Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Caring about the war is so 2008

The end of August marked the close of what is now the bloodiest month for the United States forces in Afghanistan since its presence began there in 2001, with 45 confirmed deaths. I haven’t seen any numbers for Afghan deaths, but given the escalation in violence it seems likely that they were high as well. As you may recall, Afghanistan is where President Obama wants to increase American troop numbers.

I wouldn’t blame the average person all that much if they didn’t recall it, though. It’s not given much attention, compared to the former President Bush’s military decisions. Nor is it criticized very much, since the bulk of the antiwar movement apparently slipped into a coma during Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony and is now descending into a permanent vegetative state.

The rapid drop-off in interest really is remarkable. Principled exceptions exist, but often only throw the rest into sharper relief. For instance, Cindy Sheehan has continued her antiwar campaign into the new administration, calling on Obama to end the war just as she did George W. Bush and protesting at Martha’s Vineyard during Obama’s presence there.

And yet, the woman that so much of the press couldn’t get enough of now barely warrants a mention from either the press or many her former comrades and supporters, something she herself has commented on. I suppose some of the media indifference can be attributed to the fact that the novelty element is gone now that she’s been known for a few years, but the very fact that she is continuing her crusade against the war even with Bush gone seems like something I would expect to draw interest- one of the things that originally made her famous was her utter relentlessness, and so her willingness to go after Democrats as fiercely she did Republicans is a dramatic illustration of the very trait that made her noteworthy to begin with. Apparently, though, the heartbroken mothers of dead soldiers just aren’t very interesting without a Republican in the White House.

I expected most of the American Left to lose interest in the war issue once Obama was in office, and especially once Obama started to escalate American military efforts in Afghanistan. Similarly, I expected them to start finding torture, attacks on civil liberties, and unrestrained executive power much less bothersome once they were wielding those weapons themselves. Perhaps above all else, I expected their whole “dissent is patriotic” shtick to fade away as well. However, I really didn’t expect the change to be quite so abrupt. It's a demonstration of an important lesson libertarians need to keep in mind- neither liberals nor conservatives are actually very good on the issues they're supposedly on the right side of.

This phenomenon- and especially the hysterical liberal reaction to the supposed menace of right-wing extremists with the temerity to use their outdoor voices at protests- reminds me of a scene in the novel 1984. At the height of a Hate Week rally, an Ingsoc Party official is whipping the crowd into a frenzy against Oceania’s hated enemy, Eurasia. Mid-speech, he is quietly handed a document by one of the other officials and instantly starts railing against Oceania’s hated enemy Eastasia, with whom Oceania has always been locked in a deadly struggle alongside Oceania’s steadfast ally Eurasia. The crowd, noticing that all the Hate Week posters still say that Eurasia is the enemy and has always been the enemy, conclude that traitors are trying to sabotage Hate Week by spreading confusion and lies, and in their righteous outrage begin tearing down and destroying posters bearing slogans they had been shouting themselves only moments before. (I don't have the book in front of me, so I may have mixed up Eurasia and Eastasia. Which would be quite fitting, of course.)

I think a lot of it is sincere, in the sense that many of the people acting this way are not motivated by cynical partisan point-scoring and really do feel that things that were outrages crying to Heaven for justice when done by the Bush administration suddenly stop mattering when Obama is in charge. People can have tremendous power to believe things they weant to believe, and too many people have too much emotional energy invested in loving Obama and hating Bush as the definitive evil in American history to start wondering how different they actually are. Much the same can be said of many conservatives.

I wish that weren’t the case- in some ways I find the idea of people behaving that way, and the power of the human mind to warp itself to escape reality, more disturbing than the idea that they are simply amoral hypocrites. Tribalism is a powerful thing, and the drive to believe- not just say, but truly, genuinely believe- what you want to believe is probably even stronger.

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Anonymous said...

Good post. Someone once summarized the left and war by saying something like, "The left doesn't hate war. On the contrary, they only hate wars that they're not in charge of".

Rod Freeman said...

Great post - well written and sums up a lot of my thoughts on the whole thing.

Robin Enhorn said...

There is a good Wikipedia page on something that I think has a lot to do with this behavior:

BTW. The comment:

"(I don't have the book in front of me, so I may have mixed up Eurasia and Eastasia. Which would be quite fitting, of course.)"

Is worth it’s weight in gold. :-D