Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Perpetuating War by Exalting Its Sacrifices

I've posted this quotation before, but it deserves to be posted this weekend, when we will be bombarded with messages about honoring the war dead and wounded. The victims of George II's war program deserve pity not honor, pity that they were fodder for cynical politics and then used to propagandize the rest of us so more would eager victims would be found. Just remember how our rulers exploited the death of Pat Tillman. The blood-thirsty war chorus couldn't get enough of it. I recall Rush Limbaugh's unending hosannas. When you listen to the militarists safe behind their microphones, you sense that they are desperately trying to convince themselves that Bush's wars are really holy causes.

The quote, the best summation of why we should not honor the war dead, comes from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily, script by Paddy Chayefsky. The lead character American Charlie Madison (James Garner) speaks to to his English girlfriend's (Julie Andrews) mother, who lost her husband, son, and son-in-law in the World War II:
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.
In other words, it is we who must stop the madness because it is we who make it possible in the first place.


David Houser said...

Arthur Silber used this same quote recently in an excellent essay here: http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2007/05/against-annihilation-of-spirit-let-us.html

He's been cranking out a lot of reaaly good writing lately.

Robert Higgs said...

You conclude: "In other words, it is we who must stop the madness because it is we who make it possible in the first place." Well, yes and no, Sheldon. Forgive me if I call attention to a point that you, perhaps least of all, need to be lectured on.

I have long maintained that "we," along with the related words "us" and "our," is the most dangerous word in the political lexicon. Politicians use this kind of talk ceaselessly, and they do so deliberately to dispense with and indeed to deny the very existence of dissenting views and values. Scarcely ever, though, does any large group achieve unanimity on anything, and in a huge group such as the U.S. population, unanimity is never achieved. So a minority's views and values are always being disregarded whenever one says that "we" are to blame, or deserve credit, for anything.

A few years ago, I wrote a commentary piece for the San Francisco Chronicle called "How Does the War Party Get Away with It?" When the article appeared in print, the Chronicle had given it the title "The War Party's Enablers: All of Us." I was upset by this switch because the whole point of my argument was that certain groups and cultural tendencies constituted or supported the war party and that those groups and tendencies did NOT constitute the whole of American society. Indeed, the idea that a "war party" operates would seem to imply that an "antiwar party" also exists.

Maybe I'm too touchy about this point, but as I reflect on how relentlessly politicians and their media mouthpieces employ this little rhetorical trick, I have grown exceedingly allergic to it.

Sheldon Richman said...

I take your point. I had in mind Boetie's theme that the ruled always outnumber the rulers and that in principle the ruled could end its acquiescence and stop the atrocities. Like you, I do not believe "we" are committing murder in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know very well specifically who is making that possible.