Sunday, October 25, 2015

Patriot Son: A Fantasy

Patriot Son: A Fantasy
P. Schultz

            The plane was in its final descent and silently he thought, “thank God. “ Finally, some peace.  Then it happened. As the plane taxied to the gate for the passengers to disembark, a flight attendant announced over the plane’s intercom: “Well, folks, we have Marine Sergeant Michael James on board. He is home from Iraq and I think we should give him a warm welcome home.” With that, all the passengers stood and applauded.  

            To his surprise, he felt his anger beginning to rise, even promising to turn into rage. Maybe it was the Jack Daniels. Maybe he was just drained and wanted to get away. To get away from all these people. He really didn’t know why but he knew he should go and go quickly. As he stood and turned toward the passengers, without really seeing any one of them, he could not stop himself from saying:

            “What are you applauding for?” There was silence, a stillness that comes from shock. “I mean it: What are you applauding for?” More silence. He couldn’t stand it.

            “I have come home to bury my best buddy whose casket is in the belly of this plane. Are you applauding for him? Well, he is dead and he cannot hear you.” More silence.

            “Are you applauding me? For what? For the killing I had to do? For the women, children, and old men I had to kill? It happened you know. It had to happen. I had no choice. “ More silence and a little something else beginning to develop among the passengers. Annoyance? Anger? Was he raining on their parade?

            “If you applauding me, then I must say you are surer of what I did than I am. I don’t applaud what I did there and wished every day I was there that I was somewhere else, almost anywhere else doing almost anything else.” More silence and even some outward signs of unrest. It was becoming awkward. How could they understand? He had to get away. But still he said:

            “You know, you should be crying. You should be crying for my buddy and his family. You should be crying for me, a Marine who killed the innocent. You should be crying for those who were innocent but are now dead or maimed. But most of all you should be crying for yourselves and your country. Because, well,” he said, pausing and knowing they could not understand. “Just because.”

            And with that Marine Sergeant Michael James left the plane to seek the peace he hungered for more than anything else.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mary Nichols and Imperialism

Review of Mary Nichols’ Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom
P. Schultz

            Having thought for some time that many of the most interesting items of what is labeled “political philosophy” are concerned with the phenomenon of imperialism, and having known Dr. Nichols both personally and through her always intriguing work, I was quite glad to see her book, Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom because I knew it would deal with imperialism, Athenian and otherwise. I was not at all disappointed as the book is written in an accessible way, for the most part, and in a way that reflects what has made Professor Nichols an excellent teacher.

            However, I do wonder at Nichols’ take on imperialism as she sees it presented in Thucydides’ history. Near the end of her book, the following summary appears: “Thucydides’ evaluation of imperialism is as complex as his evaluation of democracy. Athenian virtues, intelligence, and daring led to the city’s imperialism, and imperialism in turn encouraged the exercise of those virtues by providing opportunities for ruling others, for deliberation and planning, and for actions taken freely rather than out of necessity.” [p. 183]

            So, it would seem that for Thucydides, imperialism is the result of, as well as leading to the cultivation of virtue, intelligence, and daring. Hence, those cities, like Athens, that do embrace imperialism should attribute that embrace, undertaken freely, to their virtue, intelligence, and daring, even while enjoying the “opportunities for ruling others,” no doubt with the approval and gratitude of those “others.”

But yet there is more and this more frees one to question whether imperialism, of any kind, is the result of or cultivates virtue or intelligence. Nichols continues:

“Thucydides nevertheless shows that Athens frequently failed to exercise those virtues, as in granting power to Cleon, and in its action against Melos. His reservations against Athenian imperialism appear in his portrayal of such failures [while his] description of the Sicilian expedition leads us to question the extent to which a moderate and balanced foreign policy such as he attributes to Pericles can be maintained over time. The excesses of Athens during the time of Alcibiades . . . suggest that even a city as resourceful as Athens could not maintain the freedom and restraint necessary to sustain its way of life for long.” [Ibid]

            So, it would appear that Athens, at least once Pericles is gone, “failed” at its imperialistic endeavors, granting power to those apparently unfit to wield it, slaughtering those who refused to bow to its demands, and undertaking “expeditions” apparently doomed from the start. An imperialism well conducted is one thing, but an imperialism badly conducted is another thing altogether.

But what if it is imperialism itself that constitutes or accounts for “the excesses of Athens?” That is, what if those “failures” Nichols mentions were actually reflections of what the Athenian imperialism required? That is, imperialistic politics, Athenian or otherwise, requires actions like that against Melos, the invasion of Sicily, and the granting of power to those like Cleon or Alcibiades, to say nothing of the rather puffed up and delusional Pericles. In other words, given the multiple examples of inhuman, unjust, and tyrannical actions provided by Thucydides, it seems useful to wonder if imperialism, Athenian or otherwise, has anything to do with virtue, intellect, or justice. Imperialism could be just a perverse kind of politics. Seductive or appealing to the strongest of human passions, to be sure; but like other such phenomena, still perverse.

Perhaps Pericles’ imperialistic policies were, as Nichols says, “moderate or balanced,” but that does not mean that they were humane, just, or non-tyrannical. Moderate or balanced inhumanity, injustice, or tyranny is better than immoderate or unbalanced inhumanity, injustice, or tyranny. But even so, imperialism, even in its Periclean manifestation, is still inhuman, unjust, and tyrannical. For how else would one describe a politics that requires human beings, especially parents, to lose themselves in the love of their city to the extent that the death of their offspring in war was treated as something to be proud of, not something to be lamented? And it would seem that if imperialism appears this way in Athens, that city which was “the best of cities” according to Thucydides, characterized as it was by beauty, intelligence, and deliberation, then it is fair to say that imperialism is always, in all times and places, despicable.  

None of this need be taken to mean that Nichols’ interpretation of Thucydides is wrong. But it should be taken to mean that if her interpretation of Thucydides is correct, then we may wonder about the worth of taking our bearings from Thucydides and his understanding of political life.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Obama v. Bush on Guns: Not So Much

Obama v. Jeb Bush on Guns: Not so Much
P. Schultz
October 4, 2015

            The other day, the NY Times ran an article that made it seem that Obama and Jeb Bush had significant differences regarding guns and the mass shootings that have taken place. Obama called for more gun control while Bush said, “Stuff happens,” foregoing the need for more gun control. So, yes, they do have their differences.

            However, these differences mask the way that Obama and Bush agree, in that both speak in a way that makes these events seem like aberrations. According to Obama, “we” or the government have to do something or something more about them. This implies, as calls for government actions often imply, that the phenomenon to be addressed, such as drug use or crime, is not endemic to our society. These shooters are not “us;” they are “apart” from “us,” perhaps even “foreign” to “us.” “We” don’t have to change; “we” just need the government to control “them.” It is a comfortable way of thinking.  

And Bush, when he says that “stuff happens,” implies that these events occur out of the blue, as it were, that there is no connection between this “stuff” and who “we” are or what American has become.  These events are accidents or aberrations, as are the perpetrators of them. There is then not only no need to press for more gun control; there is also no reason to think about ourselves or our society in relation to these shootings. Clean up the blood, bring in some counselors, bury the dead, heal the wounded, punish the guilty and move on.

So for both Obama and Bush, these shootings have very little to do with our society, with how we are in the world. And, of course, this is delusional. And it is especially delusional in a society that turns its warriors into heroes but “disses” its teachers.