Will “Good Americans” Become an Indictment?

Today’s New York Times must-read is by Frank Rich, whose column is headlined with a perfect summary: “The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us .” Over the course of my quarter-century plus of my speaking out on public policy for the church, it has been repeated many times that we advocates from mainline denominations are thoroughly nonpartisan. As Jim Wallis has summarized it, “God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat.”

I sometimes used to muse what this earnest nonpartisanship would have looked like in a truly horrible country. “God is Not a Communist. Or a National Socialist. Or even a member of the Centre Party.” Wouldn’t it have been good theology to place a “most definitely NOT” in front of one or more of those parties extant in Germany in 1933?

Not that anything in the United States compares with the evil extent of one German political party of the past century. However, we have used our power to grow our own brand of nastiness. And political parties are ways power is organized. At one point, good hard working, and obedient Germans became complicit Germans as events deteriorated. At what point do good, evenhanded, nonpartisan Americans become complicit?

Rich allows that Americans in general were not all that culpable in the beginning:

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.


As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

It is much easier to zone out on American Idol than to immerse oneself in events which are downright enraging. And with the apparent chronic capitulationism of the Congressional majorities in each House, it is downright depressing. We voted to change course in Iraq, so — what the hey?? Still, giving up is giving in. And that’s complicity.

We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war’s failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war’s progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge’s great “success” in bringing security to Baghdad.

Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply “drop their guns and go home.” Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those “who deliver their bullets and beans.”

…Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

This week, let’s push Congress to override the SCHIP veto. After that, Iraq Iraq Iraq.


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