I was thinking about righteousness as it relates to righteous causes. Righteousness often plays out in politics in terms of patriotrism, and patriotistm often plays out in terms of war.
As an example, the peace protests that were against the invasion of Iraq were the largest and fastest growing of any anti-war movement in American history, and the most widespread and most well organized in world history. It had become well organized before the war even started which is very unusual. It took years for the Vietnam war protests to even begin to gather popular support.
The anti-war movement gained much support even internationally. Many political and religious leaders (including heads of states and even the Vatican) around the world have officially opposed the war and occupation of Iraq. Around 90% of non-Americans in the world are against unilateral action by the US without UN sanction. Around 3 million people were caculated to be in Rome protesting the war which Guinness Book of Records claims is the largest ever anti-war rally. In a 3 month period in 2003, it was calculated that 36 million people worldwide participated in 3,000 protests.
In America, since 2005, opponents of the war have outnumbered supporters. But even before the war started the vast majority (around 70%) of Americans opposed going to war without allowing the UN inspections to finish. Also, at least 64 US city councils have passed anti-war resolutions (which includes major cities of middle America such as Chicago and Detroit) and some major US religious organizations have passed anti-war resolutions (such as the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops).
What did the government do in response? Initially, the government’s righteous rhetoric just became more loud. The Bush administration ignored the opposition and went to war anyways. Bush saw that his base supported it, and ignored the fact that for instance most blacks and hispanics didn’t. Bush also ignored the UN and ignored popular opinion in the world at large. Bush hoped the dissent would disappear if he just ignored it long enough, but it only kept growing. And the Democrats in Washington were afraid to represent many of of those in their own base who were in opposition to Bush’s patriotic call to arms. So, no one in power supported this large and ever growing larger anti-war movement. Furthermore, many US news sources (Fox News in particular) tried their best to ignore and downplay the anti-war protests (even though they’ve given plenty of attention to much smaller protest movements that support the Republican party).
The Iraq war was justified for two reasons (a claim of connections to 9/11 terrorists and a claim of weapons of mass destruction) both of which turned out to be either lies or unforgivable ignorance. We’ve torn a country a part out of a sense of vengeance at having a couple of buildings knocked down. Millions of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed, injured, and orphaned so as to free them from Saddam who was supposed to be somehow connected the 9/11 attacks that killed less than 3,000. But it doesn’t matter because Iraqis are elsewhere. Iraqis hold no great power in the world, and if it weren’t for oil no one would care about them.
Anyways, it was the American government who in the first place helped Saddam and Bin Laden gain power. Where is America’s righteousness when morality only applies when the situation is convenient? It’s not just Iraqis who have suffered because of the US invasion and occupation. From this site, here are the recent statistcs for deaths in Iraq:
Iraqi troops killed  30,000 Iraqi troops seriously injured  90,000 Iraqi civilians killed  697,523 Iraqi civilians seriously injured  1,255,541 U.S. troops killed  4,343 U.S. troops seriously injured  31,156 Other coalition troops killed  318 Other coalition troops seriously injured  10,821 Contractors killed  933 Contractors seriously injured  10,569 Journalists killed  163 Journalists seriously injured  unknown Total killed in Iraq: 733,280 Total injured in Iraq: 1,398,087
Although, a Reuters article argues that the contractor deaths are being undercounted and that this is important as the military is increasingly relying on contractors.
In a Wahington Post article, it was pointed out that certain improvements in the military have had unforeseen consequences. Better armor and better medical care have saved many lives, but this means that there has been a massive increase of soldiers surviving horrific injuries. This has led to many more veterans coming home with severe physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A related issue is that 52% of injured soldiers have traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Beyond the more publicized injuries, there is an even greater subtle menace. The US troops have used massive amounts of depleted uranium in the Iraq war. This depleted uranium is in many populated areas which leads to deaths and birth defects for Iraqis, but it also means many US veterans will end up dying from cancer later on.
Furthermore, there are some more results that I find even more depressing. There are extremely high numbers of soldiers and veterans committing suicide, and many veterans end up unemployed or even homeless. Among the homeless, one out of every 3 is a veteran even though veterans are only around 10% of the US population. Most of these veterans are from Vietnam, but homeless younger veterans are increasing in numbers and no one knows how many there are. All of this relates to high rates of crime (with the highest rates being violence and sexual assault), alcoholism, and drug addiction. Interestingly, I was reading about how the military has made a practice of giving prescription drugs to soldiers in the field to help them deal with the stress and trauma. Vietnam veterans used to self-medicate, but now the military keeps our soldiers drugged up so that they’ll be more properly (or at least temporarily) numbed to the horrors of war.
The Iraq war has been a very damaging war. Despite the majority being critical of the war, it often seems like there is very little outrage (or very little heard in the media) about the tragic results. It’s largely because the government has been very controlling of the information it releases and very controlling of the media. The media has allowed itself to be controlled (such as embedded journalists), has allowed itself to be used for purposes of propaganda (partly by self-censoring). We don’t see the visceral images of death and destruction which were seen during the Vietnam war and which changed public opinion at that time. Without pictures, it doesn’t entirely feel real. Abstract data doesn’t incite the moral indignation of the public.
The War on Terror continues, the anti-war movement has lost its momentum, and the American public have become resigned. The Iraq War is just about to overtake the American Revolutionary War as the third longest war and the War in Afghanistan is getting closer to being the longest war in US history. Right now Obama is trying to decide what to do next with a war he inherited, a war that is impossible to win.
So, this is where political faux righteousness leads. My point for bringing all of that up is to show how the anti-war movement is an example of how a genuinely righteous populist movement can be suppressed. And it’s just one of endless examples.