Per Glenn Greenwald, don’t miss this audio essay by rightie Rod Dreher.

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool’s errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool.

In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did.

The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government’s conduct of the Iraq war have been shattering to me.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican President.

Like so many loyal soldiers of movement conservatism, Dreher’s earliest political memories are of the Carter Administration and the Iranian hostage crisis, followed by the triumphant ascension of Ronald Reagan. He was 13 years old when Reagan was elected, so you can’t fault him for viewing these events through a child’s eyes. The problem is, as it is with so many of his fellow travelers, that his understanding of politics remained childish. He seems to have retained a child’s simple faith that Democrats (and liberals) are “bad” and Republicans (and conservatives) are “good,” so one does not have to think real hard to know who’s right or wrong. In the minds of righties, Republicans/conservatives have an inherent virtue that keeps them on the side of the angels. What passes for “critical analysis” among righties is most often just the unconscious jerking of their knees in support of their faith.

Dreher’s is the voice of a man who realizes his faith has been betrayed.

As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war.

I had a heretical thought for a conservative – that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word – that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot – that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn’t the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?

The answers to your questions, Mr. Dreher, are (1) yes, and (2) because you were brainwashed. As I wrote here,

I noticed years ago that the rank-and-file “movement conservative” is younger than I am. Well, OK, most people are younger than I am. But surely you’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of True Believers are people who reached their late teens / early twenties during the Carter or Reagan years at the earliest. They came of age at the same time the right-wing media / think tank infrastructure began to dominate national political discourse, and all their adult lives their brains have been pickled in rightie propaganda.

Because they’re too young to remember When Things Were Different, they don’t recognize that the way mass media has handled politics for the past thirty or so years is abnormal. What passes for our national political discourse — as presented on radio, television, and much print media — is scripted in right-wing think tanks and media paid for by the likes of Joseph Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife, and more recently by Sun Myung Moon. What looks like “debate” is just puppet theater, presented to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Right.

In this puppet theater “liberals” (booo! hisss!) are the craven, cowardly, and possibly demented villains, and “conservatives” are the noble heroes who come to the rescue of the virtuous maid America. Any American under the age of 40 has had this narrative pounded into his head his entire life. Rare is the individual born after the Baby Boom who has any clue what “liberalism” really is. Ask, and they’ll tell you that liberals are people who “believe in” raising taxes and spending money on big entitlement programs, which of course is bad. (Read this to understand why it’s bad.)

Just one example of how the word liberal has been utterly bastardized, see this Heritage Foundation press release of March 2006 that complains Congress is becoming “liberal.” Why? Because of its pork-barrel spending.

But I want to say something more about betrayal. One piece left out of most commentary on the freaks (not hippies, children; the name preferred by participants of the counterculture was freaks) was how betrayed many of us felt. Remember, we’d been born in the years after World War II. We’d spent our childhoods dramatizing our fathers’ struggles on Normandy Beach and Iwo Jima in our suburban back yards. Most of us watched “Victory at Sea” at least twice. Most of our childhood heroes were characters out of American mythos, like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone (who seemed an awful lot alike). Further, some of the scariest times of the Cold War unfolded during our elementary and middle schools years. We grew up believing the Communists would nuke us any second. Our schools (even Sunday School, as I recall) and media made sure we were thoroughly indoctrinated with the understanding that liberty and democracy were “good” and Communism was “bad,” and America Is the Greatest Nation in the World.

For many of us, these feelings reached their apex during the Kennedy administration. I was nine years old when he was elected. He seemed to embody everything that was noble and good and heroic about America. I remember his tour of Europe the summer before the assassination. I watched his motorcade move through cheering crowds on our black-and-white console television and never felt prouder to be an American.

But then our hearts were broken in Dallas, and less than two years later Lyndon Johnson announced he would send troops to Vietnam. And then the young men of my generation were drafted into the meat grinder. Sooner or later, most of us figured out our idealism had been misplaced. I was one of the later ones; the realization dawned for me during the Nixon Administration, which began while I was a senior in high school. Oh, I still believed in liberty and democracy; I felt betrayed because I realized our government didn’t. And much of my parents’ generation didn’t seem to, either.

The counterculture was both a backlash to that betrayal and to the cultural rigidity of the 1950s. And much of “movement conservatism” was a backlash to the counterculture, albeit rooted in the pseudo-conservatism documented earlier by Richard Hofstadter and others.

(And how weird is it that anyone is still talking about “hippies”? Did some hippiechick sitter drop Dreher on his head when he was a baby?)

Rod Dreher and others of his generation are now old enough that their children are at least approaching adolescence, if they haven’t already arrived. What “earliest political memory” will imprint on them? What form will the inevitable rebellion against their parents’ generation take?

Update: Sorta kinda related — Jonathan Zasloff speculates how much the Carter/Iranian hostage crisis episode caused the Dems to lose credibility on foreign policy. The fact is, to get the whole sad story of how the Dems lost credibility on foreign policy you have to go back to the 1940s. And it has little to do with anything the Dems actually did, or didn’t, do.

125 thoughts on “Betrayal

  1. Wow,
    I remember the time I was only 12 or 13 and I was very HIPPY. Althouth I am oldest child of still then growing large Catholic religous irish Family (ended up oldest of 10) We wer always making room for draft dodgers.
    I remember how young these little boys, sometimes younge family’s were and we all watch the horrors on the news after dinner and I would be thinking “thank you God that these ones don’t have to go.
    They would be home sick, just out of high school, feel guilty because their govrnment/country was calling them cowards and traitors and I was getting a little older and thinking alot and asked all my friends. It was a false conclusion, we explained the U.S. government for reasons of their own failed them. They failed that generation, I do not know why, hunting non existing commies under every bush/getting rich in war profiteering/ flexing power/Opening new Markets? What ever I do know that a generation of poorest were fed the patraism and rallied for fodder, and demonized for having no intention of killing or dying for vague reasons in a place they could not find on a map.
    This generation as well the suffering and slaughtering should not countie, they are precios. Why. The Elite robbed the U.S. treasury and are stalling. Die for that? Cheney can raise a larger defense fund? how many lives?…Mary

  2. He didn’t help empty the death camps in Germany to make the world safe for American torture at Abu Ghraib. He didn’t dodge Viet Cong death squads on the streets of Saigon so his old unit could ride around Iraq waitng to get blown up.

    Comment by Mark Garrity

    My thoughts exactly. Maha’s essay also talks about the generation coming out of the Depression, what their expectations were, and how they were unprepared to think of their government as evil or incompetent. I was 18 in 1967, and my parents had at least 6 more of my siblings to raise. They couldn’t bring themselves to question Vietnam. And one characteristic of the boomers who became freaks was, obviously, their idealism.

    Now, they are dying, or have died. I’ve taken care of my 92 year old mom these 5 years, the years that she’s really really needed just to watch the news all the time on the TV. And what’s been on? War, murder, incompetence, malfeasance, propaganda, sock puppetry, you name it. How discouraging! How despicable! I’m afraid that while it took the entire decade of the 70’s, and most of the 80’s for me to come around to thinking my country was a pretty good place again, now, the chance is gone. And I’ll be gone (again), too, to another country, as soon as my duty here is over.

  3. I’ll tell you who we’ve got to thank for the notoriety of the “hostage crisis” and the “Desert One” debacle that apparently drove so many poor little teeniebop whiners into the conforting arms of the Republican Party and the conservative “movement.”

    Ted Koppel and the a-holes at ABC who gave him that slot at night they turned into “Day One,” “Day Two,” etc etc that eventually sluffed off into “Nighline.” Please recall that the vaunted, “liberal”, “smart,” “informative,” Nightline got its start as a hype machine for the so-called “hostage crisis.”

    It was all downhill after that. The television “news” media learned a big lesson from Koppel’s nightly pounding of the crisis-drums. They could hype “news” like Koppel’s 24 hours a day and not only get away with it, but get ratings. Witness yesterday and today’s “Miracle in Missouri” rescue of the kidnapped kid. CNN has apparently concluded that there are no other stories worth covering in the world. There weren’t 31 bodies in Baghdad. The nutcases in the White House are not still running things. No, there’s nothing going on in the world but the “miracle in Missouri.” That is the legacy of Ted Koppel and his nightly pounding of the crisis drum over the so-called “hostage crisis.”

    You want to know how many more whiners like Roddie-poo I want to hear from as they discover how being a lame-ass frat-boy-golfer-true-believer didn’t quite prepare them for the real world of shit like wars that are lost instead of magically “won”?



  4. A second comment thought: We are alive in these times and sure do feel lost in a national forrest. The government will betray and we do need to learn we are to be the responsible ones, tending our homes, raising our children how to thing, and not be lulled asleep assuming another paid employeee working for corp-crap’s-dem-repubs will guide us along…and make our Life secure.

    If we/ve not been able to face reality, at any age, we remain lost.
    Maha’s essay points the way> walk and meditate along the Way.
    There is beauty too.

    FROM Windsor Forest.
    Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised,
    But as the world, harmoniously confused:
    In order where in variety we see,
    And where, though all things differ, all agree.

    Sound sleep by night’ study and ease
    Together mixed; sweet recreation,
    And innocence, which most does please,
    ………………..With meditation.

    Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
    Thus unlamented let me die;
    Steal from the world, and not a stone
    ………………..Tell where I lie.

    Those comments were very helpful, and revealing.
    Maybe yes, maybe no? I might retype the Windsor Forest thought in Glenn’s U.T.

  5. I’m Rod Dreher’s age and there’s no excuse for his blindness. And I question giving him any leeway for being Too Young To Know Different, which is sort of insulting to the 50% or more of the country, who are capable of reading newspapers, studying history and perceiving reality, especially for events which occurred while you were alive and before the age of 40.

    Perhaps I was raised right and unnaturally curious. I would watch the news with my skeptical parents, who were very far from hippies, just old fashioned progressive midwesteners. They loathed Nixon and the war. My love of cartoons included Oliphant and Doonesbury and my Dad’s McCarthy Era Pogo collections, which led me to find out what they were writing about. “Richard Nixon Superstar” was one of my favorite comedy records, although I didn’t understand all the jokes until later. And so on.

    It was possible to be a kid and still figure out how to get a bigger picture of history by observing multiple sources. You didn’t have to be a genius to realize The Velvet Underground and Hippie culture co-existed, which indicated the 60s was a bit more complex than a tie-dyed shirt.

    With the hostage situation, you didn’t need to be tapped into the underground press to know there were many reasons why it happened, such as our dealings with the Shah. You didn’t have to be a fan of Carter to understand he was at least partially a victim of circumstance.

    I was born at the start of November so I turned 18 in time to vote against Reagan. My mother despised him because she was a teacher and “A Nation At Risk” a report which made false claims to support a radical change in education policy. Again, something which was there in the press if one cared to look.

    More importantly, Rod was 20 by the time Iran-Contra rolled around, and fully adult enough understand it. Even pot smoking punks I hung with in college were capable of picking up a newspaper – not counterculture stuff, but the Chicago Tribune – and grasping something was wrong.

    The idea adults – and we did think of ourselves as adults in college – naturally ignore politics until age 30 was a convenient assumption for both the media and the truly apathetic. I wonder if the concept isn’t also a byproduct of reactionary politics, perhaps unintentional, but certainly a response to the mass youth protests of the 60s.

    Even during the Reagan era, the propaganda machine was not in full control. It wasn’t until the Rush Limbaugh era Rod’s well financed elders and peers – and our generation is old enough to have planned and financed this stuff – creating a media bubble for conservatives and pushed Republicans into unified hard right.

    Like any fanatic, once denial crumbles he pretends there’s no way he could have known otherwise, as if the only dissent was hippie nutcases, rather than people just like him who had the same information he did.

    At age 40 the undertone of “too young to have known better” crap is positively embarrassing coming from Rod and annoying coming from his critics. It perpetuates this unfortunate idea of Gen-X’ers clinging to a youthful idiocy and connects a more general infantilization of youth which presumes a teen like stupidity now extends to age 29. It’s ironic how this has arisen at the time there’s even fewer reasons for being uninformed.

  6. good stuff, just want to add a few thoughts.

    Most of the Right is brainwashed, the rest want to protect their money. Greed and reactionary fear are the right’s main motivating factors. I remember one study of preschool-aged children showed after 30 years that the whiny, crying, fearful children grew up to be conservatives and Republicans, and the more self-assured and confident children grew up to be liberals.

    Kennedy inspired our generation to change the world and we did, obviously though, not enough. I always said that if the Vietnam war had lasted another 5 years, another generation of young people would’ve been politicized and the left would’ve had a larger and stronger base. (At least that would’ve stopped the Reagan Puppet Government and the rise of the Bushes).

    John Mitchell (Nixon’s AG), said the country was going to move so far to the right that no one would recognize it (it has). Martha Mitchell had a falling out with hubby John and said she was gonna spill the beans on Watergate and Nixon’s Administration, and then died within a month from a CIA-induced heart attack.
    It was George Schultz & George H. Bush who met with Iranians in Paris to swap arms for hostages and keep the wraps on until after the election. –traitors (had to say it once)

    Republican ties to Nazis and fascists has been documented since the 1930’s, when fatcat Republicans and rich bankers liked Mussolini’s corporate-style government so much that they tried to overthrow Roosevelt with a coup — foiled only by Gen. Smedley Butler (google it); and rich traitors like Preston Bush/ Union Bank, who supported Hitler into the 1940’s until forced by Roosevelt to end their dealings–

    But that’s not all, the propaganda techniques they learned from the Nazis was used in the McCarthy era and lives on today, as you’ve shown in your writings, and as we can see in the neo-convict efforts at Revisionist History: attacking liberal heroes of the past while promoting their own morons (i.e. changing the names of Kennedy Airport and Cape Kennedy while simultaneously trying to change the name of everything to Reagan).

    I have a dream of having enough money to buy up various toilet manufacturers and change the name of all the toilets to Reagan Toilets. That would be so fuckin’ cool.

    But I digress.

    I still remember abbie hoffman.

  7. Maha,

    I am not going to read all 100 + comments to see if anyone has mentioned this. The ‘right’ has called the Dems weak on foreign policy since Truman “lost” China. The fact that China was corrupt and ripe for a fall, makes no difference. JFK was extremely sensitive to that charge. Schlesinger in his book on “Robert Kennedy: His Life & Times” says as much plus that JFK was going to reduce the US commitmnet to SE Asia after he won re-election.

    I am about 10 years older than you and can remember the promise of the “New Deal” and an uplifting of the common person (average one worker family).

  8. Any American under the age of 40 has had this narrative pounded into his head his entire life. Rare is the individual born after the Baby Boom who has any clue what “liberalism” really is. Ask, and they’ll tell you that liberals are people who “believe in” raising taxes and spending money on big entitlement programs, which of course is bad.

    well I guess I am one of those rare individuals though I fall smack between the very tail end of the Baby Boom and a tad too early to be a Gen X’er (1965 – 41 yrs old at the moment). I never fell for that right wing crap. I have been a liberal since I was old enough to read about and comprehend current events and politics (probably 11 or 12 years old).

    Then again, I’ve always insisted on thinking for myself, and doesn’t that make all the difference in the world???

  9. I grew up in Appalachia (born in 1943 in an Army hospital). I clearly remember the Eisenhower/Stevenson campaigns and the newscasts portraying Stevenson as an “egghead” (he was an incredibly intelligent bald man) as though that were something to be scorned. I have children that are teachers in the public schools system in Texas (where I currently live), and it seems that everything is being “dumbed down” to fit the wishes of their student’s Rethuglican (already dumbed down) parents. I’ve retained my memories of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush1 and Clinton while currently living under BushII’s thug government. Lord, how low we have sunk..

  10. I’m older than Dreher by just a couple years. I remember even then being struck by the ‘amazing coincidence’ that the Iranian hostages were released just minutes after Reagan’s inauguration. Dreher and I must have very different personalities, or the few years between us made a huge difference, because the miraculous timing of the hostage release made me suspicious of Reagan from the start. By the time I went to college and started learning about the secret wars in Central America, I was a committed anti-Reaganite.

  11. I should add: my first year in college (1983) brought me face-to-face with the Young Republican phenomonon. I remember being struck by the arrogance, dishonesty, and sexism of these frat-ring/greek letter/animal house douche-bags. That certainly pushed me further to the left.

    And then studying in Europe also helped me see Reaganism for what it was. Reagan could talk tough, but he didn’t have to live among medium-range nukes.

  12. I am always suspicious of people whose attitude is “do what I say not what I do”.
    Which is exactly the Republican philosophy.

    The lack of critical thinking, questioning and believing in absolutes is what governs the Republicans and the religious conservatives.
    They are cannot fathom anything but their own way of thinking.

    What I remember from the 60’s and what I have instilled in my children is

  13. Following-up on Lucian Truscott’s comment #103 @ 4:22 am.

    Rod Dreher:

    Carter brought the nation to a bad place; Reagan dug us out. My error was to think that all Republicans were like Reagan, or to be more precise, that “Reaganism” — standing tall, carrying a big stick — was always and everywhere the right response.

    Rod Dreher (and millions of Americans) believed that the Iranian hostage “crisis” proved Carter’s weakness and Reagan’s strength. Dreher was 12 years old when the hostage “crisis” started. As he was going through puberty, America was going through the nightly excercise of watching a new TV show, hosted by Ted Koppel, named “America Held Hostage” (the show was later renamed as “Nightline”) and airing nightly on ABC. Finally, in 1981, just as Dreher was about to turn 14, the hostages were released in the middle of Reagan’s inauguration ceremonies. Does any sane American think the Iranians did this because Carter had a wimpy little stick and because the Iranians were suddenly scared of Reagan’s awesome big stick?

    Dan Riehl, in his blog, says that our problem in Iraq is that George W. Bush’s stick isn’t big enough.

    Mr. Dreher, we are having problems in Iraq precisely because we did not go in there like some wholly external and unreasonable force of empire crushing everything in sight.

    Damn, what we need is a real man, like Margaret Thatcher.

  14. “he seems to have retained a child’s simple faith that democrats (and liberals) are “bad” and republicans (and conservatives) are “good,””
    funny if you just change a few words around you just described yourself

    absolutely not. i have met maha personally and know her to be quite open-minded. she doesn’t think conservatives are “bad.” she does, however, like a lot of us in blogtopia, and yes i coined that phrase, believe that most conservatives are inflexible, willingly out of touch with the reality of situations, unwilling to consider other viewpoints as even having merit, let alone listen to them.

    it’s not that conservatives are bad. we think conservatives refuse to think.

    come to think of it, that’s not so good, now that you mention it…

  15. Barbara,

    It’s nice to see a baby boomer belatedly realizing how the events of the late 1970s shaped the political consciousness of the generation that came after you. I’m almost as old as Dreher, born probably while you were protesting the war, and that was always obvious even to those of us who identified as liberals even then (and were frustrated for years at how out-of-touch that side of the political spectrum seemed when it came to dealing with younger people, especially when we saw how the opposition was successfully taking advantage of it. No wonder so many nominally liberal GenXers drifted away from politics during the ’80s. And should it be any surprise that Kos is about the same age, and that it was after the Dean campaign that finally showed the same youth energy could be used beneficially for a liberal/progressive campaign and finally brought about a Democratic resurgence?

    Anyway … I also want to add that the current conservative discourse on the war also shows another formative influence from the Reagan era: all those Rambo-era action movies. This whole idea that we just need to use enough force, do whatever it takes and do the right thing (all three of which were usually synonymous) is right out of the screens, cable channels, and video racks of the 1980s.

  16. I guess it’s gone down the memory hole, but our hostages in Iran were literally getting off the plane after being released as numbnuts Reagan was being inaugurated.

    It was too obvious that a fix was in, yet it sailed right over the heads of the media and most of the public.

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  18. I have such a difficult time forming coherent thoughts these days. So much swirls in my head. So much hate, anger, frustration. Why won’t they listen? Why is there so much denial amongst the right? I am surrounded here in the deep south by ignorance. All the “Christians” who constantly spout words of killing, which really are just rhetoric picked up from their local or national propaganda machine. What are they afraid of? Isn’t what we are doing there the most anti-Christian thing since the Crusades? Are they afraid of losing their money? Those of the lower working class who struggle day to day to put food on the table, let alone keep the power turned on and the rent paid, why do they continue to vote for those who push them furthur down the food chain? I am 32, a single mother working two jobs and I can barely keep it together while I dig myself out from under 30% APR from debts racked up in college. Yeah, I went to college and make more than double the “new minimum wage” and still can’t make ends meet every month. I hear so much about how great the economy is doing, but have yet to see it really do anything good for those who need it the most. My sister hails Trickle down economics as one of the best things ever. Didn’t we see a huge rise in unemployment and homelessness during the eighties? Kind of like now? Sorry, I have a cold and am kind of stream of consciousness-ing this.

    Does it scare anyone else that in the Gallup poll taken last week 79% of Repubs still support Bush? They should ask how many of them get their news from the Fair and Balanced news network.

  19. Angie W nailed it….my father grew up hard-working poor in the Deep South: western and central Tennessee, southwestern Missouri. To him, the Democrats represent the party of the ni__ers, jews, mescans, homos, and poor Welfare-lovin’ trash. How anyone could recognize a black man as a full American is beyond him.
    When his generation is gone, a lot of that kind of crap will be gone with him. Thank god.
    Despite his views (and my mother’s, who is brainwashed to think just like him), I never agreed with him. Not even from the very earliest days as a child.
    I love my dad, and pity him for not being able to get his political thinking beyond his upbringing. But America will be better off when the older generation of ” a President can do no wrong” and “America can never do wrong” is gone.
    Even today, even though Dad knows that BushCo has screwed up, he tries to be a thorn in my side when he sees Bushie on TV and says to me, “there’s YOUR President on TV.” Like I should blindly support the guy no matter what. How sad.

  20. Both Angie W. and JulieTexas have it right. Take it from someone who lives in the South and prays that Americans will finally realize that the Republican party and its conservative cohorts have become, since the last election, the Dixiecons. The GOP has become marginalized to the Southern states from whence they sprang. The old Dixiecrats simply morphed into the GOP and are now back again, as Dixiecons.

    I remember the Carter situation differently since I’m a bit older than most of those posting. What I remember, is that it wasn’t the rescue failure that killed Carter, politically; but, his taking responsibility for the failure. He wanted so badly not to be associated with Nixon, who like the Dixiecons and their leader George W., would rather lie than take responsibility for anything, that he refused to lie about the covert rescue operation, elected to be open with the American people and quickly took responsibility for what happened. The American people were not used to this kind of presidential candor and refused to forgive Carter for this.

    I grew up an Army brat in the early ’50s. My world at the time was so provincial as a direct consequence of living on military bases, that I thought the Military ruled the country, since after all the president was a General (Dwight Eisenhower). My father was an officer, and was relatively strict and attitudinally conservative, but my family was always liberal. We damned near had to be, because we are African Americans and we knew our bread was not going to be buttered by the Republicans.

    I realized too late that a conservative wing wave was sweeping over the country. I thought, like many other liberals at that time, that Americans would never fall for the insanity of the right wing ideologues. I realize now that the words we were told in school during the 1950s about the Holocaust “it could never happen in America” were wrong. The fascism that has overtaken this country in the form of the Dixiecons, with its rights/privacy stripping and torture, is a clear indication that it can and has happened here. God save us!

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  22. Born in ’61, but at 13 I had no doubt the Vietnam war was a lie and that Nixon was a really bad president.

    And I don’t claim to be a political pundit like Dreher. He’s supposed to be sharper then the rest of us.

    Americans would do well to realize the media punditry are actually stupider then the average citizen.

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  24. One should rather die than be betrayed. There is no deceit in death. It delivers precisely what it has promised. Betrayal, though … betrayal is the willful slaughter of hope. ~
    Steven Deitz

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