16 Dec 2006

Good Enough to Die For

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Russ Vaughn has some reflections on Vietnam War draft resistance that would do a lot of my classmates good to read.

I have just read a mea culpa by Vietnam War protestor, novelist and poet, Pat Conroy, who possesses the literary skills to express what I am willing to bet many other older American males, his former brothers at the barricades, also feel, but lack the skills and the honesty to articulate. It is left to men like the politically born again David Horowitz and novelist Conroy to speak for these old troupers of the Left’s long-haired legions, to reveal their long hidden recognition that they were possibly misguided in their protesting but more often than most will ever admit, motivated more by fear of serving in combat than by any sense of moral/political rectitude.

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Dominique R. Poirier

Doubtless there is a good deal of truth in this interesting article. When I read it, a few minutes ago, my attention has been especially caught by this quote of Pat Conroy, Russ Vaughn is talking about at some point:

“America is good enough to die for even when she is wrong.”

The United States has a rarely encountered particularity, which is that from the day on this country was founded it never strayed from its set of values, and when some Americans strayed from it (i.e. slavery in the South, for example) it has always been the Bill of Rights that prevailed at the end; however those misbehaviors and defections could be personal initiatives originating from individual discontent or from authentic foreign meddling.

Often resentment against the United States has been fuelled by entities and people – mostly foreign in an overwhelming number of the cases – whose interests were put in jeopardy by those of this country. From this on, any possible pretext was good since it would have been anything but a shrewd tactic to say something as “Hey, you! Why wouldn’t you help me in my endeavors to prevent your country from impeaching mine to reach its own goals?”
Discontent, despair, frustration, fear, and else, were feelings likely to give a hold to any cause, however foolish or stupid it could be. The enlightening Eric Hoffer’s book, The True Believer, explains all this with an unchallengeable mastery, I think.

About all those American teenagers who once questioned the U.S. policy, at home and/or abroad, my sincere and personal conviction is that many of them just missed to know about two things: how life elsewhere is, and how life in America is perceived from abroad. Such experience provides anyone a much more accurate and objective picture of the United States.

I’m French. I live in France, and lived during three years and a half in United States; in Massachusetts, to be precise. Now and then I happened to meet Americans who expressed some criticism toward their country, and admiration for France when they learned I came from France; but I’m convinced they were all American patriots, at least.
Their talk was not the mere expression of courtesy in some cases. As conversation went on, it quickly turned out that this admiration was largely based upon the beauty and fame of some French monuments, museums, French cooking, liquors, and other material features of the same kind.
Some of those Americans even tripped to France where they had enjoyed fifteen days or so sojourns. They just missed two important things. The first is to experience (as I did myself in United States) living, working, housing, paying bills, sending their children to school, unemployment, and many more, in this European country, or in any other; it doesn’t matter, I think. And the second is to learn that France, like many other countries, never had a coherent and long lasting set of values to which they could stick to.

Had they enjoyed such instructive experience and knowledge, I’m pretty sure their point of view about France or another country and the United States would have been certainly different. That’s why I believe that an overwhelming number of American dissenters are just victim of a priori; distorted views about their own country and about how life is elsewhere.

I have to confess I was victim of the same misperception until I went to live in United States for some times. On the basis of countless American movies I had seen I sincerely believed that all Americans rode in Ford Mustangs and Chevy Corvettes and trucks, and Cadillac and Harley Davidson; that they were politically on the right and believed in capitalism and freedom of thought (even when Democrats) and that they all expressed mere contempt toward leftist ideas since there was no reasonable ground to do the contrary in such a country; that being Protestant or Catholic in America was the same as long as these two religions were based on Christianity (no matter what Max Weber taught us); that any foreigner like me would immediately find a job in one’s branch as much as being skilled enough and not too stupid; that ranches with horses and cowboys could be found everywhere outside big cities; and that every American had owned one gun a least.

The best imaged comparison I found to explain this phenomenon to people around me when this subject arises is to suggest to imagine oneself as a fish, born in the sea, and living in the sea since the very first day of one’s existence; the sea, as metaphoric representation, standing for the country in which one was born and live since then.
One does hear about the sea the whole day; everyday since one were able to understand others’ talking. But the trouble is that one has quite a hard time understanding what and where the sea actually is just because one cannot but lives permanently in it, and even breathes it. One does not have anything else at hand to compare the sea with something else, so as to really understand what the sea actually is; until someday, by some caprice of mother nature, or thanks to a bit of technology, one is given an opportunity to go to the beach, get out of the water and get atop a rock high enough to see the place from which one just came. Once there one would see this surprising huge blue immensity and the crest of the waves buffeted by the wind. Then, and then only, one could exclaim: “Oooh! That’s the sea.”

I’m not wandering from the subject and here is my point now. If all those young Americans had had a better and broader picture of the values of the country in which they borne and live; knowledge enough about what happened outside their country, I mean. Then many of those young dissenters and frightened teenagers would have reacted differently, I believe, and would have understood that, yes, America is good enough, even when she is wrong sometimes. Many would have kept away from the crowd of protesters, and even some would have organized strikes in universities to protest against the pinky professors. Many would have boycotted the New York Times, also. And some among the most frightened would have enlisted so as to fiercely defend the exceptional freedom they enjoyed.



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