April 30, 2006

It Can't Happen Here

Except that, in principle, it already has happened. Jacob Hornberger writes about where we are today:
No one can deny that we now live in a country in which the ruler has the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war on his own initiative. To use the president’s words, when it comes to declaring and waging war against another country, he’s the "decider."

It wasn't always that way.


Yet we now live in a nation in which the president has the omnipotent power to ignore all constitutional restraints on his power. That might not be the way the president and his legal advisors put it, but that is the practical effect of what they are saying to justify his powers. They effectively claim that the Constitution vests the president — as military commander in chief during the "war on terrorism" — with such extraordinary powers that he is able to ignore restraints on his powers imposed both by the Constitution and by Congress.

No restraints on declaring and waging war against other nations. No restraints on the power to secretly record telephone conversations of the American people. No restraints on the power to kidnap and send people into overseas concentration camps for the purpose of torture and even execution. No restraints on the power to take Americans into custody as "enemy combatants" and punish them — even torture and execute them — without due process of law and jury trials.

If all that isn’t dictatorship, what is?
In his bracingly clear and concise article, Hornberger debunks two common but utterly misguided objections to these statements of fact. The first objection is that Bush can be trusted and that, in effect, he "means well," that he's only trying "to protect us." Among many other problems, this ignores that every authoritarian leader in history has made the same claim: that his regime is concerned only with the good of his people, or the good of his country, or to further the will of God, or... Except for the rare cases of sadists who glory in their openly acknowledged cruelty, rulers and their henchmen always claim to have the best of intentions, at least in the beginning.

It is worth noting Hornberger's response to the second objection:
"Well, then, where are the mass round-ups, and where are the concentration camps?"

Again, people who ask that type of question are missing the point. The point is not whether Bush is exercising his omnipotent, dictatorial power to the maximum extent. It’s whether he now possesses omnipotent, dictatorial power, power that can be exercised whenever circumstances dictate it — for example, during another major terrorist attack on American soil, when Americans become overly frightened again.
I've made this point repeatedly over the last several years, and it is only a measure of the remarkably primitive quality of our national conversation that so many Americans seem incapable of grasping it.

To put the point the other way, which will hopefully penetrate the wall of resistance erected by so many people: the only reason you aren't in a concentration camp right now is because Bush hasn't decided to send you to one -- yet. But he claims he has the power to do so -- and there are almost no voices of any prominence to dispute the contention. What is even worse than the loss of liberty is the fact that most Americans aren't even aware that the loss has occurred. If there are any national leaders who understand these issues and have the courage to fight for our freedom here at home, they ought to realize that the battle must be waged now. Given the hysteria that followed 9/11 -- and the hysteria that would certainly follow another terrorist attack in the U.S. of the same or even greater magnitude -- protesting against round-ups at that point would be entirely futile, and would come far too late.

As things stand now, this nation may finally have one of the worst epitaphs in history: They lost their liberty -- and they didn't even know it.

April 29, 2006

You Are Fabulous

I added this as an Update to my personal note from yesterday. But to make certain that people see it, let me repeat it here:

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! My deepest gratitude to all of the wonderfully generous people who have made donations and offered assistance in other ways. I'm genuinely overwhelmed. I simply don't know what to say. And my great thanks to John, once again. On a number of occasions, John has kept me blogging, when I myself might well have given up. Here, completely unbidden, he has done so yet again. Bless you, my friend.

The immense kindness so many of you have showered upon me now gives me the luxury of a choice. Wow. I haven't had any money to make an actual choice about anything for quite a while. Several people have offered to donate a computer, and I'll be in touch with them in the next few days. If I should buy a new one, I'd probably get a desktop model, since my health keeps me housebound almost all the time. As I'm largely ignorant about computers and tech stuff, could people recommend a good desktop computer for around $600-$700? I'd appreciate any suggestions (arthur4801@yahoo.com).

I can assure all of you that I live very frugally on next to nothing, with no frills at all (I still have a dialup connection, and I have no cable or satellite TV, for example, not even for basic service). So if I should accept the wonderful gift of a computer, I'd use the donations for medical expenses. I'll finally be able to take care of several problems that have gone unattended for far too long. I hope that's alright with everyone. If not, please let me know, and I'll refund donations as indicated.

My boundless thanks once again. I will have to fall back on the closing lines from Tony Kushner's wonderful play, Angels in America: "You are fabulous, each and every one, and I bless you. More life. The great work begins."

I guess that means I need to get back to blogging regularly. Drat. You've all reduced me to tears. Honest.

Bless you, one more time.

Shattering the Churchill Myth: Facing Facts, and Becoming Adults

[I first published this essay on November 18, 2004. I offer it again now, primarily because of a recent entry from Jim Henley. In particular, I want to respond to this paragraph (emphasis added):
Speaking of Churchill, he’s a totem figure, I realize, because of his early, vocal warnings about Hitler. And I’ll give him that one. Wasn’t he also a bitter-ender regarding Ireland and India? Would England have been better off politically and morally if they’d drawn out violent campaigns even further against the liberation movements in those places? It seems hard to credit. On the other hand, Churchill wrote, with hindsight, that the US should have stayed out of World War I, so I resist the “stopped clock” explanation that Churchill got lucky because in Hitler he finally met a foreigner who conformed to his instincts. But I suspect that the lesson of Churchill may be that once in awhile, a hawk is showing great foresight; you just can’t, in advance, say when.
Jim Henley is an unusually perceptive man, and I very frequently agree with him. Here, however, even this evaluation gives Churchill far too much credit, just as a great many other people do. As the following demonstrates, Churchill's hatred of Nazism was, in fact, a hatred of everything German, and it had its roots in the old, endless rivalry between England and Germany for power on the world stage. It had precious little to do with the specific evils embodied by Hitler.

An appreciation of Churchill's actual, full record leads to only one conclusion: he was an entirely contemptible man, one whose policies led to destruction and death on an incomprehensible scale. I can only echo Ralph Raico's final judgment:
[W]hen all is said and done, Winston Churchill was a man of blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.
The tenacity of the Churchill myth is instructive: the kind of idolatry focused on Churchill (and Reagan, and several others similarly situated -- and even on Bush by his most ardent and self-blinded worshippers) reveals a gross kind of immaturity on the part of a distressingly large number of people. Without their Great Men to whom they can turn for protection in times of danger, they appear to feel utterly helpless and to believe they are doomed to destruction. That may represent an accurate judgment as to the courage of the idolators themselves but, as I discuss below, it also unmasks an attitude of boundless contempt for mankind in general. (At some point, I will be discussing the nature of this particular kind of widespread cultural immaturity in the series I began yesterday, Systems of Obedience.)

The tone of this essay, especially in my opening paragraphs, is admittedly quite heated. I remember how entirely fed up I was when I wrote it -- fed up with the inane, ludicrous, and groundless defenses of Bush and our foreign policy, to say nothing of the comparisons to allegedly Great Men like Churchill. If people wish to defend Bush and the catastrophe of Iraq, they are certainly entitled to do so -- but they would do all of us a favor, not least themselves, by finding arguments that do not disregard all the relevant facts, and that only insult their own and our intelligence.

I also feel more than entitled to point out on my own behalf that all the events that have transpired since I wrote this more than support my judgments. Besides, I have to confess that I rather like the style of this essay. When properly directed, anger and passion can result in writing with some color and imagination. I dare to think I might have achieved that to some extent in what follows.]
A sympathetic historian, Paul Addison, Churchill on the Home Front 1900-1955 (London, Pimlico, 1993), p. 438, phrases the same point this way: "Since [Churchill] never allowed himself to be hampered by a fixed programme or a rigid ideology, his ideas evolved as he adapted himself to the times." Oddly enough, Churchill himself confessed, in 1898: "I do not care so much for the principles I advocate as for the impression which my words produce and the reputation they give me." Clive Ponting, Churchill (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), p. 32.
For some of Churchill's distortions [about "his role in World War II," as set forth in "the distorted histories he composed and rushed into print as soon as the war was over"], see Tuvia Ben-Moshe, Churchill: Strategy and History (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1992), pp. 329-33; Dietrich Algner, "Winston Churchill (1874-1965)" in Politiker des 20. Jahrhunderts, 1, Die Epoche der Wellkriege, Rolf K. Hocever, et al., eds. (Munich: Beck, 1970), p. 318 states that Churchill, in his works on World War II, "laid the foundation of a legend that is nothing less than a straightforward travesty of the historical truth. ... But the Churchill version of World War II and its prehistory remains unshaken, the power of his eloquence extends beyond the grave." Algner, incidentally, is an informed, scholarly critic of Churchill, and by no means a "right-wing radical."
In 1925, Churchill wrote: "The story of the human race is war." This, however, is untrue; potentially, it is disastrously untrue. Churchill lacked any grasp of the fundamentals of the social philosophy of classical liberalism. In particular, he never understood that, as Ludwig von Mises explained, the true story of the human race is the extension of social cooperation and the division of labor. Peace, not war, is the father of all things. For Churchill, the years without war offered nothing to him but "the bland skies of peace and platitude." This was a man, as we shall see, who wished for more wars than actually happened.
Churchill's devotees by no means hold his role in bringing America into World War II against him. On the contrary, they count it in his favor. Harry Jaffa, in his uninformed and frantic apology, seems to be the last person alive who refuses to believe that the Man of Many Centuries was responsible to any degree for America's entry into the war: after all, wasn't it the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor?

But what of the American Republic? What does it mean for us that a President collaborated with a foreign head of government to entangle us in a world war? The question would have mattered little to Churchill. He had no concern with the United States as a sovereign, independent nation, with its own character and place in the scheme of things. For him, Americans were one of "the English-speaking peoples." He looked forward to a common citizenship for Britons and Americans, "a mixing together," on the road to Anglo-American world hegemony.

But the Churchill-Roosevelt intrigue should, one might think, matter to Americans. Here, however, criticism is halted before it starts. A moral postulate of our time is that in pursuit of the destruction of Hitler, all things were permissible. Yet why is it self-evident that morality required a crusade against Hitler in 1939 and 1940, and not against Stalin? At that point, Hitler had slain his thousands, but Stalin had already slain his millions. In fact, up to June 1941, the Soviets behaved far more murderously toward the Poles in their zone of occupation than the Nazis did in theirs. Around 1,500,000 Poles were deported to the Gulag, with about half of them dying within the first two years. As Norman Davies writes: "Stalin was outpacing Hitler in his desire to reduce the Poles to the condition of a slave nation." Of course, there were balance-of-power considerations that created distinctions between the two dictators. But it has yet to be explained why there should exist a double standard ordaining that compromise with one dictator would have been "morally sickening" while collaboration with the other was morally irreproachable. [All footnotes omitted; all emphases above added.]
On those unfortunate occasions over the past two years when I have been bombastically, excessively and ignorantly regaled with tales of the heroism, moral fortitude and unblemished character of the current, eminently undeserving occupant of the Oval Office, it has sometimes also been my regrettable fate to hear one George W. Bush favorably compared to other, allegedly similarly "great" historical figures. Prominent among these latter have been Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill. It appears that Mr. Bush completes the Holy Trinity of Fearless, Implacable Destroyers of Ultimate Evil, Without Whom All Traces of Civilization Would Have Vanished from the Universe As We Know It.

I might begin by noting that one wonders just how many times Ultimate Evil will appear to threaten the future of mankind. If such Evil is truly "Ultimate," surely that characterization places it in the same category as "unique," does it not? ("Unique," I ruefully note, is similarly abused: unique originally meant "being the only one," although most people appear to forget that uniquely salient fact about its meaning.) But, to some extent at least, I have already covered that ground. I have also dealt with the actual record of Mr. Reagan [in a number of essays that may be reposted at some point], as opposed to Mr. Reagan's rhetoric, which admittedly contained many inspirational and even libertarian-sounding passages. Would that he might have cared more about translating those passages into action here on the Earth he was supposedly saving, rather than about the more superficial effects they produced. But they did sound enormously attractive (and occasionally inspiring, as I say), and they certainly served to convince many people who ought to have known better that Mr. Reagan was a more transformative figure in historic terms than the facts bear out.

One might also be pardoned for having thought that at least some of these same misguided idolators might surely know better by now, but the occasion of Mr. Reagan's death served to permanently dissolve unpleasant facts in the acid of grief and myth-making which appears to be one of those paradoxically celebratory rituals in which our disturbingly neurotic culture periodically indulges itself. I have dealt with the actual qualities exhibited by Mr. Bush in great detail in numerous entries here. One could legitimately describe Mr. Bush in many ways, but the facts are scarce and difficult of ascertainment to support characterizations on the order of "heroic" or embodying "moral fortitude" and "unblemished character." Perhaps "bizarrely detached from reality," or "profoundly anti-American," or "incapable of forthright, coherent speech," or "dedicated to obliterating individual rights" would be more to the point. No matter; Mr. Bush has now been sanctified by a landslide of historic proportions (or has he?), and facts that might undercut the already-burgeoning Bush Legend begin to vanish in the murky depths of uncertain collective memory. [In the year and a half since I wrote this, the general judgment of Bush appears, at long last, to be undergoing a significant shift. This is a very welcome change -- although it must be noted that it is several years, countless unnecessary deaths and grievous injuries, and many possibly irreversible and disastrous consequences too late. The evidence was there very soon after 9/11, but for far too many people, the demands of popular mythology take precedence over facts, and even over growing piles of corpses.]

One might also wonder about some of the underpinnings of this "Great Man" theory of history, which posits that absent these particular individuals, all manner of disastrous calamities would have overtaken pitiful, otherwise helpless humanity. Surely these worshippers of the Holy Trinity do not mean to dismiss all the rest of mankind as being entirely incapable of recognizing and defeating serious threats to their future...or do they? This "Great Man" theory becomes even more puzzling when it is offered, as it so often is, by people who simultaneously proclaim what they believe to be the ultimately determinative function of the ideas that a great number of men regard as true. If, as they claim, history would have been fundamentally altered had these great personalities not held power when they did, then ideas cannot be all that important, can they? But perhaps we can ponder these peculiarities, if not outright contradictions, of the views of the Worshippers of Great Men in more detail on another occasion.

For the moment, let us turn our attention for a while to the remaining pillar of the Holy Trinity of Civilization's Saviours, Winston Churchill. The quotations set forth at the beginning of this entry are from Ralph Raico's superb essay, "Rethinking Churchill," which will be found in the equally superb and invaluable volume, The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories. I recommend you purchase it immediately. I have mentioned Raico's work before, at length in this essay about the critical turning point in America's foreign policy, the Spanish-American War [also to be reposted]. It is worth noting again that the same people who idolize men such as Bush, Reagan and Churchill appear similarly ignorant about this all-important episode in American history. It seems that the myth of the United States as the sole nation in world history dedicated at all times to liberating the oppressed people of the world is as central to the idolizers' psychology as their desperate need for the Saviour Father Figure, without whom none of us would be safe from harm. The fact that the United States sometimes employs means requiring the death of hundreds of thousands of Filipino civilians -- or 100,000 Iraqis -- is of no moment; the only significant element is the United States' intentions, which are always impossibly pure, noble and transcendent. In the face of such high-sounding intentions, no matter how distant they may be from the actual results of the policies employed in fact, mounds of human corpses are a trivial detail. [See this more recent essay as well, which has much more about the Philippines episode.]

I can only aspire to such intellectual detachment from the sordid details of human death and suffering. It is a goal worthy of emulation in each and every moment of the comparatively paltry existences of lesser mortals, who look upon piles of broken human bodies and occasionally wonder: Why? What supposed purpose can possibly justify this? It appears that certain questions are too disturbing for some people to contemplate, although they would hasten to enlighten us as to how we are "missing the point" by considering them. "The point," of course, is the Great Idea.

I will grant the Worshippers of the Saviours of Humanity -- who also worship at the shrine of the Great Idea, a notion so "great" that it proves incapable of being reattached to facts here on Earth -- that Churchill genuinely appreciated the Great Idea. Not for Churchill, any mere concern with messy details concerning adherence to principle or for the effects of the Great Idea on the lives of particular men. And what was the Great Idea which so animated Churchill's life? Raico tells us (in the following excerpts, as in those above, I have added the emphases and eliminated footnotes):
Finally, there was what appeared to be the abiding love of his life, the British Empire. If Churchill stood for anything at all, it was the Empire; he famously said that he had not become Prime Minister in order to preside over its liquidation. But that, of course, is precisely what he did, selling out the Empire and everything else for the sake of total victory over Germany.
Raico notes that one other principle "for a long while seemed dear to Churchill's heart" -- anti-Communism. But Raico goes on:
Yet the time came when Churchill made his peace with Communism. In 1941, he gave unconditional support to Stalin, welcoming him as an ally, embraced him as a friend. Churchill, as well as Roosevelt, used the affectionate nickname, "Uncle Joe"; as late as the Potsdam conference, he repeatedly announced, of Stalin: "I like that man." In suppressing the evidence that the Polish officers at Katyn had been murdered by the Soviets, he remarked: "There is no use prowling round the three year old graves of Smolensk." Obsessed not only with defeating Hitler, but with destroying Germany, Churchill was oblivious to the danger of a Soviet inundation of Europe until it was far too late. The climax of his infatuation came at the November, 1943, Tehran conference, when Churchill presented Stalin with a Crusader's sword. Those who are concerned to define the word "obscenity" may wish to ponder that episode.
I doubt that even episodes such as these will disturb the Churchill worshippers for long; they are as unconcerned with uncomfortable facts as Churchill himself was. "There is no use prowling round" the details of history, after all.

Speaking of forgetting uncomfortable facts, let us not forget this either:
Although his conservative idolators seem blithely unaware of the fact--for them it is always 1940--Churchill was one of the chief architects of the welfare state in Britain. The modern welfare state, successor to the welfare state of 18th-century absolutism, began in the 1880s in Germany, under Bismarck. In England, the legislative turning point came when Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908; his reorganized cabinet included David Lloyd George at the Exchequer and Churchill at the Board of Trade.


Churchill "had already announced his conversion to a collectivist social policy" before his move to the Board of Trade. His constant theme became "the just precedence" of public over private interests. He took up the fashionable social-engineering cliches of the time, asserting that: "Science, physical and political alike, revolts at the disorganisation which glares at us in so many aspects of modern life," and that "the nation demands the application of drastic corrective and curative processes." The state was to acquire canals and railroads, develop certain national industries, provide vastly augmented education, introduce the eight-hour work day, levy progressive taxes, and guarantee a national minimum living standard. It is no wonder that Beatrice Webb [one of the leaders of the Fabian Society] noted that Churchill was "definitely casting in his lot with the constructive state action."


Besides pushing for a variety of social insurance schemes, Churchill created the system of national labor exchanges; he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith of the need to "spread ... a sort of Germanized network of state intervention and regulation" over the British labor market. But Churchill entertained much more ambitious goals for the Board of Trade. He proposed a plan whereby:

["]The Board of Trade was to act as the 'intelligence department' of the Government, forecasting trade and employment in the regions so that the Government could allocate contracts to the most deserving areas. At the summit ... would be a Committee of National Organisation, chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to supervise the economy.["]
How odd that so many of Churchill's current idolators would seem to disagree with every aspect of this "collectivist social policy." No matter; there is a Myth to be maintained, and the facts be damned.

Raico moves further along the trajectory of Churchill's career:
So far Churchill had been engaged in politics for 30 years, with not much to show for it except a certain notoriety. His great claim to fame in the modern mythology begins with his hard line against Hitler in the 1930s. But it is important to realize that Churchill had maintained a hard line against Weimar Germany, as well. He denounced all calls for Allied disarmament, even before Hitler came to power. Like other Allied leaders, Churchill was living a protracted fantasy: that Germany would submit forever to what it viewed as the shackles of Versailles. In the end, what Britain and France refused to grant to a democratic Germany they were forced to concede to Hitler.
Ironically--considering that it was a pillar of his future fame--his drumbeating about the German danger was yet another position on which Churchill reneged. In the fall of 1937, he stated:
["]Three or four years ago I was myself a loud alarmist. ... In spite of the risks which wait on prophecy, I declare my belief that a major war is not imminent, and I still believe that there is a good chance of no major war taking place in our lifetime. ... I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism.["]

For all the claptrap about Churchill's "far-sightedness" during the 30s in opposing the "appeasers," in the end the policy of the Chamberlain government--to rearm as quickly as possible, while testing the chances for peace with Germany--was more realistic than Churchill's.

The common mythology is so far from historical truth that even an ardent Churchill sympathizer, Gordon Craig, feels obliged to write:

["]The time is long past when it was possible to see the protracted debate over British foreign policy in the 1930s as a struggle between Churchill, an angel of light, fighting against the velleities of uncomprehending and feeble men in high places. It is reasonably well-known today that Churchill was often ill-informed, that his claims about German strength were exaggerated and his prescriptions impractical, that his emphasis on air power was misplaced.["]

Moreover, as a British historian has recently noted: "For the record, it is worth recalling that in the 1930s Churchill did not oppose the appeasement of either Italy or Japan." It is also worth recalling that it was the pre-Churchill British governments that furnished the material with which Churchill was able to win the Battle of Britain.
Clive Ponting has observed:

["]the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments...had ensured that Britain was the first country in the world to deploy a fully integrated system of air defence based on radar detection of incoming aircraft and ground control of fighters...Churchill's contribution had been to pour scorn on radar when he was in opposition in the 1930s.["]
The following is of critical importance, although this appears to be a subject still considered entirely off-limits by the Myth-Worshippers in our midst:
Even after the fall of France, Churchill rejected Hitler's renewed peace overtures. This, more than anything else, is supposed to be the foundation of his greatness. The British historian John Charmley raised a storm of outraged protest when he suggested that a negotiated peace in 1940 might have been to the advantage of Britain and Europe. A Yale historian, writing in the New York Times Book Review, referred to Charmley's thesis as "morally sickening." Yet Charmley's scholarly and detailed work makes the crucial point that Churchill's adamant refusal even to listen to peace terms in 1940 doomed what he claimed was dearest to him--the Empire and a Britain that was non-socialist and independent in world affairs. One may add that it probably also doomed European Jewry. It is amazing that half a century after the fact, there are critical theses concerning World War II that are off-limits to historical debate.

Lloyd George, Halifax, and the others were open to a compromise peace because they understood that Britain and the Dominions alone could not defeat Germany. After the fall of France, Churchill's aim of total victory could be realized only under one condition: that the United States become embroiled in another world war. No wonder that Churchill put his heart and soul into ensuring precisely that.
In connection with his remark about "doomed European Jewry," Raico has this excerpt from The Goebbels Diaries:
On March 27, 1942, Goebbels commented in his diary on the destruction of the European Jews, which was then underway: "Here, too, the Fuhrer is the undismayed champion of a radical solution necessitated by conditions and therefore inexorable. Fortunately, a whole series of possibilities presents itself for us in wartime that would be denied us in peacetime. We shall have to profit by this." He added: "the fact that Jewry's representatives in England and America are today organizing and sponsoring the war against Germany must be paid for dearly by its representatives in Europe--and that's only right."
No, I am not suggesting for a moment that Goebbels' disgusting "justification" for the extermination of the Jews should be given any weight at all -- although you can rest assured that certain defenders of the Great Man Myth will happily, if wrongly, seize on this detail to smear me and discredit all of these arguments if they should happen upon this essay. But what Raico and the other historians are pointing out, with a great number of facts to support their contention, is that Churchill's determination to destroy Germany as a competing power -- a Germany under any form of government, even a democratic one -- and his total dedication to ensuring that Germany would forever remain under the "shackles" imposed by Britain and her allies had costs and consequences, and some of them were so dreadful that they defy comprehension.

Raico has a number of further details about Churchill's hatred for everything German, whether it related specifically to Nazism or not, including these:
In October, 1944, Churchill was still explaining to Stalin that: "The problem was how to prevent Germany getting on her feet in the lifetime of our grandchildren." Churchill harbored a "confusion of mind on the subject of the Prussian aristocracy, Nazism, and the sources of German militarist expansionism...[his view] ... arose from a combination of almost racialist antipathy and balance of power calculations." Churchill's aim was not simply to save world civilization from the Nazis, but, in his words, the "indefinite prevention of their [the Germans'] rising again as an Armed Power."

Little wonder, then, that Churchill refused even to listen to the pleas of the anti-Hitler German opposition, which tried repeatedly to establish liaison with the British government. Instead of making every effort to encourage and assist an anti-Nazi coup in Germany, Churchill responded to the feelers sent out by the German resistance with cold silence. Reiterated warnings from Adam von Trott and other resistance leaders of the impending "bolshevization" of Europe made no impression at all on Churchill. A recent historian has written: "by his intransigence and refusal to countenance talks with dissident Germans, Churchill threw away an opportunity to end the war in July 1944." To add infamy to stupidity, Churchill and his crowd had only words of scorn for the valiant German officers even as they were being slaughtered by the Gestapo.
Raico's essay contains much, much more, including many details concerning the profoundly revolting manner in which Churchill and Roosevelt eagerly surrendered much of Europe to Stalin and Soviet Russia, forever removing their own justifications for having eagerly allied themselves with such a monster.

Here is Raico describing what happened after Germany's defeat:
And so we come to 1945 and the ever-radiant triumph of Absolute Good over Absolute Evil. ...

The dark side of that triumph, however, has been all but suppressed. It is the story of the crimes and atrocities of the victors and their proteges. Since Winston Churchill played a central role in the Allied victory, it is the story also of the crimes and atrocities in which Churchill was implicated. These include the forced repatriation of some two million Soviet subjects to the Soviet Union. Among these were tens of thousands who had fought with the Germans against Stalin, under the sponsorship of General Flasov and his "Russian Army of Liberation." ...

Most shameful of all was the handing over of the Cossacks. They had never been Soviet citizens, since they had fought against the Red Army in the Civil War and then emigrated. Stalin, understandably, was particularly keen to get hold of them, and the British obliged. Solzhenitsyn wrote, of Winston Churchill:

["]He turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them he also handed over many wagonloads of old people, women, and children. ... This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths.["]


Worst of all was the expulsion of some 15 million Germans from their ancestral homelands in East and West Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania, and the Sudentenland. This was done pursuant to the agreements at Tehran, where Churchill proposed that Poland be "moved west," and to Churchill's acquiescence in the Czech leader Eduard Benes's plan for the "ethnic cleansing" of Bohemia and Moravia. Around one-and-a-half to two million German civilians died in this process. As the Hungarian liberal Gaspar Tamas wrote, in driving out the Germans of east-central Europe, "whose ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities, and railroad stations," a whole ancient culture was effaced. But why should that mean anything to the Churchill devotees who call themselves "conservatives" in America today?
When one realizes that what such people are so zealous about "conserving" are only the myths without which their false image of themselves apparently would collapse, one understands why no number of facts such as these will make even a dent in their massive walls of denial. No number of deaths can compete with the desperate need to maintain a person's precarious sense of psychological identity.

Interestingly enough, Raico notes that after the war "Churchill's own expressions of profound self-doubt consort oddly with his admirers' own expressions of triumphalism." Indeed, in the preface to The Gathering Storm, the opening volume of Churchill's history of World War II, he wrote:
The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace or Security, and that we lie in the grip of even worse perils than those we have surmounted.
As I have often noted before, this is the pattern followed by all wars of the past one hundred years: World War I created greater dangers than had existed before that conflict, which dangers led to World War II, which led to the "even worse perils" that even Churchill himself finally recognized -- the unrecognized tragedy and betrayal lying in the fact that it was the actions of men like Churchill and Roosevelt that made those "worse perils" possible, and inevitable.

Moreover, this is the same pattern we continue to follow today: Bush can keep repeating all he likes -- and to the great, unending delight of his adoring, unthinking idolators -- that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have made the United States and the world safer than they were before, but facts will not be obliterated by a rhetoric of lies and deception. And every expert who actually studies terrorism agrees that our continued occupation of Iraq, together with the constantly growing swath of destruction and death that the Iraqis' increasing resentment makes unavoidable as long as we remain, has only increased the terrorist threat -- and that our own actions recruit more new members to the terrorists' cause than they could dream of doing themselves.

This, too, is history repeating. The British trod the same path in Iraq almost one hundred years ago, and finally had to leave, having accomplished nothing except destruction and death. If he were still alive today, Churchill no doubt would have forgotten that history, although he himself was involved in it -- and would have urged Bush on the suicidal path he was determined to follow. In the face of mankind's endless capacity for denial, coupled with its endless quest for revenge and bloodshed even when such destruction leads only to greater dangers than had previously existed, it is no inconsiderable miracle that we have managed to survive this long. But we should not, and cannot, count on miracles to preserve us indefinitely.

I am tempted to say to those who cling to their indispensable myths that they should simply grow up and be adults. Face the indisputable facts, including the unending trail of death that our choices have brought us to date, and then adjust your direction accordingly. If enough people did just that, we might have a chance.

To that end, pick up The Costs of War, read Raico's essay and the other enormously valuable articles the book contains. And then perhaps we can agree as adults with Raico's conclusion:
[W]hen all is said and done, Winston Churchill was a man of blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.
That judgment need not be the end of the story, but the end only to lies and myths which are undercut on every side by the overwhelming weight of facts. If we seek new wisdom and a new direction, it can serve as renewal, and a new beginning -- one founded on truth, and justice, and the value of a single human life.

For finally, that is all that truly matters: the irreplaceable, supreme value of a unique human being. Faced with the choice between the prospect of peace and happiness for that individual man or woman, or the lies we need only to maintain our vanity and myths, choosing should not be so difficult after all.

April 28, 2006

A Brief Personal Note

[THANK YOU! THANK YOU! My deepest gratitude to all of the wonderfully generous people who have made donations and offered assistance in other ways. I'm genuinely overwhelmed. I simply don't know what to say. And my great thanks to John, once again. On a number of occasions, John has kept me blogging, when I myself might well have given up. Here, completely unbidden, he has done so yet again. Bless you, my friend.

The immense kindness so many of you have showered upon me now gives me the luxury of a choice. Wow. I haven't had any money to make an actual choice about anything for quite a while. Several people have offered to donate a computer, and I'll be in touch with them in the next few days. If I should buy a new one, I'd probably get a desktop model, since my health keeps me housebound almost all the time. As I'm largely ignorant about computers and tech stuff, could people recommend a good desktop computer for around $600-$700? I'd appreciate any suggestions (arthur4801@yahoo.com).

I can assure all of you that I live very frugally on next to nothing, with no frills at all (I still have a dialup connection, and I have no cable or satellite TV, for example, not even for basic service). So if I should accept the wonderful gift of a computer, I'd use the donations for medical expenses. I'll finally be able to take care of several problems that have gone unattended for far too long. I hope that's alright with everyone. If not, please let me know, and I'll refund donations as indicated.

My boundless thanks once again. I will have to fall back on the closing lines from Tony Kushner's wonderful play, Angels in America: "You are fabulous, each and every one, and I bless you. More life. The great work begins."

I guess that means I need to get back to blogging regularly. Drat. You've all reduced me to tears. Honest.

Bless you, one more time.]

I'm very sorry that posting has been very sporadic lately. As my latest essay indicates, I've been thinking about many issues, and there is a great deal I want to write about. I'm dealing with two very difficult problems at the moment. The first is my health, which is very bad at the moment. I'm often unable to do much of anything for days at a time. Unfortunately, I doubt this will improve significantly in the near future. I wish I could write all day long, but on most days, I simply can't.

The second problem presents difficulties of another kind: my old and primitive computer is now on its very last legs. I thought it had given out completely yesterday, and only several hours of tinkering saved it (for the moment). Since I just barely have enough money to live on, a new computer is impossibly out of reach. I don't mind not having any bells and whistles on my computer, but it's very difficult to do research and insert links when it often takes three or four minutes for a single page to load, which now occurs routinely.

All this means that posting will continue, but at a much slower pace than I would prefer. I apologize again for this, but there is simply nothing I can do about it. Your patience and understanding are appreciated. At the moment, I plan to post at least one essay per day. If several days or a week go by with no new entries, it most likely means that my computer is finally dead -- and until and unless I get a new one, posting will be unlikely to resume.

Systems of Obedience: The State, Culture and Ideology -- Introduction

This is the first of what I expect to be a lengthy series of essays. The subjects I will address encompass many seemingly disparate areas, everything from philosophy and the history of ideas, including the development of the Judeo-Christian doctrines that serve as the often unacknowledged foundation of many of our views (and even the views of those who sometimes criticize those doctrines on narrower points), to the role of the state and/or religion as central organizing mechanisms for human activity and belief, to racism and sexism, to our insatiable desire for war and the destruction of life in a manner that would be astonishing if we did not assume this to be the inevitable and "natural" state of the world, to current films such as the retrogressive and deeply unfortunate Brokeback Mountain (and Crash to a somewhat lesser degree), and to novels which throw certain of these ideas into high relief.

I am intentionally deferring the broader theoretical discussion of my general theme to subsequent installments. I do that for several reasons, not least of which is the daunting complexity of the issues that I want to explore. What concerns me is the critical ground on which politics, culture and psychology meet, and the countless ways these factors (and others) inform and interact with each other.

Let me offer a couple of quick comments about the meaning of my title, with the longer explanation to come. When I refer to the "state" in this series, I refer to any state at all, from the most minimal and least intrusive form of government to the most brutal totalitarian regime. For any government to function, it must command obedience to its laws from the majority of its citizens, even if those laws are few in number. As the number of laws multiplies and as government extends its control over more and more areas of life, the scope of the activities demanding adherence to that society's rules similarly increases.

By "culture," I intend the term to be understood in the commonly accepted manner: the prevailing views that dominate a particular society at a particular time. These views cover all the major aspects of our existence: the nature of man, whether happiness or suffering is to be expected in the course of our lives, the relationship of man to the state, whether and in what form our lives hold "meaning" and, if so, under what conditions, the relationship of women and men and the roles they should play, our views of sex and whether it is inherently good or evil, and many more. Very often, these kinds of issues are revealed most clearly and in an accessible manner in works of art, which is why I will be analyzing certain films and novels.

The most common form of "ideology" to which I refer is undoubtedly religion. An especially stark example of religions that place a premium on obedience to an endless series of commandments is fundamentalism of any variety, whether Islamic or Christian (or any other kind). But ideology in this sense need not be religious in nature: the combination of tribalism with shared political belief also falls within the phenomenon that I will be discussing (and that is true on both the left and the right, as those terms are commonly used). I have discussed the secularization of religious ideas before, in an essay examining the "Idea of Progress" and how that idea influences our thought today (and our foreign policy, in particular). I will be examining this secularization again in this series, beginning with my discussion in the next installment. Here is a brief reminder of one of Robert Merry's main points, in his book, Sands of Empire:
Once again the Bury-Nisbet debate illustrates an important point about this persistent Western Idea of Progress. Bury is clearly correct in saying that the medieval mind never conceived, much less embraced, the Progress Idea as it later developed in European thought, whether in conjunction with Christianity or in entirely secular garb. At the same time, Nisbet has a point worth pondering--namely, that elements of Christian theology were later incorporated into the Progress Idea as it emerged in an increasingly secular culture. This is an observation of profound significance--that as Providence waned as a powerful idea holding the Western mind in thrall, it was replaced by its secular counterpart, Progress, which in various guises has manifested its own capacity to hold the Western mind in thrall.
I have to ask for your patience as I explore these themes. It is not simply that they are unusually complex, and that this complexity is multiplied by the complicated ways in which many of these ideas interact with and affect each other. The problem I face is much deeper than that, and it goes to the fundamental manner in which we confront the world: our basic stance is a warlike one. It is a perspective that splits the world into halves engaged in endless battle. In this sense, the wars we perpetually fight across the globe are only the external sign of the psychological and emotional conflicts that precede and give rise to them.

All of us grow up in a culture that takes this state of war as the given, and we very rarely question it to any extent at all. This is one of the reasons I often grow impatient with much narrower political struggles (including the endless fights between the liberal and conservative parts of political blogging, where each side frequently views the other as made up of demented, deluded lunatics, incapable and probably unworthy of redemption). I may take the part of one side more than the other on particular issues but, in the end, most liberals and conservatives share the same most basic assumptions, as I will detail later in this series. And my primary complaint about most liberals and progressives is that, while some of them may view themselves as radicals to some degree, almost none of them is nearly radical enough. They are engaged in variations on the paradigm -- but they will not challenge the paradigm itself. This is why, as just one example, you find many liberals praising a film like Brokeback Mountain, apparently oblivious to how profoundly negative and damaging the film is, not only in terms of its view of gays, but in its views of women as well, and of sex more generally. I will examine that particular example in some detail.

These ideas will (hopefully) become clearer as I proceed through these essays. For the moment, and to give an indication of the kind of questioning in which I will attempt to engage and which I hope to encourage in others, let me offer an excerpt from Jamake Highwater's Myth and Sexuality. As is true of art, sex often captures the essentials of our deepest views of ourselves, and of the world in which we live. As Highwater discusses, how we think about our bodies reveals how we think about the world. For us in the West, this is not good news:
As mythologist Barbara C. Sproul observes, myths "involve attitudes toward facts and reality." As such, the questions they raise are most effectively answered by the metaphoric mentality which is at the heart of mythology. Myths constellate our grasp of reality. Whether we adhere to them or not, the myths at the foundation of our societies remain pervasively influential. I believe with Sproul that myths "deal with first causes, the essence of what their cultures perceive reality to be ... So it is no accident that cultures think their creation myths the most sacred, for these myths are the ground on which all later myths stand. In them members of the group can perceive the main elements of the entire structure of value and meaning ... But because of the way in which domestic myths are transmitted, people often never learn that they are myths; people become submerged in their viewpoints, prisoners of their own traditions. They readily confuse attitudes toward reality (proclamations of value) with reality itself (statements of fact)." [See my essay, The National Myth that Sustains Us -- and Its Inevitable Racism, for more on the role of founding and creation myths; this essay has still more on this subject.]

Creation myths have strong religious significance, so we often think of them entirely in terms of sacred cosmogony. But creation myths also determine the shape of secular myths that function as the paradigms of nonreligious thinking in science, politics, and law. Social behavior and even fashion and etiquette are built upon a value structure indistinct from mythology. Our ideas about sexuality do not escape this mythic influence. For instance, the mythic basis of sexual attitudes in many societies is highly dichotomized. This dichotomy is especially strong in the thinking of the West. We are therefore inclined to take for granted that the Asian concept of Yin and Yang confirms our attitudes about the universality of opposite forces in nature, rather than seeing Yin and Yang as the expression of a different paradigm of Taoist tradition. But actually, Yin and Yang cannot be used to exemplify the pragmatic dualism of the West, for they are symbolic representations of the synthesis of opposites that exists at the core of a unitary Asian mentality. In the East, Yin and Yang, light and dark, consciousness and unconsciousness are in an active, dialectical balance. However dramatic their opposition, each opposite depends for its wholeness upon its counterpart.

In contrast, it is characteristic of Western viewpoint to think of sexuality in terms of binary opposites: male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, marital sex and pre- or extramarital sex. "And in every case, one of these pairs is privileged, is seen as the 'normal.'" ... In many other cultures the dichotomized value system does not advocate or even comprehend what we in the West mean by binary opposites. That fundamental difference in the ways in which we know and understand the world makes it almost impossible for us to see others in any terms except those that we use to define ourselves. Failing to see our own myths as myths, we consider all other myths false. Therefore, nothing challenges our factualized mythology as much as the values of other cultures which contradict those categories of privilege and normalcy which our cosmogony attributes to nature. To suggest any flaw in those things which are at the heart of binary opposites throws us entirely off balance. We cannot comprehend any congruity between what we have defined as "opposites" because our mythology has become the guiding principle not only of religion and moral conduct, but also of science and social behavior. Choices for us are strictly a matter of either/or: male or female, good or evil, light or dark, heterosexual or homosexual, natural or unnatural. We have even forfeited the purely statistical basis of terms like "normal" and "abnormal" in favor of a curious form of biological morality: normal-good and abnormal-evil.
Our inability "to see others in any terms except those that we use to define ourselves" is also noted by Robert Merry, in his discussion of the "Idea of Progress":
The other great contradiction centers on the concept that this Idea of Progress applies to all mankind--a legacy of the Augustinian heritage, as we have seen. And yet the actual progress that is the focus of this Idea has taken place almost exclusively within Western civilization. It is all about Western science, Western technics, Western methods of inquiry, Western philosophy, and, in the end, Western political and economic ideals. Nisbet offers a penetrating insight into all this when he notes that the Idea of Progress has always been essentially "Eurocentric." By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he writes, "the spell of the idea of progress--and with it the Eurocentric view of the entire world--had grown to such proportions that little if anything in the world could be considered in its own right. Everything had to be seen through the West and its values." Implicit in this was the view that other cultures were inferior to the West, and hence universal progress required that these inferior cultures embrace the Western heritage.
Despite the progress that we have made with regard to some narrower issues concerning sex and race, this dichotomized worldview -- the idea that all our activities and our nature itself are divided into pairs, the two parts of which are forever at war with each other but only one of which is "privileged" and "normal" -- still permeates our culture. It functions as an axiom that can never be questioned. Most of the time, it is not even acknowledged: as Highwater discusses in his book, we have transmuted our most fundamental views of the world into a statement about nature itself. We forget (or refuse to acknowledge) that this represents only one way of viewing the world.

In our own time, this kind of dichotomy is perhaps most famously captured in Bush's claim that in his purposely never-defined "War on Terror," you are either "with us or against us." Of course, Bush employs this dishonest formulation to demand acceptance of all the major components of the specific manner in which he has chosen to fight this war: unless you agree with his program of making war on countries that do not threaten us, of torture, of indefinite detention, even of American citizens, for years (or perhaps a lifetime) for reasons that need never be stated or examined, of similarly arbitrary and unexamined spying on Americans, and all the rest, you are "on the other side."

The terrible irony of this view is that, in fact and in history, fundamentalism -- either of our homegrown variety or of the Islamic kind -- arises from the same roots. This insistence on warring pairs has another tragic result: our own worldview results in the creation of enemies where none had to exist, as James Carroll discusses. This is true not only in a philosophic and historic sense: as I will be discussing in more detail soon, the foreign policy of the United States enlisted Islamic fundamentalism as an ally for several decades, in many ways about which the majority of people are entirely ignorant. Following the pattern we never see or learn from, we aid those one day who become our enemies the next. This worldview creates and depends on enemies and on perpetual war, as Matt Taibbi also notes (see the second half of this essay).

But in terms of this perspective in its broadest form, I must again emphasize that it is tragically not restricted to the political right or left. Bush and his supporters may represent a very extreme and especially dangerous form of this worldview, but it is a Western perspective. And Bush would never have been in a position to implement his policies, nor would he even now have almost no significant opposition, unless many others shared his deepest assumptions, even if to a (perhaps) less dangerous degree. The truth is even worse: even though some of them might deny it, most national Democrats actively support Bush's plans for the next war, the one on Iran, as their votes for stricter sanctions against Iran indicate. I will discuss that development in more detail shortly. For the moment, please note two facts about this prelude to yet another war: this is the same exact pattern that was followed with regard to Iraq, and only 15 House Democrats voted against this new legislation, while 182 Democrats voted for it.

Even in light of the ongoing catastrophe of Iraq, and despite the fact that the Bush administration has made unmistakably clear its plans to bomb Iran, almost none of us -- including most of the supposedly "antiwar" Democrats -- seem capable of learning one single damned thing. As I noted above and as I will be examining in much more detail, this is because all our national leaders, with less than a handful of exceptions, share the identical Western perspective. It is a worldview that weaves neverending war into its very fabric; its most notable legacy is devastation and death on an ever-widening scale.

April 20, 2006

Our Dirty War, II

Related Essays: Our Dirty War: Only Evil

Barbarian Nation: The Torturers Win

On Torture

Bob Herbert:
I said, "Some of these folks have never been heard from again, right?"

"Yup," said Curt Goering. "That's right."

Mr. Goering is the senior deputy executive director for policy and programs at Amnesty International USA. We were discussing a subject — government-sanctioned disappearances — that ordinarily would repel most Americans.

In past years, stories about torture and "the disappeared" have been associated with sinister regimes in South and Central America. The attitude in the United States was that we were above such dirty business, that it was immoral and uncivilized, and we were better than that.

But times change, and we've lowered our moral standards several notches since then. Now people are disappearing at the hands of the U.S. government.

"Below the Radar: Secret Flights to Torture and 'Disappearance' " is the title of a recent Amnesty International report on the reprehensible practice of extraordinary rendition, a highly classified American program in which individuals are seized — abducted — without any semblance of due process and sent off to be interrogated by regimes that are known to engage in torture.

Some of the individuals swept up by rendition simply vanish.


There is no way to know how many people have been seized, tortured or killed. Since there are no official proceedings, there is no way to know whether a particular individual who is taken into custody is a legitimate terror suspect or someone who is innocent of any wrongdoing. But we have learned, after the fact, that mistakes have been made.


Someone had a hunch that Maher Arar was a terrorist, too. A Canadian citizen who had been born in Syria, he was snatched by American authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, and shipped off to a nightmare in Syria that lasted nearly a year. He was held for most of that time in an underground, rat-infested cell about the size of a grave.

No one, not even among the Syrians who tortured him, was ever able to come up with any evidence linking Mr. Arar to terrorism. He was released and returned to his family in Ottawa. Shunned and emotionally shattered, he seems a ruined man at just 35 years of age.

The cases of Khaled el-Masri and Maher Arar are among the handful that we know about. Most cases remain concealed in the lawless netherworld that Mr. Goering spoke of.


The Bush administration will never do the right thing when it comes to rendition. Congress needs to step in and thoroughly investigate this program, which is nothing less than a crime against humanity. Congress needs to investigate it, document it and shut it down.

April 16, 2006

Judy Miller: Still Propagandizing for the Times

I've observed before that the New York Times learned absolutely nothing from its craven willingness to make itself a propaganda outlet for the Bush administration in the runup to the Iraq war. Now we discover that Judy Miller herself still writes for the Times, albeit under a different byline: "by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger."

You have to read almost to the end of this article, before coming upon the paragraphs that undercut all the scaremongering that precedes them:
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, just hours after Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim, senior intelligence officials said they had seen nothing yet that would lead them to revise their estimate that Iran is still five to 10 years away from making a weapon.

Kenneth C. Brill, the director of the National Counterproliferation Center, created to track programs like Iran's and North Korea's, cautioned against accepting at face value Tehran's recent claims about producing enriched uranium and plans to produce 54,000 centrifuges.

"It will take many years," he said, "to build that many."
Of course, the great majority of people won't read that far.

Most of them will probably only read the opening, and skim the rest (if they even do that). And here's how the piece begins:
Of all the claims that Iran made last week about its nuclear program, a one-sentence assertion by its president has provoked such surprise and concern among international nuclear inspectors they are planning to confront Tehran about it this week.

The assertion involves Iran's claim that even while it begins to enrich small amounts of uranium, it is pursuing a far more sophisticated way of making atomic fuel that American officials and inspectors say could speed Iran's path to developing a nuclear weapon.

Iran has consistently maintained that it abandoned work on this advanced technology, called the P-2 centrifuge, three years ago. Western analysts long suspected that Iran had a second, secret program — based on the black market offerings of the renegade Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan — separate from the activity at its main nuclear facility at Natanz. But they had no proof.

Then on Thursday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran was "presently conducting research" on the P-2 centrifuge, boasting that it would quadruple Iran's enrichment powers. Centrifuges are tall, thin machines that spin very fast to enrich, or concentrate, uranium's rare component, uranium 235, which can fuel nuclear reactors or atom bombs.
And we're treated to the usual meaningless formulations, such as: "If Iran moved beyond research and actually began running the machines..."

And: "If Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim is correct, it probably indicates..."

And: "There are other indications that Mr. Khan may have been dealing with Iran as recently as six years ago..."

So why the hell did the Times even bother to examine its reporting that preceded the Iraq invasion? They're doing the same exact thing all over again. This isn't reporting: it's warmongering of the first order. The administration wants to scare people out of their wits (stupidity loves company, and all that)-- and the Times is happy to follow the administration's wishes.

As I noted a few days ago:"The constant stream of scare stories about Iran is designed only to terrify the American public sufficiently, so that when Bush holds a press conference to announce air strikes against Iran that have already begun, enough people will believe that the strikes were necessary -- since Iran was about to launch nuclear weapons against us momentarily."

Just as before, the New York Times is playing right along.

So Judy Miller's spirit lives on at "the paper of record." What a glorious note on which to begin a new week.

Lunatic World

Consider the following scenario. We have two countries, A and B. Country A is run by a repressive, often brutal regime. That regime is in power largely as the direct result of meddling in its internal affairs committed by Country B and B's friends, meddling that began in a serious way fifty years ago. Certain of Country A's leaders (but not all of them by any means) make threatening noises about attacking Country B and some of its friends -- but all knowledgeable experts agree that Country A is years away from representing a genuinely serious threat to anyone. Certainly it is not now a threat to Country B itself. And even if Country A had the means to launch an attack on Country B or its closest friends, most people recognize that it would probably never do so, since it would thereby ensure its own destruction.

Country B is the acknowledged sole superpower in the world. It could destroy any nation on earth, probably within several hours or days. It possesses the most fearsome weapons arsenal ever known to man. Moreover, it is the only country in the world that has ever used nuclear weapons -- but on the one occasion it did so, it at least used them against a nation with which it was already at war. (Many observers argue, conclusively in my view, that using nuclear weapons even in that situation was completely unnecessary and morally detestable, and that it constituted nothing less than a war crime of major proportions.)

Keep in mind that Countries A and B are not at war.

Yet Country A's verbal threats -- which are now largely meaningless and will remain so for some years, and which arise more out of domestic political strategies as opposed to representing any formal foreign policy -- are treated as outrageous and intolerable. Many commentators say these toothless threats demand a response, and that they may demand a response in the near future, one including the offensive use of nuclear weapons.

And Country B refuses to unequivocally rule out a military attack against Country A -- even though Country A is no threat now or in the near future, and despite the fact that Country A has no history of invading and occupying other nations. On the other hand, Country B is in the fourth year of an occupation of one of Country A's neighbors -- another country that was no threat to Country B. Nonetheless, Country B attacked and occupied it.

With almost no exceptions, commentators and the public at large regard Country B's position that it would be justified in attacking Country A as entirely legitimate and moral, even if it might be strategically ill-advised. And with almost no exceptions, Country A's meaningless bluster is considered to be intolerable and unforgivable, and probably deserving of a devastating military response, if not now, then sometime soon.

Remember: Country A has no history of making aggressive war or of occupying other countries. Country B does, and is in the midst of one such campaign right now. But Country A is the villain, and Country B is and would be entirely innocent, even if it attacked still another country that represented no threat, and even if it used nuclear weapons.

This perspective, which is the framework within which the current debate about attacking Iran takes place, constitutes a lunatic world, one turned entirely upside down. We make war on non-existent threats, and threaten further wars against additional non-existent threats -- and we are heroes. Other countries, as deplorable as their ruling regimes may be, utter meaningless threats -- and for this "outrage," they deserve to be attacked. It is only the doctrine of Western "exceptionalism" (see here and here, for example) that permits this lunacy to go largely unremarked.

We believe that we have the ultimate solution to human history, and that it is our right and obligation to share it with the rest of the world -- by military might, as required. Since we have identified ourselves as inherently noble and virtuous, nothing we do can possibly be wrong. We might make a few regrettable errors -- engage in a little torture here and there, for example (even though the systematic use of torture is now indisputably official U.S. policy) -- but we are always on the side of the angels. And those we have identified as our enemies are inherently evil. Even if these "evil" nations are no direct threat to us (which is the sole relevant factor in matters of war and peace), we are justified in destroying them. Even if all the "evil" nations do is offer threats on which they cannot and probably would not make good, such threats are deserving of bombs, and even nukes.

This apocalyptic crusader perspective suffuses the West, and the United States in particular. It need not be religious in nature, although these days it often is. The West has also embraced the secular version of this psychology, in the form of the "Idea of Progress." Note that, to date, not one major voice in the United States or in the West has denounced in absolute, unmistakable terms the moral depravity and monstrousness of an attack on Iran in the current circumstances.

I was reminded of all this yet again when I read one of The Weekly Standard's propaganda articles about whether we ought to attack Iran. The article by Reuel Marc Gerecht is written entirely from the perspective of Western "superiority." Gerecht takes all the elements of Western "exceptionalism" as axioms never to be questioned.

The piece does not deserve a point-by-point refutation; Gerecht's approach is wrong in its foundation, and the details of his argument are of no consequence. Because he accepts the notion that the United States represents Absolute Good, we are entitled to do whatever we decide is required, and no questions about our "right" to so act are to be entertained. But one paragraph leapt out at me, because it underscores the lunatic nature of this approach.

In my essay from several years ago ("In Service of the New Fascism") about Irving Kristol's article, "The Neoconservative Persuasion," I discussed Kristol's foreign policy prescriptions. About Kristol's revisionist history and his view of the U.S. role in the world, I wrote:
This is a vicious and reprehensible rewriting of history. If I thought Kristol were capable of experiencing the emotion, I would say he ought to be ashamed of himself. Every single one of those wars was one that the United States deliberately and intentionally chose to become involved in after a long period of deliberation. I will be offering some excerpts from Barbara Tuchman's masterful history of the Vietnam War (in her book, The March of Folly) in the near future -- but I would have thought everyone knew that our involvement in Vietnam was the result of an intentional and very deliberate process of decision-making over a very long period of time. It was utterly mistaken and based on what ought to have been obviously dubious premises at almost every single step, but it was hardly a course of action foisted on us when we were simply minding our own business. And the same is true with regard to every other war in Kristol's list.

But Kristol's intellectual legerdemain accomplishes one objective, and it is a significant one: it absolves us of all responsibility for our past decisions in the foreign policy sphere. In effect, Kristol's analysis entirely negates the element of moral judgment when it comes to issues of war and peace, at least so far as the conduct of the United States is concerned. Wars, endless bombing raids, huge troop deployments, massive domestic taxation, a military draft (during the long period we had one), endless foreign entanglements, and large-scale death -- it's all just "bad luck." It just happened. It's not enough that Kristol engages in intellectual suicide before our eyes: he also wishes to prevent anyone else from engaging in critical analysis of historical events, in an attempt to ascertain if there just might be any lessons to be learned from such a study. And Kristol thus hopes that this intellectual paralysis will continue in the present, and into the future. Why, we can't question the means or methods by which we are now fighting the war on terror. It just happened. It's just our "bad luck." Whatever we do now or in the future, there are no judgments to be made about any of it.
I discussed this seeming paradox further in, "On Responsibility: The Comedy Continues." The ultimate payoff of this perspective is obvious: whatever we do, we couldn't help it. Nothing is ever our fault. As I put it: "they want to be able to do whatever they wish -- and they never want to be held accountable for any of it."

In his article, Gerecht entirely adopts this view of the United States as a helpless giant. We are the world's sole superpower but, in the end, we are fundamentally passive and forced to act against our will:
Critical point: The Iranians--not the Americans--control this discussion and are circumscribing the diplomatic avenues the Bush administration is still determined to pursue. Tehran's mullahs are unlikely to allow us any running room. Rafsanjani's and Ahmadinejad's recent statements about Iran succeeding in enriching uranium (level unspecified) and its readiness to begin industrial-scale production mean, among other things, that the clerical regime believes it now has the advantage (which it does).
I must note that "the Bush administration is still determined to pursue" diplomacy with Iran only in the sense that it was "determined" to do so with regard to Iraq: that is to say, the illusion of diplomacy will only serve as a rationalization when the decision is made to launch the attack. The Bush administration will declare once again: "See? We tried to solve this terrible problem diplomatically. But they wouldn't let us. It's all their fault."

So when we attack a country that isn't a threat, it's their fault. If we use nuclear weapons offensively against a non-existent threat, it's their fault. Even if millions of its citizens die as a result, it's their fault.

This is not foreign policy: it's mental illness, and it is the psychology of a psychopathic mass murderer.

One other brief passage from the Gerecht article deserves mention, since it reveals the genuinely sophomoric level of the kind of political analysis such people offer. This made me laugh out loud:
The Iranians are making the astute call that if they can get the West to acquiesce now--if they can get the West to believe they really are on the verge of industrial-scale enrichment--then they're much safer than if they drag this out. America is, so CNN says (and the Iranian English-speaking elite faithfully watch CNN), tied down in Iraq. Politically, President Bush is obviously weak. Down the road, circumstances might not be so propitious.
Honest to God. I can barely bring myself to comment on this, given its absurdity. I have to remind myself that people like Gerecht actually believe this kind of thing. And while I might credit the statement that "the Iranian English-speaking elite faithfully watch CNN," the idea that what they see on television is the basis for their country's foreign policy is ludicrous, and offered without a shred of evidence. But in this manner, the defenders of America's undisputed "right" to impose "benevolent hegemony" on the world find yet another way to deflect blame: everything that happens is the fault of Iran, and/or the fault of that damned liberal media. Nothing is ever our responsibility or our fault, even if we are the ones who bring on World War III. And it apparently hasn't occurred to Gerecht that "the Iranian English-speaking elite" have additional sources of information about the catastrophe in Iraq and its implications, just as we ourselves do -- and as it would appear Gerecht himself does.

We should not be surprised, whatever may happen now. A lunatic ideology rules us, and almost everyone takes it for granted. And practically no one is protesting against it in any serious manner at all.

April 15, 2006

Rhyming History

I've discussed the great significance of the Spanish-American War and the ensuing war and occupation in the Philippines before: in an essay detailing our view of our role in "civilizing" the world (even if it involved killing a quarter of a million civilians), including some truly shocking excerpts from Albert Beveridge's speech to the Senate; and this entry about why Thomas B. Reed retired from the House of Representatives, because he could not accept our country's decision to follow the course of empire. Reed knew that, in time, if that decision were not altered, it would ultimately destroy the American republic. Honest observers today must acknowledge that he was correct.

It is certainly true, as a friend recently reminded me, that the United States had always followed an expansionist ideology -- an ideology that relied on brutal and even genocidal means. That program was justified on the same grounds: that the United States represented an "ideal" form of government, which entitled it to move into territory as it determined in its sole judgment -- and to eradicate the people who were already there, if that was considered "necessary." I will leave you to ponder the monstrous contradiction inherent in the idea of an alleged "ideal" government that utilizes genocide to actualize its aims. I should also add that the related demonization of other races was part of the fundamental fabric of the United States since its founding and in the earlier colonial period, with its critical reliance on slavery.

People who cling to the notion of the United States as representing the highest point of human development (thus far, at any rate) usually argue that the abstract political principles embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (that "all men are created equal" in particular) outweigh these "defects." And they usually go on to add that the Civil War was the terrible price the U.S. paid for this grievous error -- as if that settled the question and tipped the scales fully in favor of the "ideal" conception of our country.

This kind of argument is singularly unpersuasive, and it ignores the persistence and importance of cultural realities. We all know that virulent racism persisted long after the Civil War, and that it was embodied in governmental action itself (the Jim Crow laws and the Japanese internment of World War II, among other examples). But racism as a cultural force has been equally if not more important. We see it in the fact that an obviously racist screed such as Charles Murray's The Bell Curve is viewed as "serious" and "respectable," and you can find many other current examples. Most recently, we saw the persistence of an especially vicious racism in the aftermath of Katrina.

The inescapable truth is that announcing the correct abstract principles -- or having the "right" ideas -- does very little to guarantee that culture will adjust itself accordingly. If you have any doubt about this point, consider the personal parallel, which I consider to be close to exact: we all know that, when we are trying to alter a certain aspect of our behavior (whether thought or action, or a combination of both), we can arrive at what we consider to be the "right" idea or conclusion. But it still may be months or years before our behavior conforms itself to the new idea and, in some instances, such conformance forever escapes our grasp. These issues are very complex, and I will address them in more detail in a new series that I hope to begin in the next several days. That series will be titled, "Systems of Obedience: The State and Ideology."

Let me return to the Philippines episode. Even though the U.S. embraced an expansionist ideology from its inception, the Spanish-American War and its aftermath nonetheless represented a critical historic shift: what had been confined within the continental borders of our country now expanded overseas, and in time took in the entire world. I offer the following excerpt from an article about a forthcoming book because I don't think this history can be repeated often enough. Americans suffer from a genuinely deplorable historical amnesia. Most of us -- including most disastrously most of our political leaders -- act as if history began only five or ten years ago. We remember nothing, and we learn nothing. This self-made blindness has terrible consequences, as we are seeing again in the Middle East today. I've often pointed out that the Western powers have been seriously interfering and meddling with the Middle East since World War I, and the United States has been the primary interloper since World War II. We remember none of this -- but the peoples of the Middle East do.

That this history is alive to those in the Middle East is the primary reason for their resentment and hatred of the U.S. But since we render ourselves entirely ignorant of our own behavior, we can delude ourselves into believing that "they" hate us because of our "freedom," as our especially ignorant president likes to say repeatedly. For the great majority of people (excluding intellectual zealots, religious or secular in nature, foreign or domestic), deep resentment and hatred does not spring from philosophical, abstract disagreement. It is almost always rooted in how particular people have acted towards us, and how those people have directly affected our lives. When others have invaded our countries, toppled our governments, and interfered in our affairs in innumerable ways over a period of many decades, resentment and hatred are normal, entirely predictable reactions. But we refuse to see any of this.

As I've noted before, many of the central elements of our conduct as a nation in foreign policy matters were established in the Philippines. If you weren't convinced of that before, consider this:
It was Mark Twain who said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Few today remember that the celebrated author was also a vocal critic of a U.S. war of empire a century ago: the invasion of the Philippines.

Historian Paul Kramer, in his new book "The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines" (University of North Carolina Press), details the long-forgotten history of the Philippine-American war and the 40-year occupation that followed. He argues that the Philippine adventure in many ways "rhymes" with the current U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the "eerier similarities," said Kramer, professor of history at The Johns Hopkins University:

- A conventional invasion and speedy victory followed by an unexpected, protracted non-conventional insurgency.

- Violations of human rights norms by the occupying Americans.

- Repeated claims that the war was justified by and fought on behalf of higher principles of "civilization" or "freedom."

- Declarations that the war was over in hopes of ending domestic controversy about it.

- The sense that it was America's right, duty and obligation to engage in nation building and installing "democracy," of which the United States was considered an unblemished example.

"I'm not surprised at these parallels," Kramer said. "Indeed, what's remarkable is our persistence in suppressing the memory of this earlier war, a persistence that I think is all that makes debacles like the present one 'surprising.'"

The U.S. experience in Vietnam is another example of the nation's inability to focus on the lessons of the Philippine-American War, he said.

"In all three conflicts," Kramer said, "U.S. officials predicted easy victories, underestimated guerrilla forces and, arrogantly assuming their objectives were universally shared, were shocked when U.S. troops were not greeted as 'liberators.'"
The article contains many more details of the Philippine war, including this: "It involved 126,000 U.S. troops and resulted in nearly 5,000 U.S. casualties, an estimated 12,000 Filipino military casualties, and the death by violence, dislocation and disease of an estimated 250,000 Filipino civilians." And there is this:
Increasingly, U.S. soldiers would see the entire population as the enemy, expressing their hatred using racial terminology like "goo-goo" (which later evolved into the Vietnam-era "gook"). They would also use increasingly harsh tactics, including the burning of whole villages and the torture of prisoners using what was called the "water cure" (the antecedent to today's "water-boarding").
Today, we see all this again in Iraq -- and in our unforgivable ignorance, we are "surprised."

What is so astonishing and horrifying about our self-imposed ignorance are the costs that it exacts -- from us, and from those we victimize by our actions. And all of it is entirely unnecessary: if people would simply pick up a few books, read them, and think about their content, we could avoid all these costs, and we would not be in Iraq today (and possibly Iran tomorrow).

It doesn't seem to be asking all that much. And yet, it is beyond the grasp of most Americans, and most of our leaders resolutely refuse to engage in such an exercise. So the tragedies and the deaths go on, and on, and on...

(At the moment, my only income is from donations for my writing here and at The Sacred Moment. If you find this post and my other writing of some value, I would be very grateful if you considered making a contribution. I'm trying to get some money together for some badly needed medical attention, so donations in any amount would be especially appreciated right now. Many, many thanks.)

April 14, 2006

"I Will Never Trust Any of Them Again"

From Christopher H. Sheppard, a former Marine captain who served two tours of duty in Iraq:
Three years ago, I was a Marine Corps captain on the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border, participating in the invasion of Iraq. ...

As I watched the Iraq war begin, I completely trusted the Bush administration. I thought we were going to prove all of the left-wing antiwar protesters and dissenters wrong. I thought we were going to make America safer. Regrettably, I acknowledge that it was I who was wrong.

I believed the Bush administration when it said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I believed its assertion that Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa and refine it into weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. I believed its claim Iraq had vast quantities of biological and chemical agents. After years of thorough inspections, all of these claims have been disproved.

I believed the administration when it claimed there was overwhelming evidence Iraq was in cahoots with al-Qaida. In January 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that there was no concrete evidence linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.


I volunteered to go back to Iraq for the fall and winter of 2004-2005. I went back out of frustration and guilt; frustration from watching Iraq unravel on the news and guilt that I wasn't there trying to stop it. Many fine Marines from my reserve battalion felt the same and volunteered to go back. I buried my mounting suspicions and mustered enough trust and faith in my civilian leadership to go back.

I returned disillusioned by what I saw.


I now know I wrongfully placed my faith and trust in a presidential administration hopelessly mired in incompetence, hubris and a lack of accountability. It planned a war based on false intelligence and unrealistic assumptions. It has strategically surrendered the condition of victory in Iraq to people who do not share our vision, values or interests. The Bush administration has proven successful at only one thing in Iraq — painting us into a corner with no feasible exit.

I will never trust any of them again.
Read the entire article.

(I must repeat once again that the "false intelligence" had almost nothing to do with the decision to go to war -- although it may have influenced narrower, tactical decisions, almost always for the worse.)

Keep that Powder Dry, Brave Democrats

It's quite a track record the "opposition party" has compiled over the last several years:

The constitutional disaster of the Patriot Act, which practically everyone in Congress voted for the first time without even having read it. Russ Feingold voted against it -- and he was the only Senator to do so.

And then Congress caved on it a second time, as Feingold discusses here.

No serious opposition was raised to either the Roberts or Alito nominations to the Supreme Court (to say nothing of the nomination of Al "Torture" Gonzales to be Attorney General). The Supreme Court has been altered for the next several decades, in favor of untrammeled executive power and against individual rights -- but hey, that's not anything worth putting up a fight about.

Then we had the Real ID Act, voted for by every single Senator. It was buried in the bowels of an Iraq Supplemental Spending Bill. If you voted against it, you hated the troops! Can't have that. So within the next few years, all of us will hear the demand to "show your papers" whenever the powers-that-be want to make sure we remember that we live by their permission alone. If and when there is another major terrorist attack here in the U.S., look for a domestic visa program (among other things): you'll need permission to travel outside your own state. Congress will undoubtedly go along with that one, too. Have to be patriotic! Have to be sure we're safe!

Of course, Congress has long since ceded the power to make war to the executive branch -- despite what the Constitution says. Note this, please (and read the whole article by Jacob Hornberger, from August 2003):
Why has Congress been relatively quiet on the executive branch’s deception about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction? The answer is easy: By abrogating its constitutional responsibility regarding its constitutional power to declare war, Congress made itself a silent partner in the president’s wrongdoing.


[U]nder our system of government, one branch of government is precluded from delegating its powers to another branch. Thus, Congress cannot delegate its power to declare war to the president.

Yet that’s exactly what the Congress did last fall when it voted to give the president power to decide whether to go to war against Iraq. By authorizing the president to make that determination, the members of Congress abrogated their constitutional duty to make it. In so doing, they ensured that there would be no independent screening process by which the president’s justifications for war could be tested.


It’s true that prior to the war, President Bush made it clear that he didn’t care whether he had a declaration of war from Congress or not, citing the numerous wars that had been waged since World War II without a congressional declaration of war.

But the fact that previous presidents have waged wars in violation of the supreme law of the land does not operate as a grant of power to future presidents to do the same. If an act is illegal when committed by one president, it continues to be illegal when committed by subsequent presidents.

Given that the U.S. Supreme Court has long refused to involve itself in the enforcement of this particular section of the Constitution, there remains only one method by which the people can enforce it. That method lies with a clear pronouncement by Congress that if the president goes to war without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war, he will be impeached.

By failing to do that during the run-up to President Bush’s Iraq war and by unconstitutionally delegating their power to declare war to the president, the members of Congress not only betrayed the oath they took to defend the Constitution, they also betrayed the American people.

That’s why they’re as culpable as the president with respect to the deception that was used to justify the war.
Now the Bush administration thinks it has the power to wage war anywhere and everywhere, and by any means it deems "necessary," as long as the "War on Terror" goes on -- which means for the rest of our lifetimes. And no one seems prepared to tell them otherwise. This is why -- if and when the war with Iran begins -- Congress will again be as guilty as Bush.

I have a couple of related questions. Has even one major Democrat spoken out against the monstrousness of an aggressive, non-defensive, unprovoked attack on Iran? Has even one national Democrat denounced the possible use of nuclear weapons, "tactical" or otherwise?

What in hell are they waiting for? The day after Armageddon?

Stupid, goddamned, miserable cowards. Guess what, brave Dems? NO ONE WILL BE LISTENING THEN. And even if a few people are, it won't make a damned bit of difference. You'll be far, far too late.

Christ Almighty. If there are any historians fifty or a hundred years from now, whatever judgment they make about our nation at this moment in time could not possibly be sufficiently damning. In one sense, I consider the guilt of the Democrats to be even worse than that of Bush and the Republicans: they supposedly represent the "opposition." That has to be the worst joke of my lifetime.

We are largely a nation of sniveling cowards, mindlessly lashing out at the world and at all our enemies, real or imagined. And we are led by a pack of cowardly, spineless politicians, with only a handful of exceptions.

If there is a God, may He have mercy on our souls. Frankly, I suspect He gave up on us long ago.

I wrote the following in my post about why Alito had to be filibustered:
I am not naive or unrealistic: the Democrats may well lose in the end. But when the stakes are this high -- and here, the stakes encompass everything that matters with regard to the future of our country -- you must fight, even if you lose. If the battle is waged with an understanding of the profound importance of the issues involved, at the very least the public will be more aware of the nature of the struggle by the time it is over. As a result, more people will be prepared to fight the next battle more effectively. Up until now, the Democrats have employed the opposite strategy: each surrender makes them progressively weaker, thus rendering them more incapable of fighting when the next crisis arises.


When you are asked to accede to that which you know to be deeply immoral and wrong, and to be ultimately destructive of what once made the United States the great nation it was -- and if you care about honor, decency, your own life and the lives of your fellow Americans -- then you must say no, even if you are almost certain that you will lose.

A very powerful "No" could provide us with more time, time that is desperately needed to right our nation's course. It might save us -- and at the very least, those who say "No" will save their own souls and consciences. If the Democrats in Washington are unwilling or unable to act in this manner, they will have damned themselves. They will no longer be any concern of mine -- nor, I would submit, should they be a concern for anyone who understands the nature of this battle and who gives a damn.
Some months later, and with regard to the increasingly likely attack on Iran, I can only multiply these judgments by a factor of at least one hundred.

Next to no one in Washington is offering anything even close to serious, sustained, principled opposition to this damnable administration. There is no forgiveness for any of those who now remain silent. None.