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November 21, 2006

No One Dies for "Realism"

A few days ago I said something which Grim took exception to. I said that certain recent events ran the risk of making me feel ashamed to be an American. He responded in thoughtful fashion:

This is a sentiment I've often heard expressed recently, usually right after elections, and while her reasons are better than most, I think the approach is wrong.

It's not that she's wrong to be disappointed. A nation ought to finish what it starts, as a man ought to do so. There are ethical duties that, once undertaken, must be completed in spite of the misery they bring upon you. This is true even though you may have had an unreasonably rosy view of what the undertaking would involve: it doesn't matter. You are sworn.

Neither does it matter if you yourself were opposed to the whole idea at the time the decision was made. If we are part of a polity, we are bound to each other. We are partners, and as Ben Rumson said of partnership: "If I owe a man a hundred dollars, I expect you to stand good for me."

...That's the kind of trust we called frith in the Old English. Frith is a word that is linguistically linked to "freedom" and "friend," but what it literally means is "peace." If we are willing to be bound to each other, to defend each other, we can create a space in which we can then be free. In that space, which we each defend in common, we can order our society as we please and choose. If we aren't friends, we aren't free.

And yet it is a fact about America that it isn't dependable.

An interesting discussion ensued, because while we agreed on the concept of dependability we profoundly disagreed on the reasons one ought to love one's country:

It is wrong to love America because it is conservative, or liberal; because it is the staunch defender of the free, or because it is always willing to hear new advice and rethink old decisions.

It is right to love America because she is home; because she is ours; and that is enough. Feel free to lay waste and to rebuild, to destroy that within her which has gone bad and raise up anew what strength you can. Rethink the franchise. Amend the Constitution. Dare to think and say and fight for whatever will make her stronger than she is.

Never be ashamed of her. If you would love America, love her that way. Have faith even when there is no reason to hope. Love even when there is no cause. She is home. She is ours. That is enough.

I suppose I am, first and foremost, an idealist. I am not, necessarily, willing to die for a piece of land, for acreage, or water rights, or the right of way across an easement unless it means my survival or that of my children and there is no other way.

If America became a dictatorship tomorrow and I had children, I would do everything in my power to get them out so they could live in freedom. I would choose life over loyalty to a territory; it is the principle of freedom that I would want my children and grandchildren to build their lives around, not some mistaken love for a dead patch of turf. And I would hope that someday if they were raised with a love of liberty they might return to my home and free it.

To say that I fear being disappointed in my country does not mean I will cease to love it, nor that I will cease to defend it. It simply means I am afraid we are going down the wrong path; that we will fail to live up to our ideals. I don't think this would be by any means the first time this has happened; nor would it be the last. I am not, like Howard Zinn, one of the tony camembert-and-foie-gras eating crowd who look down their noses while citing the manifest failures of America as evidence that democracy is all a hideous sham and a miserable failure. On the contrary; I believe America is still in many respects the city on the hill: a shining example of the ideals set forth in our Declaration and Constitution.

It is quite possible to be deeply disappointed in something you love while still believing in its potential and fiercely defending it against all comers; and at any rate, I have not given up yet. But the history is not encouraging. With the much celebrated return to power of so many of Bush 41's former advisors, pundits everywhere are trumpeting the triumph of "realism" over idealism. But in a world where young men and women are courageously putting their lives on the line for this country, it would be wise to examine just what the last Bush administration's much-vaunted "realism" meant to the very "real" human beings who had to live with its consequences:

...consider four other shorthands for the Bush 41 record. One is "1-202-456-1414," the number for the White House switchboard. As secretary of state, Mr. Baker read it aloud in congressional testimony in 1990, ostensibly for the benefit of Israelis once they got "serious about peace." A year later, and for much the same reason, the Bush administration threatened to withhold $10 billion in commercial loan guarantees, which Israel needed to cope with the influx of some one million Russian Jews--fully a fifth of its population.

For its efforts, the Bush administration brought Arabs and Israelis together for the Madrid Peace Conference, which set the groundwork for the Oslo Accords. These were touted as historic achievements, but for Israel it meant more terrorism, culminating in the second intifada, and for the Palestinians it meant repression in the person of Yasser Arafat and mass radicalization in the movement of Hamas. Worse, Mr. Baker fostered the fatal perception that the failure of Arabs and Jews to make peace was the root of the region's problems, not a symptom of them, and that the obstacle to peace was intransigent Israel, not militant Islam. Bob Gates later gave voice to that perception when he wrote, in a 1998 New York Times op-ed, that the road to Mideast peace must "not kowtow to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's obstructionism."

Or take "Lawrence of Serbia," the moniker Mr. Eagleburger earned for his initial indulgence, as the State Department's point man on Yugoslav affairs during the early 1990s while the country was coming apart, of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Eagleburger, who had longstanding business ties in Belgrade, spent the early period of the war largely ignoring Mr. Milosevic's depredations on his neighbors, including paramilitary slaughters in Vukovar and concentration camps in Omarska. "There was a kind of preference for stability and an attachment to the old Yugoslavia over our interests in human rights," Patrick Glynn of the American Enterprise Institute told Newsday in 1992, adding the administration had "been standing by, waiting while the final solution is played out."

Which brings us to "Chicken Kiev," Mr. Bush's spectacularly misconceived August 1991 speech in what was shortly to become the capital of independent Ukraine. Mr. Bush's reluctance to acknowledge--and better manage--the breakup of Yugoslavia was partly a function of his reluctance to acknowledge the impending breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall from grace of his friend Mikhail Gorbachev. The U.S. was the 39th country to re-establish diplomatic ties with Lithuania, after Iceland and Mongolia had already paved the way. Once Mr. Gorbachev was gone, Mr. Bush was equally reluctant to help the new Russia get on its feet, prompting Richard Nixon to complain about the administration's "pathetically inadequate response in light of the opportunities we face in the crisis in the former Soviet Union."

But surely no Bush 41 failure was as great--or as consequential--as his apparently flip suggestion, following "victory" in the Gulf War, that the "Iraqi people . . . take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step down." Tens of thousands of Shiites and Kurds took him seriously, and tens of thousands paid with their lives as Saddam quelled the revolt while the Bush administration stood by, lest it exceed its U.N. mandate.

In 1971 a young man named John Forbes Kerry testified before the United States Senate:

We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastially molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding With whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.

John Kerry said many things back then. That particular statement wasn't much quoted by the media. Another statement which wasn't much quoted was his estimate of how many Vietnamese citizens might die when Saigon fell to the Communists. The youthful John Kerry thought the number might be somewhere around 5500.

How do you ask a man to the be last man to die for a mistake?

Many years ago when I got my first associates degree, I had a 4.0 gpa. Technically I should have been the class valedictorian, but I was not on the stage on graduation day. Instead, a classmate of mine gave the valedictory speech.

His story was a moving one.

He never knew his parents, you see. When Saigon fell, they thrust a tiny bundle into the arms of total strangers on a swiftly departing boat. My classmate was raised in a land halfway across the world. He never did learn what became of his father and mother: they vanished in the maelstrom formed when Congress abruptly withdrew all funding to our former allies, no doubt in a misguided fit of "realism".

Like thousands of other South Vietnamese they were swallowed alive, never to be seen or heard from again.

Imagine the desperation needed to push a helpless infant into the arms of people you had never seen, to trust that he would be better off with complete strangers adrift on a tiny boat than in the land of your birth? Imagine the anguish a mother would feel in her heart as she let go of that tiny bundle, knowing she could no longer protect her own child?

And then tell yourself these people could not tell the difference between democracy and communism - that a piece of land was more important to them than idealism, or good government, or being free? There are times when idealism, the hope of a better tomorrow, comes to matter very much.

No one dies for realism.

Or perhaps it may be more accurate to say that a great many people die for realism. It is just that they almost never give their lives willingly.

And in the end, that makes all the difference.

Posted by Cassandra at November 21, 2006 08:21 AM

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Comments

But I've seen the longing in the eyes of those who fled afore the NVA for a land of their own. One in which they can have the family temple and compound---not really practicle here I dare say. I've seen the anger in their eyes when they see their children listen to 50Cent and wear baggy, falling of the butt jean. THe eyes just say "we are a dead people, and our traditions merely a spectacle to be trotted out once a year".

They live free. and yet not. They do get quite angry and sad over it too.

And let's not forget: the parents stayed.

They knew the difference between freedom and communism, and yet didn't turn up in the refugee camps in Laos or other places. I suspect it was more likely a bit of both, the love of freedom and the love of their land, that formed the reasons for their split decision(to personally stay while sending the child away isntead of keeping the child with them and making for the refugee camps across the borders). But what do I know? I'm just a 30 year old juvenile without kids.

I'd send Jess away. I'd send my nieces and nephews away---but leave them with the message, 'This land is yours. Either I will make it what it should be for you to live here, or you will have to after my death and you reach your majority.'(Jess won't fight, and I wouldn't want her to try as she's both physically and mentally unsuited to the endeavor. I blame her parents for that failing, but Jess is who she is and I love her, all of her.)

Posted by: ry at November 21, 2006 01:21 PM

I HAVE NEVER SAID ANYTHING BAD ABOUT MY COUNTRY BECAUSE I AM AN AMERICAN AND PROUD OF IT. MAYBE THAT IS BECAUSE BEING RETIRED MILITARY I HAVE BEEN SENT INTO ALMOST EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, SOME GOOD, OTHERS BAD. I HAVE MULTIPLE COMBAT TOURS STARTING WITH BEIRUT IN '82 AND ENDING WITH AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ IN 2004. I HAVE SEEN FIRST HAND HOW THOSE COUNTRIES GOVERNMENTS TREAT THEIR PEOPLE AND WHAT FREEDOMS AND OPPORTUNITIES THEY DON'T AND DO ALLOW. I ALSO THINK THAT WE IN THE MILITARY HAVE A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE ON THIS.
I WILL ADMIT THAT I HAVE BEEN VERY DISAPPOINTED WITH THE DECISIONS THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE IN POWER HAVE MADE AND ALSO DECISION THAT GROUPS OF PEOPLE WITH IN AMERICA HAVE MADE, BUT NEVER ONCE HAS IT MADE ME HATE AMERICA BECAUSE WE STILL HAVE ALL THESE GREAT OPPORTUNITIES AND FREEDOMS THAT NO OTHER COUNTRY COMES CLOSE TO OFFERING.
THESE FREEDOMS AND OPPORTUNITIES EVEN GO FOR THOSE IN AMERICA WHO TRULY HATE AMERICA AND WHAT IT STANDS FOR.
I THINK THAT WHAT STILL AMAZES ME THE MOST IS THAT ALL THESE FOLKS THAT SPOUT HATE AND DISCONTENT ABOUT AMERICA NEVER ONCE LEAVE FOR ANOTHER COUNTRY. I DON'T EVEN THINK THEY REALIZE THAT THEY DON'T WANT TO LEAVE.
I AGREE WITH YOU THAT WE HAVE HAD SOME PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE SOME MAJOR MISTAKES IN JUDGEMENT WHEN DEALING WITH OTHER COUNTRIES, BUT WE HAVE TO ALSO LOOK AT ALOT OF THE GOOD THOSE PEOPLE AND OTHERS HAVE DONE. I ALSO AGREE WITH YOU THAT
IT APPEARS THAT THOSE SAME PEOPLE APPEAR TO HAVE NOT LEARNED ANYTHING. THIS IS SAD AND NOT TO MAKE LIGHT OF THE SERIOUSNOUS OF THEIR MISTAKES, BUT THESE TYPES OF MISTAKES HAVE HAPPENED THOUGHT OUT HISTORY. WE CAN ONLY HOPE THAT IN
THE FUTURE PEOPLE LEARN FORM THEIR MISTAKES AND THE SAME THINGS DON'T HISTORICALLY HAPPEN AGAIN. WHEN THESE MISTAKES ARE MADE THE MILITARY USUALLY HAS TO BE INVOLVED. THIS TIME IT WON'T BE MY GENERATION, BUT OUR SON'S AND DAUGHTER'S WHO WILL HAVE TO ANSWER THE CALL.

Posted by: RICHARD DAUGHERTY at November 21, 2006 01:26 PM

Spoken by a true Wallace and supported by a Bruce. Freedom is what it is all about. I am just beginning to discover what that means and
sometimes you have to put it on the line and see it through.

Posted by: Cricket at November 21, 2006 04:40 PM

Well, and I agree Ry. Part of you hungers for the feel of the land where you were born - there is a pull that never does go away. I didn't mean to minimize that.

But if we have to choose, most of us will choose freedom first. And I think it does matter whether we have children to protect - you might make a different choice if you only have to look out for yourself.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 21, 2006 05:43 PM

Cass,
When my son was born overseas, I thought of the reasons why he had to be a US citizen born abroad. He was given a Border Baby certificate that said it better than I ever could:
Know that David Jonathan__________ was
born to parents stationed...in the farthest outpost of the Free World in West Germany.

Of course, I could have gone home.
But I had pre eclampsia and flying was out.
I had no choice but to stay and see it through.
In a way, our work there is done, and if after sixty years of peace the Germans don't understand what freedom means, I do...because
while I loved Germany, there was much that was NOT American that had to do with being not only raised in freedom, but having to stand ready to
defend it, even in the eyes of the enemy.

Knowing that, should it be necessary, I could make a life for myself anywhere as long as I carried with me the teachings and practices of the Founders.

And of course, my scriptures.

I knew a lot of boat people who came here as adults and while they missed being in Vietnam, being here did not erase the essence who they were and what they wanted for themselves. And we did not see that through. We let them down
and we cannot do this with Iraq.

And I am tired and not thinking clearly so, excuse any bloviation as being overly simplistic, un nuanced and un pc.

Posted by: Cricket at November 21, 2006 06:10 PM

I am a sometimes reader of fantasy novels. One of the series I like to follow has this very theme: the nation is not the land they occupy, but the people who inhabit it. As happens in many fantasy novels, the evil invading army comes to destroy the good nation. The queen knows they might not prevail in battle, so she orders all non-combatants evacuated. As long as the people survive, so do the nation's core beliefs, and the country can be rebuilt on another plot of land.



I hope it never comes to that choice for America, but I think that is a valid viewpoint - give up territory if it means being able to preserve the nation's people to carry one as a free people elsewhere.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at November 21, 2006 06:24 PM

I had just that thought when I was 'arguing' with Grim earlier this week. It is a very female way of thinking, but perhaps not invalid for all that. Society is, after all, a human creation. A nation doesn't have any character until we come onto it to till it, to build, to make something of it, and it is their ideas, and their ideals which make a nation what it is.

I guess that is why they are so important to me.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 21, 2006 06:29 PM

If it is a female way of thinking, I'm in trouble.;}

Of course, I don't believe that it is exclusively a female way of thinking and I do believe that the concept of America is an amalgam, but dominated by the intellectual and emotional aspects rather than the physical.

I was immediately troubled, as Grim was, by the phrase "...it makes me ashamed to be an American." although perhaps in a slightly different way.

In fact, I don't think it is an accurate statement. I believe it would be more accurate to say that you are embarrassed by (or for) some Americans.

When you are ashamed for your children's behavior, it is in part because of the fact that you are responsible for teaching them proper behavior; thus, their failure reflects upon you.

If a member of your military squad misbehaves, you are ashamed in a similar way; this is a critical team relationship and you would have been trained to be responsible both to and for every other member of the team.

I believe it would be presumptuous to assign yourself responsibility for the doings of the entire citizenry. Your responsibilty here is to the American ideal and you have made your stance crystal clear.

Posted by: socialism_is_error at November 21, 2006 09:09 PM

The fantasy author in question happens to be female, so maybe it is a female way of thinking? (if anyone cares, it's the Valedmar novels from Mercedes Lackey - not very hard reading, but I find them entertaining...)

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at November 22, 2006 12:14 AM

I like Mercedes Lackey. I don't know that it is a female way of thinking; it is a survival instinct. Way back in the post diluvian era of Ramses, Jacob's son Joseph was sold into Egypt
and didn't become one of them; later his brothers and family came down to escape the famine raging in Canaan. While they prospered in Egypt, they also known as the people of one God.

There are several periods of migrations to other places to live up to an ideal or a belief; the Pilgrims, the Mennonites, the Amish, the Baptists
and the Mormons have all done that. It is a matter of what has to be done to preserve that way of life and thinking.

Just saying.

Posted by: Cricket at November 22, 2006 12:51 AM

I don't know that it is a female way of thinking; it is a survival instinct.

That's probably a better way of putting it Cricket. I didn't mean 'female' in the sense of feminine so much as in the sense of protecting your young, and men do that too; but women tend to think of that first and foremost and put it ahead of all other considerations. That's why I termed it a female way of thinking - more a 'people first' way of thinking, where men will think that way but also take other things into consideration (often rightly).

Posted by: Cassandra at November 22, 2006 05:29 AM

Strange that you thought I was asserting a realist view. What I was actually asserting, I think, is an even more idealistic view -- almost a Platonic view, America as 'the Form of America.' The point is that the reality of the government, the people, the institutions, shouldn't affect your ability to love the thing itself. For that to be right, the thing itself has to be something other than the government, the people, or the institutions.

If you can love America after everything that Americans have done, it must be because she is something other than those things. But I think it's important to love your home, if only because it's unnatural not to do so. A man who hates his father is always deeply unhealthy. He has to find a way to love his father, in spite of what his father may have done wrong. Or his mother. Or his home.

Chesterton wasn't talking about realism, and I'm only reframing him here. He was talking about "a supernatural loyalty," which I think is the right kind of loyalty in these cases where family and home are concerned.

Posted by: Grim at November 23, 2006 09:50 PM

Well, I could see it that way too Grim.

It just doesn't make as much sense to me to defend that ideal as some others, but to each his own :) It seems that what you are talking about, really, is loyalty and that is something I have always understood very well.

But I thought I explained that I don't think I was ever contemplating turning against America just because I was disappointed - that is where you and I keep differing. To me, loving someone or something and being disappointed in them have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

I can love someone, and have expectations of them, and yet understand that they are not always going to live up to what I want them to do. That doesn't mean I will stop loving them. Love isn't a contract.

It just is.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 23, 2006 10:34 PM

Love is a verb.

Posted by: Cricket at November 24, 2006 08:36 AM

I used to tell my children that love was a decision.

Now I have gotten older, I guess I still see it that way in the sense that I never believed in this "I fell out of love" garbage. If you really love someone in the first place then your relationship is worth working to preserve no matter what.

But sometimes we love people for completely illogical reasons, even people who don't really deserve our love but just need someone to love them. The heart isn't always answerable to the brain.

I guess that is OK too.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2006 09:26 AM

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