Saturday, February 3, 2007

Triumph of the Will

It's freakishly cold out, and it hasn't been this bad in a while. Plus, I'm fighting an annoying cold. Time to warm up the DVD player! Last night I spent about forty-five minutes in the video store, wandering up and down the aisles in a torpor while my daughter grew increasingly agitated with me. That hasn't happened in a few years either. After much consideration and some drooling, I came home with four films.

"I have two sons, and I will allow none of my children to serve in the United States military. If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America. You are helping certain policy-makers pursue an imperial agenda." So says not some fringy, leftist malcontent, but retired Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, toward the end of the documentary Why We Fight. She would know better than most: she served in the Pentagon in the first years of the Bush Administration under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. On the eve of the Iraq war, she left the Pentagon and the military in disgust.

The film takes its name from the series of famous WWII propaganda films by Frank Capra, and traces a straight line from President Dwight D. Eisenhower's prescient warning against the military-industrial complex to the present day. Now that was a remarkable speech, one that deserves a fresh look. The film seeks to do just that, and using archival footage, new interviews, and a wide-angle view of the American presidency, paints an ugly portrait of the defense industry's entrenchment into American domestic and foreign policy.

A friend of mine wryly pointed out to me a few weeks ago something that we chuckled about, but is profoundly true: one thousand years from now, no one but egg-headed scholars will remember George Bush's or Saddam Hussein's name, or what was the reason for going to war, if ever there was one. Perhaps these historians will speak of the declining power of the United States and its insatiable need for natural resources.

The masses and the schoolchildren, however, will remember the more benign fruits of our times, the inventions and the innovations: that in the late 20th and early 21st century, the microchip came into being, that we traveled to the moon, that we plumbed the human genome, that we landed robots on Mars. These contributions to humanity will endure. War is just a tired backdrop to the entire tapestry of human civilization.

Maybe that is the question we should be asking of ourselves and our leaders: do we want to make the history that truly lasts, or do we want to confine ourselves to the trivial, forgettable policies that serve merely a narrow interest now, and serve no interest whatsoever to our legacy as a species?

3 comments:

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

I read the essay you sent me by Karen Kwiatkowski. Pretty potent stuff...

It confirms the impression I have all along had that the problem with this administration is not that it is too conservative, but that it is too radical. It is making war on the basic principles that liberals and conservatives in this country have historically both held inviolate -- separation of powers; citizen-soldier, civilian-controlled military; multi-lateral diplomacy; not to mention the little things that were once considered the hallmark of American greatness and democracy, such as freedom of speech and press, separation of church and state, and protection of privacy.

It's taken Conservatives a bit longer to wake up to what this President has been doing, because it's inconvenient to notice that "your guy" is un-American. (Just like liberals were slower to see Bill Clinton's contributions to American decline.)

Now that conservatives are finally waking up, pray it is not too late. We need an Eisenhower, beware-the-military-industrial-complex wing of the Republican party.

Knight of Nothing said...

Kwiatkowski was memorable enough in the film that I had to look her up to learn more. What an interesting figure. And yes, her writing shows a remarkably unapologetic disdain for this administration. Her writing strikes quite a contrast with the film I watched last night - Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism.

Regarding Eisenhower, I quite agree! Wherefore art thou, Ike? Did you re-read Eisenhower's speech? I linked to it. As I read it, I was blown away thinking, "this man was president, and now look who we have."

I'm sure you know, Eisenhower did not pull that speech out of his ass either. He was noted for pushing back on defense spending for his entire administration: "I don't want to spend one cent more than is necessary on defense" was a common refrain for him.

I know a few people who label themselves "conservative." I'd love to revisit their thoughts on this administration, after having seen this film and reading essays by a more traditional conservative.

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Conservative values are at least values... As opposed to what this administration has.