Thursday, May 16, 2002

She's at it again...

Despite my best intentions to be frivolous, I'm starting to really enjoy these discussions of politics and morals and what-have-you. I have been in correspondence with Scott, the very nice gentleman who left a comment a few days ago, and he has forwarded very intersting links to me from various places in his reading. Today I had some more time and a little more mental agility than I've enjoyed lately, and so I was not only able to read the articles referred, but also to then give some good solid thought to those readings and formulate a response to them. And Oh! how I've enjoyed it. It's like being in college again...without having to worry about tuition or GPAs.

One of the articles, an Opinion piece by Tal Ben-Shahar in the Israel National News, was beautifully written and pointed out some home truths about the failure of pacifism in Western dealings with the Islamic world. I and other pacifists are coming to realize the painful truth that Pacifism, like Portuguese, is only useful when dealing with other people who speak the same language. If you speak Portuguese to a man who only understands Cantonese, you will get nowhere; when you speak Peace to someone who can only think War, you cannot reach accord. This is a valuable point, and one we cannot overlook when we ask for peaceful solutions.

On the other hand, Ben-Shahar characterized pacifism as inherently dangerous...I don't know if that was his intent, or just the result of an indistinct phrase. I think the problem with clinging to pacifism when you know it won't work is the same problem as clinging to war when you have no good reason. It's the clinging to an idea past the point that it is reasonably practicable (in the case of pacifism) or absolutely necessary (in the case of war) that I think is dangerous, not the idea itself.

I find it interesting, though, that Ben-Shahar was notably silent on the fact that Israel is trying to expand its borders into Palestinian territory. Correct me in the comment window if you have better information, but it is my understanding that one of the main points of the Geneva Convention and the United Nations is that no nation shall be allowed to annex land or territory from a neighboring nation. By trying to annex Palestinian territory (from which sovereignty Israel was initially carved in 1948, and one wonders what Palestinians at the time must have thought of that), Israel defied the conventions of its own allies and benefactors and posed as the aggressor. While that does not excuse Palestinian terrorism, it does put Israel in the wrong as well, and makes their position considerably less defensible.

Another article, submitted by Anatole Kaletsky to an AOL homepage devoted to patriotic issues, presented more immediate problems. In his first paragraph, he used two phrases to describe war that I find difficult: "unavoidable" and "morally justifiable."

(WARNING: PERSONAL BELIEFS IMMINENT) I believe that things are either moral or immoral; if an action harms another person, it is immoral. I concede, though, that for humanity to live in societies, some immoral actions must be undertaken for moral reasons. But the moral reason does not make the immoral action moral. If you have to justify something, that means it is not just and must be made to seem is therefore quite probably immoral, no matter how necessary you think it is.

Further, all things are avoidable. Unavoidability is usually an excuse, like saying "I didn't have a choice." But there is always a choice, there is always another path...but these choices and paths are often unknown to us, or ineffective, or impossible, or simply not what we want to do. Take as an example the old moral-justification hypothetical question "If someone was holding a gun to your head, would you (insert hypothetical atrocity here)?" People often say, "Yes, of course, I wouldn't have any other choice." But death and defeat are always choices; the destruction of our homes and our families and our belief systems are always our choices...just not choices that are the easiest to make.

I find it difficult to believe that destroying one group or another group, reducing one government to ashes or one nation to ruin, will solve our problems. But I must admit that I don't see any other path to take in this current situation. What worries me, what makes me stand up and say NO WAR, is the fear that our government will not be able to see a better path, will then justify the expedient solution, and then will stop looking for that true, moral, peaceful path...that we will convince ourselves of how effective war is, and forget to look for peaceful solutions. If that happens, we will be returning to medievalism ourselves, and will become worse than our enemies.

A lot of parallels are being drawn between the September 11th attacks and Pearl Harbor, between the bombing of Afghanistan and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Articles I've read lately have said that the best way to a lasting peace is to defeat the current regimes of our enemies and help the survivors rebuild on a better model, as happened with Germany and Japan.

What worries me are the differences between World War II and now. For one, the end of WWII was overseen by one of the greatest minds, greatest diplomats, and greatest leaders of this century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt; on the other side of the Atlantic was another great mind, diplomat, and leader, Sir Winston Churchill. Loads of really brilliant people were involved in doing everything possible to create a lasting peace, learning from the mistakes of the past to ensure that the horrors of another war would not be the natural result of the current war's end (as was the case with World War I).

But we have George W. Bush at the helm. Again, this is only my opinion, but I do not trust Bush. I think he is a corporate stooge and a mindless tool available to the highest bidder. He is allied with some of the worst loot-and-burn industries in our nation and has not demonstrated any remotely impressive statesmanship during his term so far. And on a more personal note, he has beady, empty little eyes. He looks like an idiot, and people who look like idiots quite often are.

For another difference, in WWII we were fighting (for the larger part) Europeans with whom we had something in common, a common culture and history and motive that we could relate to and understand; for the lesser part, we were dealing with the Japanese, who we did not comprehend in any way...and we were forced by expedience to commit the greatest atrocity of our national history, the atomic-bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in order to defeat this incomprehensible enemy. Now we are again faced with an enemy that is completely and incomprehensibly alien to us, and I fear that we will find ourselves committing an even greater atrocity before we are through.

In these articles I've been reading, from Scott and from other sources, there are also a lot of comparisons between the Clinton and Bush administrations concerning foreign policy. Though I tend to be more leftish than rightish, I am not a big fan of Clinton's. He got off to a rousing and admirable start, but underneath those lofty ideals and the great speeches stood a coward and a weasel; his foreign policies were wishy-washy rather than diplomatic, ineffectual rather than pacific. Much of those policies can be blamed for the current problem. But previous decades of bad foreign policy can also be blamed. The situation in the Middle East has been brewing for a lot longer than Clinton has even been alive.

As far as I have been able to discern, Bush's foreign policy isn't any better than Clinton's. He strikes me as not being possessed of a diplomatic mind. I don't know how Bush will behave and react when this war is over, or at least when the Afghani portion is over: will he be an enlightened figure of democracy, as Roosevelt and the Allied leaders were at the end of WWII when they helped rebuild Germany and Italy and Japan? Or will he be a jackal of war and force our defeated enemies into trade agreements and false democracies that will plant the seeds of future terrorism? It remains to be seen, and I find myself feeling trepidatious, to say the very least.

I firmly feel that if we do not keep a sharp eye on our government, if we do not question war and demand peaceful solutions wherever possible, we can very easily tip ourselves into a terrible era of American bellicosity where we run around fighting wars just for the fun and profit of it, and truly become the Evil Empire our enemies accuse us of being.

Finally, this morning Scott sent me a quotation from the 19th-century Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill:
    War is an ugly thing, but it is not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made so by the exertions of better men than himself.
That's fine, except for one thing: fighting does not have to mean killing. Killing should always be the last possible resort, a distasteful expedient to be put aside as soon as the destructive force that threatens us is defeated. Fighting for something that isn't threatened is mere belligerence; belligerence carried to the degree of killing is evil.

I fight for my beliefs every day, in my writing and my speech and my refusal to be silenced or hidden. We should of course never cease to fight for our beliefs. Because then we do become decadent and degraded, and anyone who comes by to destroy us will be hailed as a hero by history.

On the other hand, one has to judge whether or not what one is defending is worth defending. To say that "nothing is worth war" is as extremist (and therefore illogical) as saying that "all my things are worth war." The paradox is that those who have the least material property to defend are more likely to become warlike; those who have the most are more likely to be pacific.

When I hear people say that "We are defending our way of life," I never hear a definition of what elements comprise "our way of life," nor how that way of life is threatened, exactly. My way of life demands maximum civil liberties, availability of information and the arts, opportunities for material prosperity in a thriving consumer-driven economy, and physical that order. Only the last two seem to me threatened by outsiders; the others are often threatened by our own government and my fellow citizens, and so I find I must speak out.

Well, anyway. Here I go speaking out all over the place. To a limited audience, I know, but truth spreads like a mind perceives it and passes it on to another mind, who finds truth somewhere in that idea and passes it on to another. Eventually the truth becomes known. I know that what I perceive as the truth may not be the truth. But the truth is, it is absolute, and is contained within the lies we tell ourselves. As Michelangelo said of his sculptures: they're already there in the marble, it's just a matter of getting rid of the excess.

Thanks for hanging out with me on this verbal voyage for truth. Here's you own little "sculpture" to enjoy:

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