During the years of President G.W. Bush, when confronted with the initial news out of Abu Ghraib, our President reportedly said,
“That’s not one of American’s core values,”
or something like that. A restoring of America’s definition of its core values needs very much to include a restoration of the understanding of civics in our society.
I want to see a return to real civics education in this country; not the kind that generates high school grads and/or college students who tell poll takers how the government should not let people speak against the president or the government.
Understanding one’s civic duty and responsibility is one strong way to encourage movement toward peace and justice. Without an understanding of civic involvement, war and the reasons for it are rarely understood, let alone supported. Supporting war becomes only one of the choices to a citizen who understands civic duty and responsibility. With such duty and responsibility one can practice neither and justifiably ignore human suffering and collateral damage – ANYWHERE
Civics in its own way can even suppress the brainless jingoism that more than a few citizens of this country seem to want and that is to isolate American morality from global morality.
Whether we like it or not the civic implication is that the American soldier who fights and takes life is fighting and killing on our behalf and in our name. If an enemy had it coming, then the American jingoists among us can take pride in the moment.
We might justifiably shout,
“Good on that soldier for acting in my name!”
That’s what we can ideally declare during wartime. The soldier does for us what we can’t do for ourselves – defend the nation by physical presence and action.
But we cannot and should not be jingoistic.
Jingoists really dislike people from outside their own borders. Jingoism is an extreme form of patriotism that often calls for violence towards foreigners and foreign countries.
Patriotism — a love for one’s country — can, in certain cases, turn nasty and go beyond wishing for the welfare of one’s own homeland. That’s when a patriot becomes a nationalist. From there, it’s only a short step to becoming a jingoist, one who not only waves the flag of their country but believes that all other people are threats and should be treated as such. -vocabulary.com/dictionary
As a response to the idea that those who volunteer for the military are assumed to be fully, intellectually and emotionally aware of what they are doing at the age of 20 or so, I wrote the following as a commentary on the relationship between the military, the Commander in Chief and the citizens:
“Your son volunteered. He knew what he was getting into …”
So did I … in 1968, five months after the Tet offensive.
I dropped out of college and enlisted. And like the current volunteers who are described by worn-out conservative flag-wearers, I had a rough idea of what I was getting into.
That “rough idea” was based on trust … trust in a system and, ultimately, trust in a specific leader and a specific governing political party. The specific leader of course was LBJ, the specific party was the Democratic Party and the specific system was and is the system that allows us to hang our political opinions on buttons and sanctimonious drapery of stars and stripes from which we belch our prejudices.
When you sign up you endorse a contract on the bottom line. It’s a contract with specified written obligations on the part of both parties, but also with unspecified but powerful assumptions on the part of both parties.
Joining the military and knowing what you are getting into is based on very powerful unwritten but nationally accepted assumptions:
- The integrity and honor of the commander in chief of the military and that CIC’s skill, wisdom and understanding of all reasons when and why military citizens are to be placed in harm’s way.
- As a volunteer you are at the mercy of that individual, his party and their combined priorities – with a strong expectation that those priorities extend beyond a desire to remain in the driver’s seat.
- As a volunteer you are at the mercy of your own fellow citizens (including your own family) whom you trust to be willing and supportive in making sure the leadership does not waste your vital blood, devotion and patriotism in pipe dreams, self-interested agenda’s and ideologies;
- Leaders are driven by a genuine desire to involve the country in on-going mutual participation and compromise regarding foreign policy before resorting to force .
- Volunteering to become a soldier is volunteering to preserve and protect – with your own power and will – the country, its borders, its citizens and its institutions. It isn’t volunteering to keep a political party in power. The only way to avoid that circumstance is for the citizens to assume their rightful role in the triangular relationship with the troops and the CIC.
- The troops are expected to trust the CIC’s wisdom as well as the patriotic participation of the Citizens who will keep the CIC honest.
- The CIC is expected to trust the troops to follow orders and expects to sustain by honesty and integrity the support of the Citizens.
- The Citizens expect the troops to do their duties and expect the CIC to sustain by honesty and integrity his political authority. The Citizens must be willing to hold the CIC accountable and willfully resist when the honesty and integrity of leadership is absent.
If one considered, for example, the Iraq aggression as immoral, untenable, un-winnable and a needless drain of America’s most precious blood, then we can be constant in our love and loyalty to our soldiers and still lament and object to what they were required to do there.
Such is more than civic duty. It’s civic maturity.
As well as this kind of civic maturity:
When things like this are done, those who do it initiate action that may or may not be agreed with by others. But if disagreed with by others – a significantly large number of others – a shift begins. It’s a shift sustained by a growing voice of dissent that can only be healthy for a democratic republic.
I close with the 31st verse of the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell interpretation)
Weapons are the tools of violence; all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear; a decent man will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered, how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral.