My country, right or wrong.
March 23, 2003 1:13 PM   Subscribe

"My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be put right." -- Carl Schurz

Those of us opposed to this war have made our positions known, and when the dust of bombs and combat has settled, we can be mildly cheered in knowing that although we could not stop the march to war, our vigilance has not gone entirely unheeded and has perhaps averted more harm than would otherwise have come. Now that the war is upon us, all of us, especially we who have identified ourselves as anti-war, run the risk of truly failing in our efforts if we cannot harness our energies to make certain that those embroiled in this conflict do not suffer in vain. However unjust the means of this invasion have been, it is now our responsibility to attempt to ensure that the ends uphold the ideals we have been trying to safeguard.

It's time to check our fears about what has been done and look ahead to what must be done.
posted by grrarrgh00 (15 comments total)
 
The words of Carl Schurz are rousing and relevant to the situation at hand. He also spoke at a time when America was called to turn its attention from domestic concerns towards foreign issues, and he had some sentiments worth reproducing here and now:

"The American people ... should be specially careful not to permit themselves to be influenced in their decision by high-sounding phrases of indefinite meaning, by vague generalities, or by seductive catchwords appealing to unreasoning pride and reckless ambition. More than ever true patriotism now demands the exercise of the soberest possible discernment."

"I am far from denying that this republic, as one of the great powers of the world, has its responsibilities. But what is it responsible for? Is it to be held, or to hold itself, responsible for the correction of all wrongs done by strong nations to weak ones, or by powerful oppressors to helpless populations? Is it, in other words, responsible for the general dispensation of righteousness throughout the world? Neither do I deny that this republic has a 'mission'; and I am willing to accept, what we are frequently told, that this mission consists in 'furthering the progress of civilization.' But does this mean that wherever obstacles to the progress of civilization appear, this republic should at once step in to remove those obstacles by means of force, if friendly persuasion do not avail? Every sober-minded person will admit that under so tremendous a task any earthly power, however great, would soon break down."

The essays are eminently worth reading, even if only to briefly remind us of times when progressive voices could be as dynamic as Carl Schurz, the German-born American patriot, journalist, major Army general, diplomat, author and statesman. As in many writings of the time, you do have to dodge some regrettably lengthy digressions on the "savages" and "unspeakable Asiatics" who populate the lands he warns against appropriating, but unlike many, Schurz mostly stops short of calling other races patently inferior. Mostly.

But the essays are only byways to my point. Sadly, this war is happening, and as tempting as it is to sit on the moral high ground and cluck self-righteously if it ends badly, we know that the right thing to do is to exert all our energies into ensuring that it doesn't go badly. This means we've gotta begin formulating and pushing for viable, humanitarian post-war solutions, in a big way. And sure, a bunch of odd usernames flapping all over MetaFilter isn't going to do a whole heap of anything, but we can choose to begin championing forward-looking ideas rather than recycling our retrospective criticisms. A butterly beats its wings on the Internet and what have you.

Now's the time to switch from anti-war to anti-imperialist, to make sure that this war comes to represent a peculiarity of American foreign action, not a policy. The progressives should be leading the charge to repair our ties with the countries of Europe and to repair their ties with each other, encouraging a robust, stable European Union. From everything going on right now, we can see that much is to be gained from reducing world economic dependence on America and encouraging the emergence of a fellow international superpower that largely shares our ideals. While we're in the habit of rudely confronting our allies, perhaps we should undertake the practice with a little more discretion. Much more can be said, and I hope that it is the progressives who lead the charge to say it. Because if we continue harping on the present and leaving Bush to look after the future, then there's reason to fear indeed.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 1:14 PM on March 23, 2003


This is a fantastic post, grrarrgh00 (and I love typing out that name.) These links will take some time to digest, but are well worth the effort. Thanks!

A related article: With war underway, and a Bush victory a possibility, the antiwar movement appears to be in denial about its future influence.
posted by homunculus at 1:50 PM on March 23, 2003


Lately I have wondered how the wording of that quote went and who made it. Carl Schurz. Now I know. Which is a good thing. Thank you for giving us the exact quote and identifying the author.
posted by y2karl at 1:51 PM on March 23, 2003


That's right, if it wasn't for the protesters the coalition would be slaughtering those brown people with glee!
posted by Mick at 2:59 PM on March 23, 2003


If you are going to slur people, could you at least do it in something other than gibberish?
posted by y2karl at 3:17 PM on March 23, 2003


If you are going to slur people, could you at least do it in something other than gibberish?

you beat me to it, karl.

this issue seems to be bubbling to the surface simultaneously in antiwar circles all over the country. it's interesting to see a movement (or at least, in my opinion, the more pragmatic and forward-thinking members) adapt its mission in such an organic way. i hope this ripple of realization becomes a reality. (say that three times fast ...)
posted by damn yankee at 3:26 PM on March 23, 2003


Except, of course, the very lovely idea of getting progressive ideals implemented in the reconstruction of Iraq has one problem.

Do you honestly think the White House will listen to you, to me, to Blair, to the UN, to the Iraqis, or anyone?

Folks, they're already letting the contracts on who gets to rebuild Iraq. They already decided on how it will be done. Anyone protesting will either be written off as unimportant -- "We don't run this country by focus groups" or will be morally impeached as a traitor and an enemy -- "You are either for us or against us."

If it comforts you to think you might be a moderating influence in the reconstruction of Iraq, that's fine. But if you think your opinions now will matter any more than your opinions did about going to war in the first place, be prepared to, once again, be disappointed.

Bush has never tried to gain the consensus of the people. Anyone who has ever spoken against his policies has been rebuffed. What makes you think this will change once he's conquered Iraq?

As long as Bush is in the White House, this is the way America works. You will do what he says, or the vast resources he controls will be used against you. You can try fighting that, which is certian to fail -- or you can try and ensure that Bush is removed from the Presidency at the earliest opportunity. That's fraught with peril as well, but at least that has a chance of working.

I deeply regret what is going to happen to the Iraqis because of this. But I hold no illusions that I can convince Bush to take any other course of action.
posted by eriko at 3:51 PM on March 23, 2003


With Bush, more than any recent president - this includes Reagan and Bush I - it seems increasingly evident that if you didn't vote for him or contribute to his campaign, that you're as good as dead. He found some use for the rest of us before the Afghan campaign began, but now we're just so much background noise.

Of course, when we get the next Democratic president and he exhibits the same "governing to the half" tactics as our current leader - I expect the right to shut the hell up.

Yeah, right. And I'm sure the "liberal media" won't be all over him (heck, they're already pummeling John Kerry).
posted by owillis at 4:15 PM on March 23, 2003


Eriko and owillis: Without the constant pressure of knowing that a huge global population was opposed to their actions and scrutinizing their every move, I would bet much that the Bush administration would have put us in an even scarier situation right now, by a matter of degrees. Even the meagre level of restraint that has been displayed so far would have been done away with.

And the alternative, of course, is to continue bitching about what has happened and is happening, without any substantial consideration as to what could happen. Then, in November '04, when no forward-thinking progressive alternatives to the current regime have emerged, and Bush sails on towards actual election, and invades Pakistan, and North Korea nukes us while our troops are on the Subcontinent, and our tense collection of "allies" shrug their shoulders, and Osama is flying over LA with a crop duster and magical pixie gas, we'll have the smug satisfaction of knowing that we had, in fact, predicted this unfortunate end on MetaFilter in March 2003.

Certainly, no movements are going to begin on MeFi. But if we each alter our mindsets so that we reject retroactive critique in favor of proactive idealism, and we vociferously expect the same from our friends, our colleagues, our fellow bloggers, our alt-weeklies and our representatives, then we can at least be agents in the revolution. Need I remind you all that just a couple weeks ago, a diner altered an item on its menu, leading to legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives?

The resources that we are currently expending in the direction of anti-war protests and rallies that grow more irrelevant with every bomb are much better disposed towards creating civilian humanitarian organizations to assist in the cleanup of Iraq after the whole thing is done. What are we railing against if we've already decided that our only contribution to world affairs must be negative?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:44 PM on March 23, 2003


Do you honestly think the White House will listen to you, to me, to Blair, to the UN, to the Iraqis, or anyone?

Well, I am becoming more and more convinced that to the White House, democracy is just a game to be played rather than a commitment or an ideal. I do think that Bush is aware that his moral high ground could slip away pretty darn quick. He allready lost Total Information Awareness and probably Patriot II.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:52 PM on March 23, 2003


>But if you think your opinions now will matter any more than your opinions did about going to war in the first place, be prepared to, once again, be disappointed.

Nicely put. I keep running into these, "Stop protesting" pieces and I keep wondering how effective anything the anti-war people might try overseas when their own domestic leaders shrug them off.

The best advice I've heard/given so far is keep all this shit in mind when 2004 rolls around. The only dialogue I and tens of millions of voters have with Bush and his policies is our votes.
posted by skallas at 5:56 PM on March 23, 2003


With Bush, more than any recent president - this includes Reagan and Bush I - it seems increasingly evident that if you didn't vote for him or contribute to his campaign, that you're as good as dead. He found some use for the rest of us before the Afghan campaign began, but now we're just so much background noise.

Of course, when we get the next Democratic president and he exhibits the same "governing to the half" tactics as our current leader - I expect the right to shut the hell up.


That's a joke right? Clinton was the master at the, "screw those who didn't vote for me."
posted by Plunge at 6:08 PM on March 23, 2003


That's a joke right? Clinton was the master at the, "screw those who didn't vote for me."

The Earned Income Credit put money into the pockets of the poor ones who got duped into voting against him.

Even in failure, his debacle in Somalia can't hold a candle to Reagan's in Lebanon. Clinton had 18 Rangers dead on his hands, Reagan had 241 Marines plus some additional CIA and State Department personnel for a total of 309. Clinton couldn't even hold a forest fire to that differential.

He did more for human rights worldwide, strengthened our alliances with NATO and the UN and he intervened into a couple of wars of genocide and ended them.

It used to be we intervened and stopped wars. Now we invade and start them, and make the whole world our enemy. Oh, except for our alliance with the likes of all of the Marshall Islands.
posted by y2karl at 6:31 PM on March 23, 2003


"I deeply regret what is going to happen to the Iraqis because of this. But I hold no illusions that I can convince Bush to take any other course of action."

You would rather that Saddam continue to oppress his people? Rape rooms, shredders and poison gas against his own people mean nothing to you?

You think he would just stop because we asked him nicely?

Do you think the UN or the world community was going to stop his tyranny?
posted by geekhorde at 10:27 PM on March 23, 2003


You would rather that Saddam continue to oppress his people? Rape rooms, shredders and poison gas against his own people mean nothing to you?

You think he would just stop because we asked him nicely?

Do you think the UN or the world community was going to stop his tyranny?


Perhaps a bit of honesty on the part of war supporters would be welcome. Saddam was the darling of conservatives throughout the 1980s, a secular Arab beachead against Islamic fundamentalism. None of the people engineering this war appear to be very committed to democracy here in the United States. More than a couple of people in the current administration demonstrated no problems with terrorism, torture, or poison gas by "pro-American" forces during the 80s. Iraq is as likely to get a Pinochet or Noriega as a democratic government, and such a government is likely to last only as long as the natural resoucres keep flowing.

The pretense of this war as a war of liberation is as phony as a three dollar bill. The current government does not care about human rights except when it needs to put on a show. Prior to 9-11, Afghanistan was someone else's problem. Prior to 1991, Iraq was not a problem as long as they kept the Iranians bottled up.

The quote in the first response sums up the issue nicely. Do the ends justify the means, especially when the means involved are the most terrible action a government can take? Even my arch-conservative mother in law expressed a bit of cognitive dissonance yesterday when she said that America just does not invade other countries.

But this is just the political argument based on an ends-means analysis that attempts to quantify lives lost through one method against lives lost through another method. Ethical and religious pacifists reject the notion that one can perform a moral calculus with human lives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:34 PM on March 23, 2003


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