is not America
September 22, 2001
One of the American political concepts that I have always
found nonsensical and annoying is the old saying that "politics
ends at the water's edge." This idea is used to promote
the notion that in the midst of an international crisis, particularly
a war, the government and most visibly the president is above
criticism and that for the good of the country America must
speak with one voice.
But this is illogical and unrealistic. We are asked to believe
that when a President is talking about Social Security lockboxes
or farm price supports you can criticize him all you want,
but when he is making policy that could get you, me and a
whole lot of other people killed we are supposed to shut up
and go along for the ride. In fact war policy deserves more
scrutiny and attention from the public than any other decision
a President can make.
You do your country no favors by supporting bad policies,
especially bad policies that kill people. Today most of us
recognize that the Vietnam War was a bad idea, a catastrophic
mistake in policy that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths
- but the people who first recognized that it was a mistake
were vilified and abused for speaking up.
It took years and thousands of casualties to erode the Water's
Edge Syndrome enough that it became respectable to oppose
the Vietnam War. Until the Tet Offensive in early 1968, if
you questioned the war you were likely to be called a disloyal
American or a Communist or a subversive. In fact there were
still remnants of this attitude 25 years later when you heard
mumbling about Bill Clinton having demonstrated against the
war in England. It was worse, according to the WES, to demonstrate
overseas than to do so here because you were showing all those
(ugh!) foreigners that we weren't united (gasp).
But when have Americans ever spoken with one voice? There
was significant opposition to every one of America's wars,
with the possible exception of World War II.
Personally, I think it is almost impossible not to support
some kind of punitive action given the atrocity that occurred
in New York and Washington last week. The people who did this
have to be brought to justice and the military is probably
the institution most capable of doing that. But the way our
government is framing this conflict as a war to eradicate
international terrorism strikes me as a colossal pipe dream.
Terrorism will continue to exist because when the small, scrawny
kid finds himself in a fight with the big tough guy he's stupid
if he fights him straight up. He gets a lot more mileage out
of kicking the big guy in the nuts and running like hell.
So we are being told that this "crusade" (as our
semi-literate President so undiplomatically called it) may
take years. Years of what? Body bags? A depleted economy?
$10 a gallon gas? More terrorist attacks? Doesn't it make
a hell of a lot more sense to try to eliminate Bin Laden and
his network and make an intense international effort to settle
the Arab-Israeli conflict that is at the root of the terrorist
activity to begin with? The Bush plan seems to be to spend
years in a futile effort to get rid of the terrorist cells
and then hand the problem off to someone else.
The Water's Edge Syndrome is very strong right now, as it
always is at the outset of wars. So if you oppose Bush's open
ended "war on terrorism" be prepared to be called
an enemy of America, a friend of Bin Laden, a supporter of
the Taliban and realize that the new "bloody shirt"
of American politics is going to be the collapsed twin towers
of the World Trade Center and the tragic victims who died
But we donít honor the memory of those people by blindly
following a potentially self-defeating policy of an administration
that thus far has seemed clueless in its response to the WTC
attack. We are under no obligation to do so. Bush is a politician.
He is not America.