Move On (Dot) AHHHHHHGGGGHHHHH!
The recent uproar over the Moveon.org ad attacking General Petraeus provides a convenient glimpse into the rightist mindset. It would appear that attacking the military is the one unpardonable sin. Before venturing any criticism of the war regime, we must always reassure the public of our admiration and devotion to the brave, fine, excellent men and women of our armed forces. Unless they’re whistle blowers exposing abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Or soldiers who have turned against the war. Then we’ll ignore them, or denigrate them if necessary.
On cue, the “centrist” opinion makers are sure to fall in line with the lemming march against Move On. It’s all a bit surprising, since Move On has been comparatively cautious in its approach in the past. That hasn’t stopped various Bush mouthpieces, such as Dan Bartlett, from painting them as radical extremists. In our country, anyone even approaching sanity is a radical extremist.
The unquestioning worship of the military is not a particularly American sentiment. It doesn’t distinguish us from any number of kingdoms and dictatorships through history. In fact, civilian oversight of the military has been the American approach, ideally at least if not always in practice.
The military is not a republic, or a democracy. It is by its very nature a dictatorship. You do as you’re told. That’s the way it has to be. The danger is that if the military becomes a dominant political force in society, you end up with tyranny. That’s what right-wing authoritarians crave, because they don’t really care about America in terms of its republican traditions, the heritage of the founders. It’s just a fiefdom to them—a way to get rich and lord it over the rest of us. The identification of patriotism with militarism is one of the main corrupting influences in the political process today. You see it everywhere. To challenge it is to challenge the climate of fear and the threat of ostracism and violence. As the tin-horn fascist John McCain said, “MoveOn.org ought to be thrown out of this country.” Deep in the reactionary psyche, criticizing the military is like challenging Dad’s authority. Hysteria is the automatic result.
The ad made a pun on Petraeus’ name (“Betray us”) which seems to be what pissed the wingnuts off the most. I don’t think wordplay of this sort is a good thing. It sounds too much like the rightists themselves. As those of us who are conscious will recognize (but the corporate media and their drone viewers don’t see), the right has been using this kind of rhetoric with impunity for decades. Bill O’Reilly and the rest of that ilk have no qualms about calling liberals, or even just those who oppose their views (e.g. John Murtha) traitors to America. And they do it continually. But if a liberal or a progressive, or a group like Move On does it, then that’s not acceptable. A big brouhaha will be kicked up in the media and the sneering mob will demand an apology.
No apologies should be made. None. The noise machine needs to be attacked for what it is. And that’s the only effective strategy when it comes to this kind of incident. Because the fascist group will always find some distraction like this to whine about. That’s their method—distraction.
The larger lesson to be drawn from all this is not a new one. It’s the same ugly fact we can discern from any one of such incidents in our recent history. And that is that the assumption of moral values by the American elites is a lie. The sad part is that it has also become a lie for a great deal of ordinary Americans as well—I wont’s say all, or even most. I don’t know. But the evidence is discouraging.
Thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the American invasion. The conduct of the occupation—the brutality, the profiteering, the constant lying—has shattered Iraq. Millions have fled the country. But do we hear any concern for that on the part of the political elites? What politicians, pundits, or candidates demonstrate an awareness of the criminality of what has been done and continues to be done in the name of America? Almost no one says a word about that, or expresses the slightest moral qualms about this war. It’s always expressed in selfish terms: how we’re stuck there in a quagmire, how the war was “mismanaged,” or even how the Iraqis are ungrateful and uncooperative. Among those who may feel the horrifying moral implications, few speak out, because they know they will be condemned and ostracized if they do so. The few exceptions, such as Kucinich, are already marginalized, therefore ignored.
The underlying belief is incredibly infantile. The United States is inherently good, and cannot do wrong. Anything we do is right, and anyone who questions that is a dangerous traitor. If someone else does exactly what we do, that’s different, because they’re not us. This is an essentially amoral belief. It does not recognize any objective moral standard. To grieve the loss of American losses while being indifferent at best to the lives of non-Americans, is not moral in the least. It’s nothing more than barbarian tribalism. To be “outraged” and “repulsed” by an ad attacking Bush’s general, and at the same time to have no outrage or disgust at what the American government is doing, has been doing, around the world and at home against its own people, shows that the power elites and those who follow them have absolutely no moral values whatsoever. If you’ve grown up believing in the United States, if you’ve had faith in American ideals of freedom as expressed in our founding documents and in the rhetoric of our leaders, this insight is a shocking one. We are an amoral country whose only real value is power and self-aggrandizement.
I recently watched The War Tapes, a documentary film culled from video footage shot by American soldiers on duty in Iraq. Towards the end, when the soldiers we’ve been following are back home, and suffering some of the after-effects of war, one of them explains that the war has to be about oil and money, and that this is a good thing. What would happen to this country without oil? he asks. Then he says that it better be about the oil because he doesn’t want to believe that his friends were killed and wounded for Iraqi freedom.
It’s understandable that a veteran would want to draw meaning from the experience, and be as honest about motives as possible. What’s astonishing is that the notion of fighting in self-defense doesn’t enter the equation. Bush and company pushed hard on the “WMD” angle because the inherent belief is that you don’t go to war unless your country is threatened. But underneath that, in the rationale of the soldier from The War Tapes, is the fall-back argument, the real motive when self-defense is a sham, and that is that we have the right to kill other people to gain an economic or political advantage over them. Ultimately, people are just so many means to the ends of power. There’s a word for the end of that road: totalitarianism.