Edifying and unedifying

1

For some fairly obvious reasons, football has become lashed at the hip to the idea of American patriotism. This is no doubt in part to many a coach’s misguided use of war as an analog for the sport—and vice versa. Fighter jet flyovers and platoons of soldiers waving oversized flags on the field are de rigueur for NFL and college games alike. More troubling, though, is the near-ubiquitous effort across the football landscape to pay overt and uncritical tribute to the military—the annual circus to Honor the Troops.™

Such empty gestures are dangerous, and need to stop …

Americans have been browbeaten into fearful reverence of the military-industrial machine. Thanking military service members has gone from an odd pleasantry to a social requirement …

Even the Kaepernick kneeling controversy—as simultaneously immortal and threadbare as it’s become—has been attacked with the cudgel of “RESPECTING OUR VETERANS WHO DIED FER YEW!”Framing the issue as a crass affront to our beloved men and women who ”defend our freedom” is the simpleton’s trump card.

You’re disrespecting our soldiers who are defending our freedom against ISIS! Or the Taliban. Or somebody in Africa. We think. We’re pretty sure anyway. Honestly, we don’t even know or care who we’re fighting now or where, but man that Kaepernick guy really pisses. us. off.

The flaw in these rituals of adoration is that they give fans, players, and universities a cheap pass. They are an insidious placebo in the maintenance of our democracy—a democracy still struggling with the ramifications of fully voluntary military service and the social chasm it created. Honoring the troops with this sterilized, prepackaged, hot-dogs-and-apple-pie brand of reverence allows everyone involved to feel as though something meaningful has occurred. These displays of gratitude provide us the cheap comfort of believing we have both bridged the civil-military divide and come to some deeper understanding.

In reality, such spectacles only reinforce the notion that the military is part of the great “them”—that group of faceless citizens who exist far outside the sphere of our lives and who should be seen and heard only at arm’s length (and only for a few hours on a Saturday each fall). …

“GoForThree,” a pseudonymous 13-year Army veteran. I’m glad he/she said it.

Bonus: The article illustration is “patriotic” Purdue helmets. Are you listening, Mitch?

2

While we’re Honor[ing] the Troops™, here’s another helping of reality.

William S. Lind is at the rightmost edge of bloggers I follow, and I read him with caution because I’m aware that he’s pretty far “out there.”

But I can find little to fault in Get Out While We Can, and find the last paragraph especially chilling:

Afghanistan has a long history of being a place easy to get into but hard to get out of. Successful retreats are perhaps the most difficult of all military operations no matter where they are conducted. Conducting a successful retreat from Afghanistan is near the top of the list of daunting military tasks.

Everyone knows we have lost and will be leaving soon …

[W]hat we may face is a widespread realignment within Afghanistan in which everyone tries to get on the good side of the victor, i.e., the Taliban, with American forces still there. Afghan government soldiers and police will have a tempting opportunity to do that by turning their weapons on any nearby Americans. In that part of the world, “piling on” the loser is a time-honored way of changing sides to preserve your own neck …

What is needed most now is detailed planning by the Pentagon for a fighting withdrawal [from Afghanistan]. I am not saying we want to get out that way. It is contingency planning in case we have to. I fear that planning will not be done because it will be politically incorrect, since the military leadership still pretends we are winning. Subordinates will be afraid to initiate planning that contradicts their superiors’ public statements. But if we have to put a fighting withdrawal together on the fly, a difficult situation will become a great deal more hazardous. I hope some majors and lieutenant colonels are developing the necessary plan now, even if they can’t tell their bosses what they are doing.

3

I have no reason to doubt that the University of Oklahoma participates in the wretched excess, but here’s a story from there about something much more serious, and immune from the charge of giving anyone “a cheap pass”:

A course in the Great Books which was described by those teaching it as “the hardest course you’ll ever take” has received “sky high” enrollment as students rose to the challenge. Inspired by a syllabus taught at the University of Michigan in 1941 by the British poet, W. H. Auden, the course requires 6,000 pages of reading: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Horace, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Pascal, Racine, Blake, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Rimbaud, Henry Adams, Melville, Rilke, Kafka and T. S. Eliot. And that’s not all. For good measure, the course also includes opera libretti from Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Bizet and Verdi.

Oklahoma is not entirely alone, but may be unique in the size of the host institution. Smaller programs exist at Wyoming Catholic College and Sequitur Classical Academy in Baton Rouge, where Rod Dreher’s kids attend, and which I believe is the institution alluded to in this:

The depth and breadth of learning that these students have achieved is evident in the depth and breadth of the topics that interest them. Here are a few of the topics chosen, each of which speaks for itself:

The Separation of Church and State: Good for Our Nation?

Church Music: Congregational and God-Centered

The Environment and the Extent of Man’s Moral Obligation

Love: How Objective and Subjective is it?

Individualism and Atomism: The Destruction of Family and Society

Discoveries in Genetics and the Flaws of Evolution

Medical Ethics: Treating Both Body and Soul

Technology: When Seeking Freedom Enslaves Man

Pretty impressive for high schoolers.

4

Education can only go so far, though. Ted Cruz is very well-educated and smart, but:

“All they can do is attack the president all day long on the scandal of the day,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who became an aficionado of the term [“Trump Derangement Syndrome.”].

This is the same Cruz who, in 2016, called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen” and “a serial philanderer.” Perhaps the senator suffers from Trump Rearrangement Syndrome, a disorder common among Republicans who disown every criticism they ever offered of Trump so he’ll help them win reelection.

E.J. Dionne.

And prudence is needed, too. I applauded Chief Justice John Roberts’ rebuke of the guy in the White House. I was imprudent to do so.

We do have an independent judiciary. Judges are not beholden to any president, including the one who appoints them. The judiciary plays a key role in our system of checks and balances. “Trump judges” should rule against Trump when he is wrong. That is why it is so important for the chief justice stay above politics. Roberts is right that our “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” Rolling around in the rhetorical mud with Trump is not just bad form; it also undermines the very judicial independence Roberts is seeking to uphold.

Marc Thiessen

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