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Bush Administration, Religion, torture, War on Terror

Peter Baker wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post:

President Bush said yesterday that he senses a “Third Awakening” of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation’s struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as “a confrontation between good and evil.”

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln’s strongest supporters were religious people “who saw life in terms of good and evil” and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

“A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me,” Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. “There was a stark change between the culture of the ’50s and the ’60s — boom — and I think there’s change happening here,” he added. “It seems to me that there’s a Third Awakening.”

It’s my understanding that the business of dividing the Cosmos up into Good and Evil started with Zoroaster, a guy who (probably) lived sometime between the 18th and 6th centuries BCE in that part of the world we now call Iran. The notion that Good and Evil will duke it out in a final Judgment Day battle, plus most popular beliefs about angels and demons, are Zoroastrian in origin, also. Here’s a pretty good article about Zoroastrian influences on right-wing Christianity, from CounterPunch.

The President’s assumption that “religious devotion” somehow depends on accepting Zoroastrian dualities is, IMO, a tad peculiar. It also reveals a deep and vast ignorance of the spectrum of human philosophies, experiences, and practices that might be considered “religious.” But that’s another post.

As near as I can figure, this view of good-evil duality sees Good and Evil as distinctive forces or powers, and people are said to be “good” or “evil” not because of what they do, but because of which side they root for. I say this because of what Bob Herbert wrote in his column today.

The invasion of Iraq marked the beginning of the change in the American character. During the Cuban missile crisis, when the hawks were hot for bombing — or an invasion — Robert Kennedy counseled against a U.S. first strike. That’s not something the U.S. would do, he said.

Fast-forward 40 years or so and not only does the U.S. launch an unprovoked invasion and occupation of a small nation — Iraq — but it does so in response to an attack inside the U.S. that the small nation had nothing to do with.

Who are we?

Why, we’re the Good team! And we had to go to Iraq to get Saddam Hussein, who was a major player with the Evil team. If the invasion, directly or indirectly, ends up causing as much death or suffering as Saddam did, that’s a mere technicality. In BushWorld, actions or consequences don’t have anything to do with who is Good or who is Evil.

Another example: There was a time, I thought, when there was general agreement among Americans that torture was beyond the pale. But when people are frightened enough, nothing is beyond the pale. And we’re in an era in which the highest leaders in the land stoke — rather than attempt to allay — the fears of ordinary citizens. Islamic terrorists are equated with Nazi Germany. We’re told that we’re in a clash of civilizations.

Clearly, Herbert does not understand the nature of Good or Evil. When you’re playing against Evil, rules and principles are for wimps. And appeasers. It’s OK to do terrible things in the name of defeating Evil. What’s not OK is disloyalty to the Good team.

If, as President Bush says, we’re engaged in “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,” why isn’t the entire nation mobilizing to meet this dire threat?

That’s an excellent question that I wish someone would press Bush to answer. Another question is, how do you win an ideological struggle by military means? Bush’s rhetoric notwithstanding, World War II was not a struggle between ideologies but among nations. Most people chose sides in that conflict based on loyalty to their nations, not to a belief system. Victory was achieved not by changing peoples’ minds but by compelling the enemy nations to surrender.

The president put us on this path away from the better angels of our nature, and he has shown no inclination to turn back. Lately he has touted legislation to try terror suspects in a way that would make a mockery of the American ideals of justice and fairness. To get a sense of just how far out the administration’s approach has been, consider the comments of Brig. Gen. James Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines. Speaking at a Congressional hearing last week, he said no civilized country denies defendants the right to see the evidence against them. The United States, he said, “should not be the first.”

And Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative South Carolina Republican who is a former military judge, said, “It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them.”

How weird is it that this possibility could even be considered?

I’ll tell you how weird it is; it’s so weird that the Right Blogosphere isn’t discussing it at all. So far, based on google and technorati searches, I don’t believe anyone’s come up with talking points to support executing someone without producing evidence at trial.

If Bush continues to push this issue, however, team loyalty will inspire expedient frames and phrases eventually. And if the Good Team is doing it, it can’t be Evil.

The character of the U.S. has changed. We’re in danger of being completely ruled by fear. Most Americans have not shared the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few Americans are aware, as the Center for Constitutional Rights tells us, that of the hundreds of men held by the U.S. in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, many “have never been charged and will never be charged because there is no evidence justifying their detention.”

Even fewer care.

We could benefit from looking in a mirror, and absorbing the shock of not recognizing what we’ve become.

On the Right, of course, there’s a hazy faith that if someone’s being held at Guantanamo there must be a good reason. However, I have said before, and I still believe, that someday when the full story of Guantanamo is told, a whole lot of Americans are going to be shocked and sickened and want to know why no one spoke out sooner.

And some of us will say, we did speak out. Why didn’t you listen sooner?

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Donna  •  Sep 14, 2006 @1:29 pm

    I will repeat what I once wrote in a comment on this site a long time ago.
    In 2003, I wrote to President Bush [through a White House web site that invited such] telling him that, for the first time in my life, I went out and joined a protest march and carried a homemade sign protesting the up-coming ‘Iraq War’. I explained my reason for doing so: As I heard the Administration’s war drums, I had an unbidden powerful question come through my head which asked, “Where were the German people when Hitler began to aggress?”
    So, I realized that I needed, for my own soul’s sake, to speak out so that I would not be guilty of silence in the face of my own country becoming an aggressor against others who had done us no harm.
    Back then, I had no idea how nefarious the Bush team would become, what with torture, eavesdropping and so forth……their sheer incompetence being another topic.
    I am very glad I joined the protest in ’03, and very glad I wrote to President Bush…..even though I have long wondered if I am on a ‘list’ somewhere.

  2. moonbat  •  Sep 14, 2006 @4:00 pm

    This good vs evil framing is the height of self-righteousness. I guess it is the right’s intense survival fear, their intense sense of persecution, that makes them incapable and unwilling to see the evil in their own hearts. In Bush’s case this is coupled with his extreme sense of privilege and entitlement that anchors him in fantasy, and provides the justification for these delusions. The poor boy doesn’t know any differently.

    Assuming Bush is sincere about this recent babbling, he appears as someone who is incredibly weak and painted into a corner, with threats all around, which is kind of how I’ve seen him throughout his life. He’s the perfect embodiment of the right’s sense of persecution, and yet with his privileged background he seems to magically transcend it, providing them with a hero.

    The right’s self-righteousness frees them to be as evil and as thuggish as they want. Their unwillingness to acknowledge or own the evil inside themselves is naturally projected onto others – where else could this possibly have come from? In essence, Bush and the right are fighting their own shadows, and can never win, and will drain the country’s resources in the attempt, which is exactly what Osama and his friends want. Could we be any more stupid as a nation?

    Bush cites Lincoln supporters as sharing his worldview, but I am certain Lincoln, who was a highly reflective man, did not. I don’t think Lincoln pounded his fist on his desk, exclaiming “Feels Good” when the Union took on the South.

    I believe there is indeed a wave of spirituality that is indeed rising in America and worldwide, but it has its regressive and progressive manifestations. Shadow boxers like Bush, with their infantile view of the world, are doomed to fail, dragging the rest of us down with them, until we can get him and his kind away from the controls. Real spirituality is going to rise on the ashes of the bewildered fundamentalists’ incomprehension when their childish God finally fails them.

    One frightening aspect of all this, is that you and I, liberals, are in the “evil” camp, receiving the projections of the right. It could get quite nasty in the USA, as reality fails to match the delusions of Bush and his followers, which will only intensify their projections, turning their anger into rage. Liberals will be blamed for the fall of America by way of the Middle East. The ground work for this has been set up by talk radio over the last few decades.

  3. mark1147  •  Sep 14, 2006 @6:15 pm

    “…people are said to be ‘good’ or ‘evil’ not because of what they do, but because of which side they root for….In BushWorld, actions or consequences don’t have anything to do with who is Good or who is Evil….When you’re playing against Evil, rules and principles are for wimps. And appeasers. It’s OK to do terrible things in the name of defeating Evil. What’s not OK is disloyalty to the Good team.”

    With this, I think you’ve stated a profound insight into one key ways Bush and company manipulate the American people. Most in the USA don’t quite get that the good and evil *teams* are what he’s really talking about, not the merits or defects of what various actors do. (The vast majority of those who *do* get this are already on the Good Team — they’ve been “saved” by the lights of their faith, so anything they do from here on out is already forgiven.)

    The rest of us, based in reality as we are, read the parable of the fruit trees completely differently.

  4. felicity smith  •  Sep 14, 2006 @6:25 pm

    Great posts above me. Bush and his followers exhibit all the tendencies of bullies. When a bully walks out in a school yard at recess time, every kid, even the 60 pounder with glasses and severe asthma is a threat. The bully attacks the physically weakest boy – bullies aren’t stupid – as a way to send a message to all the other kids, don’t mess with me. Bullies spend their entire lives running scared. Just because they happen to become the president of the United States is no reason to believe they aren’t still operating as the bully in the school yard.

    In my former life I was a teacher so I know of what I speak.

  5. joanr16  •  Sep 14, 2006 @6:28 pm

    Clearly, Dubya doesn’t know jack shit about Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s admirers, Good, or Evil. He’s an unreconstructed frat-house drunk who now self-medicates with his own Personal Jeebus and the power trip of being POTUS. He is all about what “Feeeels good!” Not that any of this is news, to those of us who’ve been paying attention.

  6. D.R. Marvel  •  Sep 14, 2006 @6:30 pm

    Well Donna…

    You’re on my list…

    Keep up the good work…

  7. pooh  •  Sep 14, 2006 @7:23 pm

    Billmon hit it when he called this the Great Leap Backward. Not exactly an awakening. We better hope the reeducation camps don’t open up soon.

  8. Bonnie  •  Sep 14, 2006 @7:27 pm

    As an American Indian, my ancestors were the “evil” ones, the “terrorists”, and/or the “insurgents”. Everything that has been said about the Iraqi people was said about the American Indians. We were savages; thus, didn’t deserve this land. My ancestors lost their lives and land. The only good to come from this was the U.S. Constitution. I have lived through the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. I will not sit by and watch what was gained by the deaths of my ancestors be taken away by this “evil” regime. Thanks to Maha and Keith Olbermann and many other talented people who are keeping the truth and facts up front. But, is it too late?

  9. Doug Hughes  •  Sep 14, 2006 @8:04 pm

    Let’s focus on Abe Lincoln; from the Gettysburg Address:

    “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

    Reconciliation. ‘brave men’ – ‘they’ At no time did the speech frame the conflict as the ‘good’ Union soldiers in a conflict with the ‘evil’ Confederate vermin. ALL the soldiers, Union and Confederate, had so “consecrated” the ground, so powerfully that statesmen and speechmakers should stand in awe of their sacrifice. It WAS a conflict of ideologies (not only about slavery, I know) but the president did NOT cast his military enemy into a mold of infamy or evil. He wanted to leave the door open for a united country, after the military end.

    Should the president want to compare his unpopular war with Lincoln’s unpopular war, he should learn the lessons of Lincoln’s conduct, which was noble and sad, not pompous and arrogant.

  10. Madison Guy  •  Sep 14, 2006 @8:15 pm

    I’m reading British writer Ellis Sharp’s savage satire “Dead Iraqis” — fifteen years after it was written:

    A reminder that, unlike “Saturday Night Live,” real satire isn’t bland. At its most outrageous, it can take you by the hand, spin you around till you’re completely nauseous and disoriented, kick you in the gut, and then leave you gasping on the ground in the wreckage of your beliefs and assumptions.

    I’m also reminded of how, what with the two Bushes’ wars and the sanctions in between, we’ve been killing Iraqis for 15 years — all in the name of “fighting evil.” Yeah, right.

  11. pooh  •  Sep 14, 2006 @8:29 pm

    You know I’ve been pretty upset at the offensive of the last 3 weeks and the corporate cooperation in promoting it. But maybe all this Hitler Stalin Islamofascism War of Civilization talk should go on. Half the population is too young to know what the hoopla is all about and the older ones who do know who Hitler and Stalin were , remember enough to know it is hooey.

  12. sisyphus  •  Sep 14, 2006 @8:43 pm

    The good-evil reference is evidence of Borderline Personality Disorder. What is alarming is that it is attractive to half the population. Which suggests that this half also suffers from this personality disorder. It can be seen in the fundamentalist religion view.
    A good article on how this affects our foreign policy –
    Current issue of Foreign Affairs

  13. sisyphus  •  Sep 14, 2006 @8:47 pm
  14. BigJohn  •  Sep 14, 2006 @10:09 pm

    Trying to talk logic with a republican is as futile as this!

  15. lafrance  •  Sep 14, 2006 @10:38 pm

    I just got the How Bush Rules and the Architect and though I just started the first one I remember hearing that day someone saying Bush really believes this stuff. He really believes Democrats are evil or not tough enough to be a good american. He believes himself to be such a force of good that anyone who disagrees must be evil. This immature thinking is reenforced by Condi Rice and his very small inner circle who repeatly tell him he is a genius and that those who disagree just can’t see his greatness. Ect, ect.
    So, he still has not confronted reality. He lives in his fantasy of good and evil. He uses the terror thing like a tent revival preacher uses satan. beat it down thier throats. You are all sinners. I am the only way to salvation and jesus.
    Bush and Rove keep the republican congress in line by Rove enforcing for Bush by his brand of terror on them. So bush is allowed to do policy in his own way. Which is wrong. simply wrong.
    If the Democrats do not get control of one of the houses this November we are in very deep trouble as they are the only ones between us and an immature, delusional, unstable leader who looks for total control and power and a continuing of his deadly policies.

  16. BigJohn  •  Sep 14, 2006 @11:15 pm

    When you consider that THIS IS BUSH’S BASE, is anyone really surprised?

  17. Swami  •  Sep 15, 2006 @12:07 am

    I don’t think Bush is into the religious mindset where the world is viewed as forces of good and evil. My belief is that he’s just pandering to the religious right, and the rhetoric he’s used to pander has become ingrained as a defense mechanism and justification. Once the dialog is moved into the spiritual realm it becomes impossible to pin him down, because reason and logic don’t apply in that domain.

  18. maha  •  Sep 15, 2006 @6:32 am

    BigJohn — the cartoons aren’t that amusing. No more, please.

  19. erinyes  •  Sep 15, 2006 @4:50 pm

    Many great comments here.
    I thought I might be on a list too, until I got a phone call fom the republican party saying I was invited to a function where Bush was to appear. As free as I am with my tongue regarding this administration, you’d think they’d have a clue.Nope!
    My in box has been filled with junk about how bad Muslims and Islam are ( over the past several weeks). If this is true, why are we in Iraq to bring democracy to evil Muslims? Why bother bringing Afghani women out of burkas and getting them “prettied-up”? Why did the U.S. and NATO attack Serbian forces to save Bosnian Muslims? Why did the Bush administration try to make a deal with the country of Dubai to run our ports? Why do we continue to buy oil from the Islamic countries in OPEC? Elements of the right are smearing all Islam to gain political ground which is a grave mistake.
    I agree with Moonbat’s statement about Bush being painted into a corner, Dubya is “grasping at straws”, it’s turning to shit and he knows it.We don’t hear much about the “Presidential Prayer Team ” any more ( thank God!).Swami’s statement about reason and logic having no application in that domain surely is true, if it were, I’d be channeling “the Barron Samedi” or some other maleficent entity to do my bidding, but we live in Issac Newton’s world, not John Hagee’s.
    And lastly, Dear Bonnie is dead right comparing Iraqis with the original Americans.John Perkins explains this in “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”.The Bush administration exibits many traits of the old Soviet Union, thanks to the Neocon former Trotskists.

  20. Brian  •  Sep 15, 2006 @5:18 pm

    Sometimes, an undeniable truth will slip past that boy’s lips.

    According to your post, Bush said, “A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me.” I believe his handlers meant to have him say, “A lot of people in America, including me, see this as a…..”

    Much more accurate the way he actually said it, I think.

  21. Mike  •  Sep 16, 2006 @9:37 am

    Another version, more recent, of the Good/Evil duality is Manicheeism. Which is a recognized heresy, and not one that the Protestants argued for during the Reformation, either.

    So we are not just talking about primitive religion, we are talking about official bad religion with serious theology explaining why it is bad.

  22. PepperjackCandy  •  Sep 16, 2006 @6:30 pm

    A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me

    Hey, at least he’s honest.

  23. Sebastian  •  Oct 23, 2006 @4:17 pm

    Bush is a Winzer and therefore an elitist of the Sith kind. He is truly a tool used by the draconian elite useing the dualism of good and evil (yin and the yang) and of the concepts of ultimate good and ultimate evil found in the Zoroastrian teachings of the Zend Avesta. This man and the regime backing him are a scary bunch to say the least.



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