Monday, August 09, 2010


I was reading through some of the disheartening material on the Intertubes this morning -- Paul Krugman's column about towns turning off streetlights, laying off teachers, and letting paved roads go to gravel, all because it's conservatively incorrect to raise taxes on anyone, ever; the report that Camden, New Jersey, is preparing to close all its public libraries and sell, give away, or destroy all the books; and the GOP's plan, as reported by The Hill, to propose Californizing America (Republicans intend to push a balanced-budget constitutional amendment that would also require a two-thirds supermajority in Congress to raise taxes) -- and after I read all this, a phrase from a previous decade's non-domestic news came to mind:

One of the most famous quotes of the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett. Writing about the provincial capital, Ben Tre, on February 7, 1968, Arnett said: "'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,' a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong." The quote was distorted in subsequent publications, eventually becoming the more familiar, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Up till now, I've been thinking of the current crop of right-wingers (politicians as well as the Foxsters and propagandists) as engaging in Joker-style nihilism. I've been thinking, in other words, that they really don't care if they destroy this country -- don't care if they set us at one another's throats and we burn the damn country to the ground -- just so long as they rule what's left of it.

But maybe that's not quite right. I think they may see America the way our foreign policy mandarins have seen Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan -- as a place where they alternately drop bombs and do outreach, all in the interests of winning a global ideological struggle, and where they think they have benign intentions toward people they harm. In this analogy, the wingers are America, and we evil liberals are the commies/al-Qaeda/the Taliban. Everyone else is just the native population; the winger force thinks it wants to win hearts and minds in that population, but it doesn't trust some of the natives (unionized teachers/firefighters/cops and non-whites are basically the evil civilians who harbor the V.C./Taliban/insurgents). I suppose we're living through the "summer offensive" that's supposed to root out the enemy (us liberals) -- and if the civilian infrastructure must be destroyed in order for the winger force to prevail, well, you can't make an omelet without blah blah blah blah blah.

One flaw in this analogy is that the V.C./insurgents/Taliban are supposed to fight to the death, not wave a white flag at the first sign of conflict. I don't think our guys are doing that, to say the least. Also, the winger force actually seems to be doing a much better job of winning over the natives than the U.S. military usually does. Still, I think we're seeing the same contempt for the citizenry, accompanied by an inability to even recognize that contempt.

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