Sunday, September 16, 2007

MoveOn and Awe of the Military.

I have, rather belatedly, discovered that there has been a political "brouhaha" in the US this last week over an add by the left wing MoveOn organisation. The add is critical of General Petreus and plays, rather crassly, on General Petreus' name. In response, the White House called it "a boorish, childish, unworthy attack," while Senator Lieberman labeled it "an outrageous and despicable act of slander."(1)

Counter-criticism is of course good politics. Attack your opponents style, even attack the media that they use, and you are more likely to prevail in political arguments. That the counter-criticism worked became evident when Elizabeth Edwards (2) made a public statement denouncing the add, saying: "Someone who's spent their life in the military doesn't deserve 'General Betray Us'".

Elizabeth Edwards statement interestingly sums up the essence of the MoveOn furore. In the US the military is generally beyond reproach. The armed forces are constantly lifted up, by mainstream politicians and media, as the essence of service and sacrifice. Support of 'the troops' is therefore required of all Americans and is distinguished from supporting the war in which they are engaged.(3) MoveOn failed to recognise this distinction and laid themselves open to counter-criticism.

Why anyone is more or less deserving of being the subject of jingoist adds or criticism, depending on whether or not he or she is military member, is beyond me. Every individual engaged in public discourse, whether politician, lobbyist, voter or general, deserves to be treated respectfully and to have criticism limited to their opinions, arguments and actions. The MoveOn add was disrespectful and crass. The counter-critics, however, are not really concerned with maintaining decency in the political debate. Rather they are exploiting (or simply a slave to) the awe and reverence Americans have towards their military.

1) ABC, Political Radar Blog, September 15:

2) The wife of a presidential candidate John Edwards.

3) The imperative of 'supporting the troops" is illustrated by the response to the MoveOn add. Hilary Clinton, for example, made this statement concerning General Petreous: " I think both he and I share a strong commitment to the young men and women who wear the uniform of the United States", while Rudolf Giuliani criticised Clinton for failure to denounce MoveOn and accused her of "turning her back" on US troops. (see:
While you can argue that US politicians should be supportive of the US military, it is nevertheless peculiar that the response to a critique of a general is framed as a question of 'supporting the troops".


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