Listen to the voice of America’s decline. Can we bring these people into the 21st Century?
Summary: Many comments sent to the FM website speak from the heart, sharing the writer’s response to the new world described on these pages. Sometimes clear, hard, and rational. Sometimes visionary. Sometimes delusional. But most often angry, expressing the anger that so often marks modern America’s relationship with the world. It’s the voice of America’s decline, both a response to and a driver of that decline.
The FM website receives many messages. Like this one from “Jarhead” (many, like his, from a fake email address). The internet overflows with similar expressions. They tell us much about today’s America.
I took the time to review many of your blog posts, and in my opinion, your intentions are scurrilous and designed to foment confusion and doubt.
Fact: GWBush dealt al-Qaeda a strategic defeat in Iraq and everyone, including the enemy, knows it.
Fact: Pentagon payroll must be met without regard to what troops are doing, so your $1T figure for the cost of the war is substantially overblown.
Fact: Tea Party members are substantially more educated than the average voter.
Your high-handed disdain for the general public betrays your elitist presumptions; such presumptions are irrational, parochial, and fundamentally anti-Democratic. I joined the Marines in my disgust at anti-American propaganda such as yours. My antipathy over the years has not waned a bit.
I wrote my first internet article almost 8 years ago. Since then in replying to the 16 thousand comments on the FM website I have had dozens of dialogues with people like “Jarhead”. Generalizing (this email provides too little data to speak about him specifically), they fervently believe a interlocking constallation of falsehoods about history and economics (much like communists from an earlier era), they are immune to facts which challenge their world view; and they tend to reply with a combination of insults, rebuttal by making stuff up, and changing the subject. Above all, they are angry, perhaps with impotent rage at a world changing in ways they neither like nor understand.
- Demographics, as white Europeans become a minority.
- Economic stagnation, rising pressure on the middle class.
- Loss of America’s global supremacy to emerging powers such as Brazil and China.
- Loss of faith as children drift away from traditional values.
- Gays out of the closet, even openly joining the military.
- A Black President (the Birther delusion is IMO the clearest evidence of our problem).
They cry ”What’s America coming to?”
A similar mindset often appears in the writings of jihadists, seeing western values rapidly erode away traditional Islam. Rock music. Young men dissing their fathers. Woman thinking they have rights — driving, marrying boys of their choice. It’s an odd parallelism, but one with many precedents in history.
I feel sorry for “Jarhead” (but not for jihadists). I feel pity for a nation with so many people like him, making adaptation to change very difficult. Unfortunately the response of such people is often anger. For foreigners (or Americans who they call enemies) torture, bomb and assassination. Domestically, drastic and often irrational policies hoping to turn back time: cut benefits to the poor, return to the gold standard, slash spending on infrastructure and education.
Although largely irrelevant and even self-destructive responses, they fulfill the need to act, to feel in control of events, fueling dreams of a better future. Unfortunately the mixture of fear, anger, and dreams seldom produce good outcomes. Political reform in America requires either overcoming such people, or helping them adjust to the 21st century. Neither will prove easy.
Specific responses to “Jarhead”
Responses to the few specifics he provides.
“Fact: GWBush dealt al-Qaeda a strategic defeat in Iraq and everyone, , including the enemy, knows it.”
There is near-zero evidence that AQ was in Iraq before the US invasion (Saddam’s intelligence services had contacts with persons presumed to be affiliated with AQ, as did ours with Soviet agents during the cold war). Nor is there much evidence that AQ contributed substantial resources to fighting the US in Iraq. The local nationalist group “AQ in Iraq” was a result of the invasion, and its defeat of little consequence (except to the Iraq people, especially the Sunni Arabs who unwisely aided and later fought it).
Only time and research will determine the effect on AQ of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Many experts believe that it helped AQ, positioning the US as an enemy of Islam and boosting recruitment. Furthermore Iran is clearly the primary beneficiary — along with Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish peoples (China seems likely to get most of the oil contracts). Stratfor and other expert organizations have written about this in detail.
“Fact: Pentagon payroll must be met without regard to what troops are doing, so your $1T figure for the cost of the war is substantially overblown.”
An odd response, as the many expert estimates of the war’s cost clearly account for that fact. Such as these:
- “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11“, Amy Belasco, Congressional Research Service, 29 March 2011
- “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond“, Joseph E. Stiglitz (Columbia) and Linda J. Bilmes (Harvard), Washington Post, September 2010 — They are co-authors of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.
- On the Costs of War, Eisenhower Study Group, June 2011 — “Ten Years, 225,000 Killed, and More than $3.2 – 4 Trillion Spent and Obligated to Date” since 9-11 (update)
- The Wikipedia page, as usual, has useful links (but read the text skeptically).
“Fact: Tea Party members are substantially more educated than the average voter”
There are two answers to this. First, it’s probably not true. The Tea Party has neither organization nor “members”. Its amorphous nature make surveys less accurate than usual. A Gallup poll in April 2010 found that “Tea Partiers are fairly mainstream in their demographics; skew right politically, but have typical profile by age, education, and employment.” A CBS/NY Times poll the same month found Tea Party supporters to be somewhat more educated than average Americans. Neither compared them to the “average voter.”
Third, what is your point? The Harvard facility is better educated than members of the Tea Party. Would you prefer them to govern? I agree with William Buckley: “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”
“Your high-handed disdain for the general public betrays your elitist presumptions; such presumptions are irrational, parochial, and fundamentally anti-Democratic.”
I doubt you can find quotes from the FM website to support those accusations. You are just making stuff up.
“in my disgust at anti-American propaganda such as yours”
In my experience, accusations of being “anti-American” are the STOP button on the American mind. It’s an admission of defeat, that you have nothing reasonable to say.
“My antipathy over the years has not waned a bit.”
Perhaps better sources of information will help. As a first step, try writing a rebuttal based on facts. Cite sources and specifics. Don’t bother telling us how you feel about the facts; this we’re not grade school teachers coddling your self-esteem.
For more information
See these FM reference pages about