Monday, July 11, 2011

Sex, Lies and The American Way of War

     "Doesn't matter who did what to who, at this point.  Fact is, we went to war.  And now, there ain't no going back.  I mean, shit, that's what war is, you know?  Once you in it, you in it.
        If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we got to fight."
                                    --Slim Charles, The Wire

Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was considered a relative liberal, for his time. He had impeccable credentials of manhood, having fought with distinction in the Civil War, wounded a Ball's Bluff, just upriver from Washington, DC, where Holmes would ultimately reign over the Supreme Court for decades.  But it was Holmes who sent Eugene Debs to prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, for the crime of having spoken and written against the United States' involvement in World War One, and Deb's had spoken against the draft initiated for that war. Holmes noted both these opinions were made illegal by the Act, which forbid opposition to the war or to any government act which supported this war.  

Holmes evoked the most colorful and oft quoted analogy about the limits of free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution: "You cannot cry 'Fire,' in a crowded theater," Holmes said, when the "Clear and Present Danger," of panic and injury resulting from this false alarm would harm people in the theater.

The problem was, and still is, the analogy could hardly have been less apt. A better analogy, one which would have actually fit the circumstances, would have been the man who stands outside the theater and shouts, "There is a fire about to happen inside the theater. And once you are inside, there are no fire exits!" 

Now, that would have very possibly hurt business, just as not having a good war would hurt business, but what we are talking about is a warning to people before they leap into a room afire, a warning against war and against conscription. 

But the times were against Debs. Theodore Roosevelt called those who opposed war eunuchs, emasculated cowards who did not love their country and did not  have the fortitude to defend it. As if fighting in a war fought among monarchs for the murkiest of reasons had anything with defending the United States. As if the Spanish American War of 1898--in which Teddy Roosevelt got his bone fides for brass balls had anything to do with defending the United States. 

But oh, what rousing fun war can be; how we love it so, this peace loving country of ours.

Hearst made a pretty penny off Teddy's war and unnamed millionaires made a pretty penny from WWI. 

But, as the man says, once you in it, you in it. And pretty soon everyone is buying $2 stickers in the shape of ribbons for their bumpers, or in the time of WWI, war bonds. 

So Debs went off to jail for years, for having voiced opposition to the war. Holmes dealt a deep blow to freedom of speech, from which, over time, the nation seems to have, mostly, recovered.
Holmes became the Antonin Scalia of his day, with the just the pithy phrase to project his point of view, the Constitution notwithstanding. 

Imagine, if Holmes or Scalia had still been on the court when the draft resistance of the 1960's and 1970's flowered, in opposition to the war in Vietnam. We might still be there.

Once again, we have evidence that a "Nation of Laws" is an empty notion, if we do not have a Supreme Court of men who can look beyond their own opinions and convictions, conscious or unconscious, toward a clear headed conclusion.

Now, we have Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, still sucking dry our nation. One might ask our own Democratic President, "What is the mission?" 

As wonderful and thoughtful as President Obama is, he looks only marginally better than Lyndon Johnson when it comes to fighting this war in a distant land, in an effort to remake a very foreign country and culture to our liking. 

Yes, there is a difference between Vietnam, which we were fighting to resist "Communism," and Afghanistan, where we are fight to resist "terrorism."  Wait a minute, it will come to me. Communism was one of those things you couldn't really see all that easily, but you knew they were out there trying to get you. Terrorism, well, pretty much the same. We did have 9/11, so we know there are some people in the world who hate the US of A. 

But a war? As Carver tells Griggs, the war on drugs is not a war. Why not? Because wars end.

That's the problem with the "War" on terrorism and the war on drugs. There's no flag to capture, no check mate, no end game. 

Endless war, we I love it so.

As Bob Dylan once said, "Join the Army if you fail."  And with the all volunteer army, that has sadly been all too true for at least a portion of the troops. They are in the Army because they have no where else to go.  They may justify their decision with words about patriotism, defending their country, but how many would make the choice that National Football League player who quit the NFL to join the Army? (And was then shot dead by his own comrades, by mistake.) One reason his story got so much play was because it struck so many people as so unusual. People who are making huge salaries, who have attractive options do not, ordinarily, join the Army nowadays.  This is a politically incorrect statement.  It is sad, perhaps, but true.

I'm not saying American men and women have never joined the Army out of a sense of the urgency to defend their nation. An individual signs up to go to war for all sorts of reasons, but there may be one over riding reason-- and that may be to defend your nation. But today, in 2011, with this type of unending "War" against unseen enemies, not the same. 

Today, with a paid army of professionals, people are engaging in Freakenomics--they are motivated to help their country, but there are many ways to do this--George W did not urge mass enlistment, he told the nation to go out to the shopping mall. No, today, we are doing calculations before we enlist.

Now we have Afghanistan, from which, maybe, the 9/11 terrorists may have set forth. Hard to know that, actually, since Al Qaeda, which means "The Base," actually does not need a geographically defined "base." It can train and organize in an apartment in Berlin and a motel in Florida.  So how much sense does it make to attack a country to clear it of "training bases?"

As if.

As if any nation could ever "clear" a nation the size of Texas and Colorado combined, of some off the grid maniacs hiding out and playing war games.

If President Obama loses the next election, it will be cause of the economy, stupid. But he may lose the election, and he may not be able to even claim to have been a losing President who had pointed the right way. Had Lincoln lost his mid Civil War election, he would have, at least been able to leave office with his head held high, and he could have looked his countrymen in the eye and said, "I did what I knew was right."

President Obama ought to have looked his countrymen in the television eye and said, "This war is being fought on a lie. The lie is the proposition we can remake Afghanistan into a happy little democracy filled with people who love America and will not tolerate the presence of anyone who might wish to harm America.  Clearly, even if we could do that in Afghanistan,  we cannot do that also in Pakistan and Iraq, as our finding Osma Bin Laden has revealed. Now, we are out."

My father clung to the notion LBJ was, overall, a good President. He passed Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act.. He launched a war on poverty and he did a slew of good things. But, for my money, all that was crushed by Viet Nam.  LBJ kept voicing the lie that we had to win there, when Walter Cronkite and the CBS news made it patently clearly every night we could not  win in Viet Nam; we could not win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. Nor did we have to. We could just walk away. Which, ultimately, we did. Now we trade with them.

So for me, even if President Obama manages to save the economy, if he does not get us out of Afghanistan and quickly, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for his candidacy.

The only thing which could do that, of course, would be a Newt, a Sarah, a Michele or even maybe a MItt, as the alternative. 

The problem is, when you look at the Republicans, their Tea Party faction, their candidates, every last one of them, and worst of all, the yowling snipes who are their faithful--Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck--it's enough to turn your stomach. 

What is that called?  A Hobbsian  choice?

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