Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blind Spot

I deleted a post today.

That's something I don't know if I've ever done in the history of this blog, and it bugged me enough to make me want to write about it.

Yesterday I wrote two posts about "Veteran's Day", one of which is still up, the Sassoon quote, and unexceptional as such. Just the usual sort of thing I think about on these "God and the soldier we adore..." sorts of "holidays".

But the other was a rumination on the lot of women in war, and made particular mention of the horrors visited on the women of Germany in 1945. And the very first and only comment took me to task, implicitly, for being a traitorous Hun-lover and explicitly for not mentioning all the nasty things that the Nazis did in Poland and Russia and the fascist Japanese did in China, the Philippines, Honolulu and Wake (Wake?) (and, rather ridiculously in my opinion, that the Al Qaeda thugs did in New York City - and the Pentagon, which is like giving the 8th Air Force shit for bombing Luftwaffe HQ - as if the murderous individual acts of nasty criminals were the equivalent of international war) along with the bad stuff that happened to "enemy" women.

Well, that set me back on my heels.

And I re-read that post. And, sure enough, I did mention lots of places that the U.S. Army had fought in WW2, Vietnam, and the modern Middle East. Well, along with Brazzaville in the Congo and Coventry. And Hue, where the atrocities were visited upon the women of Hue by the communist invaders during Tet). But the bulk of the places I talked about were where the women of the enemies of our country had been subjected to atrocity.

And no question that while the hurricane of rape visited on Germany in 1945 was and is unequalled in modern history (the Germans themselves butchered their way through western Russia and the Ukraine but there is and never has been any suggestion of the sort of universal raping that was unleashed by the Soviet support troops in eastern Germany in the last year of WW2) overall the savagery visited on women in China and the other southeast Asian conquests by the Japanese Army, and in places like Poland and Russia by the German is orders of magnitude more bestial than anything the U.S. has visited on our enemies.

Was I, then, being overly harsh on my own nation for our conduct in war?

And, as I re-read that post, I think I was.

And rather than try and revise it or repair it I simply killed it.

Because what I would have ended up doing was trying to one-up the dead and maimed, trying to compare and contrast one atrocity against another, and that's beyond vile.

That's just despicable.

If any one thing has sickened me about war it is the unquenchable human need to trump the "enemy" suffering with one's own. You see it at it's worst in the eastern Levant, where the mutual atrocities visited on one anothers' innocents by Israelis on the one hand and the congeries of Arab states and entities on the other is endlessly paraded about to try and top the other side's grievances. So the dead of Deir Yassin or Gaza are used to try and justify the dead in a bus station bombing in Jerusalem or the kibbutz kids killed by Syrian shells or Hezbollah rockets.

All that is very human, and I am no less tempted than any other human, though I try to fight down the caveman instinct to simply assume that "Him hurt me because him bad". Some enemies ARE "bad" - the Nazis were as "bad" as any human ideal ever was. But many are just that - enemies because we want something they have, or because they want something we have, or just because we BOTH want something and can't agree to share it.

But I I have a blind spot to "enemy" atrocities? In all my attempts to "see both sides" do I come down harder on the evil done in my name, in my country's name, than TO my country and my countrymen? Am I a secret traitor, a Hun-lover, a terrorist-hugger?

And I had to sit and think about that for a long, long time.

And here's what I think.

I think I AM harder on my own country, on my fellow soldiers, than on our enemies. I think I do stress the shame we do more than the shame done to us.

And if that makes me a treacherous enemy-embracer, then I'm OK with that.

And here's why.

Because here's the thing; our enemies often ARE our enemies because they believe and do some pretty vile and despicable things. Our history is as blotted as any nation's - we pretty much screwed the natives, and the Mexicans in the 1840's, and the Hawaiians and Filipinos in the 1890's, and the folks in Latin America pretty much all the time.

But we've also fought on the side of the angels, and more often than many nations. The fascist Japanese, the Nazi Germans, the communist Soviets or North Koreans or Chinese, the takifiri Islamists - those groups and the people who belong to them explicitly reject the notions that all men are created equal. That there should be liberty and justice for all. That people should be free from religious tyranny, from organized oppression. All the things that MY country stands or says it stands for, and I take my country at its word. And in fighting them we ARE doing a good thing in the larger sense.

Their acts, and those of their armed forces, are consistent with their beliefs; they did, and do, vile and inhumane things to weak people, women, and children, that they could have spared had they chosen to do so. That they did not disgusts and angers me, but neither surprises nor enrages me because it betrays my beliefs. I believe that those systems are vile and by their actions those who do their work confirm my beliefs.

At the same time I am proud of the promise of my own country, so when I, or others of my own breeding, do things that don't live up to that pride I am ashamed. And that shame brings with it rage at myself, for not standing up against those acts, or at those who committed them.

That is unfair, in that I am holding my own to higher standards than I hold my enemies. But I believe that in this sense our Constitution and our announced values ARE a suicide pact; if we fail to uphold them, if we judge ourselves not by our own professed values but by our merits relative to the worst beliefs we can think of, then we have indeed committed suicide. We have killed the best and the most hopeful within ourselves and our nation. I hold my nation to a higher standard as I would hold myself to a higher standard, or my own children. I would be more merciless to myself or my son for cheating, or lying, or stealing, or killing, than I would a stranger.

So if we, my country and I, kill innocents, even in error; if we torture our helpless chattels; if we seize and hold even the guilty without trial or, worse, without any sort of accountability or law whatsoever; if we do worse than we could because others have done even worse then we are guilty of not just crime but mistakes. We have made the fundamental error of losing our and our nation's ideals.

And that matters.

Because the United States is nothing if NOT an ideal. We are not Germany or France or Cambodia, a nation because of the language we speak or the way we look or the place we live in or the God we worship. We come from many places, speak many tongues, think and worship and believe many different things.

What ties us into one nation, indivisible, is the beliefs in the great words written into our national birth certificate; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And if we forget that and become the sort of people we have chosen for our enemies and visit among them the sorts of cruelty they would visit upon us, then we are, indeed, in danger of perishing from the Earth. And while I live, I will resist that to the extent I can. And therefore I see no value in judging my acts, and those of my fellow veterans, by the worst mankind has to offer.

So rather than argue who was "worse" I deleted the first Veterans Day post. The issue of that post was the suffering of innocents, and I see no value in judging the suffering that my nation has wrought in my name by contrast to the suffering that despotisms and degraded fanatics have wrought in the name of their beliefs. The only standard I accept is the standard my nation has set for itself. If you choose another, that's your business. Start your own blog and advocate for it, or join the gang over at Powerline or Little Green Footballs; they seem to love the "more rubble, less trouble" ideal of foreign relations.

I will continue to use this space to insist that we hold ourselves to the standards I believe we stand for; that ALL men - and women - are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even those whose leaders would attack us and deprive us of those rights. Even our enemies. And to criticize myself and my country if we choose to take the low, dirty road because it's easier. That if we are to be defeated, let it be by the enemy's arms and not by the self-murder of our own ideals and the promise that has the potential to make our nation a truly pridesome thing among the nations.

And if this be treason, I will make the most of it.


Leon said...

Good post Chief. If we claim to be better than those tinpot dictators and religious whackos then we have to back that talk up with proof. We have to hold ourselves to the higher standards. It will cost us more blood and treasure in the long run but I think it's the cost for the western liberal democracy's freedoms and benefits.

FDChief said...

I want to post my thoughts about "fighting" what we've thoughtlessly called the "War on Terrorism" (a.k.a. The War on Some Kinds of Ideologies We Don't Like) and how we COULD be "winning". But in the meantime this is a place to start: "Primum non nocere"; "First, do no harm". The worst wounds are almost always self-inflicted.

Or as Aeschylus said it better: "It is by our own feathers, and not by others' shafts are we now striken."

BigFred said...

#1 Internets for using congeries and Levant in the same sentence. We ARE better than "they" are. I did not want to believe that we tortured detainees to get information. I even less would want to argue what exactly constituted torture across the green table from SEN John McCain, whom decidedly does know what torture is.

SPQR, and Charge 4 Green Bag!

FDChief said...

BigFred: We CAN be better than "they" are and are in many ways.

But when we "disappear" people? And assassinate them from the sky with - as even our own intel people admit - no more than a hazy idea who "they" are? And farkle about in places where we have no national interest other than the ones we dig up while farkling?

We're not as good as WE could and should be.

And SEN McCain has so prostituted himself in pursuit of political office that I'd be willing to sit across the table from him and argue what color the table is.

Let "them" use their resources to argue for "their" betterment; I'll stay here and argue for "ours". Because we have tremendous promise and the power to make good on that promise. The tatty little "them" can't hurt us nearly as much as we can hurt ourselves.

FDChief said...

And I'll see your Ch4GB and raise you a M913 HERA. Steel on target!

BigFred said...

And who do i see tonight on TV but SEN McCain, discussing the showing of the various candidates on their opinions of waterboarding. He is not a favorite of mine, but I will not go as far as to call him a RINO. I have a fundamental moral and legal problem with whacking US citizens from the sky, with lists being made by some start chamber, or the current administrations penchant for not filling up Guantanamo, but voting "present" and whacking them via HELLFIRE missiles, and that is more due process than some sort of trial/tribunal at GTMO?

No lie, I had to look up M913 HERA, and I am glad you Army folks made that work for you. As a Navy shipdriver (20 years, man and boy) we have tried to crack that nut a few times, and failed.

FDChief said...

BigFred: I have the same problem with this odd enjoyment our political classes seem to have with aerial assassination, as much from a practical standpoint as a moral one; our own intel weenies admit that they often are fairly unsure of who exactly they're whacking. In war, that's one thing - an enemy private or an enemy general, oh well. But when you're running around foreign climes killing their civvies, you'd damn well better be SURE that guy really is a bad guy or you end up looking worse than a bully and a murderer - you look like a fool, and a dangerous fool at that. And nobody trusts a fool with heavy weapons.

And as for those weapons, well - I think the difference is that a ship isn't really troubled by weight. So why not carry a 5" cannon or larger? Our problem is that big guns get cumbersome fast, so we had to come up with a way to juice our projos to get the range out of a 4" cannon...

rangeragainstwar said...

Chief, we can't even define what being a bad guy entails. In MOG the definition changed over night.
The predators are now playing in a theater in your neighbor hood.