Has the nature of “war” changed? Is “war” different now from what it was in WWII? Is
patriotism always “good”? When a nation goes to war with selfish intent, to what extent are its citizens complicit? These are important questions as the nation debates the confusing issues of the Iraq and Afghan wars in the context of 9/11.
There is plentiful evidence that both Germans and Japanese citizens in WWII were patriotic and supported their governments.
Adolph Hitler cleverly and adeptly tapped into smoldering public resentment over the
extreme economic penalties exacted by the Allies at the end of WWI. Telling the German public what they wanted to hear he played German national pride like a violin, with strong emphasis on Aryan superiority. The Nazi party was also adept, in the absence
of a free press, in hiding Holocaust atrocities from a citizenry that preferred not to know where the Jews were going. The fact that Jew’s tended to be more prosperous than most citizens, as well as clannish, had stoked ethnic resentment in the economic hard-times between the wars.
In Japan militarist leaders used national pride, a xenophobic culture of obedience to authority, and a religion with a human face (the Emperor) to embark on conquest of Asia. Throughout the war the Japanese people religiously and obediently supported the war effort and were committed to fight to the death for their
country. Only Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented a million more American deaths at the end.
So, were the citizens of those countries complicit in the evil that their governments committed them to? They were certainly guilty of ethnic hubris. There is no way I can say that any of those individuals deserved to die because they were patriotic, especially in a fascist state, but by the same token those
political entities deserved to have their governments overturned by force.
Is patriotism always good? No, because Germany and Japan waged war not for defense
but for selfish economic gain. What about the motives of the United States in the Second Iraq war? To the lasting discredit of the George W. Bush government our motives there are suspect because no WMD’s were ever found, nor was there any link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorists. Also, no one can deny that our economy depends, at least for now, on political stability in the Middle East. That preemptive action set a precedent for our country that will be hard to live down.
So, in WWII we were at war with nations. With whom are we now at war? Judging from the media and blogs there is considerable confusion about this. Clearly many people feel that Islam is the enemy after seeing violent Muslim demonstrations in Indonesia and Pakistan calling for “death to Christians” and burning the American flag. Right now we are fighting only certain fundamentalist sects of Islam, but we are edging dangerously close to war with the whole religion. There is ample precedent for this in the Middle Ages.
But, a religious war is not the same as war between nations. In a religious war there is no national government to defeat or with whom to negotiate peace. The combatants of a religious enemy are not soldiers, they are guerrillas and terrorists who wear no uniforms and can blend in with a population. They are motivated by religious fervor and most are ready to die for their cause. More importantly, those who die in their cause are likely to motivate even more recruits to their cause. Many believe, myself included, that the more our country tries to nation-build, such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, the more we are resented. It does not matter that our intent is good in such cases because we are outsiders meddling in their affairs. Such is the nature of xenophobia.
There are somewhere between 2 million and 7 million Muslim citizens in the United States and in 2005 there were about 15,000 Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces, putting their lives on the line for our country, theirs and yours. Are these people too our enemy? The notion seems absurd, and yet distrust abounds. Part of this I think derives from the nature of religion and the natural human distrust of tribal differences. In other words, xenophobia.
Islam is no more easily defined than is Christianity. There are many different groups within Islam. Should all of Islam be blamed for 9/11 when Bin Laden and the
perpetrators were fundamentalist fanatics? No. It would make as much sense to treat different Christian sects as all the same. Catholics were responsible for the Inquisition and for victimizing parishioners by selling indulgences. Protestants were responsible for the Salem witch trials. Mormons were responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. Blaming Christianity for these crimes now would thwart people’s need for spirituality and the good that most churches do.
I am suspicious of Islam. I do not like many of the sinister things I hear about it, but there are disturbing things in the Bible too. I don’t like the idea of plucking my eyeball out if it offends me, for example. And as far as turning the other cheek when I or my family are smitten, you can forget that – that smiter is going to get smitten back for sure. No, it’s just too easy to cherry-pick bad things about religion to demonize people who are different.
It is significant to me that officers commissioned in our military take an oath of obedience NOT to the Commander In Chief, NOT to Generals or Admirals, NOT to Congress, but to the Constitution of the United States of America. This means that our military leaders owe allegiance to principles, not other human beings, and one of those principles is freedom of speech, embodied in which is freedom of the press. Another is the prohibition of establishment by the government of religion, and by extension, the separation of religion from matters of government. This means toleration of diversity to the extent that it does not interfere with other citizens’ rights and freedoms. The
Enemy is Intolerance and the answer to it is the First Amendment. Believe any religion you wish, or none at all, so long as you respect the right of others to do the same.
I say, enough of nation-building. Let America keep her defenses second to none and stand as a shining example to the world of what religious freedom means. If we can keep it.