Friday, September 12, 2008

In fairness to Sarah Palin

Antiwar.com recently ran an article by an Iranian-American writer, Arash Kamangeer, in which he likened Sarah Palin’s touting of her son’s upcoming service in Iraq to an appearance made by an Iranian "show mom". This is the term he uses to describe the women who were trotted out by the Iranian government to raise morale by showing their willingness to send their sons off to fight in the Iran-Iraq war. (The Iranians would usually wait until that son was martyred to do so, but the principle is the same.) Of course, family members being proud of their children’s military service, and governments using them to promote the war effort is not unique to either the Iran-Iraq war or the current US war in Iraq. In fact, this sort of propaganda has probably been used by every government that ever waged a war.

Presumably, every mother who ever sent a son off to war would be proud of his service. French mothers were proud of their sons being sent off to kill Germans just as German mothers must have been proud of their sons being sent off to kill Frenchman. But certainly a mother’s pride is no substitute for a statesman’s judgment.

Wars still have to be justified on their merits. And all too often, the imagery of a mother proudly sending her son off to war is used to avoid that central and most important question for any statesman, in this case for the mother who would be a statesman – should a war be fought in the first place?

On this point, the criticism from Kamangeer gets stronger:

And then I wake the next morning and read that Sarah Palin is quoted as saying that the Iraq war is a "task that is from God."


Surely, if this snippet is accurate, then this mother who would be a statesman has not only dodged the question, but made the very asking of it into a form of blasphemy. Indeed, she was quoted by the associated press as having said just that:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told ministry students at her former church that the United States sent troops to fight in the Iraq war on a "task that is from God." ...


But subsequently the AP article softens it a bit with a slightly longer quotation.

“Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God," she said. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan."


Fortunately, the full video is available and bears a more careful viewing.



At about the 3:40 mark she begins to discuss the Iraq war, and her son’s upcoming deployment there. At that point she says the following:

Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan. So bless them with your prayers, your prayers of protection over our soldiers.


It should be noted that Mrs. Palin was speaking extemporaneously, and her sentence structure is such that one can’t properly quote a single sentence (much less a phrase) withoutthe possiblity of giving a misleading interpretation.
Her full point can’t be properly summed up as simply declaring the war in Iraq a “task from God”. Reading the fuller context, and hearing the inflection in her voice puts a rather different meaning on to it A more reasonable reading is that she is actually telling her audience to pray that the tasks which our national leaders give to our military should be tasks that are from God, or part of God’s plan.

This is, of course quite different. To pray that one’s national leaders act in a way which is consonant with God’s plan, or His will, (or as some would define “God’s will” as being according to His code of moral instruction) - this is very different than simply declaring a particular thing a “task that is from God”, as some have claimed.

Indeed, to pray that one’s national leaders act in accordance with God’s will is what anyone who loves his country and believes in God would do. It is also something that only the most militant and obnoxious of atheists could possibly complain about – either that or a militant partisan of the opposing party who is utterly lacking in a sense of fair-mindedness.


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