reprinted from the January/February 2011 Handful of Salt
Four American heroes were lined up in their wheelchairs for CBS News. As noted by the interviewer, there was not a good leg between them, and they all agreed their sacrifices in Afghanistan had been worthwhile. Indeed, a couple of the men said they would go back, if they could. Overlooking any consideration of the sacrifices of Afghanis, how should we account for this resolve? Several quick responses might be: loyalty, optimism, brainwashing, failure to comprehend the reality of the situation, and underexposure to alternatives to force. And here’s the answer I could not give without having been in harm’s way for the corporations that decide whether or not war is good or bad or neutral, morally and fiscally and politically: Stupidity.
These mangled men are not stupid, but they accepted stupid orders, based upon stupid foreign policy and stupid concepts about duty, honor and patriotism. (Speaking of duty, are you as insulted as I about the marketing of the killing game, Call to Duty/Black Ops? Doonesbury seems to be the only medium challenging this current leader in the race to the bottom of human dignity.)
How, I hope you’re asking, has the leading nation on the earth come to hold so tenaciously to ideas, schemes, fears, and threats which can best be described as Stupid? Charging the heavy brigade into Afghanistan and Iraq are just symptoms. I almost said recent symptoms, but I’m reminded that this little adventure in Afghanistan has become the longest war in U.S. history, in spite of the fact that we have not had a declaration of war in 69 years. Looking at the connections between military and domestic spending, federal debt and local and state fiscal emergencies, the same pattern of stupidity is unmistakable. Consider the cartoonish budget proposal of Gov. Gregoire, or the catastrophic compromise between Obama and congressional Republicans. They may not be stupid with respect to what there is to work with and what must be done, but it was stupidity that brought us to this dance.
The blame game is generally to be avoided, but I want to begin 2011 by pinning the tale upon the esteemed two-party system, which defies logic and deflects wisdom with a staggering consistency. It’s more satisfying to blame Republicans, but Democrats insist upon upping the ante on matters of war and free trade, the biggest engines behind our economic slump and the sacred cows that will prevent a sensible and egalitarian recovery. More parties might be better than no parties, but it takes big money to empower a political party, the same money that will prevent the rise of strong alternative parties. Even the wealth of the Tea Party movement has not been enough to disentangle it from the GOP.
One party or another has been poised to save our republic all my life. Instead, the country stumbles on in spite of partisan conspiracies and sweetheart deals, but not without some of us being thrown overboard to maintain or leverage a ballast of power.
Our elected leaders will continue to present us with more stupidity than wisdom until the demise of the two party system. From my perspective, that demise cannot come too soon, although I Hope for partisan supremacy enables us to lurch into a new year, a new decade, without having learned from our most horrible mistakes. Federal tax cuts for the rich and clinging to the nation’s most regressive tax system in Washington are bad enough, but to go on and on with un-winnable wars tells me that the baby has been thrown out so we may keep the bathwater. The leadership of each party insists, not that it can lead us to peace, but that it can create and engage enemies in the way that will best serve the rich and powerful.
It’s the time of year to reflect upon Martin Luther King, Jr., and I’ve been complaining for years that Americans refuse to honor him for the things that made him great or to remember his wisest admonitions. As Republicans and Democrats scramble to claim Dr. King’s legacy, I’ll be reminded of the (civil rights hero) Vincent Harding interview in the fall issue of Fellowship (you should read FOR’s magazine). Harding’s response to hearing about African Americans struggling for institutional acceptance during the civil rights movement was, “…we don’t want to be included in the mainstream. We want to create a new river.” I’ll continue to vote, and mostly for Democrats, I’m sure, when confined to the mainstream, but when we who yearn for progress create a new river, those old, rich, tired, unimaginative parties will be left in the ditch.