Tuesday, May 31, 2005

War critics, soldiers and war fans

Some urban legends never seem to die.  I guess that's kind of the nature of the beast with such things.

This business about how antiwar protesters during the Vietnam War spit on soldiers just keeps popping up.  The latest I came across is this one: Salute to US troops from those at home by Mark Sappenfield Christian Science Monitor 05/31/05.

The article focuses on the National Guard office in Baltimore and also on the - what should we call it? - war-critical group Military Families Speak Out and a group called AdoptaPlatoon that gathers contributions for gifts to soldiers.  And it talks about something the reporter apparently considers a remarkable phenomenon: that normal adults can make a clear distinction between the soldiers who are sent to war and the war policies that sent them there.

Since this phenomenon is presumably as old as, say, war itself, it should be mystifying why it comes as a surprise to Mark Sappenfield.  But it's no mystery.  It's consciously promoted ideological pseudohistory.  And it gets translated into print like this when reporters don't do enough homework on their subject:

In the past, Americans' views of their soldiers have in large part depended on their support for the mission, either to the glory of World War II's so-called Greatest Generation or to the rancor that greeted troops returning from Vietnam. Today, however, even as Americans' support for the war in Iraq ebbs and flows, support for the troops has remained steadfast.

The change in attitude suggests a shift, as Americans increasingly separate the men and women in combat from their own opinions about the rightness of the mission, with antiwar protesters even donating Kevlar body armor to soldiers in Iraq.

It is, in part, a determination not to repeat the Vietnam experience.

What "Vietnam experience" might that be?  The one where a lot of veterans came back and became critics of the war and even active protesters against it?  The one where the antiwar movement that is now accused of being "rancorous" against the troops was led to a large degree by Vietnam veterans?  The one in which vets played a significant role from the very start?

Or would that be the "Vietnam experience" we saw last year when the Swift Boat Liars for Bush trashed John Kerry's service record based on the rancor of Republican Party politics?

No, apparently Sappenfield was persuaded to present this as the "Vietnam experience" without offering any reality-check to his readers:

"People are saying, 'Regardless of what my political opinion is, we have to stand behind the troops,' " says Ida Hägg, executive director of AdoptaPlatoon, which helps civilians send aid to soldiers and their units. "People are so divided about Iraq, yet they have still come together to help the troops." ...

Hägg still remembers the stories of soldiers being verbally abused and even spat upon when they returned from Vietnam. "I don't think the American people want Vietnam to repeat itself," she says. (my emphasis)

I keep coming back to this over and over.  So here I'll put in my obligatory reference to Jerry Lembcke's book The Spitting Image (1998) that investigates not only the spitting legend but also looks at how the popular image of the anti-Vietnam War movement has been affected by various factors, not least of them the attempts by the Nixon-Agnew administration to demonize them as anti-soldier.

In the last post I made on this subject, a commenter, itsmetoo628, provided a link to an article that looks at one of the many accusations that Swift Boat Liar types direct against Vietnam veterans who were antiwar.  Specifically, in this instance, against those who presented stories at the famous Winter Soldier Investigation about atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam:  Swift Boat Swill by Nicholas Turse Village Voice 09/21/04

On its website, the SBVT [Swift Boat Liars for Bush] tries to debunk the Winter Soldier Investigation by using the same rhetoric that apologists for the Vietnam War have long employed: They paint the vets who attended the Detroit meeting as a parade of fake veterans offering false testimony. "None of the Winter Soldier 'witnesses' Kerry cited in his Senate testimony less than three months later were willing to sign affidavits, and their gruesome stories lacked the names, dates, and places that would allow their claims to be tested," the SBVT claims. "Few were willing to cooperate with military investigators."

While numerous authors have repeatedly advanced such assertions, U.S. military documents tell a radically different story. According to the formerly classified army records, 46 soldiers who testified at the WSI made allegations that, in the eyes of U.S. Army investigators, "merited further inquiry." As of March 1972, the army's CID noted that of the 46 allegations, "only 43 complainants have been identified" by investigators. "Only" 43 of 46? That means at least 93 percent of the veterans surveyed were real, not fake. Moreover, according to official records, CID investigators attempted to contact 41 people who testified at the Detroit session, which occurred between January 31 and February 2, 1971. Five couldn't be located, according to records. Of the remaining 36, 31 submitted to interviews—hardly the "few" asserted by SBVT. Moreover, as Gerald Nicosia has noted in his mammoth tome Home to War, "A complete transcript of the Winter Soldier testimony was sent to the Pentagon, and the military never refuted a word of it."

Thanks to itsmetoo628 for that link.  As Al Franken says, liberals are sometimes at a disadvantage when rightwingers pull out whoppers that emanate from, uh, dubious sources.

Fighting foreign cultures - the Dark Lord knows how in Iraq

The following is an excerpt from Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship by Montgomery McFate Military Review (publication of the Combined Arms Center of the US Army) Mar-Apr 2005 (*.pdf file).  McFate is a Defence Policy Fellow at the Office of Naval Research.

Why has cultural knowledge suddenly become such an imperative [for the US military]? Primarily because traditional methods of warfighting have proven inadequate in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. technology, training, and doctrine designed to counter the Soviet threat are not designed for low-intensity counterinsurgency operations where civilians mingle freely with combatants in complex urban terrain. ["Low-intensity" in Armyspeak means a guerrilla-type war, as distinct from conventional war.]

The major combat operations that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime were relatively simple because they required the U.S. military to do what it does best—conduct maneuver warfare in flat terrain using overwhelming firepower with air support. However, since the end of the “hot” phase of the war, coalition forces have been fighting a complex war against an enemy they do not understand. The insurgents’ organizational structure is not military, but tribal.   Their tactics are not conventional, but asymmetrical.  Their weapons are not tanks and fighter planes, but improvised explosive devices (IEDs).  They do not abide by the Geneva Conventions, nor do they appear to have any informal rules of engagement.

Countering the insurgency in Iraq requires cultural and social knowledge of the adversary. Yet, none of the elements of U.S. national power—diplomatic, military, intelligence, or economic—explicitly take adversary culture into account in the formation or execution of policy. This cultural knowledge gap has a simple cause—the almost total absence of anthropology within the national-security establishment.

Once called “the handmaiden of colonialism,” anthropology has had a long, fruitful relationship with various elements of national power, which ended suddenly following the Vietnam War. The strange story of anthropology’s birth as a warfighting discipline, and its sudden plunge into the abyss ofpostmodernism, is intertwined with the U.S. failure in Vietnam. The curious and conspicuous lack of anthropology in the national-security arena since the Vietnam War has had grave consequences for countering the insurgency in Iraq, particularly because political policy and military operations based on partial and incomplete cultural knowledge are often worse than none at all. (my emphasis)

Rummy's not going to like it if he reads that.

At this point, any blogger critical of the war would be sorely tempted to insert a sarcastic comment along the lines of, "Why do people writing for an Army publication hate America?"  Or, "Why doesn't this Army publication support our troops?"

A lack of attention to anthropological/cultural issues may be conspicuous.  But I'm not sure why it would be considered curious.  The post-Vietnam strategic orientation of the military services was to go back to preparing to fight Soviet Army Central pouring through the Fulda Gap.  The idea was that in the future, we would just avoid fighting any more Vietnam War-type counterinsurgency operations.  (McFate explains that post-Vietnam War phenomenon later in the article.)

Until Bush and his "neoconservatives" came along with their grand ideas about the purging and liberating power of war and military force.  Now, freedom is on the march in Iraq.  And Dick Cheney says it's going well:  Larry King Live transcript: 05/30/05 broadcast; interview with Dick and Lynne Cheney.

D. CHENEY: We'll leave as soon as the task is over with. We haven't set a deadline or a date. It depends upon conditions. We have to achieve our objectives, complete the mission. And the two main requirements are, the Iraqis in a position to be able to govern themselves, and they're well on their way to doing that, and the other is able to defend themselves, and they're well on their way to doing that. They just announced that in the last day or two here, there've been stories about a major movement of some 40,000 Iraqi troops into Baghdad to focus specifically on the problem there.

KING: You expect it in your administration?

D. CHENEY: I do.

KING: To be removed. It's not going to be -- it's not going to be a 10-year event?

D. CHENEY: No. I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time. But I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throws, if you will, of the insurgency.
["Last throes" is the more conventional spelling, but the transcript has it as "last throws."] We've had reporting in recent days, Larry, about Zarqawi, who's sort of the lead terrorist, outside terrorist, al Qaeda, head of al Qaeda for Iraq, may well have been seriously injured. We don't know. We can't confirm that. We've had reporting to that effect.

So I think we're making major progress. And, unfortunately, as I say, it does involve sending young Americans in harm's way. But America will be safer in the long run when Iraq and Afghanistan as well are no longer safe havens for terrorists or places where people can gather and plan and organize attacks against the United States.
  (my emphasis)

And at this point, bloggers critical of the war would be tempted to comment, "Well, Dark Lord Cheney, Iraq wasn't a 'safe haven for terrorists' before you people invaded it."  Or, "Wait - if Afghanistan is still a 'safe haven for terrorists,' how come we've been declaring victory there since, oh, December 2001 or so?"

I really can't decide which is scarier: that Cheney and the rest of this crew are being entirely cynical when they say things like this; or that they may actually believe their own propaganda. 

But I'm not sure it makes for less of a disaster either way.

And, yes, the Dark Lord did tell Larry King he expected most US troops now in Iraq to leave during the current administration.  The Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes, according to the Dark Lord himself.  Or last throws.  I have to think it's worth a tiny bit in the grand scheme of things to flag statements like this, so that three years from now when the wingnut warlovers are denying anybody ever said any such thing, the "reality-based community" can at least do a quick reality check.  Not that the wingnuts will listen.

Torture in the gulag: Condi-Condi and the Dark Lord harmonize

"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

Our Secretary of State pooh-pooh's the need for any independent investigation of the ever-growing torture scandal:  Independent investigation of detainee abuse unnecessary, Rice says by Warren P. Strobel, Knight-Ridder 05/27/05

"The United States is as open a society as you will find," she said, and the administration is being held accountable "by a free press, by a Congress that is a separate and co-equal branch of government, and by its own expectations of what is right."

I suppose her Party's judge-bashing zealots will be happy to see she apparently didn't include law or the courts among the administation's restraints on the use criminal, sadistic torture on "terrorist" suspects.  But they are restrained by the administration's "own expectations of what is right."

The official Party line on last week's Amnesty International report seems to be to accuse the human rights group of bad manners.  Condi, Condi:

Rice, a Soviet scholar by training, seemed particularly indignant at Amnesty International's calling Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times," a reference to the prison camps under Josef Stalin.

While the human-rights group has done important work around the world, "this is unfortunate and sad," she said. At another point in the interview, she said, "I think it's absurd language."

"The United States of America is one of the strongest defenders of human rights around the world. We've fought hard and worked hard even in the circumstances of a new kind of war (on terrorism) to treat people humanely," Rice said.

But just for good measure, she says that if a few people get tortured, well, it's payback for ... something or other:

She also expressed concern that America's forces will be tarred unfairly by the actions of a few.

"A lot of the men and women in uniform, who people sometimes by association look at in the context of (abuses at the Iraqi prison of ) Abu Ghraib, have liberated 50 million people by their own blood and sacrifice over the last three and a half years," she said.

And as long as this is accepted as an excuse for torture, the practice will keep spreading to wider and wider classes of targets.

The Dark Lord himself even got his feelings hurt, being the sensitive guy he is and all:

Larry King Live transcript: 05/30/05 broadcast; interview with Dick and Lynne Cheney

KING: Amnesty International condemns the United States. How do you react?

D. CHENEY: I don't take them seriously?

KING: Not at all?

D. CHENEY: No. I -- frankly, I was offended by it. I think the fact of the matter is, the United States has done more to advance the cause of freedom, has liberated more people from tyranny over the course of the 20th century and up to the present day than any other nation in the history of the world. Think about what we did in World War I, World War II, throughout the Cold War. Just in this administration, we've liberated 50 million people from the Taliban in Afghanistan and from Saddam Hussein in Iraq, two terribly oppressive regimes that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own people.  For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously.
  (my emphasis)

Trust us: if Dear Leader Bush ordered it, it doesn't count as torture.  Being conquered, bombed and it's-not-really-tortured by the  United States always counts as "liberation."

KING: They specifically said, though, it was Guantanamo. They compared it to a gulag.

D. CHENEY: Not true. Guantanamo's been operated, I think, in a very sane and sound fashion by the U.S. military. Remember who's down there. These are people that were picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan and other places in the global war on terror. These are individuals who have been actively involved as the enemy, if you will, trying to kill Americans. That we need to have a place where we can keep them. In a sense, when you're at war, you keep prisoners of war until the war is over with.

We've also been able to derive significant amounts of intelligence from them that helped us understand better the organization and the adversary we face and helped us gather the kind of information that makes it possible for us to defend the United States against further attacks. And what we're doing down there has, I think, been done perfectly appropriately. I think these people have been well treated, treated humanely and decently.

Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment. But if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who had been inside and been released by to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.
(my emphasis)

Actually, the few who have been released from Guantanamo so far seem to be individuals for whom there is no identifiable reason at all to think they are terrorists, even with "evidence" extracted by prolonged torture.  The pro-torture wingnuts have been saying, well, look, Al Qaeda encourages its members to make up stories of abuse in prison, and Cheney is just using a variation of it.

And it makes a perfect closed circle, at least in the minds of torture advocates.  If they make accusations, you block any independent investigations.  That makes all allegations "unconfirmed."  If they are released due to lack of evidence  against them and they make allegations of torture, they're just following the terrorist playbook.  And, anyway, so what if they're tortured?  We only torture terrorists.  And, besides, if Bush has authorized it, it doesn't count as "torture."

We have only the word of people like Dick Cheney, the man who said in 2003 that Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq had "reconstituted" nuclear weapons, on which to rely for his claim that the people being imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo and other stations of the gulag were people who were "trying to kill Americans."  Since this administration decided not to treat them as prisoners-of-war, and decided not to even hold the independent judicial reviews of their status as required by the Geneva Conventions, the lack of proof that would hold up in a legitimate judicial proceeding is extremely important.  And by using torture on such a large scale, the administration has made the liklihood of conviction in a legitimate legal process much smaller.

Dark Lord Cheney claims that the torture in Guantanamo has produced significant intelligence.  I'd like to see that claim verified by some genuinely independent investigation, as well.  Given Cheney's history on distorting intelligence, I find it rather hard to accept his word for it.

We do see this administration's famous message control on display in the statements of Cheney and Condi, Condi.  We're offended by the bad manners of Amnesty International.  The US loves human rights.  And besides, anybody the US tortured were terrorists who deserved what they got.  And don't forget, the Bush administration has "liberated 50 million people."  So what if a few nekkid prisoners have dogs turned loose on them to rip out chunks of their flesh?

I once saw an interview with Patrick Stewart, talking about a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which his character is subjected to prolonged torture.  He did research on how victims of torture react in order to make his portrayal as realistic as possible. Among other things, he studied cases of prisoners tortured by British soldiers in Northern Ireland.  He said that after that, the world looked like a much darker place.

This administration's torture policy, and their cynical public defenses of it, also make the world seem like a darker place.  And that's not an illusion.  That's a "reality-based " perception.

Amnesty International's report on the United States for 2004 is available online.

An expert offers his opinion

Today is officially Dick Cheney Day here at Old Hickory's Weblog.  The Dark Lord sat down with Larry King to share his wisdom with his loyal subjects.  First up, the Dark Lord engages in delicate diplomacy.

Cheney says:  "Kim Jong Il, who's the leader of North Korea, is -- I would describe as one of the world's more irresponsible leaders." - Cheney calls North Korea's Kim irresponsible leader (AFP) 05/29/05 

And irresponsible leadership is one thing Dick Cheney knows well.

Of course, this kind of gratuitous insult is unlikely to make the Korean leader more open to cooperating with US proposals to control his nuclear program.  And that may be Cheney's aim.

But what is he going to do once he gets that result from North Korea?  Pull all the troops out of Iraq to invade North Korea?

It's more likely that Cheney figures that since North Korea is the main excuse being used right now to justify the Star Wars boondoggle, that it would be better to derail negotiations for as long as possible.

Yes, irresponsible leadership is something Dark Lord Dick Cheney knows very well.

The transcript of the whole interview with Larry King is available online: Larry King Live transcript: 05/30/05 broadcast; interview with Dick and Lynne Cheney.  Here's a longer version of the quote from the transcript:

I am concerned about it, partly because Kim Jong Il, who's the leader of North Korea, is -- I would describe as one of the world's more irresponsible leaders. He runs a police state. He's got one of the most heavily militarized societies in the world. The vast bulk of his population live in abject poverty and stages of malnutrition. He doesn't take care of his people at all. And he obviously wants to throw his weight around and become a nuclear power.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day (8): The end of the Great War

To wrap up my Memorial Day weekend series of posts, I'll return to Faulkner's tale of the First World War, A Fable, in which an an antiwar activist depicted as a Christ figure complete with twelve disciples, succeeds in organizing a French regiment to refuse orders to charge German lines, a rebellion which in rapid order brings a halt to the war along the entire front.

In this paragraph, he describes part of the aftermath:

But they would not wait for that. Already the long lines of infantry would be creeping in the darkness up out of the savage bitter fatal stinking ditches and scars and caves where they had lived for four years now, blinking with amazement and unbelief, looking about them with dawning incredulous surmise, and he tried listening, quite hard, because surely he should be able to hear it since it would be much louder, noisier than any mere dawning surmise and unbelief: the single voice of all the women in the Western world, from what used to be the Russian front to the Atlantic Ocean and beyond it too, Germans and French and English and Italians and Canadians and Americans and Australians—not just the ones who had already lost sons and husbands and brothers and sweethearts, because that sound had been in the air from the moment the first one fell, troops had been living with that sound for four years now; but the one which had begun only yesterday or this morning or whenever the actual instant had been, from the women who would have lost a son or brother or husband or sweetheart today or tomorrow if it hadn't stopped and now wouldn't have to since it had (not his women, his mother of course because she had lost nothing and had really risked nothing; there hadn't been that much time)—a sound much noisier than mere surmise, so much noisier that men couldn't believe it quite yet even, where women could and did believe anything they wanted to, making (didn't want to nor even need to make) no distinction between the sound of relief and the sound of anguish.

And he describes the hope and fear of the French people in the area of the intial revolt, wondering if they dared to believe what had happened:

Because they did not believe that the war was over. It had gone on too long to cease, finish, over night, at a moment's notice, like this. It had merely arrested itself; not the men engaged in it, but the war itself, War, impervious and even inattentive to the anguish, the torn flesh, the whole petty surge and resurge of victories and defeats like the ephemeral repetitive swarm and swirl of insects on a dung-heap, saying, 'Hush. Be quiet a moment' to the guns and the cries of the wounded too— that whole ruined band of irredeemable earth from the Alps to the sea, studded with faces watching in lipless and lidless detachment for a moment ...

In the end, the ringleader of the antiwar organizers is executed in the due course of things.  And the generals on both sides cooperate to re-start the war.

In a final twist, the body of the chief organizer winds up, unknown to anyone, being the body placed in the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

But this story is "a fable," and the ringleader has already shown up in various forms, seemingly not bound by normal laws of time and place or even life and death.  A war veteran on crutches with one arm and one leg and a badly scarred face shows up to protest at the dedication ceremony for the Tomb.  He tosses his war medals toward the stage and cries out:

'You too helped carry the torch of man into that twilight where he shall be no more; these are his epitaphs: They shall not pass.  My country right or wrong.  Here is a spot which is forever England -'

At this point, somewhat like others in our recent experience who didn't hesitate to trash a decorated war veteran if he dared challenge the mindless jigoism which some use to hide from reality (e.g., Swift Boat Liars for Bush), the crowd pounches on him and beats him up.

The cops hold back the crowd and look down on the wounded veteran:

'Who is he?' a voice said.

'Ah, we know him,' one of the policemen said.  'An Englishman.  We've had trouble with him ever since the war; this is not the first time he has insulted our country and disgraced his own.'

'Maybe he will die this time,' another voice said.

At this point, the beaten man wakes up, and an old man comes out of the crowd and cradles his head, as the beaten veteran spits out "the blood and shattered teeth."  He then laughs and tells the old man:

'That's right,' he said. 'Tremble.  I'm not going to die. Never.'

'I am not laughing,' the old man bending over him said. 'What you see are tears.'

Memorial Day (7): Patriotism and the Great War

One of the genuinely tragic features of the First World War was the failure of the European social-democratic parties to prevent it.  International congresses of the Second International, the umbrella organization for socialist parties, had agreed that they would all oppose an "imperialist war" waged by the ruling classes of their respective countries.  If the social democrats had actually implemented such a policy, they certainly could have made the war mobilizations in the summer of 1914 more difficult to carry out.

But when war came, that resolve gave way to the tribal drums of patriotic fervor and the deadly romance of war.

German historian Golo Mann describes the failure of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), at the time the largest single party in the German Parliament.  It could hardly be said to be a genuine democratic parliament; it functioned under the Imperial system devised by Otto von Bismarck in the previous century.  But the Emperor (Kaiser) had to go to the parliament for war credits to conduct the war.  And the capitulation of the SPD on the war credits in August 1914 was the decisive vote.  Mann writes in Deutsche Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (1958) (my translation):

Critics later held up to the German Social Democrats their decision of August 1914 as betrayal.  That is easy to say in hindsight.  At the time, even the later Communist Karl Liebknecht cast his vote for the war credits.  He didn't like it; but he did it.  That was the situation, in Germany as in France.  The war could have been prevented through diplomacy, and that the German diplomacy was the worst that it could have been, we have seen.  It was the fault of German history and all that had a part in it, that a few little bunglers should have decided German foreign policy according to the own descretion.    One could no longer resist the storm of August 1914.  It went through the entire people, and the German workers who voted socialist also belonged to the people; they belonged to the people and to the state much more strongly than the old Marxist theory would have it.  That became clear now.  Fortune unites.  The war was certainly an emergency, but above all such an emergency that all of those affected happily supported.  The sorrow came  later; and only then did parties and classes again set themselves against one another.

Chris Hedges describes the powerful emotional appeal of nationalist enthusiasm in moments such as that, in his War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002).  The socialist parties before the First World War were by no means the first or the last to succumb to it while knowing better:

There is a frightening indifference and willful blindness, a desire to believe the nationalist myth because it brands those outside a nation or ethnic group with traits and vices that cannot be eradicated. Because they are the other, because they are not us, they are guilty. Such indifference, such acceptance of nationalist self-glorification, turns many into silent accomplices.

To those who swallow the nationalist myth, life is transformed. The collective glorification permits people to abandon their usual preoccupation with the petty concerns of daily life. They can abandon even self-preservation in the desire to see themselves as players in a momentous historical drama. This vision is accepted even at the expense of self-annihilation. Life in wartime becomes theater. All are actors. Leaders, against the backdrop of war, look heroic, noble. Pilots who bail out of planes shot down by the enemy and who make their way back home play cameo roles. The state, as we saw in the Persian Gulf War or Afghanistan, transforms war into a nightly television show. The generals, who are no more interested in candor than they were in Vietnam, have at least perfected the appearance of candor. And the press has usually been more than willing to play the dupe as long as the ratings are good.

... The world, as we see it in wartime, becomes high drama. It is romanticized. A moral purpose is infused into the trivial and the commonplace. And we, who yesterday felt maligned, alienated, and ignored, are part of a nation of self-appointed agents of the divine will. We await our chance to walk on stage.

Golo Mann may have overstated the case somewhat.  As he indicated with his comment on Karl Liebknecht, there was considerable resistance within the SPD to that course of action.  And the First World War was by no means supported on all sides with unwavering patriotic passions.  Including in the United States.

Conventional histories of Germany's entry into the First World War depict the early response of the general public as being a massive wave of national unity and soldarity.  But the actual historical record doesn't necessarily support that picture.  The 2000 collection of essays edited by hHistorian Jeffrey Verhey, The Spirit of 1914 : Militarism, Myth, and Mobilization in Germany is one work challenging the legendary picture of the general popular enthusiasm for the war in Germany at the beginning.  There is considerable evidence that the great enthusiasm for the war was mainly among the wealthy, among middle-class students and among intellectuals, many of whom were notoriously eager to sign on to the Emperor's war.

But, as in all wars, there were plenty who were enthusiastic, including among the young who would bear the brunt of the actual combat.  As Hedges writes:

The prospect of war is exciting. Many young men, schooled in the notion that war is the ultimate definition of manhood, that only in war will they be tested and proven, that they can discover their worth as human beings in batde, willingly join the great enterprise. The admiration of the crowd, the high-blown rhetoric, the chance to achieve the glory of the previous generation, the ideal of nobility beckon us forward. And people, ironically, enjoy righteous indignation and an object upon which to unleash their anger. War usually starts with collective euphoria.

A euphoria that the warring governments are only too happy to promote.

Memorial Day (6): Real people die in wars

The Hattiesburg (MS) American for Memorial Day published sketches of five soldiers killed in Iraq:  Five Pine Belt soldiers honored for service 05/30/05.  The Pine Belt is roughly the lower third of Mississippi except for the Gulf Coast, named for its pine forests.

The five are Sabe Parker, apparently in his 40s, killed recently by a bomb near Haswa, Iraq; Joshua Isaac Bunch, 23, killed in an ambush in Baghdad in 2004; James Anderson Chance III, 25, killed near the Syrian border in 2003; Sean Michael Cooley, 35, killed this year by an IED (improvised explosive device) south of Baghdad; and, Drew Rahaim, 22, who also died this year in Iraq when a road collapsed and threw his vehicle into a canal.

Parker is also featured in an obituary article in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: Medals given to family of slain soldier by Janet Braswell 05/30/05.  It reports on a memorial service held for him at Hurricane Baptist Church in southern Mississippi.  If memory serves me right, I may have been to that church years ago.  And, as I recall, some of the local residents pronounce the community's name as "Hackin' Creek."

Parker leaves behind a 24-year-old stepson, a 16-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old daughter.  His widow has a broken leg from a traffic accident over two months ago.  She still had to have her injured leg supported by pillows at the service.

The minister, Rev. Curtis Roland, "preached about salvation and heaven," Braswell writes.  Of course.  It's a Baptist Church.  Even at funeral services, it's not unusual for the minister to remind the congregation (hopefully mildly) of their need for salvation.

Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, the adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, presented three medals to his family during the service.  Braswell writes:

"Once again we come together in a small community to honor a soldier," Cross said. "It comes to mind that over (1.2 million people) have paid the ultimate sacrifice in our 228-year history that we might be free."

While Parker may not be remembered by future generations, his sacrifice will, Cross said. "What will last forever is what he left for us — the passage of freedom for us to keep," he said.

It struck me in reading that part that Cross has stated well the pain of a family like that.  Parker is not likely to be remembered much by future generations.  None of us are.  He will be remembered in endless Memorial Day tributes as one of the abstract many who died for Freedom and His Country.  But the people who actually remember him as a real person will remember him more specifically.

He's likely to be elevated in the memory of his widow and at least by his younger daughter to a more ideal person than he could ever have been in life.  A very common reaction, and in itself a kind of very personal tribute with a level of meaning that no medal could ever give.

The obituary articles contain traces of the real life he lived.  He worked at the Angie Lumber Company across the border in Louisiana.  He had been in the National Guard for 16 years and served for a while in Bosnia.  He wrestled on the weekends, and was the local champion for 2004 for the cruiser weight division.

The Hattiesburg American article quotes his widow:

"He was into the 'Three Stooges,'" Kitza Parker said. "He loved bluegrass music and tortured me with it. We loved to go out and eat. He loved steaks, but we liked seafood, Chinese, pizza. He was an outdoor-type person. Deer was his main thing. He just liked to fish for the fun of it. If they were biting or not, he didn't care."

Braswell's article says:

He enjoyed hunting and fishing, watching war movies and the History Channel and adored his daughters, Merissa Parker, 16, and 11-year-old Sheliah Parker, family members said.

"The oldest girl is so much like him, he'll never die," said June Mitchell of Columbia, Kitza Parker's aunt.

The people who are giving their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan are real people, not abstractions.  One of the unintended consequences of the all-volunteer army is that far too many people have cometo think of those serving in the military as "somebody else," those people who we "honor" with a sentimental thought now and then.

But war is serious business, not a sentimental abstraction.  And it has real costs for people like  Parker, Bunch, Chance, Cooley, and Rahaim.  How distanced so many people have become from that is shown in one of many ways by the fact that politicians still refer to soldiers as "kids."  Look at the ages of those five men.  They aren't kids.  The casualty lists from Iraq show plenty of people in their 30s, 40s, and older.  It's just one sign of how little attention so many people pay to the people who fight and die in the wars we require them to fight in the name of glorious abstractions.  Or, in the case of Iraq, to deal with "weapons of mass destruction" that didn't exist.

This attitude toward the people who fight America's wars these days is shown in the following maudlin tribute - I guess it's supposed to be a poem - by a country musician named Bruce Brown who had recently taken part in a concert tour for US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq:

In the Company of Angels

I’ve been in the company of angels
The very best God has to offer this mortal world
I felt no fear
Only hope and a deep sense of comforting faith
I’d wake early and pray for them
A couple of times I cried for them
My heart wells up with pride for them
I’m humbled
My spirit has been lifted simply by being in their presence
I’ve seen true goodness
I’ve been in the company of angels

Uh, no, you weren't in the company of angels, fool.  You were in the company of human beings like Parker, Bunch, Chance, Cooley, and Rahaim.  People who leave real families behind, people who come back with real wounds, some of them disabling for life.  They're not there to "lift your spirit" or to make you feel good by penning lifeless tributes that make them into inhuman beings who don't bleed when they're shot, who don't die in ambushes or bombings, and don't leave behind real gaps in the lives of those who loved them.

Get your lifted "spirit" back down on the ground, dude, and try to focus for a minute or two or the fact that real people get killed in wars.  Angels don't need your prayers.  The real men and women who fight the wars and the families they leave behind at home do.

Memorial Day (5): Cynthia Tucker on why Pentagon secrecy and lying dishonors the dead

Columnist Cynthia Tucker has a thoughtful Memorial Day column about the ways that Pentagon myth-making and excessive secrecy actually winds up dishonoring soldiers both living and dead: Don't disguise battle horrors Atlanta Journal-Constitution 05/29/05.

She takes the cases of the deliberately fake stories promoted around the capture of Jessica Lynch and the "friendly-fire" death of Pat Tillman:

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, [Tillman's] mother, Mary, revealed her frustration with the web of deceit that initially surrounded her son's death.

"The military let him down," she said. "The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect."

She's right. Tillman served honorably and died bravely. He didn't need the Army's lies.

She makes a connection between the lesson that the officer corps took from Vietnam that "the media" were to blame for loss of public support of that misbegotten war, and the Pentagon's misconduct in the Lynch and Tillman cases.

Tucker apparently felt she needed to put in a ritual denial that she's a pacifist.  That in itself is probably one sign among many others of the extent to which public discussion on war and peace has become corrupted in the United States.  Because there should have been no need at all for assuming that their was anything that implied some kind of general pacifism in the following comment:

But I've studied enough history and heard enough stories from veterans to know there are no "good" wars — only justified wars and unjustified ones. All wars are hideous — full of fratricide (both unintentional and intentional), grievous wounds, thousands of corpses, the screams of the dying and every element of human nature, from heroism and sacrifice to meanness and cowardice.

My father was a veteran of both World War II, where he did non-combat, cleanup duty in the Pacific, and Korea, where he saw combat as a U.S. Army second lieutenant. He was a staunch supporter of a strong defense, but he never tried to paint war as anything other than what it is: hell. ...

Don't try to deny war's horrors. Don't tell us winning will be easy. Tell us the truth: Victory will require great sacrifices, but there is no choice but to fight. (First, make sure that's true.) Here's the lesson from Vietnam: Don't lie.

So let's not use our brave men and women in uniform as props in made-up bedtime stories. And, for heaven's sake, let's not hide our dead and wounded. That dishonors their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Memorial Day (4): Jacksonian resistance to the Great War

Show those generals the fallacy
(Bring 'em home, bring 'em home)
They don't have the right weaponry
(Bring 'em home, bring 'em home)
For defense you need common sense
(Bring 'em home, bring 'em home)
They don't have the right armaments
(Bring 'em home, bring 'em home)

   - Pete Seeger, "Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)" 

One of my all-time favorite novels is A Fable (1954) by William Faulkner.  I believe the English professors would say that it really is a "fable" instead of a novel.  But it's one of my favorites anyway.

The story is about an antiwar activist of a Christ-like nature - well, except he got his start as a horse-thief - who along with twelve close followers organized a French regiment during the First World War to refuse orders to charge German lines.  They had also organized the Germans to respond by not charging to take advantage of the French mutiny.  (Note for godless heathens:  Jesus, twelve disciples, it's a Biblical reference.)

Suddenly, much to the dismay of the generals and politicians and war profiteers, the mutiny spread across the entire front.  The war stopped dead.  The story revolves around the desperate efforts of the generals on both sides who know they have to get the war started again, knowing that they can't allow the Jacksonian notion that ordinary people could force the warlords to stop the killing.

This wasn't entirely a fantasy, though of course nothing that extensive happened during the war.  Prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, the Social Democratic parties of Europe solemnly swore to unite together in the international soldarity of the working class to prevent their respective governments from carrying out an "imperialist war."  In the end, of course, the us-against-them pull of patriotism and war fever won out over working-class solidarity, and the workers' parties joined with the royalists and capitalists to slaughter the workes of the enemy countries in massive numbers.

As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in The Culture of Contentment (1992):

Almost any military venture receives strong popular approval in the short run; the citizenry rallies to the flag and to the forces engaged in combat. Thestrategy and technology of the new war evoke admiration and applause. This reaction is related notto economics or politics but more deeply to anthropology. As in ancient times, when the drums sound in the distant forest, there is an assured tribal response. It is the rallying beat of the drums, not the virtue of the cause, that is the vital mobilizing force.

But the human instincts that still manage to override tribal barbarism still emerged at moments during the war.  In the early days ofthe war, informal  cease-fires between opposing units were not unusual.  The two sides might stop shooting at each other at meal-times, for instance.  The enemy troops would even socialized across the lines at times.

Something like the mutual dismay of the generals depicted in A Fable, when along a 50-kilometer stretch of the front at Ypres just stopped fighting for days around Christmas 1914 and socialized with each other across the lines.  Stefan Storz describes the dismay of the generals:

The German Chief of the General Staff Erich von Flakenhayn equated the Christmas sin [of the informal cease-fires] with high treason, and ordereed that in the future any man who left the trenches to go in the direction of the enemy was to be shot immediately.

But the soldiers knew how to help each other.  Instead of fraternizing completely openly, the now came to secret understandings with the enemy.  The war went to sleep for weeks and months on some sections of the front.  Lieutenant Wyatt of the Yorkshire Regiment noted:  "The Germans notified us that in the afternoon their general would be coming.  We should be aware that they would have to shoot a little bit then in order to keep up appearances."

These little flights spread great worry among the generals.  Konstantin Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, General Staff Chief of the 5th Army, ordered that by all means must the "danger of the combat halts under the motto, 'Don't do anything to me, and I won't do anything to you' be held down."  The staff devised absurd systems of performance measurement to stop the collapse of combat morale.  The company chiefs had to submit detailed situation reports up to six times per day.

  - Stefan Storz, "Der Krieg gegen den Krieg," Spiegel Special 1/2004; my translation from the German

In A Fable, one British soldier explains to another the implications of the unauthorized front-wide halt in the fighting:

'Do you see now? Not for us to ask what nor why but just go down a hole in the ground and stay there until they decide what to do. No: just how to do it because they already know what. Of course they wont tell us. They wouldn't have told us anything at all if they hadn't had to ...

... Because all of us know by now that something is wrong. Dont you see? Something happened down there yesterday morning in the French front, a regiment failed—burked—mutinied, we dont know what and are not going to know what because they aren't going to tell us. Besides, it doesn't matter what happened. What matters is, what happened afterward. At dawn yesterday a French regiment did something—did or failed to do something which a regiment in a front line is not supposed to do or fail to do, and as a result of it, the entire war in Western Europe took a recess at three o'clock yesterday afternoon. Dont you see? When you are in battle and one of your units fails, the last thing you do, dare do, is quit. Instead, you snatch up everything else you've got and fling it in as quick and hard as you can, because you know that that's exactly what the enemy is going to do as soon as he discovers or even suspects you have trouble on your side.

But this didn't happen, he explains.  The other French units didn't charge either after the one regiment mutinied.

'But they didn't. Instead, they took a recess, remanded: the French at noon, us and the Americans three hours later. And not nly us, but Jerry too. Dont you see? How can you remand in war, unless your enemy agrees too? And why should Jerry [the Germans] have agreed, after squatting under the sort of barrage which four years had trained him to know meant that an attack was coming, then no attack came or failed or whatever it was it did, and four years had certainly trained him to the right assumption for that; when the message, signal, request—whatever it was—came over suggesting a remand, why should he have agreed to it, unless he had a reason as good as the one we had, maybe the same reason we had? The same reason; those thirteen French soldiersapparently had no difficulty whatever going anywhere they liked in our back-areas for three years, why weren't they across yonder in Jerry's too, since we all know that, unless you've got the right properly signed paper in your hand, it's a good deal more difficult to go to Paris from here than to Berlin; any time you want to go east from here, all you need is a British or French or American uniform. Or perhaps they didn't even need to go themselves, perhaps just wind, moving air, carried it. Or perhaps not even moving air but just air, spreading by attrition from invisible and weightless molecule to molecule as disease, smallpox spreads, or fear, or hope—just enough of us, all of us in the mud here saying together, Enough of this, let's have done with this.

'Because—dont you see?—they cant have this. They cant permit this, to stop it at all yet, let alone allow it to stop itself this way— the two shells in the river and the race already under way and both crews without warning simply unshipping the oars from the locks and saying in unison: We're not going to pull any more. They cant yet. It's not finished yet, like an unfinished cricket or rugger match which started according to a set of mutually accepted rules formally and peaceably agreed on, and must finish by them, else the whole theory of arbitration, the whole tried and proven step-by-step edifice of politics and economy on which the civilised concord of nations is based becomes so much wind. More than that: that thin and tensioned girder of steel and human blood which carries its national edifice soaring glorious and threatful among the stars, in dedication to which young men are transported free of charge and even with pay, to die violently in places that even the map-makers and -dividers never saw, that a pilgrim stumbling on it a hundred or a thousand years afterward may still be able to say, Here is a spot that is (anyway was once) forever England or France or America. And not only cant, dare not: they wont...."

Memorial Day (3): Technology, stupidity and the Great War

John Kenneth Galbraith has written quite a bit about war.  In The Culture of Contentment (1992), he wrote of the Great War:

World War I, although it evoked the most powerful of patriotic responses at the time, has passed into history largely as a mindless and pointless slaughter.

In The Age of Uncertainty (1977), Galbraith surveyed various causes leading up to the slaughter we now know as the First World War.  Among them he included the following;

There was a final consideration, one that it is always thought a trifle pretentious to stress.  Rulers in Germany and Eastern Europe, generals in all countries, held their jobs by right of family and tradition.  If inheritance qualifies one for office, intelligence cannot be a requirement.  Nor is its absence likely to be a disqualification.  On the contrary, intelligence is a threat to those who do not possess it, and there is a strong case, therefore, for excluding those who do possess it.  This was the tendency in 1914.  In consequence, both the rulers and the generals in World War I were singularly brainless men.

None was capable of thought on what war would mean for his class - for the social order that was so greatly in his favor.  There had always been war.  Rulers had been obliterated.  The ruling classes had always survived.  To the extent that there was thought on the social consequences of war, this was what was believed.

He observes further that this stupidity problem combined in a deadly way with the new technology of the machine gun:

Supporting this unlimited capacity to kill was the limited capacity for thought. Adaptation of tactics was far beyond the capacity of the contemporary military mind. The hereditary generals and their staffs could think of nothing better than to send increasing numbers of men, erect, under heavy burden, at a slow pace, in broad daylight, against the machine guns after increasingly heavy artillery bombardment. This bombardment the machine guns, enough of them, invariably survived. It did, however, eliminate all element of surprise. So the men who were sent were mowed down, and the mowing, it must be stressed, is no figure of speech. The political leaders, for their part, could think of nothing better than to trust the generals. Thus the continuing, unimaginable slaughter.

As an example of the horrors that war produced, he describes part of the Battle of the Somme:

On D-day in 1944, the great decisive day of that war in the West, 2491 American, British and Canadian soldiers were killed. On July 1, 1916, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme — but one day in one battle — 19,240 British soldiers were killed or died of wounds. To liberate France in 1944 cost all of the Allied armies around 40,000 dead. For a gain of under six miles on the Somme in 1916, British and French deaths were an estimated 145,000. The Battle of the Somme was partly to relieve pressure on Verdun — a disputed point. At Verdun, within that same year, 270,000 French and German soldiers were killed. ...

On the first day of the Somme, from trenches and over shell holes that you still can see, the First Newfoundland Regiment attacked, against the German machine guns and artillery and against barbed wire that was largely intact. The Germans beyond were admirably sheltered in a deep natural ravine served by a railroad. They had been amply warned by the preparations and the premature explosion of a large mine near their lines. (They promptly occupied the crater.) Because the attack had been programmed to succeed quickly, there was not only no surprise but this time no artillery support. Within forty minutes, 658 men and 26 officers were dead, wounded or missing. That was 91 percent of the entire attacking force. All the officers were casualties. The survivors were then calmly ordered to regroup and attack again. The order was rescinded only when the higher command discovered there were almost none. The signs on the battlefield say "Newfoundland Lines," "German Lines." The result was much as though the Crown Colony of Newfoundland had made war on the whole German Empire.

And what is left now of all the patriotic themes from that war, and the promises to spread freedom and to end all wars?  As Galbraith says, the "Great War" is now mostly remembered as "a mindless and pointless slaughter."  And, for the most part, that's exactly what it was.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Memorial Day (2): The Great War

The First World War, for a while known as the Great War, was the biggest slaughter that humanity had achieved.  Until the next world war that began a couple of decades later.

Rounded to nearest millions,  the "butcher's bill" for that war was staggering:  8.6 million dead,  21.2 million wounded.  And that figure for the dead doesn't count the six million civilians killed.

The good old time of peace - For the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the Europeans living today, the years before 1914 were the good old time of peace.  Many people on the Old Continent had greeted the new centurty with booming optimism.  They believed in a golden future with more freedom, progress and prosperity.

The First World War destroyed this trust irreplaceably.  Millions of men [sic] experienced and erlitten violence of such massive brutality that previously in the history of humanity had been unimaginable - an ideal breeding ground for fascists and communists ...

   - Claus Wiegrefe, "Der Marsch in die Barbarei, " Spiegel Special 1/2004. My translation.

The very industrial, scientific and material progress that was the basis of such booming optimism became the effective instruments of its destruction:

The industrial dynamic which had allowed the Europeans to become the rulers of the world [i.e., through colonialism] turned itself for the first time againsst the inhabitants of the Old Continent.  The First World War was the first total war.  The raiload - symbol of progress - carried millions of soldiers to the front; there they became part of a gigantic, high-tech killing machinery of a previously unknown scale.

Terror weapons like the "Paris cannon" flung their deadly burden over a distance of 130 kilometers; machine guns of the American brand Maxim fired up to 600 bullets per minute.  On September 12, 1918 alone, the Americans fired 1.1 million shells in an attack in four hours.

More than 60 million soldiers from five continents fought between China and the Falkland Islands, at nearly 4000 meter heights and in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean for victory and for their lives.  According to estimates by the authors of the standard work Enzykopädie Erster Weltkrieg, nearly one in six fell - on the average 6000 men daily.  Millions returned home as war-disabled.

The British writer Wilfred Trotter gave expression to this disillusionment in his Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (1919 edition), a book on which Sigmund Freud relied heavily in his own study, Group Psychology and  the Analysis of the Ego:

The foregoing considerations are enough, perhaps, to  make  one  wonder whether, after all,   Western civilization may not be about to follow its unnumbered predecessors into decay and  dissolution. There can be no doubt that such a suspicion is oppressing  many  thoughtful  minds at  the present time.  It is not likely to be dispelled by the contemplation of history or by the nature of recent events.  Indeed, the view can be maintained very plausibly that all civilizations must tend ultimately to break down, that they reach sooner or later a period when their original vigour is worn out, and then collapse through internal disruption or outside pressure.  It is even believed by some that Western civilization already  shows   the  evidences of  decline   which  in its predecessors have been the forerunners of destruction.    When we remember that our very short period of recorded history includes the dissolution of civilizations so elaborate as those of the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and of the Incas, that a  social  structure  so complex  as  that  but   lately disclosed in Crete could leave no trace in human memory but a faint and dubious whisper of tradition, and that the dawn of history finds civilization already old, we can scarcely resist the conclusion that social life has, more often than one can bear to contemplate, swung laboriously up to a meaningless apogee and then lapsed again into darkness.  Weknow enough of man to be aware that each of these unnumbered upward movements must have been infinitely painful, must have been at least as fruitful of torture, oppression, and anguish as the ones of which we know the history, and yet each was no more than the swing of a pendulum and a mere fruitless oscillation landing man once more at his starting point, impoverished and broken, with perhaps more often than not no transmissible vestige of his greatness.

Memorial Day (1)

Memorial Day.  One of those ritual gestures by which humanity tries to find some meaning, or maybe just some comfort, in the sacrifices that so many - but by no means all - make to the Moloch of war, the most destructive and evil of all the idols our pitiful, idolotrous species has created.

So I plan to make my weekend posts all on a Memorial Day theme.

This is the best time of the day, the dawn,
The final cleansing breath unsullied yet by acrid fume
Or death's cacophany, the rank refuse of unchained ambition

And, pray, deny me not, but know me now
Your faithful retainer stands resolute to serve his liege lord
Without recompense, perchance to fail and perish namelessly
No flag-draped bier or muffled drum
To set the cadence for a final dress parade

But it was not always thus, remember?
Once you worshipped me and named me a god
In many tongues and made offering
Lest I exact too terrible a tribute

 - Steve Earle, "Warrior"

I've seen Mark Twain's "War Prayer" quoted on occasion.  But usually just the prayer part.  It was actually part of a 1905 short story, in which a congregation is gathered in a church to pray for victory in some unnamed war.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

But an old man showed up after the minister made a long prayer, which was proceeded by a hymn invoking "God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest/Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

The old man was not so timid as the war critics who crept away earlier in the service.  He tells the congregation: "You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient.  The whole of the uttered prayer is compacted in to those pregnant words."  And he proceeds to extend the prayer to include the parts unstated by the minister who called for God to grant victory to Our Side:

"O Lord, our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle - be Thou near them!  With them  - in spirit - we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord, our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it—for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

[After a pause.} "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak!—The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterwards, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Citizens, veterans, war and peace

Part of what's refreshing about Steve Gilliard's political commentaries is his no-nonsense style, which he combines with generally being well-informed on the issues he discusses.

But in a post called Stop Endorsing Failure (05/27/05), he takes Matt Yglesias of the American Prospect to task for styling himself as a "hawkish" Democrat in the following way:

Matt, if you are "hawkish", I think there are recruiting station[s] in Boston Common, Times Square and off the Mall in DC. Any one will accept your enlistment. Because if you are going to support interventions, you need to get your [expletive deleted] in the Army and support it as an 11B. This is real life. You can sit on your [expletive deleted] and proclaim policy and not be taken seriously, or you can get a commission, lead a platoon for a couple of years and have real world experience. Because, otherwise, you are pretty much a chickenhawk suggesting poor people die for your ideas. And I think you're smarter and better than that.

I think this sort of reproach is not only wrong-headed, it's a downright militarist idea.  Every citizen has not only the right but the affirmative duty to take issues of war and peace very seriously and responsibly.  That goes for veterans and non-veterans alike.  If a war is a necessary one, it would be wrong for citizens who thought so to just keep their mouths shut because they never did a stint in the armed services.  Most members of Congress have never served in the military.  Should they not vote or take positions on issues related to the military?

Serving in the military may give some people a perspective that they use to understand military and foreign policy issues better.  But prior to the Iraq War, for many people serving in the military meant drills and training.  That imparts specific skills.  But in itself, it doesn't give anyone special insight into foreign policy or military strategy.

For that matter, neither does serving in combat.  Obviously, that does give people first-hand experience of what combat is like.  It's often said that people who have been in combat are less likely to glorify war or take issues of war and peace lightly.

But I  don't know if even that's valid as a generalization.  Certainly, some combat veterans respond to the experience in that way.  But I've also seen combat veterans who were just as thoughtless and gung-ho in cheering for wars as any of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders without combat experience.  Does combat experience make that any more valid? Mindless warmongering is just bad.  It's not any better if it's a veteran or a combat veteran or a general doing it.  And normally not any worse if it's a non-veteran doing it.

That's why I think that war critics of the present day often use the "chickenhawk" insult carelessly.  The term generally refers to people that have never served in the armed forces but who are all enthusiastic for war.  But, again, should non-veterans just keep their mouths shut if they do support a particular military action?  That's just an undemocratic notion.
There are extreme cases where it does make a difference.  When now-Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who ducked the Vietnam War-era draft with a football injury, campaigned in 2002 against the encumbent Senator Max Cleland, who left three of his limbs in Vietnam, by attacking his patriotism, that was a special kind of contemptible.  The label of "chickenhawk" seems especially appropriate for a situation like that.

But even then, if Chambliss were a veteran, would that have made his attack on Cleland's patriotism any more virtuous?  Were the Swift Boats Liars for Bush any more honorable in dishonestly smearing John Kerry's service record because they were veterans?

When I hear about someone like Richard "Prince of Darkness" Perle or other neoconservative zealots talking loosely about the cleansing and liberating effects of military violence, I often wonder if military service might have at least given them a less romantic notion of the purging power of violence and war.  But their notions of foreign and military policy are destructive and dangerous, whether they've personally served in the military or not.

The bottom line of this for me is that every citizen and every voter has some responsibility to take issues of war and peace very seriously and not be casual or reckless in cheering to send soldiers off to kill and die in wars.  And that  goes regardless of whether they are veterans or not.

As the old saying goes, war is too important to be left to the generals.  It's also too important to everybody to assume that veterans are the only citizens who have a citizen's responsibility when it comes to war and peace.

Iraq War: Another look from 2004

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004

This 2004 article from prior to the presidential election defined the no-win situation that still prevails in the Iraq War: Iraq's future path uncertain because of insurgency by Ken Dilanian, Knight-Ridder 10/16/04.

With little prospect of a decisive military victory and even less chance of recruiting significant international help, that leaves the next president with the same unpleasant options:

- Continue fighting the insurgency and trying to rebuild the country with roughly the same number of American troops, in the hope that elections in January will turn the political tide against the insurgents and that newly trained Iraqi police and security forces can learn to defeat them.

- Send thousands more American troops to Iraq in hopes of defeating the insurgency, sealing the country's borders and buying time for a new Iraqi government to get on its feet. Escalation, however, would further strain America's active, National Guard and reserve forces and risk turning even more Iraqis against the U.S.-led coalition.

- Begin withdrawing American troops and handing the country over to a new government and its newly trained police and security forces. Iraq's defense minister, however, recently told Knight Ridder that American troops could be needed for as many as 15 more years, and a precipitous withdrawal could plunge the country into chaos or even civil war.

"The unpalatable options are either to make things worse slowly, by keeping our troopsthere, or to make things worse quickly, by withdrawing them," said James Dobbins, a nation-building expert who was President Bush's envoy to Afghanistan. The presence of U.S. troops fuels the insurgency by inflaming Iraqi nationalism, but their absence would mean chaos, he said. (my emphasis)

This article also quotes Toby Dodge of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS):

Yet some experts argue that, even if Americans and Iraqis do wrestle the country into stability over the course of years, the stark failures of the occupation and the damage they've done to U.S. credibility rank as a major foreign policy debacle.

"It's not Vietnam- yet - but it is a huge blow tothe U.S. ability to project power abroad," said Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary University in London. "The Bush doctrine died on the outskirts of Baghdad."

That doctrine threatened pre-emptive war against rogue states that harbored terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. But two alleged state sponsors of terror that Bush wanted to deter by toppling Saddam Hussein - Iran and Syria - now can be confident that America doesn't have the troop strength to invade them, Dodge said. (my emphasis)

It also contains this prediction from an unidentified American official:

The United States is planning a broader offensive against insurgents in major Sunni Muslim cities such as Fallujah before the January Iraqi elections. "Get the Sunni triangle under control, and most of the rest of the country will go along," the senior administration official said.

Well, Fallujah was levelled.  But establishing control of the so-called Sunni triangle hasn't been achieved yet.  Or control of Baghdad.  Or control of the short highway from Baghdad to the Baghdad International Airport.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Torture in the gulag: "The story begins in Afghanistan"

"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

I've alluded before to how a thorough investigation by a court or by Congress of the John Walker Lindh could have exposed a number of bad practices that would have spared the US a lot of trouble if they had been corrected immediately.  (here and here).  Recent revelations about torture in the gulag station at Bagram, Afghanistan, are a reminder of this.

Report implicates top brass in Bagram scandal by Julian Borger Guardian (UK) 05/21/05

The Pentagon denied that the Abu Ghraib scandal could have been prevented if the Bagram abuses had been investigated faster. Carrying out an inquiry in Afghanistan was bound to take longer. But John Sifton, an Afghanistan expert at Human Rights Watch, said this was "a convenient excuse".

"The White House always put forward, that Abu Ghraib was an exception, just some rotten apples," he said. "But US personnel in Afghanistan were involved in killings and torture of prisoners well before the Iraq war even started.

"The story begins in Afghanistan."

Indeed it does.

This Seymour Hersh column summarizes some of the grim facts that have come to light about the torture scandal:

The unknown unknowns of the Abu Ghraib scandal by Seymour Hersh Guardian (UK) 05/21/05 He writes (my emphasis):

It's been over a year since I published a series of articles in the New Yorker outlining the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There have been at least 10 official military investigations since then - none of which has challenged the official Bush administration line that there was no high-level policy condoning or overlooking such abuse. The buck always stops with the handful of enlisted army reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company whose images fill the iconic Abu Ghraib photos with their inappropriate smiles and sadistic posing of the prisoners. ...

The 10 official inquiries into Abu Ghraib are asking the wrong questions, at least in terms of apportioning ultimate responsibility for the treatment of prisoners. The question that never gets adequately answered is this: what did the president do after being told about Abu Ghraib? It is here that chronology becomes very important.

After spelling out the chronology, which provides strong circumstantial evidence that the torture policy was carried out with Bush's knowledge and approval, he writes (my emphasis):

Three days later [in 2004] the army began an investigation [of the Abu Ghuraib torture]. But it is what was not done that is significant. There is no evidence that President Bush, upon learning of the devastating conduct at Abu Ghraib, asked any hard questions of Rumsfeld and his own aides in the White House; no evidence that they took any significant steps, upon learning in mid-January of the abuses, to review and modify the military's policy toward prisoners. I was told by a high-level former intelligence official that within days of the first reports the judicial system was programmed to begin prosecuting the enlisted men and women in the photos and to go no further up the chain of command. ...

Despite Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo - not to mention Iraq and the failure of intelligence - and the various roles they played in what went wrong, Rumsfeld kept his job; Rice was promoted to secretary of state; Alberto Gonzales, who commissioned the memos justifying torture, became attorney general; deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz was nominated to the presidency of the World Bank; and Stephen Cambone, under-secretary of defence for intelligence and one of those most directly involved in the policies on prisoners, was still one of Rumsfeld's closest confidants. President Bush, asked about accountability, told the Washington Post before his second inauguration that the American people had supplied all the accountability needed - by re-electing him. Only seven enlisted men and women have been charged or pleaded guilty to offences relating to Abu Ghraib. No officer is facing criminal proceedings.

The Guardian comments editorially on the Bagram report revealed by the New York Times: Abuses of power Guardian (UK) 05/21/05 leader [editorial] (my emphasis):

Some of the facts were already known and have been called "isolated cases". But the New York Times article, citing a 2,000-page military investigation file, names interrogators and victims and graphically describes the routine actions of young, poorly trained soldiers that resulted in criminal charges against seven. Methods included chaining prisoners in painful positions (ignoring warnings from the Red Cross), as well as beatings and verbal and sexual abuse. Many Bagram personnel, led by the same officer, were redeployed to Baghdad and used similar interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib. Crucially, the soldiers believed - following a determination by President Bush in early 2002 - that the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war did not apply to al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. Detainees were to be considered "terrorists" until proved otherwise.

These findings are a reminder of the need for combative media in wartime - and an antidote to high-minded outrage from the administration over Newsweek magazine's story, later retracted, about the desecration of a Qur'an at Guantánamo. Universal justice and American values require that the perpetrators - and those who authorised their acts - are held to account. As so often with Iraq and the "war on terror", some will retort that however regrettable, such abuses are overshadowed by the mass, random brutality of terrorists and the murderous Ba'athist regime. That is utterly irrelevant to these cases ...

The last point often isn't made effectively enough.  If we are going to have laws of war, we can't excuse ignoring them because the enemy is evil.  The Enemy is always evil.  But it doesn't excuse torturing prisoners, many of whom are suspects arrested with little or no legitimate cause.

Iraq War: Toby Dodge on counterinsurgency in Iraq

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Looking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' (IISS) Web site led me to this parliamentary testimony by their resident Iraq expert, Toby Dogde:  Written evidence submitted by Dr Toby Dodge: "Iraq: The Origins of the Present Crisis" 29 July 2004.

The testimony is from 10 months ago, so it's dated in a number of ways.  But it still has some valuable observations.  Dodge winds up his statement encouraging the British Parliament to increase its support for the Americans in Iraq because of the bad state of things there.

He criticizes the early reliance on Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi and his worthless group of exiles (my emphasis):

With this limited expertise on Iraq the coalition became worryingly dependent upon the small group of Iraqi exiles it brought back to Baghdad in the aftermath of liberation. They were meant to provide several functions. First, they would become the main channel of communication between the wider Iraqi population and US forces. They would also, in spite of being absent from the country for many years, become the chief source of information and guidance for the American administrators struggling to understand and rebuild the country. Finally, and most importantly, they were set to become the basis of the new political elite. It was the exiles that were to form the core of Iraq's new governing classes. However, this reliance has brought with it distinct problems. The formerly exiled political [parties], dominated by the Iraqi National Congress, have brought with them a very distinctive view of Iraqi society. This describes Iraq as irrevocably divided between sectarian and religious groupings mobilised by deep communal hatreds. This "primordialization" of Iraq bares little resemblance to Iraqi society in 2004, but appears to be very influential in the political planning that has gone on since 9 April 2003.

The heavy reliance on organisations like the Iraqi National Accord (INA) and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) has further exacerbated the divide between Iraqi society and US forces.

Notice that the development of more civil-war-like clashes indicates that the "primordialization" is now taking shape in the wake of the Bush administration's failures in handling the insurgency.  That's the postmodern approach to foreign policy: we create our own reality.

That's not just rhetorical.  Relying on the viewpoint of the exile groups, the occupation authority constructed a political process that is having the effect of remaking Iraq in that image.  Dodge could see that process underway in 2004 (my emphasis):

The confessional basis to choosing the IGC [Iraqi Governing Council set up in 2003] caused much heated debate in Iraqi political circles and across the newly liberated press in Baghdad. Arguments focused on the way members were chosen, for their sectarian affiliation not their technical skills, and the dangers of introducing divisive confessional dynamics into the highest level of Iraqi politics. To quote Rend Rahim Francke, the Iraqi Ambassador-in-waiting to Washington DC:

". . . a quota system based on sect and ethnicity undermines the hope of forging a common Iraqi citizenship by stressing communitarian identity and allegiance at the expense of Iraqi identity . . . anyone who wishes to be involved in the political process must first advertise an ethnic, sectarian or at least tribal identity, and play the ethnic and sectarian card. Proclaiming one's `Iraqiness' is no longer sufficient: one has to `declare' for a communal identity. This puts Iraq well on the road to Lebanonization . . ."

Juan Cole reports on a recent interview with three Iraqi political leaders that seems to support this argument in large part:  Islamism versus Secularism in Iraq: A Debate Informed Comment blog 05/26/05.

And this news report suggests the process is advancing at a relatively fast pace: Proposal to divide Iraq into semi-autonomous states gains ground by Nancy A. Youssef, Knight-Ridder Knight Ridder Newspapers 05/24/05.

As Iraq begins writing its new constitution, leaders in the country's southern regions are pushing aggressively to unite their three provinces into an oil-rich, semi-autonomous state, a plan that some worry could solidify Iraq's sectarian tensions, create fights over oil revenues and eventually split the nation.

The idea for grouping Iraq's 18 provinces into states first appeared in the U.S.-brokered interim constitution, which allowed up to three provinces, excluding Baghdad and Kirkuk, to become "regions amongst themselves." So far, only the Kurds in the north have created such a region.

As the Kurds gained more power in the newly elected centralized government, the Shiites began discussing a region of their own to counter what they thought was too much political power for the Kurds, analysts said.

"They way they played it out, Kurdistan was a behemoth with a disproportionately high amount of power in Baghdad," said Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in Shiite Islam.

It's no accident that Juan Cole gets quoted a lot in articles like this.  He's one of the few real experts on Shi'a Islam in America.  And he's both willing to play the role of "public intellectual" and very good at it.  His Informed Comment blog is really an amazing resource.  Many academics wouldn't think of putting out their work for free on a daily basis like he does.  And it's high-quality work, as well.

Back to Dodge's 2004 statement, there are an increasing number of number games going on with the Iraq War.  But one that matters is this (my emphasis):

Troop numbers and tactics have hampered the nature and quality of the law and order that American troops have been able to enforce in the aftermath of the cease-fire. In the run up to war Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki in a Senate hearing calledfor "hundreds of thousands" of troops to guarantee order. The RAND corporation, in a widely cited study on state building, published in the run up to the invasion, compared US interventions in Germany, Japan, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. It concluded that occupying forces would need between 400,000 and 500,000 to impose order on Iraq. At the moment there are only 137,000 US troops attempting to impose order on the country, this is clearly not enough to achieve the type of sustainable order state building requires.

The understandable tactics adopted by US troops, a combination of heavily armed motorised patrols and large fortified bases, means that the military presence became detached and largely remote from the Iraqi population. As the daily toll of US casualties mounts American forces are increasingly perceived of as weak and their presence in and commitment to the country as temporary. This general impression helps to explain why Baath loyalists began to reorganise in the spring of 2003 and why the remnants of Saddam's security services, sensing an opportunity to take advantage of US force vulnerability, began launching hit and run attacks with increasing frequency and skill.

Dodge has quite a few interesting things to say about the insurgency.  But I was particularly struck by this one, which is different that what we've been hearing from the Pentagon and our "press corps" (gosh, how could they get something like this wrong?) about the city of Fallujah, which the US military has since levelled.  Dodge writes (my emphasis):

The final source of violence is certainly the most worrying for the CPA and the hardest to deal with. This can be usefully characterised as Iraqi Islamism, with both Sunni and Shia variations. Fuelled by both nationalism and religion it is certainly not going to go away and provides an insight into the mobilising dynamics of future Iraqi politics. An early indication of the cause and effect of this phenomenon can be seen in the town of Falluja, 35 miles west of Baghdad. In spite of assertions to the contrary, Iraqis did not regard Falluja, prior to  the war, as a "hotbed of Baathist activity".  On the contrary, Falluja had a reputation in Iraq as a deeply conservative town, famed for the number of its mosques and its adherenceto Sunni Islam.  In the immediate aftermath of regime change Iraqi troops and Baath Party leaders left the town. Imams from the local mosques stepped into the socio-political vacuum, bringing an end to the looting, even managing to return some of the stolen property.

The fact that this town became a centre of violent opposition to US occupation so soon after liberation is explained by Iraqis I interviewed as a result of heavy-handed searches carried out by US troops in the hunt for leading members of the old regime. Resentment escalated when two local Imam's were arrested.  Events reached a climax when US troops broke up a demonstration with gunfire resulting in reports of seventeen Iraq fatalities and 70 wounded.

The repeated violation of the private sphere of Iraqi domestic life by US troops searching for weapons and fugitives has caused recurring resentment across Iraq, especially when combined with the seizure of weapons and money. It has to be remembered that as brutal as Saddam's regime was, it never sought to disarm the Iraqi population. The deaths of six British soldiers in June 2003 in the southern town of Majar al Kabir, although almost certainly carried out by Shias, can also be explained in a similar fashion. It was preceded by a British army operation designed to recover weapons by searching houses. The resentment this caused erupted when a heavy deployment of British troops was replaced by a small number of lightly armed military police.

Say what?  Saddam never tried to disarm the population?  I wonder what the National Rifle Association's Second Amendment zealots would do with that little factoid?