Go, stranger, and tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here in obedience to their laws
I just came across this organization,Spirit of America
, which collects money and supplies to help American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in their informal, self-initiated projects to make friends with the local people, and help rebuild the communities that they are occupying on our behalf.
It goes without saying that I'm not in a position to investigate or report on the realities of these projects, nor am I able to report on the efficacy of this organization. Hopefully a little later I'll have time to google a bit more, and see what I can learn about this. If you know anything, please comment! But in the mean time I wanted to put it out here, because if it is what it appears to be, it's a very good thing. And assuming it is what it appears to be, I'd like to comment a bit on why it's a very good thing.
I was against the American invasion of Iraq, though not against the military push in Afghanistan. My main problem with the current occupation, given the irrevocable realities of the past year, is not that it exists, but that it is still being lead by an administration whose philosophy and modus operandi have not changed. My guess is that this philosophy, inasmuch as I understand it, is innately harmful to efficiency, national and international security, and our future foreign relations. See the post below about the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, my biggest reason for being against the war in Iraq was the lamentable position we had left Afghanistan in.
If we are going to go into a country and take down their leadership, then I think we have a moral obligation and more importantly a fundamental national interest
in making sure that we do the best possible job to make that country as stable and and as prosperous as possible. We have a moral interest and a fundamental national interest in doing as much as possible to sincerely make real friends with the people we have bombed and occupied. We cannot just turn back the clock on a political mistake we disagreed with; we must actually fix it. To cut and run now, as many anti-war activists are suggesting we do, is not just irresponsible to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is irresponsible to our own future.
I'm not a pacifist, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for my fellow citizens who have decided, in some sense, to submit their individual liberty to the will of the republic, for the good of the republic. These are the people who make it possible to defend the republic, and who make it possible for writers like me to even formulate moral or national security obligations like the one above. As soldiers, they are beholden to the policies and representatives and executives and judges voted in by the rest of us. (Yes, they get to vote, but there are far fewer of them than there are of us civilians.) Our founding-fathers went through great pains to make it difficult for the military to dominate the country, thank goodness, but the flip side of that is that its rank and file are dependant on the rest of us to look after them. Like the Spartan soldiers who died at Thermopylae
, their lives lie in obedience to our collective political will.
Stribley had a post
a few weeks ago about conscientious objectors:
"In order to be a conscientious objector, you apparently have to declare that you're against fighting in all wars. So what happens if you go to war in Iraq, for example, and decide, 'You know what, this isn't right. I could defend my homeland against foreign invaders. But I just don't think this pre-emptive stuff is right anymore. Plus I'm seeing a lot of innocents killed here. Nope, just can't do it anymore.'
Guess what? You can't claim to be a conscientious objector. Guess the idea is your country wouldn't go to war without good reason. So you're either for serving in all or none."
I understand why this is so, though I sympathize greatly with any soldier who is suddenly convinced he is killing and "dying for a mistake." A basic necessity in having a military is having one that is obedient. In my comments I quoted from the Charge of the Light Brigade:
"Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred."
That is why the act of dissent and of intelligently questioning a war is one of the most patriotic things
that a civilian can do. If we will not make sure that the wars our fellow citizens (my friends and schoolchums! the loved ones of my loved ones!) are going to be asked to die in, and to kill in
are just and well-run, then who will
? (Let us not forget what it means to ask someone to kill for us.) The soldiers, generally, cannot. Questioning a war's intent or execution is not the same as questioning the ability or dedication of the troops, or being unsupportive of the fact that they have to follow orders in the vast majority of cases. I can support the troops without supporting the strategic philosophy they are being used to implement, and one of the best ways to do this is to support their individual efforts abroad
Unfortunately too many commentators only pay lipservice to that idea, and their tone and rhetoric make it clear to the average citizen trying to piece toegether a position that they really don't support the troops all that much. We aren't logical creatures, and when we're trying to decide what we think, we often end up trying to decide whom we agree with instead, or whom we like. It is vital to make it clear that patriotic dissent and supporting the troops go hand-in-hand, and what more agreeable arena to do it in than this
? If we really want to change the way America is perceived abroad, it's not enough to criticize those currently and officially in charge of doing that. We also have to work at it ourselves.