“…emotionally potent over-simplifications must be provided by myth makers.” (Reinhold Niebuhr, 20th Century theologian and social thinker. This same disregard of ‘regular citizen’, and belief they must be ‘guided’ with simplistic, emotional, information, has prevailed in modern democracy for centuries. Niebuhr is still much admired.)
I’ve spent my entire “should be doing other stuff” day working on this. I’ve not accomplished much for several days – Syria, the proposal to bomb it – has been too much on my mind. I’ve needed to gather my thoughts. To find a way to share what’s on my mind. This post is the result. I hope it offers value to you in your thoughts about Syria, and in your thoughts about ‘where we are’ vs ‘where we might be’ as humanity on earth.
There are many strong objections to the American government’s proposal – that the most intelligent response to murderous and deadly gas (presumed Sarin) used on a population – is to bomb and smash chosen targets in Syria.
Washington legislators say they’re receiving high-volume constituency comment by fax, email and phone. Some offices report calls at ‘phone ringing off hook’ pace. Objections to the proposed bombing run ten to one (10:1) against. Whatever your reasons for objection – I urge you to continue to inform your Senators and Congresspeople that you object. Those of you in other nations – please consider the issue – it’s critical help if you can inform your governments similarly.
In sharing my thoughts, I won’t review the many valid arguments against the bombing plan. The list is too long, and covers too wide a range of ‘argument categories’. Categories range from “We’re being told half and bent truths by plan promoters”, to “What humanitarian logic is there to cause civilian ‘collateral deaths’ for sake a statement against killing?”, to “For dollars spent, we could send aide to Syrian refugees and also address poverty and broken infrastructure at home.”
Much of the American public may be “war weary” but the phrase almost suggests something trivial. We aren’t tired children in need of naps, following which, we’d be enthusiastic for war. Americans are war-weary at a profound level. We object to bombing Syria on humanitarian grounds. We’re war-weary because we are tired of helping blow up people and countries.
But – I am also concerned. Old habits die hard, and Americans are accustomed to approving war, or to ‘eventually’ tolerating it. A ‘full court press of persuasion’, as it has been described, is on us – especially on our legislators. Those doing the pressing are powerful people. It takes uncommon resolve to stand up to them.
Thoughts on standing up to powerful people: American culture often shows “deference to hierarchical authority.” Citizens defer to legislators. Legislators defer to party leaders. Many – citizens and legislators alike – defer to those whose official role is to inform, (We might say: “They may have information they can’t share for security reasons, so even though I have questions, I’ll keep them to myself.”).
This deference toward authority is connected to concepts of civilized politeness. It’s “civilized”, it’s “courteous” to “not push too hard” against such authority. It’s thought “rude” and “unseemly” to issue strong challenge to those in higher position.
- Bombing Syria will create havoc, death, and misery for people living in the targeted spots.
- Bombing risks ‘misses’ that destroy buildings and life in non-targeted spots,
- it risks a wider conflagration,
- it even risks all out global war.
- This is no time for deference to an authority that markets “bomb Syria” with strange enthusiasm.
“Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. ” In other words: “those who don’t understand history are doomed to be future villains and victims.” We have not thought our own position through.
If we do not hold fast against this bombing plan, the consequences will be on ‘our heads and hands’ as much as on those with authority over us. If our only power is to speak to one another and to legislators against this plan, then that is what we must do – with appropriate vigor.
The simple act of “courteous deference” can be linked to “being complicit in slaughter”. This is not a choice we imagine we’re making – but in a very real sense, through silence we may be complicit.
Democracy, at its core, is never about silence – and never about ‘hierarchy and deference’.
At its core, democracy is about asking critical questions and drawing intelligent, thoughtful conclusions on behalf of all involved – especially those most vulnerable. Children, families, and neighbors – all alive today in Syria and in refugee camps – cannot speak to our legislators. We must speak for them.
They do not need our bombs in addition to what they already experience.
I want to introduce, (and re-introduce) four sources of insight I find important to questions and conclusions about the plan to bomb Syria. (Note: You can treat the videos as audio. Their information doesn’t depend on ‘visuals’. )
One source of insight is Margaret Heffernan, whose 15 minute TEDx talk is available at my post “What is Willful Blindness vs What is a Whistle-Blower”. I post her TEDx talk again here. A question I ask when I hear Heffernan’s talk is: “In what ways is willful blindness at work in me, and among US citizens, legislators, and policy promoters, in our understanding and response to the gas deaths in Syria?”
Another insight source is Dr. Martin Luther King. In his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”, Dr. King exposes ‘less than savory’ reasons for destroying Vietnam. (I’ve posted a recording of his full speech here.) One thing I gain from hearing his speech is honest recognition that war is seldom fought for reasons our authorities state publicly. This 2008, 18 minute, YouTube production gives special focus to Dr. King’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech. He raises questions on US poverty and US ‘at home’ needs. He proposes an American “true revolution of values”. He describes questions such a revolution of values would address. Among King’s points: “The western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.” … “This (military) way of settling differences is not just.” Near the end of the clip, King urges humanity’s need to go “beyond ones tribe, race, class and nation”.
This also from Dr. King, (4 minutes): In his description of ‘angry young American blacks’ of the time, I ask myself about experiences of the young living in nations we bomb – what do they conclude about the US, about violence?
Third source of insight, this 12 minute clip excerpt from a speech made years ago by Noam Chomsky. In this clip, Chomsky reviews history of modern democracy. He begins with modern democracy’s origins in the 17th Century. What did leaders of the time actually think about “the masses having the vote”? (John Locke: “Day laborers and tradesmen, spinsters and dairy maids must be told what to believe … The greatest part cannot know, therefore they must believe.”) At the time, there was deep concern over increase of pamphlet printing by an emerging literate ‘working class’. One writer/thinker of the time said: “People will become so curious and arrogant they’ll never find humility enough to submit to civil rule”.) In 20th Century, these same sentiments were expressed: (Reinhold Niebuhr: “…emotionally potent over-simplifications must be provided by myth makers.”) At about 5 minutes in, Chomsky touches on American thinker-leader self-congratulation after they’d successfully propagandized a dis-interested public into support for, and participation in, WW1. Chomsky continues into more current times – including late 20thC American government’s intentional intimidation of policy critics.
Finally, I think we need to realistically consider what it may mean when we say war is seldom fought for reasons given to general public. Most relevant is what General Wesley Clark (ret.) revealed in 2007. Clark describes to Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, how he learned of a 2003 US intention to “take out seven countries in five years”, (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran). (The interview was longer, I didn’t find ‘part 2’ completion but this ‘part 1’ has the relevant information.)
Note: I found his comfortable description of his participation in plans to invade Haiti surprising and troubling – he had an option to leave the room, or to resign. He then goes on to speak of importance of asking moral, ethical questions first. I’m not encouraged that he recognized importance of moral, ethical questions – but in that moment, did not follow through himself. However! His larger service is his whistle-blowing. We need to know these things!
(Supplemental to Clark’s revelation: Disturbing half hour YouTube post composite of Clark speaking in several venues, and of other noted leaders, (including Gaddafi), speaking to a range of audiences. They review history, they ‘blow whistles‘. Iran becomes a focus of interest. “General W. Clark tells truth about middle east “uprising””, at YouTube here. Video overall covers “larger plans for the Middle East”.)
I think that it’s entirely likely that “strategy toward larger goals” explains why ‘bombing and smashing’ is the only proposal made to “right the horror of chemical weapons killing hundreds at once in Syria.” I don’t think it’s a ‘humanitarian response’ except by convenience.
Strong thoughts, and troubling. But what do we really want for ourselves, for humanity?
The four resources I’ve posted here are gifts from well-meaning, intelligent, experienced and extremely knowledgeable individuals who hope to share – to ‘show’ us information about ourselves and the world we live in. I deeply believe that, at this time in the 21st Century, we – in the US and in as many nations as possible – must ‘mature to greater wisdom’.
We must match commitment to those who promote war. We must insist that we mean what we say – that our goal is nothing short of genuine thriving – thriving individuals, in thriving community, on a thriving earth.
Attacking Syria does not serve present or future humanity – in Syria or anywhere else. —– We need to let our legislators know.
My Best —MaggieAnn.
Post Script Supplementals. Each link has an excerpt you can read by ‘hover over’. A click takes you to the article:
Supplementals on history of interest in the Mideast’s oil and related current oil-industry ‘turf war’. Industrial age Western interests in the Middle East have always been “about the oil industry”. In time, of course, nations of other ‘blocs’ have also developed oil industry interests in the Middle East. (Note, Iran is named as a central location in both sources #1 and #2. Article #3 is not concerned with location to make it’s essential points.)