Thursday, June 06, 2002

The Poor Man had a different take on this NRO article than I have. He was mocking conservatives' constant demonization of the left and their invoking of "the culture wars" in order to characterize pretty much everybody who didn't like the system and worked against it as evil power tripping com-yew-nists spending daddy's trust fund money.

As well he should.

That wasn't what I wanted to mention, though. What got me was the revisionism in play in that article about Vietnam. I don't know when exactly conservatives (and libertarians!) got it into their heads that Vietnam was a noble enterprise that was foiled by the evil hippies, but whenever they get the opportunity it seems like they pull out all the stops to convince everybody that that disasterous war was actually something to be proud of.

Now, there's no denying that many, if not most of those who were involved in the conflict were blameless, risking their collective asses for what they thought was the right thing (or at the very least in order to keep themselves intact and get home). There is a difference, however, between attacking those soldiers who are actually fighting in a war and attacking the war itself. It's telling that conservatives seem to think that those who criticize the latter are criticizing the former, because it is in fact their own argument that "only cowards and fools question the Vietnam war" that violates what would seem to be a very simple distinction. Owens himself even perverted the words of one of the great English liberals, John Stuart Mill, in order to perpetuate this:

My own attitude toward the first group is summed up by an observation of John Stuart Mill, the quintessential nineteenth century liberal. "War is an ugly thing," he wrote, "but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse.

Ahem. (N.Z. Bear, pay attention). Owens, you ignorant slut! There is no comparison between those who would think that nothing is worth a war and those who think that this particular little "police action" in the South Pacific is worth the river of bodies that flowed back from a former French colony that the United States Government foolishly decided would be easily taken over, embroiling the "beacon of freedom" in a ludicrous war that it somehow managed to lose despite itself! Admittedly, it's a great tactic... by equating those who would question a particular past war with cowardice and pacificism, it's no great stretch to extend that particular definition to anybody who questions any aspect of the current "war", which (somehow) fits that definition even more loosely than the Vietnam war did.

Besides, if Owens had actually read Mill (and it's pretty obvious he was just cherry-picking for quotes) he might have noticed the parts in On Liberty where Mill celebrated and defended not only the rights of people to buck the conventional wisdom, but the necessity of those people! As Mill said again, and again, and again, whether the conventional wisdom (or the state's inculcation of such) is right or not, society requires people to question that conventional wisdom constantly, in order that it be replaced (if wrong), reinforced (if right), or refined (if somewhat wrong and somewhat right). The sort of ignorant Victorian raging against WrongThink that passes for conservative commentary about radicalism is precisely the kind of thing that Mill was speaking out against. I'm pretty damned sure that if Mill were alive during the sixties, he would not only have support those "dirty hippies" against one of the dumbest wars the United States has ever been involved in ,he would have grabbed a sign, a tie-dyed shirt, a huge blunt, and shouted with the rest of them, if only so that those defending convention would know exactly what freedom really means (and it isn't the freedom to agree with Mackubin Thomas Owens!)

There's nothing that irritates me more than seeing a great political theorist like Mill being perverted by exactly the kind of people he was raging against. God forbid Owens should ever find out how much Mill admired utopian socialists.

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