The picture alone is enough to make you weep: the five Sullivan brothers, all of whom were stationed together on the USS Juneau, and all of whom died together when it was sunk in November of 1942.
Varifrank has posted the photo as the springing-off point for his thought-provoking essay on the nature of sacrifice, noble causes, the military, and the attitude of the left towards all three.
I agree with a great many of Varifrank's points, although not all--although perhaps our differences are merely a matter of emphasis. He writes:
The left has decided that democracy is not worth fighting for, much less dying for, all the while protesting at the top of their lungs those who are bringing freedom and liberty to those who were once oppressed...We live in an interesting time. We stand within a generation of living in a world where not just the lilly-white privileged people of the western world but all mankind can be free of oppression and live in some form of democracy. There are those who are working to see that day soon come into being, and there are those working to see that it never comes. Don't let the left and Cindy Sheehan fool you, they couldn't give a damn if the rest of the world is enslaved or not. Remember--they don't believe in freedom and democracy in the first place.
I see this a bit differently, because I think the left is not a unitary group. I would make a distinction between what, for want of a better expression, I will call the "hard left" and the "soft left," and certainly between the hard left and most liberals I know. The hard left is a much smaller and more vocal group than the liberal/soft left, but it's the latter who constitute the bulk of Americans who oppose the war. Many on the hard left probably fit Varifrank's description of their position, but those on the soft left and those who are liberals (the two groups shade into each other) are operating somewhat differently, in my opinion.
Most liberals and those on both the soft and hard left have acquired an attitude of great cynicism and distrust towards their own country and the motives of its politicians. This has led them to have a virtually automatic assumption that the government (especially any Republican government) is guilty until proven innocent. Motivated by this belief, which is held as an article of faith, most on the liberal/left side of things totally discount all the rhetoric of the Bush Administration as just that--rhetoric--and believe that the real motivation for the war is greed and power, rather than freedom and democracy.
This belief system of distrust (the template of which was formed, for a great many people of Sheehan's generation and older, during the Vietnam and Watergate eras) is the operative one for most liberals and soft leftists, rather than any real antipathy towards the concepts of freedom and democracy themselves. The government (again, most particularly Republican governments) is not seen as allied with those abstract notions, but as deviously and clandestinely antagonistic to them, and thus betraying them.
Of course, there are some, mostly on the far left, who really don't believe in freedom and democracy. But it's not my impression that they constitute the majority of the opposition, although they may at times be the ones pulling the strings, and the ones most in the media (I'm not yet clear whether Cindy Sheehan is one of them, or is simply someone whose strings they are pulling at the moment).
In addition to this distrust of the government and its motives, there seems to be a knee-jerk negativity towards military action in general on the part of many liberals. Most people--even on the right--tend to see military action as a last resort; but those on the right regard the military as a necessary and integral part of keeping us free, rather than an incidental one. How is it that liberals, on the other hand, can believe (or believe they believe) in freedom and democracy, and be so reluctant to fight for it?
In addition to the aforementioned distrust that freedom and democracy are what we are fighting for, I think that many liberals have a sort of a blindness to the way that freedom and democracy actually work. The hard truth of the famous quote (often attributed to Orwell but whose origins are actually unclear), "Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf," is one most liberals and leftists, as well as all pacifists, would prefer to deny--too messy, tragic, sad, and morally compromising. The quote is, once again, considered to be "mere rhetoric"--and inflammatory, bloodthirsty rhetoric, at that.
What is the sort of war a hard leftist might support, if a leftist was going to support a war? Again, the answer flows from distrust of our government (and in the case of hard leftists, the west in general), so the answer is pretty simple: any war waged by a third-world nation against a Western one, especially the US or Israel, with the leftists taking the side of the third-world nation.
But a liberal is different; liberals sometimes support US military action, provided it is waged by a Democratic administration (inherently more trusted by liberals to be telling the truth about its motivations for the war) and is waged for strictly and solely humanitarian aims, and thus presenting less messy moral ambiguity.
I believe that Varifrank's analogy of soldiers in this war to police or firefighters is a correct one. But firefighters, police, and soldiers are distinct from each other. To liberal eyes, each occupies a different point on a morality continuum, with the firefighters the most "good," the police next, and soldiers much less "good." Why? It has to do with how much killing each group is expected to do in the service of their supposedly worthy and selfless causes--in other words, how morally "pure" their actions are.
Firefighters only rescue; they never kill, although they do sometimes die in the act of rescuing others. That makes them the most "pure" in the minds of the liberal, and the least morally compromised. Police don't kill all that often, but it is a part of their jobs, and they have to know they may be called upon to do so. In addition, although the work police do is certainly protective, it is less clearly and directly involved with rescue than that of firefighters, and more connected with the taint of possible corruption. (At times, the radical left has not been averse to regarding police as the enemy. Anyone who was alive during the 60s and early 70s is well aware of name-calling--the oft-used epithet "pig"--and politically motivated attacks on policemen during that era.)
Soldiers are far more closely and frequently involved in the act of killing than even the police--there is simply no way around that fact--and, although they are often involved in rescue and rebuilding efforts (as Varifrank quite rightly points out), this is not their main job description. Whatever rescuing and protecting they may do (and, once again, they do plenty), these motives are less clearly and obviously related to their main activity of waging war. Unless the military is engaged in a response to a direct attack and invasion of this country, those protective and defensive functions of the military can be easily denied, ignored, or twisted by those on the outside looking in.
The hard left is, in my opinion, playing against the soft left and attempting (quite successfully, so far) to manipulate it. For those on the hard left who don't want people to support the war and thus give the Replubicans, or the US government, any credit at all, all hint of defensive and protective war activities must be suppressed or minimized, or we run the danger of having these "soft" leftists/liberals crossing over to support the Iraq war effort.
These hard left groups who want to prevent that support from ever occurring were handed a great gift in the failure to find WMDs. The WMD argument was considered by many on the soft left to be the only proper defensive and protective argument for the war, and therefore their absence is so important, underscoring this group's pre-existing sense of governmental betrayal. It's also why the word "lie" is used so often in relation to Bush and the WMDs--it's important that Bush be portrayed as mendacious (a la Nixon and the secret bombing of Cambodia) rather than merely mistaken, in order to make sure there is no sympathy for his efforts.
The failure to underscore the rebuilding efforts in Iraq is another example of the a suspicion that, were the public to know the extent and success of such efforts, sympathy for the war and the military would increase among those on the liberal/soft left side of things. So it's all-important to the hard left that such news be supressed.
Maybe I'm naive and giving liberals too much benefit of the doubt--after all, I used to be one, remember? But I truly believe that most, if they knew some of these protective/defensive facts, would be more sympathetic to the war effort. I also believe that the hard left (and some hard left supporters in the MSM) is well aware of that, and acts accordingly.
[Linked to Mudville Gazette's open post.]