Thursday, December 29, 2005

On weapons and tactics

Okay, so one of my mom's friends from way, way back is a kind of civilian columnist for her local paper, writing quasi-folksy columns every couple of weeks from the perspective of a conservative, wife, mother of four, and specifically mother of a son stationed in Iraq. She reported in her Christmas newsletter that her more politically charged columns have gotten some fairly passionate responses from both sides, and that one person she identifies as an "anti-war activist" has gone so far as to find out where she lives and stalk her.

I don't really know the woman well enough to tell if this is true, but I have no reason to believe that it's fabrication or exaggeration. There are kooks on both sides of the issue who are just obsessive enough to welcome, or even commit, acts of violence; when Cindy Sheehan threatened to tie herself to a fence in Crawford in protest of the 2,000th military death in Iraq, journalist Michael Fumento suggested that "maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out." Nice imagery there, Mike.

This friend of Mom's is kind of a conservative Cindy Sheehan writ small: she's passionate about politics in general and the politics of this war specifically; she's put herself out in the public eye, which does open her up to some amount of criticism; and she has the special and unenviable distinction of having a child in harm's way in Iraq. None of this should insulate her from public opinion, but I'd like to think it might offer some of the same respect that we Democrats have asked for Cindy Sheehan.

What bothers me about this situation, beyond the obvious "stalking is bad, mmkay" moral issues, is one response I got during a discussion of the situation: "Well, it's not like the other side doesn't do it, too." I really, really hate that as a justification for anything, and I particularly hate to hear it from our side of the aisle. We're adults and we should know better. Occasionally, though, even adults need to review our basic kindergarten rules of moral equivalence.

Just because their side engages in personal attacks doesn't mean we should. And I don't mean ad hominem attacks; those are a bad idea from a logic-and-debate standpoint, but they're also kind of fun. But personal attacks in terms of stalking, harrassment, threats or wishes of violence, those are all not okay. Attack a person's opinion or politics if you must, but families, coworkers, pets and most automobiles are out-of-bounds. It's just a matter of common decency. And common decency, for the record, should be liberals' default position. Even if being nice for the sake of niceness isn't good enough for you, consider that in a war of opinion, the moral high ground is the only high ground there is; while they're publicly wishing for crows to peck out someone's tongue, we need to be able to sit back and shake our heads.

Just because the terrorists torture doesn't mean we should. This one should seem so very simple, and yet it isn't. Even beyond the fact that most experts say torture is ineffective for gaining accurate intelligence, torture is wrong. Torture is what Saddam Hussein did and what the terrorists do, and we call them evil because of it; how, then, can we expect to do the same thing and justify it? If, in our efforts to beat them, we become them, what have we accomplished? Our country was founded and has grown on the concept of freedom and basic respect for human dignity. Abandon that in the name of national security, and we're not worth fighting for.

Just because others don't have rights doesn't mean we can't. The Nation's Dictionary of Republicanisms defines "democracy" as a product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted. It's funny 'cause it's true, which makes it completely unfunny. Since the Bush domestic spying program went public, people have been justifying his actions by saying that he was doing it in the interest of national security, that he's charged with the task of protecting the country and that we weren't really using those rights anyway. I can't think of a worse reason to voluntarily give up your civil liberties. I said it above: our country was founded and has grown on the concept of freedom and basic respect for human dignity. Take that away in the interest of national security, and we've got nothing.

All these things we do, we do in the name of security, without recognizing one crucial point: security is an illusion. On September 11, 2001, we discovered, to our horror, that our country is not impenetrable. Laws were passed and liberties curtailed, some out of logic, some out of fear, in the hopes of addressing that. Then, a few months ago, in spite of all of our laws and precautions, Hurricane Katrina wiped out an entire region of the country, and we realized that we're still not secure. We never will be. We could each go and live in individual underground bunkers monitored by closed-circuit TV, protected from acts of terror and acts of God and car accidents and drive-by shootings, and then we could slip on a grape and die on the floor of our kitchen. Or worse, we could live, tucked away in our bunkers, as close to perfectly safe as a person can be, with no life at all.

As illusory as it is, security is no reason to give up everything else that makes this country what it is. We can't become them to protect ourselves from them. Security is no reason to give up our liberty, and it's no reason to give up our humanity. We could get hit by terrorists or by hurricanes of by nothing at all, but all we have is who we are. I'm not giving that up for anything.

No comments: