“Why Don’t You Leave the Country?”

Perhaps some of this blog’s readers saw my recent ZNet article, titled “The ‘Cowardice’ Card: Militarism’s Last and Self-Fulfilling Refuge.” You can read the original piece at www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=9175&sectionID=15 or see the version I’ve pasted in below. The article is a highly critical treatment of the U.S. right’s use of the charge of “cowardice” against those who oppose the American occupation of Iraq.

Like most of my writing, it is rooted in what I think is a fundamentally American faith in the right and duty of an educated citizenry to militantly criticize elite deceptions and the unjust use of authority by concentrated power.

It is one version of the many ways in which I endeavor to exercise the First Amendment liberties that I take to be one of the glorious and quintessential birthrights granted to those born in the land of Tom Paine, hot dogs, apple pie, and baseball (including my beloved World Series Champions the Chicago White Sox).

Imagine my patriotic consternation, then, when I learned that my article had provoked the following comment from a “Joseph Germaine,” who took time out of his day to write the following brilliant response to my article: “If you have that much against America,” Mr. Germaine reflected, “than [sic] why don’t you leave?”

As any regular American leftist writer or speaker will tell you, the invitation to “leave America” is a fairly common rhetorical device from those who hate the expresison of dissent against specific policies, institutions, and hiearchies in the land we love.

I recently had a very polite and attentive student make an awkward comment along these lines in front of a classroom. I was in mid-sentence simply relating well-known facts of wealth distribution in the land I love. I was leading up to a discussion of the American egalitarian ethos and the related difference between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome.”

Anyway there I was setting up this elementary distinction with the standard contemporary wealth data and the student raises her to hand to say that “maybe people who think that everything is terrible in America should just move to another country.”

Momentarily dumbstruck, I proceeded to explain that: I for one had no intention of leaving my homeland; I have enough respect for my country to tell what I see to be the truth about its problematic social arrangements and policies; I did not say that “everything is terrible in America;” and it would not improve things here or abroad for people of radical-and social-democratic sentiments to globally redistrict themselves out of the most powerful nation on earth.

Sometimes I wonder if “conservative” “Americans” who tell dissenters to become expatriates — to deport themselves for crying out loud — have any concept what an essentally FASCIST thing they are saying and thinking? Someone — an American —- vociferously dissents from dominant administration policy and rhetoric and you say they should foregoe their citizenship and deport themselves? Holy Shit.

Is Mr. Germaine so truly blind as to have identified the Bush administration and miltarism as such (the latter is the main target of my article) with the essence of American democracy? If so then he has become a curse upon his country’s spirit and legacy of liberty….a false and dangerous patriot.

The “Cowardice” Card: Militarism’s Last and Self-Fulfilling Refuge

by Paul Street; November 22, 2005

What sort of unpardonable crimes might the United States (U.S.) government commit in the world? Killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians in the execution of an illegal and brazenly imperialist invasion of a formerly sovereign nation? Launching a criminal war of aggression sold to the world and the American citizenry on transparently false grounds? Turning Iraq into a chaotic madhouse of violence and a breeding ground for terrorism – all in the curious name of a “war on terrorism?” Illegally torturing countless non-combatants in the name of “freedom” and “democracy” within and beyond occupied Iraq? Indoctrinating its soldiers and imperial prison guards with the false notion that they were in Iraq to “avenge 9/11” and defeat the terror networks that conducted the jetliner attacks of 2001? Alienating world opinion, enraging a region’s populace, and sparking a massive cycle of terror and factional violence in the execution of an unjust war?

No, the really unforgivable thing would be to lack the courage required to continue these and other reprehensible transgressions. If Uncle Sam were to lose his nerve and call off his vicious assault on Iraq and on standard norms and established rules of international conduct, he would be dishonoring the more than 2000 American soldiers he has already sent to an early grave in the commission of those terrible crimes. He would reveal himself as a powerless paper tiger, ready to get desert sand kicked in its face by any rogue terrorist in the oil-rich Middle East. It would be an open season on America, “civilization,” and “freedom” around the world.

Such is the basic argument of America’s increasingly embattled but in-power hard right, which accuses the rising number of antiwar Americans of deficient military manliness. “Cowards cut and run,” a veteran solider told Republican Congresswomen Jean Schmidt (Ohio), but “Marines never do.” Schmidt offered this marvelous pearl of proto-fascist wisdom in response to calls from U.S. citizens and some Democratic politicians (e.g. Representative and Vietnam Veteran John P. Murtha) for a rapid withdrawal from U.S.-ravaged Mesopotamia.

It is chilling to see Schmidt and other American right militarists reduced to such viciously circular and self-fulfilling arguments in defense of their president’s bloody Iraq policy. The Cheney-Bush administration’s originally stated war rationalizations have been revealed as alternately false, disingenuous, and idiotic. The White House’s Iraq crusade has been exposed as criminal and even – more to the point for most Democrats calling for withdrawal – as dysfunctional for the American Empire Project. As the executive branch’s initial proclaimed ends fade into the mists of Orwellian illusion and high-state deception, the right’s last ideological refuge is to sell military valor as an end in and of itself.

To be sure, part of the administration’s response to rising domestic criticism is to merge the attack on Iraq more aggressively than ever with the post-9/11 “war on terror.” Reflecting in part his own curious success in turning Iraq into a terror-ravaged charnel house, Bush now routinely claims that Iraq is ground zero in the struggle between “democracy” and “the murderous ideology” of “Islamic radicalism,” which he now likens to “the ideology of Communism.” Both of these “evil” ideologies, Bush explained to a military audience on Veteran’s Day, express a “totalitarian” “contempt for human life” and “freedom” that will not stop of its own accord until “weapons of mass destruction” have destroyed “the blessings of liberty” in “free nations.” The latter term applies especially to the corporate-plutocratic U.S., the “best democracy that money can [and did] buy:” the world’s leading incarceration nation, where the top 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth along with a certainly largely share of the policymakers.

But the public’s patience with such paranoid, panic-peddling presidential hyperbole (straight out of the dog-wagging Reagan playbook) has faded. A mounting share of the imperial “homeland’s” citizenry understands and resents the fact that their government’s battering of Iraq – NOT some mythical Islamo-Trotskyist hatred of America’s supposedly unmatched internal “freedom” – is the main driving force behind Islamic terrorism in the Middle East. The White House and American right’s ability to sell their childish “good versus evil” line on Iraq is undercut by previous deceptions on Iraqi WMD and Saddam Hussein’s supposed links to al Qaeda and 9/11. Many of us remain conscious of the fact that similar false (the Soviet Union retreated from the goal of world revolution well before America proclaimed its Cold War on the “international communist conspiracy”) apocalyptic and global claims were used by U.S. policymakers to justify the criminal slaughter of more than 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American GIs during the 1960s and 1970s.

Beneath the Cheney-Bush cabal’s messianic bluster, the right’s fear-mongering increasingly doesn’t wash with a terror-fatigued American citizenry that is restless about massive internal “homeland” problems – deep and widespread poverty, steep class and related racial inequality, declining benefits coverage, rampant indebtedness and insecurity, absent and increasingly expensive health care, failing and under-funded schools, etc…(the list goes on and on) – that are critically exacerbated by the nation’s massive, deficit-fueling military budget.

Hence the warmongers’ rising reliance on purely atavistic, testosterone-fueled justifications. Forget the originally proclaimed high purposes. By last-refuge logic, it’s all about looking tough: military badness as such. It’s about militarism as an end in and of itself. With America’s status as the center and guardian of what Dick Cheney calls “the civilized world” assumed to be self-evident, it’s all about courage, credibility, and macho intimidation. Uncle Sam’s goodness requires him to act like the biggest, baddest Mafia Don on the block. For him to call off his mass war criminality in Iraq would be to look weak and to dishonor America’s ever rising number of dead soldiers of empire.

We must honor our dead with more dead, sacrificed by “good” chickenhawk “leaders” like Cheney and Bush to show “evil men” that a self-evidently virtuous America doesn’t “cut and run.”

It’s a pathetically stupid, viciously circular, and morally bankrupt argument, as is understood by many among the remarkable 52 percent (or more) of Americans who want their government to – well – cut and run out of Iraq within at least 12 months. The sheer criminal madness of it all is increasingly grasped and rejected by working-class Americans, who are spurning military recruiters in record numbers. It’s only those near the bottom of America’s steep socioeconomic pyramid, many non-affluent Americans understand, who are supposed to lose their lives and limbs so that wealthy, effete war pigs like “Bring-Em On” Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld can look like manly men of empire.

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