One exhibit among many in such an inquest might be James Bowman's American Spectator essay lambasting John McCain as a man lacking in the loyalty department. While I'm scarcely a fan of John McCain, the ambitious politician, questioning his loyalty and, by necessary implication, as loyalty is a component of honour, his integrity as well, strikes me as desperate and desperately misguided.
In context, the accusation is even worse:
But there are other parts of his record that bring him closer to the news media and (not, of course, coincidentally) the Democratic Party's presidential candidates in his understanding of honor. For such people, as Mr. Stephens says, "if it means anything at all to them, it seems to be mainly in the sense of the good opinion of America's traditional friends, many of whom opposed the Iraq venture from the start."
As an example, I would mention the countenance and the credibility that the senator's animadversions on "torture" by the Bush administration give to America's enemies, for whom the t-word is an invaluable propaganda tool. An essential element of honor has always been loyalty, and loyalty has never been Senator McCain's strongest suit. Rather, he has always been proud of being a "maverick" -- a man who likes to be thought of as one whose friends and comrades are less important to him than his own exquisite conscience.
So, John McCain is somehow lacking in loyalty because he has occasionally sought the counsel and opinions, the approbation of those skeptical of The War, the present Holy of Holies for the GOP - this, despite his ill-considered averral that America might have to remain in Iraq for a century in order to see the strategy through to its conclusion. This is baffling; or, rather, would be baffling were it not for the way warmongering has degraded conservative political discourse.
And, of course, McCain must be lacking in loyalty because his opposition to torture somehow impugns the dignity of the armed services and the nation, and lends "countenance and credibility" to the propaganda of our enemies. Bowman has inverted the realities in play here. Requiring, or even suggesting, that members of our armed services and intelligence agencies torture detainees and captives impugns both their dignity and that of the nation, inasmuch as there is nothing honourable in acts of torture, let alone those performed on helpless captives. Torture degrades those who order it, those who countenance it, those who play postmodernist with its definitions, and those who perform it, even more so than those who are subjected to it - this, because the former deprave themselves, while the latter endure, unwillingly, a degradation which does not necessarily touch the soul. And, finally, the policy and practice of torture itself lends "countenance and credibility" to the claims of our enemies. What is done in our name does not become not-torture merely because its moral reality is pointed out by self-interested jihadists who themselves engage in the practice; and it does not become not-torture merely because it is adverse to American interests for it to be torture.
A second exhibit might be a report issued by a panel of five senior military strategists, in which it is recommended that a nuclear first-strike option remain an integral aspect of Western strategic planning. In a luridly Orwellian turn of phrase, the authors asseverate that
"The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction."
To be fair, I might be getting ahead of myself by associating this lunacy with the political right; perhaps this is not a current preoccupation in those precincts. Then again, what were all those conjectural analyses of the logic of escalation about, five and six years ago, if not that we might be pressed to the point of using nuclear weapons to solve certain problems definitively? We must contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction in order to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. This is discourse on the level of, say, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it", or "We had to risk killing the children in order to save them." Being translated, it essentially claims that we must be prepared to commit atrocities in order to prevent atrocities from being committed, because some atrocities are OK while others are not.
God save us from utilitarians with cattleprods, waterboards, and nuclear weapons.