Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.
~ Thomas Jefferson
Many Americans are acting like members of a lynch mob who later become aware of their viciousness and attempt to disguise their involvement. When President Bush finally got his long-planned Middle East war games going, most Americans hid their erstwhile sense of decency and responsibility behind the statist flag. Once the war mania was underway, eighty percent of my neighbors had flags flying from their homes. One household even took to holding occasional revival-like meetings in their front yard, with patriotic songs helping to reinforce the statist mindset.
Just as the lynch mob later discovered, to its embarrassment, that the hired hand they had hanged had not murdered his employer, the whooping-and-hollering chorus of flag-wavers slowly became aware that there were neither WMDs nor an Al-Qaeda connection in Iraq. Mr. Bush and his neo-anderthal co-conspirators had fed the world a steady diet of lies. The flags began to disappear from homes and cars. Now only ten to fifteen percent of my neighbors continue to fly the statist symbol.
Increasing numbers of Americans now realize that they had allowed themselves to be gulled. But so deep was their psychic investment in Mr. Bush’s necktie party, that most were unwilling to cut their losses, admit to egregious moral error on their part, and demand an end to the continuation of the deadly fraud. Because the flag had become an expression of war-mania, these people no longer felt comfortable hiding behind it. What evolved from this foggy state of moral confusion were the bumper-stickers with the words u201Cpeace is patrioticu201D superimposed over a picture of the flag. One could thus appear to be both a patriot — even as the government continued its butchery — and an advocate of peace!
But the lies, deceptions, and forgeries soon escalated into clear evidence of torture practiced upon Iraqis by brutish American thugs emulating the same kind of behavior that made Hussein’s regime tyrannical. Even the major media outlets — who had eagerly served as megaphones for statist propaganda — became aware that what little credibility they had in reserve would quickly be spent by continuing to ignore what the rest of the world — including those of us who rely more on the Internet for information — knew to be true. American military and foreign policy was being conducted by those whose principles and values were contrary to the character and sense of decency by which most people like to think of themselves.
What a dilemma this poses for those who have supported the war. Through years of conditioning, they have learned to identify themselves with u201Ctheiru201D government, and are thus unprepared to see that the state’s principal function has always been the conduct of wars. On the other hand, they regard themselves as too decent to sanction a war that was carefully put together by an administration of pathological liars. If one is not psychologically prepared to admit to his or her moral malleability, where does one go to hide from that harshest of critics: one’s inner sense of self?
Once again, the bumper-sticker industry came to the rescue of weak-souled Americans. Out came what has become the generic, noncommittal attitude about the war: u201Csupport the troops.u201D Here is a phrase which, like the word u201Cdemocracy,u201D means absolutely nothing and, for that very reason, means everything to those whose souls are in hiding. To the war-supporter, it means u201Csupport the troops by continuing to support the war and stop being critical of the president.u201D To opponents of the war, it means u201Csupport the troops by ending the war and bringing them home.u201D
If you saw one of these looped-ribbon messages on the back of a car, would you be able to interpret its meaning to the driver? I met a woman in New Hampshire last week who had a bumper-sticker that read: u201Cbring our troops home now.u201D There was no guesswork as to her intentions; she wasn’t hiding behind some empty clich.
Even President Bush — who began his post-9/11 duties hiding out in a bunker outside Omaha — continues to reveal himself only within environs in which he will be safe from public criticism. Having discovered the bipartisan docility of Congress, he has no fear of speaking before this body. His other public speeches are at settings supportive of his views: military bases, the White House rose garden, right-wing Christian groups and colleges, contrived so-called u201Ctown hallu201D meetings, military academies, or business associations. When he is required to go out into the hostile world peopled by ordinary Americans — such as at the Republican National Convention — his critics are forcibly penned up in barb-wired u201Cfree speechu201D zones far from the convention site.
If this man has so much confidence in his programs and policies, why is he too cowardly to defend them before a genuine American public? Why does he not schedule addresses at the University of California—Berkeley or Columbia University, either of which could be sandwiched in between appearances at Bob Jones University or the Air Force Academy?
President Bush knows better than to try to defend his policies before audiences that he is unable to control. He will continue to insist upon hiding out in safe neighborhoods, as in his recent speech at Ft. Bragg. But the Bush leaguers may have made a fatal calculation error in selecting this seemingly secure stage. His in-house audience — the young men and women who will be sent off to risk death or serious injury in furtherance of his wicked policies — was clearly unmoved by his words. Even the one instance of audience applause was reportedly cheer-led by White House flacks. Dubya may have over-reached himself and, like children playing u201Chide-and-seek,u201D may have to search out new hiding places in a world of rapidly-shrinking alternatives.
I read one response to Bush’s speech from a man whose words echoed reactions I have heard from others. While acknowledging that over 1,700 American military people had thus far been killed, along with many thousands of Iraqi civilians, the man said that such costs are u201Cworth it.u201D This man apparently took his cues from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who, in defense of her administration’s boycotts that led to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, said u201Cthe price is worth it.u201D
George W. Bush babbles this kind of ruthless logic as well. The military speaks of its personnel as u201Cassets,u201D little more than fungible u201Cresourcesu201D to be moved around at the will of the state’s master butchers. President Bush is comfortable being the calculator of the worth of the lives of people. A man who was sufficiently well-connected to be able to hide out in Alabama while other men died in Vietnam, now hides out in his personal fortresses from which he is free to direct the killings of others.
Unlike the soldiers at Ft. Bragg, neither President Bush, Ms. Albright, nor other armchair war-supporters, will be the ones who will pay the u201Cpriceu201D of such vicious behavior. These are the people who remain at home, safe from the death and dismemberment of battle, able to cheer on the sacrifices of others, and to continue the spread of their own moral leprosy. They will not stand by your children — as you would as a loving parent — but behind them, out of the line of fire, both for their own safety and as a convenient hiding place. But of one thing you can be assured: like their fellow Americans, they will be content to hide their moral and intellectual bankruptcy behind such phrases as u201Csupport the troops.u201D
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.