Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Olive branch or a fig leaf?

When faced with the harmful and inhumane results of an effort that was undertaken with good intentions, the liberal thing to do is to educate the intention, not punish for the result. The good intention marred by ignorance can be addressed with education but the good intention conceived in arrogance has only the name of "good intention" and the heart of arrogance; it cannot be educated. It is best for all if the workings of arrogance are made into a cautionary example and its enactors herded off the stage of history before more harm is done. To those who believed the "facts" Bush presented and somehow convinced themselves that bad as warfare is, something worse for the US or the world could be avoided, I offer an olive branch of education.

Well then, If I am so smart, how do I now converse with my few friends or aquaintences who still talk about the good we have done and are doing in Iraq? Do I first listen patiently to see how they became convinced of the good intentions? So many people change their story or otherwise do what they can to salvage a bit of self respect. But I listen anyway. I have been listening for a long time. I heard things before March of 2003 that told me, more clearly than my own misgivings about Bush's honesty and probity, that the war was going to be a moral catastrophy even if all military and economic objectives were promptly achieved [how are we doing on that score, BTW?]. I worked on contract as an engineer for a large defense contractor back then, coding interesting pieces of a large educational toy for soldiers. A very senior coworker had retired several years earlier, at high rank, from the military and become a consultant for this defense contractor. In and out of uniform, this man helped tens of millions of tax dollars find new pockets. I liked the guy. He was smart enough that a non-technical education had not prevented him from developing a useful intuition about what computer technology could do for the military. Long ago, he had seen combat. He was affable and always spoke with both enthusiasm and the gravity of someone who knew many things that were not for sharing. Senior to almost everybody, he was not the least bit aloof and often went a bit out of his way to make little career building suggestions to one or the other of us. But one day, during the months between the state of the yellowcake speech and the invasion, this guy discreetly suggested that I make sure my passport was handy because the war was sure to be short and an incredibly lucrative era of "rebuilding" contracts was sure to follow for anyone with the pluck to go over there and pitch in. Was he typical of the tiers of bureaucracy and contractors who pull Rummie's war wagon? Hard to say since we all like the paycheck. Was he prompted by boyish enthusiasm for the American way or odd lack of worldliness for a man who'd spent years stationed in other countries? I have not seen this man since the summer of 2003. How his story has changed I have not heard. I hope for the sake of his conscience, he can at least make the complaint of the generals. To him I offer a fig leaf.

Does all the talk of tipping points presume we are still a working democracy? Or is it more about some hope that collections of proud foolish humans could suddenly all turn at once, like a school of fish, to face the facts? If we offer neither olive branch nor fig leaf, when will we be of one school?

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