Dissent

Folks on this site (and others) are doing a great job of concentrating the war news and keeping information addicts such as myself out of withdrawal.

I’ve got a small queue of things stacked up, including a piece on “Political Risk” from the POV of Bush.

But ly, I just can’t bring myself to write about risk from the safety of my desk while men and women (some my son’s age) put themselves at true risk for me.

I’ve been having a number of interesting conversations about the war in my non-pseudo-nominal life, however, and I wanted to bring a few of the points up here.

What I really want to talk about is dissent.

About dissent in wartime, and what it means and what it might mean, and about what I see in dissent, both in the news we all read, and in some of my private conversations.

I don’t think that dissent should be stifled in wartime. But I think that it moves onto a very delicate surface, and one that places great responsibility both on the dissenters and on those who respond to them. This is for one simple reason; wars are ultimately not won with weapons, not with technology or expenditure; they are won with will. They are won with the ‘tested in the fiery heat of the moment’ will of those who soldier on the front lines, and with the ‘restless late at night sleepless’ will of those of us who are at home.

And in my mind, there are two types of dissent. Both aim to change the hearts and minds of the polity, and of their representatives. One speaks to our hopes and plans, and argues with a firm voice and head held high, over the nature of our goals and over the means to attain them. One aims instead to win by whispering in our ears and appealing to fear and doubt, and offers the dissenter the bonus of a self-sustaining feeling of superiority. Not only are they taking a better position, but they are standing up to The Man, and as an extra value, they can cleanse their conscience of all the messy ambiguity and responsibility that one takes on as a member of our society.
I believe in dissent, and think that it is not only something that should be permitted in wartime, but encouraged. We get to the truth through argument and experiment, and that’s the strength of our system.

Den Beste has a piece today on “why the protesters are so lame”. I think his idea is interesting (paranoid, but interesting), and I know for a fact (from discussions with friends who are figures in the Left) that groups like ANSWER and Commonground are looking to the swell of activism to swell their ranks (and, don’t forget, fill their coffers).

But I think the real reason goes to the underlying process, and the desire of the self-selecting protesters not to join in and possibly win a national dialog, but to meet some needs for moral cleanliness and managing one’s identity by confronting authority.

Like a lot of other things, I’ve talked about this at Armed Liberal:

But when I read much of what comes from the left, I’m left with the feeling that they want to consume the benefits that come from living in the U.S. and more generally the West without either doing the messy work involved or, more seriously, taking on the moral responsibility for the life they enjoy.

We enjoy this life because a number of things happened in the world’s (our) history. Many of them involved one group dominating (or brutalizing or exterminating) another, or specific actions (Dresden, Hiroshima) whose moral foundation is sketchy at best.

“Do you think one can govern innocently? Purity is a matter for monks, clerics, not for politicians. My hands are dirty to the elbows. I have shoved them in filth and blood,” Hoederer says in Sartre’s ‘Dirty Hands’.

Part of political adulthood is the maturity to realize that we are none of us innocents. The clothes we wear, money we have, jobs we go to are a result of a long, bloody and messy history.

I see my job as a liberal as making the future less bloody than the past.

Let me give an example from my own history.

Way back in time, when dinosaurs ruled the earth and American soldiers fought in Vietnam, I opposed the war (There’s another piece in the queue – why I opposed that war, and don’t think I was wrong, and why I support this one). I opposed it strongly enough to join teams that organized some fairly large demonstrations against the war. And there was always an interesting dynamic; we organized one demonstration to take place in the Bay Area, and one subgroup announced their intention to fill some cars with gasoline, set them on fire, and so try and close the tunnel into Alameda, a major Naval base.

The pathetic inadequacy of this as a tactic aside, I fought it (literally, we had quite the physical confrontation) because I felt that it was a fundamentally different thing – it was not a political protest, designed to make a political point and sway the opinion of the public and the leadership, it was in essence an attack on the military and the state.

I argued that we wanted to have clear proposals, and structure our demonstrations so that moms would bring their babies in strollers (I won the argument, by the way).

Adolescent fantasies of rebellion aside, these two strains…one arguing for the head and heart, and the other going for the gut…seem to define much of the dissent we see today. We haven’t seen dissenters going as far as my colleagues proposed to do, but the war is yet young (and the police and keepers-of-order are a little further ahead of the curve).

More to follow…

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