Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tony Long asks why 2006 is not 1968

In an article in Wired News, Tony Long laments that what he perceives as Americans' narcissism has led to their being hoodwinked into complacency with regard to Iraq, the environment, and our civil rights, a la Brave New World.

He argues that Americans are too busy with their iPods, American Idol, and SUVs to care enough to "set ... cities afire" and "collapse" political institutions like the "Democratic convention." It is almost as though Mr. Long "longs" for a return to the depths of America's mid-twentieth century self-loathing that came from the convulsions of the 1960s and 70s.

His article, though, engaged me enough that I thought his honest (if sad) questions deserved an answer. Follows is my effort to do so.

* * *

IRAQ IS NOT VIETNAM
A response to Tony Long's requiem for 1968

by Dillon Barker

MONTGOMERY, ALA. -- In short, Mr. Long, the answer to your questions as to why no one is in the streets, is because people do not feel the way you do. And Iraq is not Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the United States was acting cynically and blatantly in its own self-interest to contain communism and protect our way of life; and yes, we are doing the same thing in Iraq.

But the difference -- and it is a fundamental difference -- between the two is how we are relating with and engaging the people of Iraq.

In Iraq, there is no clash of superpowers or socio-economic ideologies. Indeed there is a clash of ideologies, but it is easy for Americans to decide between the two.

In Vietnam, Americans were asserting that our way -- a capitalistic democracy founded upon separation of powers and subject to a free market -- was the way. We contested against a popular socialist regime that was supported by what was perceived by many Americans (and, of course, many other people around the world at that time) to be a legitimate alternative to the American way.

In Iraq, there is no such confusion: America went to Iraq for cynical, self-interested reasons, it is true -- after all, we did not want them to have weapons of mass destruction to protect ourselves.

America remains in Iraq not to force Iraqis into an American model, as we attempted with the Vietnamese, but to hold the line against an anti-democratic, anti-liberal ideology that has demonstrably and systemtically proclaimed itself to be a fundamentalist, totalitarian, and fascist system.

The insurgents in Iraq are not the Viet Cong. Instead of fighting for the people, to secure their social and economic liberty, as the Communists sought to do, the Islamo-fascists (or terrorists or al-Qaeda follows or whatever you choose to call them) have explicity stated that democracy is evil, that freedom of speech, thought, worship, assembly, etc., are not virtues but vices to be eradicated.

When Americans compare and contrast the two, they are not confused as they were in Vietnam. They do not see two bullies trying to dominate the neighborhood at the expense of a third party. They see a fundamental fight between the progress that humankind has made -- gathered from civilizations around the world -- battling forces of reaction, and they do not want to go back. They know that all liberal democracies -- whether in America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or the Pacific -- are challenged by this ideology.

And so, instead of taking to the streets in blind imitation of events from thirty years ago, they continue to allow our President -- in an admittedly bumbling manner -- to continue this fight against totalitarianism. Because no matter how much they may dislike George W. Bush, they know that he only has two years left, and that after him, the democratic process will lead to another leader.

They know that the same is not true about Osama bin Laden or the insurgents in Iraq. Mr. Long, I applaud your concern for our country and your hopes for what America could -- and should -- be. And I agree with you that we should not sacrifice the very essence of liberal ideals in the name of their defense.

But when confronted with people diametrically opposed to what we hold dear and cherish, compromise is not an option. Compromising with persons who would end not only our way of life, but our very understanding of life is not an option.

We must instead demand that our leaders, of both parties, conservative and liberal, continue to take the fight to our enemies. For indeed, the people who continue to bomb Iraqi civilians now, after a constitutional and democratic Iraqi government -- completely dissimilar to American democracy, but a unique and special expression of Iraqis' hopes and dreams -- has been established are attacking the very heart of not only our Western civilization, as embodied in the United States and the Europeans, but also Human Civilization, as embodied in the United Nations and India, Japan, South Africa, South Korea -- all the democracies, imperfect though they may be -- in the world.

It can be argued that we did not go to Iraq for the right reasons. But we must remain there, as long as we are welcome, to defend the fragile flower of hope for self-government and liberty that has blossomed in Mesopotamia.

To do otherwise would only compound our earlier fault.

* * *

FEELING: A sense of resolve
LISTENING TO: My conscience

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