How We Got Our Freedom

The D&C has a great article on the war protesters who’ve gotten louder and more numerous in Rochester over the last year.  I remember the war protest on East Ave being a small gathering of 50-somethings, shivering solitarily against the cold.  Now the protest stretches down the block and through generations.

But what interested me most in the article was the following passage covering the pro-war community’s response:

Anti-war voices turn up the volume || Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

Supporters of the war say that withdrawal of U.S. troops would lead to greater bloodshed in Iraq and that the war is a matter of American self-defense.

“I think people better understand how we got our freedom,” said the Rev. Carley Touchstone of Glad Tidings Church in Irondequoit, adding:

“Freedom came from defending ourselves against evil empires. Terrorism is one of those evil empires.”

Whoa.  I guess that whole “Glad Tidings” thing is subjective. . .

Actually, on this Flag Day I rather think a lesson in how we got our freedom would be very instructive, indeed.  

Don’t miss Sayhar’s outstanding piece – tangentially related to this discussion – at RT concerning the nature of democratic patriotism versus nationalism.  This is some of the most thoughtful writing in the Rochester blogosphere I’ve read in a while.  Methinks he and I are reading the same book, right now.

We won our initial freedom from the Crown in a war, that is true as far as it goes. But the peace necessary to build democracy didn’t happen at the largess of our military. It happened because, as a literate nation, we engaged in open debate and unambiguous dissent from our leaders.  That dialogue cooled the divisiveness and allowed for the best ideas and surest path to work their way through the filter of our collective assent.  The truth of our legacy is far from the overly-simplistic, binary chauvinism of “defending ourselves from evil empires,”  — history will faithfully prove such rhetoric to be the very stuff of despotism.  Our nation was formed by the willful introduction of plurality.

That means that dissent is not only not an unpatriotic practice, it is a sacrosanct duty of democratic citizens.  It also means that engaging our military in wars against perceived evil is not the requisite duty of democratic nations, but rather, history will faithfully prove military engagement to be an aberration of the natural state of peace and prosperity that has marked every representational society.

And in this sense, we should also turn our prism on Iraq.  Our stated goal in that country (or at least, the most-oft cited and least assailable goal) is to form a democracy.  The Bush Administration has insisted that the military continue its involvement in Iraq’s affairs until such time as they are able to govern on their own.

But our presence there is largely to stand between the Iraqi government in the Green Zone and it’s constituency elsewhere in Iraq.  If a body politic responsive to the needs of its constituency is vital to democracy here, then surely it is the same there.  If we do not let them decide the fate of their nation for themselves – if we do not withdraw, leaving them to their own devices however violent they threaten to be – not only do we not foster a fledgling democracy in that country, we actively encourage a sort of perpetual institutional immaturity that will prevent it’s very existence.  It is the existence of vital and immutable institutions – not men, not cults of personalities, and certainly not Maliki – that sustains a democratic government.  The News Hour just had a great discussion about this very concept where it applies to Palestine’s recent troubles; pity that concept isn’t applied more regularly to Iraq, where it’s at least as sorely needed.

The concern that Iraq will spin out of control is a legitimate fear, even if it is used cynically by our leaders and parroted blindly by their supporters.  It is hard not to feel as though we sit upon Pandora’s Box in Iraq; that is especially true, not less so, for those of us who don’t support the war.  In fact, many of us didn’t support the war at it’s outset specifically because we had reason to suspect that this present state was a likely outcome.  But our fears do not invalidate or override the bedrock principles that govern successful democracies, and those principles demand that elected leaders accept the consequences of an unmanaged nation.

Our precipitous exit from Iraq will doubtless initiate another spike in violence.  Every movement of our military since the beginning of this war has done the same.  But with our military gone, what comes next is up to the people of Iraq, and as Eric Massa pointed out in my interview of him from 2006, they have more than enough experience:

Interview with Eric Massa, Rochester Regional ~ DragonFlyEye.Net

EM: Well, let’s just review some fundamental realities: first off, the Iraqi people are not ignorant, they are not uneducated, they are not incapable of governing themselves. Something called the Hammurabi Code which was the first code of civil law written in the world that we have record of, some 3000 years ago, originated in Iraq. So there’s a very long historical tradition of very highly-advanced cultures and governments in that part of the world. The fact that this did not include Jeffersonian Democracy does not diminish their capability to govern themselves.

I might also add that the lack of Jeffersonian Democracies in their history does not either limit their ability to create a new democracy going forward or to find the compromises between disparate people of the region necessary.  Compromise is, after all, democratic.  In fact, about the only thing that the PNAC folks got right was the fact that Iraq is the region’s best hope for a stable democracy with the obvious exception of Turkey.  But nothing will ever change so long as we as citizens fear to give them the credit they deserve and force our leaders to let go of the reins.

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

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