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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tyranny of Perfection

"Nobody sees war. Editors back in London or Paris or New York don't let anyone see war because it's so horrible. How can you run a video clip of a mother dying, watching blood spurt out of her arteries? How can you do it? No one ever sees war except people who are there."

-- Chris Hedges
A recent hit to my blog, a common one (to the degree a hit here can be so labeled), went to a 2004 blog discussing "Epitaph on a Tyrant."  I should not forget the horrors of war, which -- though some think the idea absurd ("unless you [ha ha] are a pacifist ...")* -- makes me very sympathetic to pacifism.  The new President is less abhorrent on this front, but my criticism of critics should not be taken to mean I find him ideal. But, the referenced poem also speaks of a form of "perfection" being the path of tyranny.  And, opposition to unjust and unnecessary violence does not warrant the purity some use against violence.  Lack of perspective.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand, 
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
-- W. H. Auden
"Perfection" of any kind is a hard road for mere mortals.  Such is a reason behind the pardon power, which is interestingly discussed from a liberal Christian perspective (see also, other articles by that former prosecutor, a self-professed Christian).  The article supports a separation of church and state while still noting that Christians can see their own values in secular documents.  On that front, a Colorado state appeals court struck down state proclamations of days of prayer per its state constitution, reflecting my own sentiments.   A "day of prayer" is a selective endorsement.

I have noted, all the same, the saying that the perfect (to stick to a theme) can be the enemy of the good, so willingly accept as realistic federal courts that have avoided the question or made an exception. Still, I think Justice Blackmun was right:
Legislative prayer does not urge citizens to engage in religious practices, and, on that basis, could well be distinguishable from an exhortation from government to the people that they engage in religious conduct.
He also noted past cases where Thanksgiving Proclamations and such had a particularly sectarian flavor, something Obama has tried to avoid in this area, referencing non-believers of the traditional idea of God (I phrase it this way since "non-believers" full stop is a tad misleading) and so forth.  Still, a "day of prayer" is sectarian too, since it favors certain types of religious practice.  The actual proclamations have a similar character.

The core issues remain important - be it religious freedom issues or peace.  The original blog can be read in its entirety as well as the link to a book, an oral history of war reporting.  There is some good stuff there, particularly quotes of people other than me. 


* Pacifism in the past might have led you to be blocked from becoming a naturalized citizen.  I think Holmes, who was repeatedly wounded in the Civil War, had the better approach:
I would suggest that the Quakers have done their share to make the country what it is, that many citizens agree with the applicant's belief and that I had not supposed hitherto that we regretted our inability to expel them because they believed more than some of us do in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.
Holmes, who is seen as a judicial hero by some these days, left something to be desired in various ways, but he had his moments.