"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Joel Stein: Traitor Or Mere Ignoramus?

So: Many of my friends out there in right-leaning Blogovia are as mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. What is it this time? Well, an intellectual midget by the name of Joel Stein---who has a weekly column on the LA Times op-ed page, which speaks volumes about both the paper and Stein himself---argued a couple of days ago that he does not support the troops, and that liberals/leftists who oppose the war but "support the troops" are wusses. So it's back to the "cancel the subscription" mass email, etc. etc.

Forgive me, but what precisely is the problem here? Nancy Pelosi and the other leftist pols who oppose the war, its initial rationale, its conduct, ad infinitum, and who gave not a fig about the suffering of Iraqis under Saddam, but who simultaneously "support the troops" in fact are hypocrites, liars, and, well, wusses, in that they simply cannot bring themselves to take a position that would engender harsh political criticism, however honestly reflective of their actual views. Stein, on the other hand, has told us what he really believes, however disgusting it is. And he admits freely that he knows nothing about the military, about war, about terrorism, about the wounded and dead, about the motivations that induce self-sacrifice and heroism, about actual conditions in Iraq under Baathism and after, and so on. He simply believes that those who volunteer for dishonorable missions ought not be honored. Or something utterly incoherent. He is merely a youngish yuppie, self-satisfied, self-absorbed, full of self-esteem, and entirely earnest in his belief that mainstream journalists are intellectuals. Better yet: There may be a book deal in the offing, and perhaps even a movie. He is perfect for the LA Times op-ed page. (Full disclosure: That page over the years has run about 50 of my op-eds. Oh, shut up.)

Stein is a regular at Time, another fact that speaks volumes. That he has told us what he really believes is admirable. That our honorable troops in the field could not care less about a fleck of dust like Stein is obvious.


14 comments:

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

What exactly does Support the Troops mean?

IMHO it is a PC statement and nothing more. Perhaps it meant something at some time in the distant past, but it has been watered down precisely because of the reason Stein says; some people are afraid of the political ramifications of saying what they really feel.

In information theory, zero information is contained in the phrase "Support our Troops", because EVERYBODY says it.

Might as well say the sky is blue and grass is green.

I may not like how he feels, or even what he says, but he does sound honest.

James Elliott said...

Nancy Pelosi and the other leftist pols who oppose the war...SNIP... however honestly reflective of their actual views.

Please explain to me how not supporting their mission, or the mission's conduct, or the motivations for it, but supporting the troops is at all hypocritical. It's the adult response to the juvenility of the Vietnam War protests. I've never understood the Right's boneheaded contention that not supporting the mission is not supporting the troops.

Nor do I understand the even more ridiculous contention that not supporting one or both makes one a traitor. All you do with posts like this is engage in inflammatory rhetoric.

That said, I'll support a broadside on anything that publishes those utter morons Jonah Goldberg and Max Boot any day.

Hunter Baker said...

I'm with Doc Zycher. I absolutely hate these kind of huge story non-stories. Who cares what Joel Stein thinks? The guy is an entertainment/pop culture writer, not any sort of serious political thinker or player.

The LA Times is indeed stupid to employ such a person for their op-ed page, but there is absolutely zero reason to gin up the noise machine.

I've written about it before. It doesn't matter whether it's Joel Stein or Bill Bennett or Rush Limbaugh or Nancy Pelosi in the crossfire, the game of gotcha sucks now, sucked then, and will continue to suck.

connie deady said...

James Elliot is completely right on in his comments that "support the troops" is an adult response to bad things done to American soldiers in Vietnam.

Having been around then and protested the war, I never considered that the troops were good Americans who were victims of bad polcies. Heck, in those days they largely weren't even volunteers. While I never personally spit on soldiers and such, I still bear some burden of guilt for how my generation treated the Vietnam veterans. I certainly condoned such acts and never called them out as wrong.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well said, Dr. Zycher.

I dunno, Hunter---not sure it's a non-story as much as a boil popping. Certainly Joel Stein is a non-entity in the scheme of things, but let's follow the entire argument and see where it leads.

First, it's good to see someone oppose the war fully and unapologetically without yelling, using overblown language, or wearing a funny costume.

(Joel Stein certainly is being honest, confessing he knows nuthin' 'bout 'nuthin, and that he morally condemns those who do not know as little as he does. In one admirably efficient swoop, he has a guaranteed income for life, tapping the pool of militant ignorism that made Michael Moore a multi-millionaire. This is likely commerce and not politics.)

Now, I might have handled things differently. Assuming that the brave American troops who re-up and volunteer for two and three tours in Iraq are not monsters, I might simply give them the benefit of the doubt that they are confused or misled rather than being morally reprehensible, that perhaps their hearts if not minds are in the right place.

As for Rep. Pelosi, et al., the only question is what good are you trying to achieve?

If you believe that the best course for the world, the nation and our troops is to get the hell out, then say so. That is a principled position. (James, I appreciate your attempt at fairness in characterizing the Vietnam protests as juvenile. Still, they wanted the troops OUT, and screw the South Vietnamese, which was an entirely coherent and unweaseled position.)

To leave our troops in place and simultaneously undermine their position as illegitimate is cynical and partisan. And with lives at stake, it is unconscionable and it is indefensible. Like the man said, lead, follow or get out of the way.

Lead a withdrawal movement, or "support the troops." Anything else is political opportunism.

As for Joel Stein, should he find himself in a bar anytime in the next forty or fifty years, best he not give his name:

"But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying."

A lot of moral certainty for somebody who admittedly knows nuthin' 'bout 'nuthin. Some folks who have paid dues, and with a little oil in them, might not be as understanding of Mr. Stein's new enterprise as I.

James Elliott said...

I'm with Doc Zycher. I absolutely hate these kind of huge story non-stories. Who cares what Joel Stein thinks? The guy is an entertainment/pop culture writer, not any sort of serious political thinker or player.

I don't disagree with that point. I had my fill of Joel Stein with my first subscription to Time in college. I do think that he's gotten funnier with his shift to the Times, but (with the exception of his column on Maureen Dowd), he usually doesn't write anything worth reading.

Michael Moore

Tom, you always play to this party line, and it's always stupid. You act as though Michael Moore wasn't an active sociopolitical commentator before Fahrenheit 9/11. Now, personally, I found that film rather odious and repellent, but stuff like Roger and Me are deserved classics. Moore was a successful filmmaker before March, 2003.

James, I appreciate your attempt at fairness in characterizing the Vietnam protests as juvenile. Still, they wanted the troops OUT, and screw the South Vietnamese, which was an entirely coherent and unweaseled position.

My point, which I have expounded upon in many, many forums over many, many (well, six) years is that the American cultural zeitgeist is filled, when it comes to soldiers, with amazing guilt over the manner in which American soldiers were vilified and demonized because they were associated with a policy of action they opposed. Films like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill, and more modern films such as Blackhawk Down were very conscious of this. It is only a film like Jarhead that accomplishes the horrid feat of being both anti-war and anti-soldier by completely dehumanizing them. The goal is, ultimately, to separate the man or woman from the policy he or she was duty-bound to enact; to leave their humanity intact and place the full force of one's ire where it belongs. As such, your comment, while appreciated, misses the mark.

To leave our troops in place and simultaneously undermine their position as illegitimate is cynical and partisan. And with lives at stake, it is unconscionable and it is indefensible.

This fails on all levels aside from the emotional. You would have a point if people like Pelosi said they supported the troops and then did nothing to back that up, or actively undermined things like bills in Congress to fund needed materiel. Unfortunately for you, that's not the case. Even if we were to evaluate under the standards you impose - unreasonable though they may be - your line of thinking still fails. Why criticize war critics when they completely lack the power to remove the troops from harm's way? It's a catch-22 under your formula: They lack the power to remove the troops from harm's way, but if they actively campaign for it in an attempt to sway other decision-makers so long as troops are in the field, they undermine the mission and are guilty of... whatever it is you say they're guilty of? When you bounce those goalposts around like that, Tom, it's no wonder they never win at your game.

Lead a withdrawal movement, or "support the troops."

This is a false dichotomy. It's not a zero-sum equation, not a matter of "either/or." It's time to stop pretending that wanting the conflict waged in a competent fashion, devoid of the political considerations that so characterized Vietnam, or wanting the troops out of harm's way, is anything less than supporting them.

Likewise, it is foolish in the extreme to demand that the architects of such failed or impotent policies be called into account for them in ways that the architects of Vietnam never were. If your policy is neither successful nor competent, and leads to the deaths of thousands of soldiers, then you have a duty as a leader to take responsibility. As you say, it's time for the Republican leadership in both the legislative and the executive to either lead or get out of the way. And if they will do neither, then you can hardly excoriate us for calling them to account for it. The bill is long past due.

While I may disagree with you on this, Tom, we do agree on one thing: Joel Stein doesn't know nuthin', and isn't worth the time it takes to read.

James Elliott said...

Likewise, it is foolish in the extreme to demand that the architects of such failed or impotent policies be called into account for them in ways that the architects of Vietnam never were.

Woah. That should read: "Likewise, it is foolish in the extreme not to demand that the architects of such failed or impotent polices be called into account for them in ways that the architects of Vietnam never were."

Tom Van Dyke said...

James, to be truly funny requires some grain of truth. If Joel Stein can manage being funny, he is therefore worth reading. We do agree he apparently doesn't.

---Michael Moore was not independendently wealthy before Fahrenheit, which was my point, a commercial one, not political/party line. He certainly deserves notoriety for introducing the artistic innovation of substituting polemics for reportage in documentaries.

I enjoyed Roger & Me very much until I learned how he cut corners to make his point.

---Discussing Vietnam via the films you mention is a waste of time.

It's a catch-22 under your formula: They lack the power to remove the troops from harm's way, but if they actively campaign for it in an attempt to sway other decision-makers so long as troops are in the field, they undermine the mission and are guilty of...

I said exactly the opposite.


Likewise, it is foolish in the extreme...

Whatever, James. My eyes glazed over at such boilerplate. Even if I thought the same of you, I would not open a paragraph that way if I wished to engage you. Cheers.

Tlaloc said...

I love that the right won't acknowledge that they are the ones who put Saddam in power and kept him there for two decades. Do you really think deleting the comment will somehow erase that fact?

JC said...

I love that the right won't acknowledge that they are the ones who put Saddam in power and kept him there for two decades.

With respect, that statement is vague and inflammatory. (Are you equating conservatives with Saddam & co.?) You shouldn't be surprised if posts like it disappear from a properly moderated blog or forum.

James Elliott said...

---Discussing Vietnam via the films you mention is a waste of time.

We weren't discussing Vietnam on a political/historical level. I was demonstrating my point about the sociocultural history behing "Support the troops." I wasn't looking to open up a can of worms on the subject, just illustrating a theme you appeared to misconstrue.

Whatever, James. My eyes glazed over at such boilerplate. Even if I thought the same of you, I would not open a paragraph that way if I wished to engage you. Cheers.

What a charmingly passive-aggressive way of avoiding the discussion entirely. Martyrdom isn't exactly an attractive trait in a would-be pundit.

(Are you equating conservatives with Saddam & co.?)

No, but he is pointing out that Reagan sent Rumsfeld over to shake hands with Saddam and deliver some biochemical weapons. I'm not sure what that has to do with the question at hand, but it's a fun fact and shouldn't be forgotten.

Tlaloc said...

"With respect, that statement is vague and inflammatory. (Are you equating conservatives with Saddam & co.?)"

No not equating. What I'm saying is that specific high powered conservatives, who are lauded today, are the very ones who put Saddam in power and sold him chemical weapons. They have names like Reagan, Bush (the first), Rummsfeld, and so on. Does that make it clearer?

My first post objected to Zycher saying the left cares nothing about suffering Iraqis. That's a hard charge to make stick when it was the policies of the GOP that made them suffer in the first place now isn't it?

The GOP's foreign policy hass been a cycle of making a mess and then claiming they were the only ones who could fix it and then messing that up and claiming they were the only ones who could fix it and so on. See Iraq. See Iran. See Nicaragua. See Vietnam. And so it goes.

JC said...

The clarification is appreciated. I was beginning to fear it was my fault that Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of people :)

connie deady said...

It's a catch-22 under your formula: They lack the power to remove the troops from harm's way, but if they actively campaign for it in an attempt to sway other decision-makers so long as troops are in the field, they undermine the mission and are guilty of... whatever it is you say they're guilty of? When you bounce those goalposts around like that, Tom, it's no wonder they never win at your game.

James, that's a brilliant articulation of why that argument is so wrong. I have struggled with trying to explain it myself. I will borrow your explanation.