I wrote a really long treatise on the criticism I have taken lately for the way I look at women, but the only saved versions of it I can find are missing the last two-thirds of the essay. I do plan to reconstruct it, but I thought I’d give it a breather for a couple of weeks and come back to it. Perhaps I’ll be able to lose some of the edge that pretty much defines the entire piece when I read it aloud.
War. I have many swirling thoughts about what’s going on in Iraq, and I’ll confess that things just aren’t as clear to me as they were a year ago. While others seem to be swinging from Gung Ho to What the Hell?, I find myself moving from John Lennon to Woody on Cheers.
I consider myself a pacifist. Peace is something I have striven for over the past several years–peace of mind, peace of spirit, and peace of soul. I am convinced that the Evangelical Church has forgotten that Jesus was a man of peace; he was a man who preached and lived peace above all else except maybe love and forgiveness, and even in demonstrating love and forgiveness, he did so in as peaceful a way as any man who has ever walked the planet. I also don’t think there’s any debating how this is to translate to our own lives. He says, “A new command I give unto you: that you love one another as I have loved you.” As. I. Have loved. You.
This “as” could be read “in the same manner that” or it could be “because.” I think most Christians read it as the former, but in America, we believe that you have to stand up for yourself. This very nation’s existence is the result of men standing up and saying, “We will not take any more of this.” Believe me when I say that none of my pacifist leanings are meant to cheapen the sacrifices of any of the men who have fought or died in defense of this country. I’m not saying that our country needs to dissolve its military.
I am saying, however, that war is not something I can condone. The killing of other men seems to me a bizarre way to settle differences. I understand that something needs to be a last resort, and perhaps this is it. Yet we go to our last resort far, far too quickly, if you ask me. And far too cavalierly.
So it baffles me, this outrage among my fellow Americans over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American security guards and military men. The pictures I’ve seen are appalling and outrageous, but are the actions depicted more appalling or outrageous than flying to another man’s country, taking aim at his forehead, and pulling a trigger? I don’t think so. My friend Valerie wrote me an email today that explains wonderfully how the humiliation of these men is worse than the acts of war done to their countrymen. She says that our soldiers go to war not as men fighting men, but as representatives of one country fighting representatives for an opposing side. When Joe shoots Ahmad in the desert, it’s one team member defeating another, when both players have agreed to meet in this arena. This is not the same as the humanizing, humiliating treatment these men–yes, men, not soldiers or insurgents–were subjected to in a building that flew the American flag.
Good point. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could settle this thing without killing or humiliating other people? This war does nothing to demonstrate our military might–rather, it does everything to demonstrate the weakness of our character and the inability of our elected leaders to solve problems in mature ways. We tell our children that there’s never a reason to hit other children in the schoolyard. How they are supposed to learn this lesson when every day we kill more human beings in the name of freedom and justice is beyond me, and I don’t consider myself an intellectual wuss.
We’re supposed to pull out of here on June 30? How the heck are we going to do that? We pull out of there and leave the place as it is today, and we might as well have dropped them all on a desert island with a conch shell for making speeches and a pair of eyeglasses for starting fires. I don’t know what to think or what to do. I want our men and women home, and I want them safe, and I want us to leave the Iraqis to live the lives they want to live, but do they even know what they want? And if they don’t know what they want, how the heck do we know what they want?
Democracy–or at least, America’s version of it–is an odd thing. It gives power to the majority, but it entrusts its majority to look out for the minority. “Equal protection” is not the same thing as “majority rule,” and while we fail in many ways on this “equal protection” thing, I think we get it right most of the time. Where political liberals and conservatives differ is not in whether or not we need to look out for the poor and downtrodden, but in what the government’s role in doing so should be. Far-left-leaning and far-right-leaning folks paint their oppositions’ positions as alternately silly and unfeeling, but that’s not fair to either side. On the whole, we are a nation that cares about its citizens, voters and taxpayers or not.
However, we are a young nation. The system we have in place is basically new and strictly secular. How do we expect our democratic ideals to translate in this far-away land that is perhaps the birthplace of civilization? It seems that as soon as we relieve a country of one strong group’s oppressive rule, another group slides in and takes its place, citing divine right or something as its justification. If it’s not built into a people’s consciousness that those who are in power should look after those who are not in power, how do we instill it? We cannot simply say, “It works for us,” because in the eyes of so much of the rest of the world, it does not work for us. Left to our own liberties, we choose drugs, murder, sex, and waste. It’s worth it to me to allow this in the name of individual freedom, but I certainly understand people who think the opposite–that individual liberty should be sacrificed in order to protect us from our own foolish choices. I think we’d be happier and better off if we had less freedom.
I’m rambling here mostly to say that our version of democracy may not work in Iraq, and that the version that ends up working for it is likely to be something Americans don’t like. The President can say what he wants about anything being better than Saddam, but if he’s still around in a year or two, will he say the same thing when a new power is in place and its oppression of ethnic minorities teeters on the brink of genocide? Because that’s what I think might happen.
So I’m not sure we should just pack up the tents and load up the choppers and fly away home, despite my not wanting our men and women there in the first place. I’m not about regime-toppling; I am about peace-keeping. I dislike what we did, but maybe I think we need to stay there and keep peace.
There’s a new Michael Moore documentary called Farenheit 9/11 that played at Cannes this week. I don’t know much about it, but Roger Ebert’s review all by itself gives me much to think about. If what Ebert says Moore says is true, how do we believe anything–any single effing thing–that the President or his advisors say about what we’re doing in Iraq? The answer, I think, is that we don’t know what to believe, and that’s where I am now. I don’t know what or whom to believe, and when confusion sets in equally from all sides, I have to go with what I know is true, and thus I say war sucks, and let’s get everyone home until we know what the hell is going on.
I generally hate shows such as the one that was on last night, Motown 45, and avoid them like crazy, but I remember that twenty years ago (oh my gosh! how could that have been twenty years ago?), when I was eighth grade, and Motown celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, Michael Jackson whipped out the greatest moonwalk ever moonwalked, and the next day in school, everyone was talking about it. On the weird off-chance that something like that might happen again, and because I was too lazy to get up and turn the TV off (I don’t have a remote-controlled television), I watched it. It mostly sucked, but here are a few random thoughts that have been floating around since last night:
- Smokey Robinson is the man. He can’t sing quite like he once could, but he still sings like Smokey, and that’s really good enough for me.
- I have never been a Gladys Knight fan, but oh my goodness, she was the queen last night. She rocked. She was easily the best of the older Motown singers last night.
- Kelly Rowland, from Destiny’s Child, is beautiful, and if you ask me, she’s way, way better than Diana Ross, whom she stood in for with the Supremes. I never could understand what everyone saw in Diana Ross. She and her Supremes are vastly overrated.
- The Commodores are still the best-looking musical group in the world.