July 6, 2016

The Tragedy of Tony Blair

The scathing Chilcot verdict on Tony Blair’s contribution to the war on Iraq brings to mind a more awful tragedy: that more politicians – notably of the American variety – have not suffered the public, ...

The scathing Chilcot verdict on Tony Blair’s contribution to the war on Iraq brings to mind a more awful tragedy: that more politicians – notably of the American variety – have not suffered the public, private and utter disgrace now falling on Perfidious Albion.

It took Donald Trump – in a rare moment of clarity – to shout the news into Jeb Bush’s face: that his brother George had lied his way into a $5-trillion blunder and crime, still bleeding all over the place. How prissily evasive is the near-silence in our country, to this day! George W. Bush and his team of Vulcans – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz and Co, and all those career-driven Senators and camp followers in media – have escaped Sir John Chilcot’s overdue sentence: to fess up their individual guilt and abject sorrow, and please now get off the stage. How much of the defining rage of 2016 rises simply from the anomaly (absurdity, anyone?) that Hillary Clinton, who cast her Senate vote for George Bush’s war, is running on her ‘experience’?

Sidney_blumenthal_2006In both sorrow and anger, I’m chewing over the Tony Blair story here with my friend of four decades, Sidney Blumenthal, who had a hand in writing it. We met a few weeks ago to talk through his acute personal take on Abraham Lincoln in A Self-Made Man – and the fixation Sidney shares with Abe on politics as vast and intimate theater. But on the Chilcot news blockbuster, it’s the digressions on Tony Blair that leap out of our conversation. Sidney had been ahead of the reporters’ pack in 1991 in marking Bill Clinton’s schmoozing route to the Democratic nomination. Writing for The New Republic and then The New Yorker, Sid Blumenthal in effect presided at the conversational table around the Clintons—contributing, not least, “a vast right-wing conspiracy” as the catch-phrase explaining Bill’s setbacks in office.

Meantime, Sidney and his wife Jackie, on their 20th wedding anniversary in 1996, turned their Washington reception into a party for Tony Blair—and Hillary came! It was the beginning of a political alliance and adventure that isn’t over yet. With George Bush in the White House after 9/11, Tony Blair was eager still to be a “strong ally,” as Sidney puts it. He wound up enabling the war in Iraq, being used, deceived and finally “destroyed” by it.

Hear more of our conversation below:

This Week's Show •

Syria: The 21st-Century Disaster

Syria may be the essential 21st-century mess.Our guests, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have just published Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, a new people’s history of the civil war. They tell us that beneath a web of ...

Syria may be the essential 21st-century mess.

Our guests, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have just published Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, a new people’s history of the civil war. They tell us that beneath a web of thorny conflicts — Sunni powers against Iran, Obama against Putin, interventionists against isolationists — the central story was quickly lost: a democratic uprising, against scarcity, corruption, and oppression, met with a scorched-earth crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, determined to retain power.

No matter how you look at this conflict that has displaced 10 million Syrians and taken hundreds of thousands of lives, there are grave regrets: the creation of ISIS, the reverberations of the Iraq war, American vacillation and meddling, and roads to peace not travelled (or even considered).

What might have been done, what might yet happen, and what is the lesson for the Middle East, the next president and the global community?

This Week's Show •

Democracy’s Dark Side

This week, the third in a series on our democracy in 2016, we’re discussing what you can’t change with a vote — at least for now. Change is the electoral mood for now, with Bernie Sanders ...

This week, the third in a series on our democracy in 2016, we’re discussing what you can’t change with a vote — at least for now.

Change is the electoral mood for now, with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s victories in New Hampshire in the news. But change was the watchword of Barack Obama, too. What is an uneasy electorate asking for seven years later, and why aren’t they getting it?

Michael Glennon has a theory. He’s a former Senate lawyer who today teaches at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In his book, National Security and Double Government, Glennon wants to explain the durability of national habits like the drone war, crackdowns on journalists, widespread surveillance, and secrecy by getting voters to see our government as split in two.

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There’s the traditional front — “The Making of the President,” the State of the Union, the Capitol Hill roll call, the marble columns. But beneath that Madisonian world is a secret 20th-century establishment of bureaucrats, experts, contractors, and civil servants who do a lot of deciding themselves, on matters of national security and surveillance, diplomacy, trade, and regulation. And, in a dangerous and complex empire, their indispensable number and their power grows year after year.

Glennon insists that he isn’t speaking about a shadowy secret government, or the Freemasons. Rather, he’s talking about hypertalented, hard-working people who make their homes in the D.C. metro area, and who draft the memos, legal briefs, and war plans that end up deciding our common future.

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The dark-matter influence of this group becomes especially clear when it comes to the stubbornness of the security state: from Harry Truman begging the nation to rethink the privileges of the CIA — an agency he founded — one month after John Kennedy was killed in Dallas (above), to George W. Bush being repeatedly left (like his father) “out of the loop” by the intelligence services, and misled about the nature of the post-9/11 program of torturing America’s prisoners. Or finally Barack Obama, who is reported to have declared, on the subject of drones, “the CIA gets what it wants.” This is the long story of the Castro assassinations, the Church Committee (below), and the torture report.

There’s a chaotic, exciting feeling in the air in 2016 — but should we have to hold our applause for the spectacle and take a second look under the hood of the government itself?

Let us know what you think in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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October 22, 2015

Second-Guessing Syria

Syria has been burning now for four years — with millions displaced into Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, more than 250,000 dead, and no end in sight.In March of 2014, Stephen Walt, Harvard’s “realist” foreign-policy hand, warned against a ...

Syria has been burning now for four years — with millions displaced into Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, more than 250,000 dead, and no end in sight.

In March of 2014, Stephen Walt, Harvard’s “realist” foreign-policy hand, warned against a costly and uncertain entanglement in Syria as against national security interests on our show.

Today, to his credit, Walt is wondering whether he was wrong to warn against intervention, as we all watch a human tragedy unfold on a grand scale.

What was disturbing in 2012 has become apocalyptic. Russian and Iranian forces are backing the Syrian assault on Aleppo, dislocating tens of thousands of people each day. ISIS has emerged as an uncontrollable third party in the conflict. Our guest Lina Sergie tells us her Syrian-American friends are surprising themselves: many are turning to Jeb Bush, the candidate most loudly saying that we’re “duty bound” to take on Assad with muscle.

In his column at Foreign Policy, Walt concluded “with some genuine reluctance” that holding back the Western military in Syria remained the right course. But we want to dig deeper than that: to the yet-unimagined theory of this country’s military mega-power that allows for both life-saving interventions in terrible situations and for prudence and timely restraint. (Does such a thing exist?)

What would have worked, what were the worries, and what are the war-weary Western powers to do when millions of innocent lives are on the line?

Photo by Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters.

July 24, 2015

Behind the Persian Curtain

After two years, three “final” deadlines and a cabinet-level bike wreck, we have a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Tehran, Boston, and the Security Council chamber it felt like a time to ...

After two years, three “final” deadlines and a cabinet-level bike wreck, we have a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Tehran, Boston, and the Security Council chamber it felt like a time to celebrate. This week, we asked just what does a deal mean?

Our friend, the journalist/historian Stephen Kinzer, has dreamt of a “reset” that would change the strategic chess and bring Iran and the United States back together. He said that both sides are fighting a long and traumatic history, but new restraint (informed by that history) seems possible:

This Iran operation in 1953, in which the CIA destroyed forever — at least up until now — Iranian democracy seemed like a success at time. We got rid of a guy we didn’t like, Mohammad Mossadegh, and we replaced him with a guy, the Shah, who would do everything we wanted. So, it seemed like the perfect solution at the time. Now when we look back, and we see that the Shah’s increasing repression caused huge problems inside Iran. It led to the explosion which produced the mullahs’ government and produced another 35 years of repression. We’re slowly coming to realize that these interventions hurt us in the long run… [Obama’s] biggest failures in foreign policy have been times when he’s been seduced into intervening, whether it’s South Sudan or Libya. And his greatest successes have been places where he’s restrained himself… What I’m worried about is what happens after Obama. Is the pendulum going to swing back?

Kelly Golnoush Niknejad is the Iranian-American editor-in-chief of the Tehran Bureau, an independent organization delivering honest, anonymous news and comment from inside Iran via (of necessity) Niknejad’s Newton home. She said that domestic change may come gradually as the regime co-opts and catches up with two different post-revolutionary generations:

A lot of young people do not remember the revolution. Those who came of age with the Internet and satellite television and the reformist administration of Khatami in the 1990s — where there was a brief period of about two years where there was a lot openings in terms of cultural freedoms and newspapers printing — a lot of people became very political and idealistic during that period. And we also have another generation coming about that wasn’t really part of that. They came about during Ahmadinejad. They have very different political awareness, and I think most of their ideas of freedom are probably what they see on satellite television.

“Slow” was the keyword of our Iran talks. The anthropologist Narges Bajoghlid, who wrote recently about hiphop as Rouhani’s latest propaganda tool, said that those young Iranians want reform, not revolt. Kinzer agreed: having weathered their own revolution and witnessed the excesses of the late Arab Spring, Iranians prefer the devil they know.

And Chas Freeman, our favorite US Foreign Service wiseman, cracked that the negotiations stopped an Iranian nukes program that didn’t exist, solving a problem we didn’t have. But the exercise was worth it anyway if it underlines the folly of military interventions. We should have been learning, too, that sanctions stiffen resistance and strengthen target governments — in Cuba as in Iran. And we should be learning patience and restraint long-term and short.

For one thing, the opening to China, strategically important and useful as it was, did not produce Sino-American cooperation on any level for about six to seven years. It took time to begin to make it possible for us to cooperate. So, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a major improvement in US-Iranian relations. We have to be patient, and we have to be creative. But the lesson…is that statesmanship, skillfully conducted, can really make a difference.

So tell us: Are you ready to walk through the Persian curtain?

The Sound of the US-Iran Relationship

How did America and Iran get to yes? A relationship defined by a CIA-backed coup, a revolution, and a hostage crisis seemed permanently poisoned — even before President George W. Bush placed Iran in his “Axis of Evil.” There was more than a little venom and proxy violence over half a century. The sound of this relationship is more than tough talk though. These bites (most from a brilliant 2009 BBC documentary) reveal a sad game of geopolitical phone tag between two rivals who should probably be friends. Whenever one calls, the other isn’t ready to talk. And vice-versa, for forty years — until now.

Head to our SoundCloud page for more info on each track.
—Pat Tomaino.

June 2, 2015

Whitman at War

The best of American poets and the worst of American wars met head-on 150 years ago this summer in Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps, his reflections on nursing the wounded and dying soldiers of Union and Confederacy. ...

The best of American poets and the worst of American wars met head-on 150 years ago this summer in Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps, his reflections on nursing the wounded and dying soldiers of Union and Confederacy. This is not the Whitman who celebrated himself and working people in Leaves of Grass ten years earlier, though he is more than ever “the poet of the body and of the soul.” This is Whitman in his mid-forties, crossing like Dante into a mass-murdering inferno of screaming pain, and finding also in the despair an astonishing measure of beauty and love.

The audacious young composer Matt Aucoin, at 25, three years out of Harvard, sets his new Whitman opera in the battlefield hospital where Whitman served as a nurse. Aucoin hears Whitman in a mid-life crisis. He’s gone South in a hurry to find his brother, who’s been wounded at Fredericksburg, Virginia. But Whitman is crossing, with a purpose, not just into a war zone but into an oozing “bloody, black and blue” pit of amputation and agony after battle: 18,000 men had been killed or wounded in the Confederate victory over three days at Fredericksburg. In this setting, Whitman took on his last big mission in poetry: to see and describe what no one, back to Homer, had described before. That is, the comradeship, kindness, generosity, the “adhesiveness”—inescapably the love—that surfaces among men at war.

Lisa New, who teaches American poetry at Harvard, is going to remind us of the Whitman who wandered Brooklyn leading up to the Civil War. And throughout the hour, Ben Evett—actor and artistic director at the newly revived Poets’ Theatre—summons the Whitman of key poems like “The Wound-Dresser.” Here’s an excerpt:

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.
I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.
The literary critic Harold Bloom chimes in with his ranking of Whitman: great American or greatest American? And finally Lawrence Kramer, the musician and cultural musicologist at Fordham University who edited the 150th anniversary edition of Drum-Taps from the New York Review of Books, will examine the sonic dimension of Whitman’s words.

May 20, 2015

Pakistan: With Friends Like These…

Seymour Hersh’s LRB scoop on the execution of Osama bin Laden – too hot, apparently, for the New Yorker to handle – is a persuasive and unnerving re-write of the Obama White House account. It ...

Seymour Hersh’s LRB scoop on the execution of Osama bin Laden – too hot, apparently, for the New Yorker to handle – is a persuasive and unnerving re-write of the Obama White House account. It was Pakistani spooks, not our CIA, who ran Osama to ground – more than five years before American intelligence learned he was under a comfortable sort of house arrest in Abbottabad. The Navy Seals who carried out the raid that killed Osama in 2011 probably didn’t know that Pakistan’s top brass and spymasters were helping in the shadows, to the extent of dropping their usual air alert against swooping US helicopters.

The sharpest point of the Hersh account comes in the demonstration of Pakistan’s “double game”– which must always be “plausibly deniable”– with its US patron. Pakistan’s army intelligence was in effect holding Osama bin Laden for trade with the Americans when the price was right and the politics was urgent. But what a strange stink comes off this misalliance – this miserable marriage – between the US and Pakistan.

1203342641_8919“This is an absurd relationship on both sides,” says our in-studio authority, Adil Najam, trained in Lahore, now dean of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Affairs. “The Sy Hersh story is the perfect metaphor for the US-Pakistan relationship and the absurdity of it. Why? Because nothing that can be said or heard about it can or should be believed… It’s not about the details. What he’s really pointing out in stark ways…is: This is not a friendship. It is not an alliance…”

I would question whether any of [the US’s anti-terror partnerships] are alliances. The real imperialist powers – the British! – never called India their ally… They were much more honest about it. They said, “you’re a dominion.” And in some ways, I think maybe we need a little more honesty in this….

carlottaCarlotta Gall, the long-time New York Times correspondent between Kabul and Islamabad, is telling us that much of Hersh’s alternative history checks outs. Osama bin Laden regarded Pakistan as friendly territory and, in Abbottabad, a safe haven. He had to beware of official betrayal sooner or later, but admonished his followers not to attack “the mother ship.” Pakistan’s military returned the courtesy, Ms. Gall observed on our air:

One intelligence officer, years ago, told me [bin Laden] was a protege of Pakistan….I think the Pakistanis perhaps didn’t mind that he was always aiming his attacks to America. They saw him as something useful for their own reasons. And that’s what’s astonishing, that they could be an ally — a major non-NATO ally after all — winning billions of dollars over this last decade from America and yet they could be hiding the top target of the American war.

…America knew Pakistan was playing a double game… And at what cost? Thousands of Western soldiers died, over 2,000 American soldiers died there, and, by my count, tens of thousands of Afghans have died since 2001. The length and the horror of this war in Afghanistan was not necessary, and I think a lot of that happened on America’s watch when they knowingly were not confronting Pakistan about its involvement and stopping it and, meanwhile, were funding billions to the Pakistani military. And that very strange double-handed policy is very weird and to be condemned.

Fawaz Gerges, our biographer of terrorism, says that drawing American military forces into the back of beyond was the core of Al Qaeda’s strategy and its incredible success:

When the history of the global wars on terror is written…the question is not going to be why the United States invaded Iraq, why the United States invaded Afghanistan. The question that will basically fascinate historians is why the American system of checks and balances failed after 9/11? Why? Because the American perspective was blinded by dust, by pain, by fear, by pride, and by revenge. And you have a small group of ideologues…hijack American foreign policy that basically brought us to today.

There’s more here from our friend Muhammad Idrees Ahmad on the pain for Pakistan, which has taken more casualties from the war for Afghanistan than any other nation. Also, from Ayesha Jalal of Tufts University, the master historian of the India-Pakistan partition. She joins us from her hometown Lahore to speak of an almost empty “operational relationship” between the US and Pakistan. The better future for Pakistan, she suggests, will be with investment-ready China.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

This Week's Show •

Our Worst War

Legendary journalist Seymour Hersh helped us count the ways. Hersh returned to Vietnam this year for The New Yorker to visit the scene of the My Lai crime he broke in 1969. He spoke with ...

Legendary journalist Seymour Hersh helped us count the ways. Hersh returned to Vietnam this year for The New Yorker to visit the scene of the My Lai crime he broke in 1969. He spoke with an iconic Communist figure the Americans called Madame Binh about how America went wrong, and is still thinking wrong, about Vietnam:

“Oh, Seymour,” she said, “the only reason My Lai was important was because it was written by an American.” And her message was there were many My Lais. I thought, “Oh my god, she’s as tough as ever.” She’s saying to me, “Yes, I’m glad you wrote this story. Yes, I’m glad there was an anti-war movement in America, and I’m glad that your story did so much, which it did, to fuel the anti war movement.” But her message was, “Listen, we beat you. We didn’t do it because of the antiwar movement. We’re the ones who stood and dug holes, we got pounded by B-52 bombs and when the bombing was over, we climbed out and killed your boys. That’s what won the war. We stuck it out.” And that was really interesting to hear. You’ve got to know who you’re fighting against. We picked the wrong fight.

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Historian Christian Appy has recounted a “fall from grace” in individual revelations one after another: from Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, the line that “We didn’t know who we were till we got here. We thought we were something else,” to the booming “exceptionalist” American historian Henry Steele Commager who roared in 1972: “This is not only a war we cannot win, it is a war we must lose if we are to survive morally.” The “Paper Tigers” in his Appy’s American Reckoning are David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, but they seem more vicious at this distance. McGeorge Bundy, for example, a former Harvard Dean, entered the war as a game of dominoes with Moscow, fueled it with theories of social engineering and “modernization”, and refused to end it — citing concern for American “credibility”:

This whole idea of credibility was at stake, that we had to demonstrate, even if it doesn’t work. [Bundy’s] memos that to LBJ were just astonishing. He would say things like, “I am recommending daily systematic bombing of North Vietnam, but I can’t assure that it will work. It may fail. The odds may be 25% to 75%. Even if it fails, it’s worth it because it will demonstrate to the world that — like a good doctor — we did everything possible to save the patient of South Vietnam. But he’s not talking about medicine, he’s advocating mass killing to prove a point and preserve a reputation.

Christian Appy, at our office.

Christian Appy.

Noam Chomsky wrote back in the LBJ phase of the war that it was “simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men,” “including all of us,” as he added in a memorable exchange with William F. Buckley. What strikes Chomsky to this day is our ugly American flight to fantasy and euphemism on the matter of our intentions: we are encouraged by our commentariat to look back at our catastrophes, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and pat ourselves on the back.

Anything we do is at worst “blundering efforts to do good.” No matter how horrendous it is. After the second world war, there is no crime that begins to compare with the war in Indochina. It’s not just Vietnam. It’s destruction of Laos. Cambodia was bombed more heavily than any country in history. It’s a monstrous war, but it passes in history as “blundering efforts to do good.”

01 Oct 1972, Boston, Massachusetts, USA --- American writer, educator, and linguist Noam Chomsky, at home in Boston. Also know for his political activism he was an early and outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War having written . --- Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis

01 Oct 1972, Boston, Massachusetts, USA — American writer, educator, and linguist Noam Chomsky, at home in Boston. Also know for his political activism he was an early and outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War having written . — Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis

Finally, Harvard’s Steven Biel talked us through some of the pop that helped us to understand Vietnam as a tragedy. In films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and even (especially?) Rambo, Hollywood says that America lost some ineffable, macro-psychological thing in the jungles of Vietnam. We were humiliated in Vietnam, but not humbled.

This Week's Show •

Losing The Peace

Our guest David Blight reminds us that Americans are re-fighting the Civil War 150 years after it ended. Historians, he said, “buried the questions at the heart of the war” and lost the truer, harder ...

Our guest David Blight reminds us that Americans are re-fighting the Civil War 150 years after it ended. Historians, he said, “buried the questions at the heart of the war” and lost the truer, harder story. The young historian Kendra Field finds more “silence” on the forced black diaspora that came in the wake of the conflict and our brief experiment with racial democracy, which died along with Reconstruction. A century and a half after Appomattox, Blight says the cause of the war may still be lost:

The two great strands of legacies from that war and from Reconstruction are in race and the question of rights. Every time we think we’re finally getting over our race problem in America or we’re becoming something called post-racial, we get shocked to realize — no we’re not… We are living through a huge, new, modern late 20th, early 21st century revival of states’ rights. Especially at state level, state legislatures, but of course in our Congress. All you’ve got to do is look at the front page of the newspaper any day about any number of issues: resistance to Obamacare, resistance to the Environmental Protection Agency, resistance to any kind of new federal immigration law, resistance to the Interstate Commerce Clause, resistance to taxation…. What I mean by that phrase — that the issues of the Civil War are not really over and the war could still be lost — is that it’s the struggle over these issues that still could be lost.


 

We’re looking back 150 years to Appomattox, the famous site of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Grant, commonly identified as the end of the Civil War. But history’s the extension of war by other means — and a bitter fight’s ensued over the memory and meaning of that war ever since, according to Blight, with “Lost Cause” historians revising the image of the Confederacy and black scholars staying on the sidelines.

The historian Bruce Catton wrote about that supremely quiet moment of surrender and finality:

All up and down the lines the men blinked at one another, unable to realize that the hour they had waited for so long was actually at hand… It was Palm Sunday, and they would all live to see Easter, and with the guns quieted it might be easier to comprehend the mystery and the promise of that day. Yet the fact of peace and no more killing and an open road home seems to have been too big to grasp, right at the moment, and in the enormous silence that lay upon the field men remembered that they had marched far and were very tired, and they wondered when the wagon trains would come up with rations.

“The war is over,” Grant declared, but forebade his men from cheering, allowing the defeated Confederates to return home to work their ravaged land.

But Grant was wrong: the war continued on battlefields, in Southern resistance, in political violence, and in our memory.

So we’re asking, in the collective will for re-union, did we let big questions go unsolved? What about the true equality of blacks and white, of the elites and the poor who serve and reward them. We’re still haunted by the spirits of guilt and retribution, of anger and resentment — of two interdependent Americas that may also be incompatible.

At the 150th anniversary of the end of the civil war, who gets to tell the story of America’s defining tragedy?

A Walking Tour of Civil War Boston

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And get into the field trailing our producers Max Larkin and Conor Gillies on the abolition trail over Beacon Hill and around Boston’s great parks. It’s a proud part of this city’s history that drew on complex heroes — black, white, male and female: Maria Stewart, Frederick Douglass, William Monroe Trotter, Garrison, Sumner, and Phillips.

Head to our Medium page for more: 60 Minutes To Freedom: How To See The Civil War in Boston

September 25, 2014

America’s War of Ideas

In the run up to another war in the Middle East, after stalemate in Afghanistan and Iraq, what is it in the American DNA that makes us think it it will be different the next time? What is the story we continually tell ourselves about our indispensable nation that seems to cloud the facts on the ground?

In the run up to another war in the Middle East, after stalemate in Afghanistan and Iraq, what is it in the American DNA that makes us think it it will be different the next time? What is the story we continually tell ourselves about our indispensable nation that seems to cloud the facts on the ground?

It boils down to two poles of the American personality personified by two iconic Americans:  the rough and ready Teddy Roosevelt and his teacher, the pragmatist William James. Do we respond more to the dream of an indispensable nation with a monopoly on freedom, faith, and the high ground or the notion of pragmatic realism and restraint and the insistence on testing every idea by its results?

The historian Jackson Lears says the Roosevelt triumphal vision of America has itself triumphed: we go to war, and make decisions, based on a deathless dream of winning the day. We’re thinking through both sides of the century-old conversation in the person of Seth Moulton: Harvard graduate, Marine officer and veteran of Iraq, now on his way to Congress after a primary challenge that unseated the nine-term Representative John Tierney.

Hillary Clinton, at the start of her pre-election media blitz, says we’re failing to tell the American story. But just which story is it? Are we charging up San Juan Hill, or are we settling down and growing up?