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Ideology Is Poison

And I realise that the girl in Dr Noll’s seminar isn’t spouting this stuff about “jihadists” travelling from Iraq to America because she supports Bush. She is just frightened. She is genuinely afraid of all the “terror” warnings, the supposed “jihadists” threats, the red “terror” alerts and the purple alerts and all the other colour-coded instruments of fear. She believes her president, and her president has done Osama bin Laden’s job for him: he has crushed this young woman’s spirit and courage.

But America is not at war. There are no electricity cuts on Valdosta’s warm green campus, with its Spanish style department blocks and its narrow, beautiful church. There is no food rationing. There are no air-raid shelters or bombs or “jihadists” stalking these God-fearing folk. It is the US military that is at war, engaged in an Iraqi conflict that is doing damage of a far more subtle kind to America’s social fabric.

Off campus, I meet a gentle, sensitive man, a Vietnam veteran with two doctor sons. One is a lieutenant colonel, an army medical officer heading back to Baghdad this week for Bush’s “surge”, bravely doing his duty in the face of great danger. The other is a civilian doctor who hates the war. And now the two boys – divided by Iraq – can hardly bring themselves to speak to each other. ~Robert Fisk

Can it really be the case that so many people actually buy this line that the jihadis will “follow us back” to America if “we” withdraw?  I suppose the 75% of Republicans who think Mr. Bush is doing a bang-up job will believe just about any nonsense that the man utters, which is a painful thing to contemplate, since my own family is made up of a lot of Republicans and this means that the odds of some of my relatives buying into Mr. Bush’s cons are very good.  Perhaps one of the reasons people in my extended family continue to get on as well as we do is that we simply don’t talk about Iraq at holidays, so I don’t know just how pervasive the groupthink is.  Nonetheless, if we did talk about it I would like to think that we would be able to remember that we are bound by things more important than our position on this or that policy. 

I am moved to say all this by the last item in Fisk’s column.  That last item is insane.  Brothers, both of them doctors presumably committed to healing and the preservation of life, who will barely speak to each other…because of Iraq?  Imagine having your family torn apart by something as dreadful and hideous as the Iraq war–just consider how ridiculous that is!  From my perspective, it is genuinely difficult to understand how anyone could still be so convinced of the rightness of the war in spite of everything, but I can acknowledge that there are people who have become as firmly entrenched in their view as I have in mine.  Naturally, I think the pro-war doctor is wrong on the war, but both of them are wrong if they allow their positions on the war to poison their relationship.  To sacrifice something real and human to some less immediate political commitment is to commit a kind of impiety. 

Some people will think that I am engaged in hyperbole when I call the war those things, but I really don’t know what other words to use (abomination is one that I have often used).  In any case, I don’t care which side of the war debate people are on–to turn against your brother or cousin or friend because of Mr. Bush’s War is to let the hegemonists win two unjust victories, as they have managed to sever real, healthy, living bonds between two kinsmen or friends by convincing everyone involved that some lousy political question is more important than their affinities and loyalties to one another.  This is to elevate either loyalty or opposition to the state above loyalty to your own, which should almost always take precedence (I would say always, but there are probably exceptional cases that aren’t springing to mind right now that would make such an absolute statement seem a little crazy).  Each time someone puts politics ahead of his blood and his people, the horrid ideologues win another triumph.  If they can divide us against our own flesh, they can conquer any and all of us. 

If I had a brother (I don’t–I am an only child), I would hate to think that I would ever turn against him over some political quarrel, even one pertaining to a serious matter of war.  Obviously, I am just about as opposed to this war as anyone can be, but to choose either the War Party or the antiwar folks over your own flesh and blood reveals the far more troubling corruption of our society.  I realise that this would hardly be the first time in our history that relatives and friends have taken opposite sides of a political quarrel, but it seems to me that we may be able to locate the ultimate cause of the repeated defeats of local and particular loyalties at the hands of people spouting universalist and idealist claptrap in this tendency of some people to prefer their “cause” over their kindred in the flesh.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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