National conceit governs the world. No country views itself with impartial eyes.
No country ever gives a full and solid account of its shortcomings, its
failures, its lack of skill and essential capacities.
In order to belittle each other, every country relishes holding up another’s failures, likes to endlessly deride, to depict a rival nation in dark colors as the seat of all the evil in the world – America has done this to the point of exasperation. Yet you learn nothing by dwelling on your idea that you virtues, habits, and victories are superior in meaning and majesty to everybody else’s, yet we Americans continue to do this to the point of nausea.
I have just read two articles whose clumsy language and oceanic complacency irked me t the bottom of the soul. One of them was by Sebastian Junger urged that the United States striker Syria and the other was a retort to Russian leader Putin’s Op-ed in the New York Times.
We have two schools of conceit here. The first school makes us feel invulnerable
in our righteous purposes to the extent that we feel that we are able to correct
the wrongs of the world through brute force, our action to be driven and
excused by our superior “values” and our selfless worship of humanitarian aims.
It is not American welfare that we pursue, it is the worlds. The second article
is a school for helping to develop more insidious and commonplace and
impenetrable national vanity.
Sebastian Junger in The Washington Post wants us to strike Syria for its crimes against its citizens. Never mind that brute force always destroys more than it builds: let’s try another war to make justice reign on Earth. Never mind that it is not permissible to erect the human drama in terms of straight rights and wrongs. Never mind that every collective conflict is a war between a half right that is too willful and a half right that is too proud. Never mind the fact that each of us is restricted to a very narrow vision, gravely conditioned by time, temperament and age, and by the platform on which we happen to be standing. Never mind the thought that it is extremely dubious to view any enemy as the seat of all evil in the world and indulge the grievous sin of having an eye for nothing in a rival country but its crimes. Never mind the thought that all wars, at bottom, are judgments on all of us.
Junger asserts: “At some point, pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death, and
isolationism becomes a form of genocide. It’s not a matter of how we’re going to explain this to the Syrians. It’s a matter of how we’re going to explain this to our kids.”
This is a Samantha Power idea; Samantha has always had a tendency to utter unilateral
But since when does pacifism — an ideology — turn into the machinery of death? At
what point does “isolationism become a form of genocide?” Is there no place for simple skepticism in Junger’s equation? Is skepticism at bottom isolationism? Of course not.
Junger’s argument is absurd. It resembles hitting a note at the far end of the
piano and hitting another note at the other far end and having no knowledge of
the notes that lie in between that act to make music out of noise. There is an
enormous swathe of knowledge that lies between the two notes, and in this
article, they are completely ignored. Qualifications, gradations, modulations,
delicate analysis — all are missing.
Junger says, “It’s a matter of how we’re going to explain this to our kids.” Ah, yes
— appealing to the historical verdict of your kids.
First of all, your kids won’t remember. Trust me. I have a grandson who is thirteen.
He is very sensitive in temperament, alert to undertones, quickly maps the
outline of the personality before him, is thoughtful plus he had a wonderful,
imaginative sense of humor. If a joke hints at a target of ridicule he
instantly grasps it. He is a delight. He is also attending a top rated school
in Denver, and is taking religious classes. I asked him were his teachers
telling him about the Bible. I got a blank stare. I said do you know about
Exodus, the escape of the Israelites from Egypt which founded the Hebrew
religion which helped to form Western Christianity. He hadn’t heard of any of it.
So I would worry about his verdicts on U.S. national interests in Syria,
especially since he will not be able to name three nations that border that
country in twenty years.
Sen. Paul’s Brainlessness
I don’t mean to be rude, but Sen. Rand Paul sings in his op-ed a deafening song
of America’s endless and ceaseless self praise and he does this while
displaying the most dismal moral nearsightedness. To belittle another country,
to hold up its failures, to depict a nation in dark colors as the seat of all
the evil in the world – America has done this to the point of exasperation.
Iran, the Russians, Islamics, the Serbs – any of us can run down a long list.
Yet when the leader of another country, like Russia, holds up a mirror to our own failures, weaknesses, defaults and shortcomings, we reply with stiffly dignified rage because when you prick the overinflated balloon of American vanity, you are sure to suffer buffeting, sudden vicious
wind gusts as a result.
It never seems to occur to Rand Paul that perhaps Putin likes to strut while sitting down because he has his own national audiences and its pretenses to satisfy when he speaks. He is speaking to satisfy Russians, not touchy Americans.
Listening to Paul, you would think that Americans never owned slaves. You would think
that America didn’t massacre its Native Americans. Paul has apparently
forgotten that we launched a war against Spain on false pretenses and in 2003,
made the same mistake in Iraq. We did after all lose the Vietnam War. We didn’t win the Korean War. In other words, there are blemishes on our path to perfection.
Those failures should the focus of endless self-questioning rather than a pretext for
applause. No matter. Never mind.
In actuality, the things we fail at are probably more conducive to developing our
character than our successes. A success makes people feel that they have their stamped their ticket for good and all, forgetting that a success is not an end, but beginning. But that’s for another
In Sen. Rand Paul’s case, we first have to deal with an atrocity of language.
“Mr. Putin’s second mistake is to focus on the speck in the eye
of the United States, while ignoring the plank in his own.”
This is startling maladroit. Whoever wrote that, they possess an
absolutely tin ear for the English language? I had to read this three times. This
simile is so jarring, attracts so much attention to itself, it makes us frown in
puzzlement until erases its own intended impact. Russia gloating over “…the speck of the eye in the United State while ignoring the plank in his own?” It’s hard to repair this.
Why not speak of “the speck in the eye of the United States while ignoring
the hat pin in its own?” or something a bit more nimble and expressive. Or skip
it altogether. Paul is trying to create drama by means of contrast but to have
impact you need at least some finesse and skill in English. He has none.
He accuses the United States of alarming interventions in foreign countries. Paul says, “While I certainly have my bone to pick with our foreign policy over the last 15 years, the Russian President is the least qualified person I can think of to make this argument with a straight face.”
Paul’s arrogance reaches its apogee in this sentence. He then moves on.
“We went to war in Afghanistan because they were harboring those
who attacked us on 9/11. Mr. Putin’s cohorts went to war there three decades
earlier for no legitimate reason.”
This insults the Russians, it insults us, and it insults history.
The fall of the Shah of Iran and Khomeini’s Islamic terror contributed to starting a civil war in Afghanistan in 1979 that the Soviet’s couldn’t control. Just like the American
invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Soviet war in Afghanistan began as a case of social
engineering that led to barbarism. For years the Russians supported the non-
–Marxist government of Prince Mohammed Daud who had set up a constitutional
monarchy in 1953. But twenty years later Daud threw the king out and made
himself President and concentrated on building up a united Marxist party.
Trouble started in 1977 when three factions of the People’s Democratic Party, led by Brebak Kamal, Mur Muhammad Taraki and a man named Hafizullah Amin. Amin, who was a math teacher, took command and his first act was to shoot thirty members of the Daud family before his eyes, then he killed Daud. Huge areas of villages were burned to the ground. Kamal accused Amin of being bloodthirsty and heartless, and Amin packed Karmal off to Prague.
Things got worse. During 1979, the American ambassador was
murdered and thirty Russian advisors were skinned alive by the Moslem shrine of
Kandahar. The word went out from Moscow that Amin had to be gotten rid of, but
during a lively discussion at the Soviet Embassy, Taraki was somehow shot. The
murder stung Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev because he had recently told Taraki
he was Moscow’s coming man. Brezhnev was enfeebled but he was also infuriated, and he wanted a military response. The Soviets undertook Operation Zenith to determine popular reaction to a Soviet invasion to scout popular reaction if the Russians came in, found it was
favorable, and Operations Oak and Storm were launched on Christmas Eve.
The Russians were playing a long term game. For a long time, it
had treated the threat of the Islamic revival lightly, but within the Soviet
Union the Islamics had a birthrate much higher than that of the Russians and
many of them were traditional enemies of Russia. They were hardly in love with
So to resist the increasing power of the Islamics was, in Russia’s eye, a legitimate reason for going to war. Their invasion was supposed to be a short-term affair, but it was anything but. CIA Bill Casey had found the weakness in the Soviet occupation and began to exploit it by arming the Mujahedeen. After three years of war, the Russians were in possession of the main towns and roads but little else. Much like America in Vietnam, the war had become a guerilla war which
the Russians fought with gunships, tanks, bombing, napalm chemical warfare. The
war created 1.5 million refugees, etc. The Soviets lost the war after the United States began to smuggle Stinger missiles to the Islamic opposition who used them n to down Soviet helicopters. This war would be the chief event that led to the disintegration of the Soviet empire. The Hammer and Sickle was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin at the close of 1991, marking the
end of the Soviet Union.
Rand Paul’s statement that the Russians went to war there three
decades earlier for “no legitimate reason,” dishonors history, as I said, and
dishonors America and it dishonors the Russians. Paul and people like him bring
no critical sprit to the examination of political events. They have a false and inflated sense of
importance because they belong to groups who merely echo each other, presenting
themselves as the true moral and material power in the world. Their purpose is
to annoy, thwart, insult and mislead and they tend to regard any contradiction
as depraved and incorrigible.
The more idiotic a statement is, the more they see it as proof of their zeal and
attachment to their party. To be a loyal party member means that you soon become a mere cipher who follows the orders of your own group, never suspecting that most groups are home to noisy
mediocrities. The inner sense allegiance of belonging to a party overpowers any
vestige of individual moral sense and capacity for judgment. The members of any
ideological group become callous and rigid and pitiless and think they are excused
from any criticism because of the infallibility of their views. They met
counter arguments with either perfect apathy or virulent scorn.
If America were truly exceptional, it would not turn to tiny entities like Sen.
Paul to espouse its virtues.