16 June 2005

Blue shorts, and the "gift" of tears

The imperial intransigence of the USA's leadership has reached a state of such grand isolation that neither civility nor political calculation seem to be within its grasp. With the river of blood coursing daily through Iraq, increasing calls from lesser mortals (such as Congresspeople) for a review of Iraq policies, and even declining polls, the President and his colleagues shoulder the rest of us aside.

Well, not quite. The White House press spokesman says, "The president recognizes that this is a concern that's on the minds of the American people.... That's why he's going to sharpen his focus, spending more time talking about the progress that's being made on the ground—there's significant progress that has been made in a short period of time—the dangers that remain and that lie ahead, as well as our strategy for victory in Iraq.''

A special speech is scheduled for June 28, the anniversary of the nominal power transfer from the US bunker to the Iraqi bunker. I have yet to hear such a speech from our president that does not mischaracterize our opponents ("they hate freedom and we love freedom") or that seriously comes to grips with his critics. I'd be profoundly grateful to be surprised.

In the meantime, the White House juggernaut rolls on. Senate Democrats want additional information on John Bolton? Throw them a bone, after trying and failing to squash them entirely. Want to shut down Guantanamo? You must simply be ignorant; these are "bad people" in there (the point is, who says? and how bad? by whose standards? and by what provocation? and isn't indefinite detention its own form of torture?) - and by the way, Halliburton, help yourself to an extra $30 million to build yet another dorm for this facility. The Downing Street Memo and its sequel? Why, we've always said that force was always a last resort, and, no, we feel no responsibility to respond to 80+ concerned Representatives.

Once again, I find myself struggling to sort out my own feelings, much as I did after the first siege of Fallujah. Why, after month after month of revelations of cynicism and mendacity on the part of our Christian leader and his colleagues, do the United States not rise up in an elemental rejection of all the arrogance, the manipulation of good-hearted people, the "preferential option for the rich," and everything else they stand for? Which of these unpalatable options is true?

  1. The American people intuitively knew all along that war was inevitable, that Bush would get his way, and were either in tacit agreement or indifferent, because no significant soul-searching or sacrifice was required of us.
  2. The American people are no longer a people; the millions who opposed this package of pseudo-conservatism, Christian heresy, and neo-imperialism are not in the same psychic country as those who passionately agree with it, those who say, "You do the thinking for us," and those who have been fooled. None of the groups is large enough alone to prevail politically.
  3. Affluence and individualism have eaten so deeply into our national spirituality that we can no longer distinguish the common good from personal well-being. The prophetic voice of liberals is undercut by their inability to use communal biblical language, and because they are seen as impersonal and utilitarian, distant from those who would have to live under their social doctrines. Conservatives are too far into the pockets of the wealthy and famous to remember their bedrock convictions on social cohesion, mutual obligation, and the universality of human dignity. And everyone is hypnotized by the glitzy idiocy of mass culture.
  4. All of these are partly true, but, in short, we face a massive situation of spiritual warfare. Are there enough "Lamb's Warriors" who have the spiritual freedom to engage in this struggle?
  5. Johan, you have no idea how far out of step you are.

Michael Kinsley rightly points out that, at the time the high level UK-US meetings were taking place that are the subject of the Downing Street Memo, many journalists and some government officials were openly talking about the inevitability of war. Hence, Kinsley says, there's no conspiracy involved in the lack of interest on commentators' part in that memo now. It's a great left-wing gotcha tool, but nothing substantial.

Yes, it is substantial. It is evidence of intentional deception at a time when the public was being encouraged to believe that no stone was being unturned for peace. Of course many did not believe this, and much evidence seemed to point otherwise, but it was precisely those inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt who were being led by the nose.

What exactly is smoky about this memo? Here's one of its central paragraphs:
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
Much of the media coverage has centered on the middle sentence, "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." This is a weak case, smoldering but easily overinterpreted. "Fixed" can mean "rigged," but can also simply mean "arranged" as for display. It is the rest of the paragraph that I find cynical and damning, particularly in view of the human toll this kind of thinking has cost.

When I first read Catherine de Hueck Doherty's words about the "gift of tears," probably thirty years ago, I knew instantly that I was one of those she was referring to. The gift of tears is not named ironically; I truly appreciate it, but not necessarily its timing.

The latest example: Sitting at Papaccino's with Judy last Saturday and starting to read Marilynne Robinson's superb short novel Gilead. I think I was two pages in when the first tears started. For God's sake, not now.

A few more words about the book. I can't imagine how anyone could have done a better job of combining, all in one short book, these amazing elements (among others that I will not reveal for fear of spoiling the ending): the depth of the rural pastoral intelligentsia; the texture of pastoral ministry of the old school; the venomous relationships between pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates in pre-Civil War days; the utter sweetness of lovingly crafted writing.

We Quakers make a brief but interesting cameo appearance in a book dominated by Iowa and Kansas Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.

Friday morning PS:

As I look at the blogs and other sites (AfterDowningStreet.org) covering Rep. Conyers' hearings, I realize that the "elemental rejection" I yearn for would not consist of left-wing pundits scoring rhetorical revenge against Bush's side as the corpses continue to pile up. Is it a necessary evil that some of the agitation has to be by the one-upping methods I hate so much and that are so corrosive to public civility?

I also question my own rhetoric. I freely use the language of criminality, heresy, and deception when describing the methods used by the White House to advance its goals. I hope I am using these loaded terms with precision. I do not want to demonize or objectify individuals, including President Bush, but the appearances that they create and the results of their decisions merit the loudest possible alarms.

On the level of desired goals, thoughtful liberals and progressives, and thoughtful conservatives, are not far apart. The spread of freedom and democracy are worthy goals. The need for detail and context within these goals calls for forums and incubators for people at opposite ends of these supposedly polarized communities to come together and compare vocabularies and exchange ideas, always remembering to include representatives of the communities at the target end of their ideals.

This unfortunately does not happen when we employ paid communicators and their high-tech accessories to overwhelm the psychic commons with proxy warfare. The church is one place where, I hope, we can provide some of those incubators—as has happened at Ramallah Friends Schools and the Palestinian Youth Orchestra, for example. How many other subterrainean efforts are underway to bring a bit of hope into public arenas usually dominated by shouting matches?


Anonymous said...

Johan, the fact is that the bulk of the country has been sold on the idea that evil is necessary to combat evil. The disagreements between Republicans and Democrats are extremely minor when you look in a broader context - probably at most 10 degrees difference out of 360.

Look at the Congress. There is no opposition group whatsoever in there when you look at the broader perspectives. Often not a single one votes against the military budget. The military budget is the one that almost always gets passed on time. It is the least controversial funding bill. How meaningful is it that many Democrats complain about not enough money for social programs, but regularly vote for the monster that dries up the funds for them?

It's depressing. The political climate has gotten much worse in recent decades. I remember when every year there were transfer proposals to transfer budget authority from the military to constructive programs. Never came close to passage, but they got dozens of votes. Haven't been any such in years.

Who are the folks most prominently mentioned as possible 2008 Democratic Presidential candidates? Folks who believe violence is the solution for everything - Hillary Clinton and John Edwards who are strongly pro-war, pro-abortion and pro-death penalty. I'm consistent life ethic. These folks are consistent death ethic. And these are the liberal alternatives?

Some of your readers might be interested in my latest blog posting, God Bless America? at http://wsamuel.bravejournal.com/entry/11900 Don't worry. You won't read there much in the way of my rantings - it's mostly excerpts from a sermon by Brian McLaren.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Bill. I would never worry about the chance to be exposed to your rantings, but of course I do appreciate Brian McL. I'm almost finished with his really helpful book A Generous Orthodoxy.

I also realize that both situational ethics and a crude just-war assumption reign in our world. However, what astounds me is lack of even a concern about scale. As I've said before, some argue that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, but nobody seems to be asking how many eggs might be too many, and when the omelette will appear.

I've been re-reading the lectures I wrote a couple of years ago on American exceptionalism. There seems to be a new version of America's "Manifest Destiny." With the advantage of hindsight, it is easy now for some of us to criticize the original "Manifest Destiny" program, both as an intellectual movement and as a set of political consequences. However, it basically built the country we have now, with its advantages and disadvantages.

I can't think of a better way to honor both the advantages and the victims who paid the price for them, than by doing what we can to force our country to look at today's bigger and bloodier than ever Global Manifest-Destiny Omelette:

1. Does it have elements of idealism? Yes.

2. Does it benefit offstage agendas not acknowledged when listing those ideals? (examples: oil interests) Yes, undoubtedly.

3. Is it sustainable? Not bloody likely!

4. Is it consistent with Christianity? Measurable by the effect on those in economic and social bondage.