FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Winning

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

When President Bush says we must make war in Iraq to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here, he’s saying each one of us is menaced by distant murderers and each one is protected by fighting over there. He is appealing to self-defense, saving our individual skin—an often compelling justification. Some people buy the rationale, though most see its radical oversimplification and historical distortion. The Iraquis had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. It was our attack and occupation of Iraq that brought Al Qaeda into Iraq. There is colossal callousness too—we devastate faraway cities and citizens and culture to protect our safety and comfort, all the while pronouncing that we’re protecting and liberating them.

Many US citizens know this and deplore our war, recognizing that we are war criminals by legal international standards. Passing laws to legitimize our behavior and insisting on our noble motives—as Blake might say “A Pretence of Liberty to Destroy Liberty”/“A Pretence of Love to Destroy Love”—only intensifies our culpability.
Yet public discourse still speaks of ‘winning’ as the only acceptable outcome—as though brutal warfare was a sports event and the myth of us as number one the only story that matters.

In the decline of the Vietnam War some people said cynically ‘declare victory and withdraw.’ They recognized the US need to ‘win.’Senator McCain, prisoner of war, says the military cannot afford to lose. When death and destruction, the means of war, are the action, the gameplan, the sacrificed soldiers and families have to have a worthy story, a good ending. They have to win somehow.

Many Americans love “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” line “as he died to make men holy let us die to make men free.” The Civil War Union soldiers are compared to Christ; they are noble for dying in a good cause. Christ of course was not a soldier; he did not smite in self-defense. He chose not to fight though he said he could command legions. Christ was in fact a victim of soldiers. He not only didn’t intone “Onward Christian Soldiers,” he instructed his followers not to resist evil with evil. When struck, he said, turn the other cheek. He ‘won’ not by inflicting death but by returning to life.

The Battle Hymn collapses the distinction and says death itself brings heroic life. War songs and war stories need to collapse the distinction to make a good winning story. Plato writes that poets must be banned from the ideal republic because they tell dangerous stories, losing not winning stories. Homer shows warrior Achilles in the land of the dead disparaging his heroic death. When Odysseus tells him all the world sings his warrior praises, Achilles says he’d rather be a live slave than a dead hero. Plato says this kind of talk will dissuade young men from fighting. It must not be allowed. Say instead that death is life; persuade young men to fight argues the philosopher who would be king.

The philosopher moves by abstraction, turning men into ideas and means to an end. Each one is sacrificed to the state. That entity which should safeguard each one becomes the entity for which the individual is sacrificed.

The poet understands not by abstraction but by embodiment, he sees the human form. So for Blake “the hapless Soldier’s sigh/ Runs in blood down Palace walls.”

The words about winning are not just vain boast, nor fuel for our dominating drives. They are also desperate attempts to recast death as life and by this spell save us from death and loss and ignominy.

Saying cannot make it so.

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

 


 

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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail