Desperately Needed: A Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion

wizardofozThere are so many instructive comparisons between the film classic The Wizard of Oz and the presidency of George W Bush that it’s hard to settle on just one. Here’s a particular angle that I think deserves more attention.

Through memorable characters and adventures, The Wizard of Oz reminds us that too often we underestimate ourselves and fail to realize that we already possess the very qualities and virtues to which we aspire. The Scarecrow travels the Yellow Brick Road in the hope of obtaining a brain; at journey’s end he comes to realize that he had one all along. Similarly, the Tin Man wishes for a heart but ultimately learns that he was a compassionate woodsman from the start. And the Cowardly Lion heads to the Emerald City in pursuit of courage–yet he demonstrates his considerable valor along the way. All told, it’s an uplifting tale of unpresumptuous, accidental heroes who rise to the occasion in the face of adversity.

But now try to imagine an altered script, an upside-down Oz where the key players, rather than underestimating themselves, instead make outrageous and false claims (to themselves and to others) about their intelligence, compassion, and courage. And also try to imagine that over the course of their own harrowing journey these travelers learn…well, absolutely nothing. Of course, sadly this re-write doesn’t require much of an imagination at all. This is the Oz rendition that’s been playing in Washington and around the world since Bush, Cheney, and their neocon entourage took center stage. Although many examples are available, let’s focus on the Iraq War alone.

The Scarecrow’s Brain. Intelligence is multi-faceted. It includes good judgment in developing goals, competence in their strategic execution, foresight in anticipating the consequences of one’s actions, and adaptability in the face of unexpected circumstances and challenges. But the reckless decision to invade Iraq (where no WMD were ever found), the inadequate plans for winning the peace after “shock and awe,” the innumerable blunders in addressing the growing strife and violence that have beset post-Saddam Iraq, and the latest unwelcome and ineffective “surge” of U.S. troops in Baghdad constitute overwhelming evidence that any Bush administration claims to “having a brain” have been little more than pretense and bluster.

The Tin Man’s Heart. Compassion also takes many forms. But it always involves both the capacity to understand and “feel” the pain of others and the desire to alleviate their unwarranted suffering if at all possible. This empathy often requires tolerance toward and appreciation of those who are different from us, because otherwise we can’t really imagine what it’s like to “walk a mile in their shoes.” And certainly the truly compassionate go to great lengths to avoid being the actual perpetrators of harm. In their war in Iraq the President and his allies have fallen short on all of these counts, as demonstrated by insufficient regard for tens of thousands of civilian casualties (at least), inadequate concern for the physical and psychological well-being of our soldiers and their families, and the condoning or encouragement of torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

The Cowardly Lion’s Courage. Courage too finds expression in a variety of different ways. Often it is revealed in those who elevate the truth and who embrace the risks and burdens of self-sacrifice for a noble cause over the temptations of self-interest. Frequently it can also be witnessed in those who step forward and acknowledge their mistakes–despite potential adverse personal consequences for doing so–and then change course in order to make amends. Bravery never appears as bullying, deceit, foolhardiness, or the shirking of responsibility. Thus, the Bush team fails the courage test as well. In promoting and prosecuting the war they’ve offered falsehoods whenever the truth has been “inconvenient,” they’ve passed the buck and hidden behind excuses whenever strategic or tactical errors have been uncovered, and they’ve refused to abandon their seemingly unquenchable warmongering ambitions despite catastrophic costs and massive domestic and international opposition.

Near the end of the original The Wizard of Oz, having gained self-awareness the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion become the newly appointed wise, caring, and courageous rulers of the Emerald City (and Dorothy returns to Kansas). In an ideal conclusion to the upside-down version, Bush, Cheney, and their dwindling supporters would come to the realization that they sorely lack the intelligence, the compassion, and the courage about which they have often boasted–and dramatic, constructive policy changes would quickly follow. Regrettably, of these two endings, one seems far more fantasy-like than the other.

As an addendum, in a recent online video entitled Resisting the Drums of War I specifically examine the Bush administration’s warmongering appeals and how to counter them. It’s available HERE.


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