I agree with much of Hilzoy's eloquent essay from 2005, but I don't think the points she raises are mutually exclusive from the ones in the email I posted. In other words, one can oppose the incompetent managing of the Iraq War and still believe that the West lacks "grit" in terms of the greater war against Islamic extremism. I think that's the point my correspondent was trying to raise.
I still don't understand why the email I posted generated such vitriol (judging from the inbox). I imagine it's because people think my correspondent is making an oblique case for remaining in Iraq for an indefinite period of time. But my correspondent makes the explicit point that his message is not about "stay[ing] in Iraq forever," but rather the consequences of a strained, U.S.-U.K. partnership. He too agrees with Hilzoy's critique of Bush. He's concerned about America's image in the world, because he considers it to be an "indispensable nation." It was Madeleine Albright who came up with that appellation. How many Democrats believe this today?
Also, keep in mind that Hilzoy wrote her essay two years ago, before a leading Democratic presidential candidate declared that the War on Terror is just a "bumper sticker" slogan, a line he repeats to rapturous applause at rallies. I fear that this sort of sentiment--that the war against Islamic militancy is not really a war at all, and not nearly as potentially lethal as we've been made to believe--is gaining currency in America and certainly already has in Britain. Downplaying the threat that the enemy poses is, yes, a loss of grit. Thankfully, Hillary (the presidential candidate, with two "l's"), who has taken on something of a motherly role in her frequent repudiations of the more naive pronouncements of her opponents, refuted Edwards for his attempts to win over the Kossack wing of the Democratic Party. She'll likely win the nomination, and this ought to reassure both my worried correspondent as well as Chris Orr, who says that his email was a "fairly transparent critique of liberals." Yes, it is a critique of some liberals, but certainly not all of them (and it's a critique of some conservatives, too, for instance, those partial to the world-view espoused by Andrew's beloved Ron Paul).
Anyways, I agree with the following reader (and I imagine my original correspondent does as well), in saying that "The defense of anti-Iraq grit is a straw man."
I think the discussion about grit misses the point of the original author's essay, at least as I read it. I didn't take away that the lack of grit in current society is a reason for IRAQ, or even having much to do with the war over there. I took it as a lament for and indictment of the soft, flabby, intellectually and physically lazy society we are all a part of.
Perhaps it is a generational thing (I am 39) but I see a big difference between "the grit" of my parent's generation and my own, let alone some of the 20-somethings that are coming into the workforce today. Perhaps it is a matter of the increase in general prosperity and advent of technological improvements, but I think it's pretty clear that people in the past could tap an inner reserve of fortitude that most Americans (myself included and excluding the brave people of New Orleans) would find it almost impossible to locate.
My mother grew up during WWII in occupied France. She saw friends hauled off to concentration camps, neighbors shot, her brother-in-law hauled off to jail for aiding the resistance. She survived many many years on short wartime rations, had a toe amputated because she couldn't get shoes that fit and her toe was permanently deformed, and rode her single-speed bike 5 miles to school through the mountainous terrain of eastern France (though not, famously, uphill both ways). She volunteered for the Peace Corps after she retired and turned 70 while in-country in Cameroon My father was a Minnesota farm boy who rode his bike to Missouri to go to college because that was the only way he could get there. He volunteered for the armed services at a time (Korean War) when the draft would likely have gotten him anyway. He walked 2 miles to and from school every day, often through the worst that a Minnesota winter had to offer (his teacher would put snow on his cheeks to prevent frostbite).
My parents understood the concept of "paying your dues." They knew that you had to earn your opportunities and make the best of them once they came along, because many people never got those opportunities. The never expected to be handed anything, and they rarely were.
This is not to laud my own parents for being particularly "gritty" people. They were and are not, at least not for their generation. I'm sure that most people with parents of a certain age could tell similar stories to illustrate what their parents had and we seem to have lost. It is not the ability to blindly support a policy or president, it is the ability to not only survive, but to grow and dream of larger and better things while the world throws hard curves at you each and every day. Not just to persevere, but to prosper during difficult times.
I find it sad to admit that we are becoming a spoiled and lazy people. People complain that Bush didn't ask Americans to sacrifice anything for Iraq and thus we never felt connected to the mission and (especially) the soldiers on it. What this missed is that we likely would not have been willing to make such a sacrifice, and even minor inconvenience would have led to widespread bitching and moaning. (not that the fiasco in Iraq was or is a good reason to sacrifice anything other that Bush's fat head) Every American of my generation (and most of the Baby Boomers) has had so many luxuries handed to them that we cannot fathom true need or want. Or sacrifice. What are you going to do, ask me to give up my Playstation? Go a week without cable? Eat only ethically-produced earth-friendly organic leafy greens that cost 3 times as much as the head of Foxy lettuce? Refuse to fill the gas tank of my Humvee on a particular day to "send a message" to the oil companies, forgetting that we'll all be at the same pump again tomorrow? Please...
My point in all this (and yes there is one) is that you all should stop trying to defend the "grit" of people who want out of Iraq as I don't think that question was ever the point. I want us out of Iraq, and I freely admit that my parent's willingly suffered far more privation than I'm ever likely to see (Gods willing). There is no connection, unless some fool like Bush tries to fabricate one (Bush, BTW, is a great example of just how much grit we have lost - just compare his wartime experiences to his father's). The defense of anti-Iraq grit is a straw man.
What really saddens me is that if we had a legitimate "freedom" war, a "good war" like WWII, I still don't think most of us would be willing to make even 50% of the sacrifices our parents (or grandparents) did. We want easy answers, fast food and no one to tell us that we can't have everything that we want whenever we want it. We deserved to get Bush for a president because we let people ask (and happily answered then discussed what it meant) who we'd rather have a beer with instead of smacking those pollsters upside the head and telling them we DON'T CARE what a candidate is like having a beer and would rather discuss what they might actually do or not do to us, the country and the world.
But that would require some sort of intestinal fortitude, some inner strength and, dare I say, some grit.
Call me if you find any (try looking in NOLA). I'll be out back eating sand and waiting for the next election.
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