Volume 17, Number 6
The Roots of War
Support Our Euphemisms
Letter from an Editor
The Moral Price of Imperialism
Jon Beckwith: Making Genes, Making Waves
Racism and the War
Florida: Keeping Democracy in Its Place
Chris Hedges' War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Spinning on the Right
This Is Only the Beginning
Crushing HOPE: Bush's Rollbacks in Affordable Housing
Homosexuality, the Church and Biology
What Happened to America? A Letter, A Lament
Crabs in a Bucket
The Boy's Club
On the Destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan
Good News for a Change
The Roots of War
Only three types of creatures engage in warfare humans, chimpanzees, and ants. Among humans, warfare is so ubiquitous and historically commonplace that we are often tempted to attribute it to some innate predisposition for slaughter a gene, perhaps, manifested as a murderous hormone. The earliest archeological evidence of war is from 12,000 years ago, well before such innovations as capitalism and cities and at the very beginning of settled, agricultural life. Sweeping through recorded history, you can find a predilection for warfare among hunter-gatherers, herding and farming peoples, industrial and even post-industrial societies, democracies, and dictatorships. The good old pop-feminist explanation testosterone would seem, at first sight, to fit the facts.
But war is too complex and collective an activity to be accounted for by any warlike instinct lurking within the individual psyche. Battles, in which the violence occurs, are only one part of war, most of which consists of preparation for battle training, the manufacture of weapons, the organization of supply lines, etc. There is no plausible instinct, for example, that could impel a man to leave home, cut his hair short, and drill for hours in tight formation.
Contrary to the biological theories of war, it is not easy to get men to fight. In recent centuries, men have often gone to great lengths to avoid war fleeing their homelands, shooting off their index fingers, feigning insanity. So unreliable was the rank and file of the famed eighteenth century Prussian army that military rules forbade camping near wooded areas: The troops would simply melt away into the trees. Even when men are duly assembled for battle, killing is not something that seems to come naturally to them. As Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman argued in his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Little, Brown, 1995), one of the great challenges of military training is to get soldiers to shoot directly at individual enemies.
What is it, then, that has made war such an inescapable part of the human experience? Each war, of course, appears to the participants to have an immediate purpose to crush the "Hun," preserve democracy, disarm Saddam, or whatever that makes it noble and necessary. But those who study war dispassionately, as a recurrent event with no moral content, have observed a certain mathematical pattern: that of "epidemicity," or the tendency of war to spread in the manner of an infectious disease. Obviously, war is not a symptom of disease or the work of microbes, but it does spread geographically in a disease-like manner, usually as groups take up warfare in response to war-like neighbors. It also spreads through time, as the losses suffered in one war call forth new wars of retaliation. Think of World War I, which breaks out for no good reason at all, draws in most of Europe as well as the United States, and then "reproduces" itself, after a couple of decades, as World War II.
In other words, as the Dutch social scientist Henk Houweling puts it, "one of the causes of war is war itself." Wars produce war-like societies, which, in turn, make the world more dangerous for other societies, which are thus recruited into being war-prone themselves. Just as there is no gene for war, neither is there a single type or feature of society patriarchy or hierarchy that generates it. War begets war and shapes human societies as it does so.
In general, war shapes human societies by requiring that they possess two things: one, some group or class of men (and, in some historical settings, women) who are trained to fight; and, two, the resources to arm and feed them. These requirements have often been compatible with patriarchal cultures dominated by a warrior elite knights or samurai as in medieval Europe or Japan. But not always: Different ways of fighting seem to lead to different forms of social and political organization.
Historian Victor Hanson has argued that the phalanx formation adopted by the ancient Greeks, with its stress on equality and interdependence, was a factor favoring the emergence of democracy among nonslave Greek males. And there is no question but that the mass, gun-wielding armies that appeared in Europe in the seventeenth century contributed to the development of the modern nation-state if only as a bureaucratic apparatus to collect the taxes required to support these armies.
Marx was wrong, then: It is not only the "means of production" that shape societies, but the means of destruction. In our own time, the costs of war, or war-readiness, are probably larger than at any time in history, in relation to other human needs, due to the pressure on nations not only to maintain a mass standing army the United States supports about a million men and women at arms but to keep up with an extremely expensive, ever-changing technology of killing. The cost squeeze has led to a new type of society, perhaps best termed a "depleted" state, in which the military has drained resources from all other social functions. North Korea is a particularly ghoulish example, where starvation coexists with nuclear weapons development. But the USSR also crumbled under the weight of militarism, and the United States brandishes its military might around the world while, at this moment, cutting school lunches and health care for the poor.
"Addiction" provides only a pallid and imprecise analogy for the human relationship to war; parasitism or even predation is more to the point. However and whenever war began, it has persisted and propagated itself with the terrifying tenacity of a beast attached to the neck of living prey, feeding on human effort and blood.
If this is what we are up against, it won't do much good to try to uproot whatever war-like inclinations may dwell within our minds. Abjuring violent speech and imagery, critiquing masculinist culture, and promoting respect for human diversity all of these are worthy projects, but they will make little contribution to the abolition of war. It would be far better to think of war as something external to ourselves, something which has to be uprooted, everywhere, down to the last weapon and bellicose pageant.
The "epidemicity" of war has one other clear implication: War cannot be used as a means to prevent or abolish war. True, for some time to come, urgent threats from other heavily armed states will require at least the threat of armed force in response. But these must be very urgent threats and extremely restrained responses. To indulge, one more time, in the metaphor of war as a kind of living thing, a parasite on human societies: The idea of a war to end war is one of its oldest, and cruelest, tricks.
Barbara Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive and the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Metropolitan Books, 2001). © The Progressive. April 2003.
Support Our Euphemisms
Americans who support the invasion of Iraq are offering three reasons for their acquiescence to the Bush administration's imperial plans. First is the dire threat of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" which slid back and forth from nuclear bombs to mustard gas, as the occasion demanded. Eventually, with more than a hundred thousand Brits and Americans busily killing Arabs, British Home Secretary David Blunkett casually admitted publicly on April 5 what everyone knew, that no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons are likely to be found.
This original excuse for the war now seems specious and even rather quaint, so the administration has quickly moved to a second, the liberation of the inhabitants of the country we're attacking the cry of conquerors throughout history. But many Iraqis and much of the rest of the world are rightly skeptical of the liberation to be brought by American oil companies, pro-Israel proconsuls and military bases for further war. The "moderate" Secretary of State, Colin Powell, insisted that the US would play a "dominating" role in post-war Iraq but not stop there. "In a strongly worded speech to the pro-Israel lobby [AIPAC], Powell bracketed Iran and Syria with Iraq as promoters of terrorism and suggested they faced grave consequences," reported the Associated Press.
As people around the world see through these ruses, the defenders of the American war answer truculently that we're "defending freedom" ours and the Iraqis' and press on triumphantly to their third and final reason to justify the killing of Iraqis: We have to "support our troops."
The invocation of American siblings, parents and children in uniform worked wonders. The "opposition" party feckless Democrats who had generally shrunk from any criticism of the administration's foreign adventure fell immediately into line. On Thursday, March 20, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle announced, "The President is the commander-in-chief, and today we unite behind him."
One hopes that Sen. Daschle is familiar enough with the Constitution to know that the president is not his commander-in-chief, nor mine nor yours, unless you happen to be a member of the armed forces. Article 2, section 2 of the present U.S. Constitution holds that the President is the commander-in-chief of the army and navy not of the populace as a whole. The construction of that army and navy and their use are supposed to be under the control of Congress.
Suppose you were talking to a German expatriate in the middle of World War II, and he said to you, "Now, I'm not taking a position on the war, but I certainly do support our boys over there!" Even if he weren't vigorously waving his national flag, you'd probably conclude that he was being a bit disingenuous; you might even inquire rather pointedly what "his boys" were doing over there. But awkward questions about what "our troops" are doing and whether there's any justification for their doing it are avoided, and politicians vie with one another to profess their support.
The "pro-troops" line echoes what is perhaps the most successful rhetorical strategy in modern politics, "pro-choice." In each case attention is shifted away from a questionable action toward the actor, for whom sympathy is solicited. But everyone knows that "pro-troops" is an assertion of the legitimacy of the war, just as "pro-choice" is a contention that abortion is ethical. In neither case does the argument have to be made explicit. Both involve ending human life (obvious in the case of war, but rejected as a description of abortion by some of its defenders; others however admit that abortion ends human life but is nevertheless justified, and their position is closer to the "pro-troops" position).
There's another similarity. Noting that many of the invading U.S. troops cannot legally buy an alcoholic drink in the U.S., one commentator has spoken of the Bush administration plans' being carried out by "brutalized 19-year-olds." (It's true that the American sniper quoted last week as saying he killed a female civilian because "... the chick was in the way," was a 28-year old Marine sergeant.) The presumed beneficiaries of pro-choice policies could also often be described that way. Most people considering abortion feel that they have little "choice" the decision seems necessary in a society that doesn't provide medical care, education, housing or income. In the same way "our troops" are often constrained by economic necessity. Nineteen-year-old Pfc. Jessica Lynch from West Virginia was celebrated throughout the media after her rescue; her father was quoted as saying, when he first heard that she had been captured, that she had enlisted only because there were no jobs for 19-year-olds, even at McDonald's...
It's a vicious society that offers abortion and enlistment as palliatives for poverty. To force people young and old into situations in which they have no choice but to stain their consciences with the deaths of others is a great crime, one that can't be covered with euphemisms. The beginning of wisdom is often to call things by their right name.
Carl Estabrook taught in the Department of History at Notre Dame in the 1970s and has contributed a number of articles to Common Sense. He is now Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Letter from an Editor
The 2002-2003 year for Common Sense has been dominated, as has virtually every other forum for discussion, by the unjust war on Iraq, hyped and initiated (but not fought) by a small clan of extremists close to the American president's ear. This tiny, elite group managed to set the topic of debate and effectively silence discussion about other problems that should certainly worry us: huge budget shortfalls in the 50 states, the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, ongoing U.S. military actions in Colombia and the Philippines, the swelling ranks of the medically uninsured, an attack on affirmative action in our nation's universities, and worldwide poverty, which continues to exist in a context of grossly overabundant resources. We at Common Sense have tried to keep these other issues on the table while at the same time adding our voice to the strong international movement to impede and condemn a blatant, imperialistic attack when nonviolent inspections were available on a nation already weakened by 12 years of harsh civilian sanctions and low-intensity, but constant, bombing.
Once again, our suspicions about the motives and actions of the elite governing our country were confirmed and perhaps even strengthened as the neoconservative war hawks took the immorality and inadvisability of American foreign policy to new heights.
But this was not the whole story of 2002-2003. Were we to report it as such, we would be remiss and little better than the nightly news services that sensationalize murder and rape while ignoring generosity and justice. The neocons were not the only folks taking action during the year. Rather, in addition to the social workers, union organizers, pro bono attorneys, teachers, firemen, friendly neighbors, and other regular agents of social justice, we witnessed a massive global uprising against the prospect of an overtly aggressive war. Even in the United States, where state and media propaganda convinced nearly half the population that Saddam Hussein was personally behind the Sept. 11 attacks, a sizable and outspoken minority remained firmly against the war. Most of the rest were far from certain in their convictions, at least before a patriotic frenzy was whipped up around the young men and women already on the ground and at risk of premature death or injury.
Members of the community including Notre Dame, Saint Mary's, Holy Cross and St. Joseph County participated in this movement for peace and justice. As political opportunists rallied around the flag, students, residents, professors and priests organized rallies, marches, prayers and teach-ins for peace. As Western governments, international institutions and transnational corporations continued to secure low-wage labor in the developing world, Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns prepared undergraduates for summer immersion in the developing world by teaching them about systemic injustice and Catholic social teaching. Others worked and learned abroad through the Peace Corps or Holy Cross Associates. The Kroc Institute attracted bright students from all over the world to its Peace Studies program. Refugees were resettled in the community; the Center for the Homeless continued its outreach; and grassroots advocacy was undertaken on the World Wide Web. As rich and greedy elites continued to play their power politics, the forces were being trained that will expose their crimes against humanity and demand that they be held accountable. Common Sense, through the words of talented and conscientious contributors, contributed its voice to this ground swell.
Concentrating on the problems and abuses that continued this year, it would be easy to grow bitter. It would be easy to give way to despair and to lose hope. It would be easy, but it would not be right. As Dorothy Day rightly said, "There's too much work to be done." Phillip Berrigan, who died this year, is just one excellent example of a human being who dedicated himself to the cause of justice. Despite spending many years in prison as punishment for civil disobedience, he continued his activism throughout his long life. The amazing British journalist, Robert Fisk, continued to supply us with news from Baghdad throughout the invasion; our very own Neve Gordon continued to criticize the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands from his post at Ben Gurion University of The Negev. We must learn from the activists how to be activists ourselves.
There is much to be done. One is to prepare for the 2004 presidential election, a mechanism by which the people can still pressure their government. Despite an understandable distrust of the Democrats, the party now represents the only feasible instrument with which progressives can hope to unseat Bush in 2004 an absolute imperative. Now is the time to identify a truly progressive candidate and support him or her through the primaries. Vermont governor Howard Dean has promised to rip up the Bush Doctrine if elected. Representative Dennis Kucinich heads up the progressive caucus in the House. Both consistently opposed the war and Bush's giveaways to the rich, rare backbone within the field of declared candidates.
As students approach graduation, it is important to reaffirm a commitment to work on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor, of peace against militarism, and of justice against injustice. In the 15 years since Ann and Peter Walshe and others started Common Sense, it has admirably encouraged students and others to do so in conjunction with other campus groups.
After four years at Notre Dame and almost three with Common Sense, I am moving to Washington, D.C., to work as a legislative assistant with the Conference of Catholic Bishops dealing with migration and refugee issues. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked as Editor of Common Sense, together with Paul Ranogajec, for the 2002-2003 academic year. I wish this paper continued success in the future.
Patrick McElwee is a senior philosophy and history major and an Editor of Common Sense.
Justice Now Irrelevant: Neocons de-claw the Prophets to help Likud
Norman Podhoretz, the emeritus editor of Commentary Magazine and Ur neo-conservative considered by many to be the godfather of the movement has made the biblical prophets the subject of his latest book, The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are. However, a scholarly commitment to exegesis does not appear to have been the driving force. He seems to have been more interested in offering ideological comfort to the neo-conservative faithful now serving in critical positions in the Bush administration. Included in this elite corps is his son-in-law Elliot Abrams, White House Advisor on the Middle East. The book also puts on notice those of us on Podhoretz's list of enemies, namely political liberals, Reform Jews and Christians sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. He is an Israel-first guy, and now that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is pushing George Bush for a roadmap to tackle the crisis in Israel/Palestine, we can be sure that Podhoretz's thinking will be central to determining the American response.
So what does he make of the Prophets, those formidable men of the Hebrew Bible? Podhoretz presents them as uncompromisingly Jewish wedded to what he calls "the scandal of particularity," by which he means a sense of Israel's exceptionalism in which the Prophets were speaking only to Jews. We should understand them as proto-Zionists. They were men who believed that the Jews were chosen by God to redeem the world, and with their unforgiving hatred of idolatry and love of sacrifice, he thinks they are not people Christians will ever really understand. This is revealing, because one of Podhoretz's aims is to anathematize the very different interpretation of the prophets offered by Catholics and Protestants working in the field of political or social gospel theology. The Brazilian liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff, celebrates the Prophets because of "their uncompromising defense of the Liberator God; their vigorous denunciation of injustices and their vindication of the rights of the poor." Another Latin American, Jos³ Miranda, also speaks of the Prophets as "unleashing a frontal attack against the oppression of the poor." The message is that Israel has failed Yahweh and failure "consists precisely in its oppression of the poor and its inter-human injustices." Theologians like Boff and Miranda are, of course, universalizing both Israel and the Jews: Israel represents the cruel potential of every nation state and the Jew is Everyman.
The neo-conservatives, to whom Podhoretz is making his pitch, have backed the hard-line Likud Party in Israel for years, brazenly supporting illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. While the Clinton administration was trying to move the peace process forward in 1997 (albeit not too robustly), Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, all now ensconced in the Pentagon, were advising the then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to scuttle the Oslo Peace Accords. Norman Podhoretz is too clever a polemicist not to know that, in this context, the Prophets could be real trouble! Hence his efforts to de-fang them and to preserve their exclusive, intra-Jewish meaning. The Prophet Micah, for example, could make for uncomfortable reading: "Rulers of Israel, you who loathe justice and pervert all that is right, you would build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with injustice." And try defending the settlements with Isaiah's baleful words ringing in your ears: "Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, until there is no more room and they are the sole inhabitants of the land. Yahweh of the armies has sworn this in my hearing: Their many houses will be brought to ruin, their magnificent palaces will be left uninhabited." While Podhoretz's Prophets are religious sticklers, preoccupied with idolatry and non-observance of Jewish law, Jos³ Miranda contends that Yahweh's rejection of Israel is not for non-observance, but for injustice.
Doubtless the neocons will succeed in dissuading George W. Bush from putting pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to negotiate in good faith to engage constructively with the Palestinians. However, in doing so they are taking both Israel and America down a perilous path and may well be seen, when the history of this period is written, as Israel's greatest enemies. Susan Sontag has called Israel's refusal to pursue a Palestinian state worth the name, "a catastrophe moral, human and political for both peoples." Recently, Neve Gordon, an Israeli political scientist, was at Notre Dame to talk about how the Press in his country legitimizes the extra-judicial killings (targeted assassinations) carried out by the Israeli government. Whenever Israel's politics are under discussion the atmosphere is charged, and the first question following his presentation had a hostile ring. Gordon was accused of not loving Israel, of unfairness and lack of balance the usual canards. His response was measured. He had, he said, both Israeli and US citizenship, but had chosen to live in Israel to be part of the country's struggle to become a more just and peaceful place. Moreover, he added, if Israel does not find an equitable accommodation with the Palestinians, it is doomed. While Israel may continue to posses the more sophisticated military technology, there will come a time in the not too distant future when the Arab world will have sufficient weaponry to destroy it.
One encouraging development in recent weeks has been the alarm expressed by American Jews about neo-conservative influence on geopolitics, particularly in the Middle East. In an April issue of The Nation, Eric Alterman, who happily confessed his dual loyalty to the US and Israel, called for a national conversation about the role of the neo-con Likudniks in the Pentagon, the White House and the national media those who are calling the shots on Israel. He writes: "Leftist landsmen are certain that an end to the occupation and a peaceful and prosperous Palestinian state are the best ways to secure both Israeli security and American interests. Likudniks think it is best for both Israel and the United States to beat the crap out of as many Arabs as possible, as 'force is the only thing these people understand.'" Mind you, the conversation will not get very far if the loony idea being bruited about by three Republican Senators gains traction. Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania), Sam Brownback (Kansas) and Norm Thompson (Minnesota, squatting in Paul Wellstone's old seat) are looking for ways, under Title IX of The Higher Education Act, to cut funding to colleges and universities that permit professors, students or student organizations to engage in the open and vigorous criticism of Israel that the Senators consider anti-Semitic. Just as troubling is the fact that major Jewish organizations are not averse to the idea.
So what is to be done? There is a discernable strain of despair among Palestinian American intellectuals like Edward Said and Rashied Khahali who have for years been making the case for a just settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian problem. They know that Norman Podhoretz and his gang of neo-conservatives have the Bush administration stitched up. Last fall, Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argued that at some point the "calamitous role" the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), otherwise known as the Jewish Lobby, has played in the Middle East will be exposed. Certainly, a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not be possible while AIPAC wields the influence it does. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have been recipients of huge amounts of AIPAC money although this bipartisan giving may be coming to an end. Garance Franke-Ruta, writing in The American Prospect (May 2003), reports that the Republicans are courting the Jewish vote for the 2004 election with great success, because "Bush has proven himself to be a strong ally of Israel's Likud Party." So this may be the moment for Democrats to expose AIPAC's role in distorting US policy in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process and the whole Middle East and to make it a major campaign issue. To be credible, however, they will have to come up with a presidential candidate who has never taken the Lobby's money a very tall order.
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame.
The Moral Price of Imperialism
We now glimpse the forbidden truths of the invasion of Iraq. A man cuddles the body of his infant daughter; her blood drenches them. A woman in black pursues a tank, her arms outstretched; all seven in her family are dead. An American Marine murders a woman because she happens to be standing next to a man in a uniform. "I'm sorry," he says, "but the chick got in the way." Covering this in a shroud of respectability has not been easy for George Bush and Tony Blair. Millions now know too much; the crime is all too evident. Tam Dalyell, Father of the House of Commons, a Labour MP for 41 years, says the Prime Minister is a war criminal and should be sent to The Hague. He is serious, because the prima facie case against Blair and Bush is beyond doubt.
In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal rejected German arguments of the "necessity" for pre-emptive attacks against its neighbours. "To initiate a war of aggression," said the tribunal's judgment, "is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
To this, the Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi adds, "a deep and unconscious racism that imbues every aspect of Western policy towards Iraq." It is this racism, she says, that has cynically elevated Saddam Hussein from "a petty local chieftain, albeit a brutal and ruthless one in the mould of many before him, [to a figure] demonised beyond reason".
To Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, the Iraqis, like all Arabs, were "niggers", against whom poison gas could be used. They were un-people; and they still are. The killing of some 80 villagers near Baghdad, of children in markets, of the "chicks who get in the way" would be in industrial quantities now were it not for the voices of the millions who filled London and other capitals, and the young people who walked out of their schools; they have saved countless lives.
Just as the American invasion of Vietnam was fueled by racism, in which "gooks" could be murdered with impunity, so the current atrocity in Iraq is from the same mould. Should you doubt that, turn the news around and examine the double standard. Imagine there are Iraqi tanks in Britain and Iraqi troops laying siege to Birmingham. Absurd? Well, it would not happen here. But the British military is doing that to Basra, a city bigger than Birmingham, firing shoulder-held missiles and dropping cluster bombs on its population, 40 per cent of whom are children. Moreover, "our boys" are denying water to the stricken people of Basra as well as to Umm Qasr, which they have controlled for a week. It is no wonder Blair is furious with the al-Jazeera channel, which has exposed this, and the lie that the people of Basra were rising up on cue for their liberation.
Since 11 September 2001, "our" propaganda and its unspoken racism has required an imperial distortion of intellect and morality. The Iraqis are not fighting like lions, in defence of their homeland. They are "cowardly" and subhuman because they use hit-and-run tactics against a hugely powerful invader as if they have any choice. This belittling of their bravery and disregard of their humanity, like the disregard of thousands of Afghans recently bombed to death in dusty villages, confronts us with a moral issue as profound as the Western response to that greatest act of terrorism, the wilful atomic bombing of Japan. Have we progressed? In 2003, is it still true that only "our" lives are of value?
These Anglo-American invasions of weak and largely defenseless nations are meant to demonstrate the kind of world the US is planning to dominate by force, with its procession of worthy and unworthy victims and the establishment of American bases at the gateways of all the main sources of fossil fuels. There is a list now. If Israel has its way, Iran will be next; and Cuba, Libya, Syria and even China had better watch out. North Korea may not be an immediate American target, because its threat of nuclear war has been effective. Ironically, had Iraq kept its nuclear weapons, this invasion probably would not have taken place. That is the lesson for all governments at odds with Bush and Blair: nuclear-arm yourself quickly.
The most forbidden truth is that this demonstrably militarist British government, and the rampant superpower it serves, are the true enemies of our security. In the plethora of opinion polls, the most illuminating was conducted by American Time magazine among a quarter of a million people across Europe. The question was: "Which country poses the greatest danger to world peace in 2003?" Readers were asked to tick off one of three possibilities: Iraq, North Korea and the United States. Eight percent viewed Iraq as the most dangerous; North Korea was chosen by 9 percent. No fewer than 83 percent voted for the United States, of which, in the eyes of most of humanity, Britain is now but a lethal appendage.
Only successful propaganda, and corrupt journalism, will prevent us understanding this and other truths. Rupert Murdoch has been admirably frank. In lauding Bush and Blair as "heroes", he said, "there is going to be collateral damage in Iraq. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now." Every one of his 175 newspapers carries that sinister message, more or less, as does his American television network. The 80 villagers rocketed to death recently are proof of the urgency he describes; other victims in other countries are waiting.
For those journalists who see themselves as honourable truth-tellers, there are difficult choices now: rather like the choice of the young woman at the GCHQ spy centre in Cheltenham who allegedly leaked documents revealing that US officials were trying to blackmail members of the Security Council; rather like the two British soldiers who face court martial because they exercised their right, enshrined by the Nuremberg judges, to refuse to fight in a criminal war that kills civilians.
For journalists who are not "embedded" and are deeply troubled by the kind of propaganda that consumes even our language, and who, as James Cameron put it, "write the first draft of history," similar courage is required. Brave Terry Lloyd of ITN, killed by the 'coalition', demonstrated this. The threats are now not even subtle, such as this from our Defense Secretary, Geoff Hoon. "One of the reasons for having journalists [embedded]," he said, "is to prevent precisely the kind of tragedy that occurred to an ITN crew ... because [Terry Lloyd] was not part of a military organisation. And in those circumstances, we can't look after all those journalists ... So having journalists have the protection of our armed forces is good for journalism. It's also good for people watching."
Like a mafia boss explaining the benefits of a protection racket, Hoon is saying: do as you are told or face the consequences. Indeed, Donald Rumsfeld, Hoon's superior in Washington, often quotes Al Capone, the famous Chicago mobster. His favourite: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."
How do we face this threat to all of us? The answer lies, I believe, in understanding the extent of our own power. Patrick Tyler wrote wisely in the New York Times recently that America faced a "tenacious new adversary" the public. He says we are entering a new bi-polar world with two new superpowers: the Bush/Blair gang on one side, and world opinion on the other, a truly popular force stirring at last and whose consciousness soars by the day. Wasn't it the poet Shelley who, at a time like this, exhorted us to: "Rise like lions after slumber"?
© John Pilger. This article first appeared in The Independent, London.
Jon Beckwith: Making Genes, Making Waves
Everyday in the media new scientific findings are reported. These breakthroughs, ranging from the discovery of the functions of new genes to the announcement of new fossils that shed light on the evolution of life, are important to the continued revelation of the world around us. Despite this abundance of new information, few of those who read the news each day have the scientific training necessary to appreciate the significance of these new discoveries. The media, catering to this mass audience, often rely on simplifications and exaggerations to entice an audience. This interpretative process alters the substance of the findings in ways that an untrained understanding might never notice.
In Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science (Harvard University Press, 2002), Jon Beckwith discusses the often complex relationships between scientific research and social and political responsibility. Dr. Beckwith recounts his own experiences of successfully balancing research with a genuine concern for the social implications of scientific discovery. His large body of work speaks to his influence; Beckwith has published over seventy articles on social and ethical issues in science, in addition to over 200 scientific articles.
During his PhD program in chemistry at Harvard, Beckwith became interested in advances in genetics, particularly in the emerging world of molecular biology. After working in laboratories at Berkeley and Princeton, and abroad in London and Paris, he returned to Harvard as a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty in 1965. In 1969 Beckwith's research group published an article in Nature on the isolation of the first gene from the E. coli chromosome. Though their findings were not exactly radical, Beckwith immediately recognized the potential of their methods for similar developments in the field of human genetics. He convened a press conference in order to address the implications of his work. Given the emerging possibilities of genetic manipulation, genetic engineering, and gene therapy for humans, Beckwith thought it essential to establish a dialogue that dealt with these issues.
Since the time of that first press conference, Beckwith has been a consistent voice in conversations between geneticists and the public. Motivated by the remorse of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the nuclear physicist who headed the Manhattan Project only to regret his contribution later, Beckwith has been a tireless advocate for socially responsible science. The immediate reception of Beckwith's press conference in the scientific community was intense. Many doubted his sincerity, suggesting that he was trying to drum up extra publicity, and therefore more funding. When this news reached the untrained public, a sense of needless panic ensued over the dire consequences that were proposed as possibilities if this technology was not kept in check. Several years later however, with the advent of routine DNA manipulation through recombinant technology, Beckwith's concerns proved to be well-founded.
In the interest of establishing a platform for his action, Beckwith joined Science for the People, a group to which he belonged for two decades. This organization brought together scientists from many disciplines that sought to ensure the responsible practice of science in a manner beneficial to society. They encouraged further education in the social aspects of science, and supported public debates on these issues.
Beckwith's participation in social and ethical dialogues did not slow his research program. In 1970, Beckwith received an Eli Lilly Award in Microbiology and Immunology from the American Society of Microbiology. This award afforded Beckwith another opportunity for action. In protest of the practices of pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly, that pushed overpriced and unnecessary drugs on physicians and the general public, Beckwith donated his award to the Black Panther clinic and defense fund. This alienated him from many colleagues, some of whom considered him a traitor. Other scientists however, heavily influenced by the prevailing political and racial tensions, joined Beckwith's crusade for social responsibility and political action. They engaged in diverse acts of protest, including travel to scientific institutes in North Vietnam and China where they spoke out in opposition to the war and to biological weapons.
Beckwith continued his career as an advocate for scientific responsibility by serving as a bridge between the public and scientific communities during the eugenics movement. This movement used the discovery of genes to support a sort of biological determinism with respect to a variety of character traits such as IQ, aggressiveness, and criminal tendencies. Eugenics also served as the basis for a number of early 20th century studies that described the overlying traits of racial and ethnic groups such as Jews, Negros, Mongolians, and Russians. Such studies, though poorly founded and scientifically weak, affected immigrations policies, and became a central part of the Nazi racial hygiene movements. In the post-war period, greater understanding of environmental factors on behavior and social problems displaced the radical determinism of eugenics, but eugenics nonetheless remains a topic of discussion and a subject for sensationalism.
Beckwith cites the case of eugenics as both an historical and modern example of the manipulation of scientific findings. He notes, "Scientists, others in the eugenics movement, and the media presented these distorted representations of genetic theory and genetic science to the public with the prestige of science behind them. The failure of those geneticists who were critical of this science to speak out gave eugenicists free reign to claim the authority of science for their ideas." Beckwith cites a specific case of this irresponsible eugenics, and the harm that may result. The discovery of XYY males, whose cells contain two copies of the Y chromosome, led to a series of studies on males carrying this double-dose of male determining genes. The experiments, however, were conducted unscientifically. Studies of possible aggressive or criminal behavior were conducted in prisons and lacked appropriate controls from the general public. Moreover, the results were tailored to support the hypothesis of the researchers, as the percentage of XYY criminals versus those in the general population was not initially explored. Beckwith spoke out against studies, such as these, with "serious scientific and ethical problems."
Beckwith's commitment to ethically, socially and scientifically responsible genetic research, a commitment that nearly cost him his tenure, eventually led to the establishment of the Hastings Center for Bioethics in genetic research. More recently, Dr. Beckwith has been involved with the Ethics, Legal, Social Issues program of the Human Genome Project, a joint effort between the NIH and the Department of Energy. Beckwith's original criticism of eugenics in the XYY male controversies, has led to a more thorough process of review regarding the social implications of the new human genetics. This commitment to responsible science is even more essential as the completion of the Human Genome Project has radically enhanced the capability of the collection of information about individuals, families, and ethnic groups. Considerations for ELSI include an assessment of the potential impact of genetic information on the individual, the privacy and confidentiality of genetic information, and the influence of commercialization of the products of the Human Genome Project.
The efforts of Beckwith and others have not been immune to criticism. Other members of the scientific community chastise groups such as ELSI for "wasting money subsidizing the vacuous pronunciamentos of self-styled ethicists" and "only talking, but not changing the world." Beckwith, however, believes social and ethical review to be an essential part of the scientist's task, remarking that he has, "winced through lectures by ethicists talking about the implications of a particular genetic development that they misrepresented or misunderstood." In his opinion, it is the task of the scientist who truly understands and appreciates the ramifications of new discoveries, to analyze them and convey their meaning to the public.
This experience of living in the "two cultures" of science and the social sciences has been the defining characteristic of Beckman's professional career. Making Genes, Making Waves provides the scientific reader with a reminder of the powerful impact scientific discovery has on society. For those not in the "hard science" disciplines, this memoir can be a glimpse of political battles within the scientific community. For all readers, Beckwith's account calls for critical attention to the applications of scientific principles in a broader context.
Michelle Casad is a Research Technician in the W.M. Keck Center for Transgene Research in the Biochemistry Department of Notre Dame. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Humpty Dumpty in Baghdad: How the Pentagon plans to dominate postwar Iraq
The Pentagon has rumbled into Baghdad completely unprepared to fashion a viable new Iraqi government, seemingly obsessed with installing the discredited and corrupt Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as the country's leader. The task force assigned the job of putting Humpty Dumpty together again after the shooting stops is woefully ill-equipped for its mission, is keeping the Department of State at arm's length, and has few regional experts and Iraq specialists aboard. At the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., where the military staff is supporting the task force, there is something akin to panic.
"[The Pentagon brass] haven't a clue as to what's going on,'' said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst and Iraq expert at the National Defense University. "They don't have plans for a transition in place, they don't know where the money is going to come from, they don't have any organization. And they just don't know anything about Iraq."
The Pentagon plans to rebuild Iraq under the supervision of a retired American general with strong ties to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party, to Israel's military-industrial complex and to the neoconservative civilians at the Pentagon. That person is Jay Garner, appointed on Jan. 20 by his friend, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to head the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Garner, 64, retired in 1997 after serving as vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army. He decamped to Kuwait from Washington in mid-March, just before the outbreak of war, in the midst of making plans on blank sheets of paper for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. By then he'd assembled a staff of 200, including 100 "free Iraqis" many of whom were recruited by the INC. Garner's initial tasks included assigning U.S. officials to each Iraqi ministry as part of the occupation. "You have to have a face, a U.S. face, a government interagency face, for every [Iraqi] ministry," said a senior Department of Defense official.
Garner himself has limited experience in Iraq. In 1991 he helped oversee what the Pentagon called "Operation Provide Comfort,'' a haphazard and fiasco-ridden mission to support the Kurds in northern Iraq. For more than a decade, both during his military service and then in retirement, Garner established a pattern of close ties to the Israeli military and its U.S. supporters. The Forward, the English-language version of the venerable Yiddish weekly newspaper, recently carried a headline referring to Garner that read, "Pro-Israeli general will oversee reconstruction of postwar Iraq."
In the mid-1990s, Garner was commanding general of the U.S. Army's Space and Strategic Defense Command, which was responsible for the Army's contribution to the "Star Wars" anti-missile program. In that post, Garner oversaw the development of the Nautilus program, a high-energy laser weapon designed to shoot down short-range rockets in flight. The system was developed jointly by TRW, the American defense contractor, and several Israeli contractors, including Israeli Aircraft Industries, Rafael and Tadiran.
Upon retiring in 1997, Garner was named president of SY Technology, a southern California defense contractor that was later purchased by L-3 Communications. At SY, Garner worked closely with Israeli military officials on Israel's $2 billion Arrow missile-defense system, whose development and testing the Pentagon partially funded.
During this time, Garner attracted the attention of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), an American think tank strongly identified with the Israeli right. Among JINSA's founders and members of its board are a number of former U.S. military officers and several of the hawkish neoconservatives who've been prominent in pushing for war against Iraq, including Richard Perle, a former Pentagon official and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow; Michael Ledeen, another AEI scholar and Middle East specialist; James Woolsey, former CIA director; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, President Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations. In 1998, Garner joined a 10-day sojourn to Israel sponsored by JINSA. Two years later, on Oct. 12, 2000, Garner signed a JINSA statement that praised the Israeli armed forces for having "exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority that deliberately pushes civilians and young people to the front lines."
When U.S. armed forces occupy Baghdad and establish relative order in the rest of Iraq, Garner will be, by all accounts, the American proconsul, reporting directly to Gen. Tommy Franks of the U.S. Central Command. Garner's office was created under the supervision of Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's undersecretary for defense policy and a former aide to Perle. Garner's deputy is Michael Mobbs, the man who will handle the political aspects of Iraqi reconstruction and who might well be the person most responsible for picking and choosing which Iraqis get the inside track in forming the new government. Until moving to Garner's task force, Mobbs, a University of Chicago Law School graduate and a friend and former law partner of Feith, served as Feith's "special adviser." While doing so he developed the legal theory that allowed the Defense Department to hold U.S. citizens without trial or legal counsel if deemed "enemy combatants" in the war on terrorism.
Starting last fall, Feith, Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz battled to make sure that the future politics of Iraq fell under the supervision of the Pentagon and not the State Department. At the same time, they excluded many of the most knowledgeable U.S. experts on Iraq, rejecting much of the work done by the State Department's Future of Iraq project. "[The Office of the Secretary of Defense] has no interest in what I do," said Iraq expert Yaphe. "They've brought in their own stable of people from AEI, and the people at the State Department who worked with the Iraqi exiles are being kept from Garner."
It's no secret that the civilians at the Pentagon have battled continuously with the State Department and the CIA over Iraq policy, and part of that battle centered on the role of the Iraqi National Congress. The INC and its leader, Chalabi, draw strong support from the Defense Department's civilians and their neoconservative allies, but Chalabi is disdained by the State Department and the CIA as ineffectual, unreliable and lacking support in Iraq. By putting Garner's office under the supervision of Feith's Defense Department policy office and by minimizing the State Department's role, the INC's allies in Washington hope to give Chalabi a dominant role in the next government of Iraq. "The INC has been there for a dozen years with a program that I think the United States would welcome," Perle told The American Prospect. "We could not draft a better program ourselves."
But many State Department officials and outside experts on Iraq predict that a Chalabi-led government would be an unmitigated disaster. "It seems to me pretty clear that he will be seen by Iraqis as a representative of the United States," a State Department official who worked on the Future of Iraq project said. "And he's seen by Iraqis as a Shia businessman with a checkered past." Still, they acknowledge that the INC will have some role in a new regime, though they would prefer that it be a marginal one. "It's important to make sure that [the INC] gets only one seat at the table," said Bathsheba Crocker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "It's very important to make sure we don't try to make Ahmed Chalabi the Iraqi Karzai."
Danielle Pletka, vice president of the AEI and an expert on the Iraqi opposition, angrily denounced State Department officials who disparage Chalabi. "The [Defense Department] is running post-Saddam Iraq," said Pletka, almost shouting. "The people at the State Department don't know what they are talking about! Who the hell are they? Who gives a good goddamn what they think?" Pletka concedes that the State Department has a "deep bench," a lot of expertise and Arabic-speaking professionals. "But they need to remember that the president of the United States needs to be boss," she said. "And the simple fact is, the president is comfortable with people who are comfortable with the INC."
While angling to ensure a dominant role for the INC, the Pentagon is failing to prepare adequately for the transition to a new civil administration. "Post-War Iraq: Are We Ready?'' a recent report co-authored by Crocker, cited a long list of areas in which the Pentagon falls short. Among them are confusion over whether Iraq will be run by a U.S. military officer or a civilian official, inadequate coordination with the United Nations over its role in postwar Iraq, and an insistence by the Defense Department and Vice President Dick Cheney's office on a rapid turnover to an interim Iraqi government, which could give the INC and its newly established "leadership council" an edge. "When we've tried to push people in Garner's office, we get vague responses," said Crocker. "You get a blank stare in return."
By giving control to the INC, the Pentagon seems intent on creating a government modeled on South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem regime, which would require a U.S. praetorian guard to prop it up for years to come. Said Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, "I don't know how long Ahmed Chalabi will be alive under those circumstances. Are you going to keep the Marines surrounding him for 10 years?"
But the AEI's Ledeen predicted no backing off in the coming fight over the INC. "The battle over Basra," he said, "will be nothing compared to the battle over the Iraqi National Congress."
© May 2003 by The American Prospect, Inc.
Left Behind to Starve: A humanitarian disaster is engulfing Africa as cash is poured into war and its aftermath
Editor's note: This article was written just before the beginning of the war in Iraq.
There is surely no more obvious symptom of the corruption of western politics than the disproportion between the money available for sustaining life and the money available for terminating it. We could, I think, expect that, if they were asked to vote on the matter, most of the citizens of the rich world would demand that their governments spend as much on humanitarian aid as they spend on developing new means of killing people. But the military-industrial complex is a beast which becomes both fiercer and hungrier the more it is fed.
As the US prepares to spend some $12bn a month on bombing the Iraqis, it has so far offered only $65m to provide them with food, water, sanitation, shelter and treatment for the injuries they are likely to receive. A confidential UN contingency plan for Iraq, which was leaked in January, suggests that the war could expose around one million children to "risk of death from malnutrition". It warns that "the collapse of essential services in Iraq could lead to a humanitarian emergency of proportions well beyond the capacity of UN agencies and other aid organisations". Around 60 percent of the population is entirely dependent on the oil for food program, administered by the Iraqi government. This scheme was suspended by the UN, leaving the Iraqis reliant on foreign aid. The money pledged so far is enough to sustain them for less than a fortnight.
It is hard to believe, however, that the US government will leave them to starve once it has captured their country. For the weeks or months during which Iraq dominates the news, the US will be obliged to defend them from the most immediate impacts of the institutional collapse its war will cause. Afterwards, like the people of Afghanistan, the Iraqis will be first forgotten by the media and then deserted by those who promised to support them.
But even before the first troops cross the border, the impending war has caused a global humanitarian crisis. As donor countries set aside their aid budgets to save both themselves and the US from embarrassment under the camera lights in Baghdad, they have all but ceased to provide money to other nations. The world, as a result, could soon be confronted by a humanitarian funding crisis graver than any since the end of the second world war.
Every year, in November, the UN agencies which deal with disasters launch what they call a "consolidated appeal" for each of the countries suffering a "complex emergency". They expect to receive the money they request by May of the following year. The payments and promises they have extracted so far chart the collapse of international concern for the people of almost every nation except Iraq.
In Eritrea, for example, the drought is so severe that the water table has fallen by 10 metres. Most of the nation's crops have failed and grain prices have doubled. Seventy per cent of its 3.3 million people are now classified as vulnerable to famine. The UN has asked the rich countries for $163m to help them. It has received $4m, or 2.5 percent of the money it requested.
Burundi, where almost one-sixth of the inhabitants have been forced out of their homes by conflict and natural disasters, and which is now officially listed as the third poorest nation on earth, has received 3 percent of its UN request. Liberia, where rebels have rendered much of the western part of the country uninhabitable, forcing some 500,000 people out of their homes, has been given 1.2 percent; Sierra Leone, where lassa fever is now rampaging through the refugee camps, has received 1 percent; and Guinea, which has recently taken 82,000 refugees from Cote d'Ivoire, 0.4 percent. Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have each received less than 6 percent.
Much of the money for these invisible countries has come from donor nations with relatively small economies, such as Sweden, Norway, Canada and Ireland. "The state of Africa," Tony Blair told his party conference in October 2001, "is a scar on the conscience of the world, but if the world focused on it, we could heal it." Well, let it now be a scar on the conscience of Tony Blair.
As a result of this unprecedented failure by the rich nations to cough up, the people of the forgotten countries will, very soon, begin to starve to death. The UN has warned that "a break in supplies" to Eritrea "is now inevitable". The World Food Programme has started feeding fewer people there, but will run out of food within two months. In Burundi it can, it says, continue feeding people "for another four weeks". Beans will run out in Liberia this month; cereals in May. One hundred thousand refugees in Guinea could find themselves without food by August. Yet neither of the two governments which are about to launch a "humanitarian war" appear to be concerned by the impending humanitarian catastrophes in the world's poorest nations.
The aid crisis is now so serious that it is restricting disaster relief even in nations which are considered by the major powers to be geopolitically important. The UN agencies have so far received just 2.9 percent of their request for Palestine, and 8.4 percent of the money they need in Afghanistan.
The latter figure is, in light of the repeated promises made by the nations prosecuting the war there, extraordinary. "To the Afghan people we make this commitment," Blair pledged during the same speech in October 2001. "The conflict will not be the end. We will not walk away, as the outside world has done so many times before." Three months later, the UN estimated that Afghanistan would need at least $10bn for reconstruction over the following five years. The US, which had just spent $4.5bn on bombing the country, offered $300m for the first year and refused to make any commitment for subsequent years. This year, George Bush "forgot" to produce an aid budget for Afghanistan, until he was forced to provide another $300m by Congress.
The Afghan government, which has an annual budget of just $460m or around half of what the US still spends every month on chasing the remnants of al-Qaida through the mountains is effectively bankrupt. At the beginning of this month the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, flew to Washington to beg George Bush for more money. He was given $50m, $35m of which the US insists is spent on the construction of a five-star hotel in Kabul. Karzai, in other words, has discovered what the people of Iraq will soon find out: generosity dries up when you are yesterday's news.
If, somehow, you are still suffering from the delusion that this war is to be fought for the sake of the Iraqi people, I would invite you to consider the record of the prosecuting nations. We may believe that George Bush and Tony Blair have the interests of foreigners at heart only when they spend more on feeding them than they spend on killing them.
© George Monbiot. This article first appeared in The Guardian, 18 March 2003, London.
The West Has Been Liberating the Middle East for Centuries Will We Never Learn?
On 8 March 1917, Lieutenant-General Stanley Maude issued a "Proclamation to the People of the Wilayat of Baghdad." Maude's Anglo-Indian Army of the Tigres had just invaded and occupied Iraq after storming up the country from Basra to "free" its people from their dictators. "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators," the British announced.
"People of Baghdad, remember for 26 generations you have suffered under strange tyrants who have ever endeavoured to set one Arab house against another in order that they might profit by your dissensions. This policy is abhorrent to Great Britain and her Allies for there can be neither peace nor prosperity where there is enmity or misgovernment."
General Maude, of course, was the General Tommy Franks of his day, and his proclamation so rich in irony now that President George Bush is uttering equally mendacious sentiments was intended to persuade Iraqis that they should accept foreign occupation while Britain secured the country's oil. General Maude's chief political officer, Sir Percy Cox, called on Iraq's Arab leaders, who were not identified, to participate in the government in collaboration with the British authorities and spoke of liberation, freedom, past glories, future greatness and here the ironies come in spades it expressed the hope that the people of Iraq would find unity.
The British commander cabled to London that "local conditions do not permit of employing in responsible positions any but British officers competent ... to deal with people of the country. Before any truly Arab facade [sic] can be applied to edifice, it seems essential that foundation of law and order should be well and truly laid."
As David Fromkin noted in his magisterial A Peace to End all Peace essential reading for America's future army of occupation the antipathy of the Sunni minority and the Shia majority of Iraq, the rivalries of tribes and clans "made it difficult to achieve a single unified government that was at the same time representative, effective and widely supported." Whitehall failed, as Fromkin caustically notes, "to think through in practical detail how to fulfill the promises gratuitously made to a section of the local inhabitants." There was even a problem with the Kurds, since the British could not make up their mind as to whether they should be absorbed into the new state of Iraq or allowed to form an independent Kurdistan. The French were originally to have been awarded Mosul in northern Iraq but gave up their claim in return for again, wait for the ironies a major share in the new Turkish Petroleum Company, newly confiscated by the British and recreated as the Iraq Petroleum Company.
How many times has the West marched into the Middle East in so brazen a fashion? General Sir Edward Allenby "liberated" Palestine only a few months after General Maude "liberated" Iraq. The French turned up to "liberate" Lebanon and Syria a couple of years later, slaughtering the Syrian forces loyal to King Feisel who dared to suggest that French occupation was not the kind of future they wanted.
What is it, I sometimes wonder, about our constant failure to learn the lessons of history, to repeat almost word for word in the case of General Maude's proclamation the same gratuitous promises and lies? A copy of General Maude's original proclamation goes under the hammer at a British auction at Swindon this week, but I'll wager more than the £100 it is expected to make that America's forthcoming proclamation to the "liberated" people of Iraq reads almost exactly the same.
Take a look at Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations on which Mr. Bush claims to be such an expert that allowed the British and French to divide those territories they had just "liberated" from Ottoman dictators. "To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them, and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves ... there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilisation ... the best method is that the tutelage of such peoples should be entrusted to advanced nations who, by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position, can best undertake this responsibility."
What is it about "liberation" in the Middle East? What is this sacred trust a ghost of the same "trusteeship" the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, now promotes for Iraq's oil that the West constantly wishes to visit upon the Middle East? Why do we so frequently want to govern these peoples, these "tribes with flags" as Sir Steven Runciman, that great historian of the 11th- and 12th-century Crusades, once called them? Indeed, Pope Urban's call for the first Crusade in 1095, reported at the time by at least three chroniclers, would find a resonance even among the Christian fundamentalists who, along with Israel's supporters, are now so keen for the United States to invade Iraq.
Urban told his listeners the Turks were maltreating the inhabitants of Christian lands an echo here of the human rights abuses which supposedly upset Mr. Bush and described the suffering of pilgrims, urging the Christian West's formerly fratricidal antagonists to fight a "righteous" war. His conflict, of course, was intended to "liberate" Christians rather than Muslims who, along with the Jews, the Crusaders contentedly slaughtered as soon as they arrived in the Middle East.
This notion of "liberation" in the Middle East has almost always been accompanied by another theme: the necessity of overthrowing tyrants.
The Crusaders were as meticulous about their Middle East invasions as the U.S. Central Command at Tampa, Florida, is today. Marino Sanudo, born in Venice around 1260, describes how the Western armies chose to put their forces ashore in Egypt with a first disembarkation of 15,000 infantrymen along with 300 cavalry (the latter being the Crusader version of an armoured unit). In Beirut, I even have copies of the West's 13th-century invasion maps. Napoleon produced a few of his own in 1798 when he invaded Egypt after 20 years of allegedly irresponsible and tyrannical rule by Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey. Claude Etienne Savary, the French equivalent of all those Washington pundits who groan today over the suffering of the Iraqi people under President Saddam, wrote in 1775 that in Cairo under Murad Bey "death may prove the consequence of the slightest indiscretion." Under the Beys, the city "groans under their yoke." Which is pretty much how we now picture Baghdad and Basra under President Saddam.
In fact, President Saddam's promises to destroy America's invasion force have a remarkable echo in the exclamation of one of the 18th-century Mameluke princes in Egypt, who, told of an eminent French invasion, responded with eerily familiar words: "Let the Franks come. We shall crush them beneath our horses' hooves."
Napoleon, of course, did all the crushing, and his first proclamation (he, too, was coming to "liberate" the people of Egypt from their oppressors) included an appeal to Egyptian notables to help him run the government. "O shayks, 'qadis', imams, and officers of the town, tell your nation that the French are friends of true Muslims ... Blessed are those Egyptians who agree with us." Napoleon went on to set up an "administrative council" in Egypt, very like the one which the Bush Administration says it intends to operate under U.S. occupation. And in due course the "shayks" and "qadis" and imams rose up against French occupation in Cairo in 1798.
If Napoleon entered upon his rule in Egypt as a French revolutionary, General Allenby, when he entered Jerusalem in December, 1917, had provided David Lloyd George with the city he wanted as a Christmas present. Its liberation, the British Prime Minister later noted with almost Crusader zeal, meant that Christendom had been able "to regain possession of its sacred shrines." He talked about "the calling of the Turkish bluff" as "the beginning of the crack-up of that military impostorship which the incompetence of our war direction had permitted to intimidate us for years", shades, here, of the American regret that it never took the 1991 Gulf War to Baghdad; Lloyd George was "finishing the job" of overcoming Ottoman power just as George Bush Junior now intends to "finish the job" started by his father in 1991.
And always, without exception, there were those tyrants and dictators to overthrow in the Middle East. In the Second World War, we "liberated" Iraq a second time from its pro-Nazi administration. The British "liberated" Lebanon from Vichy rule with a promise of independence from France, a promise which Charles de Gaulle tried to renege on until the British almost went to war with the Free French in Syria.
Lebanon has suffered an awful lot of "liberations." The Israelis for Arabs, an American, "Western" implantation in the Middle East claimed twice to be anxious to "liberate" Lebanon from PLO "terrorism" by invading in 1978 and 1982, and leaving in humiliation only two years ago. America's own military intervention in Beirut in 1982 was blown apart by a truck-bomb at the U.S. Marine headquarters the following year. And what did President Ronald Reagan tell the world? "Lebanon is central to our credibility on a global scale. We cannot pick and choose where we will support freedom ... If Lebanon ends up under the tyranny of forces hostile to the West, not only will our strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean be threatened, but also the stability of the entire Middle East, including the vast resources of the Arabian peninsula."
Once more, we, the West, were going to protect the Middle East from tyranny. Anthony Eden took the same view of Egypt, anxious to topple the "dictator" Gamal Abdul Nasser, just as Napoleon had been desperate to rescue the Egyptians from the tyranny of the Beys, just as General Maude wanted to rescue Iraq from the tyranny of the Turks, just as George Bush Junior now wants to rescue the Iraqis from the tyranny of President Saddam.
And always, these Western invasions were accompanied by declarations that the Americans or the French or just the West in general had nothing against the Arabs, only against the beast-figure who was chosen as the target of our military action. "Our quarrel is not with Egypt, still less with the Arab world," Anthony Eden announced in August of 1956. "It is with Colonel Nasser."
So what happened to all these fine words? The Crusades were a catastrophe in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. Napoleon left Egypt in humiliation. Britain dropped gas on the recalcitrant Kurds of Iraq before discovering that Iraq was ungovernable. Arabs, then Jews drove the British army from Palestine and Lloyd George's beloved Jerusalem. The French fought years of insurrection in Syria. In Lebanon, the Americans scuttled away in humiliation in 1984, along with the French.
And in Iraq in the coming months? What will be the price of our folly this time, of our failure to learn the lessons of history? Only after the United States has completed its occupation we shall find out. It is when the Iraqis demand an end to that occupation, when popular resistance to the American presence by the Shias and the Kurds and even the Sunnis begins to destroy the military "success" which President Bush will no doubt proclaim when the first U.S. troops enter Baghdad. It is then our real "story" as journalists will begin.
It is then that all the empty words of colonial history, the need to topple tyrants and dictators, to assuage the suffering of the people of the Middle East, to claim that we and we only are the best friends of the Arabs, that we and we only must help them, will unravel.
Here I will make a guess: that in the months and years that follow America's invasion of Iraq, the United States, in its arrogant assumption that it can create "democracy" in the ashes of a Middle East dictatorship as well as take its oil, will suffer the same fate as the British in Palestine. Of this tragedy, Winston Churchill wrote, and his words are likely to apply to the US in Iraq: "At first, the steps were wide and shallow, covered with a carpet, but in the end the very stones crumbled under their feet."
© Robert Fisk. This article first appeared in The Independent, 7 March 2003, London.
Racism and the War
The Newsweek headline read, "Saving Private Lynch," a not-so-veiled reference to the similarly named Hollywood blockbuster "Saving Private Ryan."
The news media have been packaging the war in Iraq as a kind of entertainment, carefully edited and watered down as not to bore or horrify audiences, much in the same way as a movie is made. The story of Jessica Lynch, her courageous fight and daring rescue from an Iraqi hospital, has commanded much media attention and public fascination. It has all the makings of a made-for-TV movie: beautiful blond woman in peril, shadowy and inhumane villains, heroic rescuers a seemingly hopeless, yet noble, undertaking with a happy ending. In fact NBC is trying to develop a movie about the rescue to be aired in the fall 2003 season.
In addition to fitting in nicely with the "war as entertainment" approach taken by the mainstream U.S. news media, it helps to paint a simplified portrait where the lines between "us" and "them" are even more sharply delineated. A young pretty blond supply clerk not a combatant in the front lines of battle was rescued from her brutal Iraqi captors after a horrific ordeal. Lynch's rights as a human being and as a prisoner of war were violated. There is no question here of who is good and evil. And this easy differentiation between the two implies that there is also no question of who is human and who is not.
There is also no question of who matters and who does not. Many may say that Jessica Lynch has commanded all of this attention and coverage due to her unique status as a female prisoner of war. But there are other female prisoners of war. One is now confirmed dead and the other was long missing, her fate unknown. Specialist Shoshanna Johnson, a 30-year old African-American single mother and Army cook, whose terrified yet resolute gaze in a video released by her Iraqi captors has been broadcast to a worldwide audience, was suddenly forgotten when Lynch disappeared. Even Private Lori Ann Piestewa, who was also ambushed along with Lynch's group and did not survive, has barely been mentioned in the news; and when she is, it is always in the context of "Jessica Lynch's roommate." Lori Piestewa, a 22-year old single mother of two and a Hopi Indian, has merited even less media than Shoshanna Johnson. Even at her funeral, the news media were praising Jessica Lynch. Will Lori Ann and Shoshanna have movies made about them or be lucky just to merit a passing mention in the planned Jessica Lynch epic?
Jessica Lynch was hailed as a survivor while her dead sister-in-arms was given only quiet praise or at most a passing mention for having died in the service of her country. One can only wonder what would have happened if their fates had been reversed, if Piestewa had won the same accolades for having been a survivor and Lynch silently commemorated as "one of the U.S. casualties." More likely than not, Lynch's death would have been used as a rallying cry, a reminder of the evil, inhumanity, and depravity of the enemy so that everyone should fight harder in her memory.
The death of Piestewa, a Native American, has not merited this treatment, nor has the unknown fate of Johnson who is Black. The way the media have constructed it, it is more noble and newsworthy for the photogenic to survive than to die for one's country, yet those who oppose the war are shouted down by those who routinely extol the nobility and bravery of those who make that supreme sacrifice. How dare protestors call a war unjust when people are dying in order to "win" it and "protect freedom?" The media contradict themselves by celebrating (and justly so) those who have died for their country while ignoring one woman who has done this, focusing almost exclusively on the one who was rescued before she made that supreme sacrifice.
In addition to the news media, the rest of America seemed to have forgotten about (or even have no knowledge of) the other two prisoners of war, voraciously devouring every tidbit of information about Jessica Lynch. Many of those American viewers who support the war and silence dissent by rhetorical appeals to those who died for their country have followed suit with the media by ignoring the woman who died in the war in order to breathlessly follow news updates and special reports about the one who was rescued, the one who is now safe.
However, this sudden focus and emphasis on Lynch to the exclusion of the other prisoners of war did not go unnoticed by all journalists. Deborah Orr of the Independent noted how Shoshanna Johnson and Lori Ann Piestewa seemed to disappear from the American public's collective memory, declaring that it was "recognizable that America does have a hierarchy of life, with pretty blondes at the top, black Americans and Native Americans further down and the rest of the world trailing hopelessly. Which might help explain the unseemly rush to war."
These three prisoners of war were all young, female, and had joined the armed services for economic reasons. However, only one has drawn attention, a pretty blond with "All-American girl next door" good looks, the looks that are always mentioned in the media, so that almost all descriptions of her include the words "blond" and/or "pretty." She is being portrayed as "America's daughter," "anyone's little girl," and has been referred to as "just a baby" because of her young age. The implicit message behind this construction is that we are going to war to make sure that people like Jessica are safe, that these bad guys can no longer hurt girls like her, and that because they tried to, it is justification for war so that such a thing will never happen again. Perhaps those other two women too closely resemble that enemy; they don't contrast with them as sharply as the fair-skinned Lynch. The media seems to have focused on Lynch because she proves to be the sharpest contrast to the enemy, and the emphasis on her being "blond" only highlights this.
In light of the fact that it was found that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, the war was reframed by the Bush Administration to be a war about liberation, a war that will bring justice to the Iraqi people (except those who inconveniently died during their liberation) by removing the evil oppressive dictator Saddam Hussein a man whom the "liberators" supported for many years. The media have obligingly followed suit by reporting about the newly liberated people and showing footage of cheering citizens showing their love for America and destroying pictures and statues of Hussein, omitting references to the weapons of mass destruction that were originally cited as reasons to go to war.
Judging solely by the media coverage, the U.S. is a harbinger of justice, a living personification of "good" that will ultimately vanquish the "evil," and benevolently "help" Iraq rebuild after they are done destroying it. But can the U.S. promote the dignity and human rights of the Iraqi people even as they kill them? Is it possible for them to decry racism in one form while tolerating it in another? Is justice with an undercurrent of explicit and implicit racism a viable means of fostering and promoting justice? Such ambiguity casts doubt and uncertainty on the black and white, evil and good dichotomy being used to promote and justify this war and dissolves the borders between the two, resulting in shades of gray, leaving the necessity and justice of the war open to question and challenge through the presence of racist overtones and undercurrents.
The bid to stay on the side of "good" cannot have any traces of the evils associated with the "bad" side. It is hypocritical to denounce Saddam Hussein for genocidal acts such as gassing the Kurds while overlooking the racism inherent in our own society and culture. The treatment of the Johnson, Piestewa, and Lynch stories in the media is indicative of a wider problem and stands as compelling evidence that the U.S. is not the pure and nobly-intentioned "good" they claim to be.
There were those in the peace and anti-war movements who voiced their concerns that this was not only a war about oil but also about race and the superiority of white America over the Middle East (not just Iraq). War supporters counter that this allegation is unfounded, that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and for them to wage war because of racist beliefs would be inconceivable. However, the television coverage regarding the three female prisoners of war is a sign that these beliefs, biases, and prejudices are very much alive and are major motivating factors in human actions. It is a signifier that there is a war to be fought that goes beyond Iraq, North Korea, or other places on earth deemed "evil." It is a war that cannot be fought with weapons and requires not the shedding of blood, but the shedding of long-held and deeply ingrained racial prejudices and biases. Long after the fallout of the war in Iraq is over, the other war will continue to rage on.
Saint Mary's sophomore Sarah Edwards is a philosophy major and regular contributor to Common Sense.
How Neoconservative Zionists Conquered Washington and Launched a War
America's allies and enemies alike are baffled. What is going on in the United States? Who is making foreign policy? And what are they trying to achieve? Quasi-Marxist explanations involving big oil or American capitalism are mistaken. Yes, American oil companies and contractors will accept the spoils of the kill in Iraq. But the oil business, with its Arabist bias, did not push for this war any more than it supports the Bush administration's close alliance with Ariel Sharon. Further, President Bush and Vice President Cheney are not genuine "Texas oil men" but career politicians who, between stints in public life, would have used their connections to enrich themselves as figureheads in the wheat business, if they had been residents of Kansas, or in tech companies, had they been Californians.
Equally wrong is the theory that the American and European civilizations are evolving in opposite directions. The thesis of Robert Kagan, the neoconservative propagandist, that Americans are martial and Europeans pacifist, is complete nonsense. A majority of Americans voted for either Al Gore or Ralph Nader in 2000. Were it not for the over-representation of sparsely populated, right-wing states in both the presidential electoral college and the Senate, the White House and the Senate today would be controlled by Democrats, whose views and values on everything from war to the welfare state are very close to those of western Europeans.
Both the economic-determinist theory and the clash-of-cultures theory are reassuring: They assume that the recent revolution in U.S. foreign policy is the result of obscure but understandable forces in an orderly world. The truth is more alarming. As a result of several bizarre and unforeseeable contingencies such as the selection rather than election of George W. Bush, and Sept. 11 the foreign policy of the world's only global power is being made by a small clique that is unrepresentative of either the U.S. population or the mainstream foreign policy establishment.
The core group now in charge consists of neoconservative defense intellectuals. (They are called "neoconservatives" because many of them started off as anti-Stalinist leftists or liberals before moving to the far right.) Inside the government, the chief defense intellectuals include Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense; he is the defense mastermind of the Bush administration. Donald Rumsfeld is an elderly figurehead who holds the position of Defense Secretary only because Wolfowitz himself is too controversial. Others include Douglas Feith, No. 3 at the Pentagon; Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a Wolfowitz protege who is Cheney's chief-of-staff; John R. Bolton, a right-winger assigned to the State Department to keep Colin Powell in check; and Elliott Abrams, recently appointed to head Middle East policy at the National Security Council.
On the outside are James Woolsey, the former CIA director, who has tried repeatedly to link both 9/11 and the anthrax letters in the U.S. to Saddam Hussein, and Richard Perle, who has just resigned his unpaid chairmanship of a defense department advisory body after a lobbying scandal. Most of these "experts" never served in the military. But their headquarters is now the civilian defense secretary's office, where these Republican political appointees are despised and distrusted by the largely Republican career soldiers.
The neocon defense intellectuals, as well as being in or around the actual Pentagon, are at the center of a metaphorical "pentagon" of the Israel lobby and the religious right, plus conservative think tanks, foundations and media empires. Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) provide homes for neocon "in-and-outers" when they are out of government (Perle is a fellow at AEI). The money comes not so much from corporations as from decades-old conservative foundations, such as the Bradley and Olin foundations, which spend down the estates of long-dead tycoons. Neoconservative foreign policy does not reflect business interests in any direct way. The neocons are ideologues, not opportunists.
The major link between the conservative think tanks and the Israel lobby is the Washington-based and Likud-supporting Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). It flew out the retired general Jay Garner, named by Bush to be proconsul of occupied Iraq. In October 2000, he cosigned a JINSA letter that began: "We ... believe that during the current upheavals in Israel, the Israel Defense Forces have exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of [the] Palestinian Authority." The Israel lobby itself is divided into Jewish and Christian wings. Wolfowitz and Feith have close ties to the Jewish-American Israel lobby. Wolfowitz, has served as the Bush administration's liaison to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Feith was given an award by the Zionist Organization of America, citing him as a "pro-Israel activist." While out of power in the Clinton years, Feith collaborated with Perle to coauthor a policy paper for Likud that advised the Israeli government to end the Oslo peace process, reoccupy the territories, and crush Yasser Arafat's government.
Such experts are not typical Jewish-Americans, who mostly voted for Gore in 2000. The most fervent supporters of Likud in the Republican electorate are Southern Protestant fundamentalists. The religious right believes that God gave all of Palestine to the Jews, and fundamentalist congregations spend millions to subsidize Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
The final corner of the neoconservative pentagon is occupied by several right-wing media empires, with roots odd as it seems in the British Commonwealth and South Korea. Rupert Murdoch disseminates propaganda through his Fox television network. His magazine, the Weekly Standard edited by William Kristol, the former chief of staff of Dan Quayle (vice president, 1989-1993) acts as a mouthpiece for defense intellectuals such as Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and Woolsey as well as for Sharon's government. The National Interest (of which I was executive editor, 1991-1994) is now funded by Conrad Black, who owns the Jerusalem Post and the Hollinger empire in Britain and Canada.
Strangest of all is the media network centered on the Washington Times owned by the South Korean messiah (and ex-convict) the Rev. Sun Myung Moon which owns the newswire UPI. UPI is now run by John O'Sullivan, the ghostwriter for Margaret Thatcher who once worked as an editor for Conrad Black in Canada. Through such channels, the "gotcha!" style of right-wing British journalism, and its Europhobic substance, have contaminated the U.S. conservative movement.
How did the neocon defense intellectuals a small group at odds with most of the U.S. foreign policy elite, Republican as well as Democratic manage to capture the Bush administration? Few supported Bush during the presidential primaries. They feared that the second Bush would be like the first a wimp who had failed to occupy Baghdad in the first Gulf War and who had pressured Israel into the Oslo peace process and that his administration, again like his father's, would be dominated by moderate Republican realists such as Powell, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. They supported the maverick senator John McCain until it became clear that Bush would get the nomination.
Then they had a stroke of luck Cheney was put in charge of the presidential transition (the period between the election in November and the accession to office in January). Cheney used this opportunity to stack the administration with his hard-line allies. Instead of becoming the de facto president in foreign policy, as many had expected, Secretary of State Powell found himself boxed in by Cheney's right-wing network, including Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Bolton and Libby.
The neocons took advantage of Bush's ignorance and inexperience. Unlike his father, a Second World War veteran who had been ambassador to China, director of the CIA, and vice president, George W. was a thinly educated playboy who had failed repeatedly in business before becoming the governor of Texas, a largely ceremonial position (the state's lieutenant governor has more power). His father is essentially a northeastern moderate Republican; George W., raised in west Texas, absorbed the Texan cultural combination of machismo, anti-intellectualism and overt religiosity. The son of upper-class Episcopalian parents, he converted to Southern fundamentalism in a midlife crisis. Fervent Christian Zionism, along with an admiration for macho Israeli soldiers that sometimes coexists with hostility to liberal Jewish-American intellectuals, is a feature of the Southern culture.
The younger Bush was tilting away from Powell and toward Wolfowitz even before 9/11 gave him something he had lacked: a mission in life other than following in his dad's footsteps. There are signs of estrangement between the cautious father and the crusading son: Last year, veterans of the first Bush administration, including Baker, Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, warned publicly against an invasion of Iraq without authorization from Congress and the U.N.
It is not clear that George W. fully understands the grand strategy that Wolfowitz and other aides are unfolding. He seems genuinely to believe that there was an imminent threat to the U.S. from Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction," something the leading neocons say in public but are far too intelligent to believe themselves. The Project for the New American Century urged an invasion of Iraq throughout the Clinton years, for reasons that had nothing to do with possible links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. Public letters signed by Wolfowitz and others called on the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq, to bomb Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, and to threaten states such as Syria and Iran with U.S. attacks if they continued to sponsor terrorism. Claims that the purpose is not to protect the American people but to make the Middle East safe for Israel are dismissed by the neocons as vicious anti-Semitism. Yet Syria, Iran and Iraq are bitter enemies, with their weapons pointed at each other, and the terrorists they sponsor target Israel rather than the U.S. The neocons urge war with Iran next, though by any rational measurement North Korea's new nuclear arsenal is, for the U.S., a far greater problem.
So that is the bizarre story of how neoconservatives took over Washington and steered the U.S. into a Middle Eastern war unrelated to any plausible threat to the U.S. and opposed by the public of every country in the world except Israel. The frightening thing is the role of happenstance and personality. After the al-Qaida attacks, any U.S. president would likely have gone to war to topple bin Laden's Taliban protectors in Afghanistan. But everything that the U.S. has done since then would have been different had America's 18th century electoral rules not given Bush the presidency and had Cheney not used the transition period to turn the foreign policy executive into a PNAC reunion.
Michael Lind, the Whitehead Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, is the author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics.
Picnic Grounds, a Novel in Fragments by Oz Shelach, City Lights Books, 2003
Even though people often strive to suppress it, "the past," as William Faulkner once wrote, "is not dead, it is not even past." Surely, many of us frequently attempt to stifle, elide or erase certain elements in our past, yet ultimately the thorny business called history comes back to haunt us, demanding that we confront it.
Picnic Grounds, Oz Shelach's first book of short stories, is, in many respects, an attempt to address some of the hidden aspects of Israel's past, disclosing certain facets of the Israeli landscape and culture which for years have been buried in some dark corner. It is an archaeological excavation, of sorts, an excavation into the heart and soul of Israeli society. Shelach digs in cautiously and skillfully, using irony, wit and humor to lure his readers into the mysterious and, at times, sinister attributes that have, for the most part, been concealed from the public's eye.
In the book's first story, "One Afternoon," a history professor takes his family on a picnic in a pine forest near Givat Shaul, a Jerusalem neighborhood. The professor teaches his son some of the camping skills he learned while serving in the Israeli military, using old stones to block the wind and to protect the newly-lit fire. The stones, we are told, are the remains of homes of a village known as Deir Yassin.
Although Shelach does not say as much, Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Jewish neighborhood which now stands in its place was built not long after Israeli paramilitary forces evicted its Palestinian residents by carrying out a massacre, killing an estimated 100 men, women and children out of a total population of 750.
Shelach does not recount this history; he simply describes how the father uses the old stones to teach his son how to build a fire. The story ends with an ironic, perhaps tragic, twist which underscores Shelach's concern with the past, and more precisely, the trepidation and ultimate denial of many Israelis when confronting their past. The final sentence reads, "[The history professor] imagined that he and his family were having a picnic, unrelated to the village, enjoying its grounds, outside history."
There is something striking about the book's pithy style. Using a small number of words, Shelach manages to describe events which reveal hidden truths about Israeli society, truths which are seldom discussed. A story called "Complaint" is one example.
The proprietor of a bar in the Russian Compound received complaints from patrons about sounds that filtered into his bar at night and tainted the drinking pleasure. He sent numerous letters to the police, pointing out that these "unsettling voices," as he called them, came from the jail across the street, traveling from the interrogation rooms deep under the police station four, some said six floors underground all the way up to his bar on the street level. He even visited the police headquarters in person to make his case heard, but the voices persisted. Finally, the bar owner had no choice but to increase the volume of the music playing in his bar during quieter hours. His hearing deteriorated.
Many a young Jerusalemite has visited the bars located outside the Russian Compound, where the Israeli secret services continue to interrogate Palestinian detainees. Shelach captures the surreal reality of cocktails, music and torture. The somewhat quirky ending "His hearing deteriorated" only serves to highlight that the atrophy of human senses has become the condition of possibility for many Israelis, who could not otherwise cope with the fierce reality of the Middle East.
"Complaint" also draws attention to the idiosyncratic way Shelach uses the English language. It is almost as if he is speaking Hebrew, but in English. Indeed, the author is very conscious of the words he employs, attempting to give the English reader a taste of the Hebrew, while simultaneously exposing some of the peculiar characteristics of Hebrew terms. In this sense, and not only due to the distinctive plots, Shelach's collection of short stories is much more Israeli than most Hebrew books which are translated into English. There is something about the sound, tempo, and rhythm of these stories that gives them a uniquely Israeli flavor.
Language, as bell hooks once said, is a place of struggle. Shelach, so it seems, has adopted this view and is interested in using English the language in which he still feels uncomfortable to expose Hebrew, the language in which he is at home. "Home" and the "well-known," he appears to sense, can also come to mean mediocrity, the existential condition of becoming comfortably numb. In one story he translates Misrad HaMishpatim as the Ministry of Trial, exposing, as it were, to the English reader the literal meaning of the ministry's name (in English newspapers it is translated as the Israeli Ministry of Justice). Simultaneously, this literal translation in and of itself suggests to the reader that this ministry deals more with trials than with justice.
I met Shelach in 1990 in the dark labyrinths of the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We were both undergraduates, both active in the liberal left party Ratz. The first Intifada (Palestinian uprising) was underway, and yet most students and faculty at the university continued their daily routine as if life outside the university walls was in some sense normal; they were living, in Shelach's words, outside history. In the story called "A Reflection," this so-called unbearable lightness of being forcefully comes across.
"Prepositions differ from one language to another in apparent arbitrariness, but they illustrate the presuppositions of a language." Each Tuesday afternoon throughout the fall semester the student was lulled to sleep by her professor's lectures on epistemology. Five of the walls that formed the octagonal classroom were so small that the classroom looked more triangular than octagonal. The door was painted orange in agreement with all the doors of the same octagonal foyer, distinguishing it from the next octagonal foyer, which was governed by lilac, from the next, governed by pale green, and so on until foyer number eight, designed, the student thought, like the entire Hebrew University to block any view of the outside, to narrow the mind, to keep everyone focused on their own reflections and ignorant of anything important. When she woke up and saw, in the single window, a shining object sticking up into the sky, no other student, nor their professor, was looking out the window. She could not tell it was the setting sun reflected by a minaret-top golden crescent, on the next mountain peak to the east. The sound of shots drifted into the classroom window. Beyond the narrow view, in the fold of the valley, our soldiers were mowing down protesters. Then the shining crescent disappeared into the long shadow cast by the university tower.
"There's something so captivating about these 'fragments,' about their beguiling simplicity, about the things they so eloquently withhold, something so pure and unpretentiously fresh," Anton Shamas writes on Picnic Grounds cover. And indeed, Shelach has produced an enticing little book, that is both luring and unsettling, but most of all helps one understand some of the major undercurrents informing modern day Israeli society and culture. It is a fascinating read.
Oz Shelach will be touring the United States in the next three months and recently told me that he is still looking for reading engagements. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and is a contributor to The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent (New Press 2002). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Florida: Keeping Democracy in Its Place
A little over two years ago, I wrote an article in these pages about the 2000 presidential election. Hailing from Florida and having voted for Nader, I described the inevitable feelings of guilt that swept over me when I learned that such a tiny number of votes in my home state could have turned the tables and sent Gore to the White House. In this piece, I also discussed some of my fears about the incoming Bush regime. "Fear and Guilt in Electionland," I called it.
Two years later, many of my worst fears have come true. But I'm not feeling guilty anymore. I'm just pissed.
You see, it's hard to feel bad about my one vote now that I know that hundreds probably thousands of Floridians were "mistakenly" scrubbed from the voter rolls before the election by the state of Florida. And harder still now that I know that over 600,000 Floridians (and counting) have been permanently denied the right to vote due to a discriminatory felony disenfranchisement law first enacted in 1868 that is still serving its intended purpose of screwing black voters some 135 years later.
The voter roll travesty has been fairly well documented. While the extent of this charade is still up for debate, the general picture is clear. The state of Florida (more specifically, Jeb Bush's secretary of state, Katherine Harris) paid a company called Database Technologies $2 million to identify illegal voters so that they could be purged from the voter rolls before the election. Database Technologies, a subsidiary of ChoicePoint, provided Florida with a whopping 94,000 names. DBT found them, and Harris smoked them out of their holes and off the rolls.
But there was one small problem. Many by some accounts, most of these people were legal voters, and were "mistakenly" removed from the voter rolls. The state of Florida admitted as much when they settled a lawsuit brought forth by the NAACP last July. They restored voting rights to "hundreds" of citizens who had had these rights rescinded, and they agreed to tighten up the process. "Hundreds" is a very conservative estimate, of course. The BBC put the figure around 20,000, and Harris's nemesis, BBC reporter Greg Palast, has located that figure somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000, over half of whom were African-American or Hispanic.
Bush won Florida by 537 votes, in case you forgot.
For their part, ChoicePoint claims that DBT insisted all along that the process was flawed and warned the state of Florida about the possibly disastrous outcome. ChoicePoint insists that it was the state, and not DBT, that determined the parameters of the purging. For some reason, I believe them.
Of course the question of how Florida used DBT begs a bigger question should Florida or any state or federal government agency be using companies like ChoicePoint in the first place? ChoicePoint essentially profiles the entire American population, compiling and selling personal information to the FBI, IRS and INS, among others. Federal and state governments pay approximately $50 million a year to scour ChoicePoint's databases, which they can then use to, say, "piece together clues to a person's potential for terrorism," according to AP reports. Essentially, governments use companies like ChoicePoint to get around the 1974 Privacy Act, which prohibits routine data collection on ordinary American citizens. Just as the government uses vouchers to do what it ought to be doing, it uses ChoicePoint to do what it is forbidden to do.
But even more disturbing than the hundreds or thousands of citizens Florida illegally barred from voting, however, are the hundreds of thousands of citizens Florida is able to block from voting legally each and every year. Thanks to a felony disenfranchisement law first enacted during Reconstruction in order to keep former slaves out of voting booths and subsequently re-enacted in 1968, ex-convicts in the state of Florida are permanently barred from voting. Florida is one of only seven states that still metes out such a civil death sentence to its recovering convicts and shatters any hopes of social integration. According to former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., this policy is "a vestige of racially discriminatory times and has no legitimate law enforcement rationale."
But it does serve a handy political purpose. 613,000 ex-felons were denied the right to vote in 2000. At least 167,000 of them were black. Five percent of the entire voting age population was denied the vote, but 10 percent of the black voting age population was denied this right. One in five black males in Florida cannot vote due to a prior felony conviction. And a large percentage of these inmates are there because of nonviolent drug offenses.
In the fiscal year 2000-01, there were roughly 72,000 inmates in Florida prisons. 94 percent of them were male, 54 percent black. Over 17 percent were in for nonviolent drug offenses, and 28 percent of new admissions in 2000-01 were for drug-related. Nonviolent drug offenses are the leading cause of incarceration, and the percentage of inmates admitted for drug offenses climbed steadily from 22.6 percent in 1991-92 to 28.4 percent in 2000-01. When (and if) these citizens complete their sentences and return to the community, they will never again be allowed to vote. And another great threat to the Republican Party will be averted.
And considering that the black community voted overwhelmingly for Gore in 2000, the threat to the Bush army and the Republican Party is obvious. Jim Kane, an independent pollster, brings this point home "I understand why [Republicans] have that fear. Because a great many of the ex-felons are African American and African Americans vote Democratic 90 percent of the time. In a close election, they could make a big difference."
Yup, they sure would have.
But apologists for the current law like to point to an illusion of hope for these ex-convicts. You see, there is a clemency board that has the power to restore voting rights when and where it sees fit. And that clemency board consists of Governor Jeb Bush and his handpicked cabinet. If you've got the time and money to bring a load of character witnesses to Tallahassee and argue your case, Jeb might hear it. But Clarence Office, a former convict currently working as a social worker for the city of Miami, has had no such luck. He has applied twice but still hasn't heard back. "If I can work, pay my taxes and be law abiding, I should be allowed to vote," Office argues.
Sorry, Clarence, that's not how things work around these parts. If you're rich, you might get a tax cut to go along with your voting rights. But if you're poor and fresh out of prison, you should just be thankful that the government still thinks highly enough of you to take your money.
So you can see why I'm not feeling all that guilty anymore. One vote wouldn't have made much of a dent in that 537, but the better part of 613,000 could have done the trick. And that's why I'm pissed off.
Joe Napolitano, Notre Dame '01, writes for Common Sense from Port Richey, Florida. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Hedges' War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Now that the White House has plunged America into war again, Chris Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (Public Affairs, 2002) is timely. Besides describing the devastation and barbarities of recent wars unflinchingly, Hedges bitingly exposes the violence committed by the state against civilized values in waging war. Hedges' tough honesty about the real nature, appeal and horrors of war and the actual motives behind nations going to war is humane and crucial because it could force people if not national leaders to confront their own bellicosity and self-deceptions and the enormous lies told by a country's leaders to their nation.
Many of Hedges' blunt apothegms about the real character of war embody truths most people don't face:
"War exposes the capacity for evil that looks not far below the surface within all of us."
"There is nothing redeeming about any war, including the supposed good wars that we might all agree had to be fought."
These sentiments are hardly what one gets from American "embedded" journalists who, Hedges asserts, have since the Gulf War become the state's cheerleaders of war.
Hedges' war credentials are impressive. A New York Times war correspondent, he has covered wars and conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia and the first Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, Algeria and the Gulf War, among other places. He has been ambushed on isolated Central American roads, "beaten by Saudi military police, captured for a week by Iraqi Republican Guard fired upon by Serb snipers." He has viewed mutilated corpses being received by desperate families in Kosovo. Hedges' reportorial perceptions bear the hyper-reality of a rifle-butt smash to the head.
Hedges' involvement in reporting war provides key dimension of his distinctive truth-telling: "The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life ... purpose, meaning, a reason for living." However, though war can give meaning to people's lives, war clearly suggests that ordinary civil society is deficient in meaning and value to many people. This is an enormously significant perception, one Hedges might have developed further. Many people obviously find vicarious fulfillment as part of a nation united in purpose against an enemy. This deep need for social solidarity is manipulated into a collectivist will by the state, often to distract the populace from critical domestic problems. War, Hedges urges, is a drug; it gives its participants a rush (he felt this narcotic power himself). All too many combatants find war, despite its horrors and cruelties, to have been the greatest experience in their lives, the one time they lived most intensely.
Hedges develops a key distinction between what has been termed "mythic reality" and "sensory reality" in war. Mythic reality glamorizes war, sees it in black and white terms morally, reduces each side to objects and is chiefly spread by the state and the media. "Sensory reality" in war reveals what mythic reality does not, "always the lie of omission. The blunders and senseless slaughter by our generals, the executions of prisoners and innocents, and the horrors of wounds are rarely disclosed to the public." Hedges implies that if the public knew of the sensory reality of war, it would not tolerate war.
Hedges doesn't pull his punches about American state violence, mentioning our support of the Nicaragua Contras or of Jonas Savimbi of Angola, who, backed by Reagan, was responsible for the death of 500,000 Angolans. Considering, however, the direct and indirect carnage Washington has perpetrated abroad for decades, Hedges could have thrown more punches, such as for Nixon-Kissinger's genocidal involvement in wars from Latin America to Indonesia. In the chapter, "The Highjacking and Recovery of Memory," Hedges observes that forces at war often try to destroy the culture of the enemy, including physical aspects such as public buildings, mosques, libraries, and hide the atrocities they commit through covert mass burials and eradicated public records. Thus the painful but essential process of exhumations in places like Bosnia becomes a literal and symbolic mode of restoring cultural memory and truth.
Restoration of historical truth leads to a crucial consideration about war that involves an opposition between a state set on going to war and the moral resistance to war of the individual. Hedges refers to this individual resistant voice most memorably in stating that the first people silenced by the state when war starts are dissidents: "They give us an alternate language, one that refuses to define the other as 'barbarian' or 'evil.' ... Until we learn once again to speak in our own voice and reject that handed to us by the state in times of war, we flirt with our own destruction." This passage embodies more than a statement of political free expression; it represents a powerful libertarian thrust against the incessant tendency of the state to centralize power and dominate the country.
The championing of the individual voice explains the vital presence of literature in War. Hedges not only makes numerous literary references (Virgil, Shakespeare, Homer, Joyce) but deploys them to provide important insights about the character of war and human nature. Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida is discussed to convey Shakespeare's sense of the profound depravity of war. That play, unlike Henry V, attacks the national myth glorifying war, leaders and nation. It presents a grim view of society and human nature, one that society underlines the power of great literary art to convey hard truths. And truth, Hedges suggests, is the only way to restore the cultural memory and thus societal integrity obliterated by the conquests of war and subsequent distortions by all societies of a nation's or community's historical reality.
War falls short in mainly castigating Serbian gangster warlords like Milan Lukic instead of the egregious decisions of heads of major states like England, Russia, America and others which were responsible for the death of millions. Also, War presents much on the Balkan conflicts but very little on the Central and South American wars, not to mention the World, Korean and Vietnam wars. Doing so would have provided a broader base for his reflections on war.
Nevertheless, Hedges registers unforgettably the deeply traumatic and corrupting impact of combat. As well, he provides bold insights about war's deep-rootedness in human nature and the tenacious, if dissembling, commitment of the state to war. Climactically, War urges that in the enormous opposing forces of destructiveness and love, we survive as individuals and, it's implied, as civilized communities through love; "love alone [unlike war] gives us meaning that endures." The consequences of accepting destructiveness, given modern technological sophistication, is to launch us towards self-annihilation.
Donald Gutierrez is Professor Emeritus at Western New Mexico University. He has taught at Notre Dame and is a frequent contributor to Common Sense. His most recent book is The Holiness Of The Real: The Short Poems Of Kenneth Rexroth.
Spinning on the Right
Pope John Paul II's opposition to the war against Iraq created an embarrassing problem for his conservative base in the Catholic Church, some of whom have been hailing him in recent years as Pope John Paul the Great and even as St. John Paul II.
These individuals have been torn between their respect and affection for the pope (not to say their dependence on him for their credibility with the media, secular and Catholic alike) and their deep political loyalty to the President of the United States and his conservative political agenda.
They have enjoyed the hospitality of the papal table in the Apostolic Palace, and have traveled with the President on Air Force One heady and seductive experiences that can color one's judgment about both world leaders.
Nevertheless, how does a "loyal" Catholic, steeped in a self-styled "fidelity" to the Church's magisterium, justify giving greater weight to the moral convictions of a born-again, Methodist politician from west Texas than to those of the successor of Peter and on an issue as momentous as war and peace?
It cannot be done, of course not without some extraordinary efforts at spin-control. One of the most straightforward attempts surfaced in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, an ever-receptive venue for commentary by conservative Catholics like Fathers Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine, and Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids, Michigan, think-tank generously funded by politically conservative foundations.
The column, entitled "Finally, A Rapid Response" (3/7/03), was written by Rod Dreher, a Catholic layman and senior writer for William F. Buckley's National Review, the most widely read conservative weekly in the country.
Dreher distinguished himself last year when the sexual-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church received almost nightly coverage on television. Alone among irate conservative Catholics irate not only because of the predatory behavior of the abusive priests but also, and especially, because of the malfeasance of the bishops Dreher pointed a finger of criticism at the pope himself for having named such men to the hierarchy and then for having failed to exercise effective leadership in the crisis leadership that should have included the removal from office of some of the most clearly culpable bishops.
Mr. Dreher takes after the pope once again in his Wall Street Journal column. "Hardly a day goes by," he writes, "without Pope John Paul II denouncing the march to war, meeting personally with world leaders or dispatching high-level diplomats [including Cardinal Pio Laghi to Washington] to beseech the belligerents to stand down."
Dreher was even bothered by the pope's appeal for a day of fasting for peace on Ash Wednesday, and he refers dismissively to a rumor that the Holy Father could win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent war in Iraq.
But then comes the column's kicker. "Now, Catholics are not obliged to agree with the pope on this issue. The rightness or wrongness of this or any particular war is a matter of opinion. ... The 50 percent of America's Catholics who stand by their president, and not their pope, in this matter do not thereby diminish their standing as Catholics."
That surely has the sweet aroma of "cafeteria Catholicism" to it. The "culture of dissent," so often excoriated by George Weigel, the U.S. bishops' favorite columnist, seems to have infected the ranks of self-described loyal and faithful Catholics.
As for Mr. Dreher's effort to exonerate such Catholics, where does it say in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which he cites in his column) or any other ecclesiastical source that a Catholic is free to disagree with the pope on matters of war and peace because his views on such issues are only "a matter of opinion"?
And by what conservative logic does Mr. Dreher (and those on the right who silently applaud him) conclude that Catholics who prefer the moral guidance of a born-again Protestant politician to that of the Bishop of Rome "do not thereby diminish their standing as Catholics"?
Consistency seems to have been one of the first casualties of the run-up to war against Iraq.
To be sure, Rod Dreher makes an eminently valid observation that the hierarchy's credibility on the war was severely, if not mortally, compromised by its failures in the sexual-abuse scandal.
It is "appalling," Dreher concludes, that George W. Bush should be "lectured" on his presidential duties by church officials who "would not even protect children from ... rogue priests and the bishops who enabled them."
Prudence may dictate that we stand clear of this intramural conflict. But one can at least watch with bemused interest.
© Richard P. McBrien
This Is Only the Beginning
Some more thought about the war:
΄ The white man's burden. A depressing thought: the Iraq war proves that in the year 2003 AD, the world has not essentially changed since 2003 BC. A military power can attack a weak nation, conquer its territory and plunder its resources. There is no world law, no world moral order. Might is right.
The weapons are of the 21st century, but they serve 19th century aims. This is a classical colonial war. Iraq is becoming an American colony, to remain so for a long time.
The pretexts come from the old colonialist phrase-book. A country is conquered in order to "liberate" the natives from their cruel tyrants. Their resources are stolen, in order to raise their standard of living, give an (elementary) education to their children, keep a colonial administration that will teach them democracy.
This is also a divine mission. The missionaries always come with the army, and sometimes even precede it. The cross and the cannon, religion and oppression, the church and the plunder of resources go very well together.
For the poet laureate of the era, Rudyard Kipling, that was the "white man's burden." But when colonialism retreated, it left behind a social, cultural and economic desert, which persists in the "third world" to this day.
΄ To shoot a lame duck. The triumphalism of America, Britain and Israel is a little misplaced.
The only super-power in the world has attacked a little country of 26 million people, starved for years by sanctions. A mighty and well-fed army, equipped with the most sophisticated arms the world has ever seen, confronted an army that has been largely disarmed before the fighting even started. The powerful air force that controls the skies without opposition was sent against a country whose air defenses have been bombed for years beforehand.
In a modern war, control of the air is the decisive factor. Sixty years ago, when the air force and its weapons were much more primitive, Field Marshal Rommel told Hitler that the Allies' domination of the skies made it impossible for the German army to maneuver and bring in reinforcements. Therefore, he said, his army would be unable to defeat the Anglo-American forces once they succeeded in securing a bridgehead on the French coast. If we don't destroy them in the first few hours, he told Hitler, the battle is lost. The FΩhrer did not listen to his advice, and the results are well known.
If this was true then for the mighty Wehrmacht, it was true now a thousand times for the battered Iraqi forces. From the first minute on, no Iraqi tank could appear in the open without being destroyed from the air. No division and no company could occupy a position, let alone move, without the missiles and bombs pounding it to dust. Decent hunters do not shoot at sitting ducks. But that is exactly what happened in Iraq.
Not long ago I said, quoting the Bible, that the Americans should not boast before the war is finished. This is true after the war, too. There is nothing to boast about. Tommy Franks will not go down in history as one of the great leaders of armies, next to Alexander and Napoleon. If the Iraqis held on for 21 days, that itself was an achievement.
΄ A stupid brute. Saddam Hussein can take no credit for that achievement. As it turns out, he was not only a brutal and cruel dictator, but a stupid one to boot.
Clearly, he had never read a serious book about strategy, and did not receive good advice from his generals. That is one of the troubles of dictators, dating back to Biblical times, when Absalom, King David's rebellious son, rejected the good advice of Achithophel: generally the dictator does not listen to advice, and the advisors tend to tell the dictator only what he wants to hear.
From the Iraqi point of view, it would have been right to avoid battle in the open desert, where a modern army has an immense advantage, and to draw the invaders into the cities. But for that purpose, Saddam had to dispose his army inside the cities and prepare for a Stalingrad-like defense. Instead, he exposed his elite Republican Guard outside Baghdad, in the open, where they were systematically destroyed by the US airforce. Inside the city itself nothing was prepared, no plan, no command structure, no adequate arms. It fell like a rotten apple. Neither the American generals nor the commentators expected this. Neither did I.
΄ The dis-information force. This war was waged simultaneously in two arenas: in the field and on television. There was hardly any resemblance between the two.
Television was an accompaniment to previous wars. But in this war, television has become an integral part of the war itself, one of its major battlefields, if not the most important one.
From now on, TV is a component of the armed forces, along with the army, the navy and the airforce. Like them it is directed by the command structure.
Much thought and effort was devoted to this arm. General Myers, the No.1 soldier in Washington, and General Franks, the commander of the actual campaign, personally took part in the action. (It was a stroke of genius to put a black general into the center of the picture.)
The aim is to engender in the mind of the home audience, world public opinion and perhaps even in the mind of the enemy a picture of the war that has no connection with reality. That is easy, because there is no more mendacious instrument than television. He who controls it, controls the picture of reality, and thereby the mind of the viewer.
For example: in order to support the claim that the aim of the war was to "liberate" the Iraqi people, it was essential to show the Iraqi population welcoming the liberators with joy. Television delivered the goods.
Nothing easier: Simply fill the frame with a hundred jumping and shouting people, in order to create the impression the a whole country is jumping and shouting. Nobody will ask: Who the hell are they? Where did they come from? Who called them together? Did they get anything in return? Aren't they, by chance, the same people who jumped and shouted a few days ago "with our soul and blood we will redeem you, Saddam?" And where are the other 5 million inhabitants of Baghdad? What do they think and feel?
During five very long hours all Western TV stations (and al Jazeera as well) concentrated on showing a crowd of Iraqis trying to bring down a giant statue of Saddam in the center of Baghdad. A discerning eye could notice that the crowd was no more than a hundred people, certainly half of them journalists. The statue-smashers acted manifestly for the camera. But television-wise, that was "the Iraqi people." This picture will remain fixed in the mind of the world as the defining image of the "liberation."
Only Thomas Friedman, a very arrogant and very patriotic observer, independently interviewed Iraqis and reported that they indeed were glad to be rid of Saddam, but that they viewed the Americans as foreign invaders who should leave at once. Nothing of this kind was seen on CNN.
In the Iraqi campaign, every Western (and, of course, Israeli) journalist was a soldier with a job to do under the command structure. The point was reached that Donald Rumsfeld, in a Washington briefing, directly ordered the American journalists in Iraq to interview Iraqis and get stories from them about Saddam's atrocities. Sure enough, within hours such stories came pouring in.
Joseph Gωbbels would be bursting with envy. George Orwell would not be surprised.
΄ Gunboat Democracy. How will things develop from here on? It has been said that it is hard to prophesy, especially about the future.
One thing is certain: the Americans did not conquer Iraq in order to leave. They intend to remain there for a long time, even if they succeed in setting up a puppet government. They came to control the oil sources and the Arab region, and for these purposes they will stay on.
But even if they should wish to leave, they would not be able to do so. Without an American dictatorship taking the place of Saddam's, Iraq would fall apart. The old ethnic, religious, regional and tribal divisions would only deepen if an American-appointed puppet government were to establish "democracy."
Western democracy developed over centuries in organized communities with solid community values. Only a fool would think that it could be imposed from above, by force, on a society organized on quite different lines, by family and clan, and with quite different values. A real Arab democracy, when it comes about, will surely different in nature and appearance from the Western kind.
The mob-rule that found its expression in the orgy of violence and looting under the auspices of the US army, including the looting of hospitals, is a bad omen indeed. (It is the height of chutzpah, when the US commanders, who have destroyed the civilian infra-structure, say that law and order must be restored by the Iraqis themselves. Thus, millions are abandoned to anarchy.)
The animosity between the Kurds and the Turks in the north, as well as the connection between the Shiites and nearby Shiite Iran in the south, will cause the occupiers many headaches. After some months of quiet (if at all), they may be faced with a Hizbullah-style guerilla war.
Will that prevent an American invasion of Syria and/or Iran? Perhaps it will, perhaps, on the contrary, it will push the Americans towards new adventures, in order to distract attention from the results of the this one.
΄ And Ahmad, what does he think? In order to foresee what's coming, I ask myself: what would I have thought and felt, if I had been an Arab? If I were, for example, Ahmad, a young Arab student at Cairo University, what would I feel at this moment?
First of all, humiliation. Once more a magnificent Arab hero has turned out to be a toy soldier, talking big and failing the first test. Once more an Arab army has mostly given up without a fight. (By comparison, a growing admiration for the Palestinians, who have been standing up to the mighty Israeli military machine for more than two years, who have sacrificed more than 2000 people and whose youth stand in line to sacrifice their lives.)
On top of the humiliation on the field of battle, the humiliation in the political field. A foreign invader has marched into the center of the Arab world and taken control of its resources, and the great Arab nation is paralysed, unable to react. Its cowardly leaders hold on to their seats and accept handouts from the occupier. Who will save us?
There is no nationalist Arab force able to offer a solution to the millions of young people from Casablanca to Kuwait city. No new Nasser enflames their imagination. But there is a religious Muslim force that provides comfort, answers, identity and self-respect. It also provides a weapon for removing the invaders and compelling the West to listen to Arab aspirations: terrorism.
Saddam never used terrorism. Nothing outside Iraq interested him, except if there was a chance to enlarge its territory . He was completely occupied with survival. The American pretense of having attacked Iraq in order to rout terrorism was a blatant and deliberate lie. And now, Ahmad thinks, after the last of the Arab armies has shown its impotence in the face of American might, there remains only the alternative of guerilla war and terror attacks.
© Uri Avnery. Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist and peace activist with Gus Shalom.
Crushing HOPE: Bush's Rollbacks in Affordable Housing
As dramatic "Birth of an Empire" footage streams into American homes, domestic policy has fallen from the agenda. For some reason, boring technocracy issues just can't compete with bombs, interactive maps, and embedded reporting. They just don't have the same sex appeal. Perhaps the least sexy issue but one of the most important for the vitality of our country is housing.
After trying repeatedly in the 1990s to get rid of the Housing and Urban Development, HUD, (the Department of Education was also a major target), Republicans are now making actual progress toward that goal. HUD's proposed budget for 2004 includes major cuts to public housing and the elimination of numerous community development programs. Even the elimination of dividend taxation will have a major negative impact on this sector.
The most surprising of these proposals are the idea of block granting Section 8 assistance and the elimination of the housing program, HOPE VI. The Section 8 program, which essentially gives a family a voucher for their housing that they can take into the rental market, has been very successful over the past decades, and it looks to be the solution to assisted housing for families. HUD allots the vouchers to local agencies according to a formula, and the agencies give them to individuals. In recent years, it has been incrementally reformed to work more efficiently, and some major changes were made three months ago when the 2003 budget was finally passed.
HUD, however, has proposed a block-granting scheme, Housing Aid for Needy Families (HANF), which would devolve control over the program to the states. The administration's arguments for HANF are tenuous at best, but the real threat lies in the idea of the block grant itself. The typical pattern for block grants is that the program is given full funding the first year of the grant, then slowly eroded over time. This would be especially salient in the Section 8 program, as housing costs across the country are rising much faster than inflation in many cases.
HOPE VI is a wildly successful program that began in the mid-90s to rejuvenate America's inner cities by renovating, razing, and repairing the aging stock of public housing projects. Claiming that the program had served its purpose, the administration cut it out of their proposal, despite the flood of applications they get every year.
The proposals to do away with these programs are nothing short of audacious. Each is successful, enjoys strong bi-partisan support in Congress and has proven to be an effective step on the path to self-sufficiency for those it serves. Luckily, Congress is likely to make the right move on these and largely preserve the status quo, with minor adjustments.
The bigger picture is less rosy, however. The Bush administration's strategic vision for the nation seems to involve huge tax cuts and massive deficits. With military spending likely to increase abroad, social programs will certainly be the sector to bear the weight of the fiscal crunch, something that is certainly in line with what Bush seems to mean by compassionate conservatism. The President's budget proposes block granting Medicaid and Head Start as well, and these programs would also face the same danger as HANF, as their funding would probably be cut over time. At the same time, cash-strapped states (49 states currently run a deficit) would be quite tempted to divert the money from these programs into other coffers.
These proposals to cut housing programs could not have come at a worse time. Recent studies by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a non-partisan group that researches affordable housing issues, have shown that there is no metropolitan area in the country in which an individual earning minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment. For America's poorest families, this is virtual banishment to substandard housing. Another group, the National Housing Council, has found that public service employees such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers are also finding it difficult to live within their own communities. Affordable housing has become a crisis for millions of middle class families in the suburbs, not just the poor in the inner cities.
The most frustrating aspect of this reality is that local agencies know how to do housing. New Urbanist principles, all the rage in the architectural community, are easily applied in affordable settings, and community development groups have shown that these types of programs which foster mixed-income communities and stimulate local investment are the keys to revitalizing downtrodden areas. And at the individual level, having a stable residential environment has been shown to be the single most important factor in improving a child's success in school.
This is one area in which knowledge is not the limiting factor. The problem is a lack of political will. HUD leadership has shown itself to be both incompetent and unwilling to administer and protect the programs they run; many appear largely ignorant of the complex and comprehensive activities housing authorities are expected to perform, while those on the ground flounder without support and funding from above. The progress of the past decade in lessening crime, in renewing neighborhoods, in finding ways to help families gain self-sufficiency could be undone quickly as policies continue to undermine even successful programs, and the gap between the two Americas grows.
Tom Ogorzalek, Notre Dame '01 and a former Common Sense editor, taught with ACE and is now in Washington, D.C. where he is editor of the Journal of Housing and Community Development for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
The Imperative of a Marshall Plan for Iraq: Economics as Peace Studies
The Ba'ath have fallen. Troops bearing the insignia of the U.S. and her allies patrol the streets of Baghdad. Centers of official Iraqi resistance are being defeated one-by-one. We, whoever "we" may be, will soon have undisputed control over Iraq.
The question on everyone's mind is, "What then?"
We cannot force peace on Iraq. We can establish a secret police, ferret out dissidents and send Rangers and SEALs into the bush to fight the guerillas, bands of whom are already springing up. But the resentment and, yes, even hatred that our presence will engender in the hearts of some cannot be cured by heavy-handedness.
We cannot force representative government on Iraq. We can write them a constitution (or ghost-write one through the "representatives," which we install following the war) that will provide for elections and a republican system. But the people do not think in a representative way, and until there is grass-roots movement for such a system and such a constitution is written by people who truly represent the sentiments of the people, such a government will fail.
What we can force on Iraq is development. It is imperative that in any postwar scenario the creation of a real, producing, and independent economy must take first place. If the United States militarily intervenes in Iraq, as it has, it has a moral duty to make a positive improvement there not simply the "negative improvement" that Saddam's ouster may or may not be. The U.S. must marshal its resources to ensure that in the Iraq which emerges from the dust of this war there is no home without clean water, no building without electricity, no child without free education available to him or her, and the industrial and infrastructural capability to sustain these conditions after the U.S. leaves.
There are those, on both sides of the aisle, who call for the quick removal of our troops from Iraq. One need only look at history to see the misguidedness of this approach. War as it is now waged is not about defeating the enemy's army: its objective is to ensure, not that the enemy can no longer be a threat, but that they will have no desire to be. The allied powers won the Great War on the battlefield; then they proceeded to throw away their gains by a completely hands-off approach to the defeated Central Powers. This, combined with crushing war reparations, provided fertile ground for agitators to plant the idea that if payback could be visited on the old enemy, all that was lost in the war could be gained back. And so, after a second worldwide war, the victors presented their plan, not to disarm Germany and Japan but to rebuild them. Both became the industrial centerpieces of their respective continents. Both became and remain our stalwart allies because we did for them what military dictators never could have.
There are many alternatives facing the policymakers on Iraq. Most of them are foolish. Some are near-suicidal. Pulling our troops out of Iraq is in the latter category, for it will send a clear message that the only interest we have in the Middle East is in maintaining puppet governments who cower before us. The American people care greatly about the Iraqi individual, but the view abroad is that the American politician cares only about Iraqi politics. Perhaps it would soothe the minds of the anti-Americans in the region if we recalled all our combat troops from Iraq and deployed only the engineers, the logistics personnel, the skilled medical personnel to build I can scarce say rebuild Iraq into a functioning economy.
Previous writers in this forum have suggested that U.S. Middle-East policy is driven by fundamentalist, millenialist, or Zionist pseudo-philosophical thinkers. One can see them at work in an Iraq policy that guarantees only that a new government will exist, and that there will be no way for it to effectively develop its economy. The Middle East is a one-cash-crop region, and that crop cannot be eaten, or sown and reaped tenfold. Its nations have no options, as the United States does. The U.S. has the ability to turn Iraq into a working economy, with its educated, literate populace. But that ability comes at the price of a years-long occupation of Iraq, of literally billions of American greenbacks being funneled into the building of factories, power plants and other power infrastructure, high quality roads and rails, and schools and universities. It comes at the price of looking beyond the next quarterly earnings statement or even the next election. It is a regimen that the United States has been too short-sighted to apply to itself, even though reinvigorated industry and similar development are desperately needed at home. We must pay that price. To do otherwise would be simply to invite more terror and strife into the Middle East and into any dealings we have with them.
If there is to be peace in the Middle East, the helplessness that its people and especially its leaders have been conditioned to operate under must be turned around. The region's nations are in a "damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't" bind. They can attempt to use their limited resources for industrial development which today usually entails nuclear power. But then they will have the label "rogue state" or "axis of evil" slapped on, and they may be bombed or invaded by a power-hungry or scared big sibling. Or they can allow their citizens to live in poverty, with low literacy rates, while the West wonders why its people don't seem to enjoy what "aid" organizations like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund do provide (with awful strings attached, as is seldom publicized: these include forced population-control stipulations and non-industry use clauses). Were the United States to begin to act as a big brother, instead of being Big Brother, we might see, forty or fifty years down the road, the final end of fundamentalist politics as these newly autonomous citizenries realize that they hold the destinies of their countries in their own hands; and if God, or Allah, is guiding the destiny of the world as whole, he is not guiding the separate nations into collision courses but trying desperately to steer them along the same highway, to Truth.
Matt Smedberg is a freshman History major at Notre Dame and a member of Common Sense.
Homosexuality, the Church and Biology
"Disordered" is the word used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe both acts of homosexuality and the inclination towards such acts. The act, the Church asserts, is "against natural law," its tradition maintains that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered," and its conclusion is that "under no circumstances can it be approved." Homosexuals themselves, however, are not directly called disordered. This is the position of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.
As the basis for this position, natural law, the tradition of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture and the unexplained nature of homosexuality's psychological genesis are cited. The position based on these criteria fails to consider adequately the breadth of possibilities surrounding homosexuality, and in light of current knowledge, the Church's position needs to be reconsidered. There is, for example, strong evidence that homosexuality has a biological genesis, and the selections of scripture used to defend such a position are limited, considering only one possible manifestation of homosexual acts. There is also a failure to address the way that circumstances surrounding homosexuality have changed since the time of their writing.
The employment of natural law in this, and perhaps all instances, is questionable. By the Church's own admission, "the precepts of natural law are not perceived by everyone clearly and immediately." Though itself immutable, "the application of the natural law varies greatly." Though "present in the heart of each man and established by reason," natural law is not based on empirical observations of the natural world (if it was, the Church would have to contend with the fact that homosexuality has been observed in over 430 large animal species including mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles). In sum, though it is an absolute set of standards we supposedly all have access to, it is elusive, difficult to communicate in words, and its application varies between cultures, times and places. Given these characteristics and the questions they bring with them, natural law can not be used as a stand-alone argument for this or any other position. In the absence of strong corroborating evidence (as I find to be the case on the issue of homosexuality), natural law is not sufficient in and of itself to support the Church's position on homosexuality.
The Church fails to consider adequately the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice, but is rather determined by one's genetic make-up. In fact, there is structural, chemical, and genetic evidence that homosexuality is, in fact, inherited. For example, there is evidence of a set of nuclei in the hypothalamus of the brain that is twice as large in heterosexual men as it is in homosexual men and in heterosexual women. The hypothalamus is responsible for control of several hormones in the body, including luteinizing hormone. Luteinizing hormone, it turns out, affects male and female production of the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. In another study, individuals were injected with a drug called Premarin. Normally, this drug increases the level of luteinizing hormone in women and testosteone in men. The levels of luteinizing hormone in male homosexuals were intermediate between the levels of heterosexual males and females. Thus, there is a structural anomaly in the brains of homosexual males as well as a chemical response difference in a chemical that is controlled by that structure.
Another study could suggest a genetic source for this structural difference, and thus the chemical difference. In this study, it is reported that the rate of homosexuality in the general population is between 2 and 7 percent. This study finds that of those males who are homosexual, 25 percent of their brothers are also homosexuals. What I find most striking about this study is not the huge difference between 7 and 25 percent, but that 25 percent is the exact percentage that would be expected for a gene that follows classic Mendelian genetics, which form the foundation of modern genetic theory and which all high school students should learn about in their high school biology classes.
Now, granted that my piecing together of this puzzle is speculation and that to my knowledge a specific gene for homosexuality has not been found, still the following scheme seems very plausible: there exists a recessive gene that follows the rules of Mendelian genetics that is responsible for the previously mentioned set of nuclei in the hypothalamus being smaller than usual. Since it is recessive, the gene is passed from generation to generation by those individuals who have both the recessive gene and dominant gene. The smaller nucleus is responsible for a change in an individual's production of luteinizing hormone, one of the hormones responsible for their sexual development and stimulation. This different hormonal balance results in homosexual attraction and inclination towards homosexual acts.
If such inclinations are biological, then homosexual persons and the inclinations they feel towards the same sex are inseparable. It becomes impossible to separate the person from the act, as the Church attempts to do in its catechism. Thus, if the act is disordered, then so is the individual. However, as creations of God, homosexuals can not be disordered, for God ordered them, and thus the acts that are as natural to them as heterosexual acts are to the other 98-93 percent of the population must not be disordered either. This would also weaken the Church's attempt at declaring natural law, for their natural law would be contrary to the natural law God has established in the population. So it may be time to re-examine the tradition the Church has used to defend its position.
The final foundation stone used by the Church for its position on homosexuality is Sacred Scripture. The Church cites Gen 19:1-29, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:10, and 1Tim 1:10. These include the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and excerpts from three Pauline epistles. There are no cited references to any of the Gospels. The first of the epistles essentially equates homosexual relations with idolatry and lust. The following two are one-liners lumping those who engage in homosexual activities with other groups of sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God. In each of these examples, there is the assumption that homosexual acts are limited to acts of lust and cannot be representative of a genuine love and commitment such as can exist between a man and a woman.
The context has changed. At the time Paul was living, in the Roman Empire, homosexual acts were common, particularly among the aristocrats. Not only was it socially acceptable, it was socially expected. In such a system, the prevailing exposure to homosexuality would have been to its manifestation as lust. A loving, committed relationship would not likely be seen, and its very existence would be masked by the prevailing patterns of lust. Paul may not have had enough of a perspective on all the permutations of homosexuality to make a valid judgment on this issue.
As for the Sodom and Gomorrah story, I was struck not so much by the nature of desired "intimacies" of the Sodomites, but by how aggressively the entirety of the town sought them. It is conceivable that it was not simply because the Sodomites were seeking intimacies with men that they were punished, but for the lustful disrespect they showed for others and the act of sex. It is very possible that they were in fact destroyed for this lust and disrespect for the human as a person, treating them instead as a device for their own pleasure.
All the biblical examples therefore assume lust as the motivation behind homosexual relations and preclude a loving relationship. Today, such a loving relationship is very possible and in fact does occur with relative frequency. It is worth pointing out that the type of lust exemplified in scripture can just as easily exist between heterosexuals. Therefore, the Bible fails to take into account the possibility that a loving relationship based on mutual trust, genuine love, and life-long commitment between two people of the same sex is possible. Such a situation exists today, and since it exists, the Church's doctrine on homosexuality should be reconsidered because it is based on a scriptural account that does not address all the important possibilities.
The Church's position that homosexual acts are disordered is based on very incomplete information. There is strong biological evidence that homosexuality, at least in men, is based on genetics and is inherited. If this is the case, it is impossible to separate the act from the person. If these two are inseparable, then it is impossible to call homosexuality disordered, as tradition does, for to do so calls a creation of God disordered. This would also put the Church's analysis of natural law, already of questionable validity, directly at odds with God's creation. Finally, the scripture the Church uses to justify its position is limited to one portrayal of homosexuality, and one that is certainly not always the case. It is very possible for a homosexual couple to meet all the requirements that a heterosexual married couple must exhibit except, of course, the ability to have children. It seems, however, cruel to say that it is impossible to marry a couple simply because they can't have children. If this doctrine were employed, a woman who found out she was unable to have children would be unable to get married. This cruelty is a denial of rights basic to our humanity, and as that woman's sexual attraction is natural, so too (by my argument) is a homosexual man's to another man, and that man should have the right to marry a man if he wishes.
Though homosexuality is not itself disordered, the Church's position on homosexuality is disordered at best. At worst, this position is responsible for the alienation of millions of its members, and has caused great damage to the faithful who are taught that their inclinations toward homosexual activity are unacceptable under any circumstances. Another look at this issue and the Church's position on it is desperately needed, and given the current evidence available to us, that time is now.
Danny Richter is a sophomore member of Common Sense pursuing a degree in environmental science with a second major in philosophy.
What Happened to America? A Letter, A Lament
This is a difficult letter to write, because I'm no longer sure who you are.
Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We'd become well acquainted over the past 55 years. You were the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books I read in the late 1940s. You were the radio shows Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks. You were the music I sang and danced to: the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, the Platters, Elvis. You were a ton of fun.
You wrote some of my favourite books. You created Huckleberry Finn, and Hawkeye, and Beth and Jo in Little Women, courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved Thoreau, father of environmentalism, witness to individual conscience; and Walt Whitman, singer of the great Republic; and Emily Dickinson, keeper of the private soul. You were Hammett and Chandler, heroic walkers of mean streets; even later, you were the amazing trio, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart. You were Sinclair Lewis and Arthur Miller, who, with their own American idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better.
You were Marlon Brando in "On The Waterfront," you were Humphrey Bogart in "Key Largo," you were Lillian Gish in "Night of the Hunter." You stood up for freedom, honesty and justice; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.
You put God on the money, though, even then. You had a way of thinking that the things of Caesar were the same as the things of God: That gave you self-confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. Give me your tired, your poor, you sang, and for a while you meant it.
We've always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbours: In many cases mine, for instance you are also our blood relations, our colleagues and our personal friends. But although we've had a ringside seat, we've never understood you completely, up here north of the 49th parallel.
We're like Romanized Gauls look like Romans, dress like Romans, but aren't Romans peering over the wall at the real Romans. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? Why is the haruspex eyeballing the sheep's liver? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?
Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?
This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother from a New England background was confronted with an unsavoury topic, she would change the subject and gaze out the window. And that is my own inclination: Mind your own business.
But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug-hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well.
I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been taking the long view an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.
You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.
You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.
You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.
If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.
The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.
© The Nation. Margaret Atwood studied American literature, among other things, at Radcliffe and Harvard in the 1960s. She is the author of ten novels. Her eleventh, Oryx and Crake, will be published in May 2003.
Crabs in a Bucket
Kevin Richards is an undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Letters.
The Boy's Club
If I were to write a poem
for finally something happens.
in the red hats. And wonder
Jessica Maich is a graduate of the Notre Dame Creative Writing Program. She resides in Granger, Indiana.
On the Destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan
to my son Paul
In Bamiyan, Afghanistan
They might have been constructed by
The cannonballs of Genghis Khan
A new millennium began
Some reckon their destruction an
Henry Weinfield is a member of the faculty of the Program of Liberal Studies.
Good News for a Change
Surely this is an age of miracles
The boot starts marching well,
Thousand boots are marching, moving
Poet Max Westler teaches in the English Department at Saint Mary's and is a regular contributor to Common Sense.
What is the cost of all these lush, green lawns,
Time passes slowly in the afternoons.
Some are born workers, some are born as drones.
Our adversaries have become our clones.
Henry Weinfield is a member of the faculty of the Program of Liberal Studies.