"When you believe in things you don't understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain't the way."
-- Stevie Wonder
An October 14 story by Tom Raum of Associated Press proclaimed "Bush Keeps Revising War Justification." That's hardly news, but Raum makes a pretty good point about the neocon administration's shifting war aims.
Initially, the rationale was specific: to stop Saddam Hussein from using what Bush claimed were the Iraqi leader's weapons of mass destruction or from selling them to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.
But 3 1/2 years later, with no weapons found, still no end in sight and the war a liability for nearly all Republicans on the ballot Nov. 7, the justification has become far broader and now includes the expansive "struggle between good and evil."
That's about the size of it. The harder it comes to justify our woebegone war in Iraq, the more abstract the justification has become, and "evil" is about as abstract (and subsequently irrational) a reason to fight a war as there is.
The Good, the Bad, and the Manipulated
Some people believe in the concept of an abstract "evil," some don't. I choose not to, not out of any particular spiritual or moral conviction, but because belief in forces that exist beyond the physical universe leads to superstitious thinking and irrational actions.
We have much to fear from both nature and our fellow human beings, but that doesn't necessarily make either of them "evil." Lightning is not something that spiteful, malicious god-like creatures hurl to earth to make it a living hell. It's a natural phenomenon, and the more we understand lightning's underlying scientific aspects, the better we can learn to protect ourselves from it.
It's probably fair to say that all human beings have baser instincts, instincts that spring from our need to survive as individuals and as a species. Most of us learn to harness these base instincts in constructive ways that allow us to exist peaceably in society. A lot of us don't. Among those who develop anti-social behaviors, some end up in prison and some turn into monsters. It's easy to fall into thinking of a Hitler or a Stalin as being "evil personified," but to do so is to grant them a supernatural status that makes them virtually undefeatable. But, as history shows, the rest of humanity defeated both Hitler and Stalin, and it didn't do so with talismans or exorcisms.
Any time the word "evil" crops up in war propaganda, the intent is to throw irrational fear into the hearts and minds of a political leader's following. By frightening a populace into an irrational state, the political leader clears the way to act in any manner he wishes without having to give rational explanations for those actions to his followers.
Hence it is that any time young Mister Bush and his echo choir are pressed to give specifics on strategies or war aims, they shift to the "evil" meme, a meme so primal that it strikes a chord not only neoconservative's autistic religious right base, but in self-styled skeptical sons of the enlightenment like little old me.
That's the really scary part of all this. As much education and experience as I have in military and foreign policy issues, and in propaganda techniques, and as much effort and thought as I've put into deconstructing this administration's lunatic policies and rationalizations, they still at times throw enough oogey-boogey into me to make me want--if only briefly--to believe everything else they say and go along with whatever they want to do. That gives me a profoundly frightening perspective on the effect their manipulations must have on the portions of the population that are predisposed to believe and follow them.
So is it any wonder that when the Rovewellians throw doggerel like "If we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here " into the Big Brother Broadcast, nobody in the "base" or even in the so-called "liberal media" bothers to ask "What does 'withdraw' mean?" or "What is the 'job?'" or "How will we know when the 'job' is 'done?'" or "Who is the 'enemy?'" or "How will the 'enemy' follow us here?"
The mouth breathers of the base are so brainwashed and brain dead from all the "evil" talk that they don't have capacity to imagine such questions, and the "liberal media" won't ask them for fear of being labeled part of the evil-doer axis and losing audience share to the Big Brother Broadcast (Fox News, AM talk radio, etc.).
It saddens me no end to see how far my country has turned from its original moral and intellectual principles. America's greatest founding fathers--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine--were students and proponents of the 18th century Enlightenment Movement, a philosophy that sought to replace the superstition and tyranny of what we now call the Medieval Age with scientific methods, logic, and individual rights, dignity and determination.
Under its present neoconservative rule, America is headed back to creating the very kind of world it sought to change. When I was a kid, George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 were taught in American elementary and high schools as examples of the evils of Leninist socialism. Today, they reflect the basic tenets of American neoconservative capitalism. The very kinds of absolute powers King George III tried to impose on the American colonies are the very same sort of absolute powers President George III wants to exercise on the United States of America. And given the state of technology in our age, President George has more tools at his disposal to impose tyranny than either George the king or George the author could have imagined.
Democratic victories in the November congressional elections won't solve all of America's problems, but that's the best hope we have to keep our country from turning into the stuff of a futuristic dystopia novel. If the Republicans manage to keep control of the legislature, the best strategy I can think of for what's left of the enlightened segment of the American population is to take a page from Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451. Start memorizing your favorite books and stake out a cave to hide in before the Great Satan starts fire-hosing your home library with kerosene.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.