Let me explain what I mean. It seems to me that Bush is using two types of rhetoric: "Go, Team" rhetoric and "Vanquisher of Evil" rhetoric.
First the "Go, Team" rhetoric: Bush starts out by trying to create feelings of pride among Americans by praising our unity and our grace at handling adversity, then gradually tries to convince us that America is absolutely perfect and can do no wrong. Unfortunately, since many Americans believe in this unqualified assumption already, he doesn't have to hit this point very hard. In his recent State of the Union address he said, "America is a strong Nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers." Perhaps Bush truly believes this, and perhaps in recent years it has been true, but it certainly hasn't always been the case. More on that in a minute.
Secondly, the "Vanquisher of Evil" rhetoric. The basic message here is this: Saddam Hussein is evil. Saddam Hussein must be evil because Saddam Hussein goes against the United States, and the United States is good because the United States is perfect and can do no wrong, and by definition that which opposes good is evil, and that which is good has a responsibility to vanquish that which is evil, and since Saddam Hussein is evil and the United States is good the United States has a right--nay, a responsibility--to vanquish Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein is evil.
To his credit, in the recent State of the Union address Bush actually offered up some evidence as to WHY Saddam Hussein is evil besides the fact that he opposes the United States. In fact, he offered up a whole list of evil things that Saddam Hussein has allegedly done to his own people: "International human rights groups have catalogued...methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape."
I'm not refuting anything that he said. I'm not saying that these were not evil acts, nor am I trying to argue that Saddam Hussein is not evil. It doesn't matter to me whether or not he is evil; what I'm concerned with is the morality of the actions of America in response to this evil. It may be cliched, but two wrongs don't make a right. If America fights evil with evil, then America will be evil. The problem is that Bush wants us to believe that anything done in opposition of Evil (in this case referring exclusively to Saddam Hussein) is automatically good. In the State of the Union address, Bush went on to say as much when he said of Saddam's alleged torture tactics, "if this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." That, I believe, is a subject worth exploring. What is the meaning of evil?
I would say that enslaving an entire race of people, and denying them their basic human rights even when they had gained their freedom, is evil. America did that.
I would say that breaking treaties with the fellow residents of this continent, forged in good faith, is evil. America did that, too.
How about forcibly relocating people from their homes, forbidding them to practice their religion, putting their children in boarding schools that try to teach them to renounce their way of life? That is surely evil; it sounds reminiscent of the activity of the Third Reich, or possibly something that Saddam himself did to the Kurdish people. But no, it was America again. The United States government committed these and other unspeakable atrocities against American Indians in the 1800s and early 1900s. This was a dark time, when America was dishonorable in the use of our strength, exercised power with conquest, and certainly had no regard for the liberty of strangers. If you want to read about things like beatings, torture, and rape, look into the history of some of the Indian boarding schools. You think I'm exaggerating. I'm not.
Okay then, what about forcing people of a particular ethnic background to live in concentration camps? Unquestionably evil, but surely now I refer to the activities of the Nazis, right? Actually, I'm referring to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Funny how we become like our enemies, isn't it?
What about the government persecuting people who adhere to certain political ideology, or are even suspected of adhering to that ideology? That would seem to go against the principle of free speech and free expression; surely that could never happen in a nation like America...unless of course it's the 1950s and the political ideology in question is communism.
My point is that if any of these actions had been taken by other nations, Bush and the rest of America would condemn those nations. In fact, in many cases similar things HAVE happened in other nations and we DID condemn them, and rightly so. But when they happen within our own borders we find excuses, we find ways to justify them, because we tend to believe that everything America does is good by definition.
But the facts don't bear out that hypothesis. Not everything America does is good, even if we don't realize it until later. So America is not justified in every action it takes; and the fact that we are America will not excuse us if what we do is evil.
And if there's a chance that we may be doing something evil, that we may be doing something wrong, we should consider going to war with great caution, and not the urgency with which Bush wants us to consider it.