« April Fool | Main | Firewall Fairy Wild Again, Beguiled Again »

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Maybe this should go into a Stream of Consciousness category instead of Conscience, but it's been one of those long, fragmented, busy days working while trying to also take care of the Pack's needs, doing household shit, and remembering to breathe on occasion.

For breaks we've been walking around in the mud, muck and mire, which brought to mind the Russian распутица (rasputitsa, or 'quagmire season') and General Mud, which helped defend Mother Russia from Hitler's blitzkrieg and the like.  Then at one point today somebody mentioned McCain's casual stroll with 100 of his best-armed friends in Baghdad and I alluded to Dick Winters' assault at Brecourt Manor, which compelled me to pop in Band of Brothers when I'd finally had enough grading and recording and shit, which I'm still behind on as usual. 

How many 'whiches' did I just use?  Anyhoo, in the first installment of the miniseries, Sgt Wild Bill Guarnere says of then-Lieutenant Winters:

I like Winters, he's a good man. But when the bullets start flying, I don't know if I want a Quaker doing my fighting for me.

Always makes me chuckle, especially because later Winters disabuses people of the notion that he's a Quaker ("probably a Mennonite" Guarnere observes in response).  Winters' being a Friend isn't all that far-fetched, given that a significant number did enlist during WWII1

Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, The Fighting Quaker, served with great distinction in the Marines during WWI.  Perhaps some Quakers and other people had been conscientious objectors during the First World War, but decided that they could not avoid the fight against fascism during the Second.  One of my favorite philo profs at Colby, the late Bob Reuman, was a rare CO during WWII.  And there were the likes of Howard Zinn who went the opposite route:

I enlisted in the Army Air Corps in World War II and was an eager bombardier, determined to do everything I could to help defeat fascism. Yet, at the end of the war, when I collected my little mementos--my photos, logs of some of my missions--I wrote on the folder, without really thinking, and surprising myself: "Never Again."

Yet we still live amidst what Paul Fussell identified as a culture of war.  I think one of the reasons so many people who were ostensibly anti-war have gone to war is that until relatively recently in human history, there hadn't been enough examples of non-violent solutions to even the most brutally-violent problems.  And even today, some folks who had learned some of the lessons of the last 50 years forgot them all in the wake of 9/11:

[W]hen I became a Quaker as an adolescent in the late 1960s, pacifism seemed to offer a compelling alternative to the perpetuity of brute force. Mahatma Gandhi had overthrown an empire, and Martin Luther King had overturned a racial tyranny with non-violent marches, fasts and boycotts that were nervy, ennobling and effective.

Pacifism seemed to offer a chance for survival to a generation that had been stunted by the fear of nuclear extinction.

I worked as a war reporter, but I never saw a conflict between this and being a Quaker...But in the 1990s, I covered the Balkans. In Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Kosovo, I confronted the logical flaw (or perhaps I should say the fatal flaw) of non-violent resistance: All the best people can be killed by all the worst ones.

I had never believed that pacifism had all the answers; neither does militarism. About half of all draft age Quakers enlisted in World War II, believing that whatever wisdom pacifism had to give the world, it could not defeat the murderous schemes of Adolf Hitler and his cohorts.

It seems to me that in confronting the forces that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, American pacifists have no sane alternative now but to support war. I don't consider this reprisal or revenge, but self-defense: protecting the world from further attacks by destroying those who would launch them.

Others reacted differently and, it seems, more thoughtfully, proposing serious approaches without resorting to our baser, violent instincts.  And here's the thing: nobody suggest inaction, not responding to terrorism or other violence.  That's why I hate the word 'pacifism' and 'passive resistance' and all the others that imply there's some sort of real and spiritual immobility involved with non-violence.  As Gandhi might have said2:

Where there is injustice, I've always believed in fighting. The question is do you fight to change things, or do you fight to punish. For myself, I have found that we are all such sinners we should leave punishment to God.

Amen.  But I guess it was more cathartic to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world3, even if it meant totally throwing away hundreds of thousands of human lives, trillions of dollars, and the incalculable value of our alleged moral authority in the world.

As you've seen me write a bazillion times, I don't hold a monopoly on the Truth, yet I wonder if more people would stop to consider an alternate way of fighting evil and injustice, they might discover something more powerful than any deadly weapon we've ever devised.  Maybe game theory can be brought to bear...

Uh, where was I?  Oh yeah, digressing, getting sleepy, etc.  I'm sure you are, too, if you've read this Greenwaldesque post of epic proportions late at night (but I'll spare you the countless updates).  I guess I should just drop the cow and get to bed.  I suspect you get my point by now, right?


1 - I've seen figures that were higher than 163 before, but can't seem to locate sources.  Regardless, the number obviously must have been small since there are only a few hundred thousand of us globally today, and those men who did join up were in a distinct minority.  You can at least get a sense of the orders of magnitude relative to other faiths from the link.

2 - That's from Attenborough's movie.  I don't know if the Mahatma ever said this in reality, but they do capture the spirit of his words and deeds quite well.

3 - Firewall Fairy dropped by:

June 4, 2003
Because We Could

The failure of the Bush team to produce any weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.'s) in Iraq is becoming a big, big story. But is it the real story we should be concerned with? No. It was the wrong issue before the war, and it's the wrong issue now.

Why? Because there were actually four reasons for this war: the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason and the stated reason.

The ''real reason'' for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn't enough. Because a terrorism bubble had built up over there -- a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured. This terrorism bubble said that plowing airplanes into the World Trade Center was O.K., having Muslim preachers say it was O.K. was O.K., having state-run newspapers call people who did such things ''martyrs'' was O.K. and allowing Muslim charities to raise money for such ''martyrs'' was O.K. Not only was all this seen as O.K., there was a feeling among radical Muslims that suicide bombing would level the balance of power between the Arab world and the West, because we had gone soft and their activists were ready to die.

The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble. Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world. And don't believe the nonsense that this had no effect. Every neighboring government -- and 98 percent of terrorism is about what governments let happen -- got the message. If you talk to U.S. soldiers in Iraq they will tell you this is what the war was about.

The ''right reason'' for this war was the need to partner with Iraqis, post-Saddam, to build a progressive Arab regime. Because the real weapons of mass destruction that threaten us were never Saddam's missiles. The real weapons that threaten us are the growing number of angry, humiliated young Arabs and Muslims, who are produced by failed or failing Arab states -- young people who hate America more than they love life. Helping to build a decent Iraq as a model for others and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the necessary steps for defusing the ideas of mass destruction, which are what really threaten us.

The ''moral reason'' for the war was that Saddam's regime was an engine of mass destruction and genocide that had killed thousands of his own people, and neighbors, and needed to be stopped.

But because the Bush team never dared to spell out the real reason for the war, and (wrongly) felt that it could never win public or world support for the right reasons and the moral reasons, it opted for the ''stated reason'': the notion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that posed an immediate threat to America. I argued before the war that Saddam posed no such threat to America, and had no links with Al Qaeda, and that we couldn't take the nation to war ''on the wings of a lie.'' I argued that Mr. Bush should fight this war for the right reasons and the moral reasons. But he stuck with this W.M.D. argument for P.R. reasons.

Once the war was over and I saw the mass graves and the true extent of Saddam's genocidal evil, my view was that Mr. Bush did not need to find any W.M.D.'s to justify the war for me. I still feel that way. But I have to admit that I've always been fighting my own war in Iraq. Mr. Bush took the country into his war. And if it turns out that he fabricated the evidence for his war (which I wouldn't conclude yet), that would badly damage America and be a very serious matter.

But my ultimate point is this: Finding Iraq's W.M.D.'s is necessary to preserve the credibility of the Bush team, the neocons, Tony Blair and the C.I.A. But rebuilding Iraq is necessary to win the war. I won't feel one whit more secure if we find Saddam's W.M.D.'s, because I never felt he would use them on us. But I will feel terribly insecure if we fail to put Iraq onto a progressive path. Because if that doesn't happen, the terrorism bubble will reinflate and bad things will follow. Mr. Bush's credibility rides on finding W.M.D.'s, but America's future, and the future of the Mideast, rides on our building a different Iraq. We must not forget that.

April 1, 2007 in Conscience, Why We Fight | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Fighting:


by destroying those who would launch them.

But there has been absolutely no indication that we can or would ever do anything like this. The best illustration is the brilliance that had our only important allies complaining about us: registering an attack, then, after the attackers drive off, responding to the attack by bombarding the village full of civilians who happened to be near the site of the attack with artillery.
As soon as you start every examination with the presupposition tha a certain consistent historically reliable persecution has sharkjumped or phasechanged, and the real goal of the most powerful people in several countries is to kill lots of poor Muslims, everything makes sense. It's still evil but you get none of the cognitive dissonance of trying to pretend Bush is smart and dumb at the same time.
He's not dumb. He's inhumanly cruel. And his apparent failures are only failures because you do not grasp his real goals.

Posted by: kei & yuri | Apr 1, 2007 9:23:25 PM

Where there is injustice, I've always believed in fighting. The question is do you fight to change things, or do you fight to punish. For myself, I have found that we are all such sinners we should leave punishment to God.

So say we all. It's something I kick around in my head all the time - am I doing myself a disservice by ranting and raving against the Wiliam Donohues and Ann Coulters of the world? Am I becoming a coarser indvidual because of it? (I wasn't exactly silky smooth to begin with. And I looooove a good argument.) But no, it has to be done, if my children are to grow up in a saner world. The trick is to do it without anger, to fight without taking it personally, to stop them without punishing them.

Oh yeah - I have absolutely no idea how to do that.

Great post.

Posted by: dan mcenroe | Apr 2, 2007 11:18:48 AM

He's not dumb. He's inhumanly cruel. And his apparent failures are only failures because you do not grasp his real goals.

I shudder to think.

The trick is to do it without anger, to fight without taking it personally, to stop them without punishing them.

Oh...withOUT anger. I guess I still have some work to do.

Posted by: NTodd | Apr 2, 2007 4:30:40 PM

Oh...withOUT anger. I guess I still have some work to do.

You and me both. I dunno - the without anger part is what my Buddhist aikido sensei tells me. Like I said, I have no idea how to do that.

Posted by: dan mcenroe | Apr 2, 2007 8:43:19 PM

Smedley was a heckuva soldier.

I wonder if the right wing has ever or will ever start to smear him...

Posted by: PoliShifter | Aug 25, 2007 1:29:55 PM

Post a comment