will the plea “I was just following orders” suffice?  We don’t seem to think that’s good enough to cover a multitude of sins -- and yet we can’t agree, from one day to the next, as to what is a sin and what is not.  One thing is for certain -- the soldiers wind up paying the price, one way or the other, and the men (and women) who put them in harm’s way don’t.  This alone should be sufficient cause for a serious look at why, and how, we wage war.