May 24, 2004

MY COUNTRY, RIGHT OR WRONG? Cathy Young more or less takes me to task in this Boston Globe piece. While agreeing that some members of the press's "obscene gloating" over U.S. problems in Iraq is "repugnant," she quotes me from this post: "It's wrong to root for your country's defeat."

To be fair, she more or less includes the entire quote, which reads:

It's wrong to root for your country's defeat. Especially when that defeat would mean the death of innocents. And surely it's worse still when it's merely for domestic political advantage.

But, she asks: "Yet what if your country, or your government, is engaged in a war that is unjust and immoral?"

(Note that she explicitly says she doesn't think that's the case with the current war: "it is an indisputable fact that, for good or bad reasons, we went to war against a brutal, sadistic regime in Iraq -- a regime that was the worst enemy of its own people.")

I'm not a "my country, right or wrong," guy. But I do think that if patriotism means anything it means giving one's own country the benefit of the doubt -- of which, in the case of this war, there's not really much need for -- and that the people I was discussing in that post are doing quite the opposite and adopting a "my country -- of course it's wrong" attitude. To root for your own country's defeat is to separate yourself from its polity, to declare it not worth saving or preserving, to declare the lives of its soldiers less important than your own principles. It's not always wrong, but it's a very a drastic step, as drastic as deciding to mount a revolution, really, and yet it's often taken by superficial people for superficial -- and, as in this case, tawdry and self-serving -- reasons.

If Bush really were Hitler, it would be different. A Nazi America wouldn't be worth saving, and its polity would be worth separating oneself from. But we're so far from that situation, as Young herself notes, that such discussions are entirely academic, and those who are rooting against America in Iraq have hardly demonstrated the moral courage and personal sacrifice that such a serious step demands, if it is to be taken seriously. If Bush is really Hitler, is filing slanted copy a sufficient response? But the real problem isn't that Bush is Hitler -- just that he's a Republican, which puts a very different face on things. I don't think that Young is one of those Libertarians who denounces the very concept of patriotism, but (though I could have been clearer in my post, I guess, but this seemed painfully obvious to me) I think that she should have thought this column through a bit more.

UPDATE: Reader Peter Bocking emails:

Rooting for the other side is also tacitly saying that the person next to you is your enemy and a legitimate target. The Bush/Hitler comparison would be hilarious if it were not so insultingly ugly.These people can only say this precisely because Bush is not Hitler; their ignorance ensures that if history does repeat itself they won't recognise it.

I don't really think they want the terrorists to win the war. But they don't take the consequences of their winning in Iraq seriously, compared to their desire to get rid of Bush.