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Posted by on Jun 4, 2009 in Society, War | 10 comments

Goldfarbism of the Day


I’m going to write more about this in a post to come about right-wing response to Obama’s Cairo speech, but for now I give you this sentence, written by Michael Goldfarb, as an illustration of how far we have come (and not in a good sense):

The president seems to genuinely believe that dialogue, and not threats, coercion, and violence, are the best way to resolve the world problems.

I was born in July, 1950, about 10 days after the Korean War started. I came of age at the height of the Vietnam War. I grew up with my parents’ memory of the Holocaust and World War II. So it’s no exaggeration to say that war has been the background of my entire life. Obviously, this is true for many others besides myself. Always before, in any earlier part of my life, during my childhood hearing about the Nazis and the war (back when “the war” meant World War II), during the Vietnam War, which my parents strongly opposed, and even during the violent conflicts of the 1990s, such as the Gulf War and the Balkan Wars, I remember people who supported whatever war happened to be going on at that time saying: “Nobody wants war. Nobody likes war. You’d have to be a loonytoons to like war.” And then the punch line: “But sometimes… [drum roll, please] war is necessary.”

I remember lots of people back then expressing the opinion that violence was not a solution. Even people who supported the war of whatever moment it was would at least give lip service to the notion that violence is not a solution. There was even a concept back then called “conflict resolution.” Nobody I knew sneered at it, even if they felt it wasn’t going to work. I mean, it would be like sneering at the idea that love is grand. Lots of people may be cynical about the possibilities of love, but nobody is going to say that love is bad and alienation is good.

That’s why statements like Goldfarb’s shock me so much. I can easily imagine the adults of my youth and my young adulthood saying things like, “_________ [fill in the blank] seems to genuinely believe that threats, coercion, and violence, and not dialogue, are the best way to resolve the world’s problems.” But never the opposite. They might not think it easy, or likely, that dialogue could solve the world’s problems, but they certainly agreed that it was the better, or the best, way.

But to Goldfarb, and many, many others on his ideological side of the fence, dialogue is not even a desirable or positive goal to strive for. Dialogue is not good. Dialogue is bad. Dialogue may be okay between Americans, in the United States, but not anywhere else in the world. Americans, in other words, are the only humans on God’s beautiful earth who are capable of dialogue, or value it at all.

This is the pass we have gotten to. Those of us with common sense take it for granted that threats, coercion, and violence are the best way to resolve conflict and solve the world’s problems. I mean, obviously. That said, there are yet some people — like, apparently, Barack Obama — who believe that dialogue is the better way.

UPDATE: When I logged on this morning, I saw that Michael Goldfarb has edited the sentence I quoted above in response to my criticism. The sentence now reads:

The president seems to genuinely believe that dialogue, and not threats, coercion, and violence, are the best * is the only way to resolve the world’s problems. More than that, he believes that history bears this out[.]

At the end of the post, Michael now adds the following explanation:

* This was very poorly phrased and not what I intended to say. Of course dialogue is wonderful and indeed preferable to the use of coercion or force. It is Obama’s certainty that “violence is a dead end” that I object to. My apologies to anyone who quite reasonably assumed otherwise.

I still disagree with Michael in that I do not object to Obama’s certainty that violence is a dead end. I believe that violence, in the long run, is a dead end, even though it may seem to accomplish something positive in the short run. But Michael’s clarification makes a significant difference. Believing that violence can sometimes accomplish lasting good, and thus is not a dead end, is quite a different proposition from believing that violence is better than dialogue, or a more desirable way of resolving conflict. I appreciate Michael making that distinction. Good for him.

Also, thank you to DaGoat in comments for pointing to Michael’s change. If he had not done so, I probably would not have seen it.