The Moment of Truth — December 1, 2001

Some Of My Best Friends Are Nationalistic Hawks

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen welcoming you to the Moment of Truth, the mote in God’s eye.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. That doesn’t mean every patriot is a scoundrel. It just means they choose to hang out with scoundrels who are so sociopathic they’ve been kicked out of all their other refuges.

Some of my best friends are nationalistic hawks. My friends are very intelligent. They are thoughtful. They are moral.

Somehow they’ve waded through the daunting amount of information, analyses, emotions and rhetoric that have risen from the ashes of the New York skyline and come out hawks.

So I’ve withheld firm judgment on the appropriateness of a US military action in Afghanistan, because I felt if some of my best friends supported it I couldn’t in good conscience weigh in without trying to understand them.

I waited till their initial ranting was over, their ranting against leftists they felt had said stupid things, as the stupid left tends to do. I felt sure the stance of some of my best friends would pass beyond reacting to people too stupid really to bother with, pass beyond the “anti-stupid” position, where everything must be the inverse of the stupidest imaginable position, which really puts the stupid at the helm, in a way.

I heard them say: resolved: whatever negatives are inherent in an attack by the US military are outweighed by the urgent need to stamp out bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban as soon as possible. While I would love such a stamping out to take place, and the stamping indeed seems to be going quite well, I couldn’t brush aside the negatives so blithely.

Because I, naively, was laboring under the impression that, while an attack by an enemy might at first evoke a lashing-out reflex, as it did both on the stupid left and the hawkish left, it was morally requisite to step back and take stock before either advocating or opposing violence, particularly in the form of an attack by an organization as complexly corrupt, unreliable and unpredictable as the US military. Dismissing that organization’s corruption and untrustworthiness as irrelevant or acceptable was not an option for me. And I still don’t know how some of my best friends were able to do it so quickly.

I feel a little cheated, actually. I’m still not sure if, since I wasn’t reacting as dogmatically as they against the anti-Americanism of the stupid left, maybe they felt I was just too benighted to grasp their true reasoning, so they withheld it from me.

Let me pause to say that, were the war not going as well as it is, I probably wouldn’t be griping like this. That would be kicking some of my best friends when they’re down. If you can’t kick’em when they’re tough, don’t kick, that’s what I say. I kick because I love.

So, since it has become a tradition these days to share favorite examples of “stupidity on the left,” now seems like a good time to share a few of my favorites, paraphrased but reasonably true to their original intent:

“Any one of us could have known someone in the Towers or the Pentagon.” Duh. The stupid idea here seemed to be that if you connected past US policy with the 9-11 attack, you must not have known someone killed by the terrorists, or, if you did, you weren’t reacting with proper respect or solemnity or humanity or good manners. With the hawks going Emily Postal like that, I had to make a huge effort to CHOOSE to listen to them, because I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t just knuckling under to their scolding. But I didn’t want to write them off, so I held my tongue and listened.

Which was good, cuz I got to hear another stupid comment: “There is no connection whatsoever between US policy and the 9-11 Massacre.” What’s funny about this is that you know immediately what the speaker is denying the relevance of: US support of nasty regimes and exploitative economics that have helped make US citizens the focus of hatred; how the CIA built an army of Islamic Fascist terrorists in Afghanistan on purpose, and then left that fascist army to its own devices, running loose in the world. How did you guess those were the forbidden thoughts? What made your guesses so vivid and specific? Is it because you believe 3,800 innocent people deserved to die? Is it because you believe Osama bin Laden is the sweet, gentle, misunderstood love child of Mother Teresa and Che Guevara? It is, isn’t it! Shame on you!

I don’t deny that the army the CIA organized has undergone a complex organizational evolution, splitting here, reshuffling alliances there, one part of it beginning the project of targeting its terror on the US. Though al Qaeda members may at this moment be receiving orders from an outpost the CIA had built specifically for bin Laden, the CIA was never their only source of support, certainly not their source of inspiration, and has been out of the picture for more than a decade. Nevertheless:

I declare resolved: the CIA and other US government support of state and non-state terrorists poses a threat to the security of US citizens. I thought that before 9/11/01. I believe it geometrically more since that day.

But back to the kicking. Here’s a real winner that highlights the true absurdity of the initial rift on the left: “I’m glad we got the bomb before Germany or Russia or Japan did.”

Really? Don’t you have even a little curiosity about what kind of utopia Hitler or Stalin would’ve created with it? This statement was, again, in reaction to both perceived and mentally constructed anti-American faux-pas from the stupid left. A declaration, if you will, of pride in our country, presumably the mannerly response to the murder of 3,800 people. We’re being killed, what a great country, glad Hitler didn’t get the bomb. And there is a lot to be proud of. Not only did we get it first, our government even came up with the creative decision to drop it on two heavily-populated cities instead of on an uninhabited island or a purely military target. It’s a historic example of “thinking outside the box.” And the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were heard to scream as they evaporated, “I’m sure glad I’m being nuked by a democracy and not a fascist or communist dictatorship!”

But hawkish rhetorical embarrassments are far from the issue. The point is, in their zeal or panic or spasms of indignation and horror, the left hawks dismissed some of the more subtle but important negative implications of a war and of the nationalism - pure, barbaric, reflexive and simplistic - with which they began considering it.

In the 80s the US government, in accord with its habit, not to say policy, of recruiting and training terrorist fascists, organized the Contras to kill Nicaraguan civilians through terrorist attacks. Rather than drop bombs on Washington, the Nicaraguan government brought their case before the World Court. And the world condemned US actions. But the US refused to acknowledge world opinion, they elected to stand apart from international law and thereby subvert the rule of international democracy in favor of discretionary vigilantism.

That’s just one example, of course. The US government has stood in the way of international justice many times.

But don’t go Emily Postal on me yet. My argument is not that the US has no right to expect international justice now because of its bad behavior in the past. Quite the opposite. The US has a responsibility to redeem the damage it’s done to international justice by engaging with it.

An army of Islamic Fascist psychopaths has killed thousands of civilians in the US. I can barely even believe it, reading it here on the page. The US is in the right in calling this a sick and evil crime. They have never been more demonstrably in the right. The whole world supports the US in their grievance. The world is on our side.

I wish I had said, at the appropriate time: If ever terrorism could be fought by legal means, the time is now. The most powerful country in the world has a grievance that the whole world recognizes.

If not now, when?

What an opportunity to build a true international coalition. Not to dictate: you are for us or against us. Not to have Tony Blair play poster boy for world unanimity. Not to settle for making common cause with nations waging much less just wars against people they’ve rightly or wrongly labeled terrorists. We had so much good will on our side we could have let Fidel Castro decide what we should do and STILL have got our war.

Even the mood of US citizens was solemnly circumspect, like nothing I’d ever experienced. They awaited the government’s actions patiently, awaited the government’s answer to their request that retaliation not compound the misery. Moved by the spectacular evil inflicted on them, they displayed the patience of Job. I think if they could have had anything they wanted, angels would have come down and laid a hand on Osama bin Laden’s shoulder and the shoulders of each member of the Taliban and al Qaeda and stared with bewildered pity into their eyes. The angels would have said, “Our looking into your eyes like this is the only retaliation the people of the United States demand,” and bin Laden and all the others would have wept in repentance. I believe, in such a mood, the public would have supported an intelligent, good-faith engagement with the global legal system. Their mood was not bellicose.

The whole world was watching. This nation, with its power and wealth, with its bizarre and perverse and lovable and sentimental and raucous and noble heart, with its historically unique approach to justice and human dignity and the possible - what would this nation, touched to the depth of its enigmatic soul, do?

But the US government opted to act unoriginally and, for all practical purposes, alone. We again elided international democracy. And the hawkish left and its weak sister, mejeffdorchen, allowed the squandering of that opportunity.

I know a lot of bad reasons our government wouldn’t want to validate international law. I know of no good ones.

We could have strengthened the legitimacy of a forum that, in the future, might have prevented our own government from creating and supporting terrorism for its own crazy purposes. We might have prevented a future Nicaragua from being terrorized by third-party-supported thugs. We could have given any number of countries and peoples recourse to more intelligent and effective options than exchanging atrocities with terrorists. That would have been a true redemption of US policy.

Am I a raving lunatic? Who would have thought, when the vicious white rulers of South Africa were overthrown, that their victims would respond with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission? I don’t mean to compare the circumstances, just to aver that the idea was a heresy in any system of pragmatic endeavor, let alone political justice. But it happened.

This war subverts a lasting defense against global terrorism. It subverts long-term efforts to civilize the world. Its support by the left is a failure of moral imagination. In addition to fighting terror, international democracy is necessary to mitigate international capitalism’s growing domination of the planet. We squandered an opportunity to strengthen the world against extreme corporate conquest. In the balance hangs world hunger and poverty. These are not small issues. These are not unimportant negatives. I don’t think anyone believes they are.

There was a fragile distinction, a thin membrane between the destiny we could have pursued and the one we chose. In the short term we may punish this day’s enemies and bring democracy to Afghanistan. Those aren’t small achievements. I damn well hope we succeed. But I’ll always wonder if we could have done more.

To conclude, I want to explore the difference between “appreciating the US” and “succumbing to nationalism.” The former can be compared to the separating of wheat from chaff. The latter is like eating chocolate chip vomit and saying, “Mmm, chocolate!”

Why fly a flag? Not that the pro-war left are doing so. But why, you who are flying it? Because you love, what, the Grand Canyon? The IRS? Free speech? Elvis? Your neighbor? If you love your neighbor, why not fly his address from a stick on your car?

I’m reconfirmed in my opposition to nationalism. I love the Grand Canyon. But the Grand Canyon belongs to the world. I love my neighbor. But American is only part of what she is. Much of what I love about her is more universal, it transcends national boundaries. And if someone kills her solely because she’s American, those transcendent aspects still matter more. The Declaration of Independence, so specifically American, is nevertheless a declaration of universal human dignity. It transcends the national sovereignty it declares. That’s what I love about it.

When the ashes and dust settle, the thing that sets the US apart, for me - the thing I can’t deny loving about the abstract and concrete nation itself - is its commitment, in its heart of hearts, to be a radical experiment in freedom. An experiment so radical that it often dissolves into paradox, and, just as we instantly recognize in all paradox the smile of truth, I’m convinced that all transcendent truths are paradoxical. Paradoxically, our nation is about the freedom not to be nationalistic. Paradoxically the Constitution guarantees us the right to badmouth the Constitution. The only thing our flag stands for that is worthwhile to me is our right to burn that flag. That’s revolutionary. That’s imaginative. That’s living up to our potential. That’s being all we can be. That’s the good we can hold out to the future.

I support a nation that transcends nationalism, not one that settles for being only as good or evil as any other. The flag I wave, that I hoist and lower and fold up for the night, is made of ashes and everything they can mean, including rising from them and returning to them. When that flag crumbles in my hands and the wind blows it away, my hands are not empty.

I’m mejeffdorchen and this has been the Moment of Truth.