Monday, November 21, 2005

Cult of the child

Cindy Sheehan, Mother Superior, has written a book entitled Not One More Mother's Son. I will not dishonor her son's memory by reading it, and I will contribute Not One More Conservative's Penny to her charade.

Look. I'm a mother. I have two sons and a daughter who will one day have to decide whether to serve in this country's armed forces. I don't want any of them to die - in action or any other way; if I had it in my power, they would live happily ever after. But I don't have it in my power. What's more, I know that at some point, the direction of their lives becomes their direction, not mine.

Years ago, I read somewhere about the "cult of the child," a piece of Victoriana wherein childhood, formerly the pre-adult stage of life to which no one paid much attention, suddenly became a kind of ideal state which parents were encouraged to prolong and celebrate. The cult of the child has reached fruition in our time - insofar as anything childish can bear fruit, which is sort of my point. Adults build; adults create; adults contemplate; adults forge bonds. Children imitate adults in doing these things, so that they can learn to be adults. This process is called socialization, or "growing up." But for some of us, apparently, watching our children grow up is too painful to bear. Is it the signal of our own mortality that shakes us? The sense that they may pass us by - or not achieve even what we have achieved? Is it that we're afraid of what they may say or think about us as parents?

I'm not immune to these fears. My husband, a more level-headed and cool-tempered soul than I, reminds me sometimes that we've had our own criticisms of our parents, yet (a) we turned out pretty darn well and (b) we still love our parents in spite of their failings. He intends that these things should comfort me; of course, they just make me more nervous. But that's my problem.

Cindy Sheehan's is apparently that her honored son never grew up to her. How can anyone "support the troops" without acknowledging their agency? How can anyone miss or ignore the fact that they're not just "mothers' sons" but men, entitled in our society to vote, drive, enter into marriage and other contracts, commit crimes and be tried and punished as adults, and - not incidentally - volunteer to serve in the armed forces? They may have any motive they please for their service. Some, probably many, do it for the money or the benefits; these are not trivial, particularly when the starting point is less than zero. Some do it for the adventure. Some do it for the guns; others to get away from home. Some do it for love and respect.

A few, I'm guessing, do it for patriotism and duty, but nearly all will eventually feel these rather abstract impulses, once they've been exposed to them and shown what they mean. Yet military recruiters regularly take verbal fire for emphasizing the reasons that young men (especially young men) do apply, like the education, training, and steady pay, not to mention the chance to do something exciting and dangerous, rather than the small-but-present risk of death or injury in tandem with the only "acceptable" motive: patriotism. Only those who feel, out of the box, an urge to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States need apply...

The weak-minded pacifism of some of this age's women, and the womanish men who admire them - bah! Do they honestly believe that war is never the answer, no matter what the question? What would their answer have been to Pol Pot? Khan? Vlad the Impaler? A stern talking-to? Shunning? They have avoided stating an answer because the extent of their "vision," such as it is, is to stand in the way of war, to protect all those mothers' sons out there without regard to the cost to other mothers' sons and daughters, including their own children's. They feel good about their efforts - they are serious, they are doing something that matters - but when they unbelievably succeed in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they drop the issue like a toy they're bored with and move on to the next war.

There's always a next war.

And what was their answer to Saddam Hussein, benevolent ruler of the Kite-Flying ParadiseTM? Oh yes: authorizing the President to use force to bring him to task, then scolding the President for using force to bring him to task and claiming that the President had pulled the wool over their eyes. This same President whom they've derided for years as too stupid to pound sand: now he was canny enough to fool them in all their august sobriety. This is a reelection strategy?

Apologies to whoever said this first - I can't recall where I read it recently but I had the same thought: "We're stupider than Bush" doesn't have much bumper-sticker value.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

In fervent thanksgiving

We learned last night that my husband's brother had been hit by a car while skateboarding. He was thrown into the air and fell on his head and neck, underwent five hours of brain surgery, and my first fervent thanksgiving is that he lived through the accident. When we first heard, though, he hadn't yet regained consciousness, so we didn't have much more to be thankful for then.

My husband immediately made plans to fly to California to be with him and their mother, and my second fervent thanksgiving is for frequent flyer miles; he was able to get on a flight early this morning for the mere cost of 37,500 miles and fifty bucks, even though it's the weekend before Thanksgiving.

When I called my sister for prayer support, she pointed out that she and her husband live perhaps five minutes from the hospital where my brother-in-law was - a fact I'd entirely forgotten as I concentrated on getting the husband across country and communicating with the mother-in-law in transit from SoCal northward. So my third fervent thanksgiving is for my sister and brother-in-law, who are picking my husband up at the airport, giving him a place to sleep very close to where he'll be needed, and performing whatever fetch-and-carry services anyone in my in-laws' family needs, in addition to continually lifting up my dear brother-in-law in prayer - something at which they're better than I am, though I'm doing my best today.

We got through to the ICU eventually and discovered that he was showing good improvement - had been conscious, responsive, able to follow directions and to move his extremities. So, my fervent thanksgiving for the first good news we'd had, and for the ability to put my mother-in-law's mind a little at rest, since she'd been driving through the mountains and unable to receive an update for a couple of hours. And then, a few hours later, just before hitting the sack, we called again and were told he'd shown "massive" improvement - was, in fact, very impatient to have his ventilator removed, though that won't be done for a couple of days since his frequent periods of deep sleep are still too deep for his breathing reflex to function reliably. I fervently thank God for this improvement.

Penultimately, my fervent thanksgiving for the people who stayed with him in the hospital, his estranged girlfriend's parents. They've acted as parents to him during a terrible time and, in spite of their not being permitted to have much information about him since they're not relatives, have apparently been his advocates and companions for many hours since the accident happened.

And finally, I most fervently thank God for the staff of Sutter Memorial Roseville, who saved his life and continue to care for him with kindness and dedication.

One non-thankful note. I second my mother-in-law's exasperated statement, once she'd learned that he was doing much better: "This is the third time I've had to rush to the hospital in a mad panic over skateboarding - I'm going to burn that thing!" I have nothing against skating or skaters, but this is the worst one yet for my brother-in-law. On the other hand, maybe it is a thankful note: my kids are now "scared straight" about wearing helmets, at least for the moment. Whether a helmet would have helped him, I don't know yet, but I've never yet heard of a case in which someone was harmed by wearing one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ain't gonna study torture no more

Wretchard over at Belmont Club speaks today about the McCain Amendment and its probable effects. As usual, he's insightful and intelligent and I commend his blog to all, but two things I'd like to add:

1. I don't think terrorists are necessarily writing anonymous letters to American senators encouraging them to support the Amendment, and
2. I'm about as sick of NIMBY attitudes as I can be.

As to the first. There's much talk, from the "con" side of the Amendment debate, about how if it passes terrorists will have a big party to celebrate that fact that they'll never be tortured if captured by Americans, and will immediately revamp their training regime to take into account the very limited interrogation options available to the American military. But there's extraordinary rendition, the practice of sending prisoners to other nations to be interrogated there. Rendition was a Clinton-era invention (at least officially - I have to wonder how often it happened sub rosa before then), and would not be affected by the McCain Amendment. So terrorists would not face American interrogators with bright lights, loud music, coercive suggestions... instead they might face a well-equipped Saudi, an angry Kurd with access to electricity - who knows? If I were a terrorist, I don't think I'd be happy that the Americans would no longer be my interrogators if I were captured.

(Please note: I do not mean to suggest that either Saudis or Kurds necessarily use torture - just that their rules would be different from ours, as indeed they are now, and there's no Saudi or Kurd or Russian or Somali McCain, for instance.)

Some of Wretchard's commenters opined that we'd start taking fewer prisoners on the battlefield. I doubt it. Our need for intelligence would be as great as it is now. Here I step off into a world of my own devise: if I were in charge of battlefield prisoners, I would try to sort out the intelligence wheat from the chaff as quickly and efficiently as possible - exactly how is an exercise I must leave to the student, since I think it must rely on local informants, overheard chatter among prisoners, intelligence already in hand, etc., but I can't know for sure how it's currently being done. Having discerned which prisoners would be most likely to give important information, I would concentrate my interrogation resources on that fraction. The other prisoners' primary hazard might be death by boredom.

In a post-McCain world, if I just killed every fighter on the field, I would lose whatever intelligence I stood to gain before, so that choice is not open to me - having prisoners is highly inconvenient and expensive, but the tradeoff in intelligence makes it necessary. So I'd still have to take prisoners. Having taken them, I'd still have to sort out who might have useful intelligence, presumably by the same methods I was using before. Then I'd render the useful ones to allies for interrogation, and wait for the results. Finis.

This is a NIMBY argument - "not in my backyard," for anyone who didn't live through the '80s. The scruples of Californians about being able to see offshore drilling rigs does not obviate their existence elsewhere, and if it's an environmental tragedy to have them at all (which it's not - tankers spill far more (and often refined, a.k.a. more toxic) petroleum), it's a tragedy whether they're off the coast of Santa Barbara or Galveston. The immorality of NIMBY is why I am against the McCain amendment: I would rather have combatant prisoners in the hands of American interrogators, who are guided by social and cultural norms that preclude the most heinous forms of torture and seriously circumscribe interrogation techniques, than have squeaky-clean collective hands but know that others were up to their elbows in filth on our behalf.

An analogy to the Catholic Church might be appropriate here. The Catholic Church's guilt in the recent spate of pederast-priest claims, investigations, and convictions is not that the church as a whole was participating in the appalling behavior, but that the Church knew about and enabled the behavior. In what way would the American government - the American psyche - be innocent of torture if we knowingly sent our prisoners to places where human life and dignity are cheaper than we hold them?

Make no mistake, we're using rendition now. I'm deeply conflicted about it. Only long after the fact will we, the public, know whether the intelligence gained by other nations using techniques we refuse to apply was worth the moral cost to us (the moral cost to other nations is, I believe, appropriately their own concern, and that's not just an expedient view of mine). I hope that our government has already performed that calculation, using information not yet declassified, and that it's the demostrated benefit of rendition that is causing us to maintain the policy on a lesser-evil basis.

The bottom line, for me, is that we could outlaw torture in the same way that the Right-Thinking Nations of the World once outlawed war. And it'll be just as effective. Oddly, the traditionally conservative view of humanity as fundamentally flawed, and the traditionally liberal view of humanity as fundamentally good, flip-flop here: I, a conservative, believe that keeping prisoners in American hands, without the stringent limits on interrogataion the McCain Amendment would impose, is far less likely to result in egregious torture than the uptick in extraordinary rendition we'd see if the Amendment passed, because America is fundamentally good. My opponents take the view that the American military must be restrained by force of law from doing what their fundamentally bad natures would lead them to.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Happy Veterans' Day!

Veterans past and present, thank you for placing yourselves between your loved home and the war's desolation.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Be still my heart!

den Beste is blogging again! I'd barely heard of him when I started reading blogs, and didn't actually come across his blog until he'd already stopped writing it, so I'm excited out of all proportion to the actual event, no doubt.

If you don't know him, for heaven's sake, google him; he's... he's... He defies explanation, that's what. He took a hiatus of - oh, over a year, certainly, for reasons having to do with his health in conjunction with the stresses of blogging. Apparently picked nits wearied him to the point that he lost the energy of spirit needed to stay on the daily treadmill, which I suppose one could view as oversensitivity or prima donnism (to coin a phrase), but I'll take the man's word that his unspecified condition, and the medication necessary for him to blog at a high level, created (and no doubt still create) pressures on him that most of us don't have to face.

But he's back, on his own schedule, at RedState, and I feel like a kid who didn't reach her teens until after the Beatles broke up - only to learn that they'd reunited and were coming to her town!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Revolutions and insurrections

Belmont Club is, as usual, on point and insightful concerning the riots in France, which enter their thirteenth night tonight. I commend to your attention this post particularly, especially Wretchard's "Commentary" section where he discusses the difficulty in quelling riots and the dangers of trying to do so via blind and memoryless profiling. Also note the comments from readers, where my musings began.

All right, that's not entirely accurate; I've been thinking for a few days, since about Day 7 or 8 of rioting, about the tendency among some Americans to call karma on the French and to puff out our collective chest about how such things could never happen here. Seems to me that if a group ethnically representative of twenty percent of your population decides to rise up, take up arms, and attack the infrastructure (thankfully, not the innocent citizenry so far), even a country like the United States would be hard-pressed to retake control. Of course, the French government hasn't done itself any favors by not doing anything substantive for twelve days.

Josh Trevino's blog entry "Twelfth Night," which I just found, has a terrific roundup of recent events. (Apologies to Josh for not taking the time at this moment to find the tilde sign that ought to appear over his "n.") One point on which I think I differ with Josh is that the "French assimilation model" may have failed. He points out, correctly I think, that if this soundbyte of a statement takes hold, the ideal of French assimilation may be discarded, in France and elsewhere. The ideal of which he speaks is twofold: "equality of citizens as citizens, and the primacy of French culture and Western values." The problem I have with the idea is that the French assimilation model, like Communism according to the Left, hasn't really been tried. I'm not as well informed as I'd like to be on this subject, but I understand that the French have not exactly encouraged full assimilation (any more than this generation's Muslim immigrants have sought it), instead making it clear that new immigrants are not quite up to par and can't become so. I haven't heard that there's a by-your-bootstraps mythos in France as there is in the U.S.; this lack of a story to inspire the children of immigrants would certainly add to the alienation of Muslims living in not only sanctioned but informally required ghettoes (in the term's original sense).

In any event, my thoughts turn to various possible parallels suggested by Wretchard's erudite readers: that the American revolution began as a tax protest, the Civil War as a states'-rights debate, and so on. Many commenters wondered whether this French disaster might finally awaken Europe, one calling it "France's Pearl Harbor." And then, one commenter stated as certainty that success in Iraq would cause all the Muslim dominoes to fall, bringing hope and prosperity to people whose only prior alternatives were surrender or religious fanaticism. Here's where I jump off the bandwagon.

We may - I think we will - succeed in Iraq. Iraq will stand proudly as the Islamic world's flagship representative government, and will prosper. But it does not follow that the Bush Doctrine is a sure bet. The American revolution succeeded, against dreadful odds, and the American experiment in liberty and equality has succeeded as well, brilliantly. But its French counterpart, only a few years behind, with the American example to guide it and inspired by the same ideas, thinkers, and emotions, has been limping along for two hundred-plus years with only occasional intimations of success, by comparison. The U.S. shed blood and bitter tears in our Civil War, but recovered and surpassed its previous strength, conviction, and achievements. France's history since its Revolution sounds terrifying to me: the Terror, Robespierre, the weirdness that was Napoleon's empire, the Dreyfus affair and its overtones of anti-Semitism, the trenches of WWI, the Vichy and the Resistance, some members of which were Marxists hoping to win France for their own. The U.S. had the advantage of physical isolation and a second, tremendous advantage in natural resources (there's a reason we've never been a big colonial power) - but that's my whole point: because a radical idea works in one place does not mean it will work in another.

It's a time for nail-biting, not hubristic chortles or triumphalism. We could experience our own spreading urban riots, and if we do we'll discover whether we've actually paid attention these last two weeks. The Middle East may not view Iraq as a beacon of hope, but a Q'ran on fire, and we'll see whether the Iraqis have the stomach to face their coreligionists without conceding. We're experiencing the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." I thank my lucky stars that, up to now anyway, I'm not living in the literal midst of them.