Because They Think We Are Weak
It seems to be a given that the presidency of George Bush, the younger, has been, in all matters international, a grand experiment in testing the theories of those folks called the neoconservatives - that is, putting the precepts of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) into action.
You know the cast of characters. The chairman is William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular contributor to on Fox News. Others project members moved into administration slots - Elliott Abrams, pardoned for the Iran-Contra business, is now our National Security Council Representative for Middle Eastern Affairs; Richard Armitage was Deputy Secretary of State (2001-2005); John Bolton is now our UN ambassador after being Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs; Cheney is Vice President and one of the founders. And there was Francis "the end of history" Fukuyama, once on the President's Council on Bioethics Council but now fed up with the whole business. Another PNAC big gun was Zalmay Khalilzad - now our ambassador to Iraq and previously our ambassador to Afghanistan. Add to the PNAC list Scooter Libby and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and all the others - Jeb Bush, Steve Forbes, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Dan Quayle, and so on and so forth. It's quite a crew.
The group was established in 1997 with the aim, it seems, of establishing military and economic, space, cyberspace, and global domination by the United States, to establish - or maintain - American dominance in world affairs, claiming it is our moral duty to do so, as history shows that free-market capitalism and western-style democracy are the only systems that really work well in this world to make things just fine for everyone concerned. And besides, there's no one else who can fix the world - we're the only superpower left standing. The implication is that occurred because how we run things just works - nothing else does.
What was an interesting theory in 1997 got a chance for a test-run with the Supreme Court in 2000 declaring Bush, not Kerry, should be president. Cheney, one of the founding members, would guide the new incurious and shallow president in the details of implementation. And the attacks of September 2001 suddenly provided an opening to really put the theories into operation. So after a feint at Afghanistan we were off to remake the Middle East by changing the nature of Iraq, and to work on regime change anywhere we were opposed. We defined the Axis of Evil and declared our now "forward leaning" approach to world affairs - preventative war, disguised under the term preemptive war. The first is illegal under international law, the second allowed in extraordinary circumstances, like imminent attack. We talked about WMD and all that in Iraq, but decided, after that didn't pan out, to fudge the difference. They're just words. Who cares, and anyway, who's going to stop us?
Insofar as "9/11 changed everything" is concerned, it did. The folks who were considered jingoistic, messianic nutcases in 1997, and were tentatively fiddling with their new boy-toy president in 2000, in 2001 took control. The grand plan was underway. And they're still working on working out the details of implementation - the Iraq experiment didn't go as planned, and Iran and North Korea aren't cowering in fear and changing their ways. We're now told this will take some time, and maybe another war or two. On Friday, September 22, 2006, the number of troops we've lost in the current war exactly matched the number killed here on September 11, 2001 - adding a curious detail that might raise some eyebrows regarding the wisdom of the grand plan. Just what are we doing?
Those who object to this "forward leaning" approach to world affairs - do things our way or die - are told that the simply misunderstood how things work in this world. They are told, with condescending patience, that others oppose us, and in particular terrorists attack us, because they perceive that we are "weak." Vice President Cheney most often articulated this view, presenting it as an axiom, a given no one could dispute. It was a simple if-then argument - if those who don't think much of our policies or our freedoms or even our haircuts think we're weak they attack, and if they think we're strong, then they simply don't. Thus the key to everything, and especially to our safety, is never to appear weak in any way at all. Others have to see we are not hobbled by any rules or laws the bad guys thought we'd follow, not limited by our traditions of fairness and tolerance, and not constrained by pesky western moral scruples. A scruple is a moral or ethical consideration inhibiting action, or, alternatively, a jeweler's measure of weight - 6.479891 carats to be exact. The first meaning now doesn't matter much, and the second is esoteric trivia. Forget both. We must have a "muscular approach" to things and keep the bad guys off balance. They think they'll take advantage of us being nice. They've got another thing coming.
All of that is, of course, context for seeing how we're dealing with the two issues of the day. Those are, first, the upcoming war with Iran, where we bomb away all their capability to enrich uranium, a necessary step to producing nuclear weapons, and also the cover story for the September 25 issue of Time Magazine, and second, the compromise reached between the White House and some feisty senators that now allows the CIA to continue what the rest of the world sees as torture. Both are important statements to the bad guys - we're not the wimps you think we are, so back off.
Regarding the Iran business, Bill Montgomery here provides a lengthy analysis of the game of chicken underway, and who has which possible motivations, and what the next most likely moves are on each side. He sees Iran having the advantage now - time and the knowledge we have resource constraints - so he concludes this -
There is only one US move I can think of that could possibly offset Iran's natural advantages in this game of geopolitical chess - the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The objective of such a strike would not only be to destroy Iran's nuclear plants more completely, but to demonstrate to Tehran that the old rules don't apply, that America is prepared to commit even barbarous war crimes if that's what it takes to deter hostile powers from acquiring, or even trying to acquire, nuclear weapons.
It would, in other words, take the logic of preventative war - and Cheney's one percent doctrine - to their ultimate conclusion.
Perhaps saturation bombing - the indiscriminate destruction of Iran's civilian infrastructure and economic resources - could accomplish the same goal. It would, however, take longer, be messier (from the Pentagon's point of view) and wouldn't have the same psychological shock value as the deliberate first use of tactical nuclear weapons. A certain kind of mind (that is, one resembling a vacant lot) might even convince itself that a nuclear strike is actually the more humane option, or that it's what Harry Truman would have done, or some other piece of sophism.
The consequences, of course, would be appalling - for the Iranian people, for the world, for Americans who prefer not to be regarded as the direct, linear heirs of the Nazi Party. But if the overriding objective is to stop Iran from building a bomb - or rather, to make absolutely sure they can't or won't build one - and military force is held to be the only option left on the table, then a tactical nuclear strike, or even multiple strikes, may be the only way to do it.
Matt Yglesias has reported chatter in Washington that the Cheneyites might order such a strike and then deny it, relying on the chaotic aftermath and the residual traces of Iran's own nuclear materials to cover their traces. This sounds absurd to me - I'm reasonably sure it would be technically impossible to hide the tell tale signs of a nuclear detonation. But the fact that it's being talked about - even if just as a cocktail party rumor - is a bad sign. It means the idea is being normalized, injected into the debate, made thinkable. I can already imagine the boys at Fox News awarding Shrub brownie points because he doesn't deny ordering the first use of nuclear weapons.
It's getting very dark in here - the little bit of light left is primarily the result of me trying to convince myself the signs we saw in the run up to the Iraq invasion don't have the same significance this time around. Who knows? Maybe doing the same things and expecting different results isn't crazy after all.
Yes, the famous definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting, somehow, different results, or as Doctor Johnson once put it, the triumph of hope over experience. But maybe the "muscular approach" will work this time - we'll be made safe by our being unexpectedly brutal, and everyone will, if not admire us, at least never think of messing with us or opposing us.
In a parallel way, the administration, in response to the Supreme Court pointing out that the Geneva Conventions actually do apply to the terrorists we've captured - we ratified and are party to the treaty so it actually is the law for us - is invested heavily in going on record publicly that we will continue to treat prisoners in ways all other nations consider torture. We will not be hobbled by any scruples in this matter - we will define what we do as not really torture, but close enough that no one will ever consider us wimps and think we won't fight back. Much of this is for domestic consumption - a political move to paint any Democrats who object as unworthy of office - they won't go the extra mile to keep America safe. But it has its international component - we're not the "nice guy" losers the bad guys seem to assume we are. Nice guys finish last, or in this case, we're told they die as cowards.
Of course pulling this off is tricky. We cannot say "screw the rules" and have any allies at all. We have to say we are clarifying how we interpret the rules, out of necessity, and for practical purposes - but they're fine rules and everyone should follow them.
This leads to a curious headline in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, the New York Times' newspaper there. They run the Associated Press account of the compromise on torture policy under the headline President to Define Geneva Standards. And that's the "out" here.
The basic are clear. The compromise deal, if passed next week by Congress as planned, would end "a two-week stretch of headlines on Republican infighting." So that helps the Republicans. And it also would allow us to go back to full-on CIA interrogations, as nasty as before. And it would permit the administration to begin prosecuting terrorists linked to the 9/11 attacks in new tribunals.
But the devil is the details - the compromise plan explicitly states that the president can, on his own, "interpret the meaning and application" of the Geneva Convention standards. That's his call - no one else's. But it also enumerates acts that constitute a war crime - torture, rape, biological experiments, and cruel and inhuman treatment. They kept the list short. He needs leeway.
As for the military tribunals the Supreme Court shot down - no one authorized those - there is now authorization. During those trials "coerced testimony" would be admissible - if a judge allows and if it was obtained before cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment was forbidden by a 2005 law. So we become the first modern nation beside Stalinist Russia to allow that. The three "rebel" Republican senators - John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - had wanted to exclude it. They folded. They decided that didn't matter much. They were concerned with our obligations under the Geneva Conventions, and they got a gentlemen's agreement that the president would meet those obligations, as he alone defines those obligations. They trust him.
And there are other minor details -
The agreement contains concessions by both sides, although the White House yielded ground on two of the most contentious issues: It agreed to drop one provision that would have narrowly interpreted international standards of prisoner treatment and another allowing defendants to be convicted on evidence they never see.
One potential issue that lingers and could be a problem for House-Senate conferees on the final version of the bill is the question of how to protect classified information which might be brought into evidence in a military tribunal.
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said he felt "very confident" that the issue could be ironed out in negotiations still to come.
We'll see how that works out. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined Democrats in insisting that all suspects have a right to challenge their detention in a US court. The agreement reached Thursday strips those at Guantánamo Bay of those habeas corpus rights. It's the tribunals or nothing. Most Democratic senators said they would carefully review the deal but AP says they appeared unlikely to oppose it.
So that's that.
If you're one of those conservatives who think the AP is left wing, hopeless bleeding-heart liberal and hates America, and hates George Bush, and wants the terrorist to win, you can read the actual compromise document here. Just know that, as with most legal documents, every comma matters, and it's not lively prose. Knock yourself out.
And don't pay attention to Vladimir Bukovsky, the fellow who spent nearly twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals - one of those pesky nonviolent human rights protesters who has written a few books on such matters. He's sixty-three now and has lived Cambridge, England, since the mid-seventies. He's not in the game, but he says this -
I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse.
This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.
Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources.
When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.
So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.
But we're not doing torture from here on out. It just looks like it. And it's supposed to. That the message.
And there's the "gentlemen's agreement" - but you can see that, as Andrew Sullivan does, this way -
The major step forward in this bill, however, seems to me to be the idea that the president specify in the Federal Register the torture methods he has actually approved. What I don't understand - and what even now good lawyers tell me they don't understand - is why these techniques aren't already published before the bill is passed; or whether they will be published ahead of a torture session or after it; or whether the president can simply withhold this information as he sees fit. Some lawyers say that the president will not be required to issue such regulations and facts; merely permitted to do so. If that's true, it's meaningless. My fear is that this is a ruse; my hope is that it is a window for transparency. It is critical that the president tell the American people and the world what techniques he is using and what standards are being applied in the name of the United States. Sources tell me that there is a gentleman's agreement that waterboarding is now off the table, that sleep deprivation will be restricted to 48 hours (as opposed to 48 days in one case), and that other barbaric practices like hypothermia will cease.
The trouble is: Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Addington are not gentlemen. If we have learned anything these past few years, it is that they are not to be trusted on the torture question, that they have lied repeatedly and knowingly and insistently, that their use of the English language is designed to obfuscate and obscure the reality they are advancing, and the constitutional freedoms they are bent on dismantling. In so far as this bill grants this president discretion in enforcing Geneva, it means that the standards of Geneva will not apply under this president - although they might under a more civilized and competent one.
I should add that it is essential to the integrity of language and law that the word torture not be defined out of existence. Waterboarding, hypothermia, long-time-standing, and various forms of stress positions are torture, have always been torture and always will be torture. What we must do is what Orwell demanded: speak plain English before it evaporates from our discourse, refuse to acquiesce to the corruption of language and decency. In that respect, the press must continue to ask both McCain and all administration representatives whether passing this bill means that waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, long-time-standing or stress positions are now illegal and unavailable to the CIA. They must not be allowed to get away with the answer that they will not mention specific techniques. The specifics are everything. And we must not be snowed by abuse of English into saying something is true when it isn't. Until they are completely forthcoming on these critical details, this bill should not be passed.
Sullivan is not a trusting sort. And the bill is a done deal.
And as for clarity, see Marty Lederman here -
More important is the bill's definition of "serious physical pain or suffering." One would think that, on any reasonable understanding of ordinary language, the "alternative" CIA techniques do, indeed, result in serious physical suffering, at the very least. Indeed, such serious suffering - and the prospect of ending such suffering by telling one's interrogators what they wish to hear - is the whole point of using such techniques in the first place. But remarkably - and not accidentally - the bill's definition would not cover all such actual "serious physical suffering."
The definition would require, for one thing, a "bodily injury" - something that would not necessarily result from use of the CIA techniques - even though one can of course be subject to great physical suffering without any "physical injury."
What's worse, such physical injury would also have to "involve" at least one of the following:
(1) a substantial risk of death;
(2) extreme physical pain;
(3) a burn or physical disfigurement of a serious nature, not to include cuts, abrasions, or bruises; or
(4) significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.
As you can see, this definition simply does not cover many categories of actual serious physical suffering, including, naturally, the physical suffering that ordinarily results from the CIA techniques that have been reported.
The result, unfortunately, is a very constrained conception of what constitutes "cruel treatment" - a much narrower conception than a fair or reasonable interpretation of Geneva Article 3(1)(a) would provide.
And therefore the bill would appear to exclude from the definition of "cruel treatment" many cases of actual cruel treatment prohibited by Common Article 3. And when that occurs, it is likely the Executive will construe the statute - and Common Article 3, as well - to permit some forms of cruel treatment that Geneva in fact proscribes, i.e., the "alternative" CIA techniques. Indeed, it's happened already: The ink was hardly dry on the draft when numerous Administration spokespersons were gleefully informing the press that the bill is a green light to the CIA to reinstitute the "alternative" techniques that Hamdan had effectively interdicted.
Byron York has gone so far as to relate that "both sides appear to believe that the agreement permits the CIA to continue to use sleep deprivation, cold rooms, and other such techniques," even though such techniques do, in fact, constitute a breach of our Geneva obligations.
As Sullivan notes, we "formally" leave Geneva alone, but grant the executive branch complete discretion in determining what "cruel" means; and the language of the bill certainly can be construed to allow waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and long-time standing. It even allows for a person to be beaten, cut, or near-drowned. What was the point of all this again?
The Washington Post is exasperated here -
The bad news is that Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation.
Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to US courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated US law against war crimes.
So is the New York Times here -
About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush's agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant.
... On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House's original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
Yep, they caved.
Of course the Democrats weren't even around, and Charles Pierce notes here -
The New York Times has the right of it here, limning the pathetic gullibility at the heart of the "compromise." There is nothing in this bill that President Thumbscrews can't ignore. There is nothing in this bill that reins in his feckless and dangerous reinterpretation of the powers of his office. There is nothing in this bill that requires him to take it - or its congressional authors - seriously. Two weeks ago, John Yoo set down in The New York Times the precise philosophical basis on which the administration will sign this bill and then ignore it. The president will decide what a "lesser breach" of the Geneva Conventions is? How can anyone over the age of five give this president that power? And wait until you see the atrocity that I guarantee you is coming down the tracks concerning the fact that the president committed at least 40 impeachable offenses with regard to illegal wiretapping.
And the Democratic Party was nowhere in this debate. It contributed nothing. On the question of whether or not the United States will reconfigure itself as a nation which tortures its purported enemies and then grants itself absolution through adjectives - "Aggressive interrogation techniques" - the Democratic Party had… no opinion. On the issue of allowing a demonstrably incompetent president as many of the de facto powers of a despot that you could wedge into a bill without having the Constitution spontaneously combust in the Archives, well, the Democratic Party was more pissed off at Hugo Chavez.
This was as tactically idiotic as it was morally blind. On the subject of what kind of a nation we are, and to what extent we will live up to the best of our ideals, the Democratic Party was as mute and neutral as a stone. Human rights no longer have a viable political constituency in the United States of America. Be enough of a coward, though, and cable news will fit you for a toga.
Yeah, well, the Democrats didn't even oppose other details - past violations of the Geneva would not result in criminal or civil legal action (the get out of jail free card), but the agreement prohibits detainees from using the Geneva Conventions to challenge their imprisonment or seek civil damages for mistreatment, as the administration wanted al along (no get out of jail card there). And this - "A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that Bush essentially got what he asked for in a different formulation that allows both sides to maintain that their concerns were addressed. 'We kind of take the scenic route, but we get there,' the official said."
And the political analysis from Digby at Hullabaloo here -
McCain, the Republican rebel maverick, showed that Republicans are moral and look out for their troops.
Bush, the Republican statesman and leader, showed that he is committed to protecting Americans but that he is willing to listen and compromise when people of good faith express reservations about tactics.
The Democrats showed they are ciphers who don't have the stones to even say a word when the most important moral issue confronting the government is being debated.
… I honestly think it would have been much, much better if they'd have forced their way into the debate and taken a firm stand -- if only to show they give a damn. This is a turn-out election and I have a feeling many a Democrat's stomach will turn as they see this triumph of GOP "leadership" in action. Why bother to vote when the Democrats don't bother to show up?
Political winners, assuming the detainee deal is drafted and goes to a floor vote in the House and Senate:
- Bush: In return for making some concessions, he gets clear guidance for CIA interrogators on what they can and can't do to detainees and he ends an intra-party impasse.
- McCain: Conservative commentators had attacked him for blocking Bush on the detainee tribunals but now he can resume his courtship of the GOP rank and file as he looks to the 2008 presidential nomination.
Probable losers: Civil libertarians who may still object to the tribunals and Democrats who have been laying low on the issue, apparently assuming that McCain-Bush impasse would prevent any deal. "They painted themselves into a corner," said GOP Senate aide Don Stewart. "They said, 'I'm with McCain,' and now McCain has reached an agreement."
So it was all good politics, and the bad guys know we don't mess around.
Still Richard Einhorn is unhappy -
So tell me, my fellow Americans:
How does it feel knowing that your government will pass laws permitting the violation of the Geneva Conventions against torture?
How does it feel knowing the taxes you pay from money you earned are going towards the salary of legally sanctioned torturers?
How does it feel knowing that the only political party with an organization large enough to stand in opposition to the American fascists in charge of this country's legislature and executive were actually boasting that they were not going to get involved in one of the most important moral debates of our time?
And how does it feel to have George W. Bush, that paragon of moral probity, mental stability, and well-informed intelligence, granted the legal right to determine what is and isn't torture?
I'll tell you how I feel. I am outraged and ashamed.
Shame, shame, shame on the cowards in both parties that permitted this disgracefully grotesque farce to happen. This is as inexcusable a stupidity as the neglect that permitted the 9/11 attacks, the idiotic reasoning and intellectual blindness that advocated and executed the Bush/Iraq war, and the failure to prepare for Katrina.
What the hell is going on, that a country that prides itself on its heritage of freedom and liberty, that fought such an awful war over the degrading enslavement of human beings - that such a country would vote to permit some of the most repulsive and evil practices human beings are capable of and place the power to do so directly in the hands of a moral midget?
What can you say? It seems 9/11 changed everything.
And anyway, it kept people from thinking about the war for a few weeks.
Maybe Robert Dreyfuss is correct here -
What's happening in Washington now is that the establishment political class - and that includes the military, moderate Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the jabbering pundits and op-ed writers, and the bulk of the think tank denizens - are coming to grips with the stark fact that the war in Iraq is over. And that the United States has lost. It's beginning to sink in, but it won't be confronted directly by the political class until after the November elections. After that, all hell is going to break loose. If the Democrats win back Congress, it will happen faster - but even if the Republicans hang on, the gusting winds on Iraq now buffeting the White House will gather strength to become a full-fledged, Category 5 hurricane.
And why are more and more people quoting Mark Twain from 1906 on the war in the Philippines where in his "Glances at History" - notes on a book he never got around to writing - where he wrote this -
I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object - robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician's trick - a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: "Our Country, right or wrong!" An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor - none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, "Our Country, right or wrong," and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?
For in a republic, who is "the Country?" Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant - merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is "the Country?"?Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousand; it is in the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn't.
The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: "Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor." Why, not even a burglar could have said it better. We cannot withdraw from this sordid raid because to grant peace to those little people on their terms - independence - would dishonor us. You have flung away Adam's phrase - you should take it up and examine it again. He said, "An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war."
You have planted a seed, and it will grow.
This page originally posted on Sunday, September 24, 2006