Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bad Guy / Good Guy

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

“You help me find the bad guy or we come back with our tanks and run over your fields and break down your house.”

US soldier to a northern Iraqi villager,
July 17, 2003, CNN news

The soldiers face sniping resistance and are attempting to root out the fighters who blend into the Iraqi village population. So they’re coercing information from the neighbors through the threat of ravage. This tactic is not exactly the same as the Israeli practice of destroying the land and homes of Palestinian suicide bombers’ families. That is deliberately punitive revenge and it’s also rationalized as deterrence. Our soldiers’ tactic is simply brutal coercion, guerilla warfare, extortion.

Should ‘good guys’ get ‘bad guys’ by coercing and ravaging neutral guys? Didn’t we disparage Saddam’s inhumanity by pointing out that he terrorized his own people in a reign of fear and retribution? Or does war suppress humanitarian questions and radicalize everyone into good guys who are with us and bad guys who are against us? The soldiers who mistakenly kill civilians they think are hostile are excused because fear is seen as a reasonable excuse. Alan Dershowitz, sometime defender of civil rights, thinks even torture is allowable. Everybody knows people do these things. Warrior types sneer at liberal squeamishness. Ann Coulter swashbuckles that we should ravage and kill and convert the Muslims. As Yeats puts it: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

One reason it’s so difficult to move from war to peace is that they’re different tactics. War forces and peace frees. U.S. Americans love both force and freedom-the tough guys who triumph and the high ideal. As Tony Blair so deftly demonstrated speaking to the US Congress, we thrill to freedom talk, stand up and clap for it, are willing to die for it, love the flag for it. My favorite revolutionary war headstone reads “When I heard freedom was the cause my heart was enlisted.”

But it’s hard to love the soldier who says get me the bad guy or I ruin your fields and house. When Saddam Hussein terrorized and threatened his people and punished them for criticizing him we said he was a monster worthy of death. Is the soldier that, or does he get a pass because it’s us against them and war is hell and any means possible is ok if it’s a bad guy you’re after?

The soldier is still in war mode, which is reasonable as he’s being shot at. He’s not a policeman or a peacemaker except in the war fantasy that killing and destroying will make all well in the end because we’ll get rid of evil. Our exorcisms fail for several reasons, including the obvious trouble we have catching demons. Like Khaddafi and Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, our Iraqi incarnation of evil, evaded our awesome decapitation campaign. This unnerves the Iraqis who are afraid he’ll come back and also punctures our apocalyptic pose. The day of reckoning George Bush promised Saddam Hussein is postponed due the sacrificial oblation’s sneaking away to escape smiting. Death comes to us all in course, but taking out bad guys gives us the illusion that we’re in charge and triumphal.

If we caught Saddam today and put his head on a pole as they did in 17th century Britain would all be well, would there be no more bad guys, would we be good guys because we killed the bad guy? The demons aren’t only out there. It’s a fantasy to think they can be packaged into regimes which can be changed like socks-the holy tossing the holey.

Is it a good guy tactic to destroy a person’s fields and home to force him to name his neighbor as a bad guy? Aren’t these tactics we’ve deplored in other regimes? Are they good because we do them and we’re good? What moral maelstrom do we descend to to delude ourselves so?

Most religious and moral teachings warn against thinking you’re good. Call no man good is the counsel. The wisdom is that if you think you’re good you’re dangerous because you won’t acknowledge where you’re bad. Contrary to popular appetite, it’s not all or nothing, good or bad forever fixed, but separate actions in time. You can be good today and bad tomorrow, bad yesterday and good today. If you’re free it’s an open option.

The only unforgivable sin Christ named is confusing good and evil, calling evil good and good evil.

The bad guy doesn’t define the good guy. Actions do.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail