Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Offended by a Sketch

Islamists all up and down the map are offended by a picture in a Danish newspaper.

Isaac's got the goods.

It's not the bomb-head that's offensive. It's that someone -- anyone -- drew a picture of Muhammad. That's idolatry. Three guesses what the punishment for that is in Islam.

Why We Fight

All wars ultimately are competitions for power, but knowing that gets you no closer to understanding them.

All wars begin for specific causes, but knowing this, too, brings you no closer to understanding them. In 1946, at a beautiful society wedding in London, a Tory MP remarked to Lady "Emerald" Cunard how quickly life had returned to normal. "After all," he said, gesturing to the crowded room, "this is what we have been fighting for."

"What," she replied, "are they all Poles?"

The MP was closer to the truth. Germany had gone to war to expand its power, to impose its will on other nations; Britain had gone to war to protect itself from imposition. Few people held foremost in their minds at the war's end that five years of horror had been precipitated by the British treaty commitment to defend Poland from its totalitarian neighbor to the west.

In fact, part of the cost of victory to Britain was seeing Poland given up at war's end to be mauled by its totalitarian neighbor to the east. Churchill bitterly rued that fate and worked to stop it, but he had little power to do so and few others outside Poland regarded the situation with much concern.

To comprehend wars, some intermediate range of vision works best. The Greeks, as usual, discovered the golden mean. Thucydides, who was both a historian and a veteran, wrote that people go to war for "fear, profit, and honor" (deos, ophelia, and timê). It's almost exactly the same formula Jefferson hit on more than 2,100 years later when he wrote that the American rebels about to wage war on Britain, "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Profit and fear seem pretty straightforward. People go to war out of a sense of fear of becoming isolated, impotent, and dominated by adversaries. The search for security inevitably is a search for power. Modern European nations, outwardly pacifistic, try to bind the greater power of America in international laws and protocols. In doing so, they enhance their own. All the while they denounce American power, they play the game as well, in their own way.

Thucydides' dictum was affirmed for modern times in Donald Kagan's "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace" (1995). Kagan, with an eye to the complexities of modern international relations, translates ophelia with the broad and politic term "interest," but don't be fooled. The Greek also can be translated as "profit, advantage, benefit," and in some cases "spoil, booty."

But what of honor? It seems a quaint notion today. Yet Kagan says that, of the three, honor perhaps is the most urgent motive.

If we take honor to mean fame, glory, renown, or splendor, it may appear applicable only to an earlier time. If, however, we understand its significance as deference, esteem, just due, regard, respect, or prestige we will find it an important motive of nations in the modern world as well. Honor, in these senses, is desirable in itself, but it also has practical importance in the competition for power. When it is on the wane, so, too, is the power of the state losing it, and the reverse is also true. Power and honor have a reciprocal relationship. It is obvious that when a state's power grows, the deference and respect in which it is held are likely to grow as well. But the opposite is also true: even when its material power appears to remain the same, it really declines if in some manner these attitudes toward it change. This happens most frequently when a state is seen to lack the will to use its material power.

Kagan says practical utility and promise of material gain and even naked ambition for power play a relatively limited role in sparking wars, but often "some aspect of honor is decisive." The word "honor" itself rarely is heard any more in international contexts, but it lurks under words like "resolve" and "credibility."

The whole modern (post-1944) history of France is incomprehensible without reference to honor, specifically to the French need to maintain the fiction that their country remains in the first tier of world powers. And this is understandable; to accept demotion would be an irrecoverable slight to honor and a consequent reduction in France's power to protect itself, or influence world affairs. France will in one moment taunt the United States, and the next turn around and waggle its nuclear fig leaf in the direction of the Teheran mullahs. As de Gaulle once put it, "France cannot be France without grandeur."

Marxist anti-war rhetoric obscured the importance of honor in America's failed bid to create and sustain an independent South Vietnam. A communist victory in South Vietnam would made no dent in America's material interests, nor would it make American measurably less secure. Johnson and Kennedy both knew this. But once committed, our honor was at stake. Bin Laden and his ilk certainly understand this; they continually taunt America's allies in the Middle East with the image of America going back on its word and abandoning its ally in Southeast Asia.

Some American historians, but too few, have noted the central role of honor in sparking the American Civil War. The North, rabidly anti-black and contemptuous of the runaway slaves that seeped into its cities and raised the crime rate, nonetheless irrationally resisted the Fugitive Slave Laws from the 1830s through the 1850s, and risked open conflict with the South to protect its legal institutions from being forced to participate in slave recaptures. What but honor motivated that? And the South felt its honor taunted and reviled constantly by the Northern abolitionist politicians. What was the whole Civil War but the Brooks-Sumner caning incident writ large?

"The surrender of life is nothing to sinking down into acknowledgment of inferiority," John C. Calhoun once wrote. De Gaulle, if he had read that, would have nodded in agreement.

America's wars in the 19th century fall into the category of causes compiled by Thucydides. The felt need to preserve national honor played key roles in the War of 1812 and the war against the Barbary Coast pirates. The Mexican War had little to do with honor, but a great deal to do with ophelia -- booty. This also motivated the War of 1812, in part, though the outcome obscures the fact that the War Hawks of that year considered Canada easy pickings.

Something new emerged in the 20th century in America's wars, however: some new motive quality not anticipated by Thucydides. It is rare in history; in trying to find earlier examples, I can only think of France after the Revolution. You may call this quality "muscular benevolence," or "violent charity" or "idealism."

It emerged first, I think, in the Spanish-American war, though that war also featured aspects of honor ("Remember the Maine") and profit. But intermingled with the various motives was a desire to drive the last vestiges of the last colonial powers from the New World, and set people free. If nothing else, the war revealed the potential of the generally isolationist and anti-imperial American people to be persuaded that freedom was a gift they had the ability and duty to offer to other peoples. That the war ended in the tragedy of the Philippines occupation was an early lesson in the gulf between ideals and realities.

With that war, America emerged on the world scene. Given America's surging military power, and the nature of modern industrial warfare, America's isolationism was doomed. There was no turning back. Europeans recognized this before Americans did. French commentator André Tardieu noted in 1908 that the United States "is seated at the table where the great game is played, and it cannot leave it."

Americans clung to the isolationism that was their nation's unique legacy because America was, well, isolated. Geography had granted us the remarkable luxury of even fighting a civil war without foreign interference. But by the early 20th century America's leaders began to realize that day was past. Two answers emerged to what American power might become on the international stage.

One was represented by Teddy Roosevelt. It was self-interest, realistic, unromantic; the foreign policy of the Panama Canal, the Great White Fleet, and the Big Stick. The United States would join the game and play by the rules already set by the European powers.

But such a strategy failed to convince essentially isolationist Americans to venture out into the cold, ugly world. It was an alien policy, against all the deeply absorbed warnings of Washington and other Founders against "foreign entanglements."

Woodrow Wilson, who embodied the alternative, also eventually realized that America could not hold aloof from the world, especially as World War I unleashed the horrific power of modern industrial warfare. But he based his foreign policy on American ideals and values. Instead of denying American exceptionalism, he embraced it and built it into his policy. Freedom and democracy were the gift of the gods to the American people, to be cultivated, and to be shared.

Explicitly eschewing selfish national interest, he sought peace without victory and international harmony in a compact of nations. I've written extensively about Wilsonian visions, and America in the Great War, here, and here, and here, and here. Europeans were openly contemptuous of his messianic zeal. And America, too, seemed unconvinced. After the war, the nation returned to its false isolationism.

The two visions of American power slumbered for a generation. When America went to war again, in 1941, it emerged at the pinnacle of the international power structure. Yet even then it tried to pull back into the 19th century cocoon. Wives of servicemen organized Bring Back Daddy clubs, and there was talk of impeachment in 1946 if Truman didn't demobilize fast enough.

Reality soon intruded and denied this fantasy. But it pulls strongly at us. In 1989, as the Cold War ended, the dream of isolationism again beckoned.

The growing dependence of America -- and especially of its key allies and trading partners -- on foreign oil put the material needs of ophelia at the center of our debates as they never had been before. Fear -- deos -- was the deterrent in the Cold War, but with the rise of Islamist terrorism and the spread of small but deadly weapons it has become the pretext for aggressive action. Honor -- the timê of Thucydides -- plays the central role it always has taken. And, as more thoughtful critics have noted, the Wilsonian vision allows America to enjoy the paradox of flexing its muscle while maintaining its faith in its own innocence.

American foreign policy and use of military force in the last 50 years can be understood in terms of the balance of these three ancient causes -- profit, fear, and honor -- along with the tensions between isolationism and Wilsonian idealism. The policies of Nixon and Kissinger, for instance, featured the cynical realism of Teddy Roosevelt wrapped in the noble mantle of Wilson.

Why did America go to war against Saddam Hussein in 2003? Clearly there was fear. We debate endlessly and frivolously how much the fear turned out to be justified. But the fact remains, no amount of intelligence about Iraq's weapons and controllinging force on Saddam's intentions would have been flawless so long as he remained in power. And in that gap between what we know and what we suspect, always would have been fear.

Clearly there was an awareness of the "profit" -- the riches of Iraq's oil. Despite the angry denunciations of "blood for oil," however, I think the worst the Americans can be accused of is intending to use Iraq's oil to pay for the war and the reconstruction, which hardly amounts to a crime against humanity. It didn't work, anyhow.

And clearly there was a question of national honor. Every day Saddam lived to murder and mock, to rape and preen, was felt as an affront to America. It must have been an especial affront to George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and many others in the administration who had failed to topple the dictator in 1991.

There was, indisputably, the Wilsonian ideal, embodied in the "neo-cons" and the liberal interventionists. There are Little Roosevelts in the mix, too, grumbling about the administration's failure to grasp the hard truths of Realpolitik. And there are triangluations of the positions: "high-minded realists," for instance, who stand apart from the self-appointed champions of global democracy but who recognize that a stated preference for liberty and justice can be a useful foreign policy tool in the fight against global terror.

And there is the primeval American isolationism, still clinging to 19th century fantasies, as an undertone in the world of the Cindy Sheehans and Michael Moores.

The world didn't change on Sept. 11, 2001, as much as we think it did. This is familiar terrain.

UPDATE: Via Villainous Company, this telling snippet from the Hugh Hewitt interview with Joel Stein, the infamous "do not support our troops" columnist:

HH: Do you honor the service that their son did?

JS: To honor the service their son...now this is a dumb question, but what do
you mean by honor? That's a word you keep using. I'm not entirely...maybe that's my problem. But I'm not entirely sure what you're...

No, you're not, are you?

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Defining 'Terrorist'

I often write here about the angry and odd political persuasions of many of my co-workers in the media. But it's not just on the job that I sometimes have to bite my tongue.

Members of my family flatly declare half the statesmen in American history to be terrorists. I suppose the other half escape censure only because my family can't remember their names. But this part of my family always is fuzzy on the details. It was asserted this weekend with the utmost certainty that Eisenhower ordered his CIA to topple the democratically elected government of Zimbabwe -- a country that never bore that name until a decade after Ike was dead, and which during his presidency was a self-governing colony under the British Crown known as Southern Rhodesia.

I generally say nothing during these interminable afternoons of agitprop. Just like at work -- what would be the point? In order to discuss or debate, you have to have a shaving of common ground to stand on -- like living on the same planet, where Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1979, not 1949 -- or having reasonably proximate definitions of "terrorist."

I have no idea what my family's definition of "terrorist" is, but obviously it's radically different from my own. And probably as fuzzy as their African history, because "terrorist" is a damned difficult word to define. Anyone who is going to write about it and assert opinions about it, though, owes it to himself and his audience to have a go at a definition. Here's my working definition, which is imperfect but which satisfies me for daily use:

TERRORIST: One who seeks to achieve a political end primarily by using violence against civilians and non-combatants, with the primary aim of creating a psychology of fear and an awareness of threat in the body of people the terrorist wishes to manipulate for the sake of the political goal.

This seems to me a fair start. When I read some people's attempts at definition, they seem to be carefully worded to group together only certain people or causes that the writer dislikes, and to exclude others he favors. Mine's not meant to be like that. It can include statesmen and military leaders. The Allied area bombing campaigns against German cities in World War II, for instance, fit the definition. The original "terrorists" -- the rulers of France during the Revolution -- are still included in my definition.

But attempts to define terrorism tend to run into the same problems. For instance, the restriction to civilian victims allows for slipperiness: The al Qaida cell that attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen were attacking an entirely military target, and thus were not behaving as terrorists by my definition, but I have no trouble thinking of them as terrorists, and they certainly behaved like it in other times and places without any conscious modification in their goals. Certainly their attempt against the Cole was not meant to scuttle the U.S. Navy, but to make the American people fear them. Some defenders of the Sept. 11 terrorists point out that the Pentagon was a "legitimate military target," but overlook the 64 passengers on American Airlines Flight 77, who were not. Nor were they collateral damage: the intent was to kill them spectacularly.

What about assassinations? An assassin who simply kills a politician to stop up his voice, or to avenge some perceived wrong, isn't being a terrorist. He's just an assassin. But if he kills with the intent of intimidating this leader's following, or discouraging any future leader from pursuing the course that ends in this killing, then that is a terrorist's motive. But how can you separate them in any one vicious mind?

Some people define terrorism to include property attacks. I chose not to. It's certainly true that the destruction of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe would have a crushing psychological effect on France, even if no one was killed in the process. But to include all property as potential targets of terrorism seems to be defining the word down too severely. I think "eco-terrorism" needs a new name and a new category.

"Primarily" and "primary" are key words in my definition. Some people deliberately omit any notion of intent, the better to paint all state violence -- and U.S. military action in particular -- as "terrorism." I find that disingenuous. Certainly a state military action can be terrorism. And to this day I cannot determine whether Sherman's march through Georgia had sufficient strategic military purpose, balanced against the intended psychological damage to the South, to escape the label "terrorism."

Terrorism has other characteristics, but they are secondary, not essential to its definition. For instance, its chief practitioners tend to be utopian, ideological, and religious.

It is least effective against totalitarian regimes. The Nazi terror in Russia actually backfired, and turned the Russian people, many of whom at first welcomed their release from the Soviet yoke, into partisan opponents of the Germans who ensured their defeat in Russia. The Allied bombing of German cities, meanwhile, made no appreciable difference to the end of the war. There was no way for the terrorized populace to express itself against its rulers. The Nazi V-rocket terror attacks on London in 1944, however, almost broke the will of the British.

Another inevitable result of terrorism is that by nature it depends on the free flow of information, and especially media images, to give it strength. It exploits the media as a disease exploits the respiratory system.

* * *

Marc at American Future has an excellent post on the legal and legislative context of the NSA wiretaps issue. I recommend it, and I can add nothing to the thoughtful work he's done there. But he introduced his post with two examples of recent words from the kind of Americans who were made uncomfortable by Sept. 11, I suppose because it revealed starkly that there are organizations with the will and the ability to kill great numbers of us, and, by golly, defending ourselves with force might be the order of the day after all.

One is a blogger named Glenn Greenwald, who uses a comparison Marc correctly identifies as "specious:"

The total number of Americans killed by Islamic terrorists in the last 5 years ? or 10 years ? or 20 years ? or ever ? is roughly 3,500, the same number of deaths by suicide which occur in this country every month.

Must we go through this again? Yes, and the number of college students killed by National Guards at Kent State was less than the number that dies that year from alcohol overdoses. And more blacks in the South in the 1920s died from food poisoning than from lynching. Yes and all those Jews incinerated at Auschwitz would be dead by now of old age anyhow. So these things weren't real problems, right? Just exaggerations trumped up for some political purpose.

That people are foolish enough to write this way shows they haven't really thought about terrorism. One of the secondary characteristics of it is the indignity: The indignity of being its victim. The soldier in battle kills you before you can kill him. The mugger may kill you for your money, to the terrorist, you are irrelevant. You have nothing he wants but your life. It's been noted before that there's a perverted quality of art to terrorism; it contains many elements of theater, and the essential players are artist, audience, and medium. The dead are just props. The essential connection is between the terrorist and the audience who will be psychologically traumatized.

Terrorism's victims are taken to death with full human deliberation and will and craft. But they are essentially taken at random. Sometimes, even it is their innocence that dooms them. They cannot negotiate release, and nothing they could have done in their lives would avoid this outcome. They are not hostages in any sense. They are living corpses waiting to be arranged for the camera in the most dramatic poses. It is the ultimate objectification of human life.

Yet idiots persist in comparing the number of humans slain by terrorist hands to, say, the number of victims of lightning strikes.

The other quote Marc pulls is from the historian Joseph J. Ellis, who has problems getting a grip on the truth even of his own life. Ellis opines on the significance of 9/11:

... where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

Now, America, why is this man a revered historian? The burning of the wretched architecture of Washington in 1814 was hardly a nation-threatening calamity; a good courthouse fire in a populous county would have dome more damage to the republic. As for the rest of it, he mostly compares entire wars and movements to a single day -- Sept. 11. Sept. 11 is not to be compared to World War II, its proper comparison is Pearl Harbor. If you want to compare anything to World War II, you compare it to what has come after Sept. 11 -- the War on Terrorism, or whatever you choose to call it.

I can't lay off "the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union," either. That's barely acceptable in undergraduate papers. The Southern secession of 1860-61 ended the old union under the Constitution of 1787. The Northern and Western states still formed an American union, however. The flag was still flying from Maine to California, the Congress still met, the courts still functioned. The South never sought to destroy the Union. It just wanted to leave it. Then the North put up a fight over tariff revenues in Southern ports, and the South put up a fight over federal property in Southern states, and then the Civil War began.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Council Winners

I've been a laggard and failed to post the results of the most recent Watchers' Council awards. Part of that you may write off to natural modesty, because my overlong reflection on the civil rights movement was voted first among the council member submissions. I do think it was a good piece and it reflected a lot of painful thinking (some would say all my thinking deserves that adjective), but as blog posts go, it was on the long side. Thanks to the council for taking the time to read it.

Second place was a recollection of both the Challenger shuttle disaster and Ronald Reagan, who was at his finest in that tragic time. I met him once, too, under very different circumstances. I'll have to write that someday, if I haven't already. The trouble with having run a blog for any length of time is, like some demented great aunt, I start to forget which stories I've already told here.

Among non-council posts, first place went to an excellent view of the Iran nuclear crisis at Winds of Change. I know this one got my vote. I also voted for the second-place finisher in this category, a look at the 'pact of Omar' in light of modern Malaysia.

The Pact of Omar is the historical document that stipulates the restrictions on non-Muslim peoples (those that are allowed to live) in a Muslim-ruled nation. Its history is somewhat cloudy, and it may not actually be Omar's, but it has been around for centuries and is upheld as the basic template for this situation. It makes sobering reading, even if you allow the apologists to convince you it simply enshrines the sort of restrictions that any dominant religion might place on a subordinate one in those days. After all, the early Christians smashed the pagan idols outright and buried their shrines under churches. But then, we're not living in the eighth century anymore, and yet there still are places where these rules are in force.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hamas Hangover

Dude, you mean we WON?

Fuckfuckfuckfuck, what do we do now? Demand a recount! Hide those rocket launchers, you idiot. And for Allah's sake get out there and kidnap a professor or a European or somebody who knows dick about governing. Heads will roll for this, I swear to you.

"Somewhat Further"

A Google search for "McCarthyism" yields "about 1,970,000" hits.

A Google search for "Soviet gulag" yields "about 550,000" hits -- roughly one fourth as many, and including, of course, many references to accusations that Americans run "Soviet-style gulags" in Guantanamo or Romania, or you-name-it.

One wonders if there's not a balance problem here. The British historian Gregor Dallas, not particularly pro-American in any sense, might wonder, too:

America enshrined in its history books the years of 'McCarthyism,' during which two major Soviet spies suffered rather unpleasant deaths and a few university professors and film directors temporarily lost their jobs, then returned to write their books. Post-war hysteria went somewhat further with America's ally, the Soviet Union. The victims can be counted in millions. ["1945," p.585]


Duel Purpose

When I walk through the bookstore and see the shelf labeled "political science" full of titles that scream "Traitor!" "Liar!" "Stealing Your Country!" "Ruining America!" I wish someone would revive duelling.

Why not? The national hackery is sadly overgrown and needs weeding. What if you couldn't just utter any sort of slander or insult without suffering any consequences. When you insulted someone you had better have thought it through beforehand and be pretared to eat your words dishonorably or defend them.

Oh, calm down; it's just a dream. But I do now have some feeling for the 19th century's dueling apologists: As vicious as dueling was, it wasn't as bad for the nation as the flood of public calumny that flowed after it was outlawed. Charles Gibson wrote, "The code preserved a dignity, justice and decorum that have since been lost. The present generation will think me barbarous but I believe that some lives lost in protecting the tone of the bar and the press, on which the Republic itself so largely depends, are well spent."

At the very least, it would encourage the liberal commentators to get acquainted with firearms, which would perhaps bring them a little closer to a segment of America now invisible to them.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Arab Joke

No, no, a joke by Arabs, and a good one.

[Hat tip, Tigerhawk]

Welcome to Eighth Grade

Hmph. According to these folks, my blog is written on an eighth-grade reading level.

But I can't be insulted, because it's a computer algorithm, not a personal assessment. If you have a blog or a Web site, check it out. It's kind of fun in a bored rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing to do kind of way.

Here's my breakdown:

  • Average words per Sentence 13.96
  • Percentage of word with three or more syllables 14.71%
  • Gunning Fog Index 11.47

According to the site, my Gunning Fog Index is roughly the same as the "Wall Street Journal's." That's higher than "Time" and "Newsweek" (10) but below "The Times" and "The Guardian" (14). I bet I make fewer factual errors and have fewer typos than "The Guardian," but no credit for that.

On the "Flesch Reading Ease" I score a 61.37

"The result is an index number that rates the text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Authors are encouraged to aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70. "

My "Flesch-Kincaid Grade" is 8.17

"The result is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level. Like the Gunning-Fog index, it is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. Negative results are reported as zero, and numbers over twelve are reported as twelve."

So, like mid-October of eighth grade.

Specter on Spying

The link, alas, seems to be down for now, but Marc at American Future had posted copies of the letter Sen. Arlen Specter sent to AG Gonzales with some very pointed questions about the NSA spying issue.

As many have pointed out, there's no slam-dunk case here, either way, and it involves points of constitutional law that are too deep for most of us to activate in a snap judgement. It also involves big picture issues of presidential powers in wartime that require a historical perspective.

None of which stops people from going batshit about impeachment or treason, of course. But when Specter has a question about it, I have a question. I want the answers he wants before I decide.

Over the years, I've been able to watch Specter at closer range than most of you. He used to visit our editorial offices at least once a year for a chat. He was prickly and arrogant, but smart. He knew his issues and he knew his state. And even when I was a liberal independent I admired many of his positions, even if I found him personally off-putting. That's OK, I'd rather have arrogant and intelligently capable in the Senate than warm and squishy.

Now, though, he seems to be having his finest hour, and it comes with -- perhaps because of -- the shadow of mortality hanging over him. For the first time since 1980, I'm actually not ashamed to say, outside the small circle of trusted friends, that I think Arlen's a smart Republican and I'm glad he's my senator.

As for my other Senator, I've never cast a vote his way and I have less inclination to do so now than ever before.


The Greatest March

I've been thinking about this since the Martin Luther King holiday. What was the greatest Civil Rights march of all time?

My pick is the hundred-thousand-strong March on Washington of July 1, 1941. It broke down more doors for black Americans than any single event in modern history, and it reversed two generations of hardening racism in the United States.

Because it never happened.

It all begins with Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979), a Florida native who moved to New York in hopes of being a Shakespearean actor but ended up a full-time civil rights agitator. He paved the way for Martin Luther King Jr. in every important regard.

In 1925 Randolph was chosen to head the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids, a union of Pullman car workers. If you're familiar with the America of those times, you'll realize that this was an all-black union. Randolph never worked on a Pullman car a day in his life. That's why he was chosen to head the union: He was someone the company couldn't punish by firing him.

In 1940, America was gearing up for war. People today tend to forget this; we have been taught to think of Pearl Harbor as a sneak attack against a nation slumbering in peace. But Roosevelt had already begun to build up the military, and he had instituted a draft. What made Pearl Harbor such a surprise is that the war we expected to fight was against Germany.

Yet pacifist and isolationist tendencies ran deep in America, as did antipathy to the British and the Soviets -- the two powers then in the field against Hitler. Roosevelt knew he would have a difficult time selling the coming war to the American people, as Wilson did in 1917. He would have to frame it as a moral crusade, a clash of civilizations, or rather, a contest between democracy and despotism (pay no attention to those Soviet purges).

Enter Asa Randolph. As the federal government began to spend millions on defense, in a nation still crippled by the Depression, Randolph went to work to end racial discrimination in the defense industry and the armed forces. Perhaps it was his theatrical background that led him to the notion of a mass march on Washington, D.C., which was booming in the build-up to war. He proposed such a tactic in December 1940. The NAACP and the New Negro Alliance and the black churches got behind it, and soon there was talk of 100,000 black Americans demonstrating in front of Congress and the White House against discrimination on government-financed jobs.

There never had been such an event in American history. It was the idea of it that sparked fear in Roosevelt and his cabinet. What would happen? One thing was certain; it would be reported around the world, at just the time America was building its case for being a society superior to the totalitarian Nazi order that Jesse Owens had humiliated in 1936.

"What will they think in Berlin?" government officials asked.

Randolph was summoned to White House and asked to call it off. He refused. Roosevelt called him back and asked him what it would take to change his mind. Randolph asked for an executive order prohibiting racial discrimination in defense plants. Roosevelt agreed, and the march was called off.

Executive Order 8802 was issued June 25, 1941. It forbid discrimination by race, creed, color, or national origin in any defense plant with federal contracts. "[I]t was the first presidential order protecting blacks since Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863" [Gregor Dallas, "1945," p.217]. Roosevelt created a new agency -- the Fair Employment Practices Committee -- to see that it was enforced.

The defense jobs were open to black Americans. This helped spark the mass exodus of blacks out of the South that changed America. It not only directly led to the birth and growth of a black middle class, but it also sparked a severe white backlash in Northern and Western states that had till then kept their black populations small and dispersed. Within a few years, brutal race riots had broken out in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities. The Civil Rights Movement became a national crisis and a national cause.

Six years later, after the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1947, Randolph demanded that the government integrate the armed forces. He founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation and urged young men, both black and white, to "refuse to cooperate with a Jim Crow conscription service." Threatened with widespread civil disobedience and needing the black vote in his 1948 re-election campaign, President Harry Truman on July 26, 1948, ordered an end to military discrimination "as quickly as possible."

Eventually, threats were not enough, and the civil rights leaders began to march and protest in fact. At first, presidents like Kennedy panicked and tried to stop the marches. But eventually they realized they could survive them. The marches led by King were the high point of the movement, but it seems since then that each one has been less effective, less feared. They've become almost as toothless as annual holiday float parades.

The power of the threat turned out to be greater than the muscle of the reality. But the marches continue. Marching and protesting is a fixed fact, but to what end? Too many of the people who claim King's mantle seem to regard marches as goals, not tactics. Randolph never seems to have forgotten to keep his eyes on the prize, not the march.

The threat of a domestic civil rights protest was especially potent when America was on the brink of war, and was wrapped up in its sense of itself as a morally superior nation -- confronted with the Nazis under Roosevelt or the Soviet empire under Kennedy. In fact, the periods of history when America takes its virtues most seriously are those when it is most ripe for social justice movements to effect change. Progressives, rather than pooh-poohing Americans' sense of exceptionalism, ought to be encouraging it -- then encouraging us to live up to the ideal.

They would take a tip from Asa Randolph if they knew what was good for them or cared about results more than marches.

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Touch Black

It's the anti-war left's Miranda card: "The Islamists have legitimate grievances against American hegemony and imperialism, but their violent tactics are not a legitimate response."

You lay it down at the start of the argument, and it innoculates you against all charges of abetting the terrorists. You don't even have to say it like you mean it. Just so long as you've made it part of the record, you can use it like a magic shield.

In fact, it's likely to be the only time you mention Islamists at all: The whole focus of everything else that spills from your lips is a hyper-active effort to paint a twisted, perverted image of America's history and role in the world, dribbling facts on the canvas like Jackson Pollock.

But even allowing "legitimate grievances" (and I don't consider "America shouldn't rule the world; we should" to be a legitimate grievance), the fact is, Islamists have chosen violent tactics, and begun to deploy them effectively against us. The debate we're having is, "how should we respond?" Going back in time and undoing the previous 40 years of history isn't an option. It's like responding to the shelling of Fort Sumter by criticizing the Missouri Compromise.

The Hard Questions

Do we have the fortitude for this?

In a rational, historically aware country, U.S. leaders would have told Americans that the attack on Zawahiri was facilitated by U.S. intelligence officers and Special Forces who risked their lives to gather intelligence that seemed to fix Zawahiri in a specific place at a specific time. Because Washington’s most important duty is to protect Americans, they would have said, we acted on the best information available and, so to speak, let 'er rip. Unfortunately, we missed Zawahiri, but we killed four of his fighters and will keep trying to get him and bin Laden. As for the dead Pakistanis, they are foreigners not Americans and we have no responsibility to protect them. And, in any event, they were about to serve up sautéed goat steaks and curry to one of America’s most dangerous enemies. The lesson all Pakistanis should take from the incident is that we are not concerned with the lives of Zawahiri’s abettors, that they were lucky the village was not hit by B-52s, and that next time they may not be so fortunate.

Such a public articulation would have been neither callus nor irresponsible; it just would have been true. We are engaged in war against Islamic militants who fight as insurgents. These men wear no uniforms, and live -- and hide -- among a population in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan that overwhelmingly supports them because the insurgents are their coreligionists and because they are attacking the United States. The current problem for America is not last week’s near-miss on Zawahiri, but that there have been so few attacks on Zawahiri and bin Laden. Frankly, from an intelligence perspective, the more violence, the better chance to collect quality intelligence. Frequent, deadly bombings -- even if not always totally effective -- make the enemy nervous, force him to move about, and stimulate chattiness as he communicates electronically about his location and status. Our ability to collect intelligence pin-pointing the enemy increases exponentially when he is talking and moving. Thus, even a near-miss is a valuable stimulus to collection.

Is that who we are? The author makes the point that that's who we were -- as recently as World War II. The Greatest Generation had the greatest disregard for dead civilians in the enemies' homelands. The author, like Sherman, like Patton, is a realist, concerned with military goals and legitimate interests of the United States, not with neo-con pipe dreams of spreading freedom.

We are at war against an enemy who is not only willing, but eager, to cause the greatest mayhem conceivable among our civilian population, and who proudly refuses to distinguish soldiers from non-combatants -- who in fact prefers to kill non-combatants.

We are at war against an enemy who has no battlefield strategy except hit-and-run harrassment, but who has a long-term goal of wearing down American morale and will to resist, of waiting for the inevitable fissures in a free society to weaken us, then to bring us down with a few hard, vicious, well-placed blows.

We are at war against an enemy embedded in a people who mostly would prefer to live at peace, as all people do, but who have been steered by generations of bullies and bigots and brutes -- some of whom we aided when it suited us -- to trust only the strong, to respect only the most vicious, and to take the side of him who shows most determination to triumph.

Given that, ask yourself the tough question: Is it wise to wage such a war with deliberate half-measures? To announce in advance that certain options are simply not acceptable, because they are too violent? The world constantly berates us for being the only nation that has used atomic weapons. Yet the world behaves as though it knows we're merely a zoo lion, not the red-in-tooth-and-claw nuclear tiger it scolds us for being. Otherwise they'd be less provoking, or more determined to build up a coalition against us.

Read bin Laden. Read al-Zarqawi. This is a jihad. It is based on a people's belief in the unconquerable power of their religion and their god. It is not a war between nations. It is a war between a nation, on the one hand, and on the other an ideology, a faith.

Consider the Tancredo option, in all its horror. "If you fulfill your promise to use a major WMD -- a chemical or biological or nuclear weapon -- on an American city and cause tens of thousands of casualties, we will, after a 24 hour warning, destroy Mecca." Strategists know you don't have to actually do it. The effective weapon is the one that your enemy believes you will use, and consequently is afraid to call your bluff.

Is the notion of "humane war" an illusion foisted on us by our own hubris about our military might? We can break nations easily. But in a death-struggle with a jihad, the outcome is much in doubt. Is it really wise to go to such a war and refuse to consider all options, all possibilities?

And if this isn't who we are, or who you wish us to be, then how do we win a war against Islamist terrorism? [Pacifists and appeasers may skip this question and go on to the next section.]

Carnival of the Etymologies

A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors"

I've been reading some fascinating excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical. His topic is love:

"Today, the term 'love' has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words. ... We speak of love of country, love of one's profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love of neighbor and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness."

According to the BBC, Deus Caritas Est was written by the Pope in his native German, then translated into Latin, and is to be published in Latin and six other key languages. The BBC adds, "the publication is thought to have been delayed by translation problems."

Not surprising! The encyclical explores the topic from a Church perspective that is rooted in Greek language -- the original language of the New Testament -- where there are four distinct words for "love." Few modern languages have such a collection of words, and none of them breaks down "love" quite the way the Greeks did. Yet this is the central theme of the Pope's document.

English love, for instance, can refer to everything from the most exalted feeling of friend for friend, or to a woman's attachment to her cat. It can mean the spiritual relationship between a nun and Christ, or a couple of teenagers down in the basement rec room on a Friday night.

The word is Old English lufu, which had a similar wide application -- "love, affection, friendliness." It had some relatives in adjectives in older Germanic languages (Old Frisian liaf, German lieb, Gothic liufs "dear, beloved"), but it is not found elsewhere as a noun, except in Old High German luba and German Liebe.

The Proto-Indo-European root is *leubh- "to care, desire, love," source of Latin lubet (later libet) "pleases," Sanskrit lubhyati "desires," Old Church Slavonic l'ubu "dear, beloved," and Lithuanian liaupse "song of praise."

Ancient Greek, however, distinguished four different kinds of love: eran "to feel sexual love," phileo "have affection for," agapao "have regard for, be contented with," and stergo, which was used especially of the love of parents and children or a ruler and his subjects.

The Pope focused on two of these, eros and agape (in the noun forms), which have a history in Church dogma, and which in modern use have come to be used for "carnal or sensual love" and "Christian love of one's fellow man."

"Nowadays, Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure 'sex,' has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity."

Eros also was the Greek god of love and carnal desire, and of course the word is the root of erotic. The word is of unknown origin. Agape is related to the verb agapan "greet with affection, love," which was used by early Christians for their "love feast" held in connection with the Lord's Supper. It, too, is of unknown origin.

In the Latin title, however, the Pope uses caritas, which in the Vulgate often is used as the translation of Greek agape. There was another Latin "love" word -- amor -- but it had a strong flavor of sexuality about it, and would have worked better as the equivalent of eros. The Vulgate also sometimes translated agape with Latin dilectio, a noun of action from diligere "to esteem highly, to love."

Latin caritas might be translated into Modern English as "costliness, esteem, affection." But it has come down into our language directly, on its own, via its accusative form caritatem, as charity (the initial "ch-" sound was acquired in Old French). Benevolence for the poor, was one of the expressions of agape, and the word now has this derivative sense in English.

The root of Latin carus "dear, valued" is Proto-Indo-European *karo-, a base that has produced words in other languages for "love" or "lover" in a much more erotic sense. In Sanskrit, for instance, it became Kama, the name of the Hindu god of love, and kamah "love, desire," the first element in Kama Sutra. In Germanic, the root became a noun *khoraz (feminine *khoron-), and yielded words for "prostitute," such as whore and Dutch hoer. In Gothic, the word is found only in the masculine, hors "adulterer, fornicator," and as a verb, horinon "to commit adultery."

According to the "Oxford English Dictionary:"

Wyclif and the Rhemish version regularly rendered the Vulgate dilectio by 'love,' caritas by 'charity.' But the 16th c. Eng. versions from Tindale to 1611, while rendering agape sometimes 'love,' sometimes 'charity,' did not follow the dilectio and caritas of the Vulgate, but used 'love' more often (about 86 times), confining 'charity' to 26 passages in the Pauline and certain of the Catholic Epistles (not in I John), and the Apocalypse .... In the Revised Version 1881, 'love' has been substituted in all these instances, so that it now stands as the uniform rendering of agape."

No wonder the Papal translators had fits.

The Pope does go on to address charity as a higher extension of eros-agape:

"...Love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her (the church) as ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. ... For the church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being."

These are not hard words to translate, but they are interesting ones.

Widow is Anglo-Saxon widewe, widuwe, from a common Proto-Indo-European word for "widow" (cf. German Witwe, Gothic widuwo, Sanskrit vidhava, Avestan vithava, Latin vidua, Old Church Slavonic vidova, Russian vdova, Old Irish fedb, Welsh guedeu).

The reconstructed source of it is an adjective, *widhewo, from a base *weidh- "to separate," which also is at the root of Sanskrit vidhuh "lonely, solitary," Persian beva, Greek eitheos "unmarried man;" Latin viduus "bereft, void," and the second element in di-videre "to divide." In English, it is related to with (which originally meant "against, opposite, toward," literally "more apart," but the sense shifted in Middle English to denote association, combination, and union).

Orphan is a word borrowed from Late Latin orphanus "parentless child," itself borrowed from Greek orphanos "orphaned," literally "deprived," from orphos "bereft."

Linguists have connected this to a root *orbho- that must have meant "bereft of father" and also "deprived of free status." It's one of those flashes of anthropological insight that the history of a language can suggest. The base would be *orbh- "to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another." Among the words used to reconstruct this are Hittite harb- "change allegiance," Latin orbus "bereft," Sanskrit arbhah "weak, child," Armenian orb "orphan," Old Irish orbe "heir," Old Church Slavonic rabu "slave," rabota "servitude" (source of robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa "heir," Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit "work," and Old English earfoð "hardship, suffering, trouble."

The Pope also invoked a social system that was central to the career of his predecessor:

"Marxism had seen world revolution and its preliminaries as the panacea for the social problem. ... This illusion has vanished. In today's complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalized economy, the church's social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the church."

Panacea entered English in the early 16th century. It came from Latin, where it referred to an herb (variously identified) that supposedly could cure any malady. The Romans took it from Greek panakeia, which literally means "cure-all" and is a compound of pan- "all" and akos "cure," from iasthai "to heal," a word of unknown origin which however forms the second element in geriatrics, pediatrics, etc. A native translation of the Latin word was created in English as heal-all.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Candyass Agnostic

Daniel C. Dennett has written a book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," that promotes the idea that religious devotion is a function of biology.

You can read an essay adapted from the book here. And there's a brief Q and A with Dennett on the occasion of the book's publication in the New York Times in which he comes off, in sound bytes, with distilled acerbicity: "Belief can be explained in much the way that cancer can. ... Our inability to turn off our people-seer and our people-hearer naturally turns into our hallucinations of ghosts, our sense that they are still with us. ... I certainly don't believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons, and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul. ... Churches have given us great treasures. Whether that pays for the harm they have done is another matter."

In some of that, he seems to me to make dangerous leaps on very thin evidence.

Dennett is, in one sense, one of my heroes for doing the patient work of explaining how evolution works, and for boldly asserting the central role of biological factors in shaping human behaviors. In so doing, he has crossed swords not only with the more brutish fundamentalists, but with Marxists in the ivory towers, like the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould (a hero himself, in his own way) and with stranger ideologues of the left like Chomsky.

I am not a Christian; my faith is a personal matter, none of your business. At times I would have called myself an agnostic; at times you would have called me a pagan. But I will tell you you may count me among the zealots in the cause of separation of church and state (for the good of both), and the sanctity of the scientific method.

But when I watch Dennett walk head-high into the holy of holies, the results, in many places, make me cringe. Dennett falls into the trap, for instance, of equating all fundamentalisms.

But such well-intentioned people are singularly ineffective in dealing with the more radical members of their own faiths. In many instances they are, rightly, terrified of them. Moderate Muslims have so far been utterly unable to turn the tide of Islamic opinion against Wahhabists and other extremists, but moderate Christians and Jews and Hindus have been equally feckless in countering the outrageous demands and acts of their own radical elements.

Robert G. Ingersoll, the great 19th century American agnostic, once said, "The Agnostic does not simply say, 'I do not know.' He goes another step and says with great emphasis that you do not know." Yes, of necessity, he does.

Dennett seems to define himself as an atheist, which is a different thing than an agnostic. He told the New York Times, "Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world - that's a hopeless idea. There is no such thing." Which looks like atheism to me, or deism at best.

Which makes his advice to people who embrace both reason and faith a bit specious:

It is time for the reasonable adherents of all faiths to find the courage and stamina to reverse the tradition that honors helpless love of God — in any tradition. Far from being honorable, it is not even excusable. It is shameful. Here is what we should say to people who follow such a tradition: There is only one way to respect the substance of any purported God-given moral edict. Consider it conscientiously in the full light of reason, using all the evidence at our command. No God pleased by displays of unreasoning love is worthy of worship.

Having denied that reason and belief in a personal god can share the same head sanely, any more than cancer and health can share the same body, and that religion is a sort of brain dysfunction or atavistic relic, what grounds does he have to offer guidance to people who accept it as authentic and vibrant force in their lives?

If you're an intelligent person of faith, this must seem like the kind of moralistic scolding you detest. Does a person who disavows his own faith have the right to hector you about how to live with yours? Any more than a celibate priest has the right to order your sexual decisions?

You have to work every day to make the irrational and the rational bed down together under the same skull. That's faith. Faith comes a flare through the hollow of the ear, the thing that flows in from beyond what you know and can explain. It takes you where you're afraid to go. It sent Saul into a ditch and Thomas Merton to the Little Flower. It makes your hair stand on end.

I have some sympathy for the struggles involved in reconciling faith and reason. I don't feel that Dennett does, after reading all this, or that he thinks a co-existence is possible.

I would stand against your faith when it tries to enter my son's classroom, or invade my Constitution and my courts. When it perverts science and literature in the name of a prudish morality, I will be against it.

But if your faith tells you you will meet your dead child again in another world, or you will live again in this one and have another chance to overcome what has dragged you into the dunghill, or that your suffering friend is at peace and in a better world than this when he closes his eyes, I have no desire to take that away from you. Not for anything. I don't think Ingersoll would, either.

This critique of a program by Richard Dawkins (another hero of modern biology) suggests he is making some of the same mistakes.

Hollywood, of course, has been a faith-free zone for years. At least for humans who are not villains:

Despite the claims of the anti-religious crusaders - especially in the US - that the Christian right is on the rise, in fact in cultural terms it is increasingly marginalised. Films with a Christian message find it difficult to convey a powerful sense of faith and meaning. Instead, religious values and beliefs tend to be transmitted through non-human anthropomorphic forms. The attempt to endow even the behaviour of penguins with transcendental meaning - in the widely acclaimed March of the Penguins - is symptomatic of this theological illiteracy. The enthusiasm with which Christian organisations embraced March of the Penguins showed up their disorientation, if not desperation, rather than their aggressive confidence. After the penguin it is the turn of another animal - Aslan, the lion in the Narnia film - to serve as a symbol of innocence, sacrifice and resurrection. What beast will Christian filmmakers pick next?

Could you even make "Ben Hur" today? No Oil for Pacifists has some balance sheets on the good and bad that faithful Christans do in the world.

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Can't Post There, So

I haven't been posting much at Donklephant anymore, because, though it will take my posts sometimes, it rarely takes my comments if they are longer than a line or two. It's not like I'm missed or anything, but there's no point in opening a discussion that you can't continue, especially since the comments section seems to have collected a flock of tin-foil hat types who can't be taught, but deserve to be smacked.

I wanted to spank one of them who hijacked someone else's thread there, but, again, the comments wouldn't work for me. This time I was smart enough to save it before trying to post it and seeing it vanish. Here it is, just for the hell of it, just so I have something to show for the last half hour. This is the original thread.

And after reading I have two words for you: Fuck you.

What a tedious blowhard you are, Disenfranchised Voter.

Regardless of what the Preznit says, Muslims and Al Qaeda don’t have us for our Freedom, they hate us because we continue to perpetuate a policy of global imperialism. The book is a critque on that.

You're confusing why Osama hates us with why you hate us. I don't recall seeing a whole lot of "global imperialism" in Osama's writings. He doesn't give a crap about global imperialism or economics, beyond the oil Allah gave to the Muslims. He writes about Jews, Crusaders, and getting both of them out of what he defines as Muslim lands. He writes about bringing America to its knees, not to the Kyoto Protocol. He's quite the imperialist himself.

How about the fact that the US is one of the LEAST generous nations in the world? While we probably give more than any other country, we are also the RICHEST country in the world.

When disasters like the Indian Ocean tsumani or the recent Pakistan earthquake struck, no amount of money in the world could do anything to save lives in the crucial first weeks, when hundreds of thousands were at risk from disease, starvation, and succumbing to injuries.

No amount of promises of money from European capitals could save a single life.

An aircraft carrier escort group, with helicopters and medic crews and a fresh-water-generation plant and an efficient system of organization and command structure, and tens of thousands of strong arms, however, could make a difference. And did.

And who pays for all that? Does it also serve other functions? Of course. But it was there when help was needed -- because those evil, hegemonistic U.S. military bases were close by -- and the help was willingly lent.

Better for DV if they had died in their millions.

Give me a fucking break. Just about all of our actions in the Middle East are not done for humanitarian reasons, they are done to protect our interests. Back during the Cold war it was to stop the USSR and now it is mainly oil.

The (typical) attitude here is that protecting any given nation from a Soviet takeover during the Cold War was purely in the interest of the United States. The Poles and Hungarians and others who had the pleasure of being absorbed into the socialist utopia will tell you a bit about how much better overall the world would be if America had refused to stand up to the Soviet Union's bid for global empire.

DV says "one shouldn’t disregard other’s rights in order to act in their own interest." But he refuses to allow that the U.S. can be acting in its own interests AND protecting the human rights of others. Such acts are assumed to be purely selfish and only accidently beneficial to non-Americans.

Excuse me? At the request of them? The vast majority of our foreign military bases are set up at OUR reuqest. Not theirs. On top of this, the request comes with “benefits” which is basically a legal bribe.

Let's just admit it's never going to be possible to really sort out at whose "request" a military base gets built. Kuwait asks for a U.S. base, but maybe they were pressured to ask, eh?

But how interesting that we compensate the countries where we build the bases. So that when Americans up and leave a military post, the local population gets upset because their economy suffers, as Germany did a few years back. It may be "legal bribery," if you wish -- but in your twisted and obsessive world any American money spent overrseas is bribery, any that is withheld is stinginess.

Fascist? Dude, you need to take a political science class. You are grossly misusing the term fascism. YOu obviously have no idea what fascism is all about.

"A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." [Robert O. Paxton, "The Anatomy of Fascism," 2004]

Seems to me Jimmy was technically right on the mark in calling Islamist terrorists "fascists."

What you need to realize is that you cannot defeat terrorism by dropping bombs on people. The only way to defeat terrorism is to erase the causes of said terrorism.

Yep. Give them what they want so they stop killing you. Bye-bye Israel.

For centuries our policies towards the middle east have been extremely fucked up. Period. We supported vicious dictators, killers, and death squads when it supported out interests. Yet we love freedom and democracy right? Talk about hypocrisy.

Centuries, eh? What centuries were those?

There is absolutely no excuse for us to have 70 international military bases around the world. America was never intended to be an empire and people who think we should need to take a fucking look at history and get a god damn clue.

Actually, the number of U.S. military bases worldwide is closer to 700 than 70. But you can't expect someone who can't tell "decades" from "centuries" to be very good at numbers.

But having a lot of military bases doesn't make you an empire. America has a military base in France: is France a mere colony of the wicked Americans?

If you don't end up absorbing these countries under your sovereign power, as the Romans and British did, you're not an empire: you're just a global military power. Which America certainly is, and there's every excuse in the world for it: policing the seas against pirates, for instance. Or making sure that Europe and Japan get their flow of fairly purchased Middle Eastern oil.

Now, if the position you wish to take is that Jefferson actually considered the US an Empire at its inception, I’d love to see you back that up with an argument…

Don't hide behind Jefferson. Big mistake. He was the first president to send American troops abroad to fight Muslim terrorists and to establish a permanent military presence in the Islamic world in pursuit of U.S. interests. He also was the first to fink out and appease them rather than fighting them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Necessary Wars

[Been busy, and had technical issues the past couple days. So you don't forget me, here's an old thought to chew on]

On April 5, 1940, as the war between the Nazis and the democracies of western Europe was about to kick into gear, Goebbels called together a small group of loyal German journalists for a secret briefing. Among other things, he said:

Up till now we have succeeded in leaving the enemy in the dark concerning Germany's real goals, just as before 1932 our domestic foes never saw where we were going or that our oath of legality was just a trick. ... They could have suppressed us. They could have arrested a couple of us in 1925 and that would have been that, the end. No, they let us through the danger zone. That's exactly how it was in foreign policy, too. ... In 1933 a French premier ought to have said (and if I had been the French premier I would have said it): 'The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!' But they didn't do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war!

None of the Iraq War critics I've seen who invoke the "unnecessary war" cry then go into detail about what they think makes for a "necessary" war. What would a "necessary" war look like, in their eyes?

I'll give you my version of a necessary war: The brief 1936 conflict between Germany, alone, and France, Britain, and Czechoslovakia.

It began when Hitler, the German dictator now little remembered in history, marched 20,000 troops into the Rhineland demilitarized zone, in violation of articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty of Versailles. France pulled itself out of a political crisis and united behind this threat from its old enemy. It used the treaty violation as a pretext to declare war. France's stauch allies in Czechoslovakia joined them, secure in the fastness of the Sudeten mountains, thus tying down Nazi troops in central Germany.

Britain, too, stood with its French ally, though not without some debate over France's unilateralism. The British in the end provided key air support and blockaded German North Sea ports, though relatively few British troops crossed the Channel until the fighting was almost over.

When war began, French divisions crossed into the Rhineland at several points, and the overwhelmed Germans, after brief resistance, retired across the bridges. They set up a defense on the east bank, but when the French penetrated this at several points, the German army rose up under von Blomberg and von Fristsch and overthrew Hitler and his gang. The top Nazis were executed after trial in German courts in which horrible crimes -- and even more horrible plans -- came to light, along with evidence of their vast corruption. The German military leaders negotiated a new settlement with the Allies, revising several provisions of Versailles that no longer reflected realities on the ground. Nazi functionaries were purged from local offices, extremist parties were banned from German politics, and, with the aid of the occupying powers, after much difficulty and insurgency, Germany gradually returned to a democratic system of self-government, more robust than the failed Weimar Republic.

Why is this war "necessary?" Because it prevents World War II in Europe, the Holocaust, and the deaths of tens of millions of people, from the North Sea to the Russian steepe.

But would it stand up to the modern anti-Iraq-War activists' definitions of justified? Put him in the Wayback Machine and set the dial to 1936. Remember, he doesn't know there's going to be a World War II in Europe. Like the pacifists Orwell scorned, he probably thinks Hitler is not such a bad guy as he's made out to be in the press, and anyway the leaders of Britain and America are far more dangerous to world peace.

What will he say, in protesting this "unjust and unnecessary" war?

  • Hitler was provoked. Just a month before the remilitarization of the Rhineland, France and Russia had signed a mutual assistance pact that was a direct threat against Germany. France had engaged in a massive build-up of fortifications right on the border of Germany, and it was denying Hitler's right to defend himself. It was the old hegemony double standard.

  • What Hitler did was merely an internal matter. The French violated German sovereignty without just cause. Why, Hitler had never attacked France. Hitler was just moving troops in his own backyard. As G.B. Shaw said, "It was as if the British had reoccupied Portsmouth."

  • Hiding behind the Versailles Treaty was a red herring. It had already been violated. Germany had effectively renounced it a year before by bringing back the draft, and France and Britain had done nothing but make diplomatic protests.

  • Even worse, Britain herself had signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty with Hitler that allowed Germany to build a battle fleet that included submarines, something forbidden by Versailles. Britain itself already had participated in a violation of the treaty!

  • There was no public support for the war in France and Britain. The people were solidly against war. They remembered the betrayed ideals of 1914, and they had indicated again and again their revulsion with the very idea of warfare.

  • By contrast, the remilitarization was wildly popular with the German people. In the Rhineland, women tossed flowers and priests showered blessings on German troops marching under the Swastika flag.

  • The door was still open for negotiation. Hitler, in announcing the resumption of German authority in the Rhineland, had said unequivocally, before the whole world, "we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations .... We have no territorial demands to make in Europe! ... Germany will never break the peace."

  • France did not go first to the League of Nations and attempt to use its authority to condemn the German action. Thus, its invasion lacked legitimacy. Instead of evicting the Nazis at once, France should have gone the Leage route and then put its military forces entirely under control of the League, to be bound by whatever the League decided to do.

  • False pretenses! A scare that never materialized. The British were told over and over that they would be at the mercy of German bombers. Churchill asserted that the first week of the war would kill up to 40,000 Londoners [Nov. 28, 1934]. Baldwin warned the "man in the street" that "Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through." Yet in the lightning defeat of Germany's small military, the air force never got off the ground. The mighty swarm from the skies that struck fear in so many in Britain and France existed only on paper.

The excuse offered by the French leaders would be absurd:

Monsieur Flandin [French Foreign Minister] emphasized that the next challenge would not be an attack upon France or Belgium, but very likely an attack upon Czechoslovakia or Austria. If we failed to meet the present challenge, who could possibly say that Germany would be stopped in her next venture?

Necessary war? More like pre-emptive, illegal, immoral war. More like, "He was going to hit me first!" And now, back to the history as it played out in fact:

The French delegation left for the Munich airport almost exactly twenty-four hours after arriving. Once again, a well-programmed crowd offered cheers, and Ribbentrop provided the escort. During the flight Daladier sat silent and morose, worried about the reception he would receive at Le Bourget, about how the French would react to his having betrayed Czechoslovakia and France's promises. As the plane circled for landing, he and others saw a massive crowd awaiting them. Expecting jeers, hisses, rotten fruit, and maybe worse, Daladier declared stolidly: "They are going to mob me, I suppose. ... I appreciate their feelings," and insisted on absorbing their wrath by being the first off the plane. But as he stood dumbfounded on the gangplank, thousands surged forward carrying flags and flowers, shouting "Hurrah for France! Hurrah for England! Hurrah for peace!" Daladier turned back to Léger and cursed, "The God-damned fools!" [Benjamin F. Martin, "France in 1938"]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Protest Too Much

In Is Elusive, Taped Bin Laden Manipulating U.S. Domestic Politics?, Joe Gandelman of "The Moderate Voice" asks, ... well, the title says it. He uses the Basque terrorists of 1970s Spain as an example:

But many analysts inside and outside the Spanish government contended part of ETA's strategy — particularly under the Franco regime — was to cause its statements and acts to get the government to clamp down which would serve several purposes: (1) It would divide the country even more, (2) It would cause the government to perhaps overreact and be branded as represssive, and make new enemies (3) It would accentuate existing political divisions and heighten polarization — thus weakening the central government.

Could that be part of bin Laden's goal here as well?

Anything Osama says in public is calculated to weaken America, whether it's rhetoric to rouse the Arab street, or, as this seems to be, a shiv thrust into the U.S. body politic.

So, Joe and I agree that Osama's tape is meant to harm America. Joe sees Osama playing some kind of insider's game, where he accurately assesses the fault lines and shifting balances between the various domestic positions in the United States and calculates how to surgically intervene, using the domestic press to amplify his attack.

I just don't see any evidence that he's that savvy about us. In fact, in reading bin Laden's pronouncements over the years, I see plenty of evidence that he does not understand us at all. Or rather, he understands us partly and imperfectly. His essential view of America is "decadent, soft, and ruled by Jews." We were supposed to flounder in impotence after 9/11. We were supposed to fail and flee in Afghanistan.

That's not to say Osama's stupid. I suspect George Bush's address to the Arab world is just as puzzling to its audience, and Bush doesn't have the excuse of being stuck in a cave somewhere above Peshawar.

But Osama's cartoonish vision of America suffers from double-distortion. First, he sees through the ideological filter of Islamism. Hitler, Stalin, and the Imperial Japanese made the same mistake, and they all paid for it. Ideological filters historically give a house of mirrors view of America.

The other mistake Osama makes is trying to figure out what is going on in America's head by reading its media. He has no choice. Unlike the ETA, al-Qaida cannot monitor its enemy nation from within. Even if al-Qaida were fluid among us, its ideological rigor and contempt for kafirs would block it from correctly reading the vast stretches of American outside the Beltway. Even Europeans, who know us better than Osama ever can hope to, have a difficult time seeing us.

Osama has to try to play us, and he does try. But he does so by the direct path of encouraging what he sees as a surging anti-Bush, anti-war majority that will weaken the faction in America that is hurting him.

Joe's suggestion that Osama is playing a sophisticated game is based on references to other blog postings. But the sites Joe quotes don't offer any reason to believe Osama has in mind the political strategy they claim. We're arguing with each other more now, but that doesn't mean that's what bin Laden wanted all along. You can't measure his intent simply because the right side has noticed how much Bin Laden's points resemble those of the angry left. Yet that's what the people cited in Joe's post do:

My DD's Scott Shields notes the content of bin Laden's recent tape and how it helped spark a furor over MSNBC's Chris Matthews comparing bin Laden's comments to filmmaker Michael Moore:

When bin Laden cites domestic polling figures or mainstream criticisms of Bush, he's not doing it because he's a fan of Michael Moore or Howard Dean or reads the New York Times, as Matthews and his fellow talking heads Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson insist....He obviously doesn't care about the political affiliation of the people he kills. The reason bin Laden says these things is to create tension among the American electorate. It's a standard tactic of war and it's frustrating to see the media take the bait without question.

Bin Laden's goal is tearing America down. He doesn't care if it takes airplanes crashing into buildings or fomenting a civil war. It's all just means to an end. On this front, it seems that he might be having some success, as evidenced by the rhetoric coming from the right and accepted as conventional wisdom by people like Matthews. I've seen a few commenters question why we are so worked up over Matthews' stupidity. This is why. The narrative that he is pushing is the one bin Laden wants out there.

In other words, in this view, bin Laden wants the right to start pointing fingers at the left...which will infuriate the left...which will cause another reaction from the right. And no one benefits from bitter polarization, even though it might be beneficial in a given election.

I agree that polarized slagging is bad for America, but the rest of this is just nonsense.

Osama doesn't have to be a "fan" of Moore or Dean to note that they agree with him on many points, and many Americans agree with them. One thing he can see, even from a cave, is that tens of thousands of Americans paid money into Michael Moore's pockets, and tens of thousands backed Howard Dean for president.

Some on the left tirelessly trumpet the fact that bin Laden's Islamist social critiques of the liberal West tend to converge with those of American Christian fundamentalists. But he doesn't condemn homosexuality simply to try to break up the West into squabbling factions, does he? Sometimes a fatwa is just a fatwa.

The man has a consistent position. It happens to agree in some matters with positions embraced by assorted folks in the West. But it has the largest terrain of agreement with those who consider Bush a bigger threat to themselves than bin Laden. Why is that surprising? Why does it require some grand conspiracy theory that he's only pretending to agree with people who have arrived at conclusions that favor his goals?

Joe quotes Glen Greenwald of Crooks And Liars:

The Matthews smear illustrates the fact that it has become routine in our national political dialogue, and among our nation's journalists, to equate opposition to George Bush with subversiveness, treason, and support for Al Qaeda....

This tactic of equating Democrats with bin Laden is designed to eliminate dissent and to stigmatize Bush’s opponents as traitors.

First of all, which journalists are those? And don't tell me talk show blowhards are "journalists" just because they're on TV, sitting at desks.

Second, being a dissenter in a time of war against an enemy who wants to destroy your culture puts you in an inconvenient place. You have to accept that your principled stand inevitably aids, or at least comforts, that enemy. It takes a mature mind to confront that hard choice. Just as it takes a mature mind to support a risky war that could go spectacularly wrong and is sure to kill innocent people.

You have to be a dissenter knowing that you'll unwillingly serve something you hate, but you believe it is worthwhile to do this, because the alternative is worse, and you accept the consequences.

Yet an awful lot of people seem to want to skip right past this difficult decision. They seem to want to avoid even discussing it, or being forced to confront it. This is understandable, since such people often are motivated by a quest for a moral purity. And the decision to oppose a mildly religious president who is in a death match with a fanatical religious killer is a highly compromised place to be, if you allow yourself to see it plainly.

To avoid that they strangle interlocutors' voices with nonsense like the chickenhawk meme. Or they attack every questioning as a bid to "eliminate dissent." Some opponents in fact will be traitors. It's not a moral crime to attempt to distinguish honest dissent from wanna-be treason, in fact it's a necessary mental activity as a citizen of a nation at war. Yes, I may question your patriotism, politely, but it's in hopes you'll have an answer for me. If I don't question it, you won't have the chance to explain to me how this works.

Greenwald goes on:

That the GOP has transparently wielded this tactic almost from the moment the airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center is reprehensible enough. But it is simply no longer tolerable for the media – which was intended to serve as a Fourth Estate check against government propaganda of this type – to continue to be the primary instrument for the dissemination of this smear.

Joe, a veteran journalist, really ought to be embarrassed to repeat this tripe. The media "was intended to" serve as an independent anti-propaganda force in America? What the hell does he think we are in this business, some Roosevelt-era agency? The media of 1787 was the original political propaganda pump in America, and that's exactly why it was granted protection from official interference.

When I hear that it is "no longer tolerable" for the media to point out something obvious, then I recognize the path to totalitarianism. I'm sort of surprised that Joe lends his imprimatur to this.

There are few things more important than combating this notion, so prevalent among the Chris Matthews of the world, that opposing George Bush is tantamount to supporting Al Qaeda, or relatedly, that it's perfectly acceptable to equate Bush opponents with bin Laden but it is terribly crass - even treasonous - to aggressively criticize the President.

And would one of those "few" more important things be actually defeating bin Laden, bringing a coherent effort to a long war against Islamist terrorism, and placing long-term civilization survival above partisan advantage in the next electoral cycle? Greenwald doesn't say so. I honestly doubt it was in his head at the time he wrote that passage.

This is not a winning tactic for the angry anti-war left: Focus on the little dispute inside the big one. Elevate it to be the main dispute. "You splashed water on me!" "But the house is on fire, and I'm trying to put it out." "No, you splashed water on me, and you did it on purpose!"

Back to Joe:

So if one of bin Laden's intents is indeed to sow and accentuate divisions and bitter polarization within the United States we can assume he's getting reports of what the right and media types such as Matthews are saying and how it's angering those on the left, which causes more anger on the right.

I don't believe bin Laden is a stupid man. But imagining him choosing this over-elaborate tactic in the place of the much more obvious one that also aligns with the text of his recent speech really makes him out to be an incompetent.

Bin Laden sees a White House that is committed to making life difficult (literally) for him and his friends, and a U.S. military that is capable of doing so. Yet he sees, through the lens of the media, that his enemies in the White House rest on a shaky foundation of a population that wrings its hands over the human cost of war, is seething with hatred of Bush, is eager to disengage from the Islamic world, and has the power to topple the present administration.

The ugly truth is, bin Laden does start to make sense to a big chunk of the angry left when he talks like this. Andrew Sullivan found an example at Daily Kos before the comment disappeared, perhaps due to the unwelcomed attention:

"I realized that I empathized and agreed with bin Laden's hatred of Bush and all he stands for. Bush is not America and while Binny may just be baiting us, I would welcome a truce if it included the impeachment of Bush as part of the bargain. You know the state of the nation is bad if it can get me to look at Binny boy in any light other than a fundamentalist wacko mass murderer. But, at this point in time, I honestly feel more disdain for Bush and his administration than I do for bin Laden."

Kos' readership is huge and diverse, and his defenders decry attempts to paint them all with one cherry-picked color. But this poll on the site itself, measures the percent of readers who despise Bush more than Bin Laden at 41 percent.

Such people can help bin Laden. That's as much a fact of war as the image damage from the Abu Ghraib photos. He wants to persuade more of us to think as they do and act as they have acted. They will have to live with this unpleasant fact. As Mennonite conscientious objectors in World War II had to live with the truth that they were doing Hitler a small favor and Hitler would have clapped them in Dachau without a thought. No one said it was easy to make adult choices.

Is it therefore stretching it to conclude that he'll do whatever he can in coming months to inspire more comments from the right and media types, to cause more fingerpointing and to cause more negative reaction and polarization? Wouldn't he want to see the water boil a bit more — especially during an election year?

That's just lame, Joe. "Every time you criticize the anti-war left, the terrorists have already won." Talk about stifling dissent.

Prediction: this will play well with the GOP base but it's going to scare independent voters away from the GOP in droves.

Prediction: independent voters don't give a flick about whether anti-war zealots get their feelings hurt when people notice they talk like bin Laden. We're more interested in actually making progress in getting bin Laden to be either irrelevant or dead.

[Tweaked for clarity, 1/25]

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Lenin's Hippies

I'm surprised at the intense hold the chickenhawk meme (CHM) exerts over my fellow journalists, even some of the non-frothing ones. Recent newsroom chit-chat:

Frothing: My solution to war is, if anyone wants to start a war, let them go and fight it. Let Bush go fight.

Non-Frothing: Yeah, or his children.

Frothing: No, I want to see him fight it.

Yes, yes, raise up national leaders who will march at the head of their armies, just like in the histories of the European Dark Ages, which, after all, were one unbroken chronicle of tolerance and peace.

The Chickenhawk Meme: If you choose or advocate military action, you must go and fight in it. The decision to employ military force must be made only by those who serve in the military, so none not in military service may participate in the decision. The result of that would be, the military alone controls what the military does.

A more pernicious policy in a free republic can scare be discovered. "Only the U.S. military says what the U.S. military does." In asserting that, you flush 500 years of hard-learned political experience.

Yet assert it they do, with mechanical regularity every time they brush up against a supporter of the overthrow of Saddam.

Who's "they?" Not the Democrats as a mass, or even to the few who occasionally, in a fit of anger, invoke the CHM curse. I'm willing to write that off. I mean that faction in the Democratic Party, extending well beyond it and looping around even into the fringes of the libertarian far right, whose sure badge of identification is reaching for the CHM at every opportunity. But I cannot hold blameless the more moderate Democrats who let this sort of nonsense go unchecked.

Even a few seconds' reflection on the consequences of this demand, without regard to the present political enmities, unseams it. It would be the death warrant of American freedom and democracy.

Anyone who upholds it deserves the dreaded label "unpatriotic." Unpatriotic, not in the innocent, reflexive "support our troops, my country right or wrong" sense, which the CHM bullies mock. But betraying the true and advanced patriotism which the enlightened left claim to embody: they would destroy the common values and constitutional structures of their country, simply to punish political enemies.

But only if you take them seriously, only if you believe they mean what they say. And of course they don't, any more than a child in a temper fit who yells "I'm going to run away and join the circus" really means it. That's their out, and they know it. The CHM is nothing but a scourge to those who disagree, unrooted in reality or policy or thought.

They're taking none of this seriously, in terms of acting on principles they would follow and policies they would implement if they should find themselves in power. Which is why I hope they never do. Reckless disregard for constancy, disavowal of guiding principles, and willful refusal to think of consequences hardly are advertisements for election to political high office.

Which makes me wonder what kind of fools play this way? Are they permanent minoritarians in their hearts? Or does the CHM embody the old hippie/Yippie tactic of childish playfulness to nonplus humorless authority? Are they still acting out the Merry Pranskters vs. the California sheriffs?

(Another recent Frothing Co-Worker quote: "Whenever I hear this patriotic shit, I want to quote a scene from 'Easy Rider.' ")

Or is it a residual tactic of Leninist revolutionary strategy: Say anything to undercut an enemy, then deny you ever said it the second a dogma becomes inconvenient?

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

And here's another movie I won't be seeing.

If it had simply been released, simply been put out there like any other low-key film, I might have gone. Sexuality interests me: The psychology of it, the social consequences, the business of living a secret sexual life. Homo sum; nihil humani a me alienum puto -- and libido? what could be more human? I've studied that and written about it.

But this? It's so painfully obvious that "Hollywood" (whatever that is: a mindset with money) thinks this film is Good For Me. It thinks every Republican-leaning, conservatively inclined, What's-Wrong-With-Kansas bonehead needs to be enlightened. And they have the means to do it.

I don't think women should be sexually harrassed. I despise my co-workers' racist jokes (yes, liberals do it, too). I also don't attend workplace "sensitivity seminars" unless I'm dragooned into them.

Fact is, I don't think Hollywood knows what's good for me, or for itself, or for anyone. Fact is, I'd rather decide that for myself. I don't think Hollywood is smart enough to parse complex issues. The whole point of Hollywood is to make things big and bright and simple.

So when I see Hollywood pushing a movie with a social agenda and a yen to transform the way America thinks, my inner 5-year-old kicks in at this point. Good for me? I'm not going to eat that.