In the aftermath of the debate among the contenders for Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, the Right complains that the candidates were mostly wuses without spine or strategy to combat the “fight for our lives.” Mostly taking their cue from their new hero on the Right, Rudy Guiliani, who said prior to the debate: “The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us,” the Republican response is to keep calling the Democrats “weak on defense.” That’s their war strategy.
The exception was Hillary Clinton, who in conservative quarters was deemed the strongest candidate. That’s because her first answer to the question about responding to another attack was to use military force. “I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate,” Clinton said. That brought some sobering up in Republican quarters; it’s the Republican knee-jerk reaction to everything. Revenge.
In fact, though Hillary used the word revenge, the rest of her statement showed a more nuanced understanding of the problem. She followed her first statement with, “If we are attacked and we can determine who was behind that attack, and if there were nations that supported or gave material aid to those who attacked us, I believe we should quickly respond.”
The other candidates neither used the term nor distanced themselves from military action if it is warranted. But that didn’t satisfy the hawks on the Right who live on vengeance, not just as a military strategy but as a political strategy that belies the democratic process. Everyone who is not “with us” (us being Republicans and war hawks) is against us and therefore is fodder for vengeful actions. From election tricks to legal manipulations, from collateral damage to torture, it’s all seen through the eyes of payback.
Revenge is an old, even biblical postulate, though not all biblical scholars agree on the various eye-for-an-eye interpretations. But it is a philosophy that has been perpetuated throughout our own history with the same results: mob rule. From Remember the Alamo to Remember the Maine to the let’s try to forget the Gulf of Tonkin “incident,” American history is riddled with faux attacks that have led the populace to battle-cry.
We act like omniscient observers of the fighting in Iraq and other part of the Middle East where clans continue their hate from centuries ago, long past the time when anyone can remember what the argument was about in the first place. It is disdainfully explained to us that in these more “primitive” cultures, it is an honor to revenge those who humiliated your family. But history is full of such ‘honor’ killings – theirs and ours.
While we patronizingly claim no ownership of such “primitive” culture, the truth is we are following the same mob rule: Revenge the Arabs who humiliated us by daring to bomb New York, not once, but twice, growing in boldness over the years. Us, the US of A, the superpower, how dare they? It didn’t matter who the target was: all Arabs are the same – bomb them all to smithereens. President Clinton is constantly scapegoated for not having reacted with more force (translation: revenge) to the first bombing of the Trade Center and the USS Cole. After 911, Americans didn’t question the nexus to Iraq; it was almost irrelevant. The battle cry was revenge. In our revenge, we have ruined an independent Arab nation that will never be the same again, a nation that had nothing to do with the attack on us. As the bombing and destruction continue "there," we, the superpower, resume a "normal" life (just keep shopping) "here." So there!
What happened to modernization on the way to losing those parts of our history that serve no further purpose in our more evolved and civilized selves? Could we not enter a war with a country that attacked us by framing it not as revenge but as defense, as destruction of those who are trying to effect our demise, as self-protection? (As Hillary did after her first sentence.) Why does it have to be revenge? Revenge surely gets the public roused to a frenzy. Is that the intent? Do we need a public that is out for blood in order to justify war or military action? Though we don’t acknowledge it, we are still an eye-for-an-eye culture.
As a nation we like to proclaim connection to a higher truth and integrity. But our secret is that we are no more civilized than those we arrogantly look down upon for their primitive ways, behavior that we claim to be foreign to our culture. As the fight to withdraw from Iraq heats up and the politicians sketch out their strategies, we need to remember that playing chicken with people in foxholes is a dangerous game that has no end. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
© 2007 Lynne Glasner