Being intellectually divorced

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I spent the day today talking about the war in Iraq and possible solutions, about protests and voices. But behind all of this has been the disappointment of hearing people chastise the peace movement — dismissive statements about self-indulgent moralizing.

Once, not long ago, before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote that it was important to respect those people who choose not to protest:


I think one thing we’ve learned since the last major global anti-war demonstration is that these demonstrations aren’t for everyone; neither is some or even all aspects of the anti-war movement. We must remember to respect each other’s beliefs and choices, if what we say in these demonstrations means anything at all.

We’re heading into tense, difficult times. Regardless of what each of us believes, we have to keep in mind our respect for each other. Our service people in the Middle East deserve our respect. So do the people of Iraq. It just breaks my heart to see two groups who deserve respect having to kill each other because a few men, deserving of no respect, have demanded it in their arrogance.

It’s difficult, then, to see people deny me, and others who have been part of the movement, that same respect.

Kottke came out with a posting on the war, the first and only time he’s made a statement about it. He wrote:

It’s all much more complicated than this. All the arguments out there for and against are necessarily shallow. We’re getting very small pieces of the whole story from TV reports, newspaper articles, weblog postings, and magazine pieces. No one has the time to read or write a complete analysis of the situation (which would be a social, political, religious, scientific and economic history of the world from 5000 B.C. up until 2 minutes ago…basically all human knowledge).

Summing up, Bush bad, war bad, this war not so bad even though bad Bush reasons also bad.

Rather than provide a solution, or an alternative, he basically calls all sides the joker and dusts his hands off from any further discussion. Back to blogging as usual, he’s made his stand and his statement. He’s done his part. And oh, the praise that came in when this posting was published.

Yet, what did Kottke say — that the pro-war and the anti-war sides are all idiots, but he’s neither so he’s intellectually superior to both?

Demands have been made of the peace movement: what are our solutions? What is our strategy? Good questions, and ones we should look at answering. I’ve tried to start this discussion, though I realize that the Kottkes of the world will consider it to be trite and ineffectual and it most likely would be laughed out of any number of erudite gatherings in New York and San Francisco.

What those who would disdain what I say miss, though, is that for all of its simplicity and idealism, it comes from the heart and I am at least doing something. It comes because I genuinely want to make a difference. Because I’m doing the best I can.

Kottke says:

Just as unconvincing as Bush’s flimsy arguments for war have been the arguments from the other side for peace. Talk about preaching to the choir. Your “blood for oil” and “give peace a chance” signs are as ridiculous and unconvincing as Bush’s “well, they’re evil” argument. War is bad. Duh. Any ideas as to alternatives? Praying, marching, and hoping for peace isn’t going to get it done alone. Bush and the peaceniks are both equally at fault for not working hard enough at having a meaningful dialogue on Iraq, each side settling for lobbing rhetoric over the wall. Bush looks like a chimp. Great…now tell me what the fuck that has to do with anything. Blech.


By demeaning both sides of the equation, Kottke is indulging in an intellectual divorce from the issue. But can a person do this? This conflict isn’t happening on someone else’s world.

You see, the war is happening. People are dying. Chaos is increasing, and there will be deeper and heavier prices to pay on this issue before this is over. To condemn both sides with a pithy chi-chi clever dismissal doesn’t absolve Kottke, or anyone else, of responsibility. Doesn’t make them superior to we who made our simple statements either for or against this war.

Dave Rogers would have us shut down the protests and fund organizations and people such as Blair and develop thinktanks and have conferences as a solution to Iraq. He wrote:


What would it take? There are already probably some organizations who have some thoughts on these things, maybe sponsor some kind of international conference of these various groups. Outline an agenda for what the immediate needs are likely to be for post-war Iraq. What will be the security arrangements? How will the oil be sold and what will be done with the revenues? What is the state of the health and education infrastructures within the nation? What are the real problems with ethnic animosities among the various groups? What kind of reconciliation efforts will there people? Does South Africa have a model that may help? What about the environmental issues? It seems to me we have an opportunity to really help the people of Iraq and the entire region if we can get our act together before Bush declares victory.

My only possible answer to Dave is that we had the organization. It’s called the UN. What he asks for is what the UN is supposed to do. But it does no good if the UN is disregarded by the US and other members of the coalition. Creating a new UN like infrastructure won’t be any more successful.

I can respect what Dave’s saying, but it seems to me — just my own opinion — that what might be happening is that he, and others, are being overwhelmed by the emotion on both sides and they just want it to stop. They want to war to reach its conclusion and the fighting to stop, and for those who protest the war to stop and to give everyone peace, which in this case is silence. Or perhaps not silence, but the absence of emotion.

Normalcy. A return to normalcy.

The peace movement, or whatever we call it, does need to focus, and I think this conversation now is a good one and I’m appreciative that it’s started. But I also think there’s a deep disappointment underlying some of the pushback against the movement. Ultimately, we failed people — we didn’t stop the war and we didn’t come up with a alternative that would stop this war in time. Now, the coalition of Bush and Blair and Howard have invaded Iraq and we’re in for some nasty, nasty times. We failed the world by not stopping this. So now, we’re being asked, what are we going to do about it?


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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