March 29, 2008

The War on the Unique and the Unexpected -- and on Tall Top Hats

I recently wrote about the refusal of the United States government to allow Sebastian Horsley into our nation's sanctified realm, where our every thought and action are so astonishingly pure that Jesus would weep with envy. The United States launches criminal wars of aggression, it commits genocide, it tortures as a matter of national policy, yet the United States remains the sole salvation of the world, the last, best something or other of all that stuff in God's creation. Mr. Horsley, with his history of personal behavior that is not criminal by any reasonable measure, is not "our kind," he is not anywhere close to good enough for us.

The NYT has a followup piece about the U.S. rejection of Horsley, who may be debauched but isn't debauched in quite the right way. A few excerpts are worth noting:
To Mr. Horsley, who has in the past entered the country without incident, the recent fracas arose less from his past indulgences than a current one. In short, his very tall top hat.

"It’s a stovepipe," he said, referring to the subspecies made famous seven score and seven years ago by Abraham Lincoln. "They asked my girlfriend, ‘Why is he wearing that hat?’ And she told them, ‘Because it wouldn’t fit in his suitcase.’"

Back home in England, he noted dryly that he had refrained from wearing his usual makeup and nail polish on the flight so as not to attract undue scrutiny — merely a three-piece suit by the Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson, a pink-and-gold-braid tie, a black velvet topcoat and fur-trimmed black leather gloves.

"One of the first questions they asked me was, ‘What have you got inside that hat?’ I said, ’My head.’"

One suspects this might be all that would fit. By turns self-deprecating, self-aware and self-glorifying, Mr. Horsley can give the simultaneous impression that he is not as clever as he thinks and smarter than he realizes.

"I don’t see things as good or evil," he said. "I just see them as either witty or boring." As the remark suggests, he is so quick with a Wildean epigram that a reporter’s real worry is not whether what he says is true but how many times he has said it. In either case, as he would doubtlessly point out, the way to make a stand is by striking a pose.

"Dandyism to me is being real in an artificial way," he said. "I have everything tailor-made: my shoes, my clothes, my personality."


What attracts him about the hat is how it tips its brim to both respectable gentlemanly style and ostentatious showmanship. "It has an air of spurious nobility and an air of the magician," he said. "That’s what I love about the dandy: he kind of makes you believe in something that doesn’t exist. That goes with the hat."


"There are two ways of living," he said. "Either you conceal who you are and get acceptance, or you reveal yourself and risk rejection. I think it’s better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you’re not. I do want to join the world, but without beveling down my individuality."

Given how eccentricity is generally received on this side of the Atlantic, perhaps the Customs officials really did do him a favor.
This is a laughably, lamentably pathetic state of affairs for the United States, that paragon of freedom and of The Individual. Yes, we love the individual -- just so long as he is an individual like most others. I am compelled to note this is hardly a new development in our history. America has long used its particular version of liberation to cover a deadly, puritanical, soul-crushing conventionality. We staged a revolution only to head straight into aggressively moralizing evangelical pietism, of both the avowedly religious and the secular kinds.

I am reminded of a Bruce Schneier article that James Benjamin recently had occasion to note again. It is obvious that nipple rings and top hats are among the greatest of threats to national security. C'mon, this is deadly serious.

In fact, it is deadly serious in one critical respect, as Schneier discusses:
We've opened up a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

This isn't the way counterterrorism is supposed to work, but it's happening everywhere. It's a result of our relentless campaign to convince ordinary citizens that they're the front line of terrorism defense. "If you see something, say something" is how the ads read in the New York City subways. "If you suspect something, report it" urges another ad campaign in Manchester, UK. The Michigan State Police have a seven-minute video. Administration officials from then-attorney general John Ashcroft to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to President Bush have asked us all to report any suspicious activity.

The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or trash sculpture; or the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians, or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.
Of course, this problem is also not unique to the United States. The war on the different -- on anything that challenges the status quo -- is one of the longest and saddest stories in human history. Yet it is almost always those who are different and unique, those who reject the accepted ways of thinking and acting, who provide humanity with the greatest discoveries and achievements in every field, from science, to literature and all art and, yes, even on rare occasions, in politics. Once a suitable period of time has elapsed and the perceived threat has dissipated, and once those who so zealously guard our morals and our culture grasp that the world has not in fact come to an end, it is safe to herald these unique individuals as deserving of great praise. They are frequently called geniuses, long after they are dead and can no longer pollute our pure souls with their dangerous thoughts.

Will we ever learn to apply the lesson next time, so as to spare those who have dreams and visions the rest of us usually cannot even grasp the immense pain and suffering we cause them? Until our species evolves through several more stages, and if we don't destroy ourselves in the process, no, we won't.

Nonetheless, on we go. Careful what you dare to think, and careful what you wear. You wouldn't want to be too threatening to the complacency that envelops most people, a complacency of such depth and pervasiveness that it becomes indistinguishable from death. On the other hand, the death of the spirit which usually precedes that of the body by several decades is remarkably unattractive, and completely uninteresting.

So I say, without apology to the fainthearted in our midst: fuck 'em. Toughen up, kids. It's cold out there.

March 28, 2008

Same Ball Game, Different Field

I have only a few observations about this completely predictable story in our major state print outlet: "Treasury's Plan Would Give Fed Wide New Power." Wide new power for the government? Say what?? I appreciate that you are entirely stunned.

I first note a priceless comment over at Calculated Risk (I told you that you should be reading that blog), and please note that Calculated Risk's entry offers an earlier headline for the same NYT story -- "Treasury Dept. Seeks New U.S. Power to Keep Markets Stable." The comment:
Achtung! Achtung! writes:

"Duh markets vill remain schtable und dey vill like it! Ve wil send die SCHVAT teams into duh wery korners uf duh industrie und ve vill prevail!"
Mel Brooks has come unto his kingdom. Accept it, deal with it, celebrate it if you wish.

Next, I would like you to consider this. We have all become painfully aware that after the criminal, monumental catastrophe of Iraq, many luminaries have offered us their plans and suggestions as to how we should ensure we never repeat the same error. Of course, these luminaries are all the same exact people who urged, cajoled, intimidated, lied, and bamboozled the United States into Iraq in the first place. Fox, hen house, etc.

I've written about this in many essays. One is especially relevant here: "How the Foreign Policy Consensus Protects Itself." In that piece, I excerpted an article by Andrew Bacevich, who wrote in part:
Even as Washington waits with bated breath for the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to release its findings, the rest of us should see this gambit for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the larger questions raised by America's failure in Iraq and to shore up the authority of the foreign policy establishment that steered the United States into this quagmire. This ostentatiously bipartisan panel of Wise Men (and one woman) can't really be searching for truth. It is engaged in damage control.

Their purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things - now go back to holiday shopping.
Change the terminology as required, shift the focus from foreign to domestic intervention, recognize that the same elites that created this crisis are now instructing us all as to how it should be fixed, and you're home free.

And rather than tax your brain trying to untangle the nightmarish details of all the new regulatory schemes now being proposed, many of which will doubtless be enacted and create a host of new problems (which may not explode for a decade or two, but explode they will in time), I suggest the following questions which may get you to the truth of what is happening much faster: As is true in the realm of foreign policy, how are the ruling elites (here, the economic-financial-regulatory elites) trying to protect themselves? How are they attempting to maintain their preexisting fundamental view of how economic activity should be organized and controlled? And: How are they making certain that "ordinary citizens" continue to have no voice at all in those matters that most affect their own lives?

Answer those questions, and I think you will have a much more accurate idea of what is going on. As Bacevich notes: "The [Iraq Study Group] exemplifies the result: a befuddled, but essentially passive-electorate looks for guidance to a small group of unelected insiders reflecting a narrow range of views and operating largely behind closed doors." And as we all now know or certainly should know, the elites' self-appointed "experts" are almost universally wrong.

There. I may have saved you from ten or fifteen excruciating migraines. You're entirely welcome.

Morality, Justice and Life Destroyed: Lies and Slaughter Without End

Several decades ago, after another of the numerous instances of atrocity, barbarity, murder and destruction committed by the United States government, M. Scott Peck was appointed the chairman of a committee of three psychiatrists by the Army Surgeon General. The committee was to examine the causes of the My Lai atrocities. In my essay, "The Culture of the Lie: Creating Hell on Earth," I quoted Peck on the cultural dynamics that make such acts of barbarity possible, and that more generally enabled the Vietnam catastrophe itself:
Once again we are confronted with our all-too-human laziness and narcissism. Basically, it was just too much trouble. We all had our lives to lead--doing our day-to-day jobs, buying new cars, painting our houses, sending our kids to college. As the majority of members of any group are content to let the leadership be exercised by the few, so as a citizenry we were content to let the government "do its thing." It was Johnson's job to lead, ours to follow. The citizenry was simply too lethargic to become aroused. Besides, we shared with Johnson his enormous large-as-Texas narcissism. Surely our national attitudes and policies couldn't be wrong. Surely our government had to know what it was doing; after all, we'd elected them, hadn't we? And surely they had to be good and honest men, for they were products of our wonderful democratic system, which certainly couldn't go seriously awry. And surely whatever type of regime our rulers and experts and government specialists thought was right for Vietnam must be right, for weren't we the greatest of nations and the leader of the free world?

By allowing ourselves to be easily and blatantly defrauded, we as a whole people participated in the evil of the Johnson administration. The evil--the years of lying and manipulation--of the Johnson administration was directly conducive to the whole atmosphere of lying and manipulation and evil that pervaded our presence in Vietnam during those years. It was in this atmosphere that MyLai occurred in March 1968. Task Force Barker was hardly even aware that it had run amok that day, but, then, America was not significantly aware either in early 1968 that it too had almost unredeemably lost its bearings.


The research we proposed was rejected by the General Staff of the Army, reportedly on the grounds that it could not be kept secret and might prove embarrassing to the administration and that "further embarrassment was not desirable at that time."
I occasionally note one of the very worst aspects of the unspeakable crimes committed by the U.S. government against the nation and people of Iraq. Yes, the U.S. has committed genocide, which is forever unforgivable. Yes, we have entirely destroyed a nation, created a refugee crisis of huge proportions, and shown a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life comparable to that of the most vicious, inhumane and barbaric leaders in history.

All of that is terrible enough. Yet after all this, our governing class and the foreign policy establishment have learned absolutely nothing -- except to commit their future crimes more "efficiently" and "competently." The ruling class of the United States is determined to be a better and more ruthless serial global murderer -- and have no doubt: they will murder again. And again. For they still believe that the United States is "the last, best hope of Earth," and that the U.S. is uniquely entitled to determine how all other nations and peoples must conduct themselves. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton believe it; John McCain obviously believes it. Whoever is the next president of the United States will believe it. The U.S. will murder again on a vast scale, for our government's murders are righteous murders.

And there will be no justice, anywhere:
Military prosecutors dropped all charges on Friday against a U.S. Marine accused of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in the 2005 shooting deaths of two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians at Haditha.

The charges against Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, 26, were dismissed "in order to continue to pursue the truth seeking process into the Haditha incident," the Marines said in a statement.

Word of the development came as jury selection was about to begin in Tatum's court-martial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault at the Camp Pendleton Marine base in California.


Tatum was one of eight Marines charged in the November 19, 2005, killing of 24 men, women and children at Haditha that triggered international condemnation of U.S. forces and he faced 19 years in prison if convicted on all on all charges.

Iraqi witnesses say angry Marines massacred unarmed civilians after a popular comrade, Lance Cpl. Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, was ripped in half by a roadside bomb. Defense attorneys maintain that the civilians were killed during a pitched battle with insurgents in and around Haditha.

Prosecutors have dropped charges against four other Marines in the case.


In previous hearings, Marines have testified that Tatum, who originally faced more serious charges of unpremeditated murder and negligent homicide, was among those who "cleared" two Iraqi houses after the roadside bombing, resulting in 19 deaths.

Another Marine testified Tatum told him to shoot a group of Iraqi women and children he found on a bed in a closed room. That Marine said he walked away but saw Tatum return and heard a loud noise, possibly gunfire or a grenade.
Be sure to appreciate the magnitude of the destruction involved: not only has the United States destroyed a nation and over a million human beings. As was true from the beginning, the U.S. is determined to destroy logic, morality, and your capacity to understand or make sense of anything at all: "The charges...were dismissed 'in order to continue to pursue the truth seeking process into the Haditha incident.'" [Added: Tatum was also given full immunity. Some reports suggest that the government seeks to use Tatum's testimony in a future trial against the squad leader. But consider that almost all the cases have already been dropped, and that the government has declined to pursue most of those involved in these horrors. If you believe that the case against the squad leader will be pursued in any meaningful way or that justice will be done on the scale required, I suggest you think again. And as noted below, what about justice for all the other criminals responsible for the monstrous acts committed by the U.S. in Iraq, beginning with Bush and with the invasion and occupation themselves? Anything even remotely close to full justice will not be found anywhere here.] When the world has gone mad, there is no longer any sense in attempting to understand. Our rulers count on you to give up the effort, to surrender, to submit, to do nothing.

And most Americans oblige.

There is much more about Haditha and related issues in an essay of mine from almost two years ago: "Countless My Lais, Hadithas Beyond Number, and Atrocities Without End." In that article, I wrote:
Our government ferociously denies it, and Americans refuse to believe it -- but the massacre at Haditha is not an exception. It is the norm.

We will not give up our vision of ourselves as "morally superior." We refuse to surrender our delusion that we represent the last, best hope on earth, and that we have the "right" to force everyone else to live as we do. And if they refuse, we believe we have the right to slaughter them.

Rather than question ourselves or our "ideals," we render ourselves deaf, dumb and blind -- and the atrocities and the slaughter go on, day after day after day. And we lie about all of it.
After I published that and similar pieces, a number of people wrote to me, questioning my insistence that atrocities like Haditha were widespread and that they had to be widespread, given the nature of war and the nature of our actions. More and more evidence of the monstrousness of what the U.S. has done and what it continues to do today has slowly made its way into the light, although only at the very edges of our national debate, far from the "mainstream." The information is available, as it has been from the beginning and before the beginning. But you have to search for it.

Most Americans are not interested in any of that, or in the truth of the U.S.'s sickeningly bloody immorality. We remain "the last, best hope of Earth," inherently superior to all other nations and all other peoples in history. The U.S. imposes justice on everyone else. We are the United States -- we are the perfect embodiment of justice. It is redundant and meaningless to suggest that justice be applied to our own actions.

The Democratic Congress has made certain that no one in the Bush administration will ever be held accountable for his crimes. The standards that apply to the ruling class also apply to their chosen instrument of death, our military. With rare exceptions, and only in the cases of the most insignificant military personnel on the lowest rungs of authority, no one will be held responsible. All of those in Congress who continue to fund the ongoing genocide are accessories to murder. They are all drenched with blood.

No new president will alter any of this. And yet we pretend that this election may result in significant changes. We lie to ourselves all the time, for we cannot survive in any other way. Meanwhile, the United States government prepares to do it all again, perhaps on an even wider scale. Most Americans, almost everyone in the media, and almost all bloggers do absolutely nothing. As I wrote at the conclusion of "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade":
So we see how the fourth blade connects to the third, and how all the blades interconnect and multiply the dangers. We have already destroyed Iraq, and we may yet destroy Iran and much of the Middle East. We may cause an international economic collapse, or severe economic dislocation at a minimum. We may see the final end of liberty here at home, and the installation of a dictatorship via a declaration of martial law.

And almost no one speaks of the incomprehensible catastrophes that lie in wait. Almost no one takes action to prevent even one of them. Our lives proceed as if nothing at all unusual is transpiring in our world, either abroad or at home. Occasionally, a few people shout warnings. They are almost entirely ignored.

The blade is suspended above us. With every moment that passes, the rope that holds it back frays and weakens still more.

Death hangs in the air.

We will not move.
Many of the people who do nothing -- certainly many of those who are informed about political events, and certainly most of those who write about them in any medium -- are profoundly immoral, soul-deadened husks of human beings. Torture, murder, genocide, bodies ripped apart with their guts falling out, minds destroyed for all time -- none of it matters to them, not enough to cause them to do a damned thing.

It is sickening and disgusting in a manner beyond description. I would say, "May God forgive them." But I do not believe in God and, if I did, I would not think He should forgive them -- or, perhaps, you.

Countless lives ended, maimed and scarred forever, and more ungraspably awful death and destruction still to come. And most people do nothing.

It does not bear contemplation. It is enough to drive you insane. As I noted above, that is one of the many purposes, one of the many targets of destruction.

This is now your world. And it will get worse.

March 27, 2008


It just fully dawned on me that I have to pay April rent next week. Egad! I'm pretty close to broke, nowhere near enough to pay rent, for pity's sake. It's only $800, which is incredibly cheap for Los Angeles, especially these days, but it might as well be a million to me. My deepest thanks, as always, to those who answered my unfortunately regular plea a little over a month ago, thus allowing me to get through March, and to those who have made donations in the last few weeks. But as I say, the rent money just isn't there. (For those readers comparatively new to these parts, the whole, sad saga was set out over a year ago. Basically, nothing has changed. Bad health prevents me from doing anything else, so blogging is it for me these days, don't have a large audience and probably never will, donations are my sole source of income, yada yada. Details in the earlier entry.)

In addition to rent, my oldest cat, who will be 15 in July, seriously needs to go to the vet again. (It's all right, sweetheart. That was just a figure of speech. I didn't mean it literally. Ssshh, whispering is best about this, and typing with my special invisible font. The cats, three of 'em, frequently take turns sitting on my lap while I write. And I'm telling you, they read the essays and talk to each other about them. Sometimes they edit them. Usually they're better then. Some days, I think I'll let them do the whole thing. Posts about playing, and sleeping, and eating, and then some more about playing, and sleeping, and eating...and every once in a great while, a post about catching a cockroach! Which they then present to Dad as a great trophy. It's very touching.) In any event, my oldest girl, Fidele (that's French, she's extremely well-bred and cultured), went, figure of speech inserted here...a few months ago, several thankfully minor things were attended to, but she's not quite herself. Again. Well, she's getting up there (another figure of speech, darling), so it's to be expected. I've been through these last few years (figure of speech again...I dearly wish) several times during my life with other beloved companions, and I'm all too familiar with how it goes. But she seems to be in some discomfort, and it causes me considerable anguish to see her unhappy. While I will never be able to afford to get my rotten teeth fixed, among many other problems, I suffer enormous guilt when my poverty inflicts itself on my little companions.

In other news, I think the writing is going well at the moment. I hope you agree. And even though my health was terrible for a couple of months just recently, it's somewhat improved now, enough for me to write regularly. My health is never good, but it's not too debilitating at the moment, which pleases me considerably. Here's hoping the current state of affairs continues for quite a while. Oh, has very generously noticed my efforts three times this week. I think three times in one week is a first for me. Monday it was this essay, today it's this one, and this article from yesterday is now listed on the Viewpoints page. I hope that last one, "Enabling Evil," will be highlighted tomorrow or over the weekend. I compressed a lot into that short piece, but I'll be expanding it in the near future. Those are some of the most critical issues to discuss in my view, especially given the general direction in which we're headed. I have much more to say on that subject.

I had hoped to have a bit of a financial cushion before starting my series on contemporary political tribalism, but I guess that's not to be. I'll begin it anyway, and I hope to have the first installments posted in the next several days, perhaps beginning tomorrow. Those issues, too, are among the most important from my perspective. I don't see others discussing them from the particular vantage point I will be employing, and I think the sources and operation of certain dynamics need to be much better understood. So I'll do it.

Okay. Very sorry to have to bend your ear on this subject still another time, but we gotta do what we gotta do. Yes, indeed, I am full of original insights like that, expressed in just that distinctive and unique style. I have tons more.

Many thanks for your consideration. PayPal and Amazon donation links are located at the upper right; PayPal is preferable for me, since I get the funds more quickly, and Amazon has not always been entirely reliable in my experience, although it's been fine recently. Once more, I am deeply grateful to you all. (Well, perhaps not all. Five or six of you should feel completely free to stop sending me those charming emails, telling me what a sickening idiot I am, how much I hate America and Everything Good in the Universe, how disgusting my personal, ah, practices are -- I bet you're the same people who were so upset about a book about gay penguins a couple of years ago, which is remarkably mean-spirited of you -- and similar stuff. And you express yourselves so colorfully! But the rest of you are wonderful.)

No, darlings, we're not going to edit this anymore. How about a snack? (That gets them every time. Almost every time.)

March 26, 2008

You Tend to Forget: Cassandra Was Right

Bill Lind:
Adm. Fallon's (forced?) resignation was the last warning we are likely to get of an attack on Iran. It does not mean an attack is certain, but the U.S. could not attack Iran so long as he was the Centcom commander. That obstacle is now gone.

Vice President Cheney's Middle East tour is another indicator. According to a report in The American Conservative, on his previous trip Cheney told our allies, including the Saudis, that Bush would attack Iran before the end of his term. If that report was correct, then his current tour might have the purpose of telling them when it is coming.

Why not just do that through the State Department? State may not be in the loop, nor all of DOD for that matter. The State Department, OSD, the intelligence agencies, the Army, and the Marine Corps are all opposed to war with Iran. Of the armed services, only the Air Force reportedly is in favor, seeking an opportunity to show what air power can do. As always, it neglects to inform the decision-makers what it cannot do.

The purpose of this column is not to warn of an imminent assault on Iran, though personally I think it is coming, and soon. Rather, it is to warn of a possible consequence of such an attack. Let me state it here, again, as plainly as I can: an American attack on Iran could cost us the whole army we now have in Iraq.

Lots of people in Washington are pondering possible consequences of an air and missile assault on Iran, but few if any have thought about this one. The American military's endless "we're the greatest" propaganda has convinced most people that the U.S. armed forces cannot be beaten in the field. They are the last in a long line of armies that could not be beaten, until they were.

Here's roughly how it might play out.


Even if the probability of the above scenario is low, we still need to take it with the utmost seriousness because the consequences would be so vast. If the United States lost the army it has in Iraq, we would never recover from the defeat. It would be another Adrianople, another Manzikert, another Rocroi. Given the many other ways we now resemble Imperial Spain, the last analogy may be the most telling.

I have said all this before, in previous columns and elsewhere. If I sound like Cassandra on this point, remember that events ended up proving her right.
I needn't go into further detail about this. Besides, I've done that, just recently: start here and here, and follow the links if you wish.

I've noted before one especially unpleasant effect for those who find themselves forced into a Cassandra-like role, even much against their own choice and preference: no matter how many times events prove you correct, you are always disbelieved on the next occasion.

Well, as I also discussed recently (follow those links), the choice is yours now. Good luck.

Enabling Evil

Chris Floyd has yet another post in his extraordinarily alarming series which describes the increasingly belligerent and aggressive moves the Bush administration is making against Iran. If the Bush administration is not planning an attack on Iran in the next several months, it is offering a master class in acting -- and the character being portrayed is a homicidal maniac of the first order.

At the end of his entry, Chris mentions my latest essay in my long series of essays about Iran, and about certain practical steps that could be taken to try to mobilize public opposition to such an attack. I first offered my detailed suggestions in February of last year. Obviously, we all had much more time then; I sometimes think of how today's discussion might be very different, had there been a series of newspaper and television ads, if more and more people had become aware of the grave immorality and practical insanity of an attack on Iran, and if growing public protest had become harder to ignore. The Bush administration's days are now numbered -- but that is not necessarily good news, especially on this question: it means our days, and Iran's, may well be numbered too.

But as the saying goes: it's not over until it's over. And while it is certainly true that the possibility for public opposition to affect government action may be very slim, that does not mean it is non-existent. Moreover, we can never be completely certain what the effects of our actions might be. I firmly believe that as long as the possibility for action exists, we must do what we can. I have endlessly challenged my own conviction on this question, from every possible perspective. I always come back to the same point: if we understand what is at stake -- and here, everything may be at stake -- as long as we can act, then we must act, on the broadest range available to us.

There is some discussion about these issues in the comments to Chris's post, and various thoughts are offered concerning my pieces on this subject. About certain of the issues that have been raised (and see his post and the comments for the fuller context), I wrote to Chris as follows:
Yes, obviously you're right that my criticisms are directed primarily at those with large audiences and "connections," who could use their influence if they chose to. However, as recent pieces like "The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?" indicate, the problem is broader and does ultimately include everyone.

I am always enormously suspicious of these "ordinary," "average" people who reject the criticism, insisting: "But what can someone like me do? How could I possibly affect anything at all?" Many of these people will be the "Good Germans" (or are already)...and when the National Guard or other troops arrive at their door at 2 AM and tell them that they and their children will be "relocated" immediately unless they "cooperate," will say: "Well, I think the troublemakers you're looking for are in the basement in that house over there."

But after all, what effect can such "ordinary" people really have? Why, none at all.
You may think this is an unduly severe criticism. If so, I refer you to "The Honor Being Human: Why Do You Support?" and "Thus the World Was Lost" for the reasons I do not think it is.

I want to mention a closely related issue, albeit briefly. I will discuss these admittedly complex questions in further detail in the future. Over the years, I have read the political commentaries of many learned writers about the questions of moral responsibility that arise under dictatorship. As I discuss in "The Honor of Being Human" and other pieces, these are questions we all need to think about now, since we presently exist in a surreal world that I have described with this phrase: "The Imminent, but Not-Yet, Not-Quite" dictatorship. In addition to reading many political commentaries, I have sometimes heard those who have lived under dictatorships speak about these issues, and I have known a few such individuals personally.

In their discussions, all these people raise the same issue at some point. They may express the idea in somewhat different terms and come at it from varying perspectives, but the basic argument is identical. Under a dictatorship, they all say, if everyone did exactly as he was told -- and volunteered nothing more -- the dictatorship would collapse overnight. The observation merits serious further reflection, and a great deal of it.

In any society made up of tens of millions of people or more, it is impossible for any government, no matter how authoritarian, to directly control the actions of everyone, or even of a significant number of people. Of necessity, orders issued by any authoritarian government must be somewhat general, just as laws are in any society: those orders cannot possibly specify everything that the rulers actually want to see happen. In addition, there can never be enough enforcers to ensure that people do exactly what those in power want all the time, or even most of the time. As a result, those in power depend on the cooperation of those they rule -- and not only their cooperation, but their willing cooperation. (I touched on this issue in another way in a post yesterday, concerning challenges to the legitimacy of the ruling class.) If you study history, you will find that a critical number of people under any dictatorship did not simply do as they were told: they offered a little bit more. Perhaps they informed on a few people; possibly they answered questions about that neighbor who was behaving suspiciously with more detail than was required. We can easily understand why people act in this way: they wish to protect themselves and their families, or perhaps they hope for a few more ration cards. There is always a reason -- but that does not make it right. Only a few rare heroes, those people who are incapable of being untrue to what they know in their souls to be decent, civilized and right, will say, "No," -- even when they well understand that the "No" may mean their own deaths.

Willing cooperation, the eager obedience to authority, is the necessary key to the continued rule of any dictatorship. If the great majority of people did only exactly what they were ordered to do -- and if they volunteered nothing at all -- the apparent power of the ruling authority would dissipate, and it would do so with remarkable speed.

Tragically, history offers many demonstrations of the truth of this idea -- yet we never learn the lesson. We are never prepared. That is why I insist people think about these questions now. Given the direction in which the United States is headed -- and an attack on Iran would greatly speed us on our path, and perhaps make certain that our direction cannot be changed -- you do not want to wait until you hear the knock on the door in the middle of the night. You do not want to wait until your own personal moment of truth arrives, to decide what you will do. You will undoubtedly be terrified at that moment, and with very good reason. You want to be ready.

Will you say, "No"? Or will you, like too many others, name names, and point to the house on the corner where the resisters are hiding?

What will you do? You want to think about that now, not after the nightmare and the terror have already descended.

March 25, 2008

The Inbred Mendacity and Stupidity of the Ruling Class

When I refer to the "ruling class," I intend that phrase to include every Washington politician and mid- to high-level Washington appointee and bureaucrat, most state-level political leaders, appointees and bureaucrats, the wealthiest and most influential American companies and individuals -- and members of the "respectable" media. See many of my essays for the particulars, including "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules," and "Blinded by the Story: Liberals and Progressives as Political Creationists." As I have explained in detail in those articles and many others, in terms of the fundamental, most critical objectives involved, there is no difference between the members of the two parties -- not insofar as the ruling class itself is concerned. For God's sake, try to take your partisan blinders off, and see and understand the stark similarities of purpose shared by all members of the ruling class. My essays and, more importantly, the books and articles I reference and excerpt in those and many other pieces, should help you in that task.

One of the most critical objectives of the ruling class is to ensure that the mass of "ordinary" Americans -- all those Americans without influence or "connections," but whose work, and often whose lives, pay for and sustain the ruling class's hold on power -- believe in the "legitimacy" of the ruling class, that they believe the ruling class genuinely does have the "ordinary" American's best interests at heart, as our rulers repeatedly insist. That fiction is just that: a fiction. It obviously would not do if those who make possible the lives of unimaginable comfort and power enjoyed by members of the ruling class began to understand that the lies fed to the great unwashed to keep them docile and obedient are a huge load of unadulterated bullshit.

As I said, the ruling class includes the "respectable" media, and it certainly includes "respectable," well-connected, inside the Beltway writers such as Josh Marshall. Thus, Marshall informs us:
What I am saying is that no one can run away from the choice every American with the franchise will face in November. The next president will either be John McCain or the Democratic nominee. That's an immovable fact. Not voting or voting for some protest candidate doesn't allow anyone to wash their hands of that choice.
In view of the fact that Marshall has offered sustained work over a period of years to maintain the status quo -- I don't recall Marshall's impassioned, repeated pleas for impeachment of any of the numerous criminals in the Bush administration, as just one example -- I could be glib and simply say: "He's a fine one to talk about washing one's hands of that choice, or of the unspeakable crimes committed by our government, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike." Okay, I will say it: He's a fine one to talk.

Marshall is not interested in the views of those who reject both McCain and the Democratic presidential nominee. Marshall is not interested in the fact that both nominees will support the continuation of the drive toward American global hegemony, by intervention, war and occupation as necessary, and toward the continued expansion of the authoritarian-corporatist state. Marshall is not in the least concerned with those people who conclude, with history, the political developments of more than a century, and innumerable facts on their side: "We do not want what either of the major party candidates represents, since they are the products and the embodiments of the same, irretrievably corrupt system." Marshall does not acknowledge those people who say: "We reject your system's 'legitimacy.' It is unforgivably, immorally and murderously illegitimate. To hell with both your candidates, and to hell with your system."

Marshall is not interested in any of that, for that would put him out of his well-paid and well-connected job. All that influence and all those returned phone calls vanished! Contemplate the immense tragedy.

(At first, I thought I should cut Marshall a little slack here, since his concluding paragraph seems to suggest that he is only addressing those people who share the "series of policies now generally adhered to by members of the Democratic party." But words -- and employing them accurately and with care -- are a central part of Marshall's profession. He said what he said. In addition, that last paragraph, and all of Marshall's writing, rests on the belief that there exist fundamental differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. But as this post and many others here demonstrate in detail, that is not true. Yes, there are some narrower policy differences, and those can sometimes be of considerable importance to specified groups, as discussed in the second half of "Cui Bono? -- and Bush's Monstrous, Deadly Dare." But in terms of fundamentals: no, there is no difference whatsoever. But Marshall is incapable of seeing or acknowledging this fact of the most critical importance. That, too, would put him out of a job. So my criticisms, harsh as they may sound to some, stand.)

I read Marshall very irregularly. With all political partisans of this kind, every position on every issue is very easily predictable in advance. Exceptions to that rule are extraordinarily rare, and they hardly make it worthwhile to wade through all the other...ah, stuff. That is true of partisans of both parties. Nothing is of greater interest to me, or provides me more pleasure, than the completely unexpected, a perspective that had never occurred to me before. You will not find that kind of thing at any "respectable" blog. Respectability carries many sins; one of the worst is that it is utterly boring. So I came upon this respectable utterance from the very respectable Marshall by way of James Benjamin, a most interesting, provocative and enjoyable blogger whom I hope you all visit regularly.

Benjamin offers a number of comments about Marshall's plea to sustain the ruling class in its legitimacy, all of which are interesting and virtually all of which I agree with. He very kindly mentions one of my favorite recent posts as an example of the opposing view: "The Tale that Might Be Told." My grateful thanks for that. Benjamin also writes as follows:
Psychologically, a small turnout (and by small, let's say less than ten percent of the electorate) would change things considerably. It's hard enough for a president to claim a mandate when less than a quarter of the registered voters support them (although they usually do somehow with a straight face). Once you start talking less than five percent of the registered voters supporting the eventual "victor", any remaining pretense of a "mandate" is taken away. One might also take away from Silber's essay the idea that the elites need us much, much more than we "need" them.

Said it before, and I'll say it again: ideally we'd have not only a mass boycott of the polls in November, but also a general strike to drive the point home that a very large number of Americans are plain and simply fed up with the status quo. I don't hold out much hope for something that organized to happen here as of yet, but perhaps I might one day be pleasantly surprised.
One of Benjamin's observations is especially significant: "One might also take away from Silber's essay the idea that the elites need us much, much more than we 'need' them." Exactly. In fact, the full truth is far worse than that: it is only the slavish obedience to authority, the reluctance and refusal to break the goddamned rules and "cause trouble," that makes the elites and their hold on power possible. Take away that obedience, take away the refusal to deny the legitimacy of the ruling elites and their demands that all the rest of us support them in their rule, and they have nothing. The elites know that; most Americans don't.

It's long past time all Americans learned these facts. You can help them in that task: don't vote for any national elective office. (I don't think voting for a Kucinich or a Ron Paul is necessarily wrong; both men have offered many views with which I am in complete agreement. But voting for them is entirely futile, as events of the last year have demonstrated beyond all question. Moreover, voting for national politicians like them implicitly gives credence to the idea that fundamental opposition is possible within the system -- when it is not. In that sense, I think voting for them is a grave mistake.) If there are some local and state issues or politicians you can support in good conscience -- which is to say, issues and politicians that challenge the status quo rather than supporting it -- okay. But nothing else.

The ruling class is corrupt, immoral, deadly, and entirely illegitimate. Their greatest fear is that you will realize it. Let them know in every way you can, and certainly in November, that you've figured out their con.

Call them on their shit. Then make them lie down in it. And then, ignore them.

Shut Up, You Freak!

Girlfriends and boyfriends, it's a regular freak show out there! Freaks, freaks and more freaks! Freaks everywhere you look. I'm gonna start a new kind of Disney World, and the main attraction (in more ways than one) is gonna be ... Freakland! We're all gonna have some serious fun at...Freakland!

Freaks came up in this recent post. And now I come across an account of Bill Clinton getting a little uppity with Smith College journalist Lily Lamboy. Lily that a great name? Yes, it is! Can straight white men be uppity! Yes, they can!

So Billsy and our squeeze Lily were talking about DOMA. Lily came on strong, and the exchange seemed to get under Billsy's skin just a tad:
BC: Let me ask you this: do you believe there will be more or fewer efforts to ban gay marriage constitutionally around the country if a Massachusetts marriage has to be sanctified in Utah?

LL: I -

BC: Yes or no. Answer the question. We live in the real world here.

LL: Sir, I understand. It’s a political backlash.

BC: No, not a political backlash. As a substantive backlash: the lives of gay people. Will there be more or fewer gay couples free of harassment if the law is that every gay couple in America could go to Massachusetts, get married and it would then had it recognized in Utah?

LL: But when is that going to change if you’re not going to set a firm stance.

BC: So you don’t care what the practical implications are?
I love the ruling class. I love their insufferable arrogance and condescension, and the way they ridicule "ordinary" citizens. "Answer the question!" orders Billsy. "We live in the real world here." Billsy, you shithead charmer, you.

I truly do love this argument, though. Do we need consistent adherence to principles? No, we don't! The ruling class lives in the real world, where you screw anyone who doesn't matter enough for your electoral success. Do we need federal protection of fundamental rights, like the right to marry -- especially when both state and federal governments tie a huge number of benefits and privileges to marriage? No, we don't!

And the "states' rights" argument is everybody's new fave, which is swell and all -- but not when it comes to basic, fundamental rights. It comes up all the time now with abortion rights -- which means a woman's right to her own body. Does a woman need a right to her own body? No, she doesn't! And now we're going to use it for marriage. Cool.

I mean, that's exactly what we did with slavery and interracial marriage, right? Wait, it's not? You're messin' with my head, aren't cha, sweetikins? It's not?!?!?!?!?!

Well, shit. Yes, exactly.

P.S. Oh, Billsy and like-minded conservoliberals or whatever the hell you are -- think on this:
It is one thing to be openly hated and despised, as gays and lesbians are by many on the right. We're used to that, and we got used to it a long time ago. As was required, we manufactured intellectual and emotional armor to protect ourselves. In the current climate, we have to put it on every single damned day. It weighs a great deal, and it exacts an awful price. But without it, we would suffer injuries too grievous to be borne.

But how much worse it is to be cajoled into taking off that armor -- to hear you tell us that you understand we're "just like you" in all the ways that matter, and that we're really "just the same" -- and then to read or hear about "how easy" you think it is to "make fun" of us, especially when our status as Freaks is too obvious. How much worse it is when we believe you, when you tell us you think we're all equal -- except that you can get married, while almost every leading Democrat will say, well, no, we can't get married. But we can have "civil unions." Because, you see, Freaks don't get married.

But we had believed you, so we took off the armor -- and then you plunged the sword deep into our guts. You revealed that many of you actually do think we're Freaks. Many of you don't believe we're really "just like you."
Yeah, Billsy, that's right. You're the freak.

A freak shithead.

March 24, 2008

Bullied, Terrorized, and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well

This is a genuinely horrifying story, one to fuel nightmares for a lifetime:
Bullying is everywhere, including here in Fayetteville, a city of 60,000 with one of the country’s better school systems. A decade ago a Fayetteville student was mercilessly harassed and beaten for being gay. After a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights, the district adopted procedures to promote tolerance and respect — none of which seems to have been of much comfort to Billy Wolfe.

It remains unclear why Billy became a target at age 12; schoolyard anthropology can be so nuanced. Maybe because he was so tall, or wore glasses then, or has a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension. Or maybe some kids were just bored. Or angry.

Whatever the reason, addressing the bullying of Billy has become a second job for his parents: Curt, a senior data analyst, and Penney, the owner of an office-supply company. They have binders of school records and police reports, along with photos documenting the bruises and black eyes. They are well known to school officials, perhaps even too well known, but they make no apologies for being vigilant. They also reject any suggestion that they should move out of the district because of this.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully’s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. “That was Benny, sweetie,” she says. “That was in the eighth grade.”


Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus’s security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.

Things got worse. At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother. Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn’t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness.


In ninth grade, a couple of the same boys started a Facebook page called “Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe.” It featured a photograph of Billy’s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: “There is no reason anyone should like billy he’s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.”
There is still more.

I urge you to consider the following connections.

The United States government has bullied, terrorized and not infrequently destroyed a long series of nations and peoples of numerous nationalities for over a century: from the Philippines, to Germans during World War One (not Two, then it was the Japanese and the Germans, and the Italians as well -- and I refer here primarily to individuals in America, not overseas, while also recognizing that the U.S. committed the unjustified mass murder of civilians abroad), to Korea, Vietnam, to Lebanon, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Croatia, Haiti, Bosnia, the Sudan, and Yugoslavia -- and of course to continuing genocide in Iraq. Iran is very probably next in line. Yet these instances of terrorism -- and this list is far from complete -- are heralded as examples of the United States bringing "democracy" and "freedom" to oppressed people. Alternatively, the U.S. government lies, and most Americans believe the lies, while our politicians maintain that certain other countries represented "grave threats" to our national security or to our "vital interests." In most instances, they were such threats only on the premise that any nation that dares to disobey our government's arbitrary commands constitutes a "threat," that any nation that will not do as it is told is a threat. America is God on Earth. America's Will be done.

When you add to this list of crimes the genocide of Native Americans and the forcible importation of human slaves and the centuries of barbarism unleashed on them, it can be seen that such crimes stretch back to the beginnings of this nation.

We do not speak of the truth of this history. When we do discuss history, we lie about every aspect of importance. Barack Obama recently denounced and disowned central aspects of the truth of our history. On the points of greatest importance, Jeremiah Wright had spoken truthfully. Obama wants to be president. You cannot be president if you tell or acknowledge the truth, so Obama denied it.

Our children are taught that we equate "manliness" and "strength" with close to complete disregard for other people, with emotional repression and insensitivity to the point of catatonia, and with a willingness to resort to physical violence at the slightest provocation, and even in the complete absence of any provocation at all. We tell those people who suffer great emotional pain and even agony, often when they contemplate the terrible suffering of others, to "suck it up" and to have "thicker skins." The greatest virtue is to feel nothing, or as close to nothing as possible. There is one exception: you can feel unreasoning, unfocused rage, and you are free to act on it. You may lash out in any direction you choose. The innocence of your victim is irrelevant.

Our government acts in this manner repeatedly. Our political leaders all applaud it, and offer a lengthy series of "justifications" for our unending national cruelty.

As I discussed in my essays about the high school students who protested the Iraq occupation, and who were threatened with suspension and expulsion for displaying a seriousness and humanity that is absent in most adults and in almost all our political leaders, the central lesson imparted to children is the necessity of obedience to authority. See "Careful the Things You Do: Wishes Come True, Not Free," and "When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West" for the details. The high school students were taught that the idea of impartial and "blind" justice is a lie -- they learned that adults are usually lying when they insist the cruelties they inflict on children are for the children's "own good," just as our political leaders insist the horrors of Iraq are for the "good" of the Iraqi people -- they were taught that institutions of authority and the people who implement their policies will lie about anything and everything -- and they learned that the extent of your awareness of the world around you, and the extent of your sensitivity to and concern for the sanctity of human life, will be the extent to which you are punished.

They learned that cruelty and violence are not to be condemned, but constitute the coin of the nightmare realm of our culture: cruelty and violence are enacted many times every day in films, on television, in our personal lives, and by our government on a national and international scale. You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward.

Our culture teaches children that, if you are perceived as "weak" or "fragile" or "delicate" or "sensitive," and if you are a boy or a man -- well, then, you are probably a queer, a faggot, a freak. Freaks are not fully human, which makes them excellent subjects for laboratory experiments. Endless cruelty can be inflicted on freaks, and your friends -- and many adults -- will honor you for it. And freaks certainly cannot get married. Even Barack Obama says that he prefers "civil unions" to gay marriage, for civil unions are more than good enough for freaks. Separate and not equal is fine for freaks. Obama is also not above more vicious instances of ridiculing freaks.

Our children learn all this, and many more lessons of the same kind. Of course, they are often vicious bullies. Our government is a murderous bully on a scale that beggars description; most politicians are bullies; the majority of adults are bullies to varying degrees. Why wouldn't these children be bullies? It's what they've been taught. In the most crucial ways, it's all they've been taught.

These children are the perfect embodiments of the central values of our culture. They have learned well.

But, many people will say, this is monstrous. We must teach these children that such behavior is deeply wrong, and that they must change. To all such people, I reply: Then change yourselves. Change your values, and change the way you think and act. Children will see those changes, and their own behavior will alter accordingly in time.

Change yourselves. Start today. Start right now.

The Lies in Your Head (II): "We Will Almost All Die...If We Continue to Practise War"

I examined Ralph Peters' especially bloodthirsty and disturbing approach to foreign policy and war some months ago (with badly needed comic relief thrown in, courtesy of Peters himself). In his latest column, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the ongoing genocidal war crime committed by the United States, Peters offers the standard defenses and rationalizations:
ON the fifth anniversary of our campaign to remove Saddam Hussein's monstrous regime from power, it's hard not to despair - not because of the situation in Iraq, which has improved remarkably, but because so few American politicians in either party appear to have drawn the right lessons from our experience.

For the record, I still believe that deposing Saddam was justified and useful. He was a Hitler, and he was our enemy. But I'm still reeling from the snotty incompetence with which the Bush administration acted. Above all, I'm ashamed that I trusted President Bush and his circle to have a plan for the day after Baghdad fell.


The situation in Iraq is improving, as I've seen with my own eyes. Despite our cavalcade of errors, there's hope (no audacity required) for a reasonable outcome: an Iraq that treats its citizens decently and that neither harbors terrorists nor menaces its neighbors.

We'll need to sustain a longer commitment than would have been the case had the administration's know-it-alls not regarded our best generals as fools back in 2003. The administration's disgraceful treatment of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki was paradigmatic of its arrogance.

Meanwhile, those who held power over our military and misused it so disgracefully will never suffer as our military casualties and their families will for the rest of their lives. At most, those privileged men will experience disappointing sales of their self-serving memoirs. Cowards sent heroes to die.

I cannot help repeating the heartbreaking truth that it didn't have to be this hard, this bloody, or this expensive. This is what happens when war is made by amateurs. Has anyone in Washington learned that lesson?
Thus, as I discussed last week, the only "lessons" learned by our ruling class and by most of the commentariat are these:
Behold the wisdom of the ruling class, now increased by benefit of the deaths of more than a million innocent people: the next time the United States wages a war of aggression, the next time the United States violates the Nuremberg Principles, the next time the United States installs a brutally cruel colonial occupation force -- do it efficiently.

Manage future wars of conquest and future occupations competently. Commit your crimes -- and your murders -- with skill and expertise.

In this way, the ruling class is now prepared to do it all again -- against Iran, or Syria, possibly China in five or ten years. It will not matter that another nation will not have attacked us, or even had the capability of doing so. All that will be of consequence is that the United States manages its future crimes expertly and efficiently.

Commit your crimes against humanity -- but do it neatly, and without unnecessary fuss and bother. Don't leave guts and pieces of brain splattered across the pavement, or over the sand. Be sure to clean up all the blood stains.
As to why Peters is so disastrously, unforgivably wrong concerning his assessment of "progress" and "improvement," see the essay from earlier today, "The Lies in Your Head, More Powerful than All Facts."

In the midst of this otherwise largely typical exercise in Iraq apologetics, I was considerably astonished to read two paragraphs by Peters that speak some important truths -- with one criminally notable exception:
The problem for the left wasn't really what was done, but who did it. And hatred of Bush actually empowered him - the administration had no incentive to reach out to those who wouldn't reach back, so it just did as it pleased. Today's "antiwar" left also contains plenty of politicians who backed interventions in the Balkans and Somalia, who would be glad to send American troops to Darfur today and who voted for war in Iraq.

Both parties are quick to employ our military. It's the only foreign-policy tool we have that works. Neither party is a peace party - each just wants to pick its own wars. The hypocrisy in Washington is as astonishing as the dishonesty about security needs.
"Dominion Over the World" deals with the history of the U.S.'s bipartisan policy directed toward American global hegemony in considerable detail. (That series will have three or four further installments, which I hope to get to within the next month.) As far as that policy's fully bipartisan nature -- that "Both parties are quick to employ our military," and that "Neither party is a peace party" -- see Parts III and VI, in particular. With regard to the interventions in Balkans, see the second half of Part I, and a still earlier essay, "Liberal Hypocrisy in the Name of 'Humanitarianism.'" (I pass over Peters' statement concerning "the dishonesty about security needs" without comment. On that subject, Peters' views and mine are as opposite as night and day, as numerous essays here attest.)

But take the full measure of Peters' monstrous lie: "[War is] the only foreign-policy tool we have that works." To speak of war as a "tool" that works is criminal in the extreme. On very, very rare occasions -- perhaps one time in a thousand -- war may be absolutely unavoidable and necessary. Almost every war in the modern era, and in all the eras before, could have been avoided, if governments were not led by individuals intent on power, motivated by greed and other detestable factors, and utterly heedless of the individual human lives that are destroyed, maimed and scarred forever. War kills and destroys on a scale that is nearly always entirely unforgivable; modern war kills and destroys on a scale that is both terrifying and unforgivable.

Gwynne Dyer, War: the Lethal Custom, from the Introduction:
[S]ince the scientific and organizational abilities that make nuclear weapons and other as-yet-undeveloped weapons of mass destruction possible cannot be unlearned, the human race has to figure out a way of running our affairs that dispenses with war altogether. The starting point must be to see the institution of war as a whole and to understand how it works.

For most of history, war has been a more or less functional institution, providing benefits for the societies that were good at it, although the cost in money, in lives, and in suffering was always significant. Only in the past century have large numbers of people begun to question the basic assumption of civilized societies that war is inevitable and often useful, as two mutually reinforcing trends have gained strength.

One is moral: for all the atrocities of the twentieth century (or perhaps because of them), it was a time when people began to imagine that war -- that is, killing foreigners for political reasons -- might be simply wrong. The same explosion of new technologies that has made modern war so destructive has also made the whole world instantly and continuously visible. To see our "enemies" on television is not necessarily to love them, but it gets very hard to deny that they are human beings like ourselves. Even if morality is no more than the rules we make up for ourselves as we go along, one of those rules has usually been that killing people is wrong.

The other factor is severely practical: we will almost all die, and our civilization with us, if we continue to practise war. The deadline has been postponed but it has not been cancelled, and a civilization with the prospect of a major nuclear war in its future does not need moral incentives to reconsider the value of the institution of war. It must change or perish.

This does not mean, of course, that we will change or that we will survive. The universe does not give guarantees. But change is certainly possible, provided that we understand the nature of the institution we are trying to change and are willing to accept the consequences of changing it.
And for those people, especially those liberals, who still cling to the "necessity" of war for "humanitarian" purposes, I recommend Jean Bricmont's Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War. If I believed in such programs, I would make that small but indispensable book required reading for everyone who writes on political affairs, and for everyone who works or hopes to work in government. I would require that they read it repeatedly, until they demonstrate they have fully understood its arguments.

I give you this one excerpt, from pp. 65-67:
The basic idea of this school of thought [humanitarian intervention] is simple enough: since democracy and human rights are much more respected in the West than elsewhere, it is our right and even our duty to do whatever we can to see to it that these rights are extended to the rest of humanity. Moreover, that obligation takes priority, since human rights come first; they are even the precondition for development.

The success of that ideology in transforming the Western left has been remarkable. ... [N]umerous left intellectuals consider it their mission to criticize Western governments for their excessive caution and timidity. To hear their complaints, one might gather that the main problem in the world today is the failure of the West to intervene in enough places (Chechnya, Tibet, Kurdistan, Sudan) and with enough force to promote and export its genuine values, democracy and human rights.

In the moderate version of this ideology, we are only called upon to protest, by demonstrations or letter writing, against human rights violations committed in other places. The tougher versions demand economic and diplomatic sanctions or even, if necessary, that the West have recourse to military intervention.

The main thing wrong with the "tough" version, the one calling for military intervention, stems from the ambiguity of the "we" in statements such as "We should intervene in order to..." The "we" does not usually refer to a particular group to which the person making such recommendations belongs, as would have been the case, for example, with the volunteers who joined the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, but to armed forces powerful enough to intervene effectively, in particular those of the United States. During the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, a certain number of Western intellectuals fancied themselves following in the Spanish footsteps of Malraux, Orwell, and Hemingway. But, unlike their predecessors, they largely remained at home or ensconced in the same hotel, rather than entering the fray, while the International Brigades and the Spanish Republican Army were replaced by the U.S. Air Force. Now, nothing in United States policy indicates the slightest sincere concern for human rights and democracy. Assigning it the prime task of defending these values is strange indeed. Moreover, to call on an army to wage a war for human rights implies a naive vision of what armies are and do, as well as a magical belief in the myth of short, clean, "surgical" wars. The example of Iraq shows that it is possible to know when a war starts but not when it will end, and it is totally utopian to expect an army that is under constant attack from guerrilla forces not to have recourse to torture in order to obtain information. The French used it massively in Algeria. The Americans used it in Vietnam and again in Iraq. Yet both the French and American torturers were citizens of "democratic countries, respectful of human rights" -- yes, but when they were at home, and in periods of relative social peace.
I will leave you with the following note of hope, the quotation that opens Gwynne Dyer's last chapter, "The End of War."
The good news for humans is that it looks like peaceful conditions, once established, can be maintained. And if baboons can do it, why not us? -- Frans de Waal, Yerkes Primate Center, Emory University

One Reason I Sometimes Change My Mind

I used to have IOZ in my blogroll. I removed him quite a while ago, but didn't say anything about it publicly. I had my reasons, and I think they were entirely legitimate and even important reasons (important to me at any rate, given my particular perspective), but I don't choose to go into all that now. More generally: despite his obvious and unusual intelligence and frequent perceptiveness, IOZ often irritates me, and very deeply. I find more than a few of his posts unbearably condescending toward almost all of humanity, and his writing tends to be suffused with a particular kind of cynicism that profoundly alienates me. I think it very likely those qualities will resurface in the future at some point.

And yet...for this, I set all that aside. I set it aside with deep sadness in my heart, for IOZ's own pain, and for what he is able to see through his pain.

Read it, absorb it, ponder it, let it into you. Think about what your government does all over the world, and here at home, and think about what you may do in your own life without even realizing it.

I cry a lot these days. I've cried very easily throughout my life, but it's been much worse these last few years. IOZ made me cry again.

He's back in the blogroll.

The Lies in Your Head, More Powerful than All Facts

Michael Ledeen offers yet another of his many posts lauding the reports by Michael Yon, embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, and joyously greeting the news of impending victory that Yon provides the war propagandists, year after bloody year after carnage-drenched year. Ledeen, of course, is one of the most sickeningly awful of the war lovers, and let us never forget the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." Many of the war lovers cite Yon's work frequently; Glenn Reynolds often does, encouraging readers to donate to support Yon's ongoing reporting, reminding us that Reynolds himself makes such contributions.

I find it close to impossible to read Yon's dispatches: they are frequently the length of novellas, they are overwhelmed by a level of detail and specificity that I find mind-numbing, and Yon's perspective is saturated with a reverence, even a celebration, of the chaos and murderous destructiveness of war that sickens me. But I don't want to focus on Yon's reports -- and at least he is willing to put his life on the line, which is considerably more than can be said of the propagandists who so eagerly use his work for their own ends. That is not to say that I view Yon's presence in Iraq as a "good" thing, which I most assuredly do not, since no American has ever had the right to be in Iraq at all. Yet from the perspective of the values that Yon and the war propagandists say they hold in common, I suppose it might be said that Yon's actions are "braver" in one sense.

Note what Ledeen excerpts from Yon's latest dispatch:
Combat is likely to heat up in Mosul and western Nineveh by about May. There likely will be some reports of increased US and Iraqi casualties up here, but this does not mean that we are losing ground or that al Qaeda is resurging – though clearly they are trying. If there is an increase in casualties here as we go into the summer of 2008, it is because our people and the Iraqi forces are closing in. We have seen just how deadly al Qaeda can be at the last steps. This enemy is desperate. They know they are losing. They are not likely to go out easy.
Any honest person over the age of eight realizes that this pattern has been repeated an endless number of times. A minimally decent person is horrified by that realization. How many times can we read about the capture or death of the second or third most important person in Al Qaeda -- twenty? thirty? -- before we understand that this is only another lie of the war machine? How many times can we hear about the "last throes" of the terrorists, before we grasp that something much more fundamental is grievously wrong with our actions? I rarely noted the "last throes" argument, since it was so obviously false -- but I did title one post, from July 2006, "Last Throes -- Part, 5,729."

The dishonesty only begins with reports such as those provided by Yon; the more important, and the much more dangerous, dishonesty occurs with the use that is made of them. People like Ledeen and Reynolds say, in effect: "This man is there! Since he is there, he must know the truth much better than most of us who are not there. We therefore should give much more weight to what he says. We should believe him!" And what we should believe is that victory is right around the corner. We are expected to disregard the monumental fact that this particular corner is one in an infinite series of such corners.

Beyond this problem, it used to be well-known -- and it is still well-known in other contexts (such as criminal law, and even on lousy television shows) -- that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. There are many causes of that unreliability: people often see what they expect to see and what most commonly occurs, not what actually happens; even people who rigorously attempt to be honest have memories that become jumbled and confused; and so on. But the first of those causes of the unreliability of firsthand reports is the most important: people see what they expect -- and often what they hope -- will happen. We are all familiar with the person who is so desperately wedded to a preexisting bias that he is willing to deny the indisputable evidence of his own eyes. This is what the United States did before the Iraq invasion and occupation began, it is what happened at each succeeding stage -- and it is what continues to happen day after bloody day.

We all have certain preexisting prejudices. Our honesty and integrity are measured by the diligence of our efforts in setting them aside and assessing the facts anew, by our willingness to challenge our own conclusions in a serious manner, and revise and even fundamentally alter those conclusions as required.

The American government, and most Americans, suffer from an almost complete ignorance of history, and of other countries and peoples and their cultures. Two essays of mine on this subject are of special relevance: "Sacred Ignorance," and an earlier related article, "Embracing Ignorance on Principle: And Still, We Will Not See."

I earlier wrote:
This determined refusal to look at and understand the relevant facts, including the crucially relevant history, is a significant part of the reason why Bush's repeated mantra that "everyone wants freedom," and moreover that everyone wants freedom in roughly the same form that we enjoy it, is so hollow and so unconvincing. It was not true in Vietnam, and it is not true in Iraq. Peoples' attitudes, objectives, alliances and enmities are uniquely shaped by their particular history -- not by ours, or by no history at all. And it is the latter that is unavoidably implied by the attitude revealed by Bennet in his [NYT] article, and by the Bush administration: they seem to believe that "freedom" and "democracy" are abstractions that are plucked by people from the sky overhead -- and then applied by everyone in precisely the same manner, regardless of history, geography, culture and every other aspect of their specific lives.


[T]his is yet another reason why I maintain, as I explained yesterday, that we should leave immediately, or as close to immediately as we can -- and set a time limit of six months at the outside, for example, for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. Not only are we a significant source of the ongoing violence, but we continue to refuse to learn about the nature of the Iraqis themselves, and what their perspectives and their aims are.

Because we are determined to remain ignorant of the actual nature and consequences of our own actions, and because this state of ignorance appears to be ongoing and unchangeable, the degree of the disaster will only increase. This is why we must leave now. The longer our withdrawal is delayed, the greater the devastation will be.

Ignorance is never bliss -- and it is especially not bliss when a huge military force is deployed against another nation, one which never seriously threatened us, and when we engage in torture, murder and devastation on a huge and unforgivable scale. Our actions are only made worse when they are supposedly "justified" by the indiscriminate use of terms such as "liberation" and "freedom," when those otherwise laudable and even glorious goals are used in a manner devoid of context and lacking in any specific meaning.
I also wrote:
Added to this militant interventionism is our national narcissism, which springs from our belief in our own "exceptionalism," while we simultaneously believe that all of humanity wants exactly what we want. As I have discussed, the proponents of this view never reconcile these contradictory ideas, just as they do not want to face the obvious question: if everyone wants what we want, why then do we have to impose our "ideals" on them by bombing, murder, invasion and occupation? Our narcissism has the additional result noted in my earlier essay: if we are the model for the world, and if everyone wants what we want, then the histories, cultures, and aspirations of other peoples are of no consequence. We need not ever direct our glance outward -- to determine the goals and desires of those we subjugate. Why, they really want exactly what we propose to give them, at the end of a gun if necessary. If they don't, it is only because they are ignorant. And that is, in fact, what the foreign policy establishment believes, although it will rarely admit it honestly and unambiguously: to the extent other peoples resist our efforts to improve them, they are "less than," they are not as "civilized" as we are, they are not fully human. So if we kill thousands or even millions of them, what does it matter? It's not as if it is Americans who are being killed.
In those earlier essays, I discussed the very valuable work of Patrick Cockburn, who also has done much reporting from Iraq. Just as Cockburn is not embedded with American troops, so he is not entangled in the Western myths that so distort reports such as those provided by Yon. Cockburn has extensive familiarity with the history and culture of the Middle East, and he sees very clearly what is in front of him, as well as the causes that have led to the current reality. You would not think this represents a notable achievement, but in a culture saturated with lies, propaganda and myths, it is.

In contrast to the distortions provided by Yon, which are then amplified by the war lovers in our midst, consider Cockburn's latest column:
It has been a war of lies from the start. All governments lie in wartime but American and British propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been more untruthful than in any conflict since the First World War.

The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes because of a refusal to admit that any occurred.


Mr Cheney was back in Baghdad this week, five years later almost to the day, to announce that there has been "phenomenal" improvements in Iraqi security. Within hours, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, killing at least 40 and wounding 50 people. Often it is difficult to know where the self-deception ends and the deliberate mendacity begins.

The most notorious lie of all was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But critics of the war may have focused too much on WMD and not enough on later distortions.

The event which has done most to shape the present Iraqi political landscape was the savage civil war between Sunni and Shia in Baghdad and central Iraq in 2006-07 when 3,000 civilians a month were being butchered and which was won by the Shia.

The White House and Downing Street blithely denied a civil war was happening – and forced Iraq politicians who said so to recant – to pretend the crisis was less serious than it was.

More often, the lies have been small, designed to make a propaganda point for a day even if they are exposed as untrue a few weeks later. One example of this [...] shows in detail how propaganda distorts day-to-day reporting in Iraq, but, if the propagandist knows his job, is very difficult to disprove.


Few people in Baghdad now care about the exact circumstances of the bird market bombings apart from Dr Aboub, who is still in jail, and the mentally disturbed beggars who were incarcerated. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that al-Qa'ida is not running out of suicide bombers. But it is pieces of propaganda such as this small example, often swallowed whole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq.
Stop the lies, recognize the nightmare reality of the war crime the U.S. government has committed and which continues every day, and get out.

Once more: "Stop the Lies, Stop the Funding, Stop the Genocide: STOP IT."

March 22, 2008

A Question

Why is Gail Collins?

I read the NYT and feel brain cells falling out of my ears. Unpleasant.

I suppose I should be sympathetic. No doubt, all the writers and editors at the Times are bored waiting for the next phase of the neverending war to begin. But I'm sure they won't make the same mistakes they did in the past. I'm certain they won't offer a major cultural megaphone for government propaganda.

It's not as if the Times would announce: "Iran has a nuclear weapons program ... Perhaps no one can now pretend that Iran has no hostile motives for its nuclear program."

That was on October 29, 2005. I discussed that fascinating bit of warmongering fiction posing as an editorial here: "The New York Times Learns Nothing -- Absolutely Nothing."

I imagine a world where, even if a major newspaper actually knew that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, it would write an editorial titled, "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?"

Arthur, you ask, wherever do you get such a wonderfully creative imagination? C'mon. No admissions of moral turpitude here.

I wonder how I could get in touch with Sebastian Horsley. I'd like to ask him some questions. Only for purposes of research.

Of course.

A Hilarious Twist at the End

PZ Myers tries "to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie," Expelled.

Funniest damned thing I've read in quite a while. I would say "funniest God damned thing...," but, well, you know.

March 21, 2008

Thus You Lose the World: What the Fuck Is Wrong With You?

[Update, March 26: a new, critically related post -- "Enabling Evil."]

That is an exceptionally rude headline. Count yourselves fortunate that I don't place numerous photographs here of babies being eaten, one delicious morsel at a time. First a finger, then perhaps a foot, then a large spoonful from a baby's tender stomach, then a piece of baby thigh. On and on the photos go, piece by bloody, nauseating piece being consumed with gusto and great pleasure, until the many babies are no more.

Do I have your attention now? I hope to Christ I do.

Chris Floyd:
A very important, very disturbing -- and almost entirely overlooked -- piece appeared on Juan Cole's Informed Comment site this week. It was a guest column by William R. Polk, laying out, in copious and convincing detail, the evidence indicating that the United States will indeed launch a military strike against Iran, most probably before George W. Bush leaves office.

However, even if Bush does hold off for some reason, the processes that Polk describes will almost certainly lead the next president into war with Iran, especially as the three remaining major candidates have forcefully pledged to keep "all options, and I mean, all options on the table" (Polk quotes Barack Obama's bellicose formulation). And none of them are likely to have the political courage that Polk rightly says would be necessary to climb down from the highly aggressive posture that both parties have adopted toward Iran.
From the Polk article:
The article [a piece in US News and World Report outlining "six signs that the U.S. may be headed for war in Iran"] curiously passes over in silence the much more impressive build-up of naval power in the Persian Gulf. As of the last report I have seen, a major part of the U.S. Navy is deployed in and around the Persian Gulf. The numbers are stunning and include not only a vast array of weapons, including nuclear weapons, cruise and other missiles and hundreds of aircraft but also "insertion" (invasion) forces and equipment. Even then, these already deployed forces amount to only a fraction of the total that could be brought to bear on Iran because aircraft, both bombers and troop and equipment transports, stationed far away in Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, Europe and even in America can be quickly employed.

Of course, deploying forces along Iran’s frontier does not necessarily mean using them. At least that is what the Administration says. However, as a historian and former participant in government, I believe that having troops and weapons on the spot makes their use more likely than not. Why is that?

It is because a massive build-up of forces inevitably creates the "climate" of war. Troops and the public, on both sides, come to accept its inevitability. Standing down is difficult and can entail loss of "face." Consequently, political leaders usually are carried forward by the flow of events. Having taken steps 1, 2 and 3, they find taking step number 4 logical, even necessary. In short, momentum rather than policy begins to control action. As Barbara Tuchman showed in her study of the origins of the First World War, The Guns of August, even though none of the parties really wanted to go to war, none could stop the process. It was the fact that President Kennedy had been reading Tuchman’s book just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, I believe, that made him so intent on not being "hijacked by events." His restraint was unusual. More common is a surrender to "sequence" as was shown by the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It would have taken a major reversal of policy – and considerable political bravery -- to halt either invasion once the massive build-up was in place. No such effort was made then. Will it be now? I think the odds are against it.
Chris Floyd's concluding paragraph:
Again, the complex and detailed case Polk puts together should be read in full. But its overall message about a catastrophic and murderous war with Iran is unmistakable: the hour is much, much later than we think.
I have written an inordinate number of essays that focus on the inevitability of a U.S. attack on Iran. The articles discuss the general worldview and the particular premises underlying United States foreign policy, how that policy developed from the end of the 19th century, through the 20th century, and into the 21st century, the various political, economic and cultural forces that shaped that policy, and the numerous ways that policy manifests itself. The first of my major pieces dealing with Iran and these related issues appeared in November 2005. You will find many of my Iran articles, although not all of them, listed at the conclusion of "The Worsening Nightmare."

One of my most important articles was the third and final installment of "Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939," titled: "Building an Effective Resistance." In that piece, I set forth a detailed plan for educating the American public about the profound immorality and immense destructiveness of an attack on Iran, and for mobilizing opposition to such an attack. At the end of that article, after detailing my proposed program, I wrote:
Most Americans rarely think about politics at all; they can't afford to, in any sense of that phrase. When they very briefly pay attention, they simply absorb the ideas that predominate on television or radio, or in newspapers they may occasionally glance at. Today, virtually everything they hear or read tells them that Iran is the "greatest threat" we face, and that an Iran with nuclear weapons is "intolerable" and "unacceptable." None of that is true: see here and here for more on those points.

They don't hear another point of view, because there isn't one. It's past time for those of us who approach these issues in a radically different way to provide it to them, on the largest scale possible. For many of you reading this, your involvement in and knowledge about politics is a great luxury, one you often take for granted. But I would suggest that, along with that luxury, comes greatly increased responsibility. You know more, you are able to spend more time on these subjects, and so more can rightfully be expected of you.

Yes, this is a monumental battle. Yes, the odds are not in our favor. But the stakes are the greatest ones in the world -- peace, and freedom. In different ways, many of you have indicated this was the kind of battle you wanted. Many of you have said this was why you got involved in politics in the first place.

We cannot choose the moment in history during which we happen to spend our lives. But we can choose what we do about it, and how we try to affect the course of events, to the extent we can. We are living during an especially critical time, one that is filled with terrible dangers -- and one that might change the world and our country for the rest of our lives. We may not have chosen this battle, but it is here whether we want it or not. So I hope some of you will choose to join it, on the side of peace, liberty and the infinitely precious value of a single human life.

And I hope some of you start, or continue with renewed dedication, today.
As I have stated a number of times since that essay appeared, I am certain that many people could think of additional and far better ways of trying to marshall opposition to the United States' criminal and entirely insane policy of aggressive war, and in particular to the world-obliterating insanity of an attack on Iran. I kept hoping that at least a few bloggers would take up the cause, and enlist their readers in the effort. With the exception of a handful of bloggers with very small readerships, no one did a goddamned fucking thing. The "big" bloggers couldn't have cared less. That was entirely understandable for, as but one example, the "big" bloggers have been engaged in fighting some of the major enemies of civilization in our time -- for instance, Chris Matthews. They repeatedly choose to spend their days on similar campaigns, all of equally earth-shattering proportions.


I made another appeal in, "Still Another Call to Activism." Sometimes, my anger and frustration overwhelmed me. On one such occasion, I wrote, "And Don't Say a Single Goddamned Word":
I also proposed certain actions that individuals, including the leading liberal bloggers -- who enjoy a combined readership somewhere between half a million and one million people per day -- could take. If they chose to, these bloggers could mobilize their readers to put enormous pressure on the Democratic members of Congress. They could continue the pressure every day, which is what it would take with these worthless cowards, until the Congress did something. With only one or two exceptions, they have done and do nothing. Why not? There are not that many explanations, and all of them are uniformly awful: they're too stupid to realize how catastrophic the consequences of an attack on Iran would be; they understand what the consequences would be, but they're too cowardly themselves to take any action that might matter; they value their "influence" and their "connections" with prominent Democrats too highly even to consider endangering them; or they agree that America is uniquely great, so great and so indescribably good and perfect that we have the right to tell the entire rest of the world how it must conduct itself. And if anyone dares to defy us, they further agree we have the right to murder millions of people who never attacked us, and who do not even threaten us.

So let me tell you something. If this paralysis and inaction continues, and if the Bush administration does order an attack on Iran, I don't want to hear one goddamned word from a single goddamned Democrat about how terrible and calamitous it is. They've been able to take action for months, and they can take action now. They do nothing.

And for all those goddamned bloggers who have done and continue to do nothing: if an attack should come, don't say a goddamned word about how monstrous it is. You had your chance. You blew it. You didn't give a shit.

I don't want to hear a single goddamned word. Not one.
Since "Building an Effective Resistance" appeared, I have seen many comments -- on various comment threads at different blogs, and in my email -- telling me that many people are already taking the steps I proposed, as well as other similar ones. That's a goddamned lie. Show me the newspaper and television ads; show me the op-eds; show me the fucking blog posts mobilizing opposition to an attack on Iran. NO ONE IS DOING A GODDAMNED FUCKING THING.

I addressed this subject at some length in "Passing on the Sense of Wonder." I wrote:
I've seen some people say that those who are deeply opposed to the Bush administration are already taking [the actions I proposed] -- but if you read or reread that entry, you will see that is just not true. I don't have a large readership myself, but a number of liberal-progressive blogs do. As just one example, if they wanted to, five or 10 of the leading blogs could probably raise enough money themselves to run some newspaper and TV ads of the kind I suggested, perhaps with relative ease and perhaps enough money to run a series of ads. The same is true in different ways of my other suggestions. I desperately hoped that at least a few of the leading bloggers might take my ideas, improve on them and/or add further ideas of their own, and then run with them.

Of course, none of that has happened, although some people have noted that post (and other similar ones). But in terms of my general purpose, my suggestions have fallen with a dull thud. In truth, and although I fervently hoped it might be otherwise, I didn't expect any other result. Still, I hoped, and I continue to hope even now, since we can always choose to alter our course, until incapacity, imprisonment, or death extinguish all possibilities for action. And my writing continues to point to alternative courses of action, as you will see in "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade" or "Theater of Death," for example. As I attempt to make clear the ultimate meaninglessness of the sad and pathetic pageant that passes for our political debates today, I am always saying, in effect: "It doesn't have to be this way. We could act otherwise."

I am enormously struck by the unnecessary and indefensible narrowness of action that most people, including almost all progressive bloggers (and certainly all national Democrats), view as feasible or "realistic." I will be discussing this in detail in a new essay I'm working on, and that I hope to complete by tomorrow; it will deal with a few political heroes on a grand scale, and how such people have vanished from our lives, to be replaced by two-bit charlatans for the most part. For the moment, I will simply observe that almost all people think only within the severely circumscribed limits of what others have already determined to be "acceptable" behavior. In connection with progressive writers especially, the irony is exceptionally heavy: these are people who endlessly rail against "conventional wisdom" and "inside the Beltway thinking," while they themselves vehemently reject the merest suggestion that anyone should break the accepted rules in any significant way, or refuse to play the game as it has always been played. In part, this is why my suggestions in "Dispatch from Germany" were almost universally ignored: I purposely insisted that the bounds of what is "acceptable" be expanded, and that the rules of the game be changed. For most people, this is unthinkable. They say such ideas are not "realistic"; what they mean is that they are not willing to take the necessary risks.But on rare occasions, a hero will come along who takes precisely those risks and completely rejects the conventional rules. Many progressives hail these heroes, and simultaneously prove entirely incapable of applying the indicated lessons to our situation today.
My last plea to date appeared in Part II of "A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent." I discussed the cultural background and significance of Andrew Meyer's desperate question to John Kerry: "[W]hy, if Kerry is so concerned about Iran, isn't Kerry urging impeachment of Bush now, before he can order an attack on Iran? Meyer pointed out that Clinton was impeached for a blowjob, for God's sake. Shouldn't Bush be impeached now, before another monstrous crime is committed -- and before a possible world war is begun?" I continued:
At this moment in history, and in view of the stakes involved -- which stakes involve literally the future of the world and of civilization, to employ those words with their genuine meanings for once -- that is the question that should be asked of every national leader at least once a day, and preferably a hundred times a day. It is the question that should be asked all the time, of everyone. It is the question that should be asked of every Democratic member of Congress all the time, every day. Almost no one asks it. Democrats and their partisans continue their dull-witted fixation on the 2008 elections, forbidding themselves and anyone else to acknowledge that by then, it may be far, far too late. Major actors in the Bush administration have longed to attack Iran for years, and they have never tried to hide it. Now, their viciously murderous purpose is being aided and abetted by leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton.

And no one will ask: Why don't you act to stop this insanity?

Andrew Meyer asked that question. The prospect of an attack on Iran appeared to upset him a great deal, and he wondered why Kerry wasn't more upset than he seemed to be. Why aren't you more upset? Why aren't you asking that question? Why don't you act to stop this? Almost eight months ago, I offered a number of practical suggestions to try to avert this looming catastrophe, one with effects that are likely to stretch across the globe. With very few exceptions, no one gave a damn about them.

The first of those suggestions involved the placement of a series of newspaper ads. I am unable to raise the necessary funds and do all the required work myself -- but if several people (including, I would hope, one or two bloggers with readerships far larger than mine) were willing to assist me, I'll help write the ads and get them placed, if it seems at all possible to raise the money needed. (And as I've stated many times before, if you have different and better ideas, I'd be most grateful for them.)

No one else will do it. So I will, or at least try to. Your help is needed, and a lot of it. If no one wants to help to try to stop this nightmare, that means you don't give a damn either. If that turns out to be the case, to hell with you.
I received only four or five responses to that essay, nothing even close to what is required. But I repeat the offer now. The offer is still good.


If you choose to do nothing, if you choose to spend your days on absolutely meaningless trivialities, if you choose to parse every word spoken by McCain, Clinton and Obama -- not one of whom will stop an attack on Iran -- then you have damned yourselves, and you are of no further interest to me. And I remind you of the conclusion of "Thus the World Was Lost," which discussed the Military Commissions Act -- that bill which makes dictatorship and torture the law of the United States -- and which also talked about certain cultural parallels between our situation today and that which prevailed in Germany in the 1930s. Parts of the testimony of two unusually intelligent Germans are worth recalling:
"You know," he went on, "when men who understand what is happening--the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments--when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to. How many men would you say understand--in this sense--in America? And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don't understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great 'patriotic' mob, will they understand then, when they did not before?

"We learned here--I say this freely--to give up trying to make them understand after, oh, the end of 1938, after the night of the synagogue burning and the things that followed it. Even before the war began, men who were teachers, men whose faith in teaching was their whole faith, gave up, seeing that there was no comprehension, no capacity left for comprehension, and the thing must go its course, taking first its victims, then its architects, and then the rest of us to destruction...."
"You are an American," he said again, smiling. "I will explain. There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."

"You are serious?" I said.

"Completely," he said. "These hundred lives I saved--or a thousand or ten as you will--what do they represent? A little something out of the whole terrible evil, when, if my faith had been strong enough in 1935, I could have prevented the whole evil."
This is the conclusion of that essay; it applies with full force to an attack on Iran, just as it applies to the Military Commissions Act:
So, take the time to be sure to understand the momentous nature of the battle. Speak out about it, wherever and as often as you can. Make clear to everyone you know what is at stake, and convince them to fight, too.

For the present, we have the certainty of the Military Commissions Act -- and the hope that we may still prevent its most ghastly eventualities. I pray that hope will be realized. The most terrible and terrifying thing of all, for those of you who will still be alive in forty or fifty years, will be to look back on this time, and to have to say, "Thus the world was lost" -- and to know that, because you did not do everything you could, you helped to lose it.
So what is your choice? Do the world -- and your life, and the lives of those you love -- mean so little to you, that you will risk losing them all? Is that what you want? Do you still choose to do nothing?

Do you?