Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Jim Webb

I had a conservative friend in high school.  His politics have changed in the years since, but he approached the two main strands of his ideological leanings - Catholicism and libertarianism - with cold hard logic.  He could be a little glib when faced with the shortcomings in any one of his beliefs.  He believed in complete drug legalization without regulation - a position I agreed with - but did not consider the counterarguments all that seriously.  If you told him that heroin legalization would mean that more people would use heroin, he would just tell you that he wouldn't do heroin.  I thought his approach to faith was weirdly unemotional.  He had read the scripture and the intellectual arguments.  He thought it was clear that Christianity was superior to Islam because Muhammed was a thief, and it just made sense to spend his life trying to get to heaven.

I met him when we were 14 and we still keep up with each other.  About ten years ago, we were walking around a campus where he was pursuing a Ph.D. in history.  I had just come home from a year-long gig in Vietnam.  We passed a veterans memorial, and I just blurted out that I thought the concept of war heroism was bullshit.  My friend was hyper-logical, but he couldn't understand where I was coming from.  I asked him if he really thought all the soldiers in Vietnam were war heroes?  They were fighting an ugly war.  He said, ok, but maybe all the soldiers in World War II?  I said, in the reality of war, the people you end up killing don't necessarily deserve to die. It's hard to see any soldier as particularly heroic, as much as someone who fights for his own and his friends' survival.  My friend was extremely anti-war, anti-US intervention anywhere, but this was a difficult idea for him to process.  I told him that "war heroism" is a concept civilized people hold onto in order to make themselves feel better for supporting barbarism.  He started coming around to my way of thinking, but it's clear that I had finally presented some cold hard logic that frightened him.


My first instinct - everyone's first instinct - was to laugh, uncomfortably.  Here was Jim Webb running for president, laughing, bragging about killing an enemy soldier who tried to kill him.  That soldier was probably no better or worse a human being than Jim Webb.  In all likelihood, Webb never learned the story of that man's life or what led him to fight a war for an ideology Webb disagreed with.  The man he killed had no idea who Webb was.

And though they both fought in the name of a nation-state, they were clearly not thinking about their ideological beliefs at the moment of confrontation.  At that moment they were nothing more than animals struggling for their own survival.

When you go to war, you enter a dimension in which the rules that used to govern your life no longer make sense, and when you return home those rules will never really make sense again.  Clinton, Sanders and the rest defend themselves from these facts by talking up their love for veterans.  Webb loves his fellow veterans too, but at some point he just has to laugh at the sham we call civilization.  That's the only way he can continue to live in this world.

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