Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Reply to Andy

A blogger's best friends are his critics, and my friend Andy has come through again, taking vigorous exception to my last post (and, it would seem, others). Blog posts need to be short, so one can't reiterate one's foundational principles every time, but I can't do Andy's comment justice without doing so here, so what follows might sound familiar.

I consider the first principles of good neighborliness to be keeping one's hands to oneself and telling the truth. That means we have no authority from God to so much as touch people's bodies or their property without their consent, either directly or through fraud, and we are not to tell falsehoods about others. We are all descendants of Adam through Noah and therefore equals. We have all sinned and therefore do not deserve anything but God's wrath. We are all trapped in the consequences of the fall, having unlimited desires and limited means of satisfying them, and so we are all subject to the same temptations to maximize our own benefit at the expense of others.

God has, in his providence, equipped some people to be leaders, but that in no way entitles them to go beyond those first principles. The Torah specifically forbids the king from considering himself "better than his brothers" (Dt 17:18-20), and Jesus makes it clear that leadership is primarily service, not power (Lu 22:35-26).

Fine and dandy, you say, but people don't act that way; that's why we need governments to protect us. To which I say, look around: how many governments can you name today, let alone through history, that have actually protected their subjects? Wouldn't a broad-brush painting of human history show that governments are more interested in self-preservation and self-enrichment than in the welfare of their subjects?

It seems to me the question isn't why governments are generally rapacious; it's why some aren't. When the government—any government—makes the laws and determines how they are to be enforced, how much its subjects will pay for it, and what avenues are available for redress of grievances, what incentive do the people who comprise it have to act in behalf of their subjects rather than in their own self-interests? Not all governments or government agents are rapacious, but what is there besides personal scruples and political expediency to limit the raw power of those who have it?

We have just completed the century of benign government, in which almost everyone in the world believed that it is the government's job to actively promote the welfare of its subjects. Of all the governments of the last 110 years, how many of them actually did so? Or are we more likely to think of the death camps, torture chambers, and deadly wars? And weren't the nations that shed the most blood also those with the strongest, most proactive governments?

My argument is not that Uncle Sam is especially unrighteous; rather, contrary to those who think he is somehow above transgression, he is made of exactly the same stuff as other governments: some people consider themselves authorized, yea commanded, to do things that would be criminal if their subjects did it (except as government deputies) and that members of that group would never tolerate if done to them. We're a long way from Argentina, let alone North Korea in that regard, but every law Congress considers takes us closer to them and farther away from the comparatively free society I grew up in (pace Jim Crow), and more so the society where people could go months without any contact with government except the Post Office, where anyone able to handle the money could buy heroin at the local pharmacy, and, most importantly, where the church of Jesus Christ was esteemed to a degree unthinkable today. The purpose of this blog is to challenge Christians to look at our society—yes, North Korea is worse, but there's little to be done about it without violating the first principles of neighborliness—and stop supporting those things that make us bad neighbors.

My opposition to all of what we consider government follows from all this: if we are children of Noah, then giving someone a government job will not per se get rid of his selfishness, nor does it exempt him from keeping his hands to himself or telling the truth. Yet all governments begin by taking people's property, killing those who resist forcibly, and then lying about what happened and making false promises for the future. Unless you're one of those rare birds who voted for Clinton, Bush, and Obama, you have probably argued that our government is guilty of those sins to some degree at some point in the last eighteen years. Why am I wrong for pointing out that both sides, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, accuse each other correctly of using government as a tool of oppression?

It also follows that no terrorist is righteous: my connection of the word with Faisal Shahzad (whom I called in the post a "mass-murderer [wannabe]," remember) was in the context of Judah and Tamar, neither of whom was truly righteous. I take Judah's words "She is more righteous than I" to mean "She was wrong to do what she did, but I am not innocent of sin." Was the only fruit of Judah's repentance that he stopped having sex with Tamar? Who raised the children? Did they have regular contact with their father, or was Tamar a welfare queen the rest of her life? I was suggesting that we see if the present conflict is in some respect a result of our sins. We are, after all, sinners, are we not? Nobody's memory is exhaustive, but isn't it a bit selective to remember only Muslims' attacks against us and not ours against them?

No colonial government is righteous. There has perhaps never been as benign a colonial power as England, but if you read Kipling ("Gunga Din" is a good place to start) or Orwell (Burmese Days), you will, I trust, see that the British Empire was primarily about enriching the homeland at the colonies' expense; civilizing the heathen was good only as long as it didn't interfere with the primary goal. The British colonized China for their benefit, not that of the Chinese; the US was there in 1941, too, which is why those ships were in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were particularly vicious colonists (e.g., the Rape of Nanking; however, I recently freelance edited a master's thesis by a Korean student at Harvard who made the point several times in passing that the Japanese really were attempting to be of benefit to the Koreans—talk about something hard for me to swallow!), but in all cases it was plunder, differing only in degree. If you don't want to say Pearl Harbor was our fault, fine; but we were not innocent. We were blockading Japan to keep them from expanding their empire into Indochina (to keep the Brits and rapacious French and Dutch from having competition). They wanted to negotiate, but Roosevelt wanted to play hardball; he was purposely working to get the Japanese to fire the first shot so he could undermine the antiwar sentiment in the US. He succeeded.

Remember that Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, and Hirohito all shared the primary assumption that it is the duty of the government to provide for the needs of its subjects. Joseph Kennedy's support for Hitler outlasted its political expediency while he was emissary to England to the point that he had to be gagged; Prescott Bush (GHWB's dad), Averill Harriman, and Henry Ford all supported Hitler, and Roosevelt initially called Mussolini "that charming Italian gentleman" precisely because they all believed that "some people are more equal than others." Roosevelt's packing of the Supreme Court to keep his unconstitutional domestic policies is cousin, if not brother, to Hitler's maneuverings to acquire power. The war was not about freedom; it was about whose version of tyranny would prevail over what plots of ground.

So yes, the Japanese attack was murder; but it was one imperialist murdering another. Further, the Japanese were aiming at military targets, so most of the casualties were military people; most of Uncle Sam's victims these days are innocents.

I'm not sure who is meant by "people who support and defend killers." If he means the women and children who died in the US sanctions against Iraq, I guess we have a fundamental disagreement about how the world works. I didn't vote for Obama, or for anyone currently in Congress, so I would not accept some Chinese soldier's or politician's protestations that he killed my wife because of US foreign policy; I therefore would side with an anti-Saddam Iraqi who is angered by US activities that kill his loved ones. As for pro-Saddam Iraqis, I would turn the question around: how should the Afghans who suffer under the Taliban think about Americans who support and defend those who kill innocents there?

"We came to the defense of an ally who asked us for help when they were being attacked." I don't know if the reference here is China, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia. I've addressed the situation in China. As for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, when Saddam told GHWB's emissary April Glaspie that he was planning to attack Kuwait, her response was, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." It was only after he took over the oil fields, the true focus of Uncle Sam's concern in the Middle East, that suddenly Saddam was no longer our ally and we had to send in the troops to retake the oil wells and Red Adair to fix them. Our concern with Saudi Arabia was probably also petroleum based. Rush Limbaugh said as much one of the first times I heard him in 1991: "The war was to guarantee the free flow of oil at market prices."

So the Saudi government invited us to defend them. I don't know that the Saudi government represents Osama any more than Obama represents me. I wouldn't welcome the Chinese here even if Obama invited them, so I can understand Osama's objection, even if his response was murderous.

(And again, I don't think the evidence that Osama was behind 9/11 is conclusive; too many odd things happened that day to allow me think whoever did it didn't have help from inside the US power structure. Osama's name came up just too conveniently on that day, and he has not acted since like he wants credit for the attack. There were many in the US power structure who were looking, even, it would seem, hoping, for "a new Pearl Harbor" to occur so they could bring about precisely the national security police state we have today.)

Bottom line: murder is murder, no matter who does it, terrorists or government agents, uniformed or not. Osama (it seems) and Obama are guilty, as are those who support them. We can continue the cycle of retribution or we can admit our guilt and try to achieve reconciliation. This blog is my attempt to do the latter.

1 comment:

  1. Understandable. Your premise seems to run afoul of what we learn in the Old Testament about how God uses the nations to punish the wicked. Daniel and Jeremiah provide good support for this.

    So while I may not agree with America's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan (I was against both since they were just excuses to wrestle control of the oil output from France, Germany, and Russia), who am Ito question God's plan of which nations need punishment. Perhaps we are being used by God to punish these two countries for their wickedness.

    Just like Babylon was used to bring judgment on Judah and a host of other countries (read the last 10 chapters of Jeremiah). So who am I to question God. I believe and have faith that he is in control of the nations, including the fact that we may be punished, just like Babylon was punished for its wickedness.

    So question: is it fair for God to use a nation like Babylon to punish other nations, then punish Babylon for doing exactly what God directed them to do? (Jer. 50:11).