Monday, July 23, 2007

Another of My Clueless Right Wing Polemics

I hardly know what to do with myself. I was going to just ignore it, but I find I'm not that mature. No, he's not actually wrong. Well, yes -- he is actually wrong. Our interpretations of recent history are just at odds, and our understanding of the facts. That should be rare. People should at least agree on matters of fact.

This. David Halberstam's "The History Boys" in Vanity Fair. A really vicious attack on Bush. Not the typical Chimpy McHitlerburton tripe -- it's a clear and articulate annunciation of the Left's hatred of the man. Worth reading, if you are clear on your positions. If you're an impressionable youth, you'd need to do some fact checking. One would hope your sources were accurate. None of the People's History according to Zinn hype -- simplistic, biased and conspiratorial. Halberstam is no less obvious in his polemical intent -- every possibility for ad hominem attack is exploited (did you know that Cheney had five, five military deferments!?) -- but the narrow focus makes his effort a teardrop sapphire of invective.

Well, I do it myself. Of course, my efforts enjoy the virtue of being in perfect accord with reality. But there you go -- how would I show how smart I am, if not through correcting deluded liberals? ... but I repeat myself.

It would take far more words than you wish to read from me, to go through Halberstam's effort point by point. Let this suffice: "The book that brought me to history some 53 years ago ... [was] The Reason Why, the story of why the Light Brigade marched into the Valley of Death, to be senselessly slaughtered, in the Crimean War. It is a tale of such folly and incompetence in leadership ... that it is not just the story of a battle but an indictment of the entire British Empire. " You see? The fallacy? The greatness of a vast empire -- the largest the world has ever seen -- is not to be dismissed because of a specific battle. And here I mean "greatness" in the sense of "goodness".

That's the bias of the left. All empires are bad. My bias is that every human system is irredeemably corrupt. But we need them, so we have to pick the best of a bad lot. What system has brought the world the greatest good? Feelings won't provide a reliable answer. We have to look at the numbers. What system has generally increased human lifespan? Well, that would be the West. Tribal life expectancy is under thirty years of age. Traditional lifespans are hardly better. Wars? Well, true, Western technology does indeed facilitate killing. But the two empires that did the most killing last century were not Western. The USSR was an asiatic empire. ... the Chinese empire, too. Marxism? As you know, sweet child, Marxism is not a Western system. It is a rejection of the West.

Yes, it is a complex question. Yes, lots of objections might be made. Most of them would be met by answering a simple question: Where would you rather live? I don't mean visit. Mali, Yemen and Laos don't spring to the lip.

Bush's world, says Halberstam, is one "where other nations admire America or damned well ought to, and America is always right, always on the side of good, in a world of evil, and it's just a matter of getting the rest of the world to understand this." Yeah, Bush is an idiot and America sucks. If that's not Halberstam's only point, then another might be that America is flawed and only a fool wouldn't recognize this fact. If we put aside the stupidity of the bias, we come up with the fact that Bush is on the side of what he understands to be the guiding spirit of America.

In a world of unbearable corruption, and where every motive is always going to be questionable, still, what is the overall effect of the fact of the existence of America? I shudder for the world, in our absence. And I make no apology, and never would, for the fact that we have dominated the world for a century. It was a crappy century. How much worse, without us.

"One of Bush's favorite conceits, used repeatedly in his speeches," says Halberstam, "is that democracies are peaceful and don't go to war against one another. Most citizens of the West tend to accept this view without question, but that is not how most of Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East, having felt the burden of the white man's colonial rule for much of the past two centuries, see it." Now why would that be? Because the boot of the white man has been so heavy on the neck of the poor oppressed savage? Well, yes, boots on necks do get heavy. But poor oppressed savages always have boots on their necks. Boots, or their analogues, are found in every culture -- Turks, and Persians, and Arabs, and Moguls and Mongols and Huns and every people who has ever made war and taken slaves. That would be all of them. For the Indian to complain about the British Raj, he had first to forget the corruption of the native prince. That, as it turns out, is such an easy thing to do. Almost as easy as it is for the liberal, and the savage, to remember to blame America.

"The non-Western world does not think of the West as a citadel of pacifism and generosity, and many people in the U.S. State Department and the different intelligence agencies (and even the military) understand the resentments and suspicions of our intentions that exist in those regions." Golly, sir -- none of us wacko right-wingers ever thought of that before. You mean not everyone loves us? That makes my feelings hurt. Good thing we have the famously liberal State Department, and weirdly, the liberal CIA, to instruct us in proper moral conduct -- by which is meant bowing and scraping to nativist bigots in every other country save this one.

Of course, when we say Bush, we think Iraq. He always would have been hated, but here's a reason for it. What's it all about? "We are, you might say, fighting the forces of history in Iraq -- religious, cultural, social, and inevitably political -- created over centuries of conflict and oppressive rule." Halberstam cannot mean centuries of Western oppression. The British only entered the region after WW I. The sick old Ottomans were as corrupt as you might expect. He let it slip, though, about their conflict and oppressive rule. One might have thought such things were invented by the West, along with starvation, disease and high infant mortality rates.

As for the, uh, victims themselves, "Our allies -- the good Iraqi people the president likes to talk about -- appear to be more and more ambivalent about the idea of a Christian, Caucasian liberation, and they do not seem to share many of our geopolitical goals." I would suppose most of them would like the, er, insurgents to stop blowing up cars in crowds. I suppose they'd like a stable civil government to enforce just laws. I suppose they don't really mind the presence in their villages of American soldiers who have driven out the terrorists, and keep them out. As is the case. As I have cause to know. I don't see how being Christian, or Caucasian, would factor into the equation. Unless we're talking about suicidal bigotry. Maybe we are. But I wouldn't say the suicide bombers are "ambivalent". They seem unequivocal in the expression of their opinions.

"At the time of the collapse of Communism, I thought there was far too much talk in America about how we had won the Cold War, rather than about how the Soviet Union, whose economy never worked, simply had imploded. I was never that comfortable with the idea that we as a nation had won..." There it is. He even wrote it down. Whatever exquisite nuances he intends, the actual meaning of the words is that he was never comfortable with the idea that "we" as a nation had won.

I have such a profound disrespect for that. For all that there is cooperation, there is competition. Not all games are zero-sum, but there are zero-sum games. A man who doesn't understand this fundamental reality about life is not a man. A child, a woman, a disembodied intellect -- but someone lacking in the masculine virtue of fighting to protect what has value ... which virtue must be shared by all sane children and women and disembodied intellects. It's not about testosterone.

But in so many cases, testosterone might help. Or is that just another thing that's wrong with America?



Will C. said...

and here I was about to email mr. Halberstam a link to your very nice rebuttal only to find he was killed in a car crash...kinda weird

Jack H said...

These guys have email addresses? Whole new horizons have opened for me! Oh Life! -- You are too wonderful for anyone to realize You!


Jack H said...


I see the hand of Bush in this. Where was Cheney at the time?