Stop Hate 2000 Newsletter May 6, 2003
"..change the world one heart at a time...The tendency that we all have is venting our anger upon the weak or pushing down the weak. In some ways, we don't want them because of the fact that they are fragile and in need of help." --- Jean Vanier.
The drums of did indeed beat. Decisions having been made, their wisdom is now less important than our working through the consequences of them. Winning a peace is a much more difficult process than winning a war, and that process has scarcely begun.
Any side in a war is going to want to perform its duty, however it may be defined. War, by its very nature is violence, and those who actually have to fight one must face moral issues about it, and handle them immediately. The most obvious one at any given moment is that it's your survival or somebody else's. At least the male of our species acts on that principle first, and tries to sort out all the other moral issues afterwards.
Just as matters became lively regarding Iraq, a very interesting memoir of the 1991 Gulf War was published. Andrew Swofford served in the U.S. marine Corps during that war, and he has published his memories of it in a book called "Jarhead". It is an excellent, truthful and unsentimental description of war. And it revisits all the moral issues which warriors face.
Among other things, it confirms the judgment made by the Duke of Wellington in announcing his victory at the Battle of Waterloo: "nothing, except a battle lost, is half so melancholy as a battle won." That remains true even if nearly all the casualties are on the other side.
Maybe it's true that in order to kill your enemy you have to hate him, or, in these more enlightened days, her. When the armed forces recruit soldiers, they try to strike a difficult balance. They don't want people who are too obviously fond of killing people, but they also want people who can suspend a natural reluctance to do it. The most successful warriors are those whose ability to suspend that feeling is as short-lived as necessity demands. Unhappily, there are some who, once they are able to suspend that reluctance, become unable to recover it. One Timothy McVeigh will be remembered, especially by the people of Oklahoma City, as an example of the latter.
It's harder to recall that these questions also involve those who aren't formally fighting a war. There's also a few more they have to face. Thinking through them can lead to some unsettling conclusions.
Civilians who aren't obviously active in war still feel somehow the desire to be part of it. We very much wish to support those actually fighting it, and to put our patriotism beyond doubt. Unhappily, many of the ways we choose can be both thoughtless and unedifying. War, as noted, is violent by its very nature, and hate may be a passing need of a moment, and too many think that the way to identify with the warriors is to exercise violence and hate themselves. The belief is that it's licensed; that it's doing one's duty at home and supporting those on the front. Alas, to quote the Gershwin brothers, "It ain't necessarily so."
What is patriotism? Is it a love of our country and people, admitting that they have faults? Does that love mean we must think poorly of all others? Can it be a hatred of those who are not of our country and people?
We would start with the proposition that the answer to the second of those questions, that patriotism is a love of one's land and people, not forgetting their imperfections, is a clear "yes". The answer to the third and fourth had better not be anything but "no". A "yes" to those two last questions would not provide a better recipe for never-ending war and never-ending insecurity. Unhappily, the easy and automatic answer, in practice, is to answer "yes" to all those questions. It takes a lot of effort to resist that, and making that effort will get you branded as a traitor easily.
In war, the obvious and undoubted evil of "the other" justifies any action on our part. We're the good guys after all. But "the other" seem to think that they are. And they justify any action on their part as a response to ours. To them, we are "the other". Our actions thus justify theirs, and we use theirs to justify ours. Left alone, it becomes a vicious circle.
"The other" tends to expand once we admit it as a good thing. Let us consider the present conflict in Iraq.
Who is (or was) the enemy? Was it Mr. Saddam Hussein personally, the Iraqi government, or the people of Iraq? The American government is pretty clear that it isn't the latter. Or, at any rate, the people of Iraq aren't supposed to be. In practice, it can be a little difficult to make the distinctions.
And sometimes, one doesn't bother too much. Anybody who looks vaguely Islamic or Middle Eastern comes under suspicion. If one doesn't shoot first and ask questions alter, one may arrest first and get around to asking questions months or years later. At home, we want to be fighters too. We can't lay hands on Saddam Hussein, and not likely any Iraqi government officer or even a soldier. But, well, there is that very suspicious Arab looking guy next door. We'll show HIM. That'll help the boys up front. If it turns out, some time later, that he had nothing to do either with Iraq or Al-Qaeda, well, war is hell. For the moment, though, he was "the other" we're supposed be against, if we're good patriots.
We may not stop there. We begin not only to identify "the other" as a declared enemy. They begin to include the malevolently neutral. Our source of displeasure may be a government. But since we can't do much about, say, Jacques Chirac, we can denigrate and despise the entire French people and nation. And as we come to think that the neutral are as bad as our declared enemy, the French neighbor is only slightly less to be despised, if not worse, than the Arabic-looking one. That'll really help the war effort.
And by stages, that can get extended. the benevolently neutral will have their turn: hey, they aren't helping, so they're just as much against us as anybody else. Unchecked, this attitude becomes extended to the willing who don't seem to be sufficiently willing. Iran was an ally against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and had a long and bloody war with Saddam Hussein, but this is not making Iranians any more popular. Saudi Arabia is becoming much less favorably regarded.
And, unchecked, we turn on ourselves. Our vision of "the other" expands. It expands from the outright few traitors tot hose we imagine sympathize with the enemy. In time, anybody who might not like our enemy but who also questions official policy becomes a target. And it comes to include supporters who are insufficiently supportive.
This is not entirely hypothetical just now. These fires may well be inevitable, but there are some who are setting about fanning the flames of those fires for all they're worth. Most would undoubtedly be unhappy if those flames caused death to some identified "other", and maybe they would have some regret if their livelihoods were destroyed. But when you build a fire and you feed it and you feed it and you feed it, you may no longer be able to control that fire. It may take over and even consume yourself.
Abraham Lincoln spent much of his presidency fighting those fires at home, all the time he was trying to fight a great and terrible civil war. And he had an answer to the super-loyal who denounced him has a semi-Confederate, soft on Southerners and "Copperhead" Northerners: "Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?"
It's a point which real warriors understand better than armchair warriors do. President Lincoln's great opponent, Jefferson Davis, met a lot of the latter after the Civil War, hearing the great things they would do against "the other". Davis described them as "invincible in peace, invisible in war."
These fires will occur, and perhaps they are preferable to some alternatives. But is necessary to keep them under control as best we can. Soldiers and commanders have known it for centuries. Civilians are slower to learn it, but in this age of "total war", it's one we must learn quickly.
So we wish to mention a second book which is recently published and well worth reading. Martin Gilbert has recently published "The Righteous", which is a history of those brave souls who sheltered and tried to save declared enemies of the state such as Jews and Gypsies in World War II. They chose humanity over civic duty, when it was very dangerous to do so. Which is the better to be praised, these subjects or those who chose civic duty?
This site would have no purpose and meaning if we did not say that the brave and undutiful deserve praise better. That is not to blame the others: we must understand them and why they made those choices. They weren't entirely wrong: few of us are.
We write this as another unhappy anniversary. May 8 is the eighth anniversary of Bill Clayton's death. His mother's website has been one of our best resources from our very beginning, and, if you haven't yet visited it, please do. It's another example of what can happen when we've bred too much contempt of "those others", however defined.
The Stop Hate 2000 e-team
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