September 15, 2004

How America lost the war on terrorism

There are a couple of shots of interviews with soldiers in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 that seem to portray American soldiers as exceptionally cruel, especially (for those who've seen it), the young man who waxes enthusiastic for listening to "Burn motherfucker, burn!" (I can't think of the name of the song or the artist off the top of my head) as he blows away the enemy, and the midnight, Gestapo-esque raid. Soldiers themselves objected to these shots in an article on Salon at the time (if someone can track down the link, I'll happily include it, but I'm in a hurry right now). We even talked about it not too long ago (again, find the link and I'll edit).

But as Bob Harris has pointed out at TMW today, the problem is not the soldiers who were doing these things; the problem is not their commanders who ordered them to do them, or failed to order them not to do it. The problem is that America, the nation, doesn't see anything wrong with this.

We are numb now.

We are killing. We are killing in large numbers. And we are numb to what we are doing.

That's it. Game over. We have lost.

Not the war. Ourselves.

I don't want to make this a partisan topic. The tension between dehumanizing The Other Who Wishes Me Harm and leaving myself incapable of self-protection is part of the human condition, and where one and one's society should draw the line is an important ethical debate America should return to again and again. And yet this is a partisan topic: we live in a mediopolitical climate where even hesitant suggestions that this dehumanization is less than ideal are shouted down as traitorous, and thoughtful statements in this vein are embellished, paraphrased, and simply distorted into gross rhetoric to be used against the speaker.

There is a pairing in this country, a dangerous duo: anti-intellectualism, isolationism, xenophobia, making us numb to the cruelty we inflict on others in our fear; and counter-intellectualism, smart-looking individuals who use big words and excessive footnoting to shout down and dismiss those who would show us what we have wrought. It is these we must oppose if our nation is to be worth fighting for. If Islamic terrorists hate the United States not for its Middle Eastern foreign policy but for our social and intellectual achievements, then let's not pretend the latter came about by shouting and Machiavellian or Stalinist manipulation. Let's celebrate those achievements, and achieve even more, democratically.

There is a place for honest conservatism: people concerned about children of divorce, about crime and drugs, people who are hesitant to reweave the social fabric and want to exchange and discuss those views with the liberals and radicals. But that is not what Roger Ailes wants; that is not what Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter or David Brooks, or Dick Cheney or George Bush want. That is not what the contemporary Republican Party wants. These people want power, even if it means losing our humanity.

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