Scorched Earth

Jonathon wrote a thoughtful and compelling response to my post Cut the Ribbon yesterday, using as counter-point the political and social condition of the Japanese people prior to World War II, and the prosperity these same people have enjoyed since. He doesn’t deny the “ribbon of folly and greed, arrogance and stupidity’; instead, he writes:

Rather I accept Thomas Sowell’s view that the evils of the world derive from “the limited and unhappy choices available, given the inherent moral and intellectual limitations of human beings.” In other words, folly, greed, arrogance, and stupidity will inevitably arise wherever there are people present.

I don’t necessarily disagree with Jonathon, though he and I do share somewhat different viewpoints of the inherent goodness of humanity as balanced against the inherent badness of humanity. I also respect and understand Jonathon’s expressed view that he’s not pro-war just because he’s not completely anti-war. However, I think at times we rely too much on the accidental successes of wars as a justification for war.

In my comments, Kevin Marks included the text of Tony Blair’s speech in response to the protests this weekend. Now that the terrorist threat has begun to recede as an impetus for the war, the talk turns to Saddam Hussein’s treatment of his people. Blair quotes letters from Iraqi people who talk of the deaths of innocents, Saddam’s brutality, the oppression. None of us deny this. This is the reason, all along, that we should have talked about war — to help the people of Iraq. We should have been discussing this thirty years ago.

But now the Iraqi people are being brought up as a justification for war because we need one more reason to fulfill our agenda of a unilateral invasion of Iraq by the US and a few allies. We need justification for our “righteous” war.

Blair’s speech sickens me because in his grand words in support of the war against Saddam Hussein, he neglects to mention why Saddam is in power; who put him there; who supported him while he killed millions in the war with Iran. Who brought about this horror we face now?

Ridding(sic) the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane.

And if it does come to this, let us be clear: we should be as committed to the humanitarian task of rebuilding Iraq for the Iraqi people as we have been to removing Saddam

Who brought the horror? The very leaders who hold up photos of children starving in the countryside. The ones who only now talk of rebuilding Iraq “for the people”.

The hypocrisy makes me want to vomit.

The only planning Bush and Blair have done about the effects of the war and the people of Iraq afterwards is who we’ll put in charge, and how much oil will it cost for our occupation. And Bush and Blair will pursue their agendas regardless of what the world, including our allies, says..

No one wants Saddam Hussein to remain in power, but the cost of marching in with the sole goal of defeating Saddam Hussein and disarming Iraq will bring about horrors worse then any that have been perpetuated in this country in the past. Don’t trot out pictures of Afghanistan and Japan and other beneficiaries of accidental successes of war — the situation in Iraq is different. Amnesty International recognized this, which is why they call, again and again, for a discussion in the UN about the people of Iraq. But all we hear is “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. And 9/11.

Have no doubt of what will happen. Today the papers and the news talk about Saddam Hussein’s scorched earth policy, something which I don’t doubt he’ll follow.

I have no doubt he’ll kill millions, let loose chemical and biological weapons, blow up the oil fields — he is a cornered man with nothing to lose, and no concern about the welfare of his people. If this scorched earth happens, it will take years — years — to recover. And ultimately we will have bred more of the same terrorists we sought to confine and eliminate.

We talk of war, but what war are we fighting? The one Blair and Bush have packaged, and are now wrapping with a pretty bow composed of the faces of the children of Iraq we’re going to save? The war governed by sanctions that focus primarily on weapons?

Or are we going to focus our attention and our energies on finding a solution that will allow us to go into Iraq and help the people without destroying them?

These are two different wars. Which war are we to fight?

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Cutting the Ribbon

I know a fair grouping of people who are against a unilateral invasion of Iraq by the US, but not all marched this weekend.

Loren Webster talks about his service in Vietnam and returning home to jeers and cries of “Baby Killer!” from anti-war protestors; the lasting impact of those times that still makes him uncomfortable about participating in a anti-war rally.

When he declined to join an anti-war demonstration in Australia, Jonathon Delacour wrote:

It’s not that I didn’t consider attending the anti-war rally in Sydney today. If it had been a No War on Iraq Without UN Sanction rally, I’d have been there in an instant; but that was not the rally that was planned and advertised nor the rally that was held. There was no space at the table for someone for whom being “against war” makes no more sense than to be “against salt water” or “against sexual attraction.

button.jpgI wrote in comments that if Jonathon had attended the demonstration in Sydney, perhaps he would have found that many attending believed the same thing — no war without UN sanction. I know I did. Saturday, I protested against a US-based unilateral war against Iraq in violation of international law and without UN sanction, but that’s difficult to put on a button, so I wore one saying “Attack Iraq? No!”.

Afterwards, though, I thought about my response, my justification for an anti-war stance; my careful insistence that I’m anti-war except if there’s a right cause, a good reason, a noble effort for war. And it occurred to me that shouldn’t the imperative for justification be on those who promote war rather than those who promote peace?

As “justification” for a righteous war, the kind of war we say we ultimately want to wage in Iraq, we bring up World War II and talk about war with Germany being necessary because a) Germany was aggressively attacking its neighbors, and b) Germany was committing the worst acts of genocide in the history of humanity with the deliberate extermination of the Jews. No one can deny these facts, or the atrocities committed. Once they began, they had to be stopped and the only course open at that time was war.

However, step back further in time: Hitler and the Nazi party would never have gained power in Germany to commit these acts against humanity if the Allies (Britain, France, the US, Italy, and others) had worked effectively as a team after the first World War. But France and England wanted to punish Germany, while the US wanted Peace, and other countries wanted other things, and the process was bungled. This left an embittered, united Germany vulnerable to the rise of a new power that promised them the victory many of the Germans felt cheated out of:

But large sections of the population in Germany did not believe that their country had been honorably defeated on the battlefield. They believed in the rumors sweeping across Germany that the push for victory of their valiant troops on the western front had been sabotaged by traitors and pacifists at home who had spread disaffection and revolution.

This ‘stab in the back’ had prevented the gallant soldiers from securing the victory which was almost in their grasp. Thus a treaty which not only confirmed German defeat, but which, in clause 231, justified its demands for punitive war costs by laying the blame for the outbreak of the war firmly on German shoulders, was bound to provoke fury. Germany was a country which saw itself as having been encircled by France, Russia and Britain in 1914 and provoked into war

Germany’s entry into World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as he toured Kosovo on the anniversary of a military defeat that was the cause of a great deal of humiliation for Serbs. Ferdinand was warned against this tour but arrogantly continued in spite of the warnings, and his arrogance launched a bloody global conflict.

But the first mistake, the first error, didn’t reside with Ferdinand. The Serbs assassinated him because they feared increased persecution at his hands, fears based on previous events, the history of which stretches back into the dimmest collective memory, a ribbon of related cause and effect that ultimately culminated in six million Jews being murdered; a ribbon that stretches into the future, as the Jewish people, desperate for a safe haven of their own, fight for a homeland. Fight for Israel.

The events leading to a “justified war” roll along an incline tilted by greed and foolishness, smoothed by pride and anger. They give the people who would be gods the open door to obtain the power they crave; they give the fearful the dark shadows in their minds from which to cower and to strike.

We stumble along from one mistake to another until we reach a point of critical no-return. Then we have a war to reset the board, to start over but with different pieces, different game plans. In effect, we’re saying, “We screwed up. Let’s have a war and make it better.”

This same pattern of small event building on small event, of mistake piled on mistake, is so much at the core of our current conflict with Iraq. We supported Saddam Hussein’s ascension to power because the regime at the time was too friendly to the Soviet Union. We supported Iraq in its war against Iran because Iran was a greater perceived threat to the United States. We helped provide Iraq with the training and the means to use the weapons we now seek to remove. We turned a blind eye to the violations of basic human rights in that country because it suited our needs to do so at the time.

Which brings us back here, and now and what is a justified war with Iraq. I have been asked a question: if the UN sanctioned an invasion of Iraq, would I support it? Yesterday, I would have answered yes. That was before this morning when I read once again of the mistakes we’ve made in the past. When I reminded myself of the start of World War I, of World War II, the Civil War, and so on. So many mistakes ‘corrected’ by so many wars.

Even with UN sanctions, I can no longer support this war; not for the reasons we would fight it. I do not believe Saddam Hussein is a strong supporter of terrorists and I do not believe he is an immediate threat to our country or any other country. I can not support war for these reasons because these supposed threats of Saddam Hussein are based on mistakes. Mistakes made primarily by those who seek to fight this war, and fight this war now. The same leaders who have spared little thought about the people of Iraq, except when convenient as a justification of war.

Amnesty International, one of the few organizations who fights for the people of a land, has asked, repeatedly, of the UN: What of the people? If there is a war, what are the plans to help the people, to prevent harm, to stop military reprisal? What are the plans for placing monitors to prevent human abuses? Who will rule this land, and for whose good?

We say we must fight to save the people, and quickly, but how does dropping 800 bombs on a country over 48 hours help the people? How does taking out the water systems on the first day of the war help people? And who is making the decision about leadership once Saddam Hussein is gone? The same people who talk so easily about dropping 800 bombs on a country over 2 days.

If we are going into Iraq to “help the people” then we must, more than ever, take the time to ensure we move carefully, to ensure the safety of the people we seek to help. If we don’t, then our professions of concern for the people are nothing more than a sham, and a lie.

Once we have helped the people of Iraq, then we have a moral obligation to help the other people of this world who live in fear, who are imprisoned, tortured, stoned, and raped. Even though there is no benefit for ourselves; even if there is the possibility of risk to ourselves. We have no choice if what we truly want is to help the people.

Am I anti-war? You damn right I am. There is no just war, no righteous war. There are only wars that erase small mistakes compared to wars that attempt to erase bigger ones.

Tell me your justifications for war and display for me past examples where good triumphed over evil in a necessary war. For every act of righteous war, you bring into the light, I’ll show you a ribbon of folly and greed, arrogance and stupidity stretching back into the darkness behind it.

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Learned terrorism

Michael sent me a link to an editorial that talks about Learned Helplessness and its association with the current ‘war on terror’. The author. Kriselda Jarnsaxa, writes:

The experience of the last 15 months here in America seems to be producing a nation suffering from learned helplessness. Fear is induced through the constant, but oh-so-vague, warnings emanating from the government. Another attack is imminent, we are told, they may be coming to blow up our banks, our hotels, our apartments, our holiday celebrations. They may be coming in hidden on boats, or scuba-diving to our shores. They may already be here, hidden among us, and we don’t even know it. They may use suicide bombers or shoulder-mounted surface-to-air misses can knock planes from the sky. Crop dusters may be used to spread biological agents, or they may load a conventional bomb with nuclear waste to spread radiation throughout a large city. May… may… may… may. The list of horrors is nearly endless, as is the imagination of those whose job it is to come up with new warnings, it seems. We see no escape from this fear, and are told our only hope is to sacrifice our freedoms, our cherished liberties, our very way of life, on the altar of security, so we do – willingly, it seems – and never realizing that maybe, we should be afraid of our government, too.

I didn’t think to equate my country’s seeming inability to wake up and see the nightmare with Learned Helplessness. An interesting twist.

This follows on Bush cutting federal employee pay raise, because, as he says, the money is needed for the War on Terror:

In a letter sent Friday to congressional leaders, Bush announced he was using his authority to change workers’ pay structure in times of “national emergency or serious economic conditions” to limit raises to 3.1 percent.

Of course, one can ask why Bush doesn’t roll back the tax cuts, which only benefit the wealthy.

I don’t know why we just don’t send the Congress home. Bush has been given powers that allow him to alter or change any law he wishes in the ‘name of national security”, and Congress lets him. The American public lets him.

As long as Bush plans on bombing Iraq and, we presume, to follow through to other countries such as Iran (Israel’s personal favorite), and Saudi Arabia (the US personal favorite), the voting public of this country seems indifferent to what Bush does. However, I don’t think the public reaction (or lack of same) is based on Learned Helplessness: I think it’s based on equal parts fear, retribution, greed, and a desire to show the world that the US is top dog and can kick anyone’s butt.

Cry “Havoc!” and let loose the dogs of war

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

The Pledge

I was extremely pleased and surprised to hear that an appellate court has ruled that reciting the Oath of Allegiance is unconstitutional because of the phrase “…under God”.

Not everyone believes in a God, nor do all religions support the concept of taking an oath. In both cases, the daily oath makes kids who don’t participate feel like outsiders, especially in today’s frenzied patriotic environment.

The Oath of Allegiance and coating our cars, homes, and bodies with variations of red, white, and blue are cheap and easy ways to show our patriotism. Much simpler to say an Oath than to carefully pursue details of bills pending in Congress, or to vote based on individual merit rather than party affiliation.

Not all webloggers are so pleased as I. Amidst a tangled web considers this a giant step back, saying As a big fan of God, I hope he gets to stay in the USA. At Boboroshi.com:

It’s gotten to the point where society is evicting any piece of religion from anything political. The problem exists that, in evicting religion from our society and becoming completely secularized, those who have excised religion have not been able to replace its moral teachings.

Our society was based on a secular government, a nation whereby church and state are separated. This does not preclude the practice of religion, but does put religious practice where it belongs: celebrated by individuals in their own space, their own time, protected by law.

As for the “moral teachings” of religion, there is no religion – none – that doesn’t have incidents in its past that the modern practitioners of same would just as soon forget. And there have been few wars fought that didn’t have a kernel of religion at their core – including the current conflicts in the Middle East. In actuality, morality, or lack thereof, is a matter of individual responsibility rather than religious affiliation.

Perhaps we should create a new Oath – one with a bit broader base:

I give my promise
to all of humanity
to support freedom in all its forms.

And to the world
in which we live
one world, indivisible
I support liberty and justice for all

I can live with this.

Comments on the Communications Decency Act

y first real experience with the Internet was subscribing to a Usenet on a symbolic modeling language. I remember reading a response from a researcher in Switzerland and deciding to write my first entry into the thread. Every time someone would write from a different country I was awed. Where else and in what other circumstance could people from different countries and different cultures converse in such a way that the topic at hand becomes the focal point, not the differences of those speaking.

Where governments have trodden through the front door with fanfare and progressed with little steps, or failed, the Internet has moved quietly through the back door and succeeded. Until now.

While the Internet was nothing more than an insider’s tool, it was for the most part unconstrained and relatively open. Now that the access to the Internet is open “to the masses” we seek to impose constraints and limitations. Worse, where before each country’s boundaries were transparent, they now seek to make them not only opaque but a virtual brick wall. The main benefit of the Internet is taking down boundaries not putting them up. The Internet is owned by no Man, no Woman, and no Country.

I was following some forgotten path through the Web once when I stumbled on a letter from an Irish environmental terrorist. He wrote the letter in prison after he was captured while attempting to bomb a factory that he believed was damaging to the environment. This letter was fascinating. It was not an interview on some slick TV show, or in some slick magazine. It was an unsolicited recitation of facts and beliefs of a person that most of us would have an easy time dismissing as a nut after a two paragraph word byte in the press. Did I agree with the person? No, and I do consider myself an environmentalist. Bombs and bullets are never the way folks, nor are bricks and bats. However, the letter did give me a perspective that I would never have had if I had not read it. I cannot as easily dismiss an act of terrorism as an act of a mad person, which in a way makes the act even more frightening. Would this letter be considered “excessively violent”? Would the group that posted it be in violation of the law?

Could something like this be considered obscene? In some countries and in sometimes it could be. In certain countries, a picture of a woman bare faced and holding a career would probably be considered obscene. Full frontal nudity is considered by many in the United States as obscene but is probably considered perfectly normal in other countries. The very thing that makes the Internet great, the absence of borders, makes it virtually impossible to determine a common point of obscenity or a common point of decency.

We in the United States cannot agree within our own borders what is ‘decent’. One person believes in allowing free choice for women, and another would consider this indecent and obscene. Would information on the Internet on abortions then be considered illegal? If your child read this material, and it was presented in a scientific manner and presented only facts, would the originators of the material be in violation of the law?

If all we read in books, or all we see on TV, or all we hear on the radio, and all we can discuss on the Internet is material suitable for small children neither they nor we will ever and can ever grow, and we as a society will never mature.

Perhaps that’s what some people, including Congress, really want.

That’s it, folks.