Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Republicans Are Failing the First Test of Patriotism

The retreat and evacuation of British and French forces at Dunkirk was
an early low point of WWII. The Allies lived to fight another day.

Both Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor symbolize the early resolve to galvanize Allied populations at a low point at the beginning of World War II. Dunkirk was quickly followed by the Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor was almost as quickly followed by the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, both of which occurred within six months of the Japanese attack. It was some time before we made concrete gains in the Pacific and European theaters, but these early valiant efforts proved decisive in the long run.

Those of us whose fathers -- and mothers -- were part of the "Greatest Generation" don't recall the carping and vitriolic rhetoric of the political opposition during these early days of WWII, primarily because it was limited to fringe groups. Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied the British after Dunkirk and Roosevelt galvanized support after Pearl Harbor. Whatever opposition to such efforts have vanished into the mists of time.

Contrast that with what we're experiencing in the U.S. today. President Obama goes on national television urging Americans to embrace their own resolve in the battle against ISIS specifically and terrorism generally and was greeted by derision and scurrilous attacks by Republicans far and wide. Sure, it's a presidential campaign and the opposition is busy scoring points. But the rhetoric is out of hand. Obama rightly and wisely is attempting to tamp down intolerance of -- and hostility towards -- Muslim-Americans and Syrian refugees alike, knowing that this is both counter-productive in the short run and extremely dangerous in the long run, as alienating and isolating Muslims here and abroad plays into the hands of ISIS. It is the ultimate recruitment dream come true.

Dana Milbank wrote an unvarnished critique of this GOP rhetoric in the WaPo:
One of the [WWII] veterans, Laura Mays, told me he finds it “very scary” that the nation is so divided in confronting Islamic State. “The difference is the uncertainty of today, and it’s a big difference,” said Mays, who was a fireman on the USS Oconto and saw action in the Pacific. “Back then we knew we were strong and . . . we felt that we were supported.”
Mays, from Texas, said he thinks political leaders aren’t as patriotic as those who sent him to war. “I thought they were more loyal, more concerned about the nation than their position,” he said. Now, “it just seems like everything they do, right or wrong — and mostly wrong — is [because] it’ll get them somewhere.” Mays complained about the sharp partisan divisions in Congress. “How can we bring unity when you have that?”
Mays and his contemporaries, facing a common enemy, mobilized and sacrificed, regardless of political ideology. Now, our representatives can’t even manage to come up with a resolution authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State — and they’ve been at it for a year. “I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united and committed to this fight,” Obama said Sunday night.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) responded to this call to unite by deriding Obama’s speech as “just a half-hearted attempt to defend and distract from a failing policy.” Ryan said we are “one step behind our enemy.”
It does sometimes feel that way. But the opposition has yet to propose a constructive alternative — and the constant sniping at each other does nothing to defeat the Islamic State. As those old soldiers on the Mall taught us, victory comes from unity.
World War II wasn't pretty at the start. Neither is our current attempts to drive back ISIS. But we've made a start. Patriots would gather round the president as he presses the case for the current effort. On the GOP side, patriots are nowhere to be seen, making many of us wonder whose side they're on. Actually, it's pretty clear: They're on their own side, which fights wars with empty words and vitriol.

How stirring.

By the way, looking at the title of this post, I should clarify that "the first test of patriotism" is avoiding the politicization of foreign conflicts. One can support or oppose a war. To do it for calculated political gain is the act of a cowardly opportunist.

Note. I'm a fair-weather patriot, running hot and cold because of my inherent pacifism. I couldn't help but support the initial invasion of Afghanistan, though later strategy was horrendous, leaving us with the inevitable and unending attempts to disengage (good luck with that). Iraq I opposed immediately. Through the Arab Spring I alternately cheered and grimaced. Now it seems a rolling catastrophe not necessarily of our own making (we don't control as much as we pretend to). The Syrian civil war is extremely complex, and the breakout of ISIS in the midst of it made it all the more so. Right now, I'm "hot" again, wanting to destroy ISIS like many in the West. Having said that, this fair-weather patriot can recognize in the hollow carping of the GOP, who offer little or no alternative strategy, the baying of the dogs of cowardice. We should all be ashamed of it and reject it out of hand. That a significant part of the American electorate isn't doing so is not a healthy sign.

Hardly a Winston Churchill, this guy.

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