Monday, January 31, 2005

More on torture in the gulag

"I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

"And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted." - George W. Bush 09/30/04

Men without conscience are capable of any cruelty the human mind can imagine. - Dick Cheney 01/26/05

The Christian Science Monitor carries a daily feature that is sort of a blog.  At any rate, it has a lot of links.  A recent one focused on prisoners in the "war on terror," and has a number of links on the topic:  Report: US wants to hold Gitmo prisoners indefinitely by Tom Regan 01/03/05. (The date on the page actually says 2004, but it's from this year.)

Torture: Shock, Awe and the Human Body by William Pfaff 12/21/04. Original at the International Herald Tribune 12/21/04.

What is this all about? The FBI, the armed forces' own legal officers, bar associations and other civil law groups have protested, as have retired intelligence officers and civilian law enforcement officials.

The United States has never before officially practiced torture. It was not deemed necessary in order to defeat Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Its indirect costs are enormous: in their effect on the national reputation, their alienation of international opinion, and their corruption of the morale and morality of the American military and intelligence services.

Torture doesn't even work that well. An indignant FBI witness of what has gone on at the Guantánamo prison camp says that "simple investigative techniques" could produce much information the army is trying to obtain through torture.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration is not torturing prisoners because it is useful but because of its symbolism. It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.

US disclosures signal wider detainee abuse by Charlie Savage Boston Globe 12/26/04.

The documents suggest that severe mistreatment was far more widespread than previously known and that there may have been higher-level authorization by Bush administration officials for a policy of aggressive interrogation tactics. The White House last week again denied that anyone authorized torture and pledged to investigate the new allegations.

Because the e-mails and memos recounting scenes of abuse were written by government officials -- largely FBI agents appalled by interrogation practices they found unprofessional and counterproductive -- the disclosures lend greater credibility to prior claims of abuse by former detainees, according to an advocate for the detainees.

''This is really disturbing and frightening," Khalid al-Odah, father of a Guantanamo detainee, said in a phone interview from Kuwait City. He says his son went to Pakistan to teach the Koran just before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and was later sold into detention under false pretenses by villagers seeking a bounty for Al Qaeda members.

''Before the FBI reports, we did not take these stories from the [human rights] organizations and released detainees as full fact," Odah said. ''We thought maybe there was some exaggerating, or they are not sure about what is happening exactly. Now we don't have any doubt."

Someone who should  know better makes the sophomore-philosophy-class argument about torture:  Gonzales: No Go! by Ed Kilgore 01/27/05.

As it happens, I'm not an absolutist on this subject. I can't honestly say I'd behave well if I had custody of an al Qaeda operative who was reported to know the time and place of a dirty bomb set to go off in Washington or New York, killing tens of thousands of people and spreading radioactivity to tens of thousands of others.

Yeah, tell that to the young boys in Abu Ghuraib who were anally raped.  Or to the guy who was stripped naked and had a dog let loose on him to rip out chunks of his flesh.  Or to the parents there who had their children tortured in front of them.

Kilgore is saying this in the context of opposing the nomination of Alberto "the torture guy" Gonzalez.  But it's ridiculous.  This is not the context in which torture takes place.  Anyone with even the most superficial knowledge of the subject realizes that it's almost always done by governments, and it's mainly done for the purpose of terrorizing the population.  Of course, the sick individual proclivities of the individuals doing the torture always enters into it at some level.

Making a point about this hypothical comic-book argument doesn't show that you're "pragmatic" or any such nonsense.  At best it's foolish.  In most cases it's just making excuse for criminal, sadistic acts.

More Auschwitz/Holocaust links

Here are a few additional Holocaust links:

The Guardian (UK) Focus page on the Holocaust.  Has links to a number of Guardian articles.

Putin Expresses His Shame for Russia by Judith Ingram (AP) Moscow Times 01/28/05.

As world leaders and death camp survivors mourned victims of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged Thursday that anti-Semitism and xenophobia had surfaced in Russia, tackling an issue that the Kremlin had long failed to confront directly.

Putin also signaled that Moscow would not revise its view that the Soviet Union was solely a victim of World War II -- refusing to accept arguments that it, too, held some responsibility for the conflict, due to the signing of a secret Soviet-Nazi pact that divided up Eastern Europe.

"Even in our country, in Russia, which did more than any to combat fascism, for the victory over fascism, which did most to save the Jewish people, even in our country we sometimes unfortunately see manifestations of this problem and I, too, am ashamed of that," Putin said at a forum near Krakow, to long applause.

This article has several interesting details of the politics of remembering the Second World War in Russia today.

Mahnung am größten Friedhof der Welt Neues Deutschland 28.01.05 (German)  This paper is the official publication of the Partei der Democratischen Socializmus (PDS), the successor party to the Communist Party of the former East Germany.  It is sometimes referred to as a "post-communist" party.  There's nothing that distinctive about this particular news article, which is basically a factual report on the Auschwitz commemoration ceremony on January 27.

When it was the ruling party in East Germany, the official position on the Holocaust was that East Germany had no official responsibility for its consequences, because it was said to be the action of the Hitler dictatorship, not of the German farmers and workers, and the German farmers and workers state (as they described themselves) therefore has no continuing legal or practical responsibility.

I visited the Buchenwald concentration camp just outside of Weimar in 1991.  (There is also an English version of the Web page.) At that time, the signs in the camp were still from the Communist days.  I was struck by the fact that they emphasized the nationalities of the victims of the Holocaust and stressed the way political dissidents were victimized.  They certainly talked about Jewish victims, but the emphasis was not on the anti-Semitic aspects of the Nazi ideology and the resulting genocide.

The Web site I linked above doesn't have much.  But it does have a reminder about one of the complications in memorializing Buchenwald, which is that the Soviets also used it as a concentration camp for some period of time after the war.  I don't recall any metion of that aspect of its history in the old East German exhibits.  The statement of purpose for the Foundation from the Web page says:

The foundation's purpose is to preserve the sites of the crimes as sites of mourning and commemoration, to provide these sites with a scientifically founded form and outward appearance and to make them accessible to the public in an appropriate manner, as well as to promote the research of the respective historical occurrences and their conveyance to the public. At the Buchenwald Memorial, the history of the Nazi concentration camp is to receive priority within this context. The history of the Soviet internment camp is to be integrated into the scientific and museum work to an appropriate degree. At the Mittelbau-Dora Memorial, special attention is to be devoted to the subject of the exploitation of inmates for the production of weapons of destruction. The history of the two memorials' political instrumentalisation during the era of the German Democratic Republic is also to be represented.

Remembering history is a complicated process.

Iraq War: What it's doing to the military

The following two articles focus in different ways on the damage that the Iraq War is doing to the US military, especially the Army.  The wounds to the Pentagon's publicly credibility are to a large extent self-inflicted.  For instance:  Pentagon Weighs Use of Deception in Broad Area by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt New York Times 12/13/04.

Such missions, if approved, could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

Critics of the proposals say such deceptive missions could shatter the Pentagon's credibility, leaving the American public and a world audience skeptical of anything the Defense Department and military say - a repeat of the credibility gap that roiled America during the Vietnam War.

The efforts under consideration risk blurring the traditional lines between public affairs programs in the Pentagon and military branches - whose charters call for giving truthful information to the media and the public - and the world of combat information campaigns or psychological operations.

The question is whether the Pentagon and military should undertake an official program that uses disinformation to shape perceptions abroad. But in a modern world wired by satellite television and the Internet, any misleading information and falsehoods could easily be repeated by American news outlets.

The kinds of disinformation operations discussed in this article are not aimed at deceiving an enemy on the battlefield about troops movements.  They are designed to be "black propaganda," aimed even at allied nations and, probably intentionally, at the US public, if the latter only indirectly.

And then they're flabbergasted when they realize their public credibility is low!

An Army's morale on the downswing William Pfaff International Herald Tribune 12/29/04.  Also available at

<FONTSIZE=2>If the failure [in the Iraq War] is a traumatic one, the result is likely to resemble the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Vietnam destroyed the American citizen army: product of a 200-year tradition that rejected standing armies and held temporary and egalitarian military service to be a duty and experience of citizenship. In Vietnam, the conscript army eventually staged a mute mutiny against the folly of its government. ...

Iraq is now destroying the professional army the United States recruited to take the place of its citizen army. The new army was intended to serve as the unquestioning instrument of the policies of the elected administration. This administration's refusal to supply the manpower and means necessary for its vast military and political ambitions is now having its effect on that army. Its politically inspired fear of conscription, the merciless combat rotation policy and systematic use of involuntary extensions of duty its policies impose, are devastating to troops.

Chuckie Watch 84: Chuckie's deep on the Dark Side lately

We haven't checked in on ole Chuckie for a couple of weeks.  Chuckie's been in a pretty bad mood lately.  In his most recent rant, Elections 01/28/05, Chuckie tells us that Congressional critics of the war, Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy in particular, are selfish, hateful and "downright evil."  Oh, and they're encouraging The Terrorists, of course.

(Chuckie's Webmaster seems to have changed something so that you can't link directly to the printable version any more.  That was better, because the graphics on the main screen are terrible.)

In An Open Letter to an Atheist 01/24/05, Chuckie explains that God's gone git them atheists.  And when he does, they shore are gone be sorry!  They're goin' to Hail, in other words.  Oh, and they're losers and fools, to boot.  And "pitiful, preposterous and pathetic."  He's actually addressing a particular atheist, but I think it's a safe assumption that he means it as applying to the rest of them, too.

In Hygiene (or lack thereof) 01/21/05, Chuckie discovers that restaurants ought to meet some minimum sanitary requirements.  I wonder if it's dawned on ole Chuckie yet that it sounds like he's supportin' some kinda gubment regulation here?  Heck far, he might even be sidin' with the trial lawyers who make all them there frivolous lawsuits!  I think Chuckie was a little confused that day.

Before that, Chuckie was a' fumin' about some of these here liberal bumperstickers he's been seein': Three Time Loser 01/17/05.

But it was in Aftermath 01/14/05 that Chuckie was really gittin' in touch with his inner white trash.  I'm a little hesitant to even link to that one, because it's unusually creepy.  It's actually an example of what I think of as a stock Klan story to justify lynch-murder.

Not surprisingly, the prototype story uses a pretty simple formula, with two parts.  In the first part, the speaker tells a story (usually sourced to a friend-of-a-friend) in which a evil black man rapes an innocent white woman or girl, maybe kills her, too.  This story normally includes some gruesome details of the deed.  Part 2 is a fantasy about the ways in which the perpetrator should be tortured and murdered, also with graphic detail.

The Enemy in the story isn't always black people.  It can be Arabs, or foreigners, or The Terrorists.  I gave an example of one of the latter in an earlier post.  The point of the story is simply to justify vigilante violence.

Chuckie picks child molesters as the Evil People in this one.  Even linking to it seems a little gross, because he uses some weirdly vivid imagery about the imagined misdeeds.  And he gives the standard version of the deserved retribution.  It probably occurred to Chuckie that a famous African-American, Michael Jackson, is coming up on trial on charges related to sexual misconduct with minors; so maybe his rant is not so far removed from the Klan version.  But since it's a set-piece story that can be applied almost verbatim to any target group, I'll insert "the Evil People" in this quote in the appropriate places:

First of all, [the Evil People] should be immediately castrated and thrown into a hole and left to rot.

That’s how I feel and I don’t want to hear from any of you bleeding hearts spewing forth your same old song about human rights. Human rights are reserved for humans, these people are not human beings. They are demonic [Evil People] who need to be taken out of society. ...

Insofar as [the Evil People] I think the government should declare open season on them and [the Evil People] should be shot on sight.

Now, if Chuckie wants to promote protection of children against abuse, I'm all for that.  It would be much more constructive than any of the Christian Right rants or self-indulgent violent fantasies that he puts in his Soapbox column on a regular basis.

But the good ole white boys telling the classic Klan story normally didn't bother to actually educate theirwives, daughters or girlfriends about practical measures to avoid rape, or encourage them to take self-defense classes that would be useful for that purpose.  And Chuckie doesn't give any practical advice for protecting children against abuse either.

The practical measures for dealing with the problem are generally well-known.  Things like educating parents, teachers, medical personnel and social workers to recognize the signs of abuse or potential abuse.  Tracking of convicted sex offenders.  Proper supervision in schools and daycare centers, and so forth.  But that stuff doesn't lend itself to lurid, violent fantasies quite so easily.

But I wonder just how much child abuse Chuckie is willing to condemn.  Because the Christian Right types with whom he identifies so strongly generally promote physical discipline of children as the only godly option.  You know, spare the rod and spoil the child, and all that.  Does Chuckie agree that its perfectly fine for Christian parents to use boards and strips of leather to beat their children?  Would Chuckie be willing to substitute for [the Evil People] in his violent formula of mutilation and death quoted avove, "Christian parents who injure their children while paddling them"?

I doubt it very seriously.  Like everybody else who tells this set-piece kind of story, Chuckie's just justifying vigilante violence, nothing else. And, as we've seen, in the first paragraph of this post and elsewhere, there are lots of people Chuckie thinks of as Evil People.

Iraq War: What to make of Sunday's election?

Eric Alterman offers a useful caution about the reporting on the Iraqi election this past weekend in his Altercation of 01/31/05.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Iraqi elections because it’s way too early to know exactly what happened and what its ultimate effect will be. Yes, the pictures are moving, but really, a little perspective please. Reporting out of Baghdad in 2005 mirrors reporting out of San Salvador in 1984. That was said to be a magnificent success and an expression of a people’s willingness to brave violence in order to express their commitment to Western style democracy. We heard the same stories; people waiting on long lines; telling off guerrillas, walking miles for the right to exercise their democratic rights. Most of this turned out to be an illusion, created by the U.S. military and intelligence forces there, and the voting percentages turned out to be a fraction of what a quiescent media reported at the time. U.S. supported (and perhaps created) death squads continued to exercise their campaign of mass murder, unconcerned with the results of meaningless elections. ...

And the Bush invasion of Iraq has managed to overtake the Reagan team in the categories of cynicism, dishonesty, unreliability and media manipulation—and we are reliably informed that we’re going to get the death squads back too. Given the fact that they have purged their remaining truth-tellers, literally nothing they say can be accepted at face value. ... I suggest that a considerable degree of skepticism about what we are seeing and hearing on Day One might be in order. (The imaginary turnout numbers have already fallen from 72 percent when I checked at 6.00 pm yesterday, to 57 percent this morning. At that rate, they will be negative by Wednesday.)

Juan Cole writes (A Mixed Story 01/30/05):

I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

It strikes me that in the US, both war fans and Congressional war critics have a short-term incentive to make the elections look as hopeful as they can. The war fans for obvious reasons, the war critics in order to promote a sense of transition after which US troop withdrawal should begin.

But we get in way too much trouble when policymakers start acting as if their preferred spin equals reality. I'm with Eric Alterman on this one. It's worth taking a hard look at the more complete reports that will emerge in the following days and weeks.

Der Spiegel's English site gives an overview of German newspapers' reporting on the elections.

Kevin Drum also has an article about what a positive sign holding an election can be.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

John Dean on Alberto Gonzales and the torture scandal

"I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

"And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted." - George W. Bush 09/30/04

"Men without conscience are capable of any cruelty the human mind can imagine." - Dick Cheney 01/26/05

John Dean has weighed in on the nomination of Alberto "the torture guy" Gonzales as Attorney General, the nation's chief law-enforcement official: The Torture Memo By Judge Jay S. Bybee That Haunted Alberto Gonzales's Confirmation Hearings 01/14/05.

The 08/01/02 document to which the title refers is the most notorious of the administration documents that have come to light justifying torture in the gulag.  The text of the memo is available here: U.S. Dept. of Justice Memo To Alberto R. Gonzales, White House Counsel "on interrogation methods that do not violate prohibitions against torture"

Dean calls this memo "the most alarming bit of classified information to surface during wartime since the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers relating to the war in Vietnam." Despite the willingness of the Republican Party to embrace the policies (or at a minimum tolerate them) and the laziness of the mainstream media, this torture scandal isn't going away.  It's too serious, and its implications are too far-reaching.

The memo defines torture so narrowly that only activities resulting in "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function" qualify. It also claims, absurdly, that Americans candefend themselves if criminally prosecuted for torture by relying on the criminal law defenses of necessity and/or self-defense, based on the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Finally, the memo asserts that the criminal law prohibiting torture "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations undertaken of enemy combatants pursuant to the President's Commander-in-Chief powers."

In short, the memo advises that when acting as commander-in-chief, the president can go beyond the law.

Dean also cities some important testimony at the Judiciary Committee hearings on Gonzales.  At those hearings, former Admiral John D. Hudson, who served from 1997-2000 as the Navy's Judge AdvocateGeneral, testified 01/06/05:

In a very real way, this nomination presages the next four years for this country because more than any other discipline, it is the Rule of Law that directs our future. The Attorney General of the United States should be the chief enforcer of that Rule of Law. One of the few things Judge Gonzales got right in his infamous January, 2002 memo is when he stated, “The Attorney General is charged by statute with interpreting the law for the Executive Branch. This interpretive authority extends to both domestic and international law.” Given the analysis that follows in that same memo, the fact that he has now been nominated to that very position should be of great concern to us all. Perhaps more than any other cabinet officer, the Attorney General has cherished public responsibilities to the people, distinct from the role of legal or political advisor to any particular president.

Hudson's testimony is a good reminder of what the laws of war mean in the real world, not in the schoolboy fantasies of the Rush Limbaughs of the world.

The Geneva Conventions envision an end to the hostilities and to the destruction of war. They envision a return to peace. They provide a framework for the conduct of the war that will enable the peace to be sustained and flourish. We must not be deterred just because our enemy in a war on terror doesn’t comply with the Conventions. Our unilateral compliance will aid in the peace process. Moreover, it should have been understood that violations of the Conventions, or ignoring them, doesn’t help bring an end to the war. To the contrary, as we have seen, this only adds ferocity to the fighting and lengthens the war by hardening the resolve of the enemy. Our flagrant disregard for the Conventions only serves as a recruiting poster for this enemy and for our enemies for generations to come. (my emphasis)

I recommend reading the whole thing, since it's become painfully obvious in the torture scandal how little acquainted much of the press providing news and information to the public are with even the most basic considerations of the laws of war. His comments on why he thinks the Geneva Conventions apply in full to Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters captured in Afghanistan is especially noteworthy.  A final quote here from Admiral Hudson:

The chain of command enables the military to operate effectively and efficiently. For good or evil, what starts at the top of the chain of command drops like a rock down the chain of command. Soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen execute the orders of those at the top of the chain and adopt their attitude. Consequently, those at the top have a legal and moral responsibility to protect their subordinates. We don’t want the subordinates to feel compelled to second guess the legality, morality, or wisdom of what is decided above them in the chain of command.

If the message that is transmitted is that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to the war on terror, then that is the message that will be executed. The law and over 200 years of U.S. military tradition say that those at the top are responsible for the consequences. Again, law isn’t practiced in a vacuum. It’s practiced in real life. This isn’t just a quaint academic exercise. It affects human beings and the world order.

Harold Hongju Koh, dean of the Yale Law School, also testified on 01/06/05.  Commenting on the Bybee memo which formed the legal fig leaf for American policy on torture in the gulag leading up the the Abu Ghuraib revelations, he says:

Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC Memorandum is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read. The opinion has five obvious failures. First, it asks which coercive interrogation tactics are permissible, never mentioning what President Bush correctly called every person’s “inalienable human right” to be free from torture. The opinion’s apparent purpose is to explore how U.S. officials can use tactics tantamount to torture against suspected terrorists, without being held criminally liable. Second, the opinion defines “torture” so narrowly that it flies in the face of the plain meaning of the term. For example, the memorandum would require that the interrogator have the precise objective of inflicting “physical pain … equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.” August 1, 2002 OLC Memorandum at 1. Under this absurdly narrow legal definition, many of the heinous acts commited by the Iraqi security services under Saddam Hussein would not be torture. Third, the OLC memorandum grossly overreads the inherent power of the President under the Commander-in-Chief power in Article II of the Constitution, an error I discuss in Part II below.

Fourth, the August 1 memorandum suggests that executive officials can escape prosecution for torture on the ground that “they were carrying out the President’s Commander-in-Chief powers.” The opinion asserts that this would preclude the application of a valid federal criminal statute “to punish officials for aiding the President in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities.” Id. at 35. By adopting the doctrine of “just following orders” as a valid defense, the opinion undermines the very underpinnings of individual criminal responsibility. These principles were set forth in the landmark judgments at Nuremberg, and now embodied in the basic instruments of international criminal law.

Fifth and finally, the August 1 OLC memorandum concludes that, for American officials, the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment allows cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment as permissible U.S. government interrogation tactics. In effect, the opinion gives the Executive Branch a license to dehumanize, degrade, and act cruelly, notwithstanding the Fifth Amendment’s rejection of government acts that shock the conscience and the Eighth Amendment’s rejection of any “cruel and unusual punishments.” 
(my emphasis)

No, this issue is not going away.  John Dean summarizes once again the serious nature of what's happening:

Other international law, and law of war, experts tell me that Bybee's memo (not to mention a few others) is damning evidence suggesting a common plan on the part of the Administration to violate the laws of war. Strikingly, such a "common plan," or conspiracy, is itself a war crime. (my emphasis)

A German torture scandal

I'm surprised this story from late last year didn't get more play in the American press.  But I suppose its silly to be surprised by the fecklessness of our press corps.

There was a torture scandal in Germany last year.  It turns out that some Bundeswehr (Army) trainers had subjected ordinary recruits to Abu Ghuraib type torture situations, allegedly as part of their training.  Similar practices emerged with Austria's Bundesheer.

Both seem to have been limited in scale.

But the responsible officers immediately condemned the conduct, and Defense Minister Peter Struck insisted that all those responsible be prosecuted.

Imagine that.  Criminal torture comes to light being practiced by the Army.  Instead of ordering and tolerating it, the defense minister and senior officers see it as their responsibility to enforce the law and stop it.  The German media aggressively pursued the story.

So far as I've seen, no national commentator that the Chancellor had called a "national treasure" (as Bush did for Rush Limbaugh) went on the radion to excuse the conduct as just fun fraternity-style pranks.  It seems that respectable conservatives didn't feel any need to justify the conduct, nor did members of the governing parties.  Parliamentarians freely criticized the practicies.

I guess the "lessons of history" have been interpreted differently there than by the US Republican Party.

Here's an English-language story on the scandal from the (editorially conservative) Army Hit by Abuse Scandal by Aaron Kirchfield Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 11/26/04

Struck and a number of politicians expressed shock that abusive training tactics had not come to light earlier. ”What disturbs me most is that those who were apparently subject to physical violence, namely the recruits, did not immediately speak out,” Reinhold Robbe, chairman of the defense committee in the Bundestag parliament, said in a television interview with public station ZDF. Struck, who appeared before this committee on Wednesday to discuss the abuse, said those found guilty ”would never put on a Bundeswehr uniform again.”

In its story on Monday, Spiegel newsmagazine said the recruits had ”apparently been maltreated in similar ways” as Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. And on Monday, the Süddeutsche newspaper titled its editorial ”Abu Coesfeld,” in reference to the town of 36,000 in North Rhine-Westphalia where the military base is located.

The subhead on that story ("German Defense Minister said cases of mistreatment did not amount to torture") is misleading.  That refers to this part of the story:

Struck said the officers used ”intolerable training methods” but that they did not involve ”torture in the sense that prisoners were forced to divulge information.”

This is not the first time this year that the Defense Minister has been confronted with the issue of torture. In May, he reprimanded Michael Wolffsohn, a history professor at a military university in Munich, for saying in a television interview that torture was sometimes a legitimate tool in the war on terror. Wolffsohn was asked about his opinion because of the shocking events in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners. Immediately afterward, Struck said, ”German soldiers do not torture.”

If Struck's statement can be taken as any kind of excuse-making, what a contrast it is to such statements by American officials!  When Bush administration officials deny that particular practices of cruelty that have come to light are not torture, they are trying to justify the practice and avoid legal responsibility for their actions.  There doesn't seem to be any indication that senior German officials and officers were condemning the practices that came to light and clearly considered them as illegal and unacceptable.

I wish our current American official and officers were that responsible about the torture scandal here.  No wonder today's Republican's are anti-Europe.

German-language references:

Folter-Exzesse in der Bundeswehr? Süddeutsche Zeitung 20.11.2004
"Realitätsnahe Ausbildung" mit Stromstößen Süddeutsche Zeitung 22.11.2004
"Das kann in keiner Weise von uns toleriert werden" Süddeutsche Zeitung 22.11.2004
Bundeswehrverband berichtet von fünf Haupttätern Süddeutsche Zeitung 23.11.2004
Hinweise auf weitere Fälle Der Spiegel 25.11.04

Baptists for Bush

Speaking of Southern Baptist leaders, I was somewhat surprised when I recently came across this article: The Army of God marching for Bush by Tim Reid Times of London 10/21/04.  The article, as one might expect from the title, is about the Christian Right and their support for Bush in the presidential election.

IF JESUS were voting in next month’s presidential election, Pastor Jim Henry frequently tells his congregation of 11,000 evangelicals, the Son of God would back the candidate most supportive of family values and the Bible.

“And George Bush cares about those issues and that’s why he’s energised the evangelical base,” Pastor Henry told The Times yesterday inside his sleek, modern office at Orlando’s vast First Baptist Church. ...

Pastor Henry has been registering voters at his services since June. He does not tell them who to vote for, but it is clear that Mr Kerry, a practising Roman Catholic who backs abortion rights, is not the evangelicals’ favourite. ...

“George Bush is a man of principle,” Pastor Henry said. “Senator Kerry has taken the opposite stance on the values issues, right down the line. His wife says that she wants to push the gay rights agenda. To push a wrong lifestyle contradicts the Bible’s standards. I’ll think you’ll find that after this election, the evangelical vote has picked up a lot.”

What surprised me about it was that Jim Henry is the father of one of my very favorite singers, Kate Campbell.  Some of her songs recall the experiences of the South during the transition from segregation to integration.  While she's been careful to steer clear of explicitly political stances in public, so far as I'm aware, her songs are evidence of a sensibility that would be extremely hard for most people to associate with the Christian Right.  It's a reminder that a particular religious heritage can take very different turns, from person to person and from one generation to the next.  You can see a report here on a modern dance program that the Memphis Ballet did based on Kate's music, with her playing live: Break out the hankies for 'As the Spirit Moves You' by Christopher Blank Memphis Commerical-Appeal 01/14/05.

Kate is coming to my area in a couple of weeks for two concerts.  She normally likes to chat with fans after her concerts.  So I have to be sure to ask her about that article.

Jim Henry was elected in 1994 to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention, where he served two terms. 

He has apparently been publicly active recently in antigay efforts: Orlando Closer to Enacting "sexual orientation" Amendment by Janice Backer,, (undated but apparently from October 2004; accessed 01/01/05).

The Orlando city commission voted October 21 to pursue a proposed amendment that would add the words "sexual orientation" to a human rights ordinance already written into the city's code. ...

Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando and former Southern Baptist Convention president, attended the meeting and said he was disappointed the issue was not dropped. He was positive, however, that citizens could still make a difference. "We were encouraged by the very strong response of the community who were present to urge a 'no' vote," Henry said. "We believe the larger community is being alerted to this important issue and continue to pray for its defeat."

This is another article about Rev. Henry, which mentions his former church in Sledge, MS, which Kate sings about in her song "Mississippi and Me": 'This is for you,' Jim Henry says, recounting Cooperative Program heroes by Joni B. Hannigan 06/15/2000.

The head of Mississippi's Baptists on the tasks of the church

The head of Mississippi's Southern Baptist Covention (SBC), Rev. Gene Henderson, gave an interview to the state's largest newspaper that appeared on the first day of the new year.  The editor points out in the introduction that the state SBC "includes 2,000 Southern Baptist churches and more than 700,000 members."  And notes as well that the SBC is "the largest Protestant body in the United States."

The SBC is also the largest Protestant group in the US that adheres to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian faith.  But that requires some clarification, both doctrinally and organaizationally.  On the doctrine side, over the last 20 years there has been a notable hardening or polarization in the positions of the SBC.  The national disputes dealt with things like whether no professor should be allowed to teach in an SBC seminary who didn't take a complete "literalist" approach to Scripture (the hardline position) and those who agreed with the literalist approach but who wanted to allow professors at the seminaries the freedom to teach something slightly different (the "moderates").

It's always important to keep in mind with an interview like this, that rank-and-file churchgoers may differ significantly in their attitudes from official statements of church leaders.  Among American Catholics, for instance, attitudes toward abortion laws and the death penalty tend to mirror the national average, despite the church's very public and official emphasis on different stances.

Baptist Convention leader shares goals Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger 01/01/05.  (Jean Gordon interviews Rev. Gene Henderson.)

According to the editor's introduction, the SBC in Mississippi includes "2,000 Southern Baptist churches and more than 700,000 members."

Q: How do churches balance the tension between serving their congregations and reaching out to new people?

A: There's a bigger question with that issue. Studies have been done in which pastors were interviewed about what they think is the major mission of the church. They said evangelism, reaching people outside the church. When they interviewed members, they said ministry to church members.

That's the reason there's a conflict in the church. Most times it's because the pastor and the leadership are focusing outwardly, but the membership is focusing inwardly. Churches inevitably turn inward. The big challenge for pastors is how to maintain fellowship in the church and challenge the church to reach out to the community.

This is an interesting dilemma for all evangelical/fundamentalist Christian churches.  Because the church doctrines emphasize proseltyzing (evangelism) and put a heavy emphasis on celebrating the conversion experience, the notion of Christianity as a path of life does not received as much focus in sermons and church Sunday School classes as it does in other Christian denominations.

Henderson's awkward response to a question about the SBC's outreach to the growing number of Latinos in Mississippi is noteworthy:

It says a whole lot about the changing demographics in the state of Mississippi. There are many more Hispanics now than in the past. A number of our churches are beginning churches with Hispanics or have a mission ministry there. That's one of the reasons Brother Medina [a Latino SBC vice-president] is in the state. His election also says there's an openness in this convention. You don't have to be like us, or dress like us, or look like us. As long as you have the same Lord and savior and you're committed to the same purpose and ministry, then leadership is open. (my emphasis)

The "us" in the sentence I've bolded is, of course, native-born white people.  The SBC, not only in Mississippi, remains overwhelmingly white.  For public-relations purposes, conservative Protestant churches like to have visible minority figures.  (Not unlike the Republican Party.)  Christianity as a religion, after all, is a non-racist doctrine, despite the conduct of many of its adherents.  But the SBC in particular remains overwhelmingly white.

Henderson also gives the readers a glimpse of the SBC version of ecumenism:

I'm interdenominational in terms of our involvement with people and churches. But I was reared in a generation in which I recognized the Baptist distinctives and I maintain those. The denomination is important to me. But for some reason, it's not as important for the younger guys. [He apparently means pastors here.  The SBC generally opposes women ministers.] For example, given a choice of going to the Southern Baptist Convention or going to a leadership conference at Willow Creek Community Church (a nondenominational megachurch outside Chicago) or with Rick Warren (author of A Purpose Driven Life), they'd choose to go to one of those. Because in their minds that is giving them value. They do not see the convention giving them the same value.

While the SBC is the leading fundamentalist denomination by far, it definitely has competition even within that (ecclesiastical) market niche.  The SBC has also historicall emphasized local church autonomy, which complicates enforcement of denominational discipline.

The following was a telling question about mission work.  Unfortunately, the interviewer apparently was content with this one completely softball question.

Q: Do you have any concerns about international mission work during a time of war?

A: Historically war has never kept us from being involved in missions. From 1845 until now we've been involved. It may mean Southern Baptists are limited in certain areas but it doesn't prevent us from continuing in other areas. The war creates some circumstances that are difficult to work with. But it also offers a time when people are desperate and in need. As long as God continues to call these people they're going to answer and go to those places, despite the danger.

In fact, the Protestant missions in Iraq are a serious problem.  Forone thing, despite what Jerry Falwell may be hearing on Fox News, security for foreigners, and even for Iraqis, is particularly tenuous in Iraq.  Sending missionaries into a war zone like that, however much we might admire their personal bravery, is certainly ethically questionable.  And the blunt fact is that American national interest in the Middle East requires promoting some kind of decent relationships with Muslim governments and Muslim publics.  Christian desires to win converts among Muslims there conflict with that national interest in some very practical ways, not least in Iraq.

The SBC and other Christian groups that have insisted, with the support of the Bush administration, in expanding missionary efforts in Iraq at this time have not made our troops any safer or their jobs any easier.  Nor have they contributed anything positive to the urgent need for political arrangements that can stabilize the situation there.

Henderson addresses politics in a more classic fundamentalist way than most politicians would allow themselves in a newspaper interview:

The people in the political framework underestimated the morality of people. People will vote for their conviction instead of their economic benefit — though there's not always conflict between the two. Some things are more important than money, and there are people in this country who have that belief. You can always get more money but you can't always get freedom, community standards. You need to protect those. I think there was a very definite demonstration that Christian values are something that the American people hold dearly, and they expressed it. (my emphasis)

Politicians normally aren't so blunt in publicly saying that Christian Right voters are often voting against their own economic issues.  Henerson also uses "Christian values" here instead of the more, uh, politically correct (for Republicans) "moral values."

Again with a softball question from the interviewer, Henderson talks in a general way about the church and politics, again neglicting to use preferred Republican Party terms like "faith-based" instead of "church."

The church has to be the conscience of the community. If it ever loses that role then it's going to lose a large part of its viability and its necessity. The Gospel is our primary goal; introducing people to Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. But in doing that we have to minister to the needs of the people. We have to answer those felt needs of poverty, racial discrimination and social injustice.

You don't legislate morality but you do keep it before people so they understand the community benefits when people hold life sacred and when people honor the commandments of God's word. The Bible says marriage is sacred and you're not to commit adultery. Those values need to continue to be emphasized. The world out there is always going to try to push the limits. The church needs to be political not in the sense of going out and doing political campaigns but in the sense that Christians need to be in politics and theyneed to let their values be seen.
(my emphasis)

If the reporter hadn't been so lazy (although in fairness, some parts may have been edited out), that comment screams for follow up questions.  Does the head of Mississippi's Southern Baptist churches want to see criminal penalties enacted for adultery and "fornication"?  Why can conservative Christians not opposed abortion on moral and religious grounds but accept laws allowing abortion to be safe and legal?  What stand does he take on the militant groups that picket and blockade abortion clinics?

It's also striking, and something a reporter who was not nodding off during the interview would have noticed, that Henderson describes "poverty, racial discrimination and social injustice" as "felt needs."  Say what? "Felt" needs?!?  This is in Mississippi, with its chronically low per capita income, usually the lowest in the nation, with a significant degree of racial polarization and one of the worst if not the worst maldistributions of income of any state.  It would have certainly been worthwhile to ask Henderson what concrete steps the SBC is taking in Mississippi to address those "felt" needs, and how that compares with efforts of Christian churches and charities who see "poverty, racial discrimination and social injustice" as real needs that Christians need to take seriously in and of themselves, and not just as props for religious proselytizing?

And what does the Rev. Henderson think of the increasing respectability of the racist White Citizens Council in his state?

Q: What issues do you hope people keep in their minds this year?

The dangers we face are this: We have to hold on to the integrity of the Scripture. If people begin to question or negate the Bible — the word of God as their leading guide of faith — there is no foundation. Great denominations that once held to the integrity of the Scripture through critical studies have now questioned the Bible. That's the reason you have people denying the virgin birth, denying the resurrection of Jesus. When you jettison the Bible, then what do you have? You have nothing.

Again, a reporter not sleepwalking on the job should have probed this answer more carefully.  The use of "critical studies" in understanding the Bible ( I prefer the term historical-critical studies myself) is not controversial in most Christian denominations.  Even the Catholic Church, which had been especially hard-headed about historical-critical approaches to the Bible since their beginnings in the early 19th century, has formally accepted that approach for decades.

And it's just plain silly to equate "critical studies" with "denying the virgin birth, denying the resurrection of Jesus."  A secular history, of course, can't take either of those events as historical occurrences.  Christians can and do make use of the findings of historical-critical studies while also accepting events like the virgin birth and the Resurrection as parts of their faith.

It's especially frivolous for him to imply that non-fundamentalist Christians deny the Resurrection. The reporter really should have pressed him on that.  The Resurrection is the central theological event of Christianity, as the Exodus from Egypt is the central theological event for Judaism.  You can't really have Christianity without the Resurrection.

But it's also important to recognize that for Christian doctrine, the Resurrection itself was a faith event.  The Gospel accounts of Jesus after the Resurrection describe him appearing in a spiritual body, not a physical one.  Although I'm sure the popular understanding among many and probably most Christian churchgoers doesn't distinguish between a physical resurrection of Jesus' body and the spiritual event, Christian doctrine does.  The Christian belief in the Resurrection does not require one to accept a physical return of Jesus' body from the dead.  And even if one does see it as including a physical return the dead, the Resurrection still has to be understood as essentially a spiritual event, not a phsycial one.

We need to continue to emphasize those values that we find in the Bible: the sanctity of human life. That speaks not simply to abortion but it speaks to the aged population, situations with the family, the role of husbands and wives, heterosexual relationships. Those things are all biblically based. The church has a responsibility to continue to be conscious of the community. Where the church has compromised, that's where the church is losing.

Why would a reporter (or an editor) refuse to get more specific responses from the most senior official of what is far and away the largest denomination in the state?  What about the "aged population"?  Is the SBC in Mississippi fighting for better services for the elderly?  Because I can tell you for sure from my own family experience that they are grossly inadequate.

What about the roles of husbands and wives?  Does Henderson think that women should just keep their mouths shut and do what their husbands say?  Does he think it's a sin for women to work outside the home?  I recall a number of years ago seeing an article in the state Baptists newspaper, the Baptist Record, on physical abuse in the family, aka, wife-beating.  (I don't have the specific reference; it was at least ten years ago.)  The fool writing that particular article said outright that the reason most physical abuse in marriages occur is because wives nag their husbands too much.  Does Henderson hold to that particular "Christian" view?

And what does he want to see done to promote "heterosexual" relationships?  Ban gays from employment?  More militant enforcement of anti-sodomy laws?  Does he want to see those criminal penalties for adultury and sex outside of marriage to promote heterosexual relationships?

Inquiring minds want to know.

John 1:1-2, Jesus and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity

Since I've managed to do "science Friday" for two weeks in a row, why not "religion Sunday"?  (Especially since I overslept and missed church this morning!)

The familiar - and extremely influential for English - King James Version gives the translation as:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.

The Revised Standard Version (of which the Catholic Church is particularly fond) renders these two verses:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God[.]

The King James translation is actually better, because the Greek ho lógos is a masculine noun, but does not definitely refer to a person, as the English personal pronoun "he" does.  In Christian theology, "the Word" in this verse is taken to be Jesus, in his role as the Second Person of the Trinity.  The current Cathecism of the Catholic Church (1994) straightforwardly identifies the Word of John 1 with Jesus (paragraphs 241, 291).

The author of the Gospel of John also identified Jesus of Nazareth in some way with the logos.  The notion that this passage refers to "the Second Person of the Trinity" in the sense that Christians understand it today would have been incomprehensible to the author of this Gospel and his readers/listeners.  As late as the beginning of the fifth century [verify], violent clashes between the "Arians" and those who saw Jesus as an equal to God the Father were still occurring.  The full-blown Christian notion of the Trinity didn't take firm form until later, and is still not agreed upon between Western and Eastern Orthodox Christians even today.

Logos was an important concept for the Stoic philosophers, a very influential school of thought in the Roman Empire.  They understood logos as being a divine, vital principle animating the material world, as a striving toward understanding the divine and as the expression of tha understanding.  The Stoics saw the human soul as a manifestation of logos. 

Jesus becoming divine

Hans Küng focuses on this passage in Das Christentum (1994) as a key text in the early development of the Christian idea of the divinity of Jesus.  He quotes Leonhardt Goppelt's reading of this passage, "The logos of the prologue becomes Jesus; Jesus is the logos become flesh, but not the logos as such."

The early Greek Church Father Origen (185-251) emphasized the Johannine concept of Jesus as the logos.  But he also emphasized that Jesus the Son was subordinate to God the Father, a view which was at variance with the understanding of Jesus as part of the Trinity that later won general acceptance in Chrisitianity.  Origen, like the philospher Plotinus, considered to be the founder of neo-Platonism, was a student of the philosopher Ammonios Sakkas, though Plotinus and Origen were not personally acquainted.

Origen saw the logos of John 1 as being Jesus, and understood the prologue as emphasizing the role of the logos in the form of (through?) Jesus as being to allow humanity access to the experience of God as light (De principiis 1:2:7):

According to John, "God is light." The only-begotten Son, therefore, is the glory of this light, proceeding inseparably from (God) Himself, as brightness does from light, and illuminating the whole of creation. For, agreeably to what we have already explained as to the manner in which He is the Way, and conducts to the Father; and in which He is the Word, interpreting the secrets of wisdom, and the mysteries of knowledge, making them known to the rational creation; and is also the Truth, and the Life, and the Resurrection,-in the same way ought we to understand also the meaning of His being the brightness: for it is by its splendour that we understand and feel what light itself is. And this splendour, presenting itself gently and softly to the frail and weak eyes of mortals, and gradually training, as it were, and accustoming them to bear the brightness of the light, when it has put away from them every hindrance and obstruction to vision, according to the Lord's own precept," Cast forth the beam out of thine eye," renders them capable of enduring the splendour of the light, being made in this respect also a sort of mediator between men and the light.

Origen also understood the logos to be an active, creative principle in the Person of the Son of God.  From Contra Celsius 2:9 [Origen Against Celsus]:

For we assert that it was to Him [Jesus, to whom] the Father gave the command, when in the Mosaic account of the creation He uttered the words, "Let there be light," and "Let there be a firmament," and gave the injunctions with regard to those other creative acts which were performed; and that to Him also were addressed the words, "Let Us make man in Our own image and likeness; "and that the Logos, when commanded, obeyed all the Father's will. And we make these statements not from our own conjectures, but because we believe the prophecies circulated among the Jews, in which it is said of God, and of the works of creation, in express words, as follows: "He spake, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created." Now if God gave the command, and the creatures were formed, who, according to the view of the spirit of prophecy, could He be that was able to carry out such commands of the Father, save Him who, so to speak, is the living Logos and the Truth?

But in the following, it's clear that he also saw the logos as something more than Jesus, as well:

[A]ccording to our view, it was the Logos God, and Son of the God of all things, who spake in Jesus these words, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; "and these, "I am the door; "and these, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; "and other expressions similar to these. We therefore charge the Jews with not acknowledging Him to be God, to whom testimony was borne in many passages by the prophets, to the effect that He was a mighty power, and a God next to the God and Father of all things. ...

For the soul and body of Jesus formed ... one being with the Logos of God. Now if, according to Paul's teaching, "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit," every one who understands what being joined to the Lord is, and who has been actually joined to Him, is one spirit with the Lord; how should not that being be one in a far greater and more divine degree, which was once united with the Logos of God? [my emphsis]

In Contra Celsius 2:42, Origen also states that "the Logos had become the man Jesus."  And in 3:23, he writes, "Christ was shown to be the first-born of all creation, who assumed a body and a human soul; and that God gave commandment respecting the creation of such mighty things in the world, and they were created; and that He who received the command was God the Logos." (my emphasis)  Here again, while Origen understands Jesus to be the son of God, this phrasing seems to reflect a view that the Logos was a larger divine force of with which Jesus was infused, but which was not strictly identical to him.

This passage from 3:31 reflects even more clearly the notion that Jesus became the Son of God through the power of the Logos:

But since [Celsius]  has charged us, I know not how often already, "with regarding this Jesus, who was but a mortal body, as a God, and with supposing that we act piously in so doing," it is superfluous to say any more in answer to this, as a great deal has been said in the preceding pages. And yet let those who make this charge understand that He whom we regard and believe to have been from the beginning God, and the Son of God, is the very Logos, and the very Wisdom, and the very Truth; and with respect to His mortal body, and the human soul which it contained, we assert that not by their communion merely with Him, but by their unity and intermixture, they received the highest powers, and after participating in His divinity, were changed into God. And if any one should feel a difficulty at our saying this regarding His body, let him attend to what is said by the Greeks regarding matter, which, properly speaking, being without qualities, receives such as the Creator desires to invest it with, and which frequently divests itself of those which it formerly possessed, and assumes others of a different and higher kind. And if these opinions be correct, what is there wonderful in this, that the mortal quality of the body of Jesus, if the providence of God has so willed it, should have been changed into one that was ethereal and divine? [my emphasis]

Origen's views are particularly noteworthy, not only because he produced "the first model of a scientific theology" but also because he was "the greatest philologist" of ancient Christianity, although he by no means always adhered to literal readings in his translations of the Scriptures.  (Hans Küng, Grosse christliche Denker, 1994).

Other views of the logos

The German theologian Drewermann's own translation (Das Johannesevangelium [1997]) into German of John 1: 1-2 is:

Am Anfang steht worthafter Geist.
Denn worthafter Geist geht nach Gott.
Gott selber ist worthafter Geist.
Von Anfang an geht er nach Gott.

[In the beginning was word-like spirit
And the word-like spirit was like God.
God himself is word-like spirit
From the beginning onward he was like God.]

"Worthaft" is word-like, so "worthafter Geist" would be word-like spirit, or spirit in the form a word (or words).

He references verse one to Genesis 1:1 and to John 17:5.  The latter refers to Jesus saying that he shared in the glory of God before the world existed.

Drewermann also notes that Goethe's Faust also agonized over the translation of this verse:

Geschrieben steht: "Im Anfang war das Wort!"
Hier stock' ich schon!  Wer hilft mir weiter fort?
Ich kann das Wort so hoch Unmöglich schätzen,
Ich muss es anders übersetzen,
Wenn ich vom Geiste recht erleuchtet bin.
- Faust I, Studierzimmer)

[It is written, "In the beginning was the Word!"
Here I'm already getting stuck.  Who will help me get farther along?
It's impossible for me to value the word so highly,
I must translate it different,
If I am correctly enlightened by the Spirit.]

Faust reflects a much later understanding, far removed from neo-Platonic understandings of the logos, and thoroughly accustomed to the later Christian doctrine that simply identified Jesus directly with the logos in this verse.  Faust solves the problem to his own satisfaction by concluding that the logos actually represent action:  "Im Anfang war die Tat!" (In the beginning was the deed!)

While Faust is reading this passage aloud and puzzling it out, speaking to himself, a poodle is in the room that has followed him home.  Immediately after he hits upon this translation, the poodle begins to change form, taking shape as Mephistopheles.  And Faust in alarm, calls upon "Salomonis Schlüssel," a medieval magic text to ward of threatening spirits.  A "black magic" text, that is.  A quick transition from the Bible and "In the beginning was the deed" to magical conjuring, which in the Christian understanding was an attempt by humans to manipulate God.  An exercise in arrogance and hubris, in other words, and a risky one.

This innovative translation can be seen as Faust first concrete step in undertaking the spectacular risk of a pact with Mephistopheles.

Drewermann in says in Das Johannes-Evangelium: Bilder einer neuen Welt Erster Teil [2003]) that the introductory prologue to John's Gospel (1:1-18) is the reworking of a Gnostic hymn, which was converted into a statement about Jesus.  It's not clear to me whether this is consistent with Küng's version of the likely derivation of the passage.  Though scholars of the period differ in the weight they give various strands of influence on early Jewish mysticism, there  is little question that Jewish mystical ideas of the day were related to similar influences and dealt with some related issues to that of the Gnostics.  For instance, Gerschom Scholem wrote in Kabbalah (1974):

The position of Philo of Alexandria and his relationship with Palestinian Judaism is of especial weight in these controversies.  In contrast to scholars like Harry Wolfson who see Philo [ca 10 BCE-50 CE; a Platonic Jewish philosopher] as fundamentally a Greek philosopher in Jewish garb, others, like Hans Lewy and Erwin Goodenough, interpret him as a theosophist or even a mystic.

Whatever the exact relationship of John's understanding of the logos to these other strands of religious thought, his understanding of Jesus was a critical step in the development of the Christian understanding of the relationship of Jesus to God.  In religious terms, it doesn't invalidate the later interpretation of Jesus as the "Second Person of the Trinity" to recognize that the author of John understood it in a different (or incomplete) way.  But it's important for more than one reason to see that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity did not, to borrow a pagan metaphor, spring full-blown into the world like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Daily Howler on Social Security

One grump I have about the Social Security discussion. Do we have to abbreviate it with "SS"? Yes, I know the Second World War was a while ago. But the initials "SS" still have, you might say, a negative association.  Can't we call it SocSec or something?

But, that's not mainly what this post is about.  As readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of Bob Somerby, aka the Daily Howler.  And I just wanted to mention that for the last several weeks, he's been providing some very good coverage on the Bush administration's effort to begin phasing out Social Security.

As one example, there's his post for 01/1/05.  In his incomparable style, he takes apart the press corps' failings on the Social Security story:

Again, a note from Earth to the Washington press corps: When a president stages a major forum, then makes wild misstatements about major policy, that will almost always be the biggest news event of the day. When a president baldly misstates basic facts, that is a major news story! But on Tuesday evening, none of the three big networks told their viewers what Bush had done. At NBC, [David] Gregory played tape of one wild statement, then pretended he just didn’t notice. But [ABC's Peter] Jennings established a great Peter Principle: Deftly, he sanitized the things Bush had said, pretending the wilder misstatements hadn’t happened. ...

Duh! Correcting misstatements by major officials is part of a journalist’s job description! And they shouldn’t feel they have to find a Democratic spokesman to contradict Bush; that is their job as reporters. As we think Michael Kinsley first asked, how stupid would it be to write something like this: "Today, George Bush said the earth is flat. A Democratic spokesman quickly challenged him." Objective reporters don’t need third parties to interject simple matters of fact.

This fall, it briefly seemed that the Post and the Times had begun to accept these basic points. In response to Bush’s campaign dissembling, the papers began to publish reports in which reporters noted the obvious—that public statements by Candidate Bush flew in the faceof established facts. When they did so, the reporters in question weren’t injecting "their opinions" into news stories. Quite the contrary—they were simply reporting objective facts. That’s what their job calls for.

And he takes off on the famous phrase that Pat Buchanan coined for Vice President Spiro Agnew, before Agnew had to resign from his office in disgrace, "nattering nabobs of negativism."  He says he's going to label reporters who refuse to correct even the most blatant factual misstatements on Bush's part the "Pandering Poobahs of Positivity."

Iraq War: International Crisis Group report

"[I]t goes pretty well if you watch it on FOX."
-  Rev. Jerry Falwell on the Iraq War, 12/02/04.

This report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) got some press attention when it came out last month: What Can the U.S. Do in Iraq? 12/22/04 (*.pdf file).  The main ICG Web site is at

In Iraq, the U.S. is engaged in a war it already may have lost while losing sight of a struggle in which it still may have time to prevail. Its initial objective was to turn Iraq into a model for the region: a democratic, secular and free-market oriented government, sympathetic to U.S. interests, not openly hostile toward Israel, and possibly home to long-term American military bases. But hostility toward the U.S. and suspicion of its intentions among large numbers of Iraqis have progressed so far that this is virtually out of reach. More than that, the pursuit has become an obstacle to realisation of the most essential, achievable goal -- a stable government viewed by its people as credible, representative and the embodiment of national interests as well as capable of addressing their basic needs.

Of all the many changes that have affected popular attitudes since the fall of the Baathist regime, perhapsthe most notable has been the precipitous drop in confidence in the U.S. This did not occur in a vacuum.  The antecedents of America's troubled relationship with the Iraqi people, which predate Operation Iraqi Freedom, have roots in Washington's ambiguous policies of the 1980s -- marked by a pro-Saddam tilt during the Iran-Iraq war, including the provision of intelligence and weapons;5 its decision not to help the insurgents it previously had encouraged in 1991, and the imposition over a thirteen-year period of draconian sanctions that hurt the people far more than the regime.

There's no evidence so far that the policymakers in the Bush administration are applying a "reality-based" approach to the Iraq War.  But there is awealth of information out there now, including the ICG report, that give a morepragmatic view of the US dilemma in Iraq.

The ICG report also observes what many other analysts have, as well:

While conditions under which the war is waged have fundamentally changed, the U.S. measurements for success have not. The yardsticks -- adherence to the formal political timetable; number of Iraqis recruited and insurgents killed; reconquest of "enemy" territory; political orientation of the new government -- are largely unconnected to the stakes of the current battle and by no means indicative of its trajectory. Of course, material improvements, new schools, increased electricity services and the like are steps in the right direction. But for the most part the successes that are extolled reflect ephemeral victories, short-term advances masking longer-term setbacks and that, at a minimum, are not carrying the U.S. significantly closer to its stated objectives.

Iraq War: Dissent among soldiers

I have several links on various forms of dissent by soldiers and veterans.  First, some follow-up on the soldiers who refused a foolish order that was little more than a suicide mission. 

Convoy incident: No courts-martial by Jerry Mitchell Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger 12/07/04. Mitchell is the reporter who originally broke the story.

Some Army reservists in the 343rd Quartermaster Company have lost rank and pay for refusing a dangerous mission to transport fuel in Iraq.

But the military said Monday it has no plans to court-martial any of the 23 members of the South Carolina-based company, which includes two Jackson men. ...

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson commended the Army for handling the matter expeditiously. "My office has worked continuously on this matter since notified by the families of the soldiers in October," he said in a statement.

Thompson noted none of the punishments "will be career-ending." His office is awaiting a response from the Army on a request for congressional inquiries.

Military investigators found some complaints the soldiers raised, including vehicle maintenance and protection, were credible and actions were taken to address the issues. (my emphasis)

But if it hadn't been for the prompt action of their families back home, who publicized this and insisted that their relatives be treated correctly, the Army would surely have railroaded them and given them much more severe penalties.  An administration and an Army command that allows the kind of excesses that seem to have become routine in Iraq, not least of them the grotesque and blatantly illegal torture practices revealed at Abu Ghuraib, certainly cannot be trusted to deal with servicepeople fairly or justly or according to the law in such situations.

More links on that incident:

Is It Really a Mutiny? Frederick J. Chiaventone Los Angeles Times 10/28/04

Defiance in Iraq: Orders Refused by Ann Scott Tyson Christian Science Monitor 10/18/04

5 troops may get general discharge by Jeremy Hudson Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger 10/17/04

General: Convoy had no armor Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger 10/18/04

These are a pair of more general articles about dissent in the military:

Breaking Ranks by David Goodman Mother Jones 10/11/04

Dissent on Iraq within the military is not entirely new. Even before the invasion, senior officers were questioning the optimistic projections of the Pentagon’s civilian leaders, and several retired generals have strongly criticized the war. But now, nearly two years after the first troops rolled across the desert, rank-and-file soldiers and their families are increasingly speaking up.

The New Anti-War Protesters by Joseph Rosenbloom American Prospect Online 10/28/04

Porter, 51, didn't set out to be an anti-war activist. She and her husband are lawyers who had a joint practice in Kansas City representing corporate clients until they relocated to New Hampshire three years ago. Boone Porter, 54, now works as a corporate lawyer out of a home office. In the last presidential election, he voted for George W. Bush. Recently, though, they've joined a small but seemingly growing and increasingly organized community of military relatives who are going public with grievances about the Iraq War.

To be sure, many military families support the government’s war policy, as a recent poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center suggests. The survey of military families found that 63 percent, compared with only 41 percent of the public generally, approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq.

During other wars involving the United States, even ones that divided the nation, members of military families rarely spoke out publicly against the government’s policy, according to Lawrence Wittner, a professor of history at the State University of New York at Albany and an expert on U.S. anti-war movements. When military families have taken a public stand during a war, they generally have sought to bolster the government’s position. Mothers of children serving in the armed forces, for example, have joined Blue Star Mothers of America Inc., which has supported the troops and promoted patriotism since World War II.

Finally, the following is a post by a veteran who returned home from Iraq about the difficulties of adjusting to civilian life, which in his case as reported were quite serious.  I should note that he made the post on the Daily Kos blog, and so far as I know it was not vetted in the way a news agency would vet a story. 

PTDS and my Iraq Homecoming by Liberal Rakkasan, Veterans for Common Sense 11/23/04:

The original was posted at the following link, which seems to have expired:

His Kos diary was at this link, which also seems to have been taken down:

Iraq War: This sums it up pretty well

Well, I want to be clear: I think it's a very bad time [to hold elections in Iraq]. It's almost surreal to think about the circumstances under which these elections will be taking place. But like almost everything in Iraq, the United States finds itself with no good options.

- Iraq expert Amy Hawthorne, "An explosion waiting to happen" Salon 1/29/05

Friday, January 28, 2005

Science Friday: Abducted by aliens - I hate it when that happens

I mean, unless they turn out to be those aliens that have disguised themselves as especially attractive human females. But I suppose there could be other explanations for waking up in the morning with memories of that having happened in the night.

Skeptic magazine editor Michael Shermer reports on his own alien abduction experience in the February 2005 Scientific American: Abducted!

He refers to a couple of studies showing that the emotional affect attaching to an imagined trauma can be just as intense as that experienced by sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by actual occurrences.

He explains:

The most likely explanation for alien abductions is sleep paralysis and hypnopompic (on awakening) hallucinations. Temporary paralysis is often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations and sexual fantasies, all of which are interpreted within the context of pop culture's fascination with UFOs and aliens.

In other words, people who experience such physical/psychological events In America or Europe of today may interpret them as being visitations by space aliens. In other cultures or other times, people would be more likely to interpret such experiences as a divine encounter, a prophetic vision, or the intervention of incuba or succuba. I sort of hope if one of those happens to me, it will be the kind that lends itself more easily to the succubus interpretation. But that's just me.

(For those not up on your medieval superstitions, incubus and succubus are sexy spirits who visit people during the night.)

I won't spoil Shermer's account of his own alien encounter during a bike race. But he concludes:

After my 90-minute sleep break, the experience represented nothing more than a bizarre hallucination, which I recounted to ABC's Wide World of Sports television crew filming the race. But at the time the experience was real, and that's the point. The human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, and the effects of belief are overpowering. Thanks to science we have learned to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Well, I guess that's at least true for the "reality-based community."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More Holocaust/Auschwitz links

Here are some additional articles on Auschwitz and the Holocaust, arranged by publication.  They are mostly German, but I've listed the English ones first.

The Auschwitz imperative Los Angeles Times editorial 01/27/05

Der Spiegel (English):

Remembering Auschwitz: German Papers Der Spiegel 01/27/05 (English)
A Day in Hell: Touring a Concentration Camp by Charles Hawley Der Spiegel 01/27/05 (English)
Holocaust Tourism: Visiting Auschwitz, the Factory of Death by Alexander Schwabe Der Spiegel 01/27/05 (English)

Süddeutsche Zeitung (German):

Thierse erinnert an die Opfer der "infernalen Todesmaschinerie" Süddeutsche Zeitung 01/27/05
Gebrandmarkt auf ewig von Christoph Schwennicke Süddeutsche Zeitung 01/26/05
"Mein Gehirn will immer nur das Schlechte denken über die Menschen" Süddeutsche Zeitung 01/26/05
"Die Alliierten wussten es und taten nichts" Süddeutsche Zeitung 01/26/05
Eine deutsche Stadt by Sybille Steinbacher Süddeutsche Zeitung 01/27/05
Was wussten die Deutschen von der Vernichtung der Juden? by Fraziska Augstein Süddeutsche Zeitung 01/27/05

Frankfurter Rundschau:

Dossier: 60 Jahre nach Kriegsende accessed 01/27/05
Auschwitz - eine Katastrophe in Europa von Götz Aly 01/27/05
Eine neue Form der Verantwortung (German), an interview with historian Christopher Browning
7650 Überlebende von Ernst Piper (German) 01/27/05

Die Zeit:

Deutschlands moralischer Tiefpunkt: Die Vereinten Nationen gedenken der Befreiung von Auschwitz von Matthias Naß 01/25/05
»Mir fehlen die Juden«: Josef Joffe diskutiert mit Adriana Altaras und Maxim Biller 01/25/05
Wie weit weg liegt Auschwitz?: Gespräche mit Künstlern und Intellektuellen über unsere Gedenkkultur von Jan Roß 01/27/05
Regieren nach Auschwitz: VonAdenauer bis Schröder: Jeder Kanzler musste sich dem deutschen Verbrechen stellen. Nicht jeder fand eine eigene Antwort von Gunter Hofmann 01/20/05

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

Gedenken an Auschwitz: „Ich kann nicht aufhören zu weinen” 01/27/05
Auschwitz von Thomas Schmid 01/27/05
Ein Wort für das Namenlose von Volker Zastrow 01/27/05