Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Activities

As we approach the official start of summer in a few days, I should explain that my attention to this blog will be rather hit and miss throughout the season.  I hate to disappoint the tens of thousands of devoted readers, but I’ll be back in full force in the fall.  Why am I taking some time off from blogging, you ask?  I’ll be embarking on a ten-day trip to Northern California to see the Redwoods and Sequoias with a couple of friends, Johannes and Marcus. On the heels of this pleasant junket I’ll have my two-week annual training for the military, which for this year happens to be at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky.  I'll be teaching an online course somehow throughout these trips.   Meanwhile, I have to write a couple of book reviews for a scholarly journal, one on the origins of the Thirty Years War and the other on the 16th-century Protestant reformer Martin Bucer.  A number of changes will be occurring this fall for me, so I hope to get a head start in preparing for them later this summer.  For instance, I’ll be juggling a few classes for Hexington College and the University of Mantua and plan to finalize my syllabi by the middle of August. (The reader will again note that these colleges are pseudonyms.)

Finally, I will be undergoing rigorous and sustained therapy—emotional, mental, spiritual, and telepathic—this August at the Melchior Center for Relaxation and Healing in Green Gate, Minneapolis.  Of all my summer activities I’m probably looking most forward to this experience. They say that you leave Melchior a different person than the poor wretch who showed up three weeks earlier. You basically get a mental makeover.  They return you to your family with a vastly improved personality, a brand new temperament, and a completely different worldview.  I’m already enrolled in a full “semester” of courses: Anger Management 101, Coping Mechanisms 130, and Road Rage Decision and Risk Analysis 310.  I was able to get into the last one, an upper-division class, because I’ve repeatedly taken the basic survey course elsewhere.  Also, lest I forget, I’m enrolled in an elective course entitled “I Like Me.”  Throughout the three weeks, the inmates take plenty of nature hikes and get sufficient nap time. I’m told there’s a coffee shop on the second floor of the impressive facilities.   An interesting detail that I gleaned from Melchoir's promotional brochure is that the headquarters building was originally greyish blue, but the management had  it painted brown because some of their more disturbed patients, upon arrival, have the habit of splattering their feces on the walls.  I won't do this, for my issues are relatively mild.  Anyway, put all of these things together, including the free bag of Cheetos you get just for signing up, and you can see why I’m looking forward to August.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Man in a House

The man lived alone in a house at the end of the street.  Nobody knows why he no longer left his residence after one summer day—nobody except for him perhaps.  He seemed to be like everyone else, going to work in the morning and returning home by the late afternoon.  Years ago, he had a flower garden along the stone walkway leading from the side yard to his front door.  Now it’s an embankment of dirt and weeds.  On occasion one might have seen him fetching the paper in the front yard or loading up his car in the driveway, but he would never fail to water his petunias and marigolds.  In more recent times the man appeared to barricade himself inside his house.  That’s how it seemed to outside observers at least.  Really, he was slowly suffocating himself, though he didn’t intend his actions to lead to his demise.  First, he simply closed his doors and windows and never opened them again.  After weeks of looking out his windows, staring into nothingness, he closed the curtains and dropped the blinds.  He used sealant to block out the world beyond his porch.  The mail stacked up, his oatmeal ran out, the air became stale, the sun no longer broke through, and one day he died.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Today marks yet another day of life. These 24-hour segments of time seem to fall in upon the other in linear fashion, as if they they’re ultimately leading to a climax, a denouement, an “end of days.” My ultimate demise, I suspect, will be rather anticlimactic, just another drop in the bucket.  In the meantime, I try to fill these aforementioned days with interesting activities: sleeping, eating, raising progeny, working the body, and making money.  Homo sapiens have a sweet gig, no?

While autumn is my favorite season of the year, spring of course has much to recommend it.  In my neck of the woods, though, there’s a small window of opportunity to enjoy the season before humidity and insects ruin it.  Today I went for a six-mile run at a park.  Whereas in the previous week I delighted in the visual feast of bright yellow dandelions adorning a virescent carpet of verdure, I now see overgrown, unkempt weeds on ugly, fading grass.  How quickly things can change.  Life is so ephemeral, and the days seem to flitter away like those white clusters of dandelion seeds searching for a home.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Uncle Zak

My uncle Zak taught me how to fish and tie knots when I was a boy.  He always had a gleam in his eye and never failed to bring toys or candy for me and my sisters whenever he visited.  I suppose his "small town" background had much to do with my uncle's warm heart and generous spirit.  You might say that I had the good fortune of growing up in a "Mayberry" type  of environment.  Just good folk living in rural simplicity.  I remember seeing photos of my dad and his siblings as teenagers at the local malt shop and longing for those more innocent times.  Unfortunately, Uncle Zak died accidentally a few months ago during an elaborate attempt at autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong.  They found him in women's panties dangling from the ceiling by an intricate series of leather straps, like a denuded marionette discarded in a closet.  I don't know all the details, and I don't care to know them.   Yet I was surprised that good ole Uncle Zak had the strength and wherewithal to rig himself up in this way given his severely scarred arm, the result of an injury he incurred when the meth lab in his garage accidentally blew up.  We never know when our time's gonna come.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Black Beret from Hell

As a soldier boy, I have good news to report. Really, really good news. No, we’re not withdrawing from Iraq or winding down in Afghanistan. No, we have not dissolved the “military-industrial complex” and thus freed up our economy for less taxes and more social programs. No, the War on Terror hasn’t ceased.  Stop it!  None of that crap.  Even better.  I’m here to report that as of today, June 11, the Army has discontinued the black felt beret as the required headgear for the Army combat uniform. Instead, we can wear the patrol cap, which heretofore had been restricted to combat and training operations. As of three months ago we have a new sergeant major of the Army, Raymond Chandler III, who took to heart the voice of the common soldier and made the recommendation to the Army Chief of Staff.  I must say, I was ahead of my time, for last week during what we in the Army Reserve call Battle Assembly I was the only soldier wearing the patrol cap during the company formation.  As an officer I was trying to lead by example.  Didn’t want to brag, but….

I hated that frickin’ thing when they issued it to me in the later stage of basic training. We had to shave the fuzz off it, cut out the cardboard part, make the proper crease, wear it in the shower, sleep in it, talk to it, et alia. I even saw confused soldiers have sex with it during field training exercises. I gave serious thought to it, but in the end I kept things platonic. I found the beret less useful as a lover and better spent as a puke bag whenever I'd find myself drunk out of my gourd from too much Army whiskey at house parties.

The Army says the new policy will save money, because they had been issuing two berets to new soldiers. Now they issue only one, for a beret is still required for the dress uniform. But how about the saving of time, huh? I bet that if you added up all of the minutes that soldiers took to straighten their beret when stepping outside (for headgear is required outside when in uniform), it would equal…let’s see. Let me do the math. The black beret was required for every soldier for the last ten years (not coincidentally around the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal) and there has been zillions of soldiers. I’m calculating… So, basically we would have saved about 25 years of time. 25 years! Imagine that! That’s a frickin’ generation! We could have fought some good wars during that time, squeezing one in with, say, Iran and maybe China too.  Damn.  Now that I think about it, the discontinuance of the black beret might usher in World War III sooner than later.  Hopefully, the military will find other ways to use all of this extra time that soldiers had previously spent in adjusting their frickin' beret.  My two cents?  They should introduce black felt underwear, for it would offer better stealth for nighttime operations.

Friday, June 10, 2011

People are People

Guillaume Raynal, a philosophe and propagandist for the French Revolution, once wrote that African slaves "are tyrannized, mutilated, burnt, and put to death, and yet we listen to these accounts cooly and without emotion.  The torments of a people to whom we owe our luxuries, can never reach our hearts."  I find his observation a rather enlightened viewpoint, especially for the period.  It evinces a key insight about the human condition, about human nature, and it certainly has application today.  I dare say that we Americans, like the rest of the world, tend to look away from oppression when it benefits our economy or way of life.  I'm not a liberal nut job saying this, it's just a basic fact about people.  Where lefties have it right is the notion that we Americans live high on the hog at the expense of other poor saps in impoverished nations  located mostly south of the equator.  Where they go wrong, however, is the tendentious claim—borne of exaggeration, propaganda, and animosity—that America plays a singular role in this kind of exploitation, not to mention the inability on their part to portray everything we do, or at least the government, in the darkest of tones without any variations of grey.

Is Raynal's statement a sad testimony on humans' self-professed "humanity"?  I suppose so, but don't shoot me for I'm just the messenger, albeit a messenger who agrees with the message.  T. S. Eliot, in prefatory remarks on the philosopher Pascal, once wrote: "The majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith; and when the ordinary man calls himself a skeptic or unbeliever, that is ordinarily a simple pose, cloaking a disinclination to think anything out to conclusion."  Eliot was addressing those people who fancy themselves thinkers when in fact they have little time for thinking.  I would say that mutatis mutandis the same charge could be levied at those numerous people who see themselves as deeply concerned about the suffering of others when in fact their real interest is their own self and their family.

As a side note, Raynal's statement can give us an important lesson about making moral judgments on past societies.  While it is important not to impose our value judgments on the past from a retrospective view centuries later, at the same time if you can find “voices crying in the wilderness,” or at least a few voices that expressed opposition or criticism or misgivings about the evils of the day—exploitation, slavery, mass slaughter, etc.—then there’s some allowance for a bit of moral judgment.  It then becomes evident that people made decisions in spite of moral objections expressed by some of their contemporaries. For instance, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves.  Historians and educated people understand that slavery was a common practice, especially in a place like Virginia, before we so readily condemn this way of life. At the same time, John Adams did not own slaves and thought it morally reprehensible. Jefferson never freed his slaves, if memory serves. Washington, it appears, always had a moral compunction about it, and freed his slaves upon his death (but not his wife Martha’s slaves, for he couldn’t do this legally).  Yes, we need to be mindful of the “Zeitgeist,” or spirit of the age; we ought to take into consideration what was within the realm of the thinkable and what was culturally acceptable at that time.  But there's still room for some moral assessment of our forebears.  If you hear someone talk about the "good ole days," laugh in their face.  It was just as bad in the days of yore as it is today, and actually worse.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Space Invader

So I’m sitting in a coffee shop minding my p’s and q’s, right? I don’t ask for much in life. I really don’t. I mean, why would someone want to ruin my bliss? Why would someone want to trespass on my private garden? Please don’t begrudge me one frickin’ cup of Joe! That’s all I’m saying. This is my time, you know? Everyone needs to recharge his or her battery from time to time, and I’m no different. I’m just another primate caught in the rat race of this dog-eat-dog world, and I can surely nudge my snout in the trough of life with the best of them. Just give me an hour with a latte and a good book and I’ll be ready to return to the zoo.

Anyway, I’m sitting there reading through a book entitled Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made Amerca Modern, imagining myself in Hollywood during the Roaring Twenties, when I hear someone at a nearby table say, “Is that a good book?” I ignore the voice, as the fleeting thought that some fool would have the audacity to invade my space is preposterous indeed. I return to my imagination: I’m quite a dandy in my tweed suit and penny loafers, sipping champagne and smoking like a fiend at the poolside with the likes of Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin, and a couple of bigwigs from Paramount Pictures.

Again I hear that hideous voice, “I say, sir, Is that a good book?” I look up and see a man in his sixties eyeing me with raised eyebrows. He’s nattily dressed, wearing sports sandals, and seems intent on foisting his selfish need to pollute the air with his cacophonous voice on a hapless fellow such as myself. My only thought at this moment is, Why did I leave my baton and pepper spray in the car? Supposing that civility requires a response of some kind, I utter a laconic “Yes.” To bring home the point that he was disturbing my peace, robbing me of my quietude, and otherwise destroying my tenuous belief in everything that’s good and sacred in this world, I convey a message through body language: a quick nod with a moderate smile before sticking my nose back in the book. I can tell he was still eyeing me. “Flapper, huh? That looks very interesting.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Bad Word

Polish émigré Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide at the end of World War II.  As Samantha Power explains in A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Lemkin sought a word that could facilitate discussion of the ugly phenomenon and yet convey the horror.  He arrived at a compound of the Greek noun genos (people, nation) and the Latin verb cidere (to kill).  When I teach the history of genocide I go through the origins of the word in the first week.  At a faculty meeting last month, the philosophy professor reminded me that Friedrich Nietzsche used basically the same term in German long before Lemkin.  In the fifteenth chapter of his The Birth of Tragedy (1872), the German philosopher mentions “a dreadful ethic of mass murder (eine grausenhafte Ethik des Völkermordes).”  Though Nietzsche was not addressing the issue of genocide but making a point about Greek drama, I’ll give him honorary credit in the classroom for coming up with the term.

Still, Lemkin was the one who coined the specific word we now use for the most evil crime humans are capable of.  Before he came onto the scene, indeed before the Nazi Holocaust, observers of genocide had grappled with language to articulate such evil acts in a succinct way. U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. who witnessed the genocide of the Armenians, referred to the Turks’ systematic planning as “race murder.”  Did Morgenthau, an American of German-Jewish extraction, have Nietzsche’s Völkermord in mind?  A decade earlier a New York Times headline called the massacre of thousands of Armenians in the 1890s “Another Armenian Holocaust.”  We should note here that the word holokauston has been around since the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.  Periodically writers have employed it in reference to sacrifice or destruction.  It’s only with the Nazi murder of almost six million Jews in the 1940s that we get the Holocaust with a capital “H.”

The language of extermination and annihilation was in full operation before the “Century of Genocide” got underway, especially during the fin de siècle.  I recall Mr. Kurtz’s chilling words in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (1902): “Exterminate all the brutes!”  To be sure, the atrocities committed during the “Scramble for Africa,” and the Belgian Congo above all, included a series of genocidal massacres on the part of European countries.  In one of the first genocidal massacres of the 20th century, German troops decimated the Herero and Nama people of German Southwest Africa (today’s Namibia) between 1904 and 1907.  The commander, General Lothar von Trotha, promised to “annihilate the revolting tribes with rivers of blood and rivers of gold [my italics].”

From the annals of history we can find references aplenty to slaughter, butchery, and massacre. Indeed, the Spanish “Black Legend” of sadistic torture and murder in the New World, as recounted by Las Casas and others, is riddled with such language.  In the years leading up to the Thirty Years War confessional polemicists used verbs like auβrotten (eradicate) and extirpare  when describing the “real” intentions of their opponents.  Going back much further, King Menelaus of Mycenae in Homer’s Illiad is encouraged to dispatch the Trojans. “The whole people must be wiped out of existence, and none be left to think of them or shed a tear.”  This account is mythical and perhaps completely fictional, but it makes the point that the language of genocide had been around for millennia, even if the word didn't yet exist.  I’m not intending to discuss depictions of mass murder throughout history so much as the search for a label that could aptly describe the evil crime.

Let us turn to our own nation's past for a moment. As a columnist for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer in 1891, L. Frank Baum, who would become the author of the beloved children’s book The Wizard of Oz (1900), writes: “The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better they should die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”  One thinks of Nazi propaganda depicting the “filthy Jew” when in fact the Nazis had created the conditions for their victims' poverty and degradation.  Similarly, Captain Wait Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony likened the Indians in 1675 to “A Swarm of Flies” and “Swarms of Lice a Nation may destroy.”  Whether in the name of Manifest Destiny or an Aryan Utopia the results were the same for the victims.

It helps to have one word that in one fell swoop conveys the gravitas of these crimes.  Genocide embraces the annihilation, massacre, slaughter, and destruction that have continued among Homo sapiens since time immemorial.  Alas!  Genocide appears to be an adaptation in our species firmly ensconced in the human genome.  How do we reverse the curse of our evolutionary heritage, you ask?  First, we identify the problem and find language to articulate it.  We can thank Mr. Lemkin for his services in this regard.  Second, we look to another gene hardwired within us for a way out of the darkness: empathy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I grew up believing that the word “crotch” originated in the Civil War Era.  Childhood credulity is forgivable, I suppose, but I concede that I placed merit in the account until only a year ago.  In my defense, the account is plausible, provided that you don't actually research the topic.

According to the story, a British-born physician named Daniel Harold Crotchfield served as a field surgeon for the Union Army.  His close friends called him Harry, but everyone simply referred to him as “Crotch.”  Crotchfield performed countless amputations, most notably at the Battle of Antietam, saving hundreds of lives throughout the four years of conflict.  The state of medical science in the 1860s had not progressed much since the Middle Ages.  Whenever he dressed wounds, he would apply either iodine or mercury to prevent infection, thus leaving a pungent odor lingering in the air.  No less a personage than General George B. McClellan, recognizing the surgeon’s devoted service and consummate skill, once remarked upon his visit to a field hospital: “It smells like Crotch has been here.”

Allegedly, this comment not only brought lasting honor to the Crotchfield family after the war (for such a comment from a famous general goes a long way on one’s resume); it also serves as the basis for the saying, “It smells like crotch in here,” though the adage has specific reference to the area around and including the genitals.  I later discovered that this story is in fact spurious, just another tall tale from my dad’s brother, Richard Viator.  He used to take me to the park and tell me all kinds of weird things.  I now know that Uncle Dick’s “crotch story” is complete bollocks!

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Exception to Laughing

I like to laugh.  That’s just who I am.  I’ve always been this way.  If you tell me a joke, especially one with poo and pee in it, I’ll chuckle heartily.  If you tickle my armpits or my belly, I’ll giggle like a schoolgirl.  If I hear someone farting, especially the rapid machine-gun style of farting, then forget it!  I’ll laugh so uncontrollably that you’d swear I’m both crying and having an epileptic seizure.  A comedy on TV or at the theater can crack me up like nothing else.  Physical humor particularly leaves me in stitches.  What I will absolutely not laugh at, however, is racism.  I don’t find the topic funny.  Racial jokes are inappropriate.  One of my friends, knowing how I feel about racism, tried to get me to compromise my belief.  He told me a joke about a Jew, Mexican, and Persian who couldn’t control their bladders and ended up defecating in public all the time.  I didn’t want to laugh, but I had to.  In my defense, I could totally picture those groups creating a scene in public and making it awkward for bystanders.  If these numskulls had half a brain they could have avoided making a mess in the airport terminal.  The Jew shits in his skullcap, the Mexican in his sombrero, and the Persian in his turban.  No brainer!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fighting for Freedom?

Are American troops fighting for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan? Let me phrase the question another way.  Is it fair to say that the United States military is not always fighting specifically for American freedom and democracy in a given conflict?  A friend of mine, Andreas, who describes himself as an independent with a liberal bent, sought my opinion on this political issue.

He wanted to know if questioning aloud this idea of fighting for freedom abroad is going too far. As he spoke, slogans like Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan instantly came to my mind. President Bush claimed that the invasion of Iraq could bring peace and democracy to a volatile Middle East. Everything the military does, it seems, is intrinsically related to liberty and democracy.

Andreas expressed to me his exasperation in the face of “right wingers” who “hijack his patriotism.”  I know that liberals and Democrats generally feel this way, and it’s a shame. Some on the right portray any criticism of war, or at least war conducted by a Republican administration, as un-American.  In fact, Andreas alleges that these people even accuse him of loving America’s enemies.  (I suspect there’s a bit of caricature here or that he’s using the views of backwoods bumpkins as his metric for conservatism).  I of course agree with him that one can criticize an administration’s involvement in a conflict and at the same time support the troops.  Andreas readily acknowledges that individual soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen are merely performing their duty and he’s appreciative of their devotion and service.

Let me offer a few caveats to what I just wrote, however.  While people on the political left can certainly distinguish the policy from the troops on the ground, there are not a few among them who sometimes confuse the two. For example, notoriously depicted General David Petraeus as “General Betray Us” after the commander gave a report to congress on the situation in Iraq.  I don’t believe a lone web postmaster posted this image, nor do I think that even moderate leftists objected vociferously to the hateful smear.  Needless to say, General Petraeus is merely a soldier, albeit a top-ranking one, doing his country’s bidding. He doesn’t decide when and where to go to war, but merely strategizes and plans for a successful campaign. Oftentimes those who are able to make an intellectual distinction between the conflict they disagree with and the soldier who has his or her duty to perform don’t always make the distinction on a polemical or emotional level.

Moreover, we must keep in mind that opposition to a war is often a partisan pastime. Generally speaking, Republicans, apart from your few and far between mavericks like John McCain, condemned President Clinton’s “wag the dog” bombing campaign in Serbia and President Obama’s “reckless” intervention in Libya. Contrariwise, Democrats, because of the Iraq War, referred to the Bush administration as the “imperial presidency,” an epithet incommensurate with the actual policies, whatever one thinks about the war.

So, after reminding Andreas that the appropriateness of his view hinges not merely on the viewpoint itself but upon the way he expresses it, the audience he’s addressing, and the context for the discussion, I agree that we bandy this word “freedom” about too readily, so much so that it can lose its potency and effect. Buzzwords like freedom, democracy, and liberty that we should be selecting from our sacred national lexicon only with great caution and judiciousness have been wielded like weapons.  Spin doctors employ these emotionally charged words to justify an argument or win over a hesitant populace.  Who other than the far-left peaceniks are going to condemn a war for freedom?  And let us not forget that the French revolutionaries led their countrymen into a horrific Reign of Terror in the name of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”

We don’t always fight for freedom, certainly not in a direct way. One could argue that the American Civil War was indeed a fight for freedom, the freedom of a particular group of Americans, regardless of whether General Sherman and a number of Northerners really cared about slavery. Moreover, World War II was an attempt to stop oppressive imperial regimes in Central Europe and East Asia from running roughshod over our allies and leaving overseas democracies in ruins. The Vietnam War, on the other hand, was about stemming the tide of communism during the Cold War.  The Spanish-American War was ostensibly about aiding Cuban patriots in their struggle against Spain; really, Uncle Sam intervened in order to spread his influence in the southern hemisphere.

True enough, one could make the case that wars that don’t seem like a struggle for freedom at first glance are ultimately about the preservation of our American values at home and in the world.  A case in point is Afghanistan. Does the freedom we enjoy as Americans depend on toppling the Taliban and killing off members of Al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan?  In a direct way, the answer is no.  However, from a broader perspective, you could answer yes.  911 wasn’t merely a disaster in terms of civilian casualties and destruction to property.  Ultimately, this act, and the continual threat from Al-Qaeda, has led our culture and government into legal avenues that are questionable and divisive.  The ousting of the Taliban and the decimation of Al-Qaeda, then, are worthy objectives that can insure our way of life.  Civilization, even a garrulous one such as our own, is fragile and a pinprick attack can cause a major upheaval.

We’re not alone in lofty language that evokes our republican virtues and democratic values. Here’s a list of dictatorial or otherwise oppressive countries that have the word “Republic” in their official name: Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Belarus, Libya, Sudan, Somalia (!), and Cuba. Most of these countries seriously violate human rights and in some cases implement policies of ethnic cleansing aimed at minorities or political opponents.  The United States, despite its blemishes here and there, is more justified in portraying its actions abroad as a fight for freedom, I should think.  We have a peaceful transition of government every election season.  Yes, we've had our dark moments as a nation, but that period is receding into the distant past.  Only a far-left whack job would claim we are as bad or worse than the aforementioned countries.  Fortunately, Andreas falls into the mainstream of near-left liberals.

We must be able to distinguish between conflicts that are necessary to protect the freedoms we hold so dear and conflicts that, say, protect our “vital interests” or provide for our overall security.  To use the cliché, sometimes the best defense is good offense.  If we don’t make such distinctions, if we simply portray all of our military commitments as a struggle for democracy, then we are no different and no better than rogue states and genocidal regimes that likewise depict their conflicts with lofty rhetoric. German soldiers were fighting for the Fatherland on the Russian front during World War II. Even if we forget that the regular army, the Wehrmacht, aided the SS in the atrocities, average soldiers believed they were fighting for a great cause. We know that the mass murder of twelve million people can’t possibly be a great cause.

For what it's worth, I like baptizing our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of freedom.  “Operation Killing Taliban” wouldn't have the same moral, inspirational or motivational effect on the troops, and it certainly wouldn't make an appropriate diplomatic statement.  What we're doing in these countries is important, and the consequences for failure or success could be monumental in this volatile world.  At the same time, we must acknowledge that not every conflict has such a highfalutin purpose.   In addition to making the world “safe for democracy,” protecting our economy or aiding our allies or punishing enemies are valid reasons to go to war.  I'm of course speaking in generalities here, for each situation has a specific set of problems and issues that can shape any resolve to deploy troops.  Even so, there are those who would disagree with any reason to declare war, with the possible exception of protecting hearth and home from invading hordes.  I disagree with this viewpoint, for I believe those who profess it cannot sustain their view without a degree of hypocrisy.  Yet I take this point of view to heart and celebrate the diversity of opinions we enjoy in this country.  Yes, a diversity and freedom that was bought and paid for in part by our armed forces.