Friday, December 7, 2012

Some thoughts on Pearl Harbor Day

I don’t like jerks, which I define as people who can’t have respectful, civil disagreements. I tend to be a right-leaning antiauthoritarian, but I get along well with statists and lefties, although I disagree with them. I can’t stand the anarchists on my “own” side who break windows or vandalize public property. I am a pretty orthodox evangelical, but I like to have respectful conversations across the religious spectrum, although I disagree with them. I can’t stand people on my “own” side who think it is their job to take Satan’s cosmic role and act as “accuser.” I usually try to be more critical of those with whom I agree than those with whom I disagree. It is easy to praise Athens to Athenians (Rhetoric,1367b). To me, critiquing those outside one’s ideology (whether or not that ideology is dominant) is cowardice, and jerks are cowards. Failing to critique one’s own ideology is equal cowardice and shows a lack of intellectual and emotional capacity for critical thinking.

Today jerks are in the spotlight. Reality television makes celebrities out of those who take violent offence at those who slight them. The isolating structure of the Internet assures that a person can surround his or herself with like minded sycophants. The country seems poised at the edge of a fiscal cliff because Republicans and Democrats can only see the anomalies in each other’s ideologies and will not engage in thoughtful self critique. Secularists complain about people of faith’s expression of holiday cheer. Many of those faithful people turn “Merry Christmas” into a warlike attack; “I am going to wish people a ‘Merry Christmas’ no matter whom it hurts!” Think about what you’re saying! America has been engaged in a decade of war, the longest war in American history, mostly because we can’t come to any acceptable terms with those with whom we are fighting. The advocates of marriage between same-sex partners and those who do not approve of such unions do not simply see each other as wrong, they see each other as EVIL. The last election even saw men and women pitted against each other, as if somehow the interests of the genders are dialectically opposed to each other.

There is, as the Bible says, a time for war (Ecc. 3:8). There are times when an attack is so blatant and so violent that a response of violence in kind is necessary. There are times when a failure of retribution is an encouragement for continued inhumanity. Today we remember a time like that. We remember when the Japanese bombed the American military base at Pearl Harbor so as to secure oil shipping lanes for themselves. We remember that this happened on this date in 1941. We remember 2,403 people were killed and another 1,178 people were wounded. The bombing was unprovoked and unexpected. A response was required and America did respond. Both my grandfathers took up arms against the Japanese and fought them in the Pacific. The war ended nearly four years later when the United States used an even more horrific type of bomb, a nuclear bomb, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. War was necessary. It was fought. It ended.

When it ended, ideological differences between the United States and Japan did not end. Shinto, the religion that at some level informs all of Japanese policy both before and after the war, is not particularly friendly to foreign intervention. The United States was still firmly allied with China at the time, which has a historical antagonistic relationship with Japan that continues to this day. Still, we worked together. Over the next 40 years, the United States helped Japan develop into one of the most economically capable countries in the world. To this day they are our strongest ally in the region and our best trading partner, making equitable trades. We could have been jerks, and kept smacking them down until they agreed with us. They could have been jerks and refused our help unless we also agreed with them. We weren’t. They weren’t. Because of this it’s better for everyone.

See, loving our enemies turns out to be really good advice. Engaging in a civil manner with people with whom we disagree allows us to work together for our mutual benefit. Getting offended and taking your ball and going home means not only that your enemies are deprived of a ball, but that you are deprived of a game. Saying that those who disagree with you cannot win means that nobody wins. Somehow, some way, we’ve all got to stop being jerks, or we’re going to kill ourselves.

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