6.10.2005

sigh

I'm not sure if you've followed any of the "gulag" rhetoric spouted both from Amnesty Intl. and the White House, but it's gotten ugly. I haven't followed it at all closely, but it seems that--even though quotes were taken out of context, parodied, and trumped up--both sides have a point. Amnesty's point is that the US should be above the kinds of torture, abuse, and frankly anti-Geneva-Convention treatment of prisoners. The White House's point is that sometimes seemingly scummy tactics are necessary in order to counter militants. In the case of religious or para-religious militants, logical debate or rational questioning is not going to keep someone from detonating a bomb inside the Capitol building. So the administration and the military feel justified by using interrogation strategies that cut right across standards of individual rights in order to lower the probability that Americans will again be attacked. Jimmy Carter reportedly agreed with Amnesty: "The U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation...because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo." And while I agree with the former President and with Amnesty that the US's reputation is being damaged, I have to wonder--So what? But I don't mean that "so what" in a "we should do whatever we want" sort of way. Instead, I mean Why are we surprised? Why are we swayed by rhetoric that the US is "doing the right thing" in war or peace? Do we still think that countries operate by some quant Victorian-era policy of national honor. I mean, I think we appeal to national honor a great deal, especially during the Olympic Games and when we're trying to convince our citizens to let us go to war. But, honestly, aside from the nationalistic furvor of the Nazis, when has a Western country after World War I really conducted their policies based on honor? Or perhaps I'm being too broad in my application. It's really just the neo-conservative United States that bases nearly every major political decision on some sort of narrowly-defined pragmatic or utilitarian concern. Softies like Clinton (Bosnia and Somalia) and Carter (the Shah in Iran) have cobbled together complicated and usually highly problematic political decisions based on ethical considerations, but by and large, especially since WWII, this country has only used national pride as an additional buttress to a self-interest-based policy. "God Bless America" is window dressing for "What can America do to bless Itself?" Sure, we feel guilty about doing so and, therefore, our rhetoric about doing what's morally right is very sincere. "I'm Proud to be an American" is moving and heart-felt even when you know your country's moral stance is shaky at times. But let's admit that we are aware at some deeper level that both Gulf Wars were fought not only over oil and other natural resources, but to further business interests in North America and Europe, to send a message to other powers (France, Germany, China, Russia, India) that the US is quite strong militarily, to curb problems with unemployment in urban and impovershed rural areas (I can't get a job so I'll join the Marines, make some money, see the world, shoot guns, and hopefully go to college when I get back), and to focus attention on issues abroad so that potentially bumpy roads toward domestic policies favoring one particular minority (the extremely wealthy) vs. the majority might be smoothed (Are you questioning the President's Social Security plan? What? Are you un-American?!?!? He's fighting a war! We've got to support our troops!) and so on and so forth. Call me cynical, but until/unless American culture becomes more convinced by ethical logic than pragmatism, all of our talk about not torturing people, about respecting human dignity, about seeing past "us/them" boundaries will remain just talk when we go to war with a country or there's a buck to be made that requires destroying or removing or suspending those human rights. And since we can't even give most employees more than a two week vacation once a year--since we think that time-off of work is an abnormal condition--I can't believe that the "pragmatic-turn" in American thought or politics is going anywhere. [As a complete aside, this seems to be another test of whether or not a country or people group is "Christian" in thought or policy. Is an individual seen as worth more than any commodity--oil, money, diamonds, coal, etc.--or concept--"productivity," etc.? Even if they're not from your country/state/city/home? Jesus would have made a terrible politician because he was always leaving behind the 99 for the 1. And the 1 he went after was often the least and the worst: Zaccheus, the Samaritan woman, the woman who had internal bleeding, the prostitutes rather than those that could have forwarded his goals politically: the scribes and Pharisees, Pilate, Herod, Caesar. Now that's anti-pragmatism.]

3 Comments:

Blogger Scott Sloan said...

e, quoting William Tecumseh Sherman "War is Hell", but it doesn't make it right.

When Christians use religion justify war, something is fishy....Also America looks out after American interests, not human interests. Just look at John Bolton...

I'd better stop while I am ahead. I enjoyed your spinning review of the new White Stripes Album. I didn't know that Loretta Lynn is playing in the White Stripes.

6/10/2005 7:09 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

Well, Amnesty International called Element a gulag, too, if that tells you anything.

6/13/2005 6:01 PM  
Blogger e said...

Scott--Loretta Lynn did a collaboration with Jack White of the Stripes, but she's not actually in the band. Their last album sounds more country and blues than any of their previous ones, though, and I'd attribute that to the collaboration.

John--That's because Element is a gul... wait, that'snot what I meant....

6/13/2005 7:01 PM  

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