Especially, this is not about who holds the original blame. Operation Infinite Justice might better have been named Operation Infinite Justification -- for there is enough of a history here, centuries of it, for anyone, ultimately, to justify anything. And yes, that includes the killing of civilians -- by both sides.
All justice is subjective, and the dead remain dead. War is an ugly thing.
I reacted strongly to one particular speech last Thursday -- so strongly that I knew that for me to continue this discussion on other boards could well be the destruction either of those boards or of my on-line identity -- not perhaps by my own anger and frustration (although that, too, was not impossible then), but by the degree and nature of the response. Ironically -- and sadly a scaled-down version of just that has since been demonstrated. We are told we have absolute freedom of speech on this series of boards based in the United States: but freedom of speech has never been the freedom to argue the unpopular views -- especially during wartime -- regardless of their morality or their accuracy. Even more powerful a constraint is found in popular acceptability: there has not yet been born the politician, or speaker, or sage, who with all their skill in speaking and insight can overshout the popular If you dont like it here, leave. Yet those among us who define the line will never feel a constraint -- and so some among us can never know that there is a constraint.
And so I stepped away from the boards altogether for a bit before my anger and frustration and sorrow could control my words and cause me to destroy what I still consider friendships. I wished first to find the words, and second to sidestep my anger sufficiently that I could find the words. (One person has since suggested rebalancing: it is a word that works as well as any.) Nearly all of those I consider friend here cannot know what it is that is being not only condoned at high levels, but advocated. Knowledge is an isolating thing. For better or for worse, I lack the wisdom to detach myself completely from the human elements of that knowledge and discuss merely the abstractions.
I know too much of war ever to do other than hate it, hate what all wars bring. I know not a single person who has helped dig bodies out of bombed rubble who would even consider jumping on top of the bodies of still-buried people to create a platform. The United States, in this generation, has never known war on its own soil. At some level, to too many people, what has happened on September 11, let alone what has been happening for decades, remains a distant abstract, not really real despite (or perhaps even because of) all the media attention and instant replays. We are very quick to distance ourselves, to turn a deep tragedy into an abstract justification. And so I reacted strongly to what, disguised as (and indeed named) a memorial speech, was in fact warmongering. An eye for an eye would leave the world blind, but, even more simply, two wrongs have never made a right. The action proposed I find wrong, not only by my personal convictions but even by those pieces of paper which define the moral principles of the United States. Our beliefs in basic human rights and in the Geneva Convention mean absolutely nothing if they do not stand up to such a test. It is only in the crucible that true mettle is shown.
But our beliefs in basic human rights are not standing up, are they? The Taliban has requested proof of bin Ladens guilt before considering handing him over: the United States has refused to supply such proof -- and yet the United States is a place where one is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. We justify our necessary collateral damage as the cost necessary to get those responsible -- and yet condemn precisely the same act when performed by others against the United States. The United States is in a state of armed conflict, perhaps has been ever since it allied unconditionally with Israel for all its denial -- yet it, alone of every country that has ever been at war, is shocked that armed conflict might also include the concept of being a target.
I give here, in the next post, something of my thoughts in hearing and later reading through the various Bush speeches, and especially that of Thursday last. (Brilliant speechwriter btw -- and terrifying in that brilliance.) I have no doubt that while some will agree, more will disagree, still more will agree with some parts and disagree with others, and some will try to avoid anything of politics or religion altogether so long as it does not touch them personally. That is the nature of being human too: that we will not all agree, or always agree. It would also seem to be the nature of being free. Certainly I make no claims of being right, only of explaining why it is I reacted as I did, and why I will not discuss what to so many remains, even now, not quite real, on a board which I do not have the right to endanger, however unwillingly or non-deliberately, through my ideas and beliefs. I also give here a breakdown of how I see this speech as focused toward creating an inevitability of crusade, by defining a with us or against us condition that very few nations would be willing to accept unconditionally -- including, I think, the United States itself, were the conditions imposed by another country. Certainly the United States continues to point-blank refuse to extradite one of its own citizens who has been accused of far more civilian deaths globally than the one under current scrutiny, on far more evidence.
Yet it makes a curious thing that I, along with several others who over the past several days have pointed this and other discrepancies of foreign policy out, or otherwise not unequivocably agreed with the cries of coward and retaliation, have been labelled anti-American.
I differentiate between the idea of America, the reality of America, and the individual people of America. I appreciate and respect the idea of America -- although I do not think it is necessarily applicable across the globe. I do think that the reality of America (as expressed in its public and foreign policy) has drifted very far from the idea -- but that the reality still claims to serve the dream. This makes the reality heedless of consequences -- which, oddly enough, might not have been the case had it remained closer to the dream.
It has been suggested to me that a part of the American idea is its compassion. The reality of the America I have seen through some other eyes has never had much in the way of compassion -- except for other Americans, and still too frequently distinguished by social class and race. (We see this even here on the boards: most are or quickly grow into highly homogeneous communities -- with little or no space for those who do not agree.) It long has not had much compassion. It does give foreign aid and that might be termed compassion, but it ties political strings to it which slowly unravel the local cultures toward the non-local ideas of capitalism and democracy. True compassion, I think, would not be tied to conditions. Is this a part of the idea, or drifted from? I do not know.
Yet most nations also struggle with the discrepancy of idea and reality. Nothing I have said here does not apply also to other countries. The only difference America has, here, is its unique global economic and military power -- and thus its greater global influence, for better or for worse.
Finally, I differentiate between individuals of the people of America: each person of whom is a unique product of both idea and reality (among other influences), and at the same time so much more. I say "American", and I will most often be referring to the reality and its separation from the dream -- not to the thoughts or perspectives of any individual American. Like anyone in the world, those thoughts range the gamut from hoping for peace and non-violent solutions to determination to impose the American (reality) moral upon the rest of the world because it is "right". I have known Americans, as individuals, who truly understood compassion, who were unbelievably generous to a foreign stranger. I have known Americans who -- were not.
But then, that again would be the case for nationals of nearly every country.
Most Americans I know still cling to the idea of America, and want to see their country as generous, as compassionate, as "right". How can I not understand and sympathise with this? And yet there is a danger in clinging to an idea which is linked increasingly tenuously to a rapidly distancing reality. "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. But freedom, opportunity: these are relative things, defined to a great extent by personal environment, social stratum, race, and the popular acceptability of the popular If you dont like it here, leave. Is the United States even a true democracy? Has it ever been? Is it closer to that ideal now than when it was founded on the basis of non-representation -- not incidentally in the process preserving its culture?
I am certainly not with the United States in the current foreign policy direction taken. You will have to decide whether that makes me against the United States -- and how that reconciles with the ideal of freedom to assemble and disagree with each other.