June 17, 2008

Moving on? Moving off topic?

So do all ya'll parents of small sons out there have opinions about this new MoveOn ad about the Iraq war? It's about how thinking about her infant son growing up to go fight in Iraq makes a mother very sad and trembly and mad at John McCain. We are its target audiences, I'd guess, and I'm interested in what people think.

My response was mixed. On the one hand, I totally had a visceral "ugh, elliot in iraq" stomach churn. But on the other, I felt sort of manipulated and pissed off and--worst--unpersuaded.

One thing it is trying to convey is this, which I agree with: foreign policy has a human cost for families, and people should act and vote and think as if that's true.

Another thing I agree with is that Iraq is not a place I would be happy to send my child to fight.

But...you know, it's probably unlikely that we will never have war, or never need soldiers. And the fact that it makes us, as mothers, sad and trembly to think about that--about our sweet babies turning into big endangered and dangerous soldiers--doesn't mean that it's not true. Feeling trembly is not an argument against Iraq. Or at least, it's not a complete argument.

It's a weird thing, right? Elliot is so sweet and charming, and yet in not very long we're going to have to go register him for the draft, and UGH. I hate to think about it. But the fact is, that I HAVE to think about it. Because there are some wars that have to be fought, and that means someone will have to fight them. "I am not opposed to war," Obama once said. "I am opposed to dumb wars." This is not an ad about why Iraq is a dumb war. It could be, but it's not. And I think that's really too bad--what a missed opportunity.

I completely disagree with McCain's Iraq policy. But I don't think he fails to recognize the human cost of war (and I'm not very sympathetic to the effort to paint him as such). What I would fault him for is his policy, not his ethics, which I (being charitable) imagine to be this: protecting a nation has tremendous cost, and sadly, some of that cost is born by soldiers and their families. It's not nice, but it's true. And if we have the conviction (which, again, I don't) that we need to stay in Iraq for a long time in order to protect national security, then we have to stay there, even if it makes us sad and trembly.

I think that maternal feelings matter, and should be part of the conversation. Our feelings are part of how we "know" about the world. But they are not all we know about the world. (Don't get me started on the intersection of sentimentality and politics, but if you're interested, I'll send my dissertation your way). What's more, I would be super irritated by a sentimental ad making the reverse argument, in which a woman clutched her infant son and said, "we have to stay in Iraq to keep my baby safe" or "those bastards tried to hurt my baby so let's go get them." Feelings--they sometimes make us do dumb things.

So I disagree with that part of the ad. But I also just think it won't be effective. Because if you are someone considering voting for John McCain, you are probably--in my imagination--someone who has a healthy respect for the military, and who thinks that it's an unfortunate but proud thing to share in the burden of protecting America. So will a mom feeling trembly change your mind about that? Or will it just make you think: ah, well, here's another ad from that liberal group who doesn't think military service matters.

I just watched it again, and here, I think is my main problem: this feels like a subtle sort of swiftboating. John McCain is wrong, but that doesn't mean that he's bad, or that he doesn't care about my baby. What's good about McCain, when he's at his best, is that he is willing to make hard choices. I like that about him, even if I think many of his (particularly recent) choices are bad ones. So I think we should honor that, and then ARGUE with him about why this war is bad, why this choice is needlessly and uselessly hard, rather than tremble, and cast him as some unfeeling villain.


Amy E said...

I'm not particularly pro-war. I am pro-national security. I miss the feeling of America's unquestionable invincibility that I was imbued with as a child. I'm not sure if I was brainwashed in elementary school, or if America really was safer back then. Probably both.

I definitely think if America feels like fighting a war it shouldn't be the one in Iraq; we have plenty to worry about on our own continent.

Anyway, recently in a movie theater I was privvy to a screening of a restored 70mm print of "Patton." I think it's one of the best movies ever made, definitely in my top 20, and folks, I'm not exaggerating when I say I've seen nearly 5,000 movies in my career.

After "Patton," all I have to say about war is this: IF we are going to fight a war with the intent of winning, let's do it the old-fashioned way, with brute troop strength, and get on with it - win and get it over with. None of this pussyfooting around in technological tents with night vision goggles and web connections. If there is war, then there should be real fighting and real winners and expediency. Less financial expenditure. Less throwing money down little green paths and red illuminated projected pathways. Less video game war.

If we're going to fight, let's fight for real, like the animals we are, vis a vis. And if we're not going to fight like animals - THE BETTER IDEA - is to not fight at all! No more of these fake plastic wars, please!

Kelli said...

I feel manipulated, too, by the ad, and also feel like there are so very very many things that make me trembly as the mother of an 8-month-old (eight months!? How did that happen! See? I am trembly), that being trembly loses some of its oomph. I am trembly over Autism commercials. Over Fathers Day card commercials. Even, on one occasion, over a video game. So not only am I being manipulated, but I'm a pretty easy target, so it's all the more insulting, really.

I have a hard time agreeing with "there are some wars that have to be fought," not because I really don't think there are, but because I think as soon as you say that, it opens the door to a host of wars that DON'T need to be fought, but people (i.e., the government) tell you they do, for many reasons.

And you're so right about putting the shoe on the other foot (or whatever is the appropriate idiom). When I was at the March for Women's Lives a few years ago, I saw pro-lifers with their toddlers holding signs, and thought to myself "How horrible to indoctrinate your children into your beliefs without letting them decide for themselves." But, of course, when I saw pro-choicers pulling tots in wagons with signs and t-shirts, I thought "How great that they are introducing them to their rights to free speech and assembly so young!" Sigh. Working at the museum, I struggle with self-knowledge about my bias, and work hard not to become one of those people who mistakes my bias for fact, and everyone else's bias for bias.

I have gone far astray from the topic. Sorry. But indeed, I don't think it's an effective ad, although I do think that making sure that people realize the human cost of war is very important. We have become desensitized to how many soldiers on either side were killed in a car bomb today, or civilians, and think it's something that happens far away from our HD TVs. So it makes it easier to let people fight these ridiculous wars.

Anyway, that's my $0.02

And I'd love to see your dissertation!