Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Remember When Patriotism Felt Like A Good Thing? Neither Do I.

This is an actual letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star, in the online version of today’s edition. We are getting to the point in the conversation about the ongoing quagmire in Vietraq where we are talking about “escalation,” a term that was used a lot while the United States was embroiled in Vietnam a generation ago - and to a point where the comparisons between the two conflicts are becoming more and more clear. And though there are many similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, there is a difference that is not being talked much about yet - but which is a large part of what makes Iraq as unwinnable now as Vietnam was thirty years ago.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel for the people in Iraq who are making roadside bombs and strapping explosives to their waists and screaming, “Death To America!” And that is the difference between Iraq and Vietnam - the goals of the Vietnamese versus the goals of the Iraqis. You hear it bandied about that the worthless squandering of the lives of potentially usefeul Americans (Republicans refer to this as “war”) in Iraq is turning into another Vietnam.

In one way, this is accurate - both situations were begun on dubious terms, prosecuted incorrectly, and allowed to spin far out of control before anyone had the notion to rein in the violence. But in another way, one which people are not using enough to separate the two Asian quagmires, it is not entirely accurate to equate Iraq to Vietnam - because the aims of the two peoples are not the same.

The Vietnamese fought - first against the French (and really, it’s Dien Bien Phu that the whole world should have learned from, long before the bloody and horrific lessons of Hanoi, Saigon, Khe Sanh, and Tet) and then against the United States - for their own independence. Unfortunately, they had the great misfortune of mounting a major success in that fight - the aforementioned victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 - in the mid-1950s, when the United States was at the height of its misbegotten paranoia over the spread of Communism.

Some Americans became convinced that all of Southeast Asia - and, not too long after that, the rest of the whole wide world - would fall to Communism if North Vietnam was able to defeat South Vietnam and unify the country under Communism. There was no such conspiracy afoot, though. Ho Chi Minh just wanted independence for his beloved Vietnam and its people. He saw Communism as the best way to advance independence - which helped the United States to justify their fear of him because his adherence to Communism allowed him to receive aid from both the Soviet Union and China, two countries that the United States did not work and play well with fifty years ago.

There are no such lofty goals for the Iraqis - even if they disguise their religious rhetoric under the burqa of autonomy for Iraq and national security in the Middle East. Any idea they want to throw at you is going to come back to religion, and the issue of religion in the Middle East comes down to the fact that the city of Jerusalem is where the three most popular mythologies about why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing while we are here emerged from the minds of frightened Bedouins who had not yet discovered astronomy and meteorology.

All these Iraqi insurgents want to do is combine enough explosives and shrapnel to that they can step into a marketplace and martyr themselves straight back to Muhammad and those seventy-two virgins. For Chrstians, that would be dying so they can hurry up and see Jesus - except that Christians don't blow themselves up nearly as much. Maybe Jesus should have promised virgins, too. The Jews had no lofty predictions of a specific messiah - perhaps a slightly more reasoned view of things, but look what they got for their trouble. Hitler.

No “troop surge” is going to quash genuine religious fervor, no matter how mistakenly percolated or incorrectly applied - a lesson that would have been well learned in the person of Saladin, who proved in the 12th century that no good could come from evangelical Christianity; and no non-binding Congressional resolution is going to make those Iraqi martyrs-to-be any more angry at the Americans.

And it is proper for the Democrats to attempt to check the power of our sitting President - a power that went unchecked for six years and did more to damage the United States than any President since Nixon. Had the Democrats been able to check the President’s powers before now, we might not even be having these absurd conversations about how a non-binding Congressional resolution is the equivalent, to hear these Indianapolis Star letters-to-the-editor writers tell it, of giving the Iraqis in the field command control of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States.

The greatest damage done to the United States by George W. Bush? The perversion of patriotism as a concept. Patriotism used to mean something good here in the United States, because the United States was once a country of which its citizens could be proud. No more. Thanks to President Bush, we the people are as poorly thought of as we have ever been since the founding fathers floated over here to escape another despot named George. There is a difference between being a patriot and being a sycophant - and this is a lesson that far too many people in America have yet to learn.

And yet the Democrats (and the Republicans who are with them) are being denigrated in letters to the editor for emboldening the enemy? No - they are holding the President accountable for what he has allowed to happen in Iraq, for not working and playing well with others, and for not listening to the Iraq Study Group. As has been said often since King George II and Darth Cheney took office - blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism. Thanks to George W. Bush, Americans are going to have to take a long hard look at themselves and try to come up with a better definiition of what it means to be a patriot.

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