7/10/2009

Picking the Good Guys

I'm spending part of my summer reading a collection of history books that I've put off due to their size and time commitment. It's almost impossible to find a decent book about any complex period in history that weighs in at less than 750 pages. For me, that means at least two almost complete days spend reading. The older I get, the more work reading becomes as my eyes are slowly turning into semi-functional organs. I suspect that one reason people become more conservative as they age is they are less able to comfortably take in information the only way humans produce complex stories and data, the written word. Once you shift your input source from books to the Internet or, much worse, television, you are reduced to baby-talk and executive summaries of complex issues that can not be summarized.

The more American history I read, the more confused I get. We Americans have an almost infallible ability to pick the losing side in practically any international situation. In every instance, we arm our choice with overwhelming strength and watch them fritter their advantage away in corruption and cowardice. From Teddy Roosevelt to G.W. Bush, our Presidents have consistently picked the losing side. How is that possible?

At first, I suspected that it was poor military advice and our usual pitiful language skills that drove us to the weakest link. But the more I read about our history in places like the Philippines, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, the more I am convinced that is not the problem. At some point before each conflict, we've supplied both sides of every one of those places with American military and economic advisers who provided insightful, intelligent, and predictive advice that could have saved the nation decades of trouble, trillions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of American lives. Every time, that advice was either ignored or suppressed. Why?

After wrapping up my third such book this week, I asked this question to my wife, "Why are we so attracted to the losing side?" Her answers were almost identical to what I'd considered over most of my life: our leaders are corrupt, special interests are in charge of our foreign policy, our military is incompetent, and the usual suspects that always appear at the beginning, middle, and end of every one of our foreign adventures. It's probably true that every one of those factors are involved in our national inability to pick a winning side, but in reading these history journals I don't see any of them as a unifying cause. For a country that firmly believes, and has for at least 150 years, that gods are on our side we seem to be on the bad side of whatever gods are in charge.

And that, I believe, is the problem. No, I don't think the gods are lined up against us. Yes, I do think that gods are at the root of our national loser complex. Going back over the history I've just read, it's obvious that we are picking the side that most accepts Christianity over its own traditional religion. If we can't find a serious leader who will adopt our national superstition, we'll pick someone at random, prop them up in power, and pretend that we're defending a Christian nation.

Holy crap! [And I mean that literally.] We're risking the lives of our children and our national security over superstition; disregarding common sense, solid information, history, and sound military advice. Often, as best typified by MacArthur (Korea) and Rumsfeld (Iraq), we've put complete nutjobs in charge because rational men would not make the "right" decision based on those religious goals. Every time you look into the domestic argument, especially the congressional argument, over any of these conflicts you find yourself surrounded by religious justifications for the craziest decisions. Roosevelt's "white man's burden" to Bush's "crusade," one after another, these pitifully bad decisions were done under the cloud of religious justification.

While I still believe that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," I suspect a similar relationship exists between politics and religion. Any time, anyone tries to justify anything based on any religious "principle," we should all assume that person is trying to drive the national family vehicle over a cliff. Superstition and politics, clearly, do not mix well.

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