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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Myths

Where to begin?  I've had something rattling around my noodle for a while now, but like Mozart and the Magic Flute, I haven't been able to put it down on paper because I've been distracted by other weighty issues. 

Well, okay, I'm more Salieri to Thers' Mozart.  He's who got me thinking about some stuff, so maybe I should start with a snippet of his rant about Joe Klein:

Hell, if you don't like stupid chants and giant puppets, and I'm no big fan myself, fair enough, he should have fucking STOOD UP and put his ass where it fucking belonged, and said NO to this retarded war in unweaselly terms. You know why I was out on the streets at those freaking ANSWER marches, run by a group I still want to piss on? Because NOBODY ELSE WAS FUCKING DOING OR SAYING ANYTHING, that's why.

I wanted to follow up on Thers' wise, albeit uncivil, words with some of my own musings about the mythological Anti-War Movement/Peace Creeps/Dirty Fucking Hippies, but it wasn't until I saw this Requiem in Salon that things began to gel for me:

We find ourselves, almost four years into the Iraq war, in a very strange situation. What do you do when it has become obvious that the leader of your country is -- there is no kinder way to put this -- a delusional fool? And that his weird fantasy war is hopelessly and irretrievably lost? Apparently, you just wait. The Democrats are raging and ranting, but they will not cut off funds. Still  crippled by their fear of being labeled "soft on national security," the majority party will watch the end from a safe distance, like survivors who quickly paddle away from a doomed ship to avoid being pulled down in the suction when it goes down.

It's no mystery why the Democrats will not pull the plug. Cutting off funding for an ongoing war is a radical move, one that would expose the Democrats to familiar stab-in-the-back charges that they don't "support the troops." Now that the ugly end of Bush's war is in sight, why on earth would the Democrats want to risk being blamed for losing it?

This makes a certain political sense, but it is deeply cynical. It implicitly accepts that more young Americans must die for a policy that has no chance of working. They must die so that a cowardly president can delay his day of reckoning a few more months. They must die so that Democrats can wash their hands of the whole mess.

The only thing that could move the Democrats to abandon this cold-blooded calculation and challenge Bush's war directly is a clear message from the American people. Not just their disapproval of Bush and his handling of the war -- that message was sent in the last elections, and in the recent CBS poll showing that only 23 percent of Americans support Bush's war leadership. That disapproval has emboldened the Democrats -- and some Republicans -- enough that they have dared to criticize Bush, something they didn't have the guts to do until now. But it isn't enough to make them try to end the war. For that to happen, large numbers of Americans would have to actually protest the war. A real, broad-based antiwar movement would immediately put an end to the war -- and put the Bush presidency out of its misery.

But there is no significant antiwar movement. And there isn't going to be one unless Bush completely loses it and decides to attack Iran. (Insane as this idea is, Bush might see it as the only way to simultaneously destroy what he regards as a Nazi-like threat and save his shattered presidency.) This isn't Vietnam, where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest. This is the new, post-draft America, where a subclass of poorly paid professional warriors does the bidding of a power elite. With some notable exceptions, Cindy Sheehan being the most famous, the warriors and their families, those who pay the price, do not protest. And the rest of the country, not facing death or the death of immediate family members, doesn't care enough to.

Indeed, there does seem to be a lack of urgency these days when it comes to the war.  The vast majority of Americans know it's a disaster morally, financially, militarily, etc, but I guess we haven't quite broken from our Bush Malaise.  You know, the feeling that Bush is going to do whatever he wants anyway, and the Dems won't oppose him.

In large part, I blame our Stewards Of All That Is Right And Just in the mythological independent media.  Look at this exchange in an online chat with WaPo's Congressional reporter a little while back:

Washington, D.C.: I am somewhat surprised at the debate about the surge. In October, The Post's own polling showed that 19% of voters favored an immediate withdrawal. Yesterday, CNN reported that more than 50% want an immediate or by year's end withdrawal. Still, the politicians debate more or less, not sooner or later. Why won't the politicians follow the polls when it comes to leaving Iraq?

Shailagh Murray: Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist running the Pentagon? I don't think so. The reason that many politicians are squeamish about hard and fast goals of any kind in Iraq is that there is no simple response or solution -- it would have emerged by now. A withdrawal by year's end carries enormous, very serious implications.

See, you can't just trust regular folks with important decisions in a democratic republic such as ours.  Best to leave all the serious things to the Bold And Experienced Heroes.

This infuriated me and brought to mind something by Thoreau:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.
...
A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
...
[The] State never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.

While it is easy to blame Bush and the media and the wingersphere for the horror we've unleashed in Iraq, really the blood is on the hands of we who opposed the war.  We didn't surrender our conscience, but we did not do all that was necessary.  Catnip:

We have failed. The pro-war culture continues to thrive because too many citizens believe that war is a necessity instead of a perversion. They have lost faith in diplomacy and negotiations because they fervently believe that the time bomb is ticking and is ready to explode in their neighbourhood some time soon. They have bought into centuries of fearmongering and refuse to believe that peaceful methods of solving conflicts are actually reasonable.

We also seem to feed into a sense of powerlessness when we depend on some external movement or leader to push toward our goals.  Why should I wait for Congress, even a Democratic one, to rein in Bush?  Why does somebody in the media think that orthodontists have nothing to say about the wars we wage?  Why do we lament there are no more people like MLK?

Just as we have a tendency in this nation to ascribe all that is evil to a handful of truly evil men, with the attendant magical thinking that if we only terminate them with extreme prejudice everything will be ducky, we also do the inverse.  We elevate individuals and ascribe to them Absolute Power, either literal or metaphorical, and decide that without their leadership we plebians can do nothing of value.

I've been reading a book called Founding Myths, which I think is germane at this point.  Here's an excerpt from Chapters 2 and 4, discussing the very notion of Mythological Heroes and Popular Forces:

The story of "Paul Revere's ride" needs not only correction but perspective.  One hundred twenty-two people lost their lives within hours of Revere's heroics, and almost twice that number were wounded.  Revere's ride was not the major event of that day, nor was Revere's warning so critical in triggering the bloodbath.  Patriotic farmers had been preparing to oppose the British for the better part of a year.  Paul Revere himself had contributed to those preparations with other important rides...

Paul Revere was one among tens of thousands of patriot from Massachusetts who rose to fight the British.  Most of those people lived outside of Boston, and, contrary to the traditional telling, these people were not country cousins to their urban counterparts.  They were rebels in their own right, although their story is rarely told...

In truth, the country folk...staged their own Revolution more than a half a year before.
...
The Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 was the most successful popular uprising in the nation's history, the only one to remove existing political authority.  Despite its power--or possibly because of its power--this momentous event has been virtually lost to history.
...
The very strengths of the Revolution of 1774 have insured its anonymity.  The force of the people was so overwhelming that violence became unnecessary.  The handful of Crown-appointed officials...when confronted by 4,622 angry militiamen, had no choice but to submit.  Had opposition been stronger, there might have been violence; that would have made for a bloodier tale but a weaker revolution.
...
The United States owes its very existence to the premise that all authority resides with the people, yet our standard telling of history does not reflect this fundamental principle.  The story of the revolution before the Revolution can remind us of what we are all about.

Perhaps due to our collective amnesia, we have forgotten just how much power we wield.  We also seem to have forgotten that sacrifice isn't just something that Bush talks about in support of the war--it's also something we must talk about in opposition.  Gordon Clark:

With few exceptions, serious discussion of nonviolence strategies is absent from the journals and books of the anti-war left. Institutional funders refuse to support nonviolent resistance strategies. Large anti-war coalitions like Win Without War and ANSWER decline to use nonviolent strategies or tactics.

Once again, why? Perhaps the answer can be found in our movement’s - and society’s - strong avoidance of the peculiar discipline that makes nonviolence effective: the willingness to make sacrifices and to accept suffering.
...
Depending on one’s situation, of course, simple protest can require both sacrifice and suffering. Members of the military or their families who speak out publicly against the war, for instance, often face social isolation, job loss, serious harassment, or worse. For the large majority of us in the peace movement, however, speaking out publicly and demonstrating involves little or no risk or sacrifice.

It’s also not that simple protest isn’t necessary. It is, in fact, part of nonviolent social change strategy as outlined by Gandhi and King. But it is only one stage, and not the ultimate one. If it is not successful in achieving its goal, then the ante must be raised, and actual resistance - which includes both disobedience and noncooperation - must be employed.

But that’s what we don’t do. It’s clear that this administration regards even mass protest as little more than a "focus group," or worse still, an example of our freedoms which they can then cynically use to justify their war, yet we have generally continued to employ the same strategies, holding the same rallies, marches and meetings. It is ironic, but not coincidental, that we have a President who believes that we can wage wars without shared sacrifice at the same time that we have a movement that believes we can stop wars without demanding any real sacrifice of ourselves.

Some people do sacrifice, as the SP4 has.  I honestly haven't in any real sense, which fuels a lot of guilt on my part.  Of course, I'm experiencing such inertia in my life at the moment that I can barely bring myself to do the dishes, but that's another larger issue I have to address.

But really, what can I as an individual do?  Lots of things, it turns out.  Just look at the likes of Cindy Sheehan.  She's a regular person who turned her sacrifice (and her son's) into fuel for her own crusade.  She was mocked and hated, but I've got to think that her efforts are a part of the shift in American attitude toward the war. 

Did she turn the tide by herself?  No.  But without her message and example, the tide would turn more slowly.  Now that the American consciousness is raised a bit, we've got one other big step to take: action.

What should that action look like?  Bush doesn't seem to listen to polls, protests, or threats from Congress.  He even rejects his own party at this point.  I hear lots of people talk about pitchforks and torches and such, but I observe that nobody seems to be motivated to do that either, perhaps because in the end that won't achieve anything.  A Force More Powerful:

Unlike Gandhi and later leaders of nonviolent campaigns, the twentieth century's avatars of violence never developed a systematic understanding of how their chosen sanctions - firefights, bombing, street battles or terror - were supposed to replace old forms of authority with new opportunities for freedom. Instead, they wove a vague but seductive mythology around the putative power of violence: After violent insurrection was credited as having succeeded in a few prominent cases, it could be advertised as necessary to overthrow any offensive ruler. Once violence was seen as imperative, its destructive costs could be ignored.

Because violence became so widely accepted as a medication for injustice or tyranny, there was no incentive to consider less damaging but also less sensational alternatives for taking power, however effective they had been in the past. The work of nonviolent movements in the twentieth century led to independence for India, equal rights for African Americans and South Africans, democracy in Poland, and the removal of dictators in the Philippines, Chile and a litany of other countries. In each of the conflicts that produced those results, a relationship existed between the means of struggle and the political outcome. But never in the postwar period did a military insurrection or violent coup extend freedom to the people in whose name power was taken.
...
It is not a myth that violence can alter events. It is a myth that it gives power to the people.

I'd like to think that folks realize a war at home will do no good, just as our wars abroad accomplish nothing.  I guess at this point I'm going to punt the issue of what exactly we should do in the face of escalation and the likely Democratic inability to get us out of Iraq in the next year. 

Just a temporary shirking of my moral responsibility, though: there's a big march scheduled for January 27th in DC, and that does offer a nice start to a campaign now that opinion and Congress has shifted.  Then we'll need to make a concerted effort to build upon that foundation.

ntodd

January 16, 2007 in Why We Fight | Permalink

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Comments

Think of it this way -- the tyrant is holding all of those soldiers hostage. If the congress cuts funds, he won't recall the troops, he'll just cut their ammunition.

He's holding a gun to our heads.

Posted by: whig | Jan 16, 2007 12:40:12 PM

From little things, big things come.

- Paul Kelly

Posted by: watertiger | Jan 16, 2007 1:04:54 PM

Too long. I'm not reading all them words...

Posted by: dave™© | Jan 16, 2007 1:15:05 PM

it's too easy to jump in the SUV and hop off to the Mall to forget about it all.

i always spell his name wrong, and first i thought he was crazy, but rangel is right, we need a draft.

you can bet your sweet ass i knew i wasn't going to vietnam.

Posted by: charley | Jan 16, 2007 2:07:23 PM

I think that a lot Americans today are too busy just trying to make ends meet and have any cash left over at the end of the month to be able to spend a lot of time protesting.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jan 16, 2007 2:29:00 PM

I think that Fiat Lux is right. Protesting, contacting your congresscritters, those sort of things start out very near the apex of Maslow's Triangle. It would take an event like a draft or the like to bring that down below the level of self-actualization down to the level of self-preservation.

Posted by: Jas | Jan 16, 2007 3:28:05 PM

And the other end of the equation: They just don't fucking listen to us.

40-, 50-, 60-some year old moral cowards, indulging in a Life of luxury, privilege and the perversion of Democracy - blood is nothing to them, sweat is nothing to them... hunger and need and fear? Feh! All for other people and other people's children. Nothing but money-grubbing, sycophantic shut-ins, walled off from the trials of everyday Life and the errors of their overvalued judgements.

A million citizens marching on Washington would have their voices drowned out by the howling wind of the mysterious and unnamed 'swing voters', and the political banshees wailing away in their focus groups and think tanks.

I wish I had a good answer. At least we have the internets.... for now.

Fight the Man!

Posted by: Ripley | Jan 16, 2007 3:55:34 PM

Are we suggesting that farmers in MA during the colonial period weren't worried about making ends meet? Is that what absolves us of inaction?

And I ask that ask a guilty party myself...

Posted by: NTodd | Jan 16, 2007 4:21:47 PM

I'm not sure if you're responding to me, NTodd. I was talking about politicians and the media.

I don't know if there's anything that absolves us of inaction. Protest, in the form of demonstrations, has always struck me as a bit ineffective, simply because the Powers That Be can simply shrug their shoulders and go back to what they were doing. Might demonstrations sway public opinion? Possibly, but whether it's enough to effect any real change is hard to say.

I think the problemn with the current administration is that they just don't care what the American citizenry wants. Well, aside from Bush's near-psychotic need for approval and adoration. But from a practical standpoint, I really think they'd rather we were all dead - or just gone.

Other than the internets, I'm not sure what we, the hoi polloi, can do that actually makes a difference. Which is not to say we shouldn't try - I just don't have a solid answer on what we should do to bring about change. (outside of voting, of course)

Posted by: Ripley | Jan 16, 2007 5:34:51 PM

I think NTodd was responding to me, Ripley. And I would have to say no, I offer no absolution for anyone, myself included, fat, lazy liberal that I am. Merely explanation for an observable phenomenon.

I don't know how it is there in the Northeast, but here in Colorado if you want people up in arms about something, suggest you're going to build a prison in their neighborhood.

Or worse, a WalMart.

Posted by: Jas | Jan 16, 2007 8:17:03 PM

we are all guilty. that's not the point.

Jax called it. when it might be your ass on the line you will take some sort of effective action, or it might not be so effective, but you'll move...

Posted by: charley | Jan 16, 2007 8:29:17 PM

Old news, but those who signed the Declaration of Independence were hounded unmercifully by the British, their homes and livelihoods destroyed, their lives and the lives of their families threatened and, in some cases, taken.

We do not know sacrifice. We don't even know the economic sacrifices from WWII, like trying to bake a cake without eggs, for example, growing Victory Gardens.

I include myself in that "we".

It is typical of this current administration (and others in other countries, other times) that they leave us with just enough to lose that we have terrible trouble going up against them because we have to face that we could lose everything. Everything.

They count on our not being willing to do that.

And they count on our being made to disappear if we are willing to challenge them. They can erase us, making our sacrifice seem like nothing.

Posted by: Sarah Deere | Jan 16, 2007 8:58:21 PM

Yes, but what's an appropriate way to dissent? Have you considered the ramifications? Have you thought it through?

Posted by: Thers | Jan 17, 2007 5:51:31 AM

American power is not taken from those in power, thus no need for a coup from those who maintain the armament.

Placate the masses via bread and circuses, while Paris Hilton and Donald Trump get tax cuts and act like walking lobatamies...

The idea of violence not lending power died at Wounded Knee...

Posted by: Mr.Murder | Jan 17, 2007 3:08:14 PM

I think you would be interested in this video about Bernie Meyer who has traveled the world portraying Gandhi:

http://pugettown.wordpress.com/2007/01/19/

Posted by: Heather Flanagan | Jan 19, 2007 9:22:59 AM

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