Sunday, June 11, 2006

Support the troops?

Many Americans are very patriotic. While I think patriotism is an overrated virtue, I can live with it. But some Americans are too much so. If you live in the US, you can't escape one of the most visible expressions of empty nationalism, the "Support The Troops" bumper sticker. On a daily basis, I see people driving SUV's -- each as big as a house and probably guzzling enough gas to light up Baghdad for a day -- with these bumper stickers on the back. I can not think of a more vacuous expression of support.

Does the army deserve unconditional support? Even when they massacre innocent civilians by the dozens? Granted that the civilians in this case were from Haditha, Iraq, who don't count (About 3000 American soldiers are dead. The most conservative estimate for the number of Iraqi deaths since the "liberation" of Iraq is upwards of 60,000). It is undeniable that at the lowest level, it is self-interest that motivates people to voice their "support" for the poor troops, who do their fighting for them, while they go on watching American Idol.

It is this same self-serving and nationalistic sentiment that is being exploited by those in power to malign critics (witness the Valerie Plame leak), introduce fascist legislation like wiretapping people's conversations, spying on journalists, and so on, all in the name of national security.

One of the most disturbing instances of this came recently when a German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, filed a lawsuit in the US for being mistakenly held by the CIA in Afghanistan for almost half a year, and "renditioned" ("beaten, sodomized and repeatedly questioned about alleged terrorist ties"). A federal judge acknowledged that he was wrongfully held, and "has suffered injuries" and "deserves remedies". But the Justice Department invoked a "state-secrets" clause to force the judge to throw out the lawsuit because of the "grave danger" it posed. When individual safety begins to be compromised in the name of a larger interest--national security is only a mask it wears--we know we are entering a totalitarian atmosphere. As a libertarian, I find this revolting and scary.

A less grave, yet equally stupid instance of what I call language nationalism is the call for making English the national and official language of the US. George Will, a columnist for the Washington Post, wants legislation to stop ballots in heavily Hispanic areas from being bilingual. He argues in his column "A Vote for English" that the "civic conversation" in America can only be understood if you speak English.

Hey, genius George, although it is debatable (civilly, of course), let me take for granted the existence of the nation's civic conversation. But you do know there is such a thing as translation, don't you? I am pretty sure that Spanish (for instance) can accomodate equally well any idea that can be expressed in English, if not better. As for your typically conservative paranoia about "the national identity becoming attenuated" due to immigration, Spanish is the fastest growing language in the United States. In a few decades, if not sooner, it will be as widely spoken as English. In other words, Spanish will very soon be a part of the national identity of the United States, if not already. Not recognizing this reality, and imposing your idiotic views on everyone else is symptomatic of the jingoism I am talking about.

Winner of award for biggest tool of May, 2006: George Will. Runners-up: people who think its cool to use IM-type English ("u r so hot lol!!!") in all written communication.


vishvas said...

I guess 'tool' in "Winner of award for biggest tool" means "[vulgar] Obscene term for penis"..
or was it a real spelling error?

Anonymous said...


Not quite. This is the sense of the word in which I used it:

From Wikipedia:

The word "tool" may be used as an insult, describing someone who is being manipulated without their knowledge - implying they are naïve and ignorant.