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Chris Hayes Hates America!?

May 29, 2012

In what should have been a completely predictable reaction to anyone daring to express some nuance about America’s wars and troops, Chris Hayes became a punching bag for the “pro-America” crowd.

This Politico article about sums it up. Perhaps Hayes didn’t do a good enough job defining the problem? Perhaps people have some genuine and raw feelings around the loss of a loved one? Perhaps some people are never going to miss an opportunity to be offended and take a few left-right-partisan shots? I accept all of that, but think there is a deeper “worldview” problem at play here – a worldview problem that runs to the heart of much of our disagreement in America. There is a sort of Mythic-Tribalism or Nationalism that is not quite compatible with a more Global Citizen or Pluralistic vision of humanity. And if you watch the lead up to the segment where Hayes talks about the use of the term “Hero,” you’ll see that he is definitely wrestling with the fact that we define a select group of people as “Us” and mourn them while excluding the “enemy.” Even if you go back to the origins of Memorial Day – following the Civil War – Union and Confederate soldiers excluded each other from the “sphere of moral inclusion.”

Worldviews are not generally things that can be changed in an instant. They do seem to develop within people and within cultures on an arc towards more and more inclusivity, but the actual shift from say Tribal or Nation-Centric to a kind of Global-Centric vision of the world is not a given for any one person or culture at any given time. And stress tends to make us retreat into a better defined and less open moral sphere – us versus them is a survival instinct. My hunch here is that there is a clash of worldviews in what Hayes was expressing, in what I saw as a fairly raw and honest attempt to come to terms with how you honor soldiers, even if you oppose the wars they are fighting in.

When it comes to worldviews, however, you can’t simply explain your point or educate the gap away. To the tribal, nationalist you will appear as almost a traitor. And to the global worldview, unrestrained and unquestioned and un-nuanced nationalism will border on a neanderthal perspective. It is a bit of a communications conundrum.

We might instead ask the question differently. Take this Esquire article, for example: Loving the Warrior, Hating the Wars: Our Memorial Daze. In it, the author deconstructs our ambivalence in a much less worldview oriented way. Are we making token gestures or over-compensating because of shameful previous treatment of returning soldiers? Do the returning vets have the necessary resources for health and reintegration into society? Or is it all form and no function – some disembodied rituals to make us feel like we are honoring people’s service? And worse, are we better citizens now than when we allowed ourselves to get into these wars? Will we do it again?

To me, that goes to the heart of the question in a better way. Can we look at the terrible costs of war and what it will really take to support this cohort of returning veterans and move from words and symbols to deeds and policies? And can we acknowledge that endless war is something we don’t want to continue doing? Let me make it a little more concrete – in just the one area I read about yesterday that shocked and horrified me – there are over 6000 veteran suicides in this country every year. I am far more concerned with our inadequate response to that tragedy than I am whether we use the right words and salute the flag when we speak of veterans.

From → WTF?

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