‘Spectator Patriotism’

By way of my brother John:

Christopher Dickey, a Newsweek columnist and thoughtful critic of the Iraq war (translation: I agree with him) has a good piece this week reflecting on John Gregory Dunne and Dunne’s interest in patriotism:

“John was interested in patriotism. He was fascinated by the real substance of it, which he saw as diametrically opposed to what he called “the spectator patriotism” exploited by the Bush administration as it went looking for wars. There was something (it took a while for John to put his finger on it) in the fact that several people he knew had children on active duty: historian Doris Kearns had a son, John himself had a nephew, I had a son. We had people we loved in uniform doing what they saw, and we understood, imperfectly perhaps, as their duty to defend the values and the dreams that are the United States of America. But why were there so few from this circle of acquaintances if the cause was so great?

“John would rage. He was articulate and funny then and always, but such was his passion that I remember him as almost inchoate when he talked about the bastards who wouldn’t end their Global War on Terror, which was conceived in rhetoric and dedicated to their re-election, yet would send America’s sons and daughters on futile errands of suffering and slaughter.

From past experience, I’ve seen evidence that Dickey actually reads the responses to his columns. So I spent some time writing one. The inequity of sending our military volunteers to suffer the consequences of their leaders’ ineptitude and dishonesty is an unresolved problem for the entire society and one we’ll be living with for decades (just as we’re still living with the legacy of having sacrificed so many conscripted soldiers in Vietnam). My “answer” to Dickey:

“I think Dunne’s sense of this issue, and yours, is spot on as far as it goes. Sacrifices must be shared. We must not fight wars to which we’re not fully committed (though bear in mind that that standard kept us out of World War I for nearly three years and, absent Pearl Harbor, probably would have kept us out of World War II indefinitely).

“But what do we do with that knowledge? Do we get behind people like John Conyers and Charles Rangel and demand the draft be reinstated? There’s an attractive school of thought that a universal draft — if one were started, I’d hope that women would be conscripted, too — would give everyone a personal stake in the war in Iraq and make the civilians who launched this thing more accountable. I’m not sure I buy that — more than half the Americans who died in Vietnam were killed *after* the Tet offensive, when the anti-war movement was already rolling along. Yet, a fair draft, perhaps with a national service alternative, *could* democratize the war and perhaps counter a tendency, which Bush encourages with no shame or sense of irony, to lionize the warriors, cozen up to them, and cast those who don’t support his military adventure as fifth columnists.

“Here’s the thing: I have two draft-age sons. I don’t know how I’d sleep if they and their friends were under arms now and their commanders were as casually deceitful and incompetent as the crew we have in charge now. For me, the principle of the thing — that it’s unfair and undemocratic to impose the war sacrifice on a small slice of society, even if they volunteered for service — is at war with my personal horror at the further ruin of young lives to so little apparent purpose. I also wonder about the equity of codgers like me (my draft number was supposed to come up in 1972, but it was never called) sending the young ones off to kill and be killed. If there’s going to be a national sacrifice, all the non-retired generations should be made to play a part beyond our penchant for uttering fine phrases.”

One Reply to “‘Spectator Patriotism’”

  1. Shortly after 9/11 the Vice President said we have Saddam Hussein “in a box”, pointing out that he was not a threat. Irony is that four years on these guys are the ones in the box, along with the rest of the country.
    We all should ” put up” something that goes beyond the abstract idea that we participate because we sign our 1040s every April. It would give people pause to know that they have a personal stake in these misbegotten ventures and the nation might get into fewer situations like these if people knew they had something “real” at risk. All that said, I look at the administration in DC and feel there is no power to which they have access which they would shrink from abusing. The war powers act in 2002 and Patriot Act have been abundantly abused by this crew. And Congress was/is breathtakingly gutless in granting these powers without a whole lot of debate. I suppose this last item is not a surprise since they are voting to let someone else do all the heavy lifting. Point is, I am against giving these guys a chance to expand their power. Conscription would give them a fresh pool of bodies to send overseas…wiggle room in their plan to do whatever it is they are trying to do…in Iraq…or anyplace else. If these guys–in the administration–were allowed to write parking tickets they’d find a way to abuse that.
    It would be great to get beyond spectator patriotism but I fear that having a draft would just backfire on us all. People should get out and vote instead of sitting on their hands every four years. Demographics being what they are in this country there is no reason these Vandals should ever been voted into office. That, I reckon, is the real patriotic duty or at least where it begins.

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