Friday, November 14, 2003

North, South, Transformative Defeat and the War in Iraq

I've been holding an email conversation with Gene Lyons about the Confederate flag flap and how it plays in the South. It is part of a more general conversation we have been having about Dean's prospects in the South. I don't have access to the first part of the conversation, but we got into a discussion about how Southerners are resentful of the way Northerners sometimes lord it over them. It occurred to me that part of Southern Pride might be based on Southern Insecurity. To which Gene replied:

To a degree, yes.

      It's not as if there's no reason for it.
When we lived in academic New England,
my wife was often patronized to her face
by people who would never dream of
insulting a black person or a foreigner
that way. Didn't help that she has very
mixed feelings about the "Southern
heritage" of her own. She mentioned
last night that she likes everything
John Edwards says, but can't stand
his accent. Go figure.

I think he is right that the insecurity is not without foundation. The South has been the butt of jokes for as long as I can remember. What do people think of when they think of Southerners? Boss Hogg and Gomer Pyle. How can northerners take the South seriously when their only exposure to it was Hee Haw? Perhaps what Dean and other Democrats need to do in order to reach out to Southerners is to tell their fellow Northerners to "cut the crap." The stereotyping goes in both directions and doesn't help either side.

Dean might be pretty good at this since he already has a lot of practice in criticizing his party.

I've also been thinking about how this relates to the bigger picture of what is going on in the world today. Specifically, the program of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). One of PNAC's doctrine is something called "transformative defeat". This is the idea that you can't protect yourself from an enemy until you get them to change at a core level. One of the best ways to do that, according to this doctrine is to crush them in as humiliating a fashion as possible and force them to realize that their current course of action will bring them nothing but misery. The defeat will "transform" them into a better people.

They like to cite Japan and Germany as examples of this principle. A full discussion of the flaws in this analogy is beyond the scope of this posting, but I will conced that, to a limited extent, its not entirely wrong, but it is in those limitations that the doctrine exposes its greatest flaws.

Perhaps the best illustration of these flaws is the relationship between the North and South. After all, what was the Civil War but a crushing humiliation of the South by the North? And what did that produce? (1) An insecure South that grasps onto symbols like the Confederate Flag as a way of re-asserting their "pride" and "heritage", and (2) an arrogant North that thinks it can say whatever it wants about the South since, after all, they won!

However, far from bringing about a "transformative defeat", the crushing of the South in the Civil War (and even more so during Reconstruction) just ingrained the prejudices on both sides of the line. We are still dealing with the consequences of this failure today.

And now we are trying to do the same thing in Iraq. As you might guess, I have my doubts that it will meet with any greater success.


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