Tuesday, November 20, 2012

America, love it or leave it

Remember Vietnam? It was a dirty little war that exposed fault lines in American society. Since the Civil Rights movement was going on at the same time, we tend to lump them together as the turmoil of the 1960s. But there are some aspects of the Vietnam anti-war movement that deserve special attention today.

On one hand, during Vietnam, we had the conservatives who thought and said, "My country, right or wrong," and "America, love it or leave it." They meant, shut up and go fight, even in a stupid war. No doubt, they were committed to America, but their idea of the meaning of America was the limited view of an obedient tribalist.

On the other hand, we had liberals (and, yes, radicals) committed to the idea that freedom and democracy could coexist even in a dangerous world. They thought that a bad idea was a bad idea, and the sooner that was exposed, the better. They thought democracy was at its very center concerned with settling in public and by the people what to do, what not to do, and what to stop doing. They knew the difference between the existential threat of the Nazis and the sphere of influence threat of the North Vietnamese communists. In John Kerry's best line (and possibly his only good line), "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

The truth is that we do need people who will go fight without looking for every possible rationalization why whatever conflict is current is a bad war. We also need people who will question every conflict.

Now that President Barack Obama has been reelected, the huge irony is that the same tribalists and their political heirs are beside themselves with the urge to secede. They've completely abandoned "my country, right or wrong," because what they really meant was, "my white, conservative tribe, right or wrong."

In real time, those of us who even contemplated a dovish path on Vietnam, they told to get the hell out. Now that an election didn't go their way, instead of taking their own medicine and, in the extreme, relocating - the way Mitt Rmoney's grandfather did when his sacred polygamy was threatened by secular authorities - they are wailing and gnashing their teeth, threatening to secede again from the Union.

So, even though I didn't sign this citizen-created White House petition, I applaud its in-your-face message to the disloyal secessionists:

You simply cannot be a patriot if you're ready for civil war when you don't get your way.

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