Q. What do you think of the argument that it’s our patriotic duty to rally behind the troops and quit criticizing this war?
A. That argument is shallow, self-serving, and unpatriotic. If you can’t criticize your government when it goes from planning an unjust, immoral, illegal war to actually fighting an unjust, immoral, illegal war, then what kind of a democracy is this?
Q. Why do you think people make that argument?
A. Different reasons. For the administration, it’s a cynical attempt to use people’s love of their country to stifle questions and dissent. For the ignorant, who have only the most limited understanding of what it means to be a functioning citizen in a democratic society, that’s the extent of their understanding of what patriotism demands. The first is contemptible; the second is pitiful.
Q. Polls show a sharp increase in the numbers of people now supporting the President and the war.
A. I’ve cited polls when they showed the public was dubious about this war. But maybe it’s time to give up on polls, when the government’s propaganda machine dominates all the major media. If your conscience fluctuates with polls, it’s a pretty fickle thing.
Q. But don’t you think we need to show our support for our troops?
A. Depends on what kind of “support” you mean. If you mean we’re supposed to act like cheerleaders for an immoral invasion that devastates a country, and maims and kills thousands of women, children, and men, civilians as well as soldiers, no. If you mean that we hope those soldiers come home safely to their families, yes. People who can’t understand the distinction have a problem.
Q. What do you say to our soldiers and our families?
A. When I say goodbye to somebody I know who is going overseas, I shake his/her hand and say I hope they come back soon, safe and sound, and that they don’t hurt or kill anybody else while they’re over there.
I don’t know about your religion, but I grew up hearing sermon after sermon on the story of the Good Samaritan. I take that parable to mean that someone God chose to have born in Baghdad is just as much my neighbor as somebody God chose to have born in Big Springs, Mt. Zion, or Orma. The President and his advisors spend a lot of time telling us how Christian they are, but it’s a Christianity of convenience. They’re a pretty unbiblical lot.
Q. Should you be criticizing our leader in a time of war?
A. First of all, we wouldn’t even be having a war if Mr. Bush hadn’t done everything conceivable to drag a reluctant country into it, in the face of the opposition of almost all the rest of the civilized and uncivilized world. And second, this isn’t some medieval kingdom where leaders are exempt from criticism through the Divine Right of Kings.
I keep having to say this, but this country is supposed to be a democracy. In a democracy, citizens have not only the right but an obligation to speak. That obligation doesn’t disappear in wartime. In fact, it becomes even more important then. It’s ironic that one of the excuses the administration offers for this war is that we’re going to carry the torch of democracy to the Middle East. We need to get a little better at it at home instead of trying to impose it on somebody in our bombsights.
Q. Don’t you feel guilty about undermining the war effort?
A. Are you serious? The Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” We’ve squandered our treasure for decades on creating the most professional, best-trained, best-armed, best-funded military machine in human history. I think our treasure is in the wrong place. There’s no danger we’ll lose this war; there’s a real danger we’ll lose our soul.
It’s idolatry, and a sin against God and humanity, to ignore human needs and spend more on the military than every other country on the globe combined. That’s sickness of the soul. I’m not interested in “undermining” anything; I’m interested in healing our national spirit.
© Tony Russell, 2003