Saturday, September 24, 2005

  We like war

In March, 2003, shortly after the US invaded Iraq, I got involved in a philosophical exchange via email with someone who held differing views. He sent me to read this essay and I ended up spending two days there taking on the hawks of that blog. Recently, I've gotten a couple of emails from people who've just come across the essay and all the responses (including mine). A war supporter sent me two long emails to which I responded below:

I don’t know what it is you’d like me to respond to. Since you sent me two massive things to go through, I’m just going to give you my thoughts in a fairly spontaneous way. If I miss something or characterize your position incorrectly, you can call me on it if you want. After all, in effect you’ve had more than two years to frame your responses to selected things I wrote (which were composed in the heat of the moment over an exhausting two day period). When I got the previous email response, I was motivated to go back and see what I’d written then and I’ll admit to wishing I’d done a couple of things differently. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have done the blood-in-the-water-shark-baiting thing in my first post. And I wish I hadn’t called anyone a name (“moron”). Other than that, I stand by everything I wrote at that time, for what it’s worth.

I appreciate that you make an attempt to find some common ground. In general, I think that’s been missing from much of the dialogue concerning this subject...most people only seem to want to score points and/or pump up the people who already believe the same thing they do. It seems like a pretty useless activity to me. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do that much blog posting (that was my first attempt)...people ignore the opportunity to come together to form any kind of consensus in favor of bashing each others' heads in.

You wasted your time pasting all of that bin Laden stuff. First of all, I’ve read it before and secondly, why is it that so many people in your camp choose to believe that either we’re unaware of what he says or that we somehow sympathize with him? As long as we continue to have this “you’re either for us or you’re for the terrorists” mindset, then the common ground I mentioned above isn’t going to amount to much. Why would intelligent people let themselves be manipulated into thinking that? Although I’m fairly confident that your reaction will be to scoff, I can offer considerable (what I regard as) evidence that Osama is being served perfectly by our present policy.

I don’t even want to get into the whole subject of whether or not this adventure was about oil. I’ll admit to you, when I re-read those exchanges from a couple of years ago, one thing that I thought was that “well, most likely this ‘it isn’t for oil, you idiot’ mentality has likely changed considerably in light of revelations of the past couple of years. That you can still suggest it’s a non-issue at this late date indicates that we live in such different worlds that this subject can’t be discussed reasonably. I agree with your analysis that alternative energy sources need to be cultivated, but you seem to imply that it ought to be the product of good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity. And while I don’t disagree with that, the reality is, we live in a country where the oil companies and the established energy providers get to call the shots via their pipeline to power...and they have (what I would call) a criminal disinterest in helping wean the world from the status quo. And this argument is remarkably similar to the one I hear these days regarding those hurt most by the recent hurricane disasters. “Why are people sitting around waiting for the government to save them, they should get off their asses and take care of themselves.” The truth is, I couldn’t agree more. But it’s beyond disingenuous to disregard the implicit and explicit promises our government has made to us over the course of my lifetime: “Pay your taxes and we will take care of more and we’ll do an even better us, you’ll be safe.” The truth is, they can NEVER make us safe and it’s unfortunate that a lot of people have bought it. But to suggest that that wasn’t the INTENTION of the government when they made those promises is even more unfortunate. And your “tell your neighbors to get rid of their SUV’s” is just more of, “it doesn’t matter if the government is standing on your neck, take care of yourself”'s a similar prescription. Yeah, every single one of us would be far better equipped to take care of ourselves and the problems we face if the government wasn’t doing absolutely everything in its power to discourage us.

Your correspondence with Bill Whittle highlights more profound fundamental differences in our respective positions. You seem to be someone who regards going to war and the subsequent loss of life and property that follows as merely a choice of strategy. I’m very sorry to report that, in a conversation with me, any proceeding protestations along the lines of “we all hate war” and “every life is sacred” hold very little water. It seems to me that you and Bill Whittle and his disciples have, at the very least, an opinion regarding war as an acceptable, if not desirable mode of human interaction. (And I’ve yet to hear even one defender of our present conflict reconcile the fact that none of the people shaping our current policy have had military experience or anything but a strong desire to avoid it...except maybe for Colin Powell...oh wait)

So here’s my analysis generally. You think of yourself as smart and unassailable by any propaganda (in spite of GW actually SAYING that he’s in the business of “propelling the propaganda”). So you totally objectively determine that the threat posed by the Islamist jihad (as personified by Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Jose Padilla, Al Franken and God knows who else today) is so incredibly horrific and compelling that we’re completely justified in attacking whomever in order to save our children. The alternative is so unthinkable that it’s far better to bankrupt ourselves and leave our children and generations to come a country in an economic hole so huge that they don’t stand a chance of digging themselves out. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re actually aware of the economic considerations...and if that’s the case then you would also be aware of such things as cost/benefit analysis. If you are, then I have to believe that you have thoughtfully considered the ramifications of this war. And that you would still be cheering it on tells me one of two things: 1) You’re convinced that this threat is so horrible and complete that fighting it is worth any cost or 2) You get kind of a vicarious thrill that we’re at war.

So this is where that puts us: if you choose 1...we disagree and it’s my view that you’ve swallowed a line of crap and you don’t have a good historical understanding of the relationship EVERY government has ever had with its citizens (and if you think this is the One True Blessed Government that defies all of that, I can’t respond). If you choose 2, I also can’t respond...except to say that it would be incredibly refreshing to finally hear a hawk actually say that (which none I’m aware of would ever dare do in mixed company). But it’s only in speaking our most fervently held truths that we can ever hope to live together.
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Name: Bill St James
Location: Portland, OR

Let's celebrate uninformed uniformity

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