Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Response to Austin Bay: on courage, the military, and liberals

In our continuing dialogue and speculation about attitudes of liberals towards the military, Austin Bay asks me to comment on the following story (scroll down to the bottom of his post to find it):

[Neo-neocon's] comments about courage remind me of a conversation I had in 1996 at the Texas Book Festival. Actually, it was a conversation I overheard. A man who had just been on a Texas history panel was fuming in a hallway and complaining to a couple of friends standing with him. From what I gathered, a woman (either on the panel or in the audience) had started calling the Alamo’s defenders racists and sexists, etc., and made a comment about the “sexist focus” of history. (And when I say I gathered that, I’m paraphrasing what the man said.)

I do not know why I asked him this, I guess it was because he was suddenly looking at me. I asked him “Why do you think she said that?"

He replied: “Because what those men did took courage, physical courage. And she doesn’t have it, she’s petty and afraid. So she has to diminish them so she doesn’t have to confront her own cowardice."

Then he asked me: “Do you know what kind of courage it takes to face bullets?”

I was taken aback a bit, but I replied: “I know soldiers have to do what they have to do.”

He gave me a curt nod, turned back to his friends, and continued to fume.

Austin later writes:

I think the angry man in the hallway hit on a fundamental factor in a lot of the elitist Left’s condescending treatment of soldiers and disdain for the military. I’d be interested in neo-neocon’s assessment.

So, is this indeed the motivation behind the liberal/leftist attitude towards those who serve in the military (discussed earlier in this post of mine)? Obviously, I can't read the minds of liberals or leftists--so what follows is merely my speculation and personal observation, based on a rather small sample. It is also, by necessity, full of generalizations, so I'll add the caveat that I certainly do not think this represents the view of all liberals, or even all leftists.

However, I disagree. Unlike the angry man at the Texas Book Festival, I do not think that a major factor in the attitude of most liberals/leftists' towards the military is a consciousness of the military's bravery in contrast to their own cowardice. It's not my impression that liberals/leftists necessarily even focus on the courage of the military. It's my impression, from talking to liberals/leftists and reading what they write, that many primarily see the military (as I wrote previously) as either bloodthirsty--or, much more commonly and condescendingly, as unintelligent lower- or working-class pawns of a cowardly and exploitative ruling class (thus, the "chickenhawk" accusation against that ruling class, especially towards those who didn't serve, or whose service is deemed inadequate--see this for a rather lengthy example of the genre).

In my experience, liberals don't necessarily even think very often in terms of concepts such as physical courage--it's an old-fashioned word for an old-fashioned value. They think in terms of the values of kindness and/or tolerance and/or intelligence, which they feel that they themselves demonstrate. Or, if they do think of courage and admire it, it is more often the courage to speak out, or to stand up for a cause (to "speak truth to power," for example).

Remember the old slogan, "Better Red than dead?" The people who said it meant it. And they weren't all Communists, not by any means. They were people who believed that almost nothing--no abstraction, anyway, including freedom--was worth fighting for in the physical sense, and especially not worth dying for. Therefore anyone who does believe in fighting for something so abstract must be deluded in some way, or oppressed in some way, or both.

Don't forget, also, that these concerns about one's own physical courage and how it might measure up to that of others are somewhat of a masculine obsession. Not that women don't think in these terms sometimes--especially in recent years--but the trajectories of the lives of most women tend to lack those moments of truth--the fistfights, the interpersonal physical challenges--that constitute the tests of physical courage against another human being that are more commonplace in the lives of men. Of course, there are many exceptions to that rule--but I think the rule still generally holds. Women's physical courage, which does exist, is more often of the intra-personal rather than the inter-personal variety--such as enduring the pain of childbirth, for example.

And of course, many liberals are women. For them, I just don't think the whole question of their own personal courage in the physical sense of being ready to die for a cause is one they have had to contemplate very much. I say this, of course, as a woman. I have no idea whether I would have had the courage to serve in that way, if called upon--and, personally, I was very happy to have never been forced to face that question, since the Vietnam era draft did not apply to women. If that makes me a chickenhawk--well then, I guess that's what I am (although I'm not so sure women can be chickenhawks, can they?)

I also think that the template for the liberal/leftist view of the military was set during Vietnam, when the draft was one of the main ways to enter the service. To the best of my knowledge and recollection, many (if not most) of those who served in the Army then were reluctant draftees--and some who enlisted in the other branches were somewhat reluctant also, having joined up only to escape the draft and thus gain a bit more autonomy. People whose attitudes towards military service were based on that era are sometimes unable to understand the changes that have been wrought by the all-volunteer military. They continue to see those in the service as victims, although now they are not seen as victims of the draft, but as victims of coercion and class via economic incentives for joining the military, and/or as victims of the self-serving lies of politicians. It stands to reason that the class interpretation would be especially common on the left, since it fits in quite nicely with a socialist or Marxist viewpoint. And, if the enlistee is viewed as a pawn of economic circumstances, and his/her motivation is seen as economic, then it's easier to circumvent the whole topic of personal courage.

This idea of the dead soldier as victim, rather than courageous hero, is often cited by the left for propaganda purposes against the administration and those "ruling classes." Here's a recent and very typical example of this type of thinking (found here in comment #80--supposedly it's taken from Michael Moore's website, but I looked and couldn't find it there, so I can't swear it's a proper attribution):

Bush and the Crime Cabal in power sent 26 more soldiers to their graves this week and 26 more families to lives of living hell. 26 more lives and families devastated and destroyed for absolutely nothing. We will see the hypocritical mobsters of the state at their events today and tomorrow spewing filth from their mouths, such as: "Freedom isn't Free," and "We must stay the course in Iraq to honor the sacrifices of the fallen...Then the morons who killed our children will happily go back to their homes and have a nice Memorial Day dinner secure in the fact that their children will never die in a war and their children will have nice, wealthy, long lives because of the incredible riches this misadventure in Iraq has brought their fathers and mothers.

Then there is the idea of those who serve in the military as the "other." Here's an interesting article from the LA Times that discusses the change of heart a father experienced when his son, a Marine, went to Iraq. The father had never served in the military himself, and seemed to have never even considered what might motivate someone to serve. He writes:

Before my son unexpectedly volunteered for the Marines, I was busy writing my novels and raising my family, and giving little thought to the men and women who guard us...

But later, when his son returns from combat, the father writes:

I found myself praying and crying for all the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives of those who were not coming home. For the first time in my life, I was weeping for strangers.... Before my son went to war I never would have shed tears for them. My son humbled me. My son connected me to my country. He taught me that our men and women in uniform are not the "other."

Prior to his son going to war, this man was almost dissociative in his ability to tune out the military. They simply did not exist for him as people--or, if they did, they were the "other." What he means by that I'm not sure--were they the "other" in his eyes because of perceived class differences, personality differences, or merely a failure of imagination on his part? One might say he seems to lack the ability to put himself in someone else's shoes--and yet it turns out he is an author, and a novelist! Very perplexing indeed.

I can only conclude that people like the author, Frank Schaeffer, are operating with blinders on. The motivations of people in the military are not understood by them, and they are not curious about those motivations. Schaeffer's change of heart occurred for one simple reason: a military man finally became "real" to him, because that man was his son. He could no longer regard this particular Marine as the "other," because he knew him and loved him, and that ended up humanizing all military personnel in his eyes.


At 3:07 PM, May 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Insightful post as always, neo-neocon. I think, though, that you may perhaps be a bit too dismissive of the idea that a lot of the anti-military attitude among liberals today is due to plain old-fashioned cowardice. It’s an idea that’s entered my mind a lot lately -- especially when I hear the endless litany of anti-Bush rhetoric emanating from the precincts of the left. Maybe it’s because I was one of those “better Red than dead” types back in the day that I think it's at least possible that fear is at the root of this. I mean, if Bush is really right about the whole war on terror thing -- that our very lives are in dire threat from Islamic extremists -- then wouldn’t a “real” man want to fight to protect us all? Perhaps better to lay it all at the door this one, evil, stupid Bush. And deny, deny, deny.

At 3:39 PM, May 31, 2005, Blogger Huan said...

I also do not believe the problem with the left is a lack of courage as it can require substantial courage to adhere to a conviction many would feel perverse. Their conviction is their weakness, not weakness in conviction. Their conviction is one borne out of moral relativism, an absurd corruption of cultural relativism. Once accepted, many conundrums arise, one of which is that if all ways of living are equivalent, then it is life that should be preserved, even if that life meant living under oppression, even if that life mean watching others get oppressed without intervening even if you had the power. In such a setting there is no role for courage, no role to help others. Naturally this degenerates into a selfish life-ideology, to pursue one's personal goals by permitting others to do the same, regardless of good or evil, as such terms have no significance. But if such a person is asked to serve, then this infringes on that person's goal and thus could not be acceptable. In accepting this ideology, they believe they have the truth of the human condition, and thus feel superior to others who just cannot understand.

At 5:12 PM, May 31, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

Solider as sadist, solider as victim, according to the Left. That pretty well sums it up, Neo. Today's soliders are more worldly and sophisticated than in my day and tend to have more book learning too. Their training requires much more thinking than in my day and certainly the equipment and technology is 20 times more sophisticated. That pretty much dispels the vague notion of troops being lower class, victimized dummies. The notion of troops being sadists is never going to leave the Left. The same mentality is at play with our police, never giving them the benefit of the doubt, always assuming they are wrong and responsible no matter what the circumstances are. Since Liberals don't readily become cops or soliders, it is hard to get a handle on defining their courage. I would like to hope that Liberals are every bit as inclined to try to rescue someone from a fire or pending disaster as any conservative would be, but I doubt there is any data available to address this. My personal feeling is that they are not so inclined, but I am often wrong. I think they have an inherent schizophrenic fascination with violence, an equal revulsion and fascination with it. Given the collective history of the species, our canine teeth, frontal vision and opposable thumbs, it is not healthy to pretend that violence should never occur in human society. However, it takes very little analysis to realize that they want to set the rules and create the legislation in order for their will to prevail. I call that political cowardice and potentially very dangerous.

At 5:31 PM, May 31, 2005, Blogger Alex said...

This discussion reminded me of a comment I left a few weeks ago on the War Quotes thread. It's still relevant, so I'll just reprint it. (Hope that's considered OK.) I was addressing someone who had written the following:

I doubt whether pacifists, who essentially care only for their own safety, have found any meaning in their own lives.

Huh? I'm not a pacifist myself but I've known many pacifists in my time, and I think I've got a decent handle on what motivates them. This isn't it.

First of all, imagine I were concerned primarily with my own safety. I wouldn't run off to war myself, but I'd feel no compunction about sending others to fight to protect me. In contrast, most pacifists oppose even wars that might protect them. Also, isn't it a standard plank of the neocon argument for the war on terror that it will, in fact, protect us? Mightn't a self-interested safety seeker, especially one above fighting age, actually support the war?

Second, many pacifists do things that put themselves at personal risk, such as chaining themselves to bulldozers and the acting as human shields and the like. This too is problematic for your theory.

I think that far from being essentially self-serving, in most cases pacificism is a high-minded, idealistic, and moral stance. Unfortunately, it can also be a fatally short-sighted one. Pacifists aren't, in my experience, more cowardly than the rest of us. But they do tend to be more idealistic, less accepting of the concept of evil, and a little less willing to think pragmatically about cause and effect.

At 8:19 PM, May 31, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

I concur with the line of reasoning in your post...and there are some excellent comments here.

In a nutshell I believe that most far left thinking people believe that they are the true elite intelligencia and therefore can think and reason their way thru any situation; therefore thinking and reasoning make war and warriors obsolete and the way of the unenlighted. They put their faith in "thinking" organizations like the UN even though any perceptive person can see that it is a corrupt, inept and mostly ineffectual body.

At 8:25 PM, May 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Fantastic work as always. Keep it coming.

I once had a vehement argument with a college acquaintance over whether there could be any circumstances under which killing another person would be just or moral. She maintained that there were absolutely none. Our debate wound up in a stalemate when I posed this hypothetical: I am about to be murdered; you have the ability to save my life (only) by killing my assailant. (Today I might have said, you can save a bus full of children by shooting a suicide bomber.) Do you stand by or save my life? Like a champion, she stuck to her principles. I would have been toast.

I’ve read too much history to think that way. “In this world there are tigers.” But that experience suggests an alternative interpretation (with Huan and Alex): that militant pacifists (what else to call them?) are simply carrying the courage of their convictions to a puritanical, zealous extreme – too familiar to observers of certain parts of the left in America today. As CS Lewis would say, they have made a god of one virtue, and turned it into a devil.

Although goodness knows we see enough scorn and vitriol directed at our men and women in uniform.

At 9:49 PM, May 31, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post, neo-neocon. I agree with you completely. I would argue that the mode that tends to be expressed most often is that of soldier as victim--poor, uneducated, ignorant kid "tricked" into joining the military, thus to be sent off to die in a foreign land for base and vulgar causes.

(To which I would respond that these guys need to read some of the milbloggers--I'm sure I don't need to state here that the milbloggers are almost uniformly knowledgeable, thoughtful, and of considerable intelligence; as Goesh pointed out, soldiering today requires a great deal of ability to act independently, to handle sophisticated equipment, and to deal with advanced, expensive and complicated technology. It's my understanding--correct me if I'm wrong--that they don't even let you in the army anymore if you don't have at least a high school diploma? Anyway I think the days of simply yanking Billy Bob off the farm, shoving a rifle in his hands and shipping him off to the front lines are long past.)

The image of soldier as "victim" plays right to the instinct of many on the left to find an oppressed group (an "other" oppressed group) and champion it. It also gives them some protection against the perennial accusation of anti-Americanism and anti-military sentiment, since they can claim, "We do support the troops; we want to bring them home so that they don't have to die for nothing!" And there might have been something to this back when the draft was still ongoing, particularly with the college deferment option (which, as I understand it, allowed many of the older generation of liberals to get out of the draft essentially on the backs of those they claim to champion). However, it doesn't hold as much water nowadays with an all-volunteer military.

Which brings me to your second point, the competing idea of the troops as vicious, bloodthirsty savages. Much more carefully hidden than the idea of troops as victims (it's not as politically correct) but it is still there, and occasionally the mask will slip aside (thinking of a few conversations I've had with some of my more liberal friends). Ironically, it doesn't look from where I'm sitting that this position is getting as much airplay as the "troops are victims" position (probably because it's not as politically correct), which is ironic since nowadays, with an all volunteer military force, this position actually makes more logical sense. (Note: I emphatically do NOT subscribe to the conception of troops as savages; they're some of our finest men and women and in fact I think the treatment of our troops during Vietnam was simply inexcusable. I'm just pointing out that if you're going to be anti-military in these days of an all-volunteer army, demonizing the troops is more intellectually consistent than pitying them.)

In fact, it always astounds me that the "troops as savages" meme was so widespread during Nam, when the draft was compulsory and many, particularly the working classes, were forced to go; I would suspect that there was a large helping of guilt going into propagating that meme at that time.

At 12:30 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha, people now know that Marines and Soldiers are not the same thing.

At 1:44 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey neo-neocon, how about writing a piece about the heroic courage under fire of these famous non-liberals:

George W. Bush - Texas Air National Guard - (did not see combat)
Dick Cheney - did not serve. (Five student deferments during Vietnam. Says he "had other priorities.)
John Ashcroft, Former US Attorney General - did not serve.
Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense - served in the U.S. Navy (1954-57) as an aviator and flight instructor.
Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State - did not serve.
Paul Wolfowitz, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense, did not serve.
Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy - Did not serve
Lindsey Graham: National Guard lawyer
Richard Perle, Member, Defense Policy Board (was chairman until 2003), Consultant to the Secretary (current) - did not serve.
George Tenet, Former CIA director - did not serve.
Rep. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House - did not serve.
Rep. Tom Delay, House Majority Leader - did not serve.
Rep. Roy Blunt, House Majority Whip (MO) - did not serve.
Dick Armey, Former House Majority Leader - did not serve.
Sen. Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader (TN) - did not serve.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip, (KY) - did not serve.
Sen. Rick Santorum, (PA), - did not serve.
Trent Lott, Former Senate Majority Leader (MS) - did not serve.
Jeb Bush, Florida Governor - did not serve.
Karl Rove - avoided the draft, did not serve.
Karen Hughes - did not serve.
Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House - did not serve.
Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy, did not serve.
Bill Bennett, (author of Why We Fight), did not serve.
Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice, did not serve.
Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, did not serve.
Jack Kemp: Did not serve. "Knee problem," continued in NFL for 8 years
Rep. Henry Hyde, (IL) did not serve.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (GA) , US Senator (painted his opponent Max Cleland who lost both leg and an arm in Vietnam as soft on National Security) - did not serve.
Marc Racicot, (chairman of Bush's 2004 re-election campaign) - did not serve.
P. J. O'Rourke (author of Give War a Chance), did not serve.
Bill Kristol, editor The Weekly Standard, did not serve.
Bill O'Reilly, Fox News celebrity, did not serve.
Sean Hannity, Fox News celebrity, did not serve.
Wolf Blitzer, CNN Newsman. Did not serve.
David Horowitz, Right Wing media hit man. Did not serve.
Mike Savage, Right Wing media hit man, did not serve.
George Will, columnist, did not serve.
Ralph Reed, did not serve.
Jerry Falwell, preacher/politician, did not serve.
Ken Starr, did not serve.
Gary Bauer, politician/preacher, did not serve.
Alan Keyes, did not serve.
Roger Ailes, Fox News President, did not serve.
David Brooks, columnist, - did not serve.
Pat Buchanan, MSNBC commentator - did not serve.
Ann Coulter, writer & commentator - did not serve.
Lou Dobbs, CNN News anchor - did not serve.
Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal editor - did not serve.
Brit Hume, Fox News anchor - did not serve.
Rush Limbaugh, Radio talk show host - did not serve.

Everytime I read the name of some other 19 year old kid from Oklahoma who got blown up in a Humvee, a kid who never had a chance to even see his enemy, I think about George Bush, our Commander-in-Chief, a man who's never seen a day of combat in his life, standing there and saying, "There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is: Bring 'em on."

Then I think: Worst President Ever.

At 2:34 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's two fairly stupid assumptions running through most of the comments here, both of which suggest that the posters don't know much about the US military. The first, evidenced by that laundry list of non-serving conservatives, assumes that non-service is primae facie evidence of cowardice, an unwillingness to face personal danger for their politics beliefs. When the truth is, most people in the military never face combat themselves. The tooth-to-tail ratio is quite high on the tail side, with only the very elite serving in front line/combat/infantry roles-- which most of this list of old, out-of- shape, female conservatives would not have the slightest chance of entering, in the first place.

The equally stupid assumption coming from other posters is that the military is all conservative, when, in fact, this is not true at all. (Kerry garnered some 42% of the military/military veteran vote, according to CNN's exit poll.) Conservatives who spend all their time speculating why so many liberals are anti-military (and these definitely exist) should spend at least as much time wondering why so many military veterans would support a liberal.

At 2:47 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, wja, but please, that laundry list of non-service conservatives was just a way of pointing out the very lie you accuse it of perpetuating, that "non-service is primae facie evidence of cowardice, an unwillingness to face personal danger for their politics beliefs."

That is, they will harp on liberals as being these cowards who don't have the guts or the patriotism to join the military, when the same could be said for many of the people they most admire.

At 4:07 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, 2:44/3:47 a.m.,

Three times is more than enough. Additionally it's on the level of a middle-schooler or not so bright high-schooler since Neo-neo and all but one commenter is saying the opposite of what you're accusing people of saying. So you're making excuses little boy. Also, one google gave me this:

John Adams - did not serve
Thomas Jefferson - did not serve
James Madison - did not serve
John Q. Adams - did not serve
Abraham Lincoln - did not serve
Ulyses S. Grant - served, with distinction, regarded as one of the worst president's ever
Woodrow Wilson - did not serve
Franklin D. Roosevelt - did not serve
Ronald Reagan - did not serve
William Jefferson Clinton - like many liberals he stated he loathed the military
George W. Bush - served
several other presidents - did not serve

Concerning the "worst ever" line. They said the same and much worse about Abe Lincoln now regarded as the best or among the top three presidents ever. Yet Lincoln "did not serve".

At 6:50 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow me to add a correction to the above post: Lincoln did serve in Illinois state militia, and Reagan was a commissioned officer during WWII but served stateside, involved with training films, bond drives etc. But I see no real correlation between military service and political skills.

At 8:28 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Orwell got it right when he said that what upper-class leftists lack most is a sense of responsibility. In some sense, the kind of leftism that becomes more prevelant the higher up the social scale you go is a posture by which the elite can be the elite with a clear conscience -- that is, without a sense of moral obligation commensurate with their social status. The one exception to this rule is the willingness of leftists to pay slightly higher taxes for the government programs by which they wash their hands of any further social responsibility and certainly of any *personal* responsibility to act out of moral obligation to others.

At 9:22 AM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with that exception noted above: people on the left, who profess to be in favor of higher tax rates on upper incomes, like everyone else take every legal deduction and loophole to minimize their tax burden and if they are people of wealth they have an army of professionals at their disposal to assist them in this; any residual guilt associated with this may be assuaged by donations to various foundations and political causes. Keep in mind the Demo 527 groups in the last election cycle were largely financed by George Soros, Steven Bing and Peter Lewis.

At 10:58 AM, June 01, 2005, Blogger vanderleun said...

There's a lot of blather going about concerning the "courage" that is named "moral courage" -- i.e. the courage to say no, to 'resist,' the courage of convictions. And it is all, to my mind, just that -- blather. All courage that does not involve physical danger is a kind of limpid courage and, for much of the left, it does serve to camouflage cowardice. It always has, but never more so that during the Vietnam era.

You may parse your personal meaning of "courage" any way you like, but if it does not involve personal risk to the physical body it simply isn't courage in any meaningful way.

A real left, a revolutionary left, puts the bodies of its cohorts at risk in armed revolution. Ranters and blusterers such as we see in their myriad today among us have none of this and would run at the first sign of such a confrontation.

What passes for the left in this country has for decades been stained by a deep physical cowardice and no amount of blather and rationalization can expunge that stain. This applies to women as well as men. Women are, as we see in the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam war, just as capable as men at showing courage under fire. We might also reflect that there are many women serving well and with courage and distinction in the American Armed Forces today.

The only courage shown by American women on the left in the recent past has been to give American men on the left greater rationalizations for their own weakness and cowardice.

All in all, when it comes to real conflict, the American left has no dog in that fight.

At 3:21 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Solomon2 said...

They continue to see those in the service as victims, although now they are not seen as victims of the draft, but as victims of coercion and class via economic incentives for joining the military, and/or as victims of the self-serving lies of politicians.

Then how can men like Andrew Bacevich, an anti-GWOT professor but former army colonel and armor commander, be explained? "the sharp decline in the willingness of African Americans to volunteer for military service is one indication that some folks are beginning to wise up."

At 3:50 PM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's important to recognize why people volunteer to serve in the military. Too often I find that both the left and the right simplify this for propaganda purposes. The left wants us to believe that those in the military are all saps being used by the rich, and the right wants us to believe they are all heroic patriots. The truth is that few in the military can fit so easily into either category. I'm a liberal who grew up an army brat, and I know my father joined because he was dirt poor and the army meant a steady pay check. He hated the army and couldn't wait to get out when his 20 was over, but he also has never spoken bitterly about being a pawn for the rich and he votes Republican every time. My brother, who is currently in the army, joined because he was troubled with drugs and working dead end jobs and the army, to him, offered an opportunity for a new start. He's a republican who voted for Kerry because he thinks Iraq has been a disaster. Some folks join for college money; some to escape a dull life, because jumping out of planes or riding around in multimillion dollar machines sounds a lot more exciting than a job in a factory or fast food. Some people join because their dads and grandfathers had their war experiences, and, hell, I want my piece of the action. And yes, some even join because they love their countries. But let’s not fool ourselves about what wars are about or what soldiers fight for. Wars aren’t about abstractions like “freedom” or “blood for oil.” They are about political objectives, and the military is simply a tool to meet those objectives. It’s up to citizens to decide if they agree with the objectives. Did we want to see the end of fascism in Europe? Did we really think our nine years in Vietnam and the many dead were worth the objectives our leaders had decided on? And soldiers, if you really ask them, will tell you that when they fight they don’t think about freedom, country, oil, or terrorism, but that they fight for themselves and the buddies right next to them.

At 2:00 PM, June 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading these comments makes me curious about something.

Can any of you describe a scenario in which domestic dissent to a US-led war would be justified?

At 4:45 PM, June 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The regulars around here seem to be taking those examples very seriously. But I wonder if these types of examples truly express the core beliefs of those Americans opposed to the war?

At 10:03 AM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael B. wrote:

"...one of the problems of the "dissent," or at least a goodly portion of it, is that too many platitudes, generalizations, presumptive certitudes, etc. are being forwarded as if they're more substantial than they in fact are."

Absolutely. But is this true only of "dissent"? Sadly, it seems to have become part of our public discourse in general. Even moreso when discussing such an emotionally charged topic as war.

But I don't want to stray too far off topic.

I was just wondering if anyone here felt that internal dissent against war could ever be justified. You (and Minh-duc) seem to be saying yes, but it must be done without going overboard rhetorically.

At 11:19 AM, June 03, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

Fine post about courage Neo-, but I think you're missing something VERY important with Leftists, er, someone. Gandhi.

"There are many things I would die for, but nothing I would kill for."
(from the movie, anyway).
There is a strand of thought "close" to this which, like you mention, says nothing is worth fighting for. I think the Moral Superiority position is that it's not worth killing for.

Thus, My Lai (and Kerry's testimony that the US Army was like Genghis Khan) was morally horrific -- and torture, today, is so terrible. Look how bad we are because of the bad things we can do.

The fact is that war is hell (like I insist on the OandQ blog about torture) -- which means that the army fighting will die, and kill, and kill innocents.

You can't fight a war unless you're ready to kill innocents. (Police can't fight a gang war without willingness to kill innocents -- so they usually don't fight; and the gangs control their own 'hoods.)

Yes, minimize the collateral damage. But Unreal Perfection is not an option, and is a stupid standard.

At 11:48 AM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schaffer's experience is interesting. His description of the reactions of his precious friends when he said his son was enlisting is priceless.
I do think, though, that somebody who makes his living writing, and thus trying to see things from others' viewpoints, should be able to see soldiers and their families as real people and sympathize with them WITHOUT having to have his son enlist. How unconnected with real people is this guy, anyway?

Bacevich is pulling a fast one. Blacks enlisted in the military in disproportionate numbers because, for years, it was their best bet, considering how society treated them. That society is now a better bet than it used to be says nothing about "wising up" to war.

In "The Nightingale's Song", the author writes of the protestors coming face to face with soldiers (in the Sixties) and does put the whole thing down to courage. The folks who thought words were important faced the guys who'd stolen hubcaps and gotten into fights and played football. And who were now armed. And it scared them.

I don't have to quote Orwell on pacifism objectively favoring fascism, do I? Orwell immediately followed that by saying pacifists would not knowingly [knowingly being the key] sell out their own country. Orwell was an optimist. I have never met a true pacifist. They always want us to disarm, never our enemies. They never reproach our enemies.

Human shields in Iraq volunteered to shield facilities they, and the Baathist government, knew the US wouldn't attack. Like hospitals. They and the Iraqis had faith in American morality. But when the Iraqis asked them to shield barracks or storage facilities, they hustled up their return trip tix and got home PDQ. Poseurs and punks.

Nobody likes to be protected by better men than themselves, or to admit a personal failing that makes one less than others, and still owe the others. Liberals deal with that by demeaning their betters and denying the need exists. Beats admitting to themselves who they really are.

At 5:13 PM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My point was meant to be simple. Soldiers in the midst of battle don't think "I'm dying for oil" or "I'm dying for freedom." But I agree that a soldier, at least on the way to war, or during the breaks when he is not actually fighting, has to feel a sense of belief in the cause or he will lose his will and effectiveness. The Vietnam war is a good example. As fewer and fewer Americans believed in the cause, fewer and fewer soldiers believed in it as well, and toward the end of the war there were many instances of soldiers finding ways to avoid engaging the enemy. As the war in Iraq continues, I'm curious to see how this plays out. Only history will tell if we've been right on Iraq. If Iraq is a better place 10 years from now, than there is some, perhaps not complete, justification of our involvement there. If, on the other hand, the place is still a mess, or worse off, then we've made an enormous error.

At 10:16 PM, June 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would we know what the error was? Can a good effort go wrong because of later difficulties?
If so, does that retroactively discredit the initial effort?

And what will the left say when this all turns out okay?

Not much, if history is a guide.

At 2:01 PM, June 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this all turns out okay I'm willing to admit that it all turned out okay. But I think we have to be willing to admit mistakes, even if in the end things are okay. The Japanese internment comes to mind. Yes, we won the war, and that was a good thing, but the internment was wrong.

The question can also be reversed: What will the right say if things don't turn out well? What I've noticed with the current administration is a complete denial of any error, large or small. WMD's come to mind.

At 4:08 PM, June 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What has the administration said about WMD that does not amount to an admission of error. The stuff isn't there. What could be plainer? Is anybody denying it?

We can only hope that the stuff doesn't show up someplace else.
The democrats haven't admitted much, and they ought to. Clinton and Kerry, among others, spoke harshly about the WMD as part of the reason for making Iraqi regime change US policy.

At 4:34 PM, June 13, 2005, Blogger Pete said...

One thing the world has found out is that one-sided pacifism never works. We all know that they end up being overtaken and killed by those that don't follow that line of thought. China did a great job with Tibet. We were told that we can give nothing to stop jihad. All we can do is be eliminated from the earth.

Is it only the left that has the anti-war dissent? I don't recall seeing any marches against the wars in the 90s. Plenty of Americans didn't agree with the bombing in the Czech republics. And that medicine factory that somehow got leveled with some sort of rocket fired from an American ship. Where was the outrage? Where were the protests?

Funny when you look up the meaning of the term "Wilsonism". A Democrat who drafted young men to die for what many considered to be a waste. Also as funny is that 80% of Americans were against US involvement in WW2 in 1940. Where was the outrage against the lives lost in WW2? Where were the protests that out armed forces were spread too thin on too many fronts? Do you have to have a Republican in office to get complaints from the peanut gallery? Or is the lefty money-train better funded by easily excitable lemmings looking for a reason to live and a cause to fight for?

I completely understand the question about dissent. Not questioning the basis for authority's reasoning is a problem. Then the left thought the whole President Clinton/Lewinski thing was a waste of time and money. Where does the line get drawn? President Jefferson said, "It has been a source of great pain to me to have met with so many among [my] opponents who had not the liberality to distinguish between political and social opposition; who transferred at once to the person, the hatred they bore to his political opinions." This is the problem with the lemmings today. It's no longer political but social dissent.

At 6:25 PM, November 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberal-Leftism among males is unbecoming.

The thin-bearded, lisping weasels in the anti-war crowd are covered in immortal shame by their own unwillingness--the rightness or wrongness of the war be damned--to stand alongside their brothers slugging through Mesopotamia and the Hindu Kush.

The cause is ultimately immaterial. Having the honor to take a place in the Phalanx is everything. Let history, women, children and old men at home weigh the virtue of a given war.

At 8:36 PM, March 17, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Neo, you based your conclusion on your direct experience of what liberals say and how they argue. But in the case of projection, as the Texan in fact most adroitly described to a psychologist unknowingly, someone who projects would have to avoid recognizing their lack of courage. That is the whole point in projection. To deal with something you don't want to recognize, by shifting it to someone else and blaming him for having it instead of yourself.

It may be true that liberal women aren't projecting cowardice, physical at least. Though they probably do project moral cowardice. Upon soldiers, or those who support them. Claiming that it is those people at the top who send others to their deaths because they are too afraid to fight for their own greed.

But irregardless of what a fake liberal is projecting, they are still projecting. Which supports the point of the man who was speaking to you.

In most cases fake liberals do not have moral courage, let alone physical courage. Since they tend to avoid physical violence to the extreme, by letting someone else take care of it. Tookie Williams for example. They don't care on a moral scale who he has killed or will kill if you release him. They just don't. All they care about is if Tookie doesn't hurt them.

The judges that give rapists and child molestors and other malcontents months in jail or in the recent case, NO JAIL time at all, DARE to call the rest of us who support punishment vengeful and unjust. He dares to call those who support punishment as people out for vengeance and not justice. He dares to accuse us of the injustice he himself perpetuates, because he is unwilling and unable to recognize the injustice of his actions.

Those who do, tend to end up dieing. The human shields, have the courage to stand in front of hospitals because they know they won't be bombed but not in front of other targets. Is courage of the moral or physical variety "interchangeable" between whatever you wish? Personally, I don't think so.

Regardless of what a fake liberal chooses to project, it is their oldest trick in the book. They use it quite often. Denial is too defensive, for it to ever satisfy those with a guilty conscience.


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