Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Obsessing About Religion

People have been willing to kill one another in the name of peace for millennia.  When will it ever end?  Only when people wise up - which is to say, never.

A reader writes, in response to my last posting, that it is acceptable to wish ill-health and death on Barbara Bush, because of all the people in Iraq who died as a result of the Bush-lead invasion.   It is an interesting argument, but ironically, proves my point.

While the Iraq invasion was a strategic mistake and we did kill thousands of people there during the war, far more were killed and continue to be killed, all across the Arab world.... by other Arabs.   Yes, they may burn our flag and call us the "great satan" (or at least Iran does) but in fact, they spend less time fighting the US of A than they do each other.   We are just an annoyance that gets in the way of their cross-religious slaughter.  The image above is of a car-bombing in Iraq - not aimed at US forces, but aimed at Sunnis by Shiites.

Yes, the old Sunni-Shia rift has been a meat grinder for generations.   And it has been an effective tool for various governments (including our own) to manipulate people to do things against their own self-interest, such as strapping on a suicide vest.   It is all-too-easy to recruit young people online and convince them they will be "martyrs" for their branch of Islam if they will only just kill themselves - and maybe a few other people in the process.  This does little to advance the cause of the individual, or indeed the people or the religion he (or she) is nominally dying for.  It does, however, help the causes of governments and other people in power.

Islam isn't alone in this - although in recent times, they have been the most effective.   The Catholic v. Protestant divide in Christianity has been exploited by political powers for hundreds of years - and thousands have been slaughtered as a result.   It is only in recent decades that the "troubles" in Northern Ireland - the last gasp of this religious warfare - has tamped down.   But even then, it threatens to explode any minute now, as each side starts posturing again.

Our reader argues that a widow in Iraq whose husband was killed during the Iraq war, would want to kill either of the Bush Presidents or Barbara Bush, and that this would be "understandable" given the circumstances.   But oddly enough, if you look at history, the opposite is often true.  We dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, and they are one of our strongest allies.  We flattened Berlin, and yet Germany stands by our side.  We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than in all of World War II, and yet Americans are welcome there and we have good relations with that country.  Of course, those wars weren't about religion - but the religion of nationalism.

Again, we get back to do-or-die politics.   Nazism brainwashed an entire generation of Germans to fight to the death for a "cause".   When they lost that war, some die-hard Nazis still held out and murdered those who cooperated with the occupying forces - at least for a time.   But I suspect that a lot more Germans felt betrayed by the false God of Nazism than they did by U.S. forces.   They realized that their real enemy was from within - which is why today, it is verboten to display Nazi symbols or give speeches promoting fascist values in Germany (but ironically, legal in the US).

The bloodletting that is going on today across the Arab world is not in response to any US-lead invasion, but is part of a power struggle between various countries and power centers.  The Iranians want to take control, and will use their version of Islam to convince people that they should die for a cause that is not their own - by fighting and killing their fellow Arabs.   Meanwhile, our Saudi friends want a different outcome - and use a different brand of Islam to program people to kill their own kind.

Maybe the Iraq invasion was the trigger for all of this - although from the quick rate of surrender of the Iraqi forces, it doesn't seem many in Iraq had an ideological allegiance to Saddam Hussein.  They weren't willing to die for his cause, it seems.  But once the dust settled, most people wanted to get back to life as normal.  And we naively thought they would embrace democracy.   But given a chance, such as in Egypt, people in that part of the world often vote for dictatorship.   And then outside forces, such as Iran, started to try to manipulate things.   We were in over our heads, in a situation that was not so simple or black-and-white.   We assumed that people in Iraq would act in their own best interests, and embrace a new government free of the tyranny and secret police of the old government (a government that we also installed).

But we were wrong.   Too many people are easily persuaded, particularly these days, to give up their own lives for a "cause" while neglecting what is in their own best interests.  And no, it isn't because many of these folks have "nothing left to lose"- many suicide bombers and ISIS fighters come from fairly wealthy (by world standards) backgrounds, and have many opportunities available to them.  The Boston Marathon bombers were hardly starving, but rather had a fairly well-off middle-class existence in the wealthiest country in the world.  They were convinced otherwise - by online websites.

Which brings us full circle back to the original point - it profits you not to become obsessed about politics.  It makes you a toxic person to be around, it turns away friends and business contacts who may have been helpful to you later on.  It turns away potential spouses - because no one likes creepy.

"But Bob!" you say, "What about causes worth fighting and dying for?  What about the American Revolution?   The Civil War?  World War II?   Aren't those instances where it would be better to sacrifice your life for the greater good?"

Perhaps.   But all I can say is, you had better vet these causes carefully before you forfeit your life, either literally, or by wasting it away by obsessing about politics.

As for the revolutionary war, I guess you'd have a point.   If we had not fought the British in 1776, we would have ended up like.... Canada.   Um, I guess that isn't a good point.   Alternative history is hard to parse, but if Canada is any example, I guess we would have ended up as a quasi-independent country eventually.  Or did the American revolution force Britain to give Canada more sovereignty?  Would we have expanded Westward with the Louisiana purchase if still under British rule?  It is hard to say.

The Brits outlawed slavery years before we did - and even enforced a blockade along the African coast to tamp down the slave trade.   It is possible the entire Civil War may have been avoided if we had remained a member of the British Commonwealth.   Possible!   Or maybe that is why the Southern States were eager to join the "revolution" -  to preserve their "peculiar institution."  Who knows?

What historians can agree on, though, is that the American revolution was fought to preserve economic interests - often that of the landed gentry and the upper classes.   If they could get some farmers to join in on the grounds of "patriotism" so much the better.   And the same is true of the Civil War - they dragooned thousands of dirt-poor white-trash Southern farmers to fight for a cause - slavery - that was not their cause, as most never owned slaves.   Oh, and the Civil War was all about slavery - so let's not even go down that road.  Nice try, though.

Of course, we honor and cherish our heroes - brave souls who gave their all for their country.   But you talk to a lot of returning veterans - from World War II onward, and you find they have no such romantic views about war or sacrifice.  Maybe they have seen the horrors firsthand, and seen friends die in order to obtain an objective that, the next day, was irrelevant.   Or maybe they are just tired of the idea of going to war and dying simply because a bunch of other people have gotten it into their head that killing people is the only way to resolve a dispute.  It is hard to say.

All I can say is, I am not sure I would be willing to sacrifice my life for the current crop of politics.  I am not willing to go to war or die for the likes of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or indeed, Barack Obama.  Nor am I willing to obsess about any of them - to the detriment of my own mental, physical, and fiscal health.

Maybe - and this is a crazy idea, I know - if fewer people obsessed about politics and religion and didn't make it a life-or-death matter, than maybe we'd have less wars in the world.  Every time someone straps on a suicide vest - literally or metaphorically - the world is a slightly darker place.

As as for Barbara Bush, may she rest in peace.   No doubt she and I would not have gotten along.   But I could at least be civil to her!