A Second

A Second:

Joel Stein seconds the "military men are like toilet cleaners" comments of earlier this week. He, like the Kossak commenter, feels that the proper liberal position is to despise the soldiers:

I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.... But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.
There is a point to be made here. We are far enough into the war that pretty much everyone involved has either enlisted or re-upped since the war began. It was an army of volunteers to start with; now, it's an army that volunteered for Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, I agree that the troops bear moral responsibility for the war. It could not be fought if they hadn't signed on, and didn't continue to sign back on. The soldiers and Marines are finally responsible for the fact that we're still fighting in Iraq, and retain the capacity to fight elsewhere.

The difference is this: does that mean they deserve the blame for the war, as Mr. Stein asserts -- or it does it mean that they deserve the praise?

Greyhawk, Uncle Jimbo, James Joyner, Michelle Malkin and others have responded to this, and I feel no need to repeat them. Instead, let's look at something else about Mr. Stein's piece, in light of today's earlier discussion on ideology. What does the piece reveal about what Mr. Stein's version of Leftist thinking has to say about what the right kind of man is, and what the right kind of society is?

On the right kind of man:

1) He should be bold. "I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas."

2) He should be able to feel guilt for doing the right thing. "I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful." Recall that Mr. Stein is arguing that it is right and proper to show ingratitude and blame the troops for participating.

3) He should be morally opposed to war, with only a few exceptions. "An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying."

4) It is all right for him to want to fight to protect the country. "I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq."

5) He should disdain the soldiers for doing what they swore to do, since keeping their oaths meant partaking in this war. "[W]e shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea."

The right kind of society?

1) It should only go to war in pursuit of pressing national interest. "It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward."

2) 'Pressing national interest' should be definied as stopping internal conflicts in regions barely associated with America. "Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo."

3) The society should be solicitous of miniority political opinion. "Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war."

4) It should provide for ready social services for its veterans, even those who chose to fight in an immoral war. "All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return."

5) It should not celebrate them, however; but it might not go so far as spitting on them. "I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea.... please, no parades."

Every element here is emotional -- there is no obvious rationality behind any of these positions. Each one is associated with the kind of person he would like, and the kind of society he would like to live in. He wants men who are bold, but quick to feel guilt; who are willing to fight for their society, but sufficiently 'individual' to break their oaths if necessary to avoid doing something they don't think is a good idea.

The society he wants provides for the poor generously, including the poor foolish soldier. It takes care of those too stupid or immoral to do what's right while wearing its uniform; but it lets them know it doesn't approve of them, even if it doesn't quite go so far as spitting on them.

Exactly how this is meant to be consistent with providing for their "mental health" is not clear -- as unclear as what the "pressing national interest" was in Kosovo. Stopping ethnic cleansing may be the right thing to do, but it's hard to point to a region less directly related to American fortunes than Kosovo. Stopping ethnic cleansing in southern Iraq, where there is also a pressing national interest in the form of oil access and the ability to address the poisonous political structures? Well, not if it means fighting this war.

Nor is it clear how an army could be maintained if people were free to break their oaths at will. No, not even for fighting off invasions from Mexico -- which, by the way, has either made 216 armed incursions into the United States in the last nine years, or has been unable to prevent large drug gangs from wearing its military uniforms while doing so:
The U.S. Border Patrol has warned agents in Arizona of incursions into the United States by Mexican soldiers "trained to escape, evade and counterambush" if detected -- a scenario Mexico denied yesterday.
The warning to Border Patrol agents in Tucson, Ariz., comes after increased sightings of what authorities described as heavily armed Mexican military units on the U.S. side of the border. The warning asks the agents to report the size, activity, location, time and equipment of any units observed.... A total of 216 incursions by suspected Mexican military units have been documented since 1996 -- 75 in California, 63 in Arizona and 78 in Texas, according to a Department of Homeland Security report.

Attacks on Border Patrol agents in the past few years have been attributed to current or former Mexican military personnel.
One wonders what Mr. Stein thinks of the Border Patrol, which is in form and function much like the Texas Rangers during the famous days of the Old West: a few men, mobile and well-trained, trying to control a vast frontier full of hostiles. Do they get a pass, since they really are trying to control invasions from Mexico? Or does Mr. Stein share his city's prejudice against them too, preferring to defy Federal laws that the Patrol is bound to enforce?

The good news for Mr. Stein is that the troops will be more forgiving than others he's offended in the past. An apology and a few cases of the good stuff will go a long way to making it up to them -- if you can get past the fact that you might be interpreted as supporting them.

The bad news is that few of them, or other young men looking for an ideology, will be persuaded to his vision. The hard facts of reality will drag it down, and it apparently can no longer consider them with anything like a clear eye.

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