June 6, 2020

A bad man is in the house

A Bad Man Is In The House
And one peace loving, non-confrontational Christian thinks we can’t ignore him.
by Eric Rigney

I don’t usually weigh in on political topics in this space. I prefer to leave such ruminations to the more politically savvy, such as the Monk himself. I am more of a philosophical (sometimes vague), universal issue type person, shying away from such specifically political topics as particular policy, political minutiae, the Washington scene, etc. I prefer instead to train my arguably dimwitted bulb on questions of personal philosophy and moral reasoning. Of course, I realize that most political issues have such philosophy and reasoning at their roots, but there are people out there who like to pick things apart on the strictly political level.

I am not one of those people. Everyone have fun debating budgetary hair-splitting or Capitol Hill atom-splitting, but count me out.

But this Iraq situation has got me feeling very specific. It is an issue that I think necessarily encompasses both questions of policy and philosophy. Maybe it’s that duality that has my attention. Whatever the reason, I am riveted.

Well, that’s partly true: I was riveted. For a while there I soaked up every bit of news I could find on the subject. CNN, the daily newspaper, NPR, local news, 60 Minutes – anything I could find which mentioned Iraq , I gave my full attention.

But the last couple of weeks I have found myself avoiding any mention of the whole thing, and when I do read or see or hear something about it, I feel sad and depressed. And I hate that feeling. I hate feeling like I don’t know where our country is headed – and I mean that literally in this case: not some vague idea of What’s to become of us? but a literal, very real sense of impending…I don’t know what. Not doom, exactly – I am given to hyperbole at times, but I am an optimist at heart, and I will probably not feel a sense of impending doom even when terrorists show up at my house with a bucket of Ebola and a vial of smallpox. I will foolishly believe that something will happen that will make everything turn out all right in the end. So no, I don’t feel that things are going to hell in the proverbial handbasket – but I do feel a distinct and poignant sense of disquiet and sadness

The thought of war has me down, sure – who wants a war, with all its bloodshed and loss of innocence? – but that’s not the main thing. I mean, as much as I hate war, there are times when I hate the alternative even more. No, I think it’s the protests of the possible war that have got me feeling this way. Of course I know that protesting against our involvement in Iraq is not exactly a new thing – I know that there have been people opposed to the U.S. trying to oust Saddam from the beginning. That is to be expected, of course, anytime any course of action is considered that involves military force – and there are always some level-headed people who oppose the war and make their opinions known in a level-headed, even-handed way. Those protests generally don’t get me down.

But lately I have watched with growing distress and melancholy as hundreds of thousands (probably millions at this point) of people around the world are turning out en masse to actively and (in my opinion) rashly protest President Bush’s plan to remove Saddam Hussein from power if he continues to refuse to comply with long-standing UN requirements regarding weapons of mass destruction. It is, specifically, such seemingly unthinking, bandwagon-ish protesting that has me upset.

So why just the distress and sadness on my part? Why not anger? Why not sharp and strident antipathy? Why not a desire to bust some heads? I don’t know. Partly, I think, because that’s not really the kind of guy I am. It takes a lot to get me rarin’ to fight. But it’s also because I think that a good old fashioned sit-down conversation of reason and logic would clear the whole thing up. Naïve, I know. I admit it. But there it is: because I think the whole thing could be cleared up with a little tete-a-tete, the ongoing misunderstanding upsets me.

This may beg another question as well: Why should I care at all? Why not just go about my business? Things will be what they will be, as usual, and there’s nothing I can do about it – so why waster time worrying about it? The answer to that one is simple: I hate to see our country – our world, too, but particularly our country – so fractiously at odds over anything. I am old-fashioned and bull-headed enough to say with a straight face that I love America . As imperfect and schizophrenic and self-hating as it can be, I love this country, and I hate to see anything divide us, especially something that doesn’t need to.

So I am saddened rather than angry about this whole thing. Besides, anger is a useless and self-serving emotion when it comes to things you genuinely care about. Like an exhausted and confounded parent who wants their runaway teenager to just come home and eat a hot meal and sleep in a warm bed, and all will be forgotten, I feel more unease and panic and aching love in the face of all this mess than anger, and I find myself watching the crowds of people holding signs and chanting slogans and (in some cases) vomiting up huge and malodorous spumes of foamy hate, and I just want to fly to where they are, grab them by the shoulders, and yell at them.

Not in anger, though. I may be a coward for not wanting to throw a punch at them (although I don’t believe I am); but instead of berating them and fighting them out of fury, I want to reason with them. I want to speak to them in the strained and urgent tones of logic and patient persuasion.

Of course the realist in me likes to point out that such a thing rarely works. People that pumped up never want to actually discuss, and the person trying the discussion tactic usually becomes as embroiled in the whole mess as the protestor. If I actually went there and tried to talk, I would probably end up in a shouting match with some guy holding a placard he was considering pounding me over the head with, staring at the pulsing vein on his forehead or neck, vaguely wishing that we could start over and discuss things in a way that would not have us wanting to kill each other. When people are in confrontational, public settings (no matter which side of the issue they are on) they rarely care about anything but the moment. Everything melts down into a shapeless dull gray ball of rhetoric, slogans, and playgroundish one-upmanship. For that very reason, I never participate in public demonstrations, no matter how strongly I feel about an issue: as far as accomplishing anything real or lasting, such demonstrations, in my opinion, fall far short.

So it wouldn’t work. I’ll just stay home and fret.

But if it could work! In addition to being an optimist and a frustrated idealist, I am also a dreamer, and I like to dream about how things would be if I actually could go meet people and sit down and discuss this whole mess over a cup of their beverage of choice. If I could hop a plane and fly out to New York City , for instance, and get right down in the mix, what would I say?

1. I would try to communicate the point that Saddam Hussein must go. This is a serious issue. This is not small potatoes – big things are at stake! Life and death, tyranny, horror, bloodshed of innocents – all the things that make for valiant and suspenseful movies and fiction – these are the things at stake in this saga. But Saddam Hussein is no benign, eccentric, Hollywood villain that the audience knows will fall in the end, no matter how the good guys do it. He is a very real threat and will (as soon as he can) cause as much pain and trouble as he can to as many people as he can.

In light of that well-documented fact, I would also point out that I think it’s ludicrous to think of leaving such a megalomaniac alone based solely on the alleged motivation of the one trying to take him down.

That’s what some people are saying, you know: that the reason we should not attack Saddam Hussein is because President Bush’s motives can’t be trusted. I will not try here to argue that Mr. Bush’s motives are pure (although I tend to think they are, lacking any evidence to the contrary). But I would like to call into question the validity of such an argument.

I had a discussion with a friend the other day that made me feel like Rod Serling was about to step out from behind the curtain with his little cigarette clamped between two fingers, gesturing slightly and talking about a journey between sight and sound. “I’m not against getting rid of Saddam Hussein,” my friend said with a straight face. “He’s definitely a bad guy, there’s no question about that. I just wonder why Bush wants to go after him. I’m suspicious of his motives.”

I was stunned into silence at hearing an intelligent, articulate person admit to such clumsy, unwieldy thinking. I just don’t get it. Ask any human rights expert, any world leader – heck, any Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel – and they’ll tell you that Saddam Hussein is a monster who will not be happy until he has cut a wide swath through the entire world. He is a dangerous, loose-cannon lunatic bent on exerting his violent and tyrannical will on anyone who stands in his way.

So does it really matter why we get rid of him? Isn’t getting rid of him the important thing? More to the point: do the motives of the person trying to disarm him change the fact that he needs to be disarmed?

My wife and I are in the process of buying a house right now, and I can’t help but imagine the following scenario: Suppose my wife, while working in her new basement art studio, notices signs of termite activity on our house’s floor joists. She calls me down to look, and I call an exterminator, who comes in and assures us that, unfortunately, we’re correct: we have a termite infestation, and our house will eventually collapse without some kind of intervention. But just as my wife is about to write him a check to treat the house and get rid of the dangerous pests, I stop her and ask him to leave. My wife, panicking because the house is in bad shape and needs to be treated soon, asks me if I’ve lost my mind. My reply? “No, honey. I wasn’t sure why he wanted to kill the termites, so I threw the bum out. In fact,” I continue, “I think we need more inspectors to come in and tell us what we already know: that our house is going to rot out from under us.”

What a madman I would be! Of course, we can assume the terminator’s motive for killing the termites was to get paid, but does it really matter? Would it matter if he were actually killing them because he had some deep-seated hate of small wood-eating bugs? Would it matter if he actually did it to spite his mother? Or because he had a termite fetish and liked to be near them any way he could? Or because his cereal told him to? No! The important thing would be that the termites are gone. Why should I care about the terminator’s thoughts on the matter, or his motivations or personal agendas?

Now this is a silly example, of course, and cannot be applied to every situation. The end does not justify the means – wrong is still wrong, regardless of intent. But the “end justifies the means” argument doesn’t apply here: it begs the question that what the president wants to do is wrong. On the contrary, Saddam Hussein’s history of maniacal violence and heinous human rights violations dictates the right thing to do: get rid of him. And the people who claim that we shouldn’t do that because President Bush wants to dominate the world or control oil or win at Scrabble or whatever else – I don’t get those people. If you don’t trust the man, don’t vote for him in the next election. In the meantime, let him disarm a ticking bomb that’s just waiting to detonate and take you and your family with it.

2. I would tell them that the majority is not always right.

First of all, it bears noticing that even though there are a lot of people protesting the possibility of war, they are not nearly a majority. Even generous reports estimate the number of world-wide protestors at around a couple of million souls – given that there are five or six billion people in the world, that’s hardly a majority.

But even if, for the sake of argument, the majority were turning out to protest the effort – that still doesn’t mean they’re right.

I am no conspiracy theorist, but I can’t help but notice the glee (either born of personal bias or joy at having such a juicy news story, or a combination of both) with which the news personalities report the growing number of people who are clamoring for us to leave poor Saddam alone. See, the journalists’ faces say, All these people can’t be wrong. Obviously we should not attack Saddam Hussein.

But have we so soon forgotten the lessons of history on this subject? One need only glance at our very own nation’s past to see that the majority opinion is often flawed and occasionally downright wrong. At one point in our nation’s history, for instance, the majority of the people believed that it was okay to own another person as chattel, against their will. At one point, the majority of people believed that certain citizens should be required to sit at the back of a bus and hosed down with fire hoses for objecting. At one point, the majority believed that children should be forced to labor from sunup to sundown, and that the insane should be caged and beaten like deranged animals.

I could go on, of course – I haven’t even touched on the world’s shady history of majority rule. This is not to say that majority rule is never a good idea; obviously that’s not true. But history is fraught with the oppressive and disgusting results of wrong-headed majority-is-always-right thinking. A great principle at the very heart of decency is that the majority should not be allowed to do absolutely anything it wants just by virtue of it being the majority.

The truth is that sometimes it is necessary to do what is right, even if it is not in accordance with the majority opinion. Don’t we respect those who have chosen to do the right thing, even in the face of rabid opposition? Ghandi. Martin Luther. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our founding fathers. Sure, such people usually have their detractors, but for the most part we consider them honorable men who did what was right without being swayed by the fickle and oft-times arbitrary opinion of the majority. I think our current situation is one of those cases. Yes, President Bush’s stance on Iraq seems to be becoming less and less popular.

But I say: So What?

Mr. President, you will never read this, but I implore you to do what is right, even if it means being unpopular. Ally support is important, and it would be great if everyone were on board, but that should not be the controlling factor. History will look kindly on the person who bravely acts on what is right in the face of contrary popular opinion.

3. I would try to make the case that this whole thing reflects of a certain loss of (or at least a decline in) the ability of the average person to recognize and identify evil.

I will never forget a conversation I had with a friend after the September 11th, 2001 , attacks. We were discussing the president’s speech to congress not long after the tragedy, and my friend said, with a straight face, “I don’t like that he called them evil. Who is he to say what’s evil?”

I was stunned. Was my friend serious? Was he really suggesting that the president (and, by implication, the rest of humanity) is not qualified to recognize and identify evil?

Why is the idea of evil such a foreign one? Are there mounds and mounds of evidence that I somehow missed that indicate that evil is a myth? Does anyone really believe that the atrocities of history can be chalked up to anything other than evil?

More to the point, what do you call the murder of 3000+ innocents, if not evil? If that’s not evil, then evil has no definition!

Which, I guess, was my friend’s point. And it’s a point blindly shared by a frightening number of people.

But we shouldn’t be afraid to call ‘em as we see ‘em: Saddam Hussein is evil. These are not just cultural distinctions or hair-splitting policy issues. This is not about how short you should wear your skirt or how long your hair should be. Just like with 9/11, we’re talking about certain, incontrovertible evil: mass murder, terrorism, tyranny, torture. Saddam Hussein is an evil, murdering, villainous man. Is that so hard to say?

The thing I also find most humorlessly ironic is that many of the same people who bristle at labeling terrorists and murderers as evil seem to have no trouble referring to our president as such. He’s the real evil, they say, because he’s so darn war hungry. Never mind that this is akin to saying that the police officer is the evil one because he shoots the rapist who has a knife pressed to your wife’s throat.

I am no doomsday prophet, but I must say that this lack of ability to recognize evil does not bode well for our nation and our world.

4. I would point out that the real agenda for many of the protestors is “anti-Bush,” not “anti-war.”

As the Internet Monk himself has pointed out, the hatred of George W. Bush among a certain ideological demographic is just as vitriolic and knee-jerk as the hatred of Bill Clinton was among another ideological demographic. There’s just something about President Bush that sets some people off, and anything that can be used to bring disparity on him they will latch onto like a leech latching onto the meaty flesh of a fat man’s buttock. And many of them see this possible war as just one way to chip away at President Bush’s tenure in office, hopefully ensuring a humiliating defeat in 2004.

This is sad, really. No, actually, it’s beyond sad: it’s reprehensible. There is so much at stake here that to use this, of all things, for political leverage borders on criminal irresponsibility, and it is just the kind of thing that some protestors accuse the president himself of. It’s this kind of blatantly hypocritical nonsense that is the mark of so many radical, reactionary types: Facts? What facts? I’m talking about something far more important.

I am not here to serve as an apologist for President Bush. That is, perhaps, the job of a more politically learned scholar on this site. But I can’t help but notice that the hatred that seems to fuel so many people’s reactions is based on sketchy, if not wholly imaginary, notions. “Blood for Oil”? Are you serious? Are people really naïve enough to think that because we get some of our oil from the middle east, and Iraq is in the middle east, that there is an automatic relational motivation? Isn’t that rather simplistic? I am no scholar of logic either, but I believe that’s called a non sequitur – it simply doesn’t follow. Where is the evidence of such an impetus?

I just wonder if any of the people I have seen and heard oozing hatred for our president while using the Iraq situation as a smokescreen have ever stopped to consider how dishonest they are being. Of course I know the answer to that one.

5. I would tell them that much of this protestation is due more to mob mentality than to any substantive and genuine complaint.

Public protests are strange things. They seem to take on a life of their own, and the longer they go on and the more popular they get, the more people are attracted to the hubbub without any coherent reason for joining in. It’s a fact: the mob mentality can easily take over and run away with any public protest. That’s how so many riots break out and why so many people get beat up and injured in protest situations: the mob takes on a mind of its own, and people as a group do things they would never do as individuals. It’s really a frightening thing to behold.

I think that’s some of what is going on here. I believe that if you asked many of the protestors to articulate their position, they would have a very hard time moving beyond slogans and parroted rhetoric.

And of course, the mob mentality totally ignores things as inconvenient as reason and genuine dialect, and very often the mob will act in direct opposition to the very principles it claims to be espousing. Evidence of this exists already in the present situation: recently, some of the protestors crying for peace at any cost are the very ones who pulled New York City police officers from their horses and beat them! At a peace rally! The next time I am teaching my class about irony, I’ll be sure to use this example. While this is (obviously) not characteristic of every protestor, it is indicative of how the mob mentality works, and as time goes on, we will see even more examples of such mindless activity. I would like to get at least one protestor away from the crowd and the placards and the rhetoric and the mob mentality and ask him to just sit down and tell me why he is so adamantly opposed to ridding the world of such a dangerous and evil force. I can’t imagine what the answer would be.

6. I would like to know: How long must we wait before disarming a maniac?

It’s a story we’ve all heard: a man has a history of abuse, he’s a weasel and a snake, and he threatens to kill or otherwise harm his girlfriend. She calls the police to see about getting him put away before he does some real damage, and what do the authorities say? “Sorry, ma’am, but we can’t do anything until he breaks the law.” The woman, frustrated, walks around scared to death until the maniac does something arrestable, hopefully something that does not result in her or her children’s death.

We feel sorry for her, right? It seems like if someone poses a threat to the woman, something ought to be done about it, and before he has a chance to harm her.

Isn’t that the same situation we have here, only on a larger scale? We didn’t just wake up one day and decide that we didn’t like the way this guy Saddam brilliantines his mustache. He has a history of violent behavior. His evil tendencies are well documented and poorly hidden. Given the chance, he will sow strife and reap destruction. So why the push to give him more time (even though he has been out of compliance with UN resolutions for years)? What are we waiting for? For him to actually do something? Is it me, or is that just really insane? Should the poor woman have to wait until her violent boyfriend actually shoots her before obtaining a restraining order? The very idea is outrageous!

I sometimes wonder what would happen if we could go back in time to before September of 2001 and have a chance to annihilate the evil men responsible for that day’s carnage. Would there be people who would protest such a strike? I fear that there would be some, because there are always some, but I am willing to bet if we knew then what we know now about that day, there would be very few people who would be against such a preemptive course of action. Nearly every American has wished at least once in the past year and a half, I wish we had done something! I wish we had known what could happen if we did nothing! I wish we had the chance to go back and do it differently!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are: we have been granted that chance. This time, we have been granted the opportunity to stop it before it happens. We know the pain of inaction, and we know that Saddam Hussein has the means and the will to attack and kill and destroy everyone and every thing that gets in the way of his nefarious schemes.

Are we really content to do nothing, and thus give him that opportunity?

I hope not.