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Friday, June 03, 2005

war, what is it good for -- let me count the ways

Harry has an interesting and almost irony free post here which makes the very good point that those who toss around the chickenhawk label when it comes to the pro-Iraq war set aren’t exactly besieging the military recruitment offices to serve in Afghanistan and Kosovo. The larger point is that chickenhawk-hood is a status that crosses the ideological line between liberal and conservative.

That’s an important point. In fact, it was Clinton’s own shifty ways of getting out of fighting in Vietnam that made it hard to countenance his own use of military force in Kosovo. Clinton is a very clever man – he knew this was true. But to be president of the United States is to be president of a country that routinely spends about a trillion dollars every four or five years on the military. That spending is to war like the civit musk is to perfume – it is the pure essence. One simply has to find the right solution to dilute it in. Orwell was right: we live in a society that is perpetually at war.

What infuriates liberals is that Bush has escaped the shadow of non-service that haunted Clinton. How did this happen? LI suspects that, after 9/11, Bush was inoculated from all the damning old questions. But, unlike Harry, we don’t think that the liberals are wrong to push this agenda, even if they are hypocrites to do so. Hypocrisy is just another name for checks and balances – one opposes those forms one used to support when they turn against you. Short term memory loss is a politicians stock in trade. One of the symbolic checks on turning our in vitro wars into the real bloody thing is that there is a scale of responsibility, such that nobody can escape some participation. This was true after the civil war – it was one of the reasons that the Robber Barons achieved political power by supporting politicians instead of becoming politicians, since the J.P. Morgan set profited hugely from the Civil War by renting succedanea to serve for them – and it seems to have been true all the way up to 1992. That the last two presidents have defied that rule is not good – it shows a crack in the structure of symbolic equality that used to support the democratic culture in this country. It is as much a symptom of a country heading down the path of castes as is the salaries of CEOs.

A deeper mistake, we think, of the anti-war side is one we commit all the time – the reliance on the rebarbative horror of war. Lee was right – it is good that war is so horrible, lest we enjoy it too much. War is fun. There is no way around that. For proof, you can look no further than a five year old boy with a plastic soldier and some acorns to throw. Or the fifteen year old with the interactive game. War has always been fun. We need a whole structure of symbolic prohibitions – call it civilization – to keep the war of all against all from breaking out. Or to sublimate it. When the symbolic code that shames the person who supports a war from making some sacrifice for it – joining it, having his or her kids join it, paying for it – breaks down, that is bad news beyond the lesser question of whether liberals or conservative, little enders or big enders, are being coherent.


Deleted said...

The support for the shamelessness Bush and Clinton exhibited is a perversion of the admiration the tough guy, working class survivor gets. To their supporters, those men faced tough odds and won. The closer they can get to ludicrous bad faith arguments without giving the game away, the more they're admired. They're spitting in the eyes of the elite who are keeping us down.

I get some vicarious satisfaction from watching Bush supporters gloat at the paroxysms of rage the chimp evokes in liberals. When he finally appoints his horse to Senate, I expect to see liberals keeling over in the streets.

roger said...

I think there is some of the admiration for the tough guy. Hey, I have some of that admiration myself. I can only take so much of a nebbish. But I think that there are larger symbols at play, too. It isn't like the U.S. is the first republic that has experimented with isolating its elite from taking the responsibility for its actions. I definitely need to write the post that has been bubbling up in me this week -- the politics of the point spread.

That said, I think liberal objections to the Bush judiciary are going to work, eventually, for the liberal benefit. If you keep poking a minority, you have to make sure it is on an issue that really arouses your constituency. Frankly, I think Bush supporters, save for the core, could give a damn about judicial appointments. So I think Bush is feeding the core beast, but I don't think he is going to get a payoff. To my mind, the most interesting thing about that article they had a few weeks ago about Rick Santorum is that, lo and behold, this driver of capping frivolous lawsuits was a beneficiary of his wife's -- a sweet half a million payoff. Let's remember, America is a gold rush nation. Anybody who stands for blocking a ticket to easy street via an injury is not gonna be popular. The biggest payoffs come in Bush's reddest states -- places like Alabama. Now, they might get fired up about stopping abortions on Sunday in Alabama, but the rest of the week they are buying lottery tickets.

So I suppose we will see.

Brian Miller said...

roger: I'm struggling a bit with your argument in the sense that most liberals do not make war such a major part of their vision for the country and the world (a la PNAC)-while avoiding any participation in said wars personally. I still see there to be a difference, as Clinton didn't make war (eternal war,even) the centerpiece of his world view. Thus, the degree of hypocrisy seems less.

roger said...

Brian, hey, that isn't my argument! My argument is that -- vide other post -- the people who are against war in the U.S. alternate between ideologies. And that the midwestern Republicans of the thirties -- a very strong anti-war group -- have been replaced by the Northeastern liberals of the oh-ohs, due to a combination of factors that are reflected, in the final end, in ideologies flexible enough to make one pro or contra war, depending on the cause and the interest you have in it.

But as part of this argument, I am saying that BOTH Clinton and Bush signal a bad thing -- the secession of the American elite from the sacrificial part of the war process. To be anecdotal for a second -- when Clinton ran against Bush I, the thing that made me most disinclined to vote for him was the famous draft board letter, with the utterly disgusting phrase about 'working within the system." I did, though, vote for the guy -- although not in 1996. But I found that episode extremely worrisome. This, to me, signals a fraying of the structure of shared burdens that Americans used to demand from their political leadership. This only is brought up by the right and the left when they see a point taking advantage -- the right with Clinton, the left with Bush. Harry's point is that the liberals are being hypocritical -- after all, they support the War in Afghanistan, but where are the volunteers? However, the point is blurred, as he acknowledges, in that we are more massively at war in Iraq. I think it is much harder to make the army do what you want them to do in terms of where you serve -- otherwise, fifty to seventy five thousand national guardsmen, who wanted to serve in Kansas, Texas, Ohio and elsewhere, on weekends, wouldn't be facing enemy fire in Ramadi. Now, in my opinion Harry's particular point is right, but the larger point is lost - the system is supposed to work by pressure from all the ideological and party sides making it that much hard to escape the symbolic order of equality that made it possible for the Kennedy's to lose their eldest in WWII. Well, escape now they have.

Deleted said...

I was focusing more on the rightness. Even the deaths, or risks of death, of ruling elite family members can't legitimize a war and they don't seem to serve as a deterrent. They've never served as a serious check. We need a much stronger one.

kmort said...

Reading the usual liberal attacks on the republicans for war policies, military-related issues, the corporate kick-backs, etc. one detects, even among the lib. pundit doing her or his best to kvetch PC, a sort of salesman-like optimism. I will spare you the catatonic expressionist rant(ala Pynchon's V) about death and battlefields and cities reduced to rubble, but that's just the point--the reality of war rarely manifests itself--during Nam there was some footage on the news; even WWWI had the newsreels and lots of documentary by film. Now, Friends or Seinfeld is on, and click to the next channel and there are some guys in their darth vader-like gear: an epidode from Survivor Persia.

Unlike the nightly hamburger shots of Nam--or of the CNN reporting from Kuwait in '92--the War Show '05 has been sanitized, micro-managed, produced. There are a few sites showing kids with their arms blown off, hamburger heads, little girls feet cut off at the ankles --that should be in the public eye--right in front of Mr and Mrs Smith's chardonnay-swilling, botoxed lips. Beefsteak Tartar, mein herr, cities of rubble, aircraft carrier lunch box. Every chapel in dixie oughta have pictures of dead iraqi civilians pasted on the walls.