A conflicted Society – When it’s your Job to Die

This was last year’s Remembrance Day post, here it is with only the tiniest of edits, but I thought it was worth repeating, maybe we’ll find something else that needs to be said too.

Jeff

Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the States, it brings a lot of talk, mostly all patriotic, and when it drifts into some controversial, nationalism VS pacifism stuff if it becomes a debate. It’s all well and good. Personally, I like some of both: remembrance, sadness, sympathy for the many bereaved and afflicted, tempered with some concept that war is bad, and that peace is the final goal. Again, all well and good.

But we are a very conflicted bunch. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we are confused on these subjects, the appreciation and treatment of our veterans and their families, as well as anything around violence and its consequences, such as police brutality (to use an old-fashioned expression about it). Maybe I’m not reading the right things, but from my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem to be something that we ever break down, it doesn’t seem that either we try to understand it, or that we simply fail in the attempt.

All the talk about our veterans is, uh, a little too positive to help us get to the truth of it, it’s all about the positive aspects of sacrifice, about heroism, and it doesn’t explain how our soldiers can get the shoddy treatment that many of them get after their service. To explain that requires a visit to the dark side, I’m afraid. In this case, the operative thing, the driving function behind it lies in the soldier’s job description. That isn’t a secret, we all know it. But, that it matters in this conversation is somehow a secret, nonetheless. So here it is.

It is a soldier’s job to die for his country.

This is our conflict. Perhaps it’s only a matter of perception. If we phrase it in this way, describing the sacrifice in the more negative way, we can see that the conflict disappears, like this:

We ship a person overseas to fight and very likely die, even more likely these days to suffer loss of limb and traumatic brain injury. Here’s the thing: this is not good treatment. Therefore, refusal of adequate medical and psychiatric care and the refusal of financial support that so many ex-soldiers suffer, wait for it . . . is not a conflict. It is not any change in how we have treated these people from the day we decided to send them into war. To say it another way, our abuse of these folks starts long before they come home.

Let’s imagine it from another angle. Let’s imagine that we can hear the people in power discussing what we all perceive as our failure to look after our warriors, that we can hear the generals, the State Department, the politicians. Let’s try to see it from the POV of some powerful, cynical leaders when they are dividing up our dwindling tax revenues and deciding where to spend our money. Imagine how much priority is given to the care of a person that we already sent off to die. These folks aren’t likely to forget that it is a soldier’s job to die.

Call me a cynic to say it, but I am indeed cynical enough to imagine that it gets said, hopefully half in jest by these folks, that our wounded veterans failed at their job. Old cynic that I am, I find it impossible to imagine that no-one in these positions ever said “You had ONE job!” To carry on in this dark vein, sending a person off in a modern war to die on the far side of the globe – that isn’t cheap either. For the budgeteers of our world, soldiers cost money going out and coming back. Do I need to say it? Going out is the essential part of a soldier’s journey in many of our minds, and it certainly is in the minds of the men signing the cheques.

What I’m trying to say, getting back to it, is that the mistreatment of our heroes is not some detail, not some unintended consequence of war. It is intrinsic, it is logical even, it is part and parcel of the war machine generally, and it is not likely to change. It is fully in line with war and its objects. Mistreatment of veterans is not a problem we can fix while we’re at war, while we love war. It’s not going anywhere. The masters of war are just patiently waiting for us to get it off our chests and then shut up again.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then your problem is with war. Which, if you have a problem with war, that’s a good thing.

But just so you know.

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A Conflicted Society – When it’s your Job to Die

Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the States, it brings a lot of talk, mostly all patriotic, and some controversial, nationalism VS pacifism stuff if it becomes a debate. It’s all well and good. Personally, I like some of both: remembrance, sadness, sympathy for the many bereaved and afflicted, tempered with some concept that war is bad, and that peace is the final goal. Again, all well and good.

But we are a very conflicted bunch. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we are confused on these subjects, the appreciation and treatment of our veterans and their families, as well as anything around violence and its consequences, such as police brutality (to use an old-fashioned expression about it). Maybe I’m not reading the right things, but from my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem to be something that we ever break down, it doesn’t seem that either we try to understand it, or that we simply fail in the attempt.

All the talk about our veterans is, uh, a little too positive to help us get to the truth of it, it’s all about the positive aspects of sacrifice, about heroism, and it doesn’t explain how our soldiers can get the shoddy treatment that many of them get after their service. To explain that requires a visit to the dark side, I’m afraid. In this case, the operative thing, the driving function behind it lies in the soldier’s job description. That isn’t a secret, we all know it. But, that it matters in this conversation is somehow a secret, nonetheless. So here it is.

It is a soldier’s job to die for his country.

This is our conflict, but perhaps it’s only a matter of perception. If we phrase it in this way, describing the sacrifice in the more negative way, we can see that the conflict disappears, like this:

We ship a person overseas do fight and very likely die, or even more likely these days to suffer loss of limb and traumatic brain injury. Here’s the thing: this is not good treatment. Therefore, refusal of adequate medical and psychiatric care and the refusal of financial support that so many ex-soldiers receive when they come home, wait for it . . . is not a conflict. It is not any change in how we have treated these people from the day we decided to send them into war. To say it another way, our abuse of these folks starts long before they come home.

Let’s imagine it from another angle. Let’s imagine that we can hear the people in power discussing what we all perceive as our failure to look after our warriors, that we can hear the generals, the State Department, the politicians. Let’s try to see it from the POV of some powerful, cynical leaders when they are dividing up our dwindling tax revenues and deciding where to spend our money. Imagine how much priority is given to the care of a person that we already sent off to die. These folks aren’t likely to forget that it is a soldier’s job to die.

Call me a cynic to say it, but I am indeed cynical enough to imagine that it gets said, hopefully half in jest by these folks, that our wounded veterans failed at their job. Old cynic that I am, I find it impossible to imagine that no-one in these positions ever said “You had ONE job!” To carry on in this dark vein, sending a person off in a modern war to die on the far side of the globe – that isn’t cheap either. For the budgeteers of our world, soldiers cost money going out and coming back. Do I need to say it? Going out is the essential part of a soldier’s journey in many of our minds, and it certainly is in the minds of the men signing the cheques.

What I’m trying to say, getting back to it, is that the mistreatment of our heroes is not some detail, not some unintended consequence of war. It is intrinsic, it is logical even, it is part and parcel of the war machine generally, and it is not likely to change. It is fully in line with war and its objects. Mistreatment of veterans is not a problem we can fix while we’re at war, while we love war. It’s not going anywhere. The masters of war are just patiently waiting for us to get it off our chests and then shut up again.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then your problem is with war. Which, if you have a problem with war, that’s a good thing.

But just so you know.

The Islamic State Just Doesn’t Get It.

Well, it seems those damned Muslims in Iraq and Syria are misbehaving again.

And they’re getting worse!

WTF is the matter with those people? We’ve already bombed the crap out of them at least twice, and still they insist on their revelatory religion, and they’re only getting more committed to it, getting stricter and more fundamentalist. We’re having to go bomb them again, like we told them we would, like everybody knew we would if they acted up again. We’ve tried everything, haven’t we? We occupied them, some really present, hands on supervision, plus we’ve tried invisible death from the sky. If that doesn’t let them know that we will always know when they’re misbehaving and that we can always catch them and correct them, I don’t know what would!

We’ve shot them, bombed them, blown up whole families, even whole villages, yet for some reason, despite that we will kill and maim them, they continue to kill and maim each other. Where do they get this idea that it’s OK to do that? Who do they think they are?

It’s their Quran, isn’t it? It’s a manual for violence, and it teaches that life is cheap. That must be it. They are raised on the belief that violence can solve any problem that presents itself, and that belief is so pervasive and so entrenched that all of our righteous violence can’t seem to get through to them. It almost seems hopeless. It almost seems like we should just give it up. After all, we’ve tried everything.

But how can we? What they’re doing is so bad!

I guess we’ll just have to step it up.

I’ve Never Met Sam Harris, but . . .

I think I’m already over him. Plus, as collateral damage, I think my bromance with Bill Maher may be at an end too. I mean, regarding Bill, I haven’t yet committed to never watching his show again – but I deleted the scheduled recording of it from my PVR yesterday. He’s moved from my “I want to watch” list to my “I’ll only watch it if it’s on while I’m in front of the TV and it’s somehow the least stupid option, like if there’s no mixed martial arts on or something.” I’ve got a feeling that he’s lost more fans than just me over this latest Islamming (trademark!) that he’s doing. A parting bit of advice, Bill? You may want to distance yourself from Harris a little.

Now to Harris.

Mr. Harris has been taking a lot of guff since Bill’s show some eleven days ago, and from some pretty popular voices, not just internet nobodies like myself. Here’s a response he made to some of it on his blog:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-the-mechanics-of-defamation#.VDsSLTPpryM.twitter

Now, before I delve into details, and before we get caught up in those particulars, I want to point out that this blog post of his is an answer to people calling him a “genocidal fascist maniac” (which even I would suggest is a little hyperbolic), but this the thing. Nothing in this post would change my mind. I’ve been having some back and forth on Twitter with a person or two, someone is telling me that the point of the passage in question, and the chapter in his book it comes from, is a philosophical one about how belief drives action, and I think they’re trying to say the statement about the war is only an example.

Which, if the passage from the book had been the end of it, while I still don’t believe that theory (that the justification of the USA killing Islamist terrorists was put forth only as a theoretical example), I might have been able to let it pass, I might have said, ‘OK, close enough,’ but he said it again, in this blog post that was ostensibly intended to portray him in a less maniacal light. It wasn’t a hypothetical reference; it was updated for today’s war and was very specific. I’m speaking of the last three paragraphs in the post. Here’s the new statement, same as the one that got him in trouble with actual liberals in the first place:

“It would be ethical to kill these men (he means ISIS)—once again, only if we couldn’t capture them—because of all the death and suffering they intend to cause in the future. Why do they intend this? Because of what they believe about infidels, apostates, women, paradise, prophecy, America, and so forth.”

And here’s the rest of his defense:

“ . . . nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes.”

First of all, wow, just wow. If we’re not dangerous people AND we don’t ever have nasty thoughts, Harris is not advocating for our destruction. What a shining beacon of Liberalism.

Now, the ways in which this philosophy contrasts with my own views:

The clear implication here is that Harris does think we should kill harmful people for thought crimes.

Personally, I think that anyone trying to lessen both the expected duration of the Islamists’ hatred for and wish to kill Americans and also the level of violence and war in the world generally would not even advocate for killing these harmful people for actual crimes, let alone thought crimes.

I marvel at this philosopher’s self-unawareness. In advocating that we should kill harmful people for thought crimes, Mr. Harris is a faithful mirror to the very attitude he ascribes in these passages to Islamists alone, that it is justifiable and somehow helpful to kill those whose beliefs are antithetical to ours, or to our lives. By this reasoning, it must also be “ethical” for Islamists to kill Americans.

The only place this reasoning is ethical is in a very small world, a tribal situation. This is only morality to someone for whom the only moral concerns are the domination interests of his own tribe, someone for whom the death of his enemies is not a moral issue. It’s not exactly peacemaking, which, I think, by definition means the search for a larger morality, one in which a solution is sought for all parties. Of course, in geopolitics, in the new, smaller world we live in, for the more than fifty years during which nuclear war has been a real concern, the difference between war and peace affects us all. It is really in all of our interest that the morality of peacemaking be the morality we attain to.

And if America is, God forbid, listening to Sam Harris for moral guidance, then it seems sort of obvious what the problem is, at least from our side.

Christianity: the Revolution that Never Happened.

This is the revolution, intended, I think, as a revolution in Judaism, that didn’t happen. You’ve heard it before, this below, from Matthew:
Matthew 5 (King James Version)
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

 

Here, Jesus refers to the Old Testament scripture, the traditional model for Hebrew law and punishment, and then issues the new Way, the revolution. He is making a case here, as in many other places, for a more forgiving and less vengeful God. More to the point for me, I think he made a case for a less vengeful and more forgiving Man.
(Jesus was surrounded by zealots, freedom fighters, or at least the leaders who talked them up, the hawks of his day, plus he was contested and marginalized by the orthodoxy, and the Herod clan. These conservatives had a good case against him, he was politically hamstrung by the occurence of his birth while his mother was still in “virgin” status, so Jesus was dealt the position of moderate, and moderator. The conservative, orthodox church leaders, if not the king, Herod, were to some degree aligned with the zealots against the Roman occupation, and so Jesus, pitted against them by his unauthorized birth, was also set up against the zealots, and so, found himself in the role of peacemaker.)
http://www.peshertechnique.infinitesoulutions.com/index1.html
And so, this new, more civilized code of punishment.

 

I think Jesus announced a model of peacemaking with these great words, and set a new model for society in general.
It seems that the Christian concept of a more forgiving God caught on; God is now seen as gentler, and far more loving that the punishing, jealous God of the Old Testament.
But the more forgiving Mankind?
Punishment is still the rule of the land, all lands. In the Western world, we no longer take eyes, or teeth, true, that has improved – but we certainly haven’t made it all the way to ‘turning the other cheek also.’
Not even with our children!
Jesus’ time was a high water mark for civilization, one of the few times his message of peace and rejection of punishment could have had a chance in the long, rough history of the world, but old habits die hard. It’s still Old School, Old Testament, when push comes to shove.
It may have taken two thousand years to hear Jesus’ message, but we are arguably at another high point of civilization, and it’s one of those changes, like quitting any bad habit, it’s always going to be a good change to make. The message is, get hurt, model peace. Prioritize peace over ‘security.’ Security annihilates peace. Take some lumps. Show the bad guys what it looks like to NOT fight, show them what it’s like when someone DOESN’T hurt someone.
At least show your CHILDREN these things.
Turn the other cheek.
Viva la Revolution!