Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Bush is Hitler: A Platonic Dialogue

[Note: Some have thought that the following is an actual dialogue. It is not. The dialogue is a Platonic one, i.e., it is a fictive narrative in which I tackle real arguments. It is explicitly modeled on the first book of Plato's Republic. Despite its fictive nature, the positions are real and reflect what I have heard around campus.]

I was on foot and moving towards the philosophy department, when I inadvertently found myself walking through the middle of Speaker’s Circle, a spot set aside by the university for free speech. Ahead and to my right, a young woman was handing out a flyer to passers-by. I tried customarily to avoid her, but alas, she had spotted me. I accepted the flyer—I always feel compelled to accept literature from proselytizers of any kind, this being a university—and thanked her (another compulsion). Before I could go, she encouraged me to vote against Bush. A round of yeahs erupted from her comrades, and one young man, wearing a t-shirt designed on the flag of the Soviet Union yelled: “Bush is Hitler!”

“Bush is Hitler?” I responded.

“Well, you know, he’s like Hitler.”

“That’s quite alarming. I will surely vote against Bush if he is Hitler. But I’m afraid I have to admit my ignorance—I can’t quite see the analogy.”

Silence.

“In other words, I’m not sure I understand how Bush is like Hitler.”

“He invaded Iraq based on a lie.”

“That makes him like Hitler?”

“Sure.”

“So if a leader lies about the reason for invading a country and then invades that country, he is like Hitler?”

“Yes.”

“Because Hitler did that?”

“Yes.”

“What countries did Hitler invade?”

“I don’t know. But he did.”

“If two things are like in one regard, are they alike in all regards?”

“Dude?”

“If two things are alike because they share something in common, then are they alike in every way?”

“’Course not.”

“So it is at least possible that Bush and Hitler share something in common, but aren’t much alike in other respects. For example, I’m wearing pants. I’m pretty sure that Hitler wore pants. But I’m not much like Hitler in other ways.”

“Yeah, but they both invaded countries that were of no threat—only fascists do that.”

“Is Bill Clinton a fascist?”

“No.”

“Yet he took us to war against Serbia. Was Serbia a threat to the United States?”

“No.”

“So a leader who starts a war against a non-threatening country isn’t necessarily like Hitler?”

At this point, the young woman who had given me the flyer broke into the conversation.

“What you’re forgetting is that Clinton went to war against Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing. So the war was just, even though Serbia was no threat to the United States.”

“So the essential difference is that Bush and Hitler did not have good reasons for going to war, but Clinton did.”

“Absolutely.”

“Did Saddam Hussein ever engage in ethnic cleansing?”

“Yes … and I know what you’re going to say—Saddam is a bad man who killed tens of thousands of people and yada yada. No one denies that Saddam is a bad man, but that isn’t a reason for going to war. There are lots of bad leaders in the world—why don’t we go after all of them?

“You mean like Slobodan Milosevic?”

“Who?”

“The former leader of Serbia.”

“Yes … I mean … no. Look, I didn’t necessarily support the war against Serbia—I’m just saying that it was different.”

“It was different even though both Slobodan and Saddam were genocidal leaders? And Bill Clinton isn’t like Hitler, but Bush is?”

“I see your point, but let’s drop the ‘Bush is Hitler’ thing—I don’t go around saying that and neither do most of my friends. The real issue—the one you’re missing—is that Bush lied about Iraq. It’s one thing for a leader to lie about an affair, but it’s another thing altogether to lie about why one country should go to war against another country. Innocent people died because Bush lied, and that’s an unforgivable thing for a leader to do.”

Another round of yeahs erupted around us.

“Well said. But just to be clear: what is it that Bush lied about and how do we know that he lied?”

“Have you been living on Mars? He said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and it turned out that he did not. There weren’t any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So he lied.”

“So Bush said something that was false?”

“Obviously.”

“And saying something false is the same as lying?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this. Suppose I say that the food court has waffle fries, and you go to the food court in search of waffle fries. However, there aren’t any waffle fries there. Have I lied?”

“Maybe.”

“Yes, maybe. Why is it “maybe” and not “yes”?

“Because you might have really thought that there were waffle fries in the food court.”

“Right, and there even might have been. So lying is not merely saying something false; it is saying something false and knowing that it is false.”

“So it would seem.”

“So did Bush know that there were no WMDs in Iraq?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Really? So why did he lie?”

“It was all about the oil.”

“Whose oil?”

“Iraq’s oil. He wanted to invade Iraq to get its oil and to get Halliburton rich.”

“You do know that Clinton gave lucrative contracts to Halliburton after the Serbian …”

For several minutes, a student in a Che Guevara t-shirt had tried to break in to the conversation, but the quick responses of my interlocutor had stopped him. Now, however, he reared up like a wild beast and roared at me.

“Enough! I’m sick of this—I’m sick of your petty attempts to catch these people in a contradiction for thinking one thing about Clinton and another about Bush. Clinton was just as much a tool for corporations as is Bush, and the Democrats are just as corrupt as the Republicans. So don’t try your word tricks on me—they won’t work. And don’t go after just the ‘Bush is Hitler” people—that’s too easy. You don’t have to have believe that Bush is Hitler in order to believe what Bush really is—a corporate fascist, someone who uses military power to benefit the corporate state. And yes, I think that Clinton was a corporate fascist, so that little trick won’t work on me.”

After I regained my composure, I continued.

“I would never presume to play tricks on one such as you, and I beseech you to be patient with us. We are only trying to find out why I should not vote for Bush, but the answer eludes us like Proteus. Perhaps you are the Odysseus who can catch it.”

“You have to be told why you shouldn’t vote for a corporate fascist?”

“You might as well have said ‘don’t vote for a vermicious snozzwanger’—I have no more idea of what that is than I do a ‘corporate fascist.’”

“Look, Bush lied in order to invade Iraq … in order to get oil … in order to get oil companies rich.”

“Did that happen?”

“Yes, haven’t you seen Fahrenheit 9/11?”

“Seen what?”

“The Michael Moore movie?”

“Who?”

Michael Moore. The guy who documents all of this stuff.”

“I’m sure he is a very wise man, and if he were here, he could tell me why not to vote for Bush. But alas, we’ll have to search without him. So let’s continue.”

“Without your tricks.”

“Of course. Now, although you may have been no more than ten when the first Persian Gulf War happened, the one led by the elder Bush, I remember distinctly that the same criticisms were made of Bush senior. Namely, that we were going to war for the oil.”

“And we did.”

“Where is it?”

“Where’s what?”

“The oil—the oil that we stole?”

“I don’t know. Like you said, I wasn’t very old when that war happened.”

“Well, we didn’t take Iraqi oil and Iraq—I should say Saddam—continued to profit from oil sales.”

“Look, we didn’t have a good reason for invading Iraq, then or now; so there must have been some economic reason for doing so.”

“The first war occurred because Saddam invaded Kuwait.”

He smirked.

“That’s the excuse, the pretext for going to war. That’s not the real reason.”

“But what ulterior desire was actually fulfilled by the war?”

“I don’t follow.”

“We’re saying that there were two reasons for the first Persian Gulf War. One was the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam, an invasion condemned internationally and prompting the intervention of the United States, the United Nations, and a coalition of 39 countries, including France and Saudi Arabia. The other reason was Iraqi oil. One of these reasons, according to you, is a sham reason, and the other one is the real reason. So what I want to know is: did the United States satisfy its ulterior motive? And what was the ulterior motive of the other nations? And how about the United Nations?”

“Look, I told you I don’t know that much about the first war—and it has nothing to do with the current one. The bottom line is that Bush lied and he did so in order to invade Iraq for economic reasons.”

“All well and good, but the question is the same: how did the Bush administration and its so-called cronies benefit from the war?”

“Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky could …”

“But they’re not here.”

A voice I hadn’t heard before seemed to come from nowhere.

“No, they’re not; but we don’t need them. I think you’re missing the bigger picture.”

Students moved out of the way for a dapper middle-aged man, whom I presumed to be a professor.

“The bigger picture is that this war is a distraction. Instead of spending money on education and health care, we’re spending it on a failed war, whatever the reasons for the war are. So that’s your reason for voting against Bush.”

“So I shouldn’t vote for a leader who spends money on war but doesn’t spend money on education and health care?”

“Yes.”

“Is Bush such a leader?”

“Yes.”

“So he doesn’t spend money on education and health care?”

“Yes, of course, he does—I’m not claiming that he spends no money on education and health care. I’m just claiming that the money we’re spending on Iraq could be better spent at home.”

“What if a war is just?”

“This isn’t a just war.”

“I didn’t say it was. I said if it were a just war.”

“I don’t deal in hypotheticals.”

“Why not? Don’t we make a lot of decisions based on hypothetical scenarios? If that restaurant is out of fish, I’ll go have a hamburger at another; if that company’s stock continues to decline, I’m going to sell it. And so on.”

“Yes, sometimes we use hypotheticals.”

“So I’m asking: if a war is just, should we not spend money to wage it on the grounds that we could spend the same money on domestic programs? Does the need for butter always outweigh the need for guns?”

“No, but in this case, the war is unjust, and so we should spend money on butter instead of guns.”

“So the reason I shouldn’t vote for Bush is that he favors unjust military actions over just domestic spending?”

“Yes; that sums it up. That’s the big picture.”

“I do think your big picture is a much better kind of reason for voting against Bush than the ‘Bush is Hitler” kind of reasoning. Nonetheless, I have two concerns. First, I think the war is just. My reason in brief is that Saddam Hussein was in constant violation of the cease-fire agreement he made with the United Nations after the first Persian Gulf War. It is just to remove a regime that will not live up to a cease-fire agreement, especially when that regime is the aggressor in the war prompting the agreement. Second, I don’t think that it’s the job of the President to spend money on education and health care; the main purpose of the executive branch is to secure the liberty and security of its citizens …”

My interlocutor and I were both startled when the young man in the Soviet Union t-shirt burst out in anger and pointed at me.

“I knew it. That guy is a fascist—he believes in a police state. He probably even watches Fox News. Damn Republican!”

“Actually, I’m registered as an independent, and I’ve never voted Republican—yet. Nice t-shirt. Stalin is Hitler.”

With that, I continued on my way to the philosophy department.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, that's truly beautiful. Reminds me of discussions I would have with Jews for Jesus in London - a total waste of time, but satisfying nonetheless.

Rock on

Kibi

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter if this is a true story or not, but I hope it is.

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Anonymous said...

Kibi!
I remember you well. Don't despair, the Jesus will wait for you forever, it is never to late to take the proper path. - Chaim.

Anonymous said...

Kibi!
I remember you well. Don't despair, the Jesus will wait for you forever, it is never to late to take the proper path. - Chaim.

Anonymous said...

Chaim, Blessed Be!
The Goddess will wait for you forever, it is never to late to take the proper path. - Allen

Ernest said...

Billy is using the Platonic form of argument, where the arguments are real, but the dialogue is fictionally constructed.

He's too smart and too personally shy to waste his time on these kind of life-sucking morons

Ernest said...

Sorry for any confusion!

Anonymous said...

Very clever. Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

This is great substance for a play. One of the things most lacking in this country is not money, oil, peace,freedom, food or knowledge. We in this country actually have an abundance of these and often do not recognize these gifts from such a unique country. Rather, what our confused, young and passionately blind country is lacking is dialogue, a.k.a. conversation a.k.a. communication a.k.a. relationship a.k.a exchange of views ( do it, go grab a thesaurus and marvel at our language, it's an exhilerating pastime). Getting to the point, we dont tak anymore, we shoot, hurt, ignore, forget, disrespect, regret and yell. Consider the effect spoken and oral creative art have on us humans and consider staging these words to start the movement of dialogue.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to read a similar writing re: the current administration and its resemblance to the Fascist regime regarding the torture and humiliation of prisoners by American soldiers "acting independently"; as regards the Patriot Act and the effects on Constitutional Rights and privacy; and, lastly, as regards the mesmerizing Inaugural Speech 2005, wherein Bush issues warnings to all countries who are not espousing his definition of "freedom".

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill it's your old friend Richard! Did you ever finish that PhD??? Come back to California to teach my friend!

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