If you’ve been following the blog for the last couple of days, you’ve seen an evolving position on my part re: the Winter Soldiers panel and discussion on campus tonight. I say “evolving,” while others might say “shifting,” or “slippery,” because I’ve continued to change my mind about what’s happening as I learn more. If you think I’m being disingenuine or I’m retreating from my position, that’s likely because you’re the kind of person who imagines arguments and debates as win/lose propositions.
Maybe the reason the left struggles in contemporary US political discourse is that we don’t really believe in winning and losing in the same way the right does, which allows them to keep making and changing the rules.
Anyhow, what’s become clear in the last couple of days is that the vast conspiracy I imagined behind Karen P’s disinvitation from the Winter Soldiers event was just that–imagination. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it; it means I don’t have good evidence of it. And frankly, unless the members of that imagined conspiracy continue to press the luck I only imagine they have, it’s not worth wracking my brain over any more.
Kyle Smith, President of the WCU College Republicans, probably made the point most directly about his own group’s involvement in the flap–this comment may have made me respect him more than anything else he said–when he said (quoted almost exactly–forgive me, Kyle, if I’m misquoting too badly), “I wish we had that kind of power.” He makes no bones about the way he wants to see things.
As I reflect on the way this has all shaken out, what I see first and foremost is the paranoid assumption on my part that groups outside the university stuck their noses where they don’t belong. I saw Students for Academic Freedom and the Gathering of Eagles/CCVM getting involved with an issue that isn’t theirs. Why would I beileve that? Because I’ve seen it happen just enough times to recognize their tactics and lines of argument. But they’re not the only groups that deploy those tactics and lines of argument. Neither is there a neo-conservative behind every tree, although it generally feels safer to assume there is.
All of which leads me in contrary directions. On the one hand, it makes me more sympathetic to those who believe we’re occupying and killing people in Iraq, and costing the lives of US soldiers, to keep terrorists from coming to the US again. If that connection seems opaque to you, I’m not surprised. From my point of view, terrorism is successful (for its proponents, which I’m not) when an occasional act of violence creates fear that can get ramped up again at any time afterwards. For example, Al Qaeda doesn’t have to attack the US again; all they have to do is release a recording making it sound like they might, and we all get freaked out again. Likewise, given the nasty neo-conservative tactics of SAF and GoE, all I have to hear is a slight echo of their rhetoric and I see another attack.
On the other hand (really the same hand, maybe just a different finger), I believe SAF and GoE use those kinds of tactics because they know they work. How do they know? Because they’ve seen terrorists world-wide use them for decades. All GoE has to do is threaten to make trouble on a campus, and people like me get all riled up.
Am I accusing SAF and GoE of being terrorists? No. But neither do I think it’s any coincidence that they’ve predicated their existence on fear mongering because they recognize its power. The essential difference is that SAF and GoE don’t kill people to create their spectacles (thank goodness), so there’s a huge difference in magnitude. But the tactics share a common root. I really hope members of those organizations recognize themselves in that commonality and learn how to do their thing without acting exactly like the people they say they oppose.