Friday, January 26, 2007

Idealism and ideology

As domestic support for the adventure in Iraq continues to collapse, a number of America's pro-war bloggers have quietly ignored Bush's inept State of the Union address and instead focused on a blog post by Mark Daily, a Lieutenant in the US army who was killed a couple of weeks ago in the city of Mosul. Daily's post, which was made when he was preparing to leave for Iraq, attempts to explain why he volunteered to fight in an unpopular war:

Much has been said about America's intentions in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and seeking to establish a new state based upon political representation and individual rights. Many have framed the paradigm through which they view the conflict around one-word explanations such as "oil" or "terrorism," favoring the one which best serves their political persuasion. I did the same thing, and anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq...

I joined the fight because it occurred to me that many modern day "humanists" who claim to possess a genuine concern for human beings throughout the world are in fact quite content to allow their fellow "global citizens" to suffer under the most hideous state apparatuses and conditions. Their excuses used to be my excuses...

My fellow "humanists" and I would relish contently in our self righteous declaration of opposition against all military campaigns against dictatorships, congratulating one another for refusing to taint that aforementioned fragile moral ecosystem that many still cradle with all the revolutionary tenacity of the members of Rage Against the Machine and Greenday. Others would point to America's historical support of Saddam Hussein, sighting it as hypocritical that we would now vilify him as a thug and a tyrant. Upon explaining that we did so to ward off the fiercely Islamist Iran, which was correctly identified as the greater threat at the time, eyes are rolled and hypocrisy is declared...

Maybe the reality of politics makes all political action inherently crude and immoral. Or maybe it is these adventures in philosophical masturbation that prevent people from ever taking any kind of effective action against men like Saddam Hussein. One thing is for certain, as disagreeable or as confusing as my decision to enter the fray may be, consider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately.

The tragedy of Mark Daily is that, like a number of people who should have known better, he thought that the US government and armed forces could be a force for human rights and democracy. There were young idealistic men who signed up to fight in Vietnam for the same reason - one of them is portrayed in Oliver Stone's movie 'Platoon'. The promotion of democracy was claimed as the goal of the Vietnam War, of Reagan's proxy wars in Central America, and of numerous other episodes in the history of American and other imperialisms.

Perhaps Mark Daily never encountered those principled left-wing critics of the war who argued that the most right-wing administration in US history, which had a record of attacking unions and minorities at home and was stuffed full of veterans of the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan regimes that sponsored death squads in the name of democracy in Latin America, could never be trusted to bring a better life to Iraqis.

If the left and the workers' movement were stronger in the US, and able to act as more of a pole of attraction for idealistic young people, then perhaps Mark Daily would have become an activist for an organisation like US Labor Against the War, which organises solidarity with and aid to Iraqi trade unionists, and thus turns idealism into something constructive. Perhaps he would be taking the new statement from the AFL-CIO calling for withdrawal from Iraq into his workplace, instead of dying pointlessly amidst a humiliated and hostile population.

On the other hand, Daily's apologies for Reagan's proxy war against Iran read disturbingly like an exercise in the moral nihilism we have come to associate with both the Kissingerian and neo-con factions of the US elite. Perhaps he was an ideologue who was never going to find out about the reality of the war in Iraq the easy way. The remarks in the comments box under Daily's post make for upsetting reading now. The brainless jingoism of the 'God bless our troops' brigade of keyboard warriors is sad; the messages from people who appear to be friends or family members are even sadder.


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