Saturday, October 22, 2011

All We Have Left Is the Celebration of Death?

America, Fuck Yeah!

Glenn Greenwald, a favorite writer of mine, does not pull punches in his pieces. He certainly didn't today:
As I wrote on the morning after bin Laden’s death, this gleeful reaction [to bin Laden's death] was understandable given the slaughter Americans witnessed on 9/11. But there was still something notable, and troubling, about this episode. Such a rare display of unified, chest-beating national celebration is now possible only when the government produces a corpse for us to dance over. Some suggested at the time that Osama bin Laden was sui generis and that no lessons could or should be drawn from his killing; for that reason, even many people who are generally uncomfortable with such acts proudly celebrated his death as the elimination of a singular evil. But it seems clear that the bin Laden episode was no aberration, no exception: the American citizenry rarely finds cause to exude nationalistic pride except when the government succeeds in ending someone’s life.
 Sad but true. Glenn goes on to suggest that we're in danger of this condition becoming permanent, that this is what's left of a nation in decline, that this might become a permanent defect in our national character. It's hard to disagree.

It's certainly true that we've lost our way as a nation for many of the reasons Greenwald cites in his post. I blame the toxic environment in DC, which is as corrupt as Glenn says it is, and the news media that has become of bunch of stenographers for the political class and the lobbyists that control it. I can't imagine an easy cure for a nation this far astray from the values I thought we believed in when I was a child in the 1950s.

The death of bin Laden in real time
I think I'm a little more forgiving than he is about both our use of drones and our celebration of the deaths of the Bad Guys. This fact really bothers me. I was and continue to be deeply against our invasion of Iraq for the general set of reasons that most progressives pointed to in the run-up to the War. However, once it had started, I caught myself cheerleading, saying, "I hope we win and get this over with fast." Some of my friends took that to mean that I favored the War in general terms. I did not and was shocked that they misunderstood my enthusiasm for quick victory as an endorsement of the invasion. It took me some time to dissuade them, and I always felt they remained skeptical.

I think I know why I feel the way I do and Greenwald feels the way he does. He's younger than I and didn't experience how we felt right after WW II. As kids in the 50s, we'd play war games in the back yard, machine-gun each other, and as we died we'd shout things like, "Dirty kraut!" Even as a child, I (and all my friends of the period) had the blood lust, with our own version of "America, Fuck Yeah!" Back in the 50s I learned to believe in the American Dream and in the rightness of demonizing our enemies. Back then they were easily reconcilable.

What changed it permanently for me was Vietnam. There was no cause for glory because war, for the U.S., had become repugnant, allowing none of the righteous gloating WW II provided.

Now, however, when I see a bad guy go down, that little child's voice echoes, "Dirty kraut!" and I momentarily reconcile my pleasure at the death with my loathing of the illegitimacy of the process.

I remain troubled by those feelings and am to this day a bit dismayed by what my true feelings might be. I do know this. I objected viscerally to the treatment of Qaddafi and was horrified by the various video accounts of his apparent mistreatment. Deep in my heart, though, I don't mind that they killed him. I actually have a hard time imagining that they would have let him live, the need for vengeance being so great.

Then I'm horrified anew at such a reaction. I'm definitely part of the problem. To be part of the solution, I need to purge these feelings and condemn my own shortcomings. I understand that to a certain extent it's because the horrors of 9/11 -- with the constant drumbeat sounding against terrorism since then -- have awakened a fear inside of me that ultimately corrupts me. I have the blood lust, which is anathema to the non-violent pacifist I supposed myself to be.

Thus I become a microcosm of the national decline, and I don't like it. It'll take some time making things right, and it'll take some work. In the meantime, I'm a conflicted mess. Sorry.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post!
    It really appeals to me for being so full of sense. I agree, the hate is blind and vengeance would have been the most desirable thing if they had let bin Laden live...