Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Elsewhere: Hayes, Silly Season Stuff

At Greg's place today, I did a post about things that don't matter much during the president race, at least not as far as affecting the November vote is concerned.

And at Post Partisan I followed up on a terrific Conor Friedersdorf post about the Chris Hayes flap over the weekend. I'll say a bit more here about how I understand the history of this. During Vietnam, some (many?) antiwar protesters targeted the troops themselves. Remember that the draft was on during most of this period, and anyone who didn't approve of the war had to decide whether to be drafted anyway; to find some way of getting out of it; or to refuse the draft and accept the consequences. With that as the backdrop, antiwar protesters (again: some? many?) applied the logic of their own choice to everyone else, under the logic that if everyone refused to fight, the war could not be fought. This was never pretty, but apparently it occasionally (frequently? rarely?) got ugly, with returning troops confronted, and, at least as legend has it, spat upon.

After the war, liberals rethought the whole thing, and decided that had been a mistake, both on practical political grounds (because it was a stupid tactic unlikely to win friends) and on moral and policy grounds. The result has been a thirty-year or more absolute line among mainstream liberals, which I believe extends even to the real lefties, to blame policy-makers but to treat the troops with respect and admiration.

All that is off the top of my head, so no citations, but I think it's all basically true.

What's too bad about all this, from my point of view, is that it has also produced a sort of arms race of overt patriotism, a lot of it militaristic, that is certainly not to my taste, at the very least, and I might if I thought about it oppose substantively. I think the consensus "support the troops" position is just fine, and I'm also perfectly okay with calling all those who serve in the military "heroes." And I like a certain amount of overt patriotism: I love 4th of July parades, and flags in front yards, and patriotic music. But I can't stand the 7th inning God Bless America (and not just because it's far from my favorite patriotic song), and I don't like the major-sporting-event fly-bys, and generally I think a great and proud nation should tone it down a few levels.


  1. I don't mind the national anthem at sporting events, although admittedly I don't really pay attention unless it's going on too long. I hate God Bless America at those events because of the first word in the title.

  2. The incidents of maltreatment of soldiers returning from Viet Nam did occur, but were *extremely* rare. I think, even at the time (and at least amongst the anti-war people I associated with) was to sympathaize (not fetishize) the troops, and to blame the policy-makers. Again, that was not a unanimous approach, but it was clearly the dominant one. The political wisdom of the"don't blame the troops; blame the MacNamaras" stance was pretty obvious. Even then.

    1. I disagree. I remember widespread suspicion about returning troops, and epithets like "baby-killer" being tossed around readily. My memory is based on living in New York state, so maybe it was different elsewhere, but I also recall nightly newscasts showing that kind of shouting by protesters.

      I still hear (in my college town) progressives who want soldiers to resist almost of their orders. So there are still some who put close to blanket blame on our soldiers. Well, just goes to show that some people never see their own errors.

  3. I was protesting age in about '68. I never saw or heard about any such incidents. And by then, there were quite a few vets among the protesters.

  4. Following Gordon's observation of the rarity of protesting the troops (even as those incidents were startling), I think the explanation for such behavior is fairly simple:

    1) A nation at war attempts to co-opt some of its young men to serve.
    2) Most go, some stay home for legitimate reasons, and others collect more shady deferments.
    3) Those who collect shady deferments will, by Dale Carnegie logic, think their position is entirely justified.
    4) Most of this last group will do a decent job keeping a lid on the cognitive dissonance, but some won't, from which subset you will find the folks that spit on soldiers (to bolster their own failing sense of justification for not serving).

    No draft = no excuses necessary = no baggage = no mistreatment of soldiers.

  5. One other thing, I was totally gonna let this go for fear of starting unpleasantries, but I assume that the endorsement of Friersdorf's column is net of the horrendous series of questions at the bottom, the reading of which feels a bit like being an uncomfortable fly-on-the-wall at a nerd's therapy session.

    Friersdorf attempted to put boundaries on military heroism by asking the following, excruciating, rhetorical question at the end of the first paragraph:

    Had Lynndie England died in Iraq, would she have been a hero?

    When one considers Friersdorf's personality, physical appearance and equity, one can imagine the therapist taking that question to mean:

    Because Lynndie England was in Iraq, does that mitigate against my dweeby-Conor-Friersdorf-lack-of-heroism?

    Backyard referred to Friersdorf as a damp squib the other day. Apt, and timely.

    1. "Damp squib." Sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn't. backyard seems to always defend conservatives, so I don't think backyard can admit it when Conor has reasonable criticism of fellow conservatives.

      Also, what does Conor's physical appearance have to do with anything in this discussion?

    2. MP, thanks for taking up the discussion. Sometime after Friersdorf asked his umpteenth rhetorical question, the collection of which attempt to put boundaries on the concept of military heroism, there's a bit of that 'methinks he doth protest too much'.

      Perhaps it is wrong, but source matters. Those rhetorical questions sound a lot different coming from someone like the Sheldon character on tv's The Big Bang Theory than from someone like the late Pat Tillman. Might be unfair, but I think that's how many folks see it.

    3. ModeratePoli,

      Most of his article seemed reasonable to me. I'm a Reason style libertarian who has stopped voting for Democrats (not that it matters) because of racial and gender policies that many liberals can back without being (they think) harmed. I even reject "Support the troops" because most conservatives will eventually admit it amounts to "support the war." I think that most government action is reckless and overly coercive and that includes war.

      Friedersdorf damped it up some by lauding Hayes's echo chamber.

      John McWhorter's recent b-head with Loury on the Riley brouhaha was neat, but there's never any reason for Michelle Goldberg.

  6. Truth be told, I think that troop-dislike is more prevalent amongst the left than the right.

    Let's leave aside the question of whether such dislike is warranted or politically wise.

    It's just human nature to demonize those opposed to you. And the military is fairly overwhelmingly Republican in their voting habits and identities. So, it should only be natural for liberals to dislike them, and Christian conservatives, and the wealthy, and southerners, etc. Just as Republicans feel less warmly towards the poor, Latinos, environmentalists, unions, gays, and blacks. (BTW, all these differences on the NES feeling thermometers are statistically significant, though none are particularly huge besides unions, christian conservatives, and environmentalists....ie, the more explicitly political identities)

    But the difference in feeling thermometer scores on the military among extreme libs and extreme cons is 25 points. Ignoring those relatively uncommon folks, the difference between libs and cons is 19 points. That difference comes from the lower ends, as few extreme cons are below 85 and few cons are below 50, whereas 40 or below is relatively common amongst liberals (14%) and extreme liberals (31%).

    So, I think it's relatively uncommon, but far from unheard of (with 40 or lower making up nearly 18% of all those that identify as liberal or extremely liberal, although the bulk of those are at 40...lower than 40 is rare...less than 10%).

    1. The simplistic view of the far left is that the record of the US military since the collapse of the USSR has been fairly reprehensible. Both Iraq wars were largely reprehensible: from the motives (cheap oil, scoring political points) to the results. People who volunteer to kill people for this organization are also fairly reprehensible, not heroes.

    2. purusha - your GW argument is actually a pretty good illustration of Matt Jarvis' point. I agree that those wars were reprehensible within the frame that American liberals discuss them. But are you sure you think about them correctly?

      In the early 1970s, a young, up-and-coming Iraqi VP in whichever Sunni regime was about to get tossed, came to the conclusion that his country's great oil wealth was being diminished by imperialist manipulation. He realized that a cartel would be in his nation's interest, if against US interests, and thus OPEC was born, good for Iraq, bad for Jimmy Carter.

      There was no reporting of this young, cunning oil minister in the US media, but someone like the head of the CIA would have known who he was, and what he was up to, no? A decade-and-a-half later the aspirational oil guy would be the head of Iraq, from which he would conquer Kuwait, while the CIA head would now be POTUS.

      About six weeks after that conquest, the former CIA head gave a famous speech to Congress, in which the now-POTUS pointed out that the Iraqi guy had troops massed on the Saudi border, that he was intent on rolling up that country next, on his way to being a modern Suleiman ruling over a new Ottoman Empire. The US will never allow that, the POTUS/former CIA head told Congress.

      Congress, which is populated largely by Johnny-come-lately morons, many of whom had never heard of Saddam Hussein six weeks prior, laughed at the POTUS forecast. The polity, equally moronic, joined Congress in the scoffing. So the narrative changed, it became about freeing the Kuwaitis, a vastly different justification than empire prevention, but the kind of thing that sold well within the dumb-ass American population.

      If we think about that war within the frame of Bush's speech to Congress, and not all the served-up-for-the-stupid manipulations that followed, we may still decide, as uber-pacificists or non-interventionists, that if Saddam wants to build an empire, its no concern of ours.

      There is the small matter of Israel, an embattled little country surrounded by hostile weak neighbors. If Saddam had his way, Israel would have been surrounded by one very menacing neighbor. Maybe we don't care about Israel. Lot of nukes there, though, to allow their stress to be ratcheted up so much. In which case, perhaps the whole globe supported the first Gulf War.

      In summary...we decide that we dislike or devalue soldiers based on our interpretation of the reason for their mission. But as likely as not we got that interpretation from listening to idiots. So I'd always give the troops, at least, the benefit of the doubt.

  7. "I'm also perfectly okay with calling all those who serve in the military "heroes."

    And you're perfectly okay with knowing all children are above average? We're in Lake Woebegon country now.

    Have yet to see anyone recognize heroism in any of our foes.
    (An old geezer who still has Audie Murphy's memoir which I recommend to all.)

  8. I was a young woman with draft age friends and family during the Viet Nam conflict, attending school in San Francisco. I had many friends who were peace activists, and knew many who served. My brother was a Navy Corpsman with the Marines in Viet Nam. My future husband was Special Forces -- he saw a lot of action, mostly in places where most Americans didn't even realize other Americans were fighting (Central America primarily) and while he did participate in missions in Southeast Asia, he never served in Viet Nam itself (many of his close friends did).

    Having seen the domestic conflict from both sides, I'd like to say this; the notion that peace activists were hostile to the soldiers themselves is mostly BS. Not to say there weren't all kinds of jerks who may have used all kinds of excuses to act like jerks, but among the large population of this country, you can find examples of any kind of behavior you are seeking.

    Among the Viet Nam era vets I know, none were ever spit on, etc. And among those who marched -- including myself -- most marched in the hope of helping to bring our soldiers, people we loved and respected, home sooner.

    Always overlooked is this -- many Americans who "supported" the war were angry at those soldiers for LOSING THE WAR. And demeaning attitudes were as likely to come from supporters of the war, especially WWII vets, who, blamed the soldiers for not winning the war. "We won OUR war" sneered by a member of the VFW, was, in fact, the most outrageous example of disrespect for his service that my brother encountered after returning home.

    In judging the many myths about how peace activists reacted to those who served, ask yourself this? Why didn't "supporters" of the war -- the majority of Americans -- welcome these soldiers home with more enthusiasm? Why didn't they support efforts to honor them? I think in doing so you'll realize it was because they didn't think they were heroes. They thought they were failures. That guy spitting on soldiers at the airport that we always hear about -- if he exists, I don't think, in the context of the times, you can assume he wasn't a war supporter.

    When my brother returned to the University of Arizona -- a conservative campus -- after the war, he was most offended by those people who, in his words, "sat on their ass in the quad arguing for the war in one breath, and talking about their strategies for avoiding becoming "cannon fodder" in the next."

    Is there really any reason to believe that people like Cheney and others who put so much energy and effort into avoiding a war they supposedly believed in and believe other people should fight really had any respect at all for those other people?

    1. Being a missionary in la France is also convenient.


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