Monday, May 28, 2007

Is Patriotism a reason support something you know is wrong?

I read another editorial today about how supporting the troops means supporting the mission (and the President.)

I beg to differ.

And I don't just mean differ by the standard liberal response of pointing to cuts made by fiscal conservatives in veteran's programs or the lack of support that some severely wounded vets have received once they were no longer useful to the military. True, supporting the troops means supporting them after they return home, and true that we should continue to call conservatives on their lack of support for veterans where we can point to it, but that argument used by itself as a definition of 'supporting the troops' becomes a dodge of the main issue that is front and center today, which is whether to support the war in Iraq as it is being fought today.

Supporters of the war (who in many cases honestly, though wrongly, believe that fighting it is the right thing to do) want, it seems, for people who now question the war to just 'sit down, shut up and wave a flag.' They will claim that any dissent is undercutting the troops. And if we don't confront that argument head-on, then we end up making their point for them, looking weak, cowardly and stupid no matter how much we might suggest be spent on the V.A.

What it really boils down to is whether, if we believe that our country is wrong, we should support its foreign policy anyway.

Ultimately you have to look at yourself then and ask what is 'right.' Nations make mistakes, or worse, calculated decisions to do what might be considered wrong or morally indefensible for reasons of pure greed or aggrandizement (though they will always have some spurious logic to justify it at the time), and the United States is neither immune nor historically devoid of such decisions. Right now I am sitting in territory that was ripped away from Mexico after what amounted to an outright war of conquest between 1846 and 1848. Do I believe we should return it? No, and frankly if I did then it would be about returning it to the Native Americans and not the Mexicans anyway. The reason why I don't support returning it is that the people who live here now had nothing to do with whatever wrong was perpetrated in 1848 (or before that), and ultimately to return it in order to repent of the sins of the country which elected James K. Polk would mean displacing people who are here now, from their land where they may have grown up and perhaps have several generations of their family buried on. And as we look at events like the Trail of tears, the abrogation of the treaty Thomas Jefferson signed with the Nez Perce and the pursuit of Chief Joseph, the Bosque Redondo or Wounded Knee, it is hard to argue that the United States was in the right on any of these cases. And I do believe that we should do a better job of providing to Native Americans the same benefits that most other Americans enjoy (see my last post) and rectify where we can find them the direct consequences of such past injustices, but I don't believe that as people who live today, we should try to undo the past-- the past is the past and trying to recreate history differently is bound to fail. But Iraq is not a matter of history. It is here and now. The history is whatever we make it, both as a nation and as individuals against the war. Believing that we should not be in Iraq, we can stand for what we believe or we can allow people who will virtually always challenge the patriotism of any war opponent to make us so afraid of being called unpatriotic that we acquiesce and do what they want us to do. OK, fine. Call me a name. I don't care. The war is still wrong.

So then the next question becomes, does Patriotism trump our essential knowledge and recognition of right and wrong?

Let's answer that by supposing (a purely hypothetical scenario) that the U.S. President were actually ordering the unthinkable. Suppose that the President (not necessarily this President, but assume it was a President of your party and who you had voted for) announced that he wanted to unilaterally (with no provocation at all) launch nuclear warheads at every major city on the planet, because he has evidence that terrorists hide more often in large cities(or some other equally irrational reason.) Obviously, the man would be daft, but the question is, if you were such a supporter of the President in our scenario, would you support him even when he made what was obviously a disastrously wrong decision?

If you answer that yes, then you are in effect saying that you have replaced your own ability (or perhaps your ability enhanced by the spirit of God) to decide what is good and what is evil and act on it, with the chief executive's decision which you will follow blindly. Maybe then the anti=Christ is closer than we think, he'd just have to arrange to get himself elected President and he'd have his hordes of followers. If you answer no, that you would not, then you have at least acknowleged that it is at least possible to conjure up an (admittedly very extreme) scenario in which you would refuse to support the policy that the President was pushing forward.

Now, the question becomes, what if you see your country doing something less wrong than that, but still wrong? Do you still refuse to do it? And therein lies the rub. During the Nuremburg trials, several defendants tried to excuse their actions by saying they were 'just following orders.' All of them were found guilty, because they knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it anyway. The only clear line is between right and wrong, not between two different levels of 'wrong.'

If you believe, honestly, that starting a war was the 'right' way to handle the situation that then existed in Iraq (say for the sake of argument, that no one questioned the intelligence at the time-- which would be about 95% accurate-- only Jacques Chirac and a handful of others publically questioned it in early 2003) and proceded on that assumption, then you might not buy my belief that actually going to war was still the 'wrong' way to handle the situation, but even if that is the case, understand that there are many people (not just liberals) who believe that war should always be a last resort, only after all diplomatic or even covert options have been tried and exhausted, and that even then it should be carefully measured by weighing the continuation of the status quo against such considerations as how many lives it will cost and what the consequences might be of losing (history is replete with nations ranging from the Greek city-states who had to unite to fight the Persians to the more recent example of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, who lost wars they by all accounts should have won.) We should not be rushed intoa war by ratcheting up the rhetoric to try and stampede the public into supporing it (which Iraq, quite frankly was).Many people also believe that starting a war is a moral wrong (as opposed to, for example, the war in Afghanistan, which was a necessary and unavoidable self-defense consequence of 9/11, which in effect is when it began.)

How much choosing 'wrong' can be excused by blind patriotism? If you see your country doing something which you believe is wrong, then I would posit that you still have not just a right, but an obligation to speak up in opposition, no matter what the transgression is. Even if you believed at one time that it was right but come to the realization that it is wrong, you have to speak up (as some of Bush's generals have.) Because if you know it's wrong, and you continue to support it anyway then you deserve to be called a coward, not a patriot.

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