Friday, July 27, 2007

A Few Conservatives Grow Up . . . Better Late Than Never

As you may have heard, the rightwing blogosphere is up in arms over an article in The New Republic in which a US soldier in Iraq recounts cruel and vindictive actions he witnessed by other soldiers embroiled in that nightmarish warzone. Conservatives like Michelle Malkin are furiously (and so far unsuccessfully) trying to dig up dirt on the writer in an attempt to discredit him--because, after all, it's important to pretend that every single American soldier is a paragon of nobility, kindness, self-discipline, and mental stability, right?

As usual, Digby has one of the best comments on the whole affair:
Why are so many of these people [i.e. right-wing "defenders" of the troops] such children in these matters? Rod Dreyer read "All Quiet On The Western Front" a couple of weeks ago and was so moved that he actually felt compelled to write a column about it. (I did too. In the eighth grade--only I called it a book report.) I guess I thought everyone knew that war was a crazy, fucked up enterprise filled with great drama and boredom and courage and loss of humanity and that most of the simplistic mythic clap trap that society uses to compel young men into doing it was pretty much propaganda. Sure, it still has to be done sometimes and it takes great physical courage and commitment to throw yourself into the meat grinder, but that doesn't change the fact that it is, on many levels, a total debasement of your humanity. Like most things in life, it's complicated.

I, of course, have never been to war. But that doesn't mean that I have no knowledge of it. Human beings have been at it for some time now and they've left quite a record. Nothing that Private Beauchamp wrote in that piece [in The New Republic] had not been written before by some other soldier in some other war. (That doesn't excuse the behavior, of course, which hasn't been acceptable behavior for soldiers for centuries, if only because of the lack of discipline.) But if you have the habit of reading books you will have come across descriptions of war that make your hair stand on end and you will know that nobility and honor sometimes seem like quaint concepts from another life in such circumstances. It isn't shocking in the least that otherwise decent people could lose that decency during wartime and it certainly doesn't surprise you that those who already have a light grip on conscience (or sanity) would behave in ways that would make us recoil in horror in our everyday lives.
Like Digby, I am startled by the incredible naivete of right-wing war defenders. She and I are about the same age, so I guess we've had the innocence gradually knocked out of us over the past half-century. Still, you would think that people who hold themselves up as commentators on world affairs would read an occasional book and think about it.

For further evidence of how stunningly naive some right wingers are, consider the series of posts that Andrew Sullivan has been running, built around conservatives' confessions of the false beliefs they have gradually abandoned during the last four years of the Bush administration. It got started this way, with Sullivan citing a post by the same Rod Dreher (not Dreyer) that Digby mentioned:
Rod Dreher asks what certainties people have abandoned these past few years in Iraq. His list:

1. Having been absolutely certain that the war was the right thing to have done, and that we would prevail easily, I am no longer confident that I can discern when emotion is affecting my judgment unduly.

2. I no longer implicitly trust governmental institutions, including the military--neither in their honesty nor their competence.

3. I no longer believe the Republican Party is superior in foreign policy judgment to the Democrats.

4. I no longer have confidence in the ability of our military, or any military, to solve deep cultural and civilizational problems through force alone. I mean, I thought nothing could stand in the way of the strongest military fielded since the days of ancient Rome. No more.

5. I have a far greater appreciation for how rare and fragile liberal democracy is, and a corresponding revulsion at the American assumption that it's the natural state of mankind. Which is to say, the war has made me rethink my ideas about human nature, and I'm far more pessimistic now than I ever was.
Now, a couple of these beliefs are perhaps forgiveable, like #3. (I never shared it, but I can imagine a sensible defense of the notion that Republicans generally show better foreign policy judgment than Democrats.) But I find most of them amazing in their naivete.

Did Ron Dreyer--a newspaper columnist and published book author--actually believe that governmental institutions deserved his "implicit trust"? Then what the hell did he think all the checks and balances in the Constitution were there for?

Did he actually think that the military could "solve deep cultural and civilizational problems through force alone"? Doesn't merely stating this idea expose how shallow and implausible it is? How on earth can force alone reconcile groups that hate one another, produce justice, or create democracy?

Did he actually believe that liberal democracy "is the natural state of mankind"? Did he think that the earliest humans foraging for food on the Serengeti conducted free elections, jury trials, and parliamentary-style debates before going hunting for wildebeest?

And as for the very first item on his list: One of the most fundamental rules of intellectual honesty is to rigorously question one's most cherished beliefs--especially when they happen to reinforce one's emotional leanings. If you don't understand this and try your best to practice it, you have no way of knowing whether anything you think is valid.

I don't consider myself a particularly profound thinker, but I outgrew Dreher's simplistic beliefs around 1962, when I was nine years old.

Maybe our conservative pundits should consider learning a little something about the realities of life before offering the rest of us their wisdom about it--and especially before lecturing Democrats on how "naive" and "soft-headed" their ideas about foreign policy are.

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