Friday, July 03, 2009

Mr. T. responds! Or: a critique on smarmy preening anti-war Catholics.

Hi all! Much apologies for the long absence. I do have a good excuse, though - I'm getting married in three weeks, I'm working two jobs and so is my fiance, and we're sharing one car. Also, I just moved. Whew. But luckily I have been given a day off, thanks to the celebration of the birthday of one of most noble and wonderful countries that has ever existed - so I have a chance to blog it up a little.

My previous post, of course, dealt with a letter I received from an old classmate of mine, whom I playfully referred to as "Mr. Torquemada". Now that Mr. T has responded publicly using his real name, I have no qualms about revealing it as well - Phil Harold.

Phil's response can be found in the comments of my previous post, so I won't repeat the whole thing here. I will simply select some words of his and respond A'ight? A'ight.

Nowhere in my letter do I claim to know Michael Novak's heart and soul.

Well, technically that's true, Phil. You didn't out-and-out say "I know Michael Novak's heart and soul!" But you did judge his motives and assume that they were base, self-centered, and utterly vile. It did not, and does not, seem to occur to you that he may be sincere.

This, it seems to me, is where the oft-misused injunction, "Judge not yet ye be judged" could be applied. When making an argument, it is essential for us to judge a person's argument, not a person himself.

You obviously think that Novak's arguments are absurd - but you are so worked up in making wild speculations about his inner motives that you never actually articulate why those arguments are absurd.

We all know that wild speculations are fun. But in this case, they are both immoral and unproductive. Michael Novak is a human being, Phil. So are you. So am I (despite reports to the contrary). Thus, you have an obligation to not judge him. That's God's job. The same applies to myself - perhaps I should have been a tad less sarcastic and emotional in responding to your sarcastic and emotional letter. I do apologize. So let's look at the argument instead. This, I admit, is a lot less fun and more work - but it's the only way to get to the truth.
Instead of being a man and disputing the merits of the popes’ statements on Iraq, he backhandedly praises them for being in sharp disagreement with his own positions. It is clear he is concerned with his reputation as a Catholic intellectual loyal to the church and pope, which would suffer if he entered into open disagreement with their considered views.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got it. To quote a personal hero of mine, "There you go again". And besides, Novak does disagree with the Pope's views, and openly! See? There ain't nothing to hide here. Everyone who reads Novak knows that he is definitely one of those crazy Neocons who thinks that we should wage wars against murderous tyrannies. So am I. So let's have no more of this hoohah that Novak's trying to hide his real views to "preserve his reputation". His reputation's already shattered as far as you're concerned, and there are far too many Catholic intellectuals who agree with you.
By the way, nowhere am I claiming that those who support the Iraq war are bad Catholics, or not faithful to the Church, or oppose the pope.

I shall now engage in an emotional response:
No, of course you don't. We're not bad Catholics. We're just stupid idiots who excrete little pink hearts out of our ears whenever we think about George Bush - and thus deserve only pity from enlightened ones like yourself:
Most people who are thickheaded enough to still support the Iraq war do so out of ignorance and moral confusion. Simply put, they supported Bush (in large part because he was ostensibly pro-life) and they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. This is understandable and forgivable.

Notice, first, how insulting and arrogant your words are. This is the sort of behavior (as I know from personal and painful experience) that can ruin and damage friendships.

Notice, as well, the complete and utter lack of any attempt to represent the arguments of the other side. Then again, you probably never bothered to read them. You may have skimmed over them. But it's pretty obvious that you never asked yourself this question: "How is it possible that so many people, some of which are bound to be marginally intelligent and well-informed, hold views on a subject that differ so decidedly from my own?"

This question is essential to any good debate. If you don't ask yourself this question, you aren't engaged in arguments - you're just venting. And you won't convince anyone who doesn't agree with you already. You will, however, convince them quite firmly that you're a preening jackass.

(By the way - I imagine that there are many people out there who believe I am a preening jackass - a belief that is only too true in many cases.)

Finally - this is off-topic, but why is George Bush ostensibly pro-life? I assume that you mean "pro-life" in the normal sense of being anti-abortion. What did George Bush not do to prevent abortion? He wasn't perfect, but he's a damn sight better than our current president, and certainly one of the most outright pro-life presidents to hold that position. I should really address this issue more fully, and hopefully will do so in another post. Moving on...
Not everyone can be expected to hold enlightened political views on every topic.

Sorry about that. You were saying?
People don’t have the time to become informed on every issue, even very important matters like the worst foreign policy mistake in a generation.

This is one of those annoying things that true believers like yourself do quite often. You make absolute statements, and then don't even bother to back them up with facts.

It's obvious that you think the Iraq war is the worst foreign policy mistake in a generation. Whether people will think the same thing a generation from now is another matter.

Your statement may be true and it may not be. Personally, I don't think it's possible to know, nor is it profitable to speculate. But the very fact that you take it for granted - that you equate "worst foreign policy mistake" with "2+2 = 4" is a telltale that you haven't even considered the arguments from the other side. Bad, Phil. Very bad.

With Novak, this moral confusion is what he is trying to push as the proper viewpoint of a faithful Catholic.

Where? Where does Novak claim that his views on the Iraq war are the views that every catholic should hold?

I'll be blunt: I don't trust you, Phil. Don't take offense - I don't trust anyone when I'm arguing, especially regarding the Iraq war, a topic that everyone has a strong opinion about. So give me a quote, please.

I do insult Novak, who deserves every syllable of it, just the same as Catholics for Choice do. If you are going to twist Church teaching into its opposite, those who are faithful to the Church should denounce you.

Here's another handy bit of Church teaching: Don't insult people.

The Pope doesn't do it. Our Lord doesn't do it. So who the hell do you think you are to do it? Even if I agreed with the absurd implication that Novak and Catholics for Choice are morally equivalent, what possible good can come from insulting Catholics for Choice? It certainly won't change their views - it certainly won't help these lost and confused people come any closer to salvation. It will probably drive them further away.

You first say that you “care what the Church teaches.” Unlike others who claim the same thing, you actually try to square the language of that teaching with the Iraq war policy. And not surprisingly, you can’t.
How can't I? I know you think I can't. But it should be obvious by now that I disagree with you, and therefore if you want to convince me, you have to provide some, er, I don't know...arguments to bolster your statement. It grows wearisome to repeat the same thing over and over, so please, stop yelling and start arguing.

In any case, let me make it clear what the purpose of my post was. I have been told, many, many, many times, that "The Church condemns the Iraq war!" My argument was, quite simply, that it doesn't. More specifically, that the Just War Doctrine is not the sort of thing that is meant to be applied retroactively. I also made clear to separate the words of the pope with the doctrine of the Church. Not everything the Pope says is an ex cathedra statement, as you must know.

In short, my post was an attempt to gainsay the attempt made by many anti-war Catholics to hijack the Just War Doctrine and use it as a club to beat their opponents - an attempt to avoid any opposing points of view by claiming the mantle of Church authority. I find this sort of behavior reprehensible, and furthermore, it is exactly what you accuse Novak of doing. The Church doesn't condemn the Iraq war. Look at my previous post for the evidence.
But instead of admitting it, you then argue that the teaching condemns all war.

No, I don't. I guess I can see how you came to that conclusion if (as I suspect) you skimmed through my post rather quickly and then dashed off an angry response.

But, in fact, my post was also an account of my own personal and mistaken impression of what Just War Doctrine teaches - and how that impression was corrected by a careful and (I think) thoughtful reading of the actual words in the Catechism.

It seems like you want to jettison Church teaching because it comes to the wrong conclusion on a policy you are attached to.

It's clear that you think so. I don't. I really don't. If you think I am, then you should argue with me why. You haven't yet done so.

As far as your attempt at disputing statistics goes, please get basic definitions straight: “casualties” means killed or injured.

Well, since you've already said that people like you are "enlightened" and people like me are "thickheaded", I suppose I shouldn't be offended that you assume I don't know what "casualties" means. In my defense, I did get a perfect score on the English section of my SATs, I do have a BA in Writing and Literature, I did hold a job as a journalist for 2 years, and I am a published novelist...but let's move on.

The sources the numbers were reputable and also conservative. For instance, we have spent $600 billion on the war, so far, but economists have estimated the total costs above $3 trillion. (link) An estimated 1.3 million Iraqis have died violent deaths as a result of the invasion. (link) There have been over 100,000 American casualties estimated due to the Iraq war. (link)

Regarding your first assertion about the money - this is something I meant to address in my first post but never got around to. Your belief is that the Iraq war is immoral, right? So why do you keeping talking about how much money it cost? What does one have to do with the other?

Regarding the second link about the number of Iraqi deaths - You linked to, which is clearly an ideological website. Now, to their credit, these folks attempt to justify their statistics, and even state that this is a rough estimate and that it is impossible to truly conduct a scientific estimate, due to lack of a stable government for the period of the war.

However, this is still coming from an ideological website - an ideology that I do not hold. Why, therefore, should I trust them? It's very possible to lie with statistics. I chose wikipedia because it is the only online source I know of that I can depend on as being as non-ideological as possible.

Regarding the third link about U.S. casualties - first of all, I must compliment you on showing restraint and limiting your casualty count to 100,000, since the link you give actually claims 300,000. However, I must say that this is the only link that I am actually angered by. Not angry at you, but at the writer. It is a common practice for anti-war advocates to exaggerate the injuries of veterans as much as possible, in order to bolster their anti-war position. It is clear, to me at least, that they don't regard these veterans as heroes fighting a just war, but poor pitiable dupes who were roped into serving in a horrible miscarriage of justice. As the son of a disabled veteran, I am outraged - outraged - by this cynical attempt to use the suffering of these veterans as a talking point. It downplays the sacrifice of the veterans themselves - it tells them "Your so-called sacrifice was a pointless disaster". It implies that they were not free men and women volunteering for a cause, but sheep herded into the slaughterhouse. Even assuming that these numbers are accurate - which I don't - what does it prove? What's the point of broadcasting it, of exposing these brave men and women's injuries and using them as pawns in a political game? Every one of these soldiers are heroes. They sacrificed themselves for a cause that they believed in. To then use their injuries to argue that that cause was pointless, immoral and horrible is a terrible insult to them and shows a callous disregard for their feelings.

But there is another problem with your argument: you are basing everything only on statistics. There's more to the story than that. Statistics can be misleading, and by themselves are absolutely useless in making moral judgements.

Suppose that 1 million Iraqis were killed in the course of the war. Wouldn't it make sense to ask, "who killed them?" Was it the U.S.? Did U.S. soldiers drive through Iraqi towns and kill every man, woman and child? Did the U.S. bomb mosques? Did the U.S. set bombs off in crowds of children?

No. The enemies of the U.S. - and of Iraq - did that. For just a taste of the kind of people we fought in Iraq, please look at this link. Read it thoughtfully and carefully. Be warned - there are some disturbing photos.

If you do this, you may come close to understanding why so many people like myself stayed committed to the war in Iraq. It has nothing to do with do with loyalty to President Bush, or with a blind obedience to the Republican Party. It has everything to do with hatred - hatred of hell and all its works.

Think I'm over-reacting, emotional, jingoistic? Fine. All I ask is that you read about the people you are opposed to confronting - the people, if you had your way, would now have free reign over Iraq. Get to know them. Now.

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