Memorial Day 2004

Don’t Blame the Media

What this country stands for …

1. May 29, 2004 – Visiting an old friend

I visited an old friend over the weekend, and part of the catch-up activities was the old familiar “what do you think of [insert current event here]?”

There were no shouting matches, but there were some spirited discussions on “WMD” (Weapons of Mass destruction, still not found in Iraq), what kind of a man Don Rumsfeld is, and how much of courtroom proceedings witnesses ought really to be allowed to hear.

In fairness, my old friend thinks civil unions for gays and lesbians is a good idea. I was content to say I just want equal civil protections before the law, and I don’t give a rat what it’s called. But it is clearly important to him that it not be called “marriage” and we did not go there.

My old friend clearly is not, and never has been, a blind follower. Yet one sees that his position on a given issue again and again appears predictable, always dropping neatly into the jigsaw patterns of partisan politics and loyalties. Thus, Abu Ghraib is simply horrible because it represents the harmful sabotage that this crazy handful of Americans have perpetrated upon American interests. There is no mention of sympathy for the victims and we do not ask whether they had it coming.

We see that this one single event takes the rap for besmirching our hitherto spotless American reputations and our nearly universal high esteem in the Middle East. The main significance of this human rights violation is as injury perpetrated upon us and our cause by atypical bungling fools, aided and abetted by the liberal media. And WMD may or may not pan out, but it was a valid reason for going into Iraq because everybody agreed it was a valid reason for going into Iraq.

And, just to prove he is not intimidated by political correctness, there was the N word — “and ‘they’ use it too. They use it about themselves.” My old friend is not one you’d think sends out those old KKK robes for dry cleaning once a week, but the cherished old traditions, like all the other rights to be explicitly irrational for no reason whatsoever, just because we feel like it, is never to be surrendered — or challenged.

Bush may or may not be the ideal president, but my old friend is certainly not going to vote for that John what’s his face bastard [real anger here]. You need to know that Kerry sided with Hanoi Jane Fonda [how does he know that, from the bogus faked photo on the internet a couple of weeks ago?]. You can see that this just flies in the face of everything my old friend, loyal to the end, has believed for 30 years. I didn’t get into Nixon and I didn’t want to, but I got the impression Nixon was one of the good guys. The media did him in, you know. He would have beat JFK, too, if he’d used makeup and worn a dark colored suit. That’s how that JFK won the election, makeup and a dark colored suit.

And so, if you keep up with the Administration position statements, and read the National Review, and watch Wall Street Week, and you’re still in touch and in agreement with all your old war buddies, and the only people you ever talk to also read and follow the same things — in short, if you follow the Republican Party — then you almost always know what those who subscribe to its hallowed precepts are going to say on any given issue, and who are the good guys, the bad guys, and the unspeakably evil. And you know how seldom a middle ground or loyal opposition is even admissible for evidence: you know, for example, why a lot of time is not wasted on little maverick deviates like John McCain or fringe lunatic groups like Log Cabin. You understand, without asking, why the ACLU is “hated”.

Articles of War. Articles of Faith.

The ability to harbor grudges for a lifetime as an act of faith is part of the admissions dues for the real patriot.

You need to understand that if you haven’t followed the admissions process you’ll never understand what this country stands for.

“What this country stands for” became an empty symbolic container about a hundred years ago. The contents of the container became an article of faith; few have looked inside the container since it was invented. I know what’s in the container, because my dad said so. I can point to citational scraps and shards of the Constitution or to the Ten Commandments as selective proof of what I mean. But, if you believe what I believe, well then, that’s an example of what this country stands for. But if you disagree, you just don’t understand what this country stands for. That’s all.

A real man doesn’t have to explain what this country stands for. If you were a real man, you’d know too.

Blaming the Media

Well, there you have it. You know, the media doesn’t understand what this country stands for, either.

Should we be holding the egg-sucking-dog media responsible for this? Should we or should we not hold individuals accountable for their opinions?

It’s ironic. Why are we blaming the media when people disagree with us and taking credit for making a difference when people agree with us?

Don’t blame the media. It’s un-American to assert that people are incapable of being responsible for their own positions. It’s dangerous and asinine to assert that a free, open and crtical press is a threat to our constitutional form of government or our fundamental freedoms. What a free, open and critical press IS a threat to is vapid, half-assed, unsubstantiable partisan assertions emanating out of the White House and Congress during any term of administrative office. The media is the best protection we have against totalitarian propaganda and partisan shell games.

2. May 30, 2004 – San Francisco Chronicle, Joan Ryan

Column: A hard look at one side of war divide

“He is a piece of America’s heartland in the suburbs of San Francisco, part of the hidden minority in the liberal Bay Area. They support the president 100 percent. They believe the war is a gift to the Iraqi people, who should be grateful for the opportunity to rebuild their country under U.S. guidance. They link the Iraqi insurgents to the terrorists who killed 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They are angry that so many Americans, misled by the media, have lost sight of what this country stands for.

3. May 31, 2004 – Memorial Day

I’m thinking how my friend remembered the sting of coming home from a supply company assignment in Vietnam (1967) and being called a baby killer. And I remember this, too, coming home from my communications assignment (June, 1964). And that’s not right.

And the thing is, if all these cherished beliefs evaporated like breaking wind over the edge of the grand canyon, that WOULD make a mockery of the deaths of those who died in Vietnam and Iraq. They really believe we sent our young to die over there to do the right thing, and that citizens of those countries should have been grateful.

I believed we were doing the right thing in Vietnam. But I was always concerned with trying to distinguish what we thought we were doing, what we said we were doing, with what we were actually doing. It took years to admit I was wrong. That was tough.

But it was easier for me, 25 years ago, than what many of those guys are going through today. With webcams and internet and satellite uplinks, history is instantaneously and continuously self-documenting, and this is not working in favor of true believers. You could dispute My Lai and some would fall for it, but you can’t dispute Abu Ghraib. The idiots took pictures of themselves as evidence. To continue to believe that we are doing the right thing in Iraq, and that some day Iraqis will thank America for its sacrifices, takes a giant leap of faith in defiance of all the evidence.

Lastly, underneath all that, there’s the unflappable smugness. When I question whether Donald Rumsfeld is really the one in millions you might really want to follow into combat (“Rumsfeld? Really?”), I get that knowing, almost patronizing smile that says: Did I just get off the boat? Have I been brainwashed by the media? Everyone knows Rumsfeld is the man.

My old friend is a nice guy. He’s always been a nice guy. You would be amazed how far back we go. But there are some things we can’t really talk about. There have always been some things we can’t really talk about. As with so many of us everywhere, we do better sticking to safe subjects we already agree on. Proper disagreements consist of whether you can really hunt with a .357, whether a wood would have been better than an iron on the 14th hole, and whether hybrid engines and fuel cells can ever replace big bores and fossil fuels.

And I’ll tell you why.

What we knew in Grade School

As kids we learn early what happens when we attack another’s religion, and we learn not to do it. If your buddy has already adopted the catechisms hook, line and sinker, by definition this is an area not subject to rational analysis or the laws of physics. He does not have to explain to you why the Lord created the universe in seven days, 4,000 years ago, including the hundreds of billions of stars in the nucleus of the Sombrero Galaxy, whose image we see today based on light emitted 28 million light years ago.

If this is what your buddy believes, that is the epistemological starting point: all subsequent knowledge rests on that article of belief, consciously adopted. Your challenge is correctly interpreted as a personal attack. If he has chosen to adopt this as proof of his acceptance of his credo, who the hell are you to tell him all those years were a wasted mockery of truth and reason?

Interestingly, my old friend is not a bible thumper. As far back as we go, I’ve never seen him look to religion for comfort, or to resolve moral, ethical or political issues.

But when it comes to Bush, we may as well be arguing about the Pope.

Religion and Politics

The old saying: “Two subjects I always avoid are religion and politics”. In most cases, most people take their political tenets on faith, most of the time. We have our magnificent American State Papers, but most of us would still rather fight a war than agree that “All men are created equal” means just what it says.

I have friends on the right, respectable and likable people, who go ballistic when the name Al Gore is mentioned. I have other friends, also respectable and likable people, who go ballistic when the name George Bush is mentioned. Normal conversation is impossible until they stop fulminating and calm down. Sometimes it is too late for Damage Control, and friendships are compromised. Is that all there is to life, deciding whether you want to join the Church of Al Gore, or the Church of George Bush?

Now you have a very good reason why, when most people mention avoiding “religion and politics”, they mention them in the same breath. The phenonenon they’re sidestepping most closely resembles a religious battle or crusade.

Loose Cannon Diplomacy

I don’t know if you saw 60 Minutes last night, but they dedicated eight minutes to memorializing the 800 already killed in Iraq, by scrolling photos of all eight hundred. On this Memorial Day, I as a veteran am proud of our armed forces. I am so sorry we have lost so many men and women in so many different kinds of causes. Some were clear-cut. Some were not. Our fighting forces served without presuming to tell the civilian leadership which were the just causes and which were not — they just served, faithfully, trusting that our nation and its commander in chief knew what in hell we were doing. This obedience and duty is appropriate and professional.

But it doesn’t follow that a course of action is right just because that’s what we ended up doing. It doesn’t follow that it is right because our intentions were right, or because we believed in the power of our good intentions.

Old friends who go back to before the Vietnam era still cannot reconcile and agree on unresolved issues of the 1960’s. That is why we still get nowhere on resolving issues in Iraq in 2004. On this Memorial Day, 2004, men and women are still dying so that the liberated may hate us and try to kill more of us. It is time to rescue our military and our country from loose cannon diplomacy. It is time for a change of guard and a change of policy.

Alex Forbes ©May 31, 2004

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