elites and the military

If you want to understand why some people in this country so dislike elites (like Ivy Leaguers, for instance), listen to Hugh Hewitt’s interview of LATimes columnist Joel Stein. Stein wrote a controversial piece earlier in the week in which he argued that supporting the troops while opposing the war is hypocritical. Hewitt appropriately disagrees strongly, but what’s more interesting is that he essentially argues that Stein has no right to an opinion: he doesn’t know anyone in the military and doesn’t appear to know anything about the military. I’m not one to agree with right-wing talk show hosts, but if you’re going to write in a national newspaper that you don’t support the troops shouldn’t you at least know how many there are?

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7 responses to “elites and the military

  1. Do you feel that elites are not qualified to talk about the military if they’re not in it or have no friends or close family members in it?

  2. I’m not sure. On the one hand, I feel like the issue of “honoring” soldiers has so much to do with how we treat them individually, with how we as a society interpret their actions, and in that sense I think it’s presumptuous of him to say that he DOESN’T honor them if he has no understanding of what they as individuals do go through. This is more a point of respect and ability to empathize than a point about his broader logic-based argument that supporting the troops is tacitly supporting the war. I think, though, one of the main problems of the discussion is how you define “honor” and “support,” which they kind of got to in the interview but really didn’t establish common ground on.

    On the other hand, I think that “elites” can and must, just like anyone else, make claims about the world and argue their points. In this way, though, he needs to at least be educated. If Stein were well-educated about the military, had read/written books about it, etc.- he could make intellectual sociological points. BUT, he clearly knew almost nothing about the US Military, including the number of people in it.

    So, in terms of how Hewitt handled Stein, I think it would be accurate to say that 1. it’s obnoxious to say you don’t “honor” sacrifices and actions people make when you know no one who’s had to struggle with making them and 2. it’s just idiotic to make arguments about anything (in a national news paper, at least) about which you are fundamentally ignorant.

    What do you think, JS?

  3. I agree with you on the second point that it was idiotic to make the comments off a weak argument that should have been better informed or backed up given the controversy of the topic. I also agree with you that the definition of “honor” or “support” was something constantly danced around in the interview and Stein really had no idea what he thought upon further reflection (while under the gun). Hewitt was brutal.

    On the first point of not honoring sacrifices and actions people make when you know no one who’s had to struggle to make them I feel like this can be applied to numerous other things. Some people would call the Zapatistas of Mexico, Hamas of Palestine, or UNITA in Angola freedom fighters while others would call them terrorists. I think it should be noted that the non-elite masses of these nations most often regard members of these groups as freedom fighters while the elite governments (or outside ones) often regard them as terrorists. Very few people in elite government positions in the U.S. or other highly industrialized and internationally politically and economically influential nations can relate to the real-life situations of these freedom fighters or terrorists. Most have no family or friends in these positions and most are only aware of their actions through the lense of stastical reports, charts, and graphs through surreptitious intelligence. Most do not understand what it means to risk their lives for something as remarkable and emotional as national independence while constantly being persecuted and pursued by your oppressors. MOST ARE NOT OPPRESSED! Anyway, I say all of this to say that I feel that point one is mute since, in no sense of the word, will you be able to get people like Bush or Cheney to agree that the Palestinians fighting for an end to their internal displacement and colonization or Evo Morales fighting for indigenous rights in South America is worthy or “honor”. Even if they did read something like Our Word is Our Weapon.

  4. I would note about the second point, the kind of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s revolutionary” comment, that the tendency to put every non-state organized violence into the same category is dangerous, and to assume that people in the industrialized elite view their struggles in any uniform way (of for any uniform reason) I would guess is also a little too simplified. I take your point and understand what you mean, it’s true that the non-oppressed can’t really understand the struggles of those who are, or at least must struggle themselves to do so. But, for instance, there is considerable difference between Hamas, Zapatistas and UNITA.

    Please correct me if my understanding is off, you probably know more about the groups than I do, but my understanding is that three are in fact quite different. The Zapatistas and UNITA were/are both guerilla armies in some form of a civil war (the Zapatistas being a seperationist civil war, UNITA being a broader fight for control amongst different ideologies and ethnic groups in a post-colonial situation). Whether one thinks it is right, they are fighting for self-determination. Hamas, on the other hand, is fighting partially for self-determination (a state for the Palestinian people) but also to destroy another nation. In that way, they are much more like a combination between the Zapatistas and Al-Qaeda.

    Just to be clear, I’m not disagreeing with your point about distance (in thinking, geography, situations, experience, etc.) being a huge boundary to true empathy or understanding for those in oppressed situations, I’m just offering one way in which I think we can differentiate and judge those movements without having to necessarily empathize with them.

    I’m not sure how that fits in with my previous thoughts about the Army. Have I contradicted myself?

  5. I do recognize the differences between these organizations (Zapatistas, Hamas, and UNITA) but they have similar purposes of national liberation based upon indigenous rights.

    Yes, I do feel you’ve contradicted yourself:

    “I think we can differentiate and judge those movements without having to necessarily empathize with them.”

    vs.

    “it’s obnoxious to say you don’t ‘honor’ sacrifices and actions people make when you know no one who’s had to struggle with making them”

  6. I think the way that I would reconcile those things is that we can decide whether or not their actions are just and try to consider their circumstances, but we can’t claim to know their pain, or truly understand their sacrifice. Because I don’t believe that pain and sacrifice justify any action, I believe that the two can be seperated. Of course, they’re connected and a serious inability to understand those who take what are otherwise unjust actions against the West, against those with power, etc. is often the primary cause of retaliation that simply breeds more violence (I think Munich is an excellent pondering of this question).

    So, I think there’s a tension, but that that tension cannot allow us to simply justify any action taken by those from outside of our experience just as it cannot allow us to fully claim and understand the experience of others.

    I’m not sure if that was clear at all… thoughts?

  7. I don’t feel you can decide what is just if you don’t understand those who act unjustly. All of this is highly subjective and obviously what is just to the U.S. (establishing Israel as a state and supporting it politically and economically) is seen as highly unjust to the Palestinians (being removed from their land and forced to be second-class citizens a la the Native Americans). One needs to look at who is benefiting and who is suffering from particular actions and what the motives behind them are by particular interest groups. Financial and political motives are the worst since they rely on exploitation, marginalization, and the like. A pyramid-type structure where many people (in this case the Palestinians) are forced to the bottom. They feel that anything, including violence (such as the type performed against them through Israel) is justified and getting them out of that bottom spot. Same thinking as the American Revolution leaders in a way, but one is lauded and the other derided though we as present-day elite U.S. students can identify with neither.

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