January 10, 2012
George W. Bush, hypocrisy, Iraq, Iraq War, Israel, Manichaenism, Native Americans, patriotism, United States of America, war
Cold War, ColdWar, George W. Bush, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Manicheanism, Philip Zimbardo, Soviet Union, Sovietunion, Stanford Prison Experiment, United States, United States Army, United States Army Air Corps
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There has always been a strand of Puritanism in American thought that survives in part as a Manichean division between good and evil. Rather than seeing the United States as a mixture of good and evil, many Americans see it as “the good guy” in the world with no major faults. Individuals who disagree are labeled as “unpatriotic,” told to “go to Russia,” or are called “America-haters.” Although I do not deny that there are individuals and groups of people who hate their country, not every critic of American practices hates the United States. Nor is someone who points out that there is much good in countries considered to be enemies of the United States, such as Iran. Many Americans want an overpowering, evil enemy state because many Americans are more Manichean, believing in sharp lines between good and evil, than they are Christian. Christianity recognizes that no being created by God is totally evil–traditionally, since evil is a lack of good, and thus a lack of being, a totally evil being could not exist. If Americans of all stripes are honest with themselves, they will see that they are capable of great evil. Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, showed how “good” people can turn evil when they have great power (as prison guards) over others (in this case, students who played the “prisoner” role). He notes the power of situational factors that can lead to a good person torturing and even killing innocent human beings.
Reinhold Niebuhr recognized that groups are capable of great evil just as individuals are, and Zimbardo’s work showed this to be the case. Nation-states are groups of people, and in any group unethical practices can arise that lead to people doing things that are evil under group pressure. No nation is immune to this. Was the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” as President Reagan affirmed? I would say “Yes,” with the qualification that there was good even in the old Soviet Union, and evil in the United States of America. In the War between the States, Generals Sherman and Sheridan engaged in the first modern war (with Lincoln’s endorsement)–both these generals and President Lincoln believed that war should be engaged against the civilian population. The brutality with which federal troops put down the anti-draft riots in New York as well as Sherman’s March to the Sea are evidence of the results. The United States Army was brutal in the Philippines war in the early part of the twentieth century, mowing down men, women, and children. The United States Army Air Corps engaged in the saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. President Roosevelt placed thousands of Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. In the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs than it did in the whole of World War II. The atrocities and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba) are well known–torture has not been totally eschewed as the official policy of the United States, and the U.S. still sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured. Civil liberties, from the genocide of the American Indians to the mistreatment of the Irish, the Chinese, and of African-Americans, have not been uniformly honored in the United States. Does this mean the United States is an evil country? I do not think it is as evil as a totalitarian society such as the old Soviet Union or China under Chairman Mao, but it does mean that the notion of the United States as the paragon of virtue and (during the Cold War) the Soviet Union as the epitome of evil is a Manichean view that does not reflect the good and evil mixture found in all nation-states.
President George W. Bush held a simplistic, Manichean view of the world that many Americans eagerly followed. Saddam’s Iraq was an evil state, and the good United States was obligated to attack the evil state (at first for the alleged but missing “weapons of mass destruction” and then to “save the Iraqi people from Saddam”). Americans’ hubris was expanded by its view that it was the hero country liberating the Iraqi people from a Satanic dictator. Now Iran is the enemy, and the Neoconservative war cries are loud–and Americans are buying into the new lie as well. Yes, Iran’s president holds an evil position in his denial of the Holocaust. Nothing can justify his views, nor his support of the radical religious groups that have held the country hostage since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, Iran also has a working democracy, unlike many other states in the region, including states the United States supports. Israel has a vital interest in what Iraq does, and if Israel wants to defend its vital interests militarily, that is Israel’s task, not that of the United States. However, the Neoconservatives are appealing to American Manicheanism and demonizing Iran as the new “evil empire.” Hopefully Americans will see that all people are “fallen,” as well as all nation-states, and any positing of “We good, they bad” is misleading and leads to unnecessary wars and bad foreign policy decisions.
October 5, 2011
Ethics, United States of America, war
Afghanistan, Dennis Kucinich, Ethics of War, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Middle East, Neoconservatives, Republican, Ron Paul, United State, United States, war, Warmongers, Wilsonianism
Image by Toban Black via Flickr
It is almost impossible to halt any rush to war in the United States. One reason is the power of the military-industrial complex, but there are other key factors involved in warmongering. A major factor is the pragmatic alliance between the “mainstreams” of both the Left and the Right. Members of both these classes support a warfare state–sometimes for similar reasons, and at other times for different reasons. The result is the same–the United States gets involved in yet another war. Neoconservatives have taken over the Republican Party, with Ron Paul being a rare holdout. Neocons have an almost pathological desire to spread “democracy” throughout the world, by force if necessary. “Democracy” becomes a substitute religion that, like religion in the past, must be imposed on people for their own good. Those who disagree will feel the brunt of American missiles and bombs, especially if the country is an easy target. Iraq, for example, was weak, its economy and military capacity devastated by years of U. N. sanctions and bombing. Although American occupation has not been peaceful, with over 4000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, Neocons believe that the price is “worth it” in order to produce a democratic Iraq out of a tribal culture that lacks a tradition of democracy. Supposedly a democratization of the Middle East and of Central Asia will help keep the region safe–but at times Neocons seem more concerned with keeping the region safe for Israel than with the national security of Israel than with the national security of the United States. But forced democratization in nations lacking a tradition of democracy will ultimately make the world more dangerous. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the government of Egypt is real. Hamas won on the West Bank, although they are now working with the Palestinian Authority. Do we know that Libya post-Khadaffi would be better off than Libya Khadaffi? We do not–what if a Muslim Brotherhood-like group ended up ruling Libya? What if Libya became open to Al Qaida establishing a base of operations in Libya? Would promoting “democracy by force” really create a safer Middle East? Most likely, such an action creates a more dangerous Middle East and kills hundreds, if not thousands, of people. In the tribal culture found in many Middle Eastern countries, this can produce thousands of suicide bombers bent on revenge.
The worst warmongers are, all too often, Evangelical Christians who are part of the religious right. Many are premillenialists who allow their tainted theology to determine their reaction to Middle Eastern affairs. They strongly support Israel and long for war against the enemies of Israel. I have been called “dark” for my opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–by a priest. Almost every conservative Evangelical I’ve known was hell-bent on invading Iraq. They would have been disappointed if the United States had not moved in and fought these nations. Some of them are absolutely bloodthirsty, wanting to “nuke” any country that “gets in America’s way.” I do not believe that Jesus would support such attitudes–certainly not the eagerness to go to war. This “God and country” Christianity is dangerous, reminding me of the movements by German churches in the 1930s to accommodate Nazi ideology. Every decision of the nation-state to go to war is supported, even if there are no good grounds for war. These “Christians” should be ashamed of themselves.
The Left is just as guilty of warmongering. The missionary-like zeal of Wilsonianism has long infected the left with the desire to “spread democracy” and to “nation-build.” Mrs. Clinton is an example of that kind of liberal warmongering ideology. Pro war Democrats outnumber anti-war Democrats in both houses of Congress. The only real debate was over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, not whether to fight them in the first place. Mr. Obama, sadly, has bought into the Wilsonian Democratic point of view–with the president and the majority of representatives and senators in both parties supporting the warfare state, the United States becomes more guilty of shedding blood and having the blood of its young people shed in war.
Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have opposed warmongering, as has Walter Jones of Tennessee. Paul and Jones are men of the right; Kuchinich is part of the old antiwar left. It will take such a coalition to overcome the combined power of Neocons, the Religious Right, and the Wilsonian Leftists in their path to war. The debt crisis may slow the drive for wars since wars are expensive. If Conservatives would behave as true conservatives; if the antiwar Left works together with them; and if traditional Christians would really follow the “Prince of Peace,” Congress would have no desire to expand the United States’ role in any of the current wars raging in the world. Changing people is difficult. Sadly, so is killing people. This needs to change.
June 16, 2011
Afghanistan, Christianity, Iraq War, war
Afghanistan, Christ, Christian, Evangelicalism, George W. Bush, Iraq, Iraq War, Just War Theory, Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes, United States, Warfare and Conflict
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A sad fact of contemporary American Christianity is the open-ended support many Christians give to war. Among the most fervent supporters of George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan have been conservative, Evangelical Christians. This is not to say that all Evangelicals support the wars–as with any group, there are exceptions. However, Evangelicals, who are mostly politically “conservative” (though I fail to see what is “conservative” about waging war) have tended to support U. S. military intervention abroad. Many Evangelical churches will have special services to honor our “heroes,” the troops returning from Iraq or from Afghanistan. Evangelicals in general are the most zealous supporters of “American Civil Religion,” with a U. S. flag prominently displayed in church and with patriotic songs sung at services on or near the date of national holidays such as July 4. Christians who protest the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are labeled as “wimps,” “liberal peaceniks,” or worse. Sometimes the rhetoric comes across as saying that a person who opposes these war is less of a Christian than those who support the wars. And some Evangelicals I have heard are bloodthirsty–there is no other accurate description. They will talk about nuking all “enemies of America” with an expression of sadistic glee.
Even if a Christian supports the notion that war is sometimes necessary, that does not imply that the Christian should accept the justness of any war a nation wages just because he is a citizen of that nation. Some advocates of just war theory opposed the Iraq War in particular–Iraq had never invaded the United States and was not a threat to the United States. “Preemptive war” is nowhere a part of just war theory. Yet millions of traditional Christians naively supported Dubya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in their execution of an unjust war that killed many thousands on both sides.
Even if a war is necessary, no Christian should support it with glee, nor should the Christian rejoice at enemy deaths. Such a message is contrary to Christ‘s command to “love one another” and to “love your enemies.” A bloodthirsty attitude toward killing is incompatible with Christianity. Such an attitude is so contrary to the message of Jesus that, from a traditional Christian point of view, it is difficult to see how one who accepts that attitude could live in the eternal presence of God. Hatred of others and joy in killing and in war are products of Satan, not of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps Evangelical Christians, who are so literalistic on other parts of the Bible, should follow this advice literally.
November 29, 2010
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iraq War, State Department, Wikileaks
Iraq, State Department, United States, United States Department of State, War in Afghanistan (2001–present), WikiLeak
Image by Rainer Ebert via Flickr
As an opponent of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, it would be easy for me to praise Wikileaks for revealing evidence of U. S. torture in those wars. Or I could argue that the recent leak of State Department cables was useful in revealing a chaotic and seemingly incoherent U. S. foreign policy. But Wikileaks is more dangerous than helpful, and leaking secret government documents borders on treason.
Lives may be at stake. After these leaks, State Department personnel overseas may find themselves threatened by angry citizens from the countries where they are stationed. Other countries will be angry at the information in the leaks, which may do irreparable harm to U. S. relations with those countries. Some secrecy is essential for diplomacy to take place and for the State Department to do its job. Any other country has similar secrets, private memos criticizing other countries, memos about espionage activities, etc. Most countries would charge someone who leaked such sensitive information with treason, as indeed it is. Real people’s lives are at stake, as well as the ability of the United States–under any administration– to conduct diplomacy. Hopefully, if federal law enforcement does not do its job, Congress will play a role in stopping such a serious breach of secret information in the future.
The New York Times made a poor decision in its decision to reveal the information from the leaks. Of course if it had not done so, one of the other major news organizations would have revealed the information. This does not make revealing such information right. The idea that journalism must reveal every fact it knows is a morally irresponsible idea. Perhaps most of the damage to U. S. foreign policy can be undone, and prayerfully all U. S. personnel in the foreign service will be safe. I pray that the United States does not find itself drawn into another foreign war due to blowback from these leaks. The risk to the United States is too great for another leak of this magnitude to happen again.
November 9, 2010
George W. Bush, Iran, Iraq War, politics, President George W. Bush, Republican Party, United States of America
Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Iran, Iraq, United States
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Former President George W. Bush is out of hiding and into the limelight again as he promotes his new book. From the interviews I have read, there isn’t much new that redeems his poor performance as president. One positive is that he appears to question (just a little) the wisdom of the “Patriot Act.” And he admits that pushing belief in Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a mistake. How many people died for that mistake?
Bush admits his mistake in not foreseeing the economic crisis. He and his advisers ought to have seen the mortgage crisis coming. Either someone did not warn Mr. Bush who should have warned him or he ignored the warnings he did receive. In either case, it was the Administration’s almost complete deregulation of the banking industry that allowed financial institutions to make so many bad loans–the government policy of forcing banks to loan to the poor does not, by itself, explain the extent of the crisis. Mr. Bush bears some responsibility.
Despite appointing two excellent Supreme Court justices, overall, Mr. Bush’s presidency must go down as an abysmal failure. The good he did was outweighed by two wars, excessive defense and excessive domestic spending, and the collapse of the economy. His dependence on Neoconservative advisers such as Vice-President Dick Cheney virtually destroyed his presidency. Sadly, Bush still doesn’t “get it.” Perhaps one day he’ll swallow his ego and take more responsibility for the damage he did to the United States and to other countries.
Mr. Bush is unapologetic on torture, claiming that waterboarding gave the United States and Great Britain some useful intelligence. Thus Mr. Bush still supports a practice that is now almost universally acknowledged as evil and barbaric. Unfortunately his successor hasn’t closed the door on torture–so the post-911 madness of America continues.
Bush gives his policies credit for there being no more attacks on the U.S. before the end of his term as President. This reminds me of a story (from Ann McGovern’s book Ghostly Fun) about a man who hired a wrinkled old witch holding a broom outside his front door. His wife, horrified, asked him why. His reply: “To scare the elephants away.” His wife said, “But there aren’t any elephants around here!” Then her husband says, “See! It works!” There are too many causal factors that could have prevented a post 9-11 attack for Bush to give himself credit. But this is one president who has no problem with failing to restrain his ego.
Apparently Mr. Bush had asked the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran. Thank God that war did not materialize, though I would not put it beyond Mr. Obama to start one. Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Unlike Israel, it has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And although I find Iran’s president to be morally reprehensible, that does not justify war with Iran. Mr. Bush, consistent with the neoconservatives, rarely found a war he didn’t like.
Mr. Bush did considerable damage to the Republican Party; it is only because of the ineptitude and radical ideas of President Obama that the Republicans gained so many seats in Congress this year.
October 8, 2010
Afghanistan, Antiwar, Uncategorized, United States of America, war
Iraq, Justin Raimondo, United States, Warfare and Conflict, Wars and Conflicts
Image by Cecilia... via Flickr
Justin Raimondo’s column (http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2010/10/07/support-the-troops/) reminds us that war is brutalizing. Although I think there are more U. S. troops who retain a moral sense than Raimondo believes, when human beings are put into a situation in which they are in combat constantly, are always watching their back for the next shot that could kill them, and in which they do not know whom to trust among the local population, no one should be surprised at the results.
This, however, does not morally justify the action of those U. S. troops who have done wrong. Their crimes are horrifying to anyone with the moral sense of a human being. Sadly, I would not be surprised if those people most likely to either soften the actions of these troops or, worse, justify them, will be otherwise traditional Christians. “Christian warmonger” is an oxymoron, and always has been, despite centuries of Christians who have failed in this area. In any case, I am appealing to natural law, the notion that brutalizing another human being is intrinsically wrong no matter what utilitarian result one might wish to gain from it. In the case Raimondo cites, the actions of the troops seem more sadistic than utilitarian. They clearly were evil. Thank God for the one soldier who was willing to stand up for what was right despite facing the wrath of his peers. He is a moral hero.If only there were more.
September 6, 2010
Iraq War, President George W. Bush, President Obama
2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraq, Iraq War, United States, United States armed forces, Warfare and Conflict
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So American troops fight in Baghdad after “all American combat troops have been withdrawn.” Anyone with minimal intelligence should have known that combat for American troops would not end in Iraq. Although Mr. Obama had the good sense not to declare victory, as Mr. Bush did when he announced the end of “major combat operations,” his actions remain deceptive. So-called support troops will come under fire from insurgents, and they will have to choice but to defend themselves. Iraqi forces will become overwhelmed at times, and U. S. troops (and “civilian contractors” in some cases) will come to the rescue. Mr. Obama claims all U. S. troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2011. I’m not holding my breath.
The Iraq war began in deception and continues in deception. How many more Americans and Iraqis will die or be maimed for life due to this insanity? It may take the United States many years to recover from the foreign policy blunders of the previous administration. I had hoped that the new administration would not follow suit. Unfortunately that hope has been dashed as the American empire continues to gasp its dying breaths. The aftermath, I fear, will be ugly.