War and Pizza

Posted by Cutler on January 27, 2007
Iraq, Isolationism

No religious ideology can survive without the ritualistic repetition of a catechism.

I can think of no other explanation for the fact that the editorial page of the New York Times constantly hammers away at the same moralistic themes that are undoubtedly already familiar to readers but which presumably only become articles of faith through regular recitations.

The sacred only lives through sacrifice, responsibility, productivity, and work. In a nutshell, the so-called Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. The valorization and celebration of sacrifice–as an end unto itself; as synonymous with all that is Good–is the core of the New York Times editorial catechism.

I’ve posted about this before, on “holy” days of the secular calendar, especially September 11th and Thanksgiving.

The sacrificial motif provides the ideological unity behind any sign of editorial diversity at the NY Times.

Sacrifice is tie that binds the hearts of both pro-war and anti-war columnists.

In one recent column–“Make Them Fight All of Us“–Thomas Friedman criticizes Bush and Cheney for an effete, unmanly approach to war. It seems they don’t understand what a real “surge” is all about:

Mr. President, you want a surge? I’ll surge. I’ll surge on the condition that you once and for all enlist the entire American people in this war effort

But the way you have fought this war – with our pinkie – is contemptible…

Put down that pinkie! Presumably, a real surge requires something more.

[I]f the rest of the world saw all of us sacrificing to win this war, we might actually be able to enlist them to help a little…

Friedman is hardly new to the sacrifice theme. Here, for example, is “Learning From Lance” from July 2005.

What I find most impressive about [Lance] Armstrong [and his cycling team]… [is] their abilities to meld strength and strategy – to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow – seem to be such fading virtues in American life

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that’s the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

The anti-war crowd at the NY Times draws from the same playbook, as if anti-war mobilization were necessarily identical to pro-war mobilization. Check out Andrew Rosenthal from August 31, 2006.

Or Bob Herbert’s recent essay on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Lost Voice of Protest” (also here):

[N]ot enough voices of protest are being raised…The anger quotient is much too low. You can’t stop America’s involvement in a senseless war… if your greatest passion is kicking back with pizza and beer and tuning in to “American Idol.”

As it happens, there are voices of protest being raised in Washington today and that is all to the good.

Of course, some of those good people were apparently misled by the signs on the buses in DC that said, “Free Shuttle to the Mall.” A simple misunderstanding.

But I cannot see why it is that liberal anti-war critics at the Times can’t keep there hands off my pizza, beer, and television. And my salted peanuts.

Presumably, one of the reasons to go out and make all those fine speeches is to get on TV (or at least C-SPAN) and sway public opinion against the war. But the vast majority of Americans are already opposed to this war. They like pizza and do not like war. Where is the conflict?

Herbert invokes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and he is surely right to claim King for his cause. Like Herbert, King was a communitarian moralist. Herbert writes:

And too many black Americans are willing and even eager to see themselves in the culturally depraved lineup of gangsters, pimps and whores.

Dr. King would be 78 now, and I can’t believe that he would be too thrilled by what’s going on. In his view: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

But isn’t there something to be said for those who passively reject? After all, much of King’s tactical rĂ©pertoire involved passive resistance. Moralistic rhetoric aside, King often located specific forms of leverage in the refusal to participate. Exhibit A: the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

What would it mean to begin by identify all the specific ways in which an unacceptable status quo is preserved through active participation. Just to get the ball rolling, I propose two major areas where there is enormous leverage–and far more pleasure–in passive resistance than in active participation: work and war.

Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? Too busy with the gangsters, pimps and whores, I guess.

A soldier named Daniel Caldwell said it well in the Washington Post: “I want to go back and play my PlayStation.”

Forget work. Forget war. Pass the beer and pizza.

2 Comments to War and Pizza

  • This thinking is sloppy. Could it be that the author is also reciting a catechism of a different sort (his catechism)?

    Question: What is the functional or actual difference between passive acceptance and what the author refers to as passive “resistance?”

    Question: Does the author seriously condend that the civil rights movement was passive? Nonviolent, yes, but passive? More accurately, it was hard, dangerous work.

    Question: Many people, especially people in power, will not decide to “forget war” or how to exploit others. Don’t the politics of personal isolationism (this is the story tag and the message) sidestep, rather than subvert, power disparities?

    Question: Is there any instance in which struggle or sacrifice might actually be called for, even desirable, to protect or gain further rights? A resounding “no” seems to emanate from these entries.

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