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Rummy and John Milton

Winning

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

"They say we can’t prevail. I see that violence and say we must win."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld urging the troops not to believe those who say the insurgents cannot be defeated or who otherwise doubt the will of the military to win, asking help to "win the test of wills."

Like Satan in Paradise Lost who said he would melt at the sight of the loving Adam and Eve and leave them in peace had he not promised his constituents to lead their righteous war of revenge, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld framed the challenge to the troops in Iraq as winning for our side. The poet Milton, a veteran of political speeches, remarks about Satan’s line "so spake the Fiend, and with necessity,/ The tyrant’s plea, excused his devilish deeds.". Milton understood this is always the rationalization: we do it for God and country and goodness and peace and democracy and freedom and Allah and our land and good guy winning. He also kept noting that Satan spoke ‘glozing lies’-glossing, flattering, smooth empty words to mask the malice.

"I see that violence and say we must win." Help "win the test of wills" against the insurgents. The insurgents no doubt say the same thing. They see American violence-over 100,000 civilians killed, cities in rubble and without security-and say they must resist the occupying violent force. Who is winning what?

Pork Chop Hill? Fallujah? Hearts and minds? Freedom? Democracy? Our land? Our religion?
The test of wills for Rumsfeld is military will. We will fight.

Winning is a sports figure-competitive, fight team fight. If we import ‘winning’ to war the rationalization of violence goes from exerting energy and living to fight another day to rationalizing death. Enemy violence becomes bad violence because they are evil and our violence becomes righteous violence because we are good. Violence is the necessary tool-as torture can be or the death of 100,000 civilians. Not a bad thing. The good end justifies the bad means. ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.’ ‘Freedom is messy,’ as Rumsfeld flippantly said about pillaging and looting Baghdad. Rumsfeld slings cliches like guided missiles taking out objections. He’s excellent at guerilla comments.

Lately people have taken exception to his slingers. ‘You go to war with the army you have not the army you want’ was called arrogant and insensitive. Signing death letters with a machine was called callous and contrasted with the commander-in-chief’s personalized signatures. The President then defended his warrior chief as a kind fellow and the warrior chief himself talked about his deep compassion and feeling.. The current cliches are feeling cliches.

The winning the Secretary of Defense is good at is word winning. We have lost the war of hearts and minds. We are losing the war of violence, that contagious poison we unleashed and can’t control.

During the Vietnam War many said we should just declare we won and leave-cynically understanding that we cannot bear to lose. Though we absolutely did lose despite incurring more devastation than we can measure.

Iraq invasion was presented as a preemptive but defensive war against weapons of mass destruction. Then it was defended as bringing freedom and democracy to an oppressed people. Now it is pursued as a war against insurgent anti-democratic violence. Whether these are all glozing lies or delusions or public relations packaging Milton would say God alone knows. In Milton’s view only God can pierce hypocrisy because humans and even angels are fooled by the pretense of piety.

The great thing about the idea of God is that it asserts that human judgment is imperfect. We should understand we cannot read hearts and minds. We should read actions. Which speak louder than words. Destruction is not liberation. Death is not freedom. Evil is not good. No matter the excuse or repackaging.

Winning can be glozing.

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