Monday, July 07, 2008

GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY ALL AT THE SAME TIME

Over on Salon, the always worthwhile Heather Havrilevsky has interviewed the director of a film about Marine Recon in the early (win, winning, won) phase of the Iraq invasion (http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/feature/2008/07/07/burns/), “Good Men, Bad War”.

It’s a hugely good and valuable read: Havrilevsky knows how to conduct a useful interview, Ed Burns the director knows what he’s doing and has good ideas that he’s willing to talk about, and the subject matter is .. ummm .. contemporary and of great public interest. Since most Americans have not had any military experience, including the upper echelons of Congress and the Executive, then this is a powerful and meaty introduction to the specially-trained soldier’s battlefield experience.

It’s always good to have more pixels in your screen: the more pixels, the higher the picture’s resolution. So too in life: the more complexities and nuances you can keep in your head, the more finely intense will be your view of a matter, leading – God willing – to a more acute perception and a deeper insight. Those used to be good things to have. And to be. Thus, that officers and enlisteds have different ‘takes’ on battle. That highly trained units hold themselves apart from ‘regular’ units now, but that even so they are all better trained than the conscripts of the Vietnam era.

That doesn’t mean that any of them is necessarily fitted for the Presidency right off the bat. One experienced hand thinks that battlefield combat should be in the hands of 30-year-olds, since teens and twenty-somethings are too impatient to hold fast under pressure until the best opportunity for the most effective shot arises. Certainly, the TV characters sitting around in coffee shops or on gauzy California beaches or Manhattan limos don’t seem quite ready for battle’s, or life’s, primetime.

Yet we give them guns. We won’t trust them with a beer, but we’ll give them guns; big automatic guns. And we give them the vote. Somebody whom we don’t trust with a beer even in the backyard, whom the best combat commanders wouldn’t yet want to rely on in a really complicated tactical situation … we went and give them a say in who should be President. Another Identity gets its benny in the still-sweaty, polyester political scampering of the ‘70s.

When the history of these times comes to be written (and I hope we all agree that History has not ended and is not dead), certain dots will have to be somehow connected: that in fighting against a stereotype of women as overly emotional and ‘hysterical’ our politics became governed by tantrums of outrage that violently rejected reason or deliberation; that in facing huge challenges – economic and societal and political – our politics rejected a respect for adulthood and maturity and turned to ‘youth’, either as the repository of a certain type of ‘wisdom’ or as the bottomless font of the power to just say ‘screw it, let’s party’. (That those individuals in the highest echelons of our government appear to have embraced that latter approach for the past couple of decades should not be taken as proof that the approach itself was ‘adult’, but rather that the corrosion of adulthood has made unpleasantly engorged children out of the nation’s theoretically most prestigious ‘adults’.)

And when that history of our times turns to consider how it is that as unripe a melon as Bush could have ever come to be placed at the top of the heap, the impact of feminism and youthism in some forms and ways still not fully articulated must be held in part accountable.

It could go on to connect these dots: that having dispensed with deliberation and fact in the zeal to eliminate the trauma of anxiety and grief by legally enforcing ‘closure’, American society was primed for dispensing with deliberation and fact in the zeal to eliminate the trauma of anxiety and grief by militarily eradicating terrorism. It’s a weird symmetry, but there it is. And an awefull one. Both American law and American military power have been hugely compromised by it. On our watch.

Another point is made in the interview: “Civilization is a woman’s thing.” But if that’s true then why then does Western Civ, famously, have to go? It was made – if the revolution’s theory be believed – by “men”, but if civilization is indeed a woman’s thing, then .. what? Perhaps all the “men” who made Western Civ were gay? If battle is a guy thing, and admittedly horrible despite the ‘charge’ guys get out of it, then why on earth would women want – let alone politically agitate for – roles in the military? Do they plan to ‘civilize’ it? If so, then that would be a form of eroding its capability. Do they plan to yield their civilizational capabilities in order to do ‘guy’ stuff? That seems a regression and unwise. Or is it mostly the artists-who-formerly-wore-sensible-shoes who wish to ride the feminist wave to military rank and status? Nobody’s ever admitted as much.

I think combat elicits attitudes and skills more reliably present in males than in females (of course, there are always the aforementioned shoe-wearing artistes, but they’re missing from any discussion I’ve ever come across). But granted that those skills are always there, it doesn’t mean that ‘men’ can’t or shouldn’t develop their higher and finer capacities. We are not utterly confined to nor solely defined by those initial skill-sets built into the respective genders of the species not so long ago (speaking in evolutionary time). We are still evolving as humans, and who knows what capabilities our species will have developed in either or both of its genders (Or sexes .. sex, gender .. I may not be conversant with all the very latest correct terms, comrades, but I support the Revolution and Comrade Stalin! And Siberia is cold this time of year.) if we last a couple-three thousand more years.

The great risk is that men who ‘dwell’ in those primal capacities for battle, and who experience the fundamental thrill that accompanies it, will come to define themselves by it, will come to define life by it, and will ultimately be confined and stunted by it. This is a huge danger, frequently actualized. (Again, why women would want to undertake this darkness, is a mystery – though perhaps not all the cards are on the table of national discussion.)

Them Kathliks, now, yer Kathliks used to have a special service of cleansing and reconciliation for soldiers returning from service. But that was a long while ago. Nowadays the American bishops prove themselves not much more evolved than the German bishops of earlier eras, and the Fundamentalist Ascendancy would see a berserker personality as the very embodiment of the angelic Justice of the Avenging Throne, and the Apocalypse and so on …

We the People owe Our soldiers a huge debt. Even if they have not saved Us from a Saddaam who posed a credible and purposeful threat to our safety, they have gone obedient to Our word and done their best in a situation no mature People should ever have permitted.

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