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Location: Montgomery Area, Alabama, United States

Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Thursday, February 17, 2005

An Empire of Words

Three of my correspondents have weighed in on the issue of the young Rhode Islander’s award-winning Bush = Hitler school project. Now it’s my turn.

Let me say at the outset that I agree with ChefJef’s objection to the kind of blind partisanship that leads to uncivil discourse. I don’t “fear for the Republic,” as ChefJef claims to—the Republic has seen much worse even in calm periods than the current era has put in its path (we don’t have Congressmen caning each other in the Capitol, for example)—but I do wish to encourage the civil exchange of ideas on this website. I think the new media—the ones that are rapidly toppling our self-appointed masters from the pinnacles of their information empire (see below for definition of this term)—are especially well suited to this task. Nonetheless, this blog will rapidly descend to the level of many others if we attack each other. I know I’m as guilty of blind partisanship as the next guy (Hans, for instance) and I will continue to express outrageous opinions in outrageous terms. Still, I think we need to refrain from ad hominem attacks in these pages. Margaret Cho and Rush Limbaugh are fair game. ChefJef and Hans are not. Fair enough?

In his last post, ChefJef wrote:

“The art was cheesy…but I don’t see how it is treasonous.”
You’re right, counselor. You would know better than I, but what the kid in Rhode Island did was certainly not treason in any legally actionable sense, as Hans admits. He was merely exercising his free speech rights and I would not seek to deny him that opportunity, however objectionable or ridiculous his speech may have been.

In a larger, qualitative sense, however, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to question the patriotism of someone who directly compares an American President he or she disagrees with to the most coldly, systematically evil dictator in human history,* unless the result is that the POTUS—however squamous—comes across as reason, light, dark beer, and cold cream. (I despised Nixon, but he couldn’t rise to the level of Francisco Franco in my mind. I hated Clinton and thought he should have been removed from office, but he wasn’t even as bad as Nixon in my book—he was certainly no Hitler.) You can argue that W is dumb, his policies are dumb, his cabinet is dumb, and his dog is dumb from now until doomsday, but when you seriously make (that is, in the boy’s case, parrot) a comparison of this type, you are outside the bounds of what may reasonably be thought of as the actions of a loyal American, at least in colloquial terms. You have a perfect right to do it, of course, but I also have the perfect right to think you a traitor, even though you haven’t yet proven that you are in any legally meaningful sense. I suspect most RedState Americans would agree with me.

ChefJef said,

“Furthermore, there is a grain of truth to the [boy’s] assertion. Am I saying Bush is a Nazi? Of course not; that's insane. But, the German blitz - among other things –was imperialistic in nature. The "Bush Doctrine," as it were, is also imperialistic. Now, whether or not the doctrine is justifiable is another question. A pre-emptive strike is a pre-emptive strike; some are justifiable while others aren't, but those that are justified do not, as a result of so being justified, somehow become ‘un- preemptive.’”

I beg to differ. There is not even a quark of truth to the boy’s assertion. As you say, it’s insane. It’s also I’gn’rant, as we say down here. German Blitzkrieg (as well as “the Blitz,” which is commonly taken to mean “the German bombing of London during WW II”), and all their other WW I and II campaigns, were imperialistic. That is, they sought to grab territory, resources, dependencies, and slave populations from conquered nations; to administer them directly or by suzerainty as part of an empire run solely by Germans or their immediate dependents; and to permanently occupy them with German or allied soldiers. This is not a narrow definition—throughout human history, this has been the common understanding of “empire.” An empire is a “hard power” entity. America exercises “soft power.” Our TV and movies are usually more influential than our troops, or even our cash. Yes, in many ways we are what Rome was to the Western world for many centuries and what Manchu China was to East Asia for even longer. Nonetheless, we are not an empire and our actions in Iraq were not “imperialistic,” however pervasive our influence may be. Jesus Christ, through moral suasion, influenced all history and thus sundered many empires. He created no earthly empire of his own. (Of course, He already had one elsewhere, in a manner of speaking.)

In Iraq, we sought to reduce a security threat (whether rightly or wrongly, you decide), establish a viable ideological and sociological alternative to both rogue and islamic fundamentalist regimes (rightly or wrongly, you decide), and secure access to a resource vital to the entire developed world free from the dictates of an unstable autocrat (rightly or wrongly, you decide). None of these things, however wrongheaded you may think them, were “imperialistic.” Neither was our war in Vietnam, contrary to the charges of people like John Kerry. Our aim there was not to conquer, keep, and rule. You can argue that it was stupid to stand in the way of an independence movement that was at least as much nationalist as communist. You can also argue that the war as fought was ill thought out and poorly run. But you cannot reasonably argue that our motives and efforts were imperialistic. Those that did so in the 60s were moonbats, by virtue of their unreasoned position, and, yes, many of them became traitors in what would have been a legally actionable sense in any age but ours, although that is peripheral to the issue at hand.

To put the term in perspective, Britain’s conquest and occupation of India was imperialistic. Even though its consequences were largely benevolent, it still met the criteria set forth above. By the same token, America’s conquest of Cuba and the Philippines in the early 20th century was imperialistic. If we get no ultimate benefit from military action other than a pseudo-democratic-republican country that provides us a market for our goods, it’s not imperialistic. This answers the Veep’s contention that we can’t act imperialistically because we’re a democratic country. Of course we can. We have done so and so has Great Britain, the Queen Mother of democracies in the modern world. But we have not done so in Iraq. If the Iraqi campaign was imperialistic, then so was our occupation of Germany and Japan following WW II. Further, the issue of whether the move was justified doesn’t determine whether the move was imperialistic. Again, most of Britain’s imperial conquests were benevolent, but they were still imperial in nature. We, the American Democratic Republic, may someday be justified in taking imperialistic action—even in Iraq—but that is a separate issue for another time.

Our young parrot was not critiquing or comparing the tactic of pre-emptive military action and pre-emption has nothing per se to do with imperialism. The latter is a matter of ultimate aim, not of the operational-level courses of action chosen to accomplish the military objectives. The “what” and “why” matter, not the “how”—what we do with the land once the enemy is conquered, not the conquest itself, matters most. In fact, even the word “conquer” is wrong, because it is informed by ages of imperial conquest and carries, at least implicitly, the taint of empire—even if, as in Germany, Japan, and Iraq, it is not “imperialistic” by nature.

I belabor this point because it is central to ChefJef’s argument. He maintains that this is the only aspect in which the boy intended the comparison. This is simply untrue. Even if the boy stated this as his intent, it was disingenuous—he intended the blindly partisan calumny to be taken in its larger, colloquial sense and so did the Rhode Island cognoscenti who endorsed the project. That is part of the problem of blind partisanship that ChefJef himself identifies. The leftists in Rhode Island are preaching to the choir. The Bushitler meme was such a commonplace for leftists during the presidential campaign that it’s not even noticed when it emerges in other venues: “Oh, little Johnny did a cute Bushitler mobile for art class. Isn’t that sweet! Gee, let’s give it a blue ribbon and send a picture of it to the New York Times. I HATE Bush. And that Hitler guy, he was pretty bad too, wasn’t he? He did something really awful in….where was it? China? Denver? Europe? That was it! Europe. I remember hearing about that place in college. Yeah. He did something really bad in Europe. My college professor told me that. Really cool guy. Laid back. Smoked pot. Really liberal. Gave everyone an ‘A.’ There was something about the Jews, too. Hitler was a Jew, right? Just like those damn Israelis! God, I hate those guys, oppressing the Palestinians like they do! Just like Bush. The whole world is controlled by the Jews and Bush! Bush is Hitler! Kill them all! And send a picture of little Johnny’s project to Washington! That’ll show those bloodsuckers!”

And so goes BlueState America.

We will never move toward consensus or intelligent civil discourse in this country until we get past this kind of bullshit.

That said, I agree entirely on ChefJef’s last two points—that the project represents a lowering of academic standards and that blind partisanship is strangling civil discourse in this country. I think my parody of BlueState academic standards shows my thinking on that score. The Red States are not much better, of course. Some are worse in a number of ways. Still, I grew up going to school in and around Washington DC—as Blue State as it gets. We had to worry about getting shot going to and in school. Down here in the “backward” Red States, I might have to worry about a teenager playing his music too loud, but even that’s rare. I put this to ChefJef: Where would you rather raise you children? In Los Angeles, where you grew up, or in Alabama? I think you have already made that vote with your feet, brother, regardless of what you may say on the subject. As to civil discourse—well, cool it, Hans, and all other do alike.

There is one more issue to deal with. All the Rhode Island boy’s work and several of ChefJef’s comments imply that a comparison between Hitler and any US president is “in bounds.” This diminishes the evil that Hitler represented. Hans has it exactly right, I think. The Veep does too. Where are the concentration camps? Where is the genocide? Note that I mean genocide here in its real-world sense: attempting to kill an entire people. I do not mean the sense that has been used by the leftist press for many years: “something the Right does involving the death of at least one human being that the Left does not agree with.” Yes, I am willing to entertain the idea the US government attempted a form of genocide against “Native Americans” during its imperialistic phase (from the end of the Civil War to WW I) (but not, of course, against Ward Churhill’s people, since it appears he is not an “Indian”). Be that as it may, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Bush’s policies in Iraq. The issue at hand is Iraq, not Wounded Knee. The law is an exercise in logic, counselor. Let’s keep things logical.

Again, though, to use rhetoric like the Rhode Islanders did is to diminish the reality of evil in the world. Evil is dangerous enough. It pervades the world. This is something good people cannot afford to do. Let’s have an end to “Bushitler” and agree that anyone using this meme is a moonbat and thus is outside the bounds of civil discourse.

PS: I have been out of touch with local business for several days; others have no clue—what is the news from MPD for which we need to pray?

* (albeit Stalin and Mao racked up higher body counts)

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