Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Shape Up, Shut Up, or Ship Out

Regarding the "Enlist or Shut Up" spiel…

In the comments section of the weblog, as in private emails sent to me, several times I have read that people refusing to join in the Bush-bashing and in the condemnation of the Iraqi war (i.e., people such as myself) should either enlist in the U.S. army and go physically over to Iraq to fight or shut up.

The point of view that these people (not all of them French) mention holds that unless somebody enlists, (s)he is in no position to judge. Here is my answer to this, part of which comes from an email I sent a good friend (a very hot dame she is too!).

In other words, unless the citizen meets specific criteria (of the peace camp's choosing!), the citizen cannot be heard. Offhand, it would appear that the criteria make sense...

But notice a couple of facts: first of all, the "argument" is similar (to use a simile of less far-reaching and less serious consequences) to saying that the customer of a bakery (I almost used a butcher's shop as an example!) cannot complain about a cake he or she bought unless he or she is willing to make (or capable of making) a cake him- or herself. Alternatively, it would mean that a car owner should not criticize a garage's repair job unless (s)he is willing to crawl under the vehicle himself and is able to produce the same results.

To use a less personal and perhaps more appropriate simile, the argument amounts to telling newspaper readers and TV viewers (within the United States or elsewhere) that they should refrain from criticizing, say, the Ford motor company for the four-wheel drive that kept turning over or for the wheels that kept blowing unless they go to Dearborn and start working in the Ford factory…

Second of all, and more importantly: notice how this position can be turned against the so-called peace camp.

If only a soldier can speak for the war, then how can somebody who is not a soldier speak against the war?

If it so happened that (a majority of) the soldiers in Iraq were/are against the war, then yes, the anti-war position might make sense...

In other words, my point is, shouldn't we be asking ourselves (and shouldn't the "pacifists" be asking themselves) what the soldiers themselves are saying about the war?

If the news reports and military blogs I have consulted are to be believed, you don't hear many servicemen saying that unless people in favor of the war enlist, they should shut up... I have never gotten a message from a soldier saying "Do not write in support of us (or the war) on your blog, unless you are with us in uniform" and I know of no other blogger who has recieved such a message... (They do tend to complain, however, about the peace activists, both individuals and nations, i.e., the people supposedly on their side, not to speak of alleged peace candidates — see below...)

More importantly: of course, they aren't thrilled with being at war, and being shot at, and being away from their families, and being in 130º heat, but still... for better or worse, it would seem that they overwhelmingly support the war. As something necessary. Certainly it cannot be denied that the administration feels comfortable that the soldiery will vote Republican in the elections.

Remember that back in July, John Kerry was having lunch with running mate John Edwards and his wife at a Wendy's in Newburgh, N.Y. — when the candidate approached four Marines to ask them questions.

"John Kerry's heavily hyped cross-country bus tour stumbled out of the blocks" reported the New York Post's Stefan Friedman, as the "group of Marines publicly dissed the Vietnam War hero in the middle of [the] crowded restaurant."

The Marines — two in uniform and two off-duty — were polite but curt while chatting with Kerry, answering most of his questions with a "yes, sir" or "no, sir." But they turned downright nasty after the Massachusetts senator thanked them "for their service" and left. "He imposed on us and I disagree with him coming over here shaking our hands," one Marine said, adding, "I'm 100 percent against [him]."

A sergeant with 10 years of service under his belt said, "I speak for all of us. We think that we are doing the right thing in Iraq," before saying he is to be deployed there in a few weeks and is "eager" to go and serve.

"I speak for all of us. We think that we are doing the right thing in Iraq." Certainly one can ask, with a smirk, how long these Marines — or the rest of the servicemen in the Iraqi Freedom contingent — are going to support the war, or one can opine that the soldiers are manipulated and don't know any better, or they are just loyal and used to following orders, or whatever, but notice that in that case the "peace camp" has upped the demands, raising the standards of the criteria.

First the peace camp chooses the criteria — single-handedly — and when it is not satisfied by the results, it ups them.

It used to be, "you may support the war (reluctantly or otherwise) but, in the final analysis, if you are not in uniform, you display a lack of judgment, and you should not even think of opening your mouth"

Now the following has been added: "You may be in uniform, but in the final analysis, if you do support the war (reluctantly or otherwise), you display a lack of judgment, and you should not even think of opening your mouth".

This is also known as changing the goalposts and, in the final analysis, as "heads I win, tails you lose."

Which all boils down to this: avoiding debate by what amounts to character assassination: "either you are smart and gentle and you agree with my wise outlook on events, or you are dumb (or blinded or simple-minded or callous or treacherous or lacking in judgment) and ought to keep quiet"...

And which also boils down to this: in all cases, avoiding (or dissing) the opinions of the people who just happen to be the foremost concerned by the presence of Uncle Sam's troops among the Iraqis, i.e.… Uncle Sam's troops and the Iraqis (!).

I cannot tell the number of comments on this section and the number of conversations I've had, where the "argument" boiled down to "well, they (or you) may support the war now, but do we really have proof of that, and how will they (you) be feeling about that a year from now?", my favorite being, "well, sure, in July 2003 an Iraqi couple named their newborn son George Bush, but… so what!" Followed by "is that still the name he wears today?"!

In other words — unless they agree with the Bush-bashers — the opinions, viewpoints, and feelings of those most directly concerned (to the point of being in the frontlines thousands of miles from home or of giving their child the name of a person of a different culture and religion) are… fundamentally irrelevant!

From which I draw this conclusion: it is not the people who are in favor of the allied intervention in Iraq who should go to Iraq. It is the people who are against the war who should do so.

Our detractors might be able to convince some of us that "Chirac was right on Iraq", the fact remains that our hypothetically strong agreement with that opinion hardly matters if an overwhelming majority of Iraqis believe that "la France n'était opposée à la guerre que parce qu'elle défendait ses propres intérêts, parce qu'elle était l'amie et recevait des cadeaux de Saddam." (This from Le Monde's correspondent in Baghdad.)

As it happens, the main reason that a number of us do not oppose the Iraqi war is not because we are blinded by patriotism and/or propaganda or because we are manic followers of Dubya, but because we listen to what others say once in a while, namely the people most directly concerned.

It is suggested that unless we oppose the war, we have no choice but to go enlist in the US army. I have a better idea…

Why don't you go to Baghdad (you, the peace activists) and start giving your spiel to Iraqis?

Why don't you go find this person's father and mother and tell them that "Chirac was right on Iraq"?

Why don't you go find this person's spouse and children and tell them how Iraq was better off when Saddam provided them with "schools" and "hospitals"?

Why don't you go find this person's friends and tell them that the soldiers in their presence are members of the KKK?

Why don't you go to this father and tell him that Saddam was nothing but a "toothless dictator"?

Good luck.

You will need it…

(Update: Jonah Goldberg and Jeff Jacoby also point out that the Chickenhawk charge is less an argument than an insult and a form of bullying; Ben Shapiro shows how the accusation is dishonest and, not incidentally, how it rejects the Constitution.)