Monday, February 27, 2006

America as Good Neighbor

I'm shamelessly lifting this content from the This Modern World blog, but the quote is so astounding that it bears repeating.

Jonathan Schwarz:
Wow, this really IS Vietnam

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, in 2004:
Should national unity prevail, Iraq’s chances of becoming a stable democracy will improve dramatically. I’d like to see one other thing in Iraq, an outbreak of gratitude for the greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another.
David Lawrence, editor of US News & World Report, in 1966:
What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.

I've been thinking about the following analogy for the Iraq war, and these quotes fit quite nicely:

Suppose you live next door to a Muslim family. The husband drinks and sometimes beats his wife, and even killed one of his sons a few years back. There are other, worse families in the neighborhood, but this one has a lot of uncut jewels hidden in their basement. You'd like the local police to do something about it, but you've just spent the last few years undermining institutions that would apply laws across households, since you don't want other neighbors to have any say in what you do in the neighborhood. Also, you bought the guns the guy next door uses to threaten his family, because he used to threaten a different neighbor that you liked less.

You decide it is your job to help this family. So you go next door and shoot the husband execution-style in the front yard, to the horror of most of the neighborhood. You then tell the wife that she is now going to marry your cousin, who is a nice Christian man who won't beat her. In the meantime, you are going to move in and take care of her as a proxy husband.

After you move in, you find that the house is falling apart from neglect and now thieves are coming in freely and stealing anything that isn’t bolted down. You spend all your time rummaging through the family’s finances, protecting the jewels in the basement, and painting the fence outside.

The family is both humiliated at what has happened, and frustrated that they are no longer safe. They react by hitting you every time you come in the house. So, you decide to burn everything in the rooms where you get hit in the most, to teach them a lesson and discourage them from hitting you again. When people tell you to leave, you say it would be dishonorable to leave the family in such a mess, and question their commitment to marriage.

When you finally present the wife with your cousin, she decides instead to marry a strict traditional Muslim instead. She won’t have the same rights she had before, but her new husband will definitely get you out of the house. The kids can't agree on whether this new husband is a good idea or not, and are so freaked out by everything that has happened in their life, that they start shooting each other.

And Fred Barnes comes strolling along, notices the fresh paint on the fence, and chastises the wife for not being more grateful to you for all of your


Anonymous said...

A good analogy has the power to get someone to see their position from another perspective, even if only temporarily. This one just might help some recognize our nation's blindness to the effects we are having in Iraq. You could build on this analogy further by bringing in our messy history in Iraq as well. When you think about it, the nation clearly lost its collective mind over 9/11 to go into Iraq believing as many delusions as we did.

Dan S said...

Good point, as we did arm this particular neighbor to wage war on a different neighbor.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the analogy doesn't work for me. It tends to oversimplify international relations, while at the same time the "neighborhood" depicted doesn't really illuminate the problem to me. I can't imagine that anyone would read that description of that neighborhood and identify with it, or gain any new "perspective."

Why not drop the analogy and just explain the situation as it is? Comparisons to Vietnam will go way further than convoluted and urealistic neighborhood analogies. Even the scary Weekly Standard quote alone speaks more against the war than anything I've seen.

"Benevolence"? What the hell happened to national security and WMD? I'd love to have seen Bush sell this war as an act of "benevolence."


Dan S said...

Analogies by their nature are simplifications of situations.

Isn't the problem with explaining "the situation as it is" that so many people are simply unable or unwilling to do just that? Their frame of reference requires the US to always be right and good (when Republicans are in power anyway), and data to the contrary (Saddam was not a threat, detaining people without trial, torturing prisoners, wiretapping anyone who makes or recieves an international call) is simply discounted as liberal media bias.

So, the analogy is a way to provide a different frame of reference. We wouldn't treat neighbors this way and call ourselves benevolent.

Anonymous said...

Yes, analogies are simplifications. But you haven't simplified anything, just transferred an international setting to a local one. Why do I feel like I'm lost in the intricate plot of some bad soap opera? Who is the audience for this analogy? If it's other liberals, they don't need it. If it's Fred Barnes, do you really think it will give him a "different frame of reference"?

I live next door to Muslims? Not likely. He killed his son? Why isn't he in jail? Jewels in his basement? How do I know about them? What do they have to do with me, and why would I have any claim on them? I bought guns and gave them the psycho next door? Because I wanted him to protect me from another neighbor? Is this the part where Conservative America gains a better perspective on the War in Iraq? Already my head is swimming, and we're not even to the part where I kill him and marry off his wife.

It doesn't make sense because it's not realistic. These are things countries do, not neighbors. Analogies are there to illuminate, not to confound. Something like, "The neighborhood bully gets tripped, and instead of beating up on the guy who did it, he uses the tripping as an excuse to beat up a different kid who he never really liked." It's a real human situation that you can actually imagine happening. Whether or not you agree with the analogy, it simplifies the situation in a way people can relate to.

The absurd melodrama you've created above is not going to appeal to anyone but the most ardent detractors of the war. The rest will just write it off as crazy.


Dan said...

My point exactly - this war is absurd :)