Thursday, August 3, 2023

How the Veil Works


How the Veil Works

Peter Schultz


            In a book, The War State, by Michael Swanson, there is this simple sentence describing Frank Wisner, one of the earliest CIA officers: “His anti-Soviet stance, it was said, bordered on obsession.” And, so, because his anti-Sovietism was obsessive, he was led into actions that were hard to defend and that, implicitly, led him to commit suicide after he had been relieved of his duties by the CIA.


            But, for a few moments, let us assume that what Swanson and others call Wisner’s “anti-Sovietism” was actually his self-righteousness, his conviction that he was a morally virtuous human being who was therefore justified in exercising his powers against the likes of the Soviets who were not morally virtuous. The question is: What motivated people like Wisner? Was it anti-communism or was their anti-communism just a reflection of their self-righteousness? Was their anti-communism, unknown perhaps even to them, a disguise, the publicly acceptable face of what was in actuality self-righteousness?


            It is not unimportant question because, among other things, if what motivated Wisner and other Cold Warriors was self-righteousness, then their actions were not reactionary or defensive. They were not, that is, a reaction to what the Soviets were doing. Rather, their actions were aggressive in that they were warranted not by actions of the Soviets; they were warranted because they were recommended or required because they were righteous, and the morally virtuous want to and will act righteously. Their moral virtue requires them, as it is, to act righteously and failure to act that way is a sign of a lack of moral virtue. Being aggressive for the sake of righteousness might be said to the apex of moral virtue.


            Insofar as this is true, then it may be said that the self-righteous, the morally virtuous would welcome, even look for situations calling for them to act righteously. This might be illustrated by President George Bush’s actions after the attacks of 9/11, when he became, it was said, a great leader who rallied the nation when it was most needed. As I recall Bush’s actions in New York, he seemed to display a remarkable enthusiasm, almost as if he was relishing the situation, which was not unpleasant for him. Why? Because the attacks allowed him to display his righteousness, his moral virtue, which he did, thereby validating his worth, his virtue, his righteousness. And, hence, he was quite willing to characterize the attacks as challenges not only to the United States but to Western civilization. The greater the evil, the more praiseworthy are the righteous who seek to eradicate it.


            And where did his righteousness lead the nation? Eventually, into the invasion of Iraq, which of course had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. But insofar as Bush was being self-righteous, whether Iraq had participated in those attacks was not the crucial or deciding issue. Was attacking Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power justified as a righteous policy? Indeed, for Bush it was if no other reason than Saddam had tried to assassinate Bush’s father. And, as a tyrant, a righteous person or people would want to take Saddam out. So, whether or not Iraq participated in the 9/11 attacks, and whether or not Saddam represented a threat, existential or otherwise, to the United States was not for Bush, the self-righteous defender of family and democracy, the decisive issues. “The decider,” as Bush called himself, decides what the righteous thing is and does it. And only those who lack moral virtue would disagree.

No comments:

Post a Comment