Are the political opponents of George Bush, who are advocating cut-and-run in Iraq, about to take the attrition war there (which by any objective measure the USA cannot possibly lose on the battlefield) and turn gradual military advantage into decisive political defeat?
(I thought of putting up a category – “Patriotism” – but figure this is still “Iraq.”) Anyway, I’m not sure whose “political defeat” he means, but do know whose purpose is primarily self-serving.
I swam through the seventies and eighties, immersed in a leftish world (listening to NPR, going to faculty parties). As Huck Finn demonstrates, if all the institutions (the church, the news media, academia) have a unified if deeply flawed value system, not only do we see everything in terms of that system; indeed, it becomes difficult to see anything about it as wrong. We see a bad choice, indeed, we may see sin, where someone more in touch with natural law (a pretty foreign concept to our generation) would see virtue. My generation, or at least some of us, may someday be seen as the rather xenophobic, licentious, and self-indulgent people we were. But we’re still writing the history.
We “knew” as the air we breathed that those whose response to Tet was cutting & running were the good guys; those who wanted to fight it out were the bad ones. And we boomers preferred thinking of ourselves as righteous. The result was an arrogance many still find characteristic of us. So, we’ve never, not really, been called to account for the boat people, the killing fields, the deaths that we left in our wake, returning to the comfortable seventies, the booming eighties and the self-indulgent nineties.
We seem sure we’ll always miss the bullet. But I suspect both my students (irritated at a social security system that seems unlikely to benefit them) and the bin Ladens (who do not see us as quite so righteous) are less likely to find our answers, our solipsism, our self-righteousness attractive. The long tradition and the empowering beliefs that our great institutions have debased and ignored may not, then, be around to protect us. We have been quite swift to utter such banalties as “the terrorists just want to be free” – misunderstanding freedom, what they want, what we believe all in a moment of blinding stupidity, ahistoricism.
To answer de Havilland’s question. I don’t think we are yet ready to recognize our responsibilities to both our tradition and the next generation. We just don’t want to be bothered. So, yes, I think about any damn thing that happens is going to be hailed as “Tet.” Quagmire has lost its impact, it is time to use a new Vietnam metaphor.
But, I pause, I’m writing this. After 9/11, I’ve rethought much of what I believe and have felt alive & responsible and incredibly proud of the tradition I’ve been so lucky to live in. I’ve also found groups of people – at school, at home, on the web – that have far too broad and long a vision to see any resemblance to “Tet” in a battle in a country which is now writing its constitution. Some of us are just speaking out more, others of us have changed. Perhaps more of my generation has than I think. And, then, the answer to de Havilland is, “No,” and it is because in part of military blogs and a fragmented media that now includes Fox and because maybe even we will grow up and we will realize we have to be the grownups.