09/03/2008 11:18 am ET Updated May 25, 2011


When five women in Pakistan were shot and buried alive by village elders for choosing their own husbands, the media referred to the atrocities as "honor killings". Obviously it was the 'honor' of men that was being upheld, i.e., their ability to control and subjugate women, who have none.

'Honor' has been used for centuries as an excuse for every kind of brutality, every silly feud, every absurd bit of macho posturing. For what does 'honor' come down to, after all, but masculine pomposity and pretension? What is 'honor' but locker-room boasting and street-gang touchiness? 'Honor' is a euphemism for ego.

The most serious cases of preserving 'honor' (or 'face' in the Asian version) occur at the national level, where claims of national 'honor' lead to games of international chicken, and millions of lives may be lost because some national leader was afraid of 'backing down' and 'looking weak'.

Because of 'honor' for example, acts of statesmanship, like JFK's agreement to pull missiles from Turkey, which resolved the Cuban missile crisis, had to be hidden from the American public and put off for six months so the whole event could be defined by the media and the government as an eyeball contest in which "the other fella blinked", preserving American 'honor'.

Will we ever grow up? Will we ever stop treating international crises as gang-war standoffs?

When Serbia under Milosevic tried to hang on to Kosovo we accused it of genocide, bombed the living daylights out of it, and recognized Kosovo's independence.

When Georgia's nationalistic nutcake, Saakashvili, invaded South Ossetia, which had declared independence (a move supported by an overwhelming majority of the population) and tried to annex the region by force, Russia accused it of genocide and invaded it in its own heavy-handed style.

Our response to this was to talk as if Putin were Hitler, send battle ships into Russia's backyard, and mutter about the return of the Cold War. And our media acted as if Georgians were the victims of the war they rashly started themselves.

All this is about 'turf', of course. We set a 'dangerous precedent' in supporting Kosovo's independence--half the nations of the world have regions that would like to break away, and all those nations fear being diminished the way the Soviet Union was.

Meanwhile NATO is trying to swell its ranks by gobbling up Russia's neighbors--a continuation of the old Cold War 'containment' policies of the 1950s. But it's the height of absurdity to imagine you could woo nations that were once part of the Soviet Union and not have Russia react as it has. If we had a quarrel with Mexico, we wouldn't consider it any of Russia's business, and wouldn't expect to see Russian warships appearing in the Gulf.

We have only to look at a map to see who's aggressive. We're fighting two unprovoked wars (Osama Bin Laden, after all, is a Saudi, and most of his followers were from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) thousands of miles from our borders. Russia fought one in reaction to having a friendly neighbor and satellite invaded.

But the United States has to throw our (rapidly diminishing) weight around the entire world to preserve our 'honor'.

Talk about an inflated ego. If we want to feel good about ourselves, how about concentrating on the things we can really be proud of?