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Monday, February 14, 2005

The Good Perfesser Speaks

kinda like god, only not

Sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake, you simply gotta spell things out for me. I'm admitting I'm a bit confused right now over the ardent and maybe not-so-ardent right-wing view that failure to support the war in Iraq renders one "unpatriotic." As Glen Reynolds of Instapundit articulates it (emphasis mine):
I certainly don't think that there's anything necessarily unpatriotic about being a leftist or liberal. I do think that those people who are rooting for our defeat, or showing a strange eagerness for a Vietnam rerun, and so on, are in fact unpatriotic, as surely rooting for your own country's defeat in time of war counts as unpatriotic.
Now, I'll start up front by saying that I'm not one of those people rooting for defeat in Iraq. And it really has nothing to do with patriotism; quite simply, I'm not so anxious to have been right in my predictions of doom that I want to see millions of people suffer for it. I'd really like there to be a happy ending to the story, I'd love to be wrong, I think it would be great if a peaceful democratic regime could be established in the region. Despite the fact that such an ending will never re-write the web of lies and distortions, the mis-management, the death, and the ruthlessness with which the war was waged. But the karmic burden for that should not be borne by the Iraqi people.

No, I'm really more concerned with the essential logic behind the argument of Dr. Reynolds and the pro-war crowd that to root against one's own country during a time of war is un-patriotic. Is it only true for Americans? Because if it is true, shouldn't it also be true for Turks and Rwandans and Nepalis and Canadians?

Let's say you're a Turk. And tomorrow a duly elected, sovereign government comes to power and decides they want to slaughter a few Armenians for good measure. Or vice-versa, doesn't matter, just for the sake of argument. Not unheard of in Turkish/Armenian history, certainly loads of bad blood between the two one could conceivably exploit in a craven grasp for power. As a good Turk, would one suddenly be "unpatriotic" if one decided not to support the efforts of the government in this war? Or, as Dr. Reynolds seems to be arguing, once war was imminent and the country was engaged, should one put aside one's personal feelings about genocide and hate mongering, buck up and swallow the bitter pill in the interest of nationalism?

'Cos now we're at the part I don't get. The argument breaks down for me at the point where as a true patriot, one must acknowledge that victory in this situation would be the best thing for one's country. The "America right or wrong" argument. Which I'm just not buying. If you believe your country is engaging in a war that will only result in a loss of life, dignity, and the destruction of values for which that country purportedly stands, then isn't it the duty of a true patriot to advocate for its cessation?

Take the "America" out of it, and think about what's being said. We consider Germans who refused to collaborate with the Nazis, who opposed their efforts to wage war to be heroes, and we credit them with loving their country so much that they could not sit by idly and watch its values twisted and debased by a madman. I'm not equating the US with Nazi Germany, I'm just asking. If someone looks at the non-existent WMDs and the other lies that lead to US involvement in Iraq, if they look at the Abu Ghraib and other scandals that have come as a result of this incursion and they truly believe that the cost of waging it to the American moral fabric is just too high a price to pay, then how can you question their patriotism?

So, to take Dr. Reynolds at face value, this argument seems to leave you with a pretty narrow definition of patriotism that says "agree with me or else." That people must swallow the supposition that winning is always better than losing, that any war is a good war once you're in it, and that the cost in lives is worth whatever our leadership says it is. And I'm just not willing to turn that large a chunk of my brain off and indulge in the blind faith necessary to enable that ideology, regardless of nationality and no matter who's in power.

I'm willing to acknowledge that you could believe that having the US go down to defeat in Iraq might be the best thing for the country and the world, that it could quickly put an end to the march through Syria and Iran that the Administration seems to be contemplating. I might not agree, but I certainly wouldn't question someone's patriotism who held those beliefs. Calling into question someone's patriotism seems to be the last defense of those who know their argument is intrinsically, inimically flawed, and have no other recourse than to cry foul.

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