Over the last seven years, I've learned the easiest way to find out if your opinion on an important issue is a) so provocative that some people are offended by it b) obnoxious c) just plain stupid d) some combination of a), b), and c). Just throw it out there on Twitter -- the less time wasted thinking about the consequences, the better! -- and watch your number of followers precipitously plunge.
I achieved this blessed state on Thursday night -- the last night of the Democratic National Convention. I lost about 10, maybe 12 followers right after I used my 1st Amendment right to express my unpopular opinion: That, at least morally, I was 100 percent behind the dissidents -- mostly pro-Bernie Sanders delegates -- loudly chanting "No more war!" during speeches by folks associated with the military, especially Leon Panetta, the former Defense secretary under President Obama, and retired Gen. John Allen, who showed up to give Hillary Clinton a very loud endorsement.
I was quickly accused (mostly by liberals, I'm pretty sure) of being either unpatriotic or maybe a hapless dupe who wanted to see neo-fascist Donald Trump become our next president, by associating the Democrats with being "against the troops." The critics did have one strong point, that anyone who interrupted actual veterans or military parents -- the folks who make the sacrifices, not the decisions -- was out of line. Without a doubt. But I think the Leon Panettas of the world are more than fair game for protest chants, even rude ones.
With four days to reconsider, I'm more behind the "no more war" protests than ever. In fact, I'm doubling down.
I was thinking about this even before the news today that the U.S. has embarked on yet another round of military adventurism in the Middle East -- launching a bombing campaign (a "precision" bombing campaign, the Pentagon and its chosen mouthpiece Barbara Starr of CNN assure us) against ISIS terrorists in Libya. You'll recall that ISIS flourished in Libya only after the last bombing campaign in Libya by the United States and its allies created a power vacuum to be filled largely by bad guys.
You may also recall that the legal justification for waging war in Libya is flimsy, at best. Pentagon officials say the new air strikes are sanctioned under the AUMF -- Authorization for Use of Military Force -- passed by Congress in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. No matter that Libya, for all its faults, had nothing to do with 9/11. Or that ISIS, the target of the attacks, didn't exist until a decade after the World Trade Center fell. We stopped asking such questions about America's Forever War™ a long, long time ago.
Or, as the mostly pro-Hillary Democrats inside the Wells Fargo Center would put it, "USA! USA!"
Watching the Democratic and Republican conventions the last two weeks, you'd almost get the impression that there's no alternative vision to the idea that the country with the world's largest military, by far, should treat every international problem the way that a hammer treats every problem as a nail. In fact, there is a powerful homegrown critique of the overuse of the American military; some of its strongest proponents are people with extensive experience with the Armed Forces. I'm thinking of critics such as Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and Vietnam veteran who lost his own son in the Iraq War, who wrote:
"America will surely share the fate of all those who in ages past have looked to war and military power to fulfill their destiny. We will rob future generations of their rightful inheritance. We will wreak havoc abroad. We will endanger our security at home. We will risk the forfeiture of all that we prize."
Bacevich also noted that, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." Those weren't his words, but a quote from Founding Father James Madison. I wonder what would have happened if the fourth president had been reanimated and uttered those words at the DNC. Would the pro-Hillary delegates would be getting texts from Clinton floor whips to chant "USA! USA!" to drown out Madison's politically risky words, just as they were instructed to shout down the Sanders delegates? And yet -- speaking of "preserve its freedom" -- isn't it the zeitgest of the Forever War™ that motivates the "security zones" with their 10-foot high fences, or the FBI's obscene intimidation campaign of visiting activists' family members before the confabs in Cleveland and Philadelphia?
The delegates didn't hear from an Andrew Bacevich or the equivalent of James Madison, but they did get Panetta, who -- as noted in this excellent analysis -- has supported expanded war powers for the White House, failed to push for real accountability on Bush-era torture, and once suggested that "a 30-year war" will be needed against terrorism. Was it really rude for some of the DNC delegates to chant "no more war!" during Panetta's speech? Or were some citizens desperately trying to be heard with a different point of view, in a nation so eager to squelch any public debate?
It should be a scandal that the United States drops bombs from flying death robots or our obscenely expensive military jets over countries like Libya, swaths of Africa, or Syria based only on a 15-year-old congressional resolution passed after an attack carried out mostly by Saudi Arabians loyal to a terrorist group that barely exists in 2016. But we're afraid of any frank discussion of that, or the recent admission by the Obama administration that U.S. military actions in nations with which we're not technically at war have killed 116 innocent civilians. That's a number that experts find ridiculously low, by the way, and doesn't as include as many as 85 Syrian civilians who were killed in late July by a U.S. airstrike -- a story that was all but ignored in the media. Even if you strongly believe that such collateral damage is necessary to defeat international terrorism, chanting "USA! USA!" to support militarism is both jingoistic and crudely callous toward the dead.
But this isn't exactly new. During my recent Conventionapalooza, I took an hour break to watch a PBS documentary on the most notorious modern convention of them all, the 1968 DNC in Chicago. As we now know, what happened outside the halls -- the respect shown protesters in Philly compared with Mayor Daley's head-bashing "police riot" 48 years ago -- changed radically over time. But inside the hall, Democrats worked tirelessly to stifle dissidents in '68 much as they would in '16. In Chicago, delegates who supported Eugene McCarthy or other anti-Vietnam War candidates were harassed over credentials and other petty stuff, similar to complaints from Sanders delegates here. An anti-Vietnam plank was pushed out of prime time by the party bosses; when the defeated faction burst into "We Shall Overcome," Daley and the pro-Hubert Humphrey forces tried to drown them out with a band blaring "Happy Days Are Here Again." Exactly like "USA!" chants drowning out "No more war!" in our modern times.
Same as it ever was.
It's a shame that it went down this way, because a lot of the DNC was hugely successful in redefining what patriotism and truly loving America means in the 21st century -- embracing our remarkable ethnic, racial and religious diversity, and showing that "freedom" isn't just about making money but also who you love, or the rights of the disabled and others who've been marginalized. I just don't think that also embracing everything in the Pentagon's $600 billion budget or the notion of U.S. carte blanche to use those weapons anywhere in the world that it wants to is what makes America great -- nor is shouting down critics with jingoist chants.
One of the many, many, many reasons that Trump is such a disaster for American democracy is that you're going to see a lot of serious policy discussions silenced these next three months, often in the name of defeating the threat of Trump. The failure to seriously dilute the military-industrial complex that then-President Eisenhower warned us about 55 years ago is maybe the most important.