Saturday, August 25, 2007

The USPS Marvel Super Heroes stamp series (2)

Here are my comments on the remaining five stamps in the Postal Service's Marvel Super Heroes stamp release.

The Silver Surfer in his computer-generated version is now a Hollywood star thanks to the second Fantastic Four movie.

Which is fitting, since he did get his start as a villain going up against the Fantastic Four:

But he was a popular character, so he really made the rounds:

Spider-Woman hasn't made the big screen yet, at least not that I'm aware. But give her time.
There was a 1998 TV movie version of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, though, with David Hasselhoff in the title role.

Iron Man is on his way to the movies, scheduled for next year.

For characters like Iron Man, the Human Torch or the Silver Surfer, doing a film version with live actors is hard to imagine prior to computer-generated animation.

Iron Man has a super-duper metal suit that protects him from pretty much anything the bad guys can throw at him. He flies, too. In his civilian identity, he's a billionaire war profiteer, or something like that.

Elektra was immortalized by her screen portrayals in Daredevil and Elektra by Jennifer Garner of Alias, also one of my favorite actresses. Yeah, I know the Elektra solo film wasn't too popular, but who cares? I mean, if Jennifer Garner is on the screen during the movie, that fact alone makes it watchable.

But the character is also an intriguing one, and Garner's athletic ability (she claims to do her own stunts) as well as her acting talents, as shown by her multiple-personality performances as Sydney Bristow in Alias make her a great choice to play the character.

Elektra was originally introduced as a character in the Daredevil comics. The backstory here is that Daredevil was a second-rank Marvel character, until the now-legendary Frank Miller (artist for 300, another comic recently made into a movie) took over writing and drawing the series. He turned Daredevil from another goody-two-shoes super-hero who swung around off ledges and beat up bad guy into a dark, deeply troubled, brooding, existential heavy.

Part of the heaviosity of the Frank Miller Daredevil was that he fell in love with Elektra, a professional ninja assassin. Ben Affleck's Daredevil in the film reflects the dark Frank Miller version of the character.

Miller also returned Batman to his vigilante roots in 1986 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns three-book series. He made Gothan City into a futuristic dystopia which drives a middle-aged Bruce Wayne back into his bat-costume. But he wasn't the nicey-nice Adam West version, either.

While saving some innocents from a bad guy with an automatic weapon, we see Miller's Batman thinking, "There are seven working defenses from this position. Three of them disarm with minimal contact. Three of them kill. The other..."

Holy Dirty Harry, Batman! You get the idea. Frank Miller's heroes are dark, tormented, ambiguous. At least Daredevil, Batman and Elektra come out that way in his treatment of them.

Wolverine is also a movie star thanks to Hugh Jackman's sympathetic portrayal of the hot-headed mutant in the three X-Men movies.

Wolverine is an exception among the ten characters on this stamp release in that the comic book cover they pair with his image is one that doesn't even include his character.

Speaking of the X-Men movies, one of the things that made those films good was having Patrick Stewart as the grave and serious Dr. Xavier. He provided a kind of dramatic anchor for the films that made it easier to go with the flow on the fantastic things that were happening on screen.

Also, I just saw in the news that one of the X-Men film veterans, Anna Paquin, who portrayed Rogue (who was from Meridian, Mississippi in the film version), is one of the top candidates for the lead role in an upcoming Wonder Woman movie.

Lynda Carter's version of Wonder Woman will be hard to top. But I'm rooting for Anna Paquin to get the part.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Iraq War: choosing from "a lousy range of options"

McClatchy's Warren Strobel, who has done some of the best English-language reporting on the Iraq War from the buildup forward, reports on how Bush left with few options, even fewer chances for success in Iraq 08/24/07:

One way to look at the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released this week is to review what it describes as the best-case scenario.

In that scenario, Iraq's security will improve modestly over the next six to 12 months, but violence across the country will remain high. The U.S.-backed central government will grow more fragile and remain unable to govern. Shiite and Sunni Muslims will continue their bitter feuding. All sides will position themselves for an eventual American departure.

In Iraq, best-case scenarios have rarely, if ever, come to pass.
But for Bush and the neocons, they didn't invade the real existing Iraq, they invaded the Iraq of their dreams. So they still dream up progress and turning points and tipping points and so on, and will keep doing so even though reality has long since caught up with their splendid little Mesopotamian war.

Strobel's article gives a good, brief description of the way that Cheney and Bush are "hemmed in by decisions he and others made months or years ago." (He uses the more diplomatic term that their appear to be so.) Or, as Strobel quotes Andrew Bacevich as saying, they are left with only "a lousy range of options".

It's been the case for a while that there were no good options left for exiting Iraq. As time goes on, even the menu of bad options shrinks. Cheney and Bush clearly have a permanent presence in mind, despite the fact that Congress has officially declared such an intent not to be the policy of the US.

Tags: ,

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Vietnam War and the "culture war" in Louisville KY (and for God's sake - or at least our own - can we stop "losing our innocence"?)

Windsor Ruins, Mississippi. No, its not in Kentucky - but it's very Southern and Lost Cause-y (Photo: Galen Parks Smith/Wikipedia Commons)

John Ernst and Yvonne Baldwin write in the February 2007 Journal of Southern History about "The not so silent minority: Louisville's antiwar movement, 1966-1975.". (Consumer advisory: this is one of my long posts for the weekend.)

They discuss the stay-forever position taken by the state's Republican Governor on the Vietnam War and how it connected with the Republican Party's emerging "Southern Strategy". I was particularly intrigued by his speculation on the influence of Lost Cause ideology about the Civil War on Southern men's thinking about war in general:

Louie B. Nunn, who in 1967 became Kentucky's first Republican governor in twenty years and who embodied America's "silent majority," the "decent, law-abiding, constructive citizens who form the heart and conscience of our nation." Nunn claimed to have given Richard M. Nixon the famous phrase that identified Nixon's political base and helped bring him victory in the 1968 presidential election. Nixon won that close contest, in part, because Americans like Nunn wanted an honorable end to the Vietnam War and the social turmoil the conflict caused at home.

Nunn, a World War II infantry veteran, viewed Vietnam through a martial, patriotic, southern lens. "Once we were in it," he asserted, "we had to finish it with honor." Nunn spoke for most Kentuckians and southerners, including Senators Herman E. Talmadge and Richard B. Russell of Georgia. Like Nunn, Russell stated that "national honor" was the issue and that America could "not shrink from defending it." This sense of honor permeated southern culture. Since the late nineteenth century, when the Lost Cause ideology began to glorify the Civil War record of both Union and Confederate soldiers, thus salving the sting of defeat for the South, fighting for America had been a means for southern men to assert their heritage and manhood. Not surprisingly, a Gallup poll in May 1967 revealed that southerners supported the Vietnam War in greater numbers than other Americans. Southerners accounted for almost one-third of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam and about 28 percent of the American soldiers who died there. At the height of the Vietnam War, four out of five American army generals hailed from the South, including the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, South Carolinian William C. Westmoreland. Bardstown, Kentucky, produced one of the war's most famous officers, Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore, coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young. Kentucky lost more than one thousand young people in the conflict and, along with five other southern states, voted in 1968 for Nixon, whose political strategy of stressing "law and order" and patriotism ended the longtime "Democratic stronghold" in Dixie. (my emphasis)
It can scarcely be stressed enough that when you see a phrase like "social turmoil the conflict caused at home" in that context, that the Republican Southern Strategy viewpoint, and its California version that Ronald Reagan had employed in winning his governor's race the year before Nunn, merged the image of "Vietnam" (i.e., the Vietnam War), dirty [Cheney]ing pot-smoking hippies, and uppity rioting black people into one image of horror for frightened white suburbanites.

We shouldn't let this history of the Vietnam War and of Southern military service lead us to make unfounded assumptions about today. The last poll I saw that broke down opinions on the Iraq War by region showed as much opposition to the war in the South as in the rest of the country.

Looking at antiwar activists in the city of Louisville, Ernst and Baldwin write:

Louisville was home not only to [Boxing champion Muhammad] Ali, the nation's best-known dissident, but also to social justice proponents, civil rights advocates, and a growing peace community. Anne and Carl Braden, Dr. George Edwards, and Suzy Post, in particular, addressed the issues of race and class that Ali represented, and, through coalitions and networks that linked young radicals and middle-aged activists, they fashioned an antiwar movement in Louisville that adds depth to historians' understanding of the southern response to the Vietnam War. Middle aged, middle class, well educated, and white, like other southern activist leaders such as Tennessee minister Will Campbell, the dissenters in Louisville joined other teachers, clerics, homemakers, and lawyers to become a vocal minority in cities all across the South. In Atlanta, Austin, Chapel Hill, Columbia, El Paso, Houston, Knoxville, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, and Tallahassee, they provided counsel and often afforded a degree of protection from the legal system that the younger generation of soldiers and protesters could have received nowhere else. More than sympathizers and boosters, the older men and women often set the agenda for reform as they mentored and sheltered soldiers, draft evaders, peaceniks, and other young people who opposed the American presence in Vietnam. (my emphasis)
Reminding us of the "culture war" link the Republicans made, they write, "Governor Nunn pledged to rid the state of the Bradens, who directed the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), an interracial civil rights organization."

"Rid the state of the Bradens". Wow!

The George Edwards mentioned there was a Christian minister who had been a conscientious objector in the Second World War. He actively counseled draft evaders, knowing that he was breaking the law in doing so. They quote Anne Braden describing him as "the most militant pacifist you ever saw".

Their article also reminds us that when Bush and his followers accuse war critics of betraying American by aiding the enemy, they stand in an ugly tradition from the Vietnam War and desegregation days:

Southern hostility toward war resisters frequently provoked confrontations. In Tallahassee, for example, conservative Florida State University fraternity brothers and "jocks" pelted activists with rocks and tossed them in the student union fountain. In Texas the Ku Klux Klan harassed a woman after the local newspaper revealed that her son-in-law was an exile in Canada. Her complaints about a break-in, shattered windows, slashed tires, and crank calls failed to alarm local police, who advised her to move since the local "organization" did not "take kindly to draft dodgers."
Brave defenders of the white race often showed their version of "patriotism" in such courageous ways. I wonder how many of those brave souls had volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War themselves? Threatening wimmin while safe at home in Texas is much more their style. Fine Christian white men, those guys.

They don't give a lot of details about the antiwar movement at Florida State University. But it's worth noticing that Florida State was not an "elite", Ivy League school. It was one of those state colleges that attracted a disproportionate number of working-class kids. And they had an active antiwar movement, active enough to catch the attention of the frat boys and and some jocks who were there enjoying their draft deferments, most of them having (like Dick Cheney) "other priorities" than going to war. But these brave patriots were able to muster the courage to gang up on some nonviolent demonstrators - they probably had to git likkered up first - and toss them into the campus fountain. Shoot, they takes nearly as much courage as fightin' them Vietcong in the jungle. That shore makes yuh proud to be an Amurcan, don't it?

Actually, despite "culture war" dogma, working class voters were more opposed to the Vietnam War than wealthy ones. And the campus antiwar movement was more active on more heavily working-class compuses like Kent State University than at the "elite" institutions.

In 1967 Austin antiwar leader George Vizard died of gunshot wounds in what police termed a grocery holdup. Texas peace organizations disagreed and called his death a "political murder." Three years later a coalition of Houston activists, including the John Brown Revolutionary League, the Houston Committee to End the War, Communications for Peace, and the University of Houston Student Mobilization Committee, accused the city's police of "protecting" Klan members who perpetrated bombings, shootings, and arson.
In those days, there was military conscription (the draft) in the US. And, unlike today, Canada's laws offered a measure of asylum to draft resisters. Antiwar activists used the opportunity:

Edwards, Post, and the Bradens risked criminal prosecution for operating a kind of Underground Railroad that assisted young Kentuckians as they sought to avoid military service in the jungles of Vietnam. Throughout the South, like-minded "conductors" did the same. Kevin Vrieze, a draft evader from Texas, found help from "Houston to Austin to Tulsa to St. Louis to Detroit, and finally to Windsor in Canada." Clerics, teachers, homemakers, and pacifists formed the core of the network. As Newsweek columnist Stewart Alsop noted, "the more middle-class and middle-aged the better," because such individuals did not draw the attention of federal and local authorities with the same regularity as did their younger, more radical counterparts.

Individuals and organizations throughout the South assisted, to varying degrees, dissident soldiers. For example, the Quaker House in Fayetteville, North Carolina, hosted weekly meetings for a Fort Bragg organization named GIs United Against the War in Vietnam. The Bradens went a step further. They had a printing press in the basement that soldiers used for an underground GI newspaper called FTA and subtitled Fun, Travel, Adventure, drawing from a military recruitment slogan. One of the first newspapers edited exclusively by GIs, "It was called FTA," noted Anne, and "What it really stood for was 'Fuck the Army." Despite nearly constant federal surveillance, the Bradens' home in the city's West End served as SCEF headquarters and became a "second home" for some of the soldiers from Fort Knox.
Ernst and Baldwin also describe other aspects of the antiwar movement that were also prominent in the South, like antiwar coffeehouses (decades before Starbucks!)and soldier's "underground" newspapers (the 1960s and 1970s equivalent of blogs). They write:

[A]n estimated three hundred GI underground newspapers appeared during the Vietnam era, but most lasted a year or less. Dissidents at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, published at least half a dozen, including Flag-In-Action, Napalm, EM 16, In Formation, Spread Eagle, and People's Press. Perhaps the two most famous GI newspapers, both FTA and Fort Jackson's Short Times ran fairly regularly from 1968 through 1972...
Active-service GIs and veterans, including Vietnam veterans, were very much a part of the antiwar movement and became even more so as time went on.

The following is also an important point for those who argue - to my mind, in an astonishingly misguided way - that the antiwar movement of those days strengthened support for the war:

Like many of the GI coffeehouses, the one in Muldraugh proved extremely controversial, enjoyed a relatively brief life span, and thus on the surface could be judged a failure. Coffeehouses, however, served a significant purpose. They became way stations for young draftees and deserters on the Underground Railroad to Canada and fueled the growing GI movement by bringing civilian and military activists together.
It shouldn't be so hard to understand that the purpose of a protest movement is to protest. Ultimately, the goal is to produce constructive results. But as long as the protesters represent a minority, which the Vietnam War opponents did for much longer than the Iraq War critics had to face, a key part of their job is be a pain in the rear. And on the other end of the metaphor, to get in people's faces and make them think about what they are supporting.

Although what we remember as the activist women's movement of those days was a more widespread phenomenon of the 1970s than the 1960s, the antiwar movement was an important contributor to changing consciousness on sex-role issues and offered an opportunity and challenge to those who were interested in raising those issues. In the following passage, they remind us of the heavy hand of "respectability" and how that tyranny-of-the-majority social conformity affected the activists in various ways:

Like [famous pediatrician and antiwar activist Benjamin] Spock, Post believed in solidarity among the various groups that opposed the war even as they took on other social justice causes, and she faced the same challenges that he did in getting the antiwar organizations to work side by side with civil rights activists already radicalized by the struggle. Ironically, black war protesters encountered the same dilemma as they weighed coming out against Vietnam and thus possibly alienating their grassroots supporters. Both sets of dissidents risked antagonizing the government and being tarred with the brush of communism. Respectability was important, especially to middle-aged activists who recalled the spectacle of McCarthyism. They too risked losing everything if they went too far. Suzy Post enjoyed a certain level of respectability because of her socioeconomic status. "I came out of the great white Jewish middle class," Post noted. "My husband was a very successful trial lawyer so I could operate within that community with a kind of authority and legitimacy." Post described her work and the antiwar stance of her colleagues, including the Bradens and Edwards, in ethical terms. "It was a moral issue and it grew in the churches. Most of the people with whom I worked really didn't have a political perspective," she recalled, "they had a moral perspective." This absence of political perspective divided "traditional" antiwar women like Post from the younger generation of "radicals" who criticized the older women for their "false consciousness" and urged them to abandon the roles of mother and wife and demand instead to be treated equally by the government as citizens. (my emphasis)
This is part of why the whole discussion today about how Democrats need to show they respect religion seems so bizarre to me. Respect religion? "Putting God back in the public square"? Religious convictions and the moral considerations growing from them were a major part in the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement that contributed so much to shaping the Democratic Party of today. 95% of that talk about Democrats needing to emphasize religion is just rightwing white fundamentalists trying to claim God's sanction for militarism, neosegregationism and hostility to science. It's really amazing that such a brainless theme ever caught on as part of our political dialogue.

But the South was still emerging from the era of de facto segregation. And the social repression of dissident ideas still was taking its toll in notable ways. As Ernst and Baldwin write, "Martial patriotism, fear, and racism thinned the antiwar ranks in Dixie and prevented some who privately opposed the war from demonstrating publicly."

But there were demonstrations in the South, including in the "border state" of Kentucky. They describe the events of 1969 commemorating the one-year anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination:

The King anniversary also sparked a demonstration in Louisville. To honor him and support the so-called Black Six (six African Americans who at the time faced trial over their alleged involvement in riots in Louisville in May 1968), about two hundred civil rights advocates, most of them blacks, started marching from Louisville's West End toward the county courthouse, the site of a scheduled memorial service. Coming from the other direction, down Broadway, 130 LPC demonstrators, primarily whites, marched to acknowledge King's antiwar contributions. The streets were full of people. According to Anne Braden, neither group had secured a permit to march, and neither was aware of the other's plans. "It was pure coincidence," Braden recalled, and no one had "enough sense on either side to call up and make some contacts." By chance, both groups hit Fourth and Broadway at the same moment and "overflowed" into the street. The police, probably fearing a recurrence of the May 1968 disorders, "quickly blocked the street to vehicles while the marchers clapped, sang and chanted their way" to the courthouse. At first, the blacks shouted, "Freedom, Freedom!" and the whites shouted, "Peace, Peace!" as they walked. Soon, however, they shouted both slogans in unison and raised a black flag. In a 1999 interview, Braden mused over what the movements could accomplish when they came together. "You took over Fourth Street," she asserted, "nobody could have stopped them, and nobody tried." Before the demonstration ended, Braden ran into George Edwards on the street. The two had at times disagreed over the Black Power movement because its supporters' advocacy of racial separation disturbed him. As their paths converged, Braden asked, "What do you think about that Black Power now? He just laughed," she recalled.
My own undergraduate alma mater, Millsaps College in Mississippi, even comes into their account:

Anne Braden's brainchild, the SSOC, a predominantly white group meant to complement SNCC, enjoyed some early success fighting for civil rights and other social justice causes, but it derailed on the Vietnam War. Organized in 1964 by delegates from fifteen southern colleges, the SSOC spread throughout the region and even reached into the Deep South. For example, in a Jackson, Mississippi, apartment, five SSOC activists calling themselves "The Army" produced an underground newspaper titled KUDZU and, with the help of Millsaps College students, distributed the publication at local high schools and at Mississippi State University. Headquartered in Nashville, just several hours from Louisville, the SSOC collaborated with the SCEF to set the agenda for the southern antiwar movement. The SCEF occasionally met in Nashville and lent cars to SSOC members, who in turn promoted the Louisville-based organization. The two groups worked together to create a new organization, the Southern Committee Against Repression (SCAR), and they initiated the Southern Movement News Service, a clearinghouse for coordinating the region's underground papers and movement newsletters. (my emphasis)
Ah, I can feel the old school spirit!

Now, this is a really strange twist. As weird as it seems now - and as weird as it should have seemed then - antiwar activists actually tried to use neo-Confederate symbolism to make their point. What influence people like those around today's neo-Confederate and isolationist group and Web site may have had in that, I don't know. I do recall Molly Ivins saying that she recalled that white supporters of the civil rights movement that she was around in Texas also looked by to Confederate heroes as some kind of model of honor. But that is weird. The best thing you can say about it is that it shows the absurd degree to which phony Lost Cause versions of history permeated the South. Ernst and Baldwin write:

The SSOC, backed by the SCEF and other groups, reached its peak in early 1969. Although an internal crisis soon splintered the group, it organized a four-day southern protest of the Nixon inauguration in Washington, D.C. The protesters chose a site near the White House at the statue of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, whose scorched-earth tactics during the Civil War sought to break the South's spirit. The site symbolized "Yankee Imperialism and the colonial status of the South," claimed the young activists, who co-opted historical memory to allege that northern capitalists victimized southerners and Vietnamese alike.

The group's antiwar philosophy centered on "southern distinctiveness," which inspired some members and offended others. Some SSOC leaders admired the work of historian C. Vann Woodward and invited him to address the group. They also lionized southern progressives like Braden and began to emphasize white Confederates' "positive" traits of "bravery, loyalty, and devotion." "Not for slavery," they claimed, but for dedication to their families and homes. As one activist observed, "no revolution is gonna happen" without whites, and to recruit them the SSOC must examine "those very things that make Southerners what they are and build on them--using the symbols and peculiarities by which they have been taught to identify themselves." The Confederate flag reemerged as an important symbol, and rebel yells broke out at antiwar demonstrations where the SSOC "call[ed] for southerners to 'secede' from the war."

In June 1969 the southern identity issue imploded at a meeting near Edwards, Mississippi. SCEF representative Carl Braden attended, along with a number of SDS activists. Weakened by internal power struggles and eager to garner support in the South, SDS targeted SSOC members who rejected the Confederate symbolism, a move that, to the dismay of the Bradens, hastened the SSOC's self-destruction. (my emphasis)
Good grief! "Bravery, loyalty and devotion"?!? Couldn't these presumably mostly well-intentioned white activists have figured out that those alleged qualities were being exercised in support of slavery, white supremacy and treason? Well-intentioned or not - during that period it became routine to blame stuff in the movement you didn't like on police provocateurs, and that wasn't entirely paranoid - that business of opposing the war to defend the tradition of Suthun honuh handed down from the good ole white boys of the Confederacy, well, that was just whacked.

That's the Ron Paul school of war criticism.

When prowar fantasists today or airhead journalists start wondering why there's no huge demonstrations against the war, I always want to ask them why aren't we seeing mass demonstrations by those who support the war? Today's situation isn't entirely comparable in that regard to the Vietnam War days, because the Iraq War became unpopular among the majority years ago. If they're serious about reviving support for the Iraq War, the shrinking prowar minority should be demonstrating and getting in people's faces in the streets. But that would be more sacrifice than most war fans are willing to make in support of the Front Line Struggle Against The Terrorists on which they tell us the future of American civilization hangs.

But the prowar zealots had a bit of a time rounding up activists in Louisville in those days, too:

Some pro-war demonstrations occurred in Louisville. A rally in October 1967 produced a seemingly improbable combination: the Concerned Citizens Committee, the Total Effort for America Committee, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Committee for the Continuation of War for the Sake of Love and the Preservation of Peace. A year later the school board denied Edwards's request to speak at a meeting on behalf of the Louisville Peace Council. Edwards wanted to propose that peace advocates receive "equal time with military recruiters" in the high schools. Following the meeting, a parents' group, numbering about thirty, heckled Edwards while the press interviewed him. Some yelled "traitor," and many wore campaign paraphernalia promoting the 1968 presidential bid of George Wallace. In December 1969 a handful of individuals picketed outside the Atherton High School auditorium as Dr. Spock spoke. Their signs read "Free speech or treason?" "Dr. Spock--leader of loud-mouthed minority," and "Enter Hanoi Annex." Many of the city's residents, intensely anticommunist, held traditional southern values and strong religious convictions that supported the notion of duty and service to one's country, and as late as 1970, even if they were not willing to take to the streets to support the war, approximately two hundred parishioners walked out on an antiwar sermon at Fifth Street's Cathedral of the Assumption. (my emphasis)
I wonder how many of those 200 walkouts were white. About 200, I would guess. One might also wonder if any of them were bothered at all in that situation by the fact that Jesus was, uh, a pacifist. I'm guessing around zero on that one.

Perhaps the most incredible thing from today's perspective is that back then, there were Republicans - yes, actual members and officeholders of the Republican Party! - who were seriously critical of the Vietnam War. And not in the John Warner - oh, I'm going to wring my hands and mutter about my deep concern and always vote for the Cheney-Bush positions on any and all matters relating to the war - kind of way. No, I mean actual war critics:

The divergence of opinion over the war extended to politics and created some heated discussion among the state's leading Republicans. U.S. senator Thruston B. Morton, a native of the city, joined his influential counterpart, Senator John Sherman Cooper, early on in advocating American withdrawal from Vietnam, a position the former mayor of Louisville, U.S. representative William O. Cowger, severely criticized. Cowger accused Morton, a moderate Republican, of flip-flopping due to a growing "shift of public sentiment against the war." Analysts agreed, and Morton's 1967 turnaround became national news. Congressional colleagues considered the old national Republican Party chair (1959-1961) a "weathervane," a political professional, and a potential vice presidential candidate for the 1968 election. Gene Snyder, Louisville's other member of the House of Representatives, also became dovish, asserting in 1969 that America "ought to pack up and come home." (my emphasis)
Can you imagine, even imagine any Republican member of Congress other than the nativist, ultra-right, John Birch Society whacko-type Ron Paul saying something like that today? "We ought to just pack up and come home from Iraq?" Man, the times they have a-changed.

Now, I'm not making this up. Republican Senator John Sherman Cooper really was a leading critic of the Vietnam War. Even more exotic from today's viewpoint, he was part of a long-extinct species called "liberal Republicans". Yes, I know it sounds as mythical as a gryphon or a cyclops or something. But there is substantial evidence that sober-minded scholars credit than such creatures really did once exist. And, no, I'm not drunk or indulging in recreational drugs. Although I may have just had one too many cups of coffee.

At the end of their article, Ernst and Baldwin revisit the Lost Cause theme. I've been convinced for a while that this "never retreat, never surrender" notion about the Iraq War is related in some way to the Lost Cause dogma. I'm not sure if such a thing could ever be conclusively demonstrated. But here's their take on it:

With Vietnam, however, "history," in C. Vann Woodward's words, had "begun to catch up with Americans," and the war would not go away. As Woodward noted, the South's defeat in the Civil War created a unique southern experience, making the region emblematic of the entire nation as Vietnam stripped away the country's sense of innocence and "invincibility." Perhaps the entire nation came to grips with the idea of the Lost Cause and, as the U.S. sought national meaning and redemption, came to better understand why southerners, in an effort to exorcise their old demons, proudly sent more than their share to Southeast Asia. While Vietnam may have helped the nation understand the South's commitment to militarism, the conflict also stimulated the work of modern social justice activists like the Bradens, George Edwards, and Suzy Post. Though advocates of peace and progressive causes had always been a small minority in the South, this generation of activists was a vocal one, and a modern giant, Muhammad Ali, served as a symbol of its significance. (my emphasis)
I have to ask, though, how many times do Americans have to collectively lose our viriginity? Or, "lose our innocence", as the pundits like to put it. Weren't the Mexican War and the Civil War and Indian Wars enough times to lose our innocence? If not, there was the Spanish-American War which gave way to the godawful "small war" in the Phillipines. Then "we" lost our innocence again in the massive, mostly completely senseless slaughter that we know as the First World War. Then we lost our innocence again with the Vietnam War. Or was the Korean War the next loss of innocence? I lose track. Then there were the John and Bobby Kennedy assassinations and the King assassination that took away our national innocence yet again. By the time 9/11 came along, our innocence was ready to be lost again. Soon I'm sure we'll found out that our remarkably resilent innocence was sacrificed again in Iraq and then in Afghanistan.

I hate all these "national character" metaphors anyway. Individuals have characters. Nations make collective decision and do things.

Maybe "we" could collectively make a deal with the cosmos, or the karmic force, or whatever entity will deal with us over it. "We" agree to give up "our" innocence forever, never ever to have it back again. And in return, The Force will allow us to not ever have to spread our innocence to other lucky nations in the world by invading their countries and bombing, shooting and torturing them into being innocent like us.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Time-travel blogging from 1992: The past anticipates the future

Sometime around this time of the year in 2002, I wrote a satire that I posted on a discussion board. It was back when John Ashcroft was still Attorney General, and before any of us had imagined that his successor would (or could!) have less respect for the law and the Constitution than he did.

Los Angeles Times Future Edition

Thursday, August 1, 2002

Ashcroft Defends Anti-Terrorism Measures to Senate

Washington, DC. (July 31) Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about his recent order indefinitely postponing the 2002 Congressional elections. “We are at war with an enemy who abuses democratic processes," said General Ashcroft.

"The Constitution vests in the president the extraordinary and sole authority as Commander-in-Chief to lead our nation in times of war,” he said, “And holding elections at such a critical time for our great nation would obviously interfere with his ability to conduct his duties as Commander-in-Chief.”

Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, one of the five Democratic Senators not currently being held incommunicado in preventive detention at undisclosed locations, addressed the Attorney General by his preferred title of General Ashcroft, as did all the Senators present. Miller asked if there could be a slim possibility that banning the elections might be exploited as an issue by enemy propaganda.

"We need honest, reasoned debate not fear mongering," General Ashcroft responded, glaring at the Senator. "To those who pit Americans against people who believe in democracy, and citizens against voters, to those who scare peaceloving people with phantoms of lost liberty and the alleged lack of opportunity to choose a government, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.”

“Those are the ones who give ammunition to American's enemies and pause to America's friends,” he continued. “And if you let people just have some elections every couple of years, it invites the America-haters who whine about the need for so-called ‘democracy’ and what they call ‘freedom’ to make even more propaganda.”

Asked by Senator Charles Grassley (R, IA) if there was precedent for such an action, General Ashcroft referred to the Presidential election of 2000. “If corporations can use a board to appoint a CEO, why shouldn’t the Supreme Court appoint the President? Charges of confusing ballots and bad vote counts in that case give new meaning to the term 'the folly of democracy’," he said.

“If we’d had to rely on the election results, Bush would never have become our great President of our great country. I mean, just look at me in Missouri. I got unseated by a dead guy. That just goes to show how deeply flawed this whole politically correct notion of elections really is.”

Rights of Demonstrators Upheld

Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah praised the General for his actions and asked if he had any comment about recent complaints over the demonstration on the Capitol steps by 100,000 members of the Gun Owners for a Constitutional Amendment to Ban Flag Burning and Martin Sheen. Some Washington police officers complained anonymously to the press that the demonstrators should have been asked not to fire live ammunition from their Uzis into the air at the end.

“We’re talking about America here,” General Ashcroft replied. “Any attempt to restrict the people’s access to automatic weapons and live ammunition, or to prevent people from using them to express their feelings on important issues, would be as un-American as anything I can think of.”

“Besides,” he continued, “my department was arresting most anyone who might be dangerous anyway.”

Subversive Singer Banned

The General was also asked about recent complaints from former Senate Majority Leader and 1996 Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole that removing pop singer Britney Spears’ citizenship may have been an excessive action. General Ashcroft responded, “Look, the question is, do you want to protect Americans from terrorism and foreign enemies and Muhammedans or not? This Spears person was obviously corrupting the morals of the country. So it was my duty to take action.”

Spears eluded capture by fleeing to Britain in an Afghan-style burka, posing as a maid on a cruise ship. She was immediately offered asylum by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and welcomed by Queen Elizabeth. “My grandson Prince William tells me she is a wonderful musician and performer,” the British monarch said.

President Bush has issued an executive order banning all photos, recordings and films of the exiled artist. General Ashcroft defended the order to the Senate Committee. “We have solid evidence that we will be presenting to a secret military court shortly proving that her videos contain back-masked messages of support for al-Qaeda,” he revealed. Bush’s approval rating among women rose by 25% immediately after the order was announced.

Questioned earlier in the week at a press conference, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended his decision to use federalized National Guard troops to hunt down the remaining CDs, videos and DVDs of the banned singer in the United States.

“Terrorists have been attacking us here in the homeland virtually every day for months, and I personally think drastic measures are appropriate,” he said. Asked if he could reveal any of the specific attacks to which he referred, Rumsfeld replied with his characteristic grin, “I could but I’m not going to.” Several reporters were recently placed in indefinite preventive detention for referring to Rumsfeld’s smile as a “smirk.”

Further questioned on the threats of military sanctions against fellow NATO member Britain over the Spears asylum, Rumsfeld said, “So what if we’ve signed some treaty with these Brits? They’re all just a bunch of socialists anyway.”

Using his normal description of the fugitive performer, “Britney Spears comma slut and seductress,” Rumsfeld declared, “I think you have to remember that she’s trying to distract our nation from its vital task of war against terrorism and of supporting our troops fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Sudan, Yemen, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, as well as other countries which I cannot name at this time.”

New Law Proposed

General Ashcroft appeared before the Judiciary Committee to testify in favor of the proposed SUPPRESSION of Enemies USA Act, whose full name is the Steps to Undercut, Pressure, Pound, Restrain, Expel, Stifle, Stomp, Intern and Otherwise Neutralize Enemies of the United States of America Act of 2002.

The proposed law would require secret military tribunals for a new range of crimes, including shoplifting and loitering. It includes mandatory caning of anyone caught spray-painting cars and also mandates the immediate arrest of any member of Congress voting against the proposed law itself. “We must not let over-sensitivity about the rights of suspects, which we only hear from women and sissies anyway, deter us from taking the immediate steps required to protect our great country against terrorism,” General Ashcroft said.

However, the General said that after discussions with various Senators and Congressmen, he was willing to consider reducing the proposed prison terms for littering on interstate highways.

After General Ashcroft testified before the Senate, Tom Ridge, Director of Homeland Security and Patriotic Duties, issued a new terrorism alert. “Secret sources which we cannot divulge say everyone should be afraid, very afraid. More afraid that you already were. But you should go about life normally and report anyone saying anything you think that somebody might think might sound suspicious to the Turn-in-a-Terrorist Hotline.”

Ridge added, “Until we have dismantled al Qaeda, Islam and similar subversive groups in this country and deal with people who don’t believe in America strongly enough, it is my hope that everybody in every community, remains on the highest possible alert and rats out potential traitors regularly.” The alert is the 42nd issued by Ridge’s office this year.

More on the stab-in-the-back

Josh Marshall has been following the development of the Iraq War stab-in-the-back alibi for years. He weighs in again on the subject after Bush's VFW speech in Militarism and Anti-Democracy, Now in a Country Near You 08/23/07. Marshall is doing what needs to be done to counter that myth, which some Republicans will believe no matter what, which is to point out the bogus claims that go into building the tale. For instance:

Like for instance, all those war critics who think that if only US troops would leave Iraq, all the killing would stop.

Have you met these people? You can find people who think the Earth is flat. Heck, you can even find people who don't believe in evolution. Most of them seem to be running for president as Republicans. But I don't think I know anyone who thinks all would be swell in Iraq if only US troops would leave. Indeed, the premise of most current criticism of the war is that we're occupying a country that is in the midst of a slow-motion civil war and that there's nothing we can do to stop it and that we should stop trying. (my emphasis)
He also links to a couple of other blog posts that criticize the stab-in-the-back talk: The Weimar President by Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish blog 08/23/07, and, Sub-Standard by Jonathan Chait New Republic Online 08/22/07.

I'm glad that Andrew Sullivan "got religion" on the war and realized what a disaster it is. But he himself was a prominent writer promoting the stab-in-the-back nonsense practically from the time the second plane struck the World Trade Center on 09/11/2001. He doesn't seem to have engaged in much self-reflection about his own role in the stab-in-the-back talk.

Chait includes an odd comment, "There is an old leftist belief that, if soldiers have done horrifying things, then the war is evil." Actually, the notion that the means of the war should be consistent with the ends is a key part of Christian Just War theory, which goes back to that old "leftist" St. Augustine of Hippo (354-450).

Tags: ,

An enduring image

On the left, the cover of THE INCREDIBLE HULK #1 from May 1962, via the USPS stamp release featuring it. On the right, the Bliss comic by Harry Bliss for 08/20/2007. A character that can survive for 45 years as an easily recognizable image has something going for it.

Hulk trivia: the creature was gray in the first issue only. Thereafter, he was the big green guy we've become accustomed to.

The late Bill Bixby played the Hulk's human alter-ego Bruce Banner in the 1970s TV series, although (disappointingly) they called him "David" Banner. And muscle-man Lou Ferrigno was the big green side of him. The series was actually pretty good, making the most of the state-of-the-art special effects at the time. Fans particularly liked the "Hulk-out", in which Banner was shown metamorphosing into the Hulk. There were some follow-up TV movies in later years, ending sadly with The Death of the Incredible Hulk.

The Hulk is scheduled to return to the big screen in 2008, this time with Edward Norton as Banner and Liv Tyler, one of my very favorite actresses, as his love interest, Betty Ross. If the Hulk has Liv Tyler for a girl friend, he's definitely doing something right! (Jennifer Connelly was the girl friend in the 2003 movie; the Hulk wasn't not doing badly, then, either.)

Marvel Comics has an online Hulk Library to highlight their profitable property.

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The USPS Marvel Super Heroes stamp series (1)

I grew up reading comic books. That's a big part of how I learned to love reading. So I enjoy seeing comic book heroes making hit movies. And also the comic-book themed postage stamps the US Postal Service has been issuing. The latest features 10 heroes from the Marvel Comics universe. (Multiple universes are commonplace in the comics.)

Spider-Man has hit the big time with a major movie career, which just had a hit with the third in a series. He may have reached the limit that all science-fiction and comic-book series on the screen hit, where the action is so fantastic it has to go campy and silly. But for now, he's riding high:

And Franklin Roosevelt collected stamps. So anyone who thinks this post is geeky, well, you're just out of it.

The Hulk is a star of the Silver Screen, too. I particularly like the Hulk, because I've always had a soft spot for heroes that were named Bruce. Bruce Banner, in his case.

I'm sure Prince Namor, aka, the Sub-Mariner, will make it to Hollywood sooner or later. This could be a job for Brad Pitt. I mean, Ben Affleck is already playing Daredevil. It would be kind of a stretch to make Daredevil a twin to an water-breathing, sea-dwelling Atlantean prince.

The Fantastic Four are also on a roll at the box office. But with their second film, they may already be hitting the limits of comic-book film series' life span. I mean, after saving the earth from being devoured by a humongous galactic carnivore, how do you follow that up? Also, the Four's power are exotic enough that the require quite a bit of computer animation. But then, so do Spider-Man and the Hulk.

I'm always fascinated by how some literary characters enjoy incredibly long lives: Sherlock Holmes, Simon Templar aka the Saint, James Bond. Comic book characters may have a special advantage in the longevity department because their main fan base of kids constantly turns over. Captain America has been around since the 1940s. His current logevity was called into question earlier this year, when he was assassinated while resisting over-the-top government anti-terrorism measures that required all super-heroes to register with the government. But death is not a barrier to return appearances in the comics, either.

As I recall, back in the "Freedom Fries" days, the National Review crowd got worked up over some Captain America comic that depicted the World Trade Center attack and they thought it was insufficiently jingoistic. Now that's taking comic books pretty seriously!

Tags: , , , ,

Bush's bad historical analogies

Thom Shanker of the New York Times commits an act of real journalism by bothering to ask some questions about the historical analogies Bush is using to defend indefinitely American combat in the Iraq War: Historians Question Bush’s Reading of Lessons of Vietnam War for Iraq 08/23/07.

He doesn't address the the Vietnam War stab-in-the-back claim. But he does look at some of the related claims:

American air power was used to help sustain South Vietnam’s struggling government, but by the time of the famous photograph of Americans being lifted off a roof in Saigon in 1975, few American combat forces were left in Vietnam. "It was not a precipitous withdrawal, it was a very deliberate disengagement," said Andrew J. Bacevich, a platoon leader in Vietnam who is now a professor of international relations at Boston University.

Vietnam today is a unified and stable nation whose Communist government poses little threat to its neighbors and is developing healthy ties with the United States. Mr. Bush visited Vietnam last November; a return visit to the White House this summer by Nguyen Minh Triet was the first visit by a Vietnamese head of state since the war.

"The Vietnam comparison should invite us to think harder about how to minimize the consequences of our military failure," Mr. Bacevich added. "If one is really concerned about the Iraqi people, and the fate that may be awaiting them as this war winds down, then we ought to get serious about opening our doors, and to welcoming to the United States those Iraqis who have supported us and have put themselves and their families in danger." (my emphasis)
The article also discusses briefly Bush's Second World War analogy:

The comparison of Iraq to Germany and Japan “is fanciful,” said Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He noted that the American and allied militaries had eliminated the governments of Japan and Germany, and any lingering opposition, and assembled occupation forces that were, proportionally, more than three times as large as the current American presence of more than 160,000 troops in Iraq.

“That’s the kind of troop level you need to control the situation,” Mr. Simon said. "The occupation of Germany and Japan lasted for years — and not a single American solider was killed by insurgents." (my emphasis)
At one point in the polemics around the Iraq occupation, war fans were scaping to find instances of guerrilla resistance in Germany or Japan. So far as I've seen, Simon is correct: there were no American deaths from any resistance fighters, if any could be said to exist. (Secret networks to smuggle war criminals out of Germany are another matter.)

Tags: , ,

The politics of losing a war

American poster from the Second World War; that's not one of those in which we are currently engaged, though some people seem to think so

It's impossible to say for sure whether Cheney and Bush really believe that all the militias in Iraq are going to lay down their arms and surrender to the US to be imprisoned and tortured as "illegal combatants" for years on end. Presumably a unilateral surrender along those lines would be something like their idea of "victory".

But most everyone else in the world, outside the hardcore Republicans who still support the war, everyone can see that a "victory" like that isn't going to happen. Cheney and Bush may even be creating a situation that it won't be remotely possible for a future President to present our eventual departure from Iraq as any kind of victory.

In the so-called "war on terror", to the extent that it's a "war" in any sense other than a slogan to justify allowing the President and Vice President to disregard any laws they choose, there's good reason to think we're losing that one, too.

In Bush steps up sales push to sustain his surge in Iraq by William Douglas and Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers 08/22/07, reports that Bush is putting on a publicity offensive to sell The Surge, which for the moment has come to stand for the entire Iraq War policy, or at least Cheney and Bush would like it to.

Douglas and Talev also report that a group called Freedom Watch is planning to run a month-long, $15 million media buy for advertisement "in more than 20 states" to push Congress to support the Cheney-Bush Iraq policies. Two former senior White House staffers, Ari Fleisher and the organization's president, Bradley Blakeman, are member of the group. They deny that "the group's a front for the White House". And surely Ari Fleisher would never support any outfit that might bring his own credibility into question, would he?

According to Douglas and Talev's analysis, there are indications that Bush's new Sell The Surge campaign is firming up Republican support in Congress in support of the Cheney-Bush policies. For anyone who's followed how useless virtually all the Republican "war critics" in Congress have been, you have to wonder how they could tell if support had firmed up among that group. There was hardly any dissent in the first place.

There certainly hasn't been any new burst of frankness and realism from Cheney and Bush. Douglas and Talev:

Bush voiced confidence that the surge is working, even while admitting frustration about the lack of progress toward political reconciliation in Iraq. That was supposed to be the key measure of the surge’s success, the administration had said early this year when it launched the plan. The surge was supposed to ease security stress enough for Iraq's rival factions to begin cooperating. That hasn't happened. ...

Reports of tactical military progress haven’t changed Democrats' plans to hold more House and Senate votes on deadlines for U.S. troop withdrawal when they return in September. But those reports have dampened Democrats' prospects of getting more Republicans to join them. That means that Bush, wielding veto power if he must, is likely to prevail on Iraq policy, for Democrats lack the two-thirds majorities they need to overcome his veto. (my emphasis)
Obviously, we need to watch the Dems closely on this one. But there doesn't seem to be any obvious shift from opposing to supporting the war among Congressional Dems. But Congressman Brian Baird of Washington state has, for whatever reason, gone in Joe Lieberman mode, switching his position and making it a particular point to attack his own party in words that echo Republican whining:

Prior to Congress' August recess, Baird had supported legislation that called for withdrawal of U.S. forces to begin within 120 days. He now says that he wishes the measure had never come up and that he hasn't so much reversed his position as "adjusted" his thinking.

"We need to keep our force strength where it is until next spring and give the political rhetoric a rest," he said. "If the Democrats were less interested in finding fault and blaming people for a colossal mistake and if Republicans would stop being super-patriots, it would give a chance for our troops on the ground to operate."
The Big Pundits will find this to be a gratifying example of the kind of "moderation" called for in the cult of High Broderism.

But the Dems need to exercise some party discipline over this. It's one thing to break with the party on an issue, even a vital one like this. It's another to make a point to attack the Democrats over it. If he wants to be a Trojan Horse for the Republicans to earn the applause of the disciples of High Broderism or for whatever reason, the Dems should treat him as a Trojan Horse.

Since the administration is going all-out now to set the stab-in-the-back excuse on the Iraq War as a fixture of the public discussion, we need to pay attention to how dishonest it is. For example, Trojan Horse Baird says that war critics should shut the hell up until 2008 sometime, and that "would give a chance for our troops on the ground to operate." Is there any evidence at all that the war debate has prevented American troops from operating exactly the way their generals and Commander-in-Chief wanted them to? Bush and his generals say constantly that the military is getting exactly what they need to fight the war. So hopefully some reporter will has ask Baird just what the [Cheney] he's talking about.

And what about all those Republicans who were just recently wringing their hands in their deep concern over the situation in Iraq?

"While political reconciliation at the national level has come too slowly, grassroots reconciliation in provinces like Anbar and other Iraqi towns is encouraging," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Earlier this year he'd suggested that Republicans might start backing off of their support for the war by September if the surge wasn't working. Now he sees it differently.

“Everyone agrees that more progress on political reconciliation is essential, but pushing for a precipitous withdrawal when the momentum is ours is not just irrational, it is negligent,” said Boehner, sharpening the pro-surge GOP attack line. (my emphasis)
See, what a surprise!

Meanwhile, Alexandra Marks in the Christian Science Monitor reports on A new push for change in the war on terror 08/22/07. Short version:

In this year's Terrorism Index, a survey released Monday by Foreign Policy magazine, 84 percent of these experts believe the nation is losing the war on terror, while more than 90 percent say the world is growing more dangerous for Americans.
Trying to organize a "war" of any kind, ideological, political or military, against "terrorism" is pointless. As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it in a speech back in October of 2003 (A Must-Read Speech American Prospect Online 10/31/03):

I think that calls for serious debate in America about the role of America in the world, and I do not believe that that serious debate is satisfied simply by a very abstract, vague and quasi-theological definition of the war on terrorism as the central preoccupation of the United States in today's world. That definition of the challenge in my view simply narrows down and over-simplifies a complex and varied set of challenges that needs to be addressed on a broad front.

It deals with abstractions. It theologizes the challenge. It doesn't point directly at the problem. It talks about a broad phenomenon, terrorism, as the enemy overlooking the fact that terrorism is a technique for killing people. That doesn't tell us who the enemy is. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg. We need to ask who is the enemy, and the enemies are terrorists.

But not in an abstract, theologically-defined fashion, people, to quote again our highest spokesmen, "people who hate things, whereas we love things" - literally. Not to mention the fact that of course terrorists hate freedom. I think they do hate. But believe me, I don't think they sit there abstractly hating freedom. They hate some of us. They hate some countries. They hate some particular targets. But it's a lot more concrete than these vague quasi-theological formulations. (my emphasis)
Marks' report is specifically on a survey of terrorism experts by Foreign Policy magazine and the (Democratic-leaning) Center for American Progress just published in that magazine; the survey is called the "Terrorism Index". She quotes Bruce Hoffman:

"This poll presents an enormously bleak and melancholy picture ... and it's difficult not to read it as a complete repudiation of the entire current conduct on the war on terrorism," says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "Where we have been particularly remiss or ineffectual is in fighting the al Qaeda brand as hard as we've fought the al Qaeda terrorists."
What concerns me about some of the discussion as reported in that article, though, is that many of our terrorism "experts" seem to be trying to shoehorn the fight against jihadist terrorism into a Cold War framework. That doesn't sound terribly promising to me, either.

What sounds more sensible to me is to look closely at what countries have done who faced chronic terrorism threats, like Spain with ETA, the Basque separatist group. The Spanish newspapers report some development related to ETA practically every day. (For example, Libertad para el jefe de Batasuna detenido por el 'Zutabe' de ETA El País 23.08.07; Rubalcaba advierte de que 'el silencio de Batasuna es el peor de los augurios' El Mundo 23.08.07) It's an issue the political parties take very seriously. They have successes, they have failures, and there is even a certain amount of demagoguery over it.

But the whole country doesn't stay in a state of craziness over it. They haven't tried to declare the King or the Prime Minister above the law, or assumed the right to arrest, detain and torture "enemy combatants" or their own citizens indefinitely.

Marks also reports that many of the experts suggest, "The solution lies in changing US policy in the region and supporting Islamic scholars who can show how al Qaeda is distorting the Koran." Well, that sounds good and even makes sense. Except that, you know, the Iraq War has made the US so intensely unpopular among most Muslims that an overt association with official American ideological efforts would be the kiss of death for Muslim theologians who cooperated. Unfortunately, pretty literally a kiss of death in some cases.

The article referred in in the Sept/Oct issue of Foreign Policy, which is published by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, The Terrorism Index. It makes for some interesting reading in itself. For example:

It may be the most common - and, for many, the most convincing - argument against a quick exit from Iraq: Pulling American forces out would only move the war’s front line from the streets of Baghdad to the streets of Anytown, U.S.A. Or, as President George W. Bush often says, "The enemy would follow us home."
Or would it? It’s a scenario that the index’s experts say is unlikely. Only 12 percent believe that terrorist attacks would occur in the United States as a direct result of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Eighty-eight percent of the experts said that either such a scenario was unlikely or that they see no connection between a troop withdrawal from Iraq and terrorist attacks inside the United States. This line of thinking was consistent across party lines, with 58 percent of conservatives saying they did not believe terrorist attacks would occur at home as a result of a military drawdown in Iraq. (my emphasis in italics)
Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Didn't make Page 1

Isaac Newton as interpreted by William Blake

Oh, by the way, it's not as major as Nicole Hilton's legal troubles or John Edwards' hair stylist. But somebody may have just discovered that the whole universe works differently than we thought. As explained by George Musser in Hints of a breakdown of relativity theory? Sciam Observations blog 08/22/07:

The MAGIC gamma-ray telescope team has just released an eye-popping preprint (following up earlier work) describing what might be the first observational hint of quantum gravity. What they've seen is that higher-energy gamma rays appear to travel through space a little bit slower than lower-energy ones, contrary to one of the postulates underlying Einstein's special theory of relativity - namely, that radiation travels through the vacuum at the same speed no matter what. ...

The team ruled out the most obvious conventional effect, but will have to do more to prove that new physics is at work - this is one of those "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" situations. But if the high-energy gammas really did lose the cosmic race, we're talking Big Discovery. It could be a way to constrain string theory, loop quantum gravity, and other bleeding-edge theories.
Incidentally, if this turned out to be the case, it doesn't mean that Einstein's theory of relativity is wrong, any more than relativity meant that Isaac Newton's theory of gravity was wrong. (Newton's theological theories haven't been quite so enduring.) Gravity still works the way Newton figured out it did. Although Pete Seeger reportedly keeps a sign posted somewhere around his house saying "gravity is just a theory", mocking the fundamentalist "evolution is just a theory" line. Technically, gravity is "just a theory". But, as I can testify from having suffered a broken leg in a fall a couple of years ago, gravity works, "just a theory" or not.

The telescopes of Einstein's day were far more powerful than anything Newton had available. So he was able to demonstrate that light was affected by gravity and offer an improved theory of physics. It more or less made Newtonian physics a subset of the new physics. This news item is also something produced by a measuring system that is state-of-the-art circa 2007.

Tags: ,

Bush makes the Vietnam War "stab-in-the-back" into his official state ideology

I've written a lot about the "stab-in-the-back" excuse for the loss of the Vietnam War, which has long since been embraced by the Republicans' "culture war" ideology. And we've been hearing a barely-altered ideological version of it already being used to blame the Democrats for the loss of the Iraq War.

In reality, the Republicans have fought this war just the way blowhard-white-guy Republicans have been saying wars should be fought. We blasted into Iraq and didn't worry about any limited goals. We destroyed the Iraqi government and dissolved the Iraqi army. We took over the place and decided ourselves what to do with it. We didn't worry overly much about the United Nations and certainly not about international law, or even the American laws banning torture.

Despite attempts, Congress has so far put no restraints on how Bush and his Party conduct the war. (There was an essentially symbolic bill banning acts of torture that were already illegal anyway.) And, according to both our Dear Leader Bush and and to his generals, our generals have gotten exactly what they have requested and have been allowed to conduct the war exactly the way they wanted.

The result is a disaster. The biggest strategic disaster in the history of the United States, as a matter of fact.

So the Republicans say it's all the Democrats' fault.

As part of this positioning, Bush himself rolled out his own version of the Vietnam War stab-in-the-back mythology to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Tuesday, citing as an authority Osama bin Laden, among others. From the White House Web site, with "Applause" notations omitted, President Bush Attends Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, Discusses War on Terror 08/22/07:

Finally, there's Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans. The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I'm going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.

The argument that America's presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree. In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called, "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism - and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."

After America entered the Vietnam War, the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. As a matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people. [I wonder who he's talking about here; such a statement from a Vietnam War critic would be hard to find. - Bruce]

In 1972, one antiwar senator put it this way: "What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos, whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they've never seen and may never heard of?" A columnist for The New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the communists: "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." A headline on that story, date Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: "Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life."

The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.

Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There's no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle - those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."

His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."

Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans "know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet." Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility - but the terrorists see it differently.

We must remember the words of the enemy. We must listen to what they say. Bin Laden has declared that "the war [in Iraq] is for you or us to win. If we win it, it means your disgrace and defeat forever." Iraq is one of several fronts in the war on terror - but it's the central front - it's the central front for the enemy that attacked us and wants to attack us again. And it's the central front for the United States and to withdraw without getting the job done would be devastating.

If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened, and use their victory to gain new recruits. As we saw on September the 11th, a terrorist safe haven on the other side of the world can bring death and destruction to the streets of our own cities. Unlike in Vietnam, if we withdraw before the job is done, this enemy will follow us home. And that is why, for the security of the United States of America, we must defeat them overseas so we do not face them in the United States of America.
Yes, there were consequences of the civil war in Vietnam after the United States withdrew and Saigon fell.

There were also strategic benefits for the United States from withdrawing. We stopped pouring lives and money into a war that was not vital to our national interests and that offered no reasonable prospect for "victory" at any acceptable price.

One of the main justifications for the war was that a North Vietnamese victory would mean an expansion of Chinese power. In fact, unified Vietnam resumed their country's traditional distant relationship with China and actually fought a serious border skirmish with the Chinese.

The testosterone argument over whether losing in Vietnam "emboldened" our enemies is pretty questionable. The fact that Osama bin Laden, hiding in his proverbial cave in the badlands of Pakistan or wherever, taunts the United States over the Vietnam War is no surprise. Nor does it tell us much of anything. This citing of Bin Laden's propaganda claims to justify your own position of the moment - Democrats do it too - is a bit weird. More importantly, it's becoming a ritual symbol with little actual content other than the emotional, just like Second World War symbolism has been used ever since 1945. Bush doesn't fail to cite some in his VFW speech, either.

Yes, the jihadis will taunt Bush's manhood when US troops eventually leave. Maybe Bush can reassure himself by dressing up in his "Mission Accomplished" flight suit and manly codpiece and admire himself in costume in the mirror.

The truth is, whatever "emboldening" of actual or potential enemies the Iraq War has produced has pretty much already occurred. The United States invaded a country that was no threat to us. And we've been now tied down there militarily for longer than we were involved in the Second World War that Bush was still citing today. With no end in sight. And the effectiveness of the Iraqi enemy's irregular warfare has been demonstrated many times over.

Will we really look tougher if we continue to pursue the illusion of total victory and unconditional surrender for the next 5, 10, 15 years? Is Bush willing to spend the remaining months of his failed Presidency rallying his Party and the nation to accept a military draft and the decade-or-longer continuing combat commitment that would be required for any hope of such an outcome to exist?

Democrats shouldn't let themselves be bullied by this kind of talk. No matter what happens, the Reps are already blaming the Democrats for the loss of the Iraq War. If there is another major terrorist attack in the United States, the Republicans will blame the Democrats, no matter what. And however the US eventually leaves Iraq under whatever President, the Republicans will blame the new foreign policy challenges on Weakness and lack of Will - by the Democrats.

Not that the Democrats should accept such accusations. On the contrary. But they also shouldn't be under any illusion that they can avoid them by buckling under to Bush's failed Iraq War policies.

And when it comes to reality-based analysis of the Iraq War itself, we should all remember that talking about the potential aftermath of withdrawal - which the war critics are aware of and often discuss (e.g., George McGovern and William Polk in Out of Iraq [2006]) - without talking at the same time of the ongoing costs and risks of continuing American participation in the war is to create a phony picture. Which, as usual, Bush was trying to do in his Tuesday VFW speech.

Tags: ,

No, it can't happen here

An ACLU Freedom of Information Act suit succeeded in springing a secret White House manual on how to keep any dirty hippie protests from disrupting Our Leader's orderly public appearances, as reported in White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters by Peter Baker Washington Post 08/22/2007:

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by "rally squads" stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent - just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police "to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route." (my emphasis)
I like to kid my Austrian friends about a popular saying there, "Ordnung ist das halbe Leben" (order is half of life).

But they have a sense of humor about it. And, when it comes to political events involving the most senior government officials, well, they don't just arrange Potemkin events like the White House sets up to showcase Dear Leader Bush's greatness. I reported about a year ago - with actual original material from first-hand observation, even! - about a political rally for the Austrian conservative party, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) in our California Governor's hometown of Graz.

As I observed then, Austrian political practices seemed quite exotic for someone from our model American democracy that we take pride in being the model to the world. (The extent to which any other countries in the world see it that way is another question.)

The serving government officials of the time who appeared there in person included Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel; Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser and Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik along with the Defense Minister, the Economics Minister and the Interior Minister (more-or-less the Attorney General in American terms).

As I wrote then:

The most amazing thing about it to me probably didn't seem unusual to most people there. It was that here was the head of government, appearing in a partisan rally along with some of the most senior members of his government. And, unlike the strictly controlled partisan appearances of Dear Leader Bush, the rally was completely open to the public.

Even an unsympathetic foreigner like me could attend. And the place wasn't crawling with uniformed security personnel or burly guys in dark suits and sunglasses. No sharpshooters visible on the rooftops.

Perhaps most unusual of all in comparison to Dear Leader's approach, there was a protester in the crowd who occasionally shouted out something negative. He was standing about thirty yards from the stage when the Chancellor was speaking. There were two security guards who were standing discreetly to either side of him. But they didn't try to drag him out of the crowd or arrest him or beat him up or anything even when he shouted out dissent against the Chancellor. The head of government was actually allowed to hear one of his voters shouting out criticism!

An amazing thing for those of us who have become acclimatized to the way today's Republican Party handles things.

The speeches themselves weren't especially notable, except again for an American, who couldn't help but notice that the horrible, awful menace to Western Civilization from The Terrorists was not a central theme of the speeches. There was much more talk about health care and employment issues. The Foreign Minister used her few minutes to promote Europe, i.e., supporting the European Union. Chancellor Schüssel and Herr Minister Yuppietwit [Grasser] focused more on stock conservative bromides, like how if we just cut taxes for the wealthy and restrict the opportunities of kids from working-class families to go to college, everything will get better.

There was also quite a bit of patriotic hype about how great Austria is. Though by American standards of over-the-top patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric, it was pretty tame.
Sad to say, it's hard to picture that happening here in America right now. Here, demonstrators who might distract from the adoration of Our Leader are treated differently, as the Post reports:

The lawsuit was filed by Jeffery and Nicole Rank, who attended the Charleston [West Virginia] event wearing shirts with the word "Bush" crossed out on the front; the back of his shirt said "Regime Change Starts at Home," while hers said "Love America, Hate Bush." Members of the White House event staff told them to cover their shirts or leave, according to the lawsuit. They refused and were arrested, handcuffed and briefly jailed before local authorities dropped the charges and apologized. The federal government settled the First Amendment case last week for $80,000, but with no admission of wrongdoing.
Now, I take it for granted that no party is going to let their rallies be shouted down by protesters, nor should they. But the Bush practice has obviously gone far beyond that, to the point that his staff try to shield Dear Leader from having any direct exposure to live dissent at all among his subjects.

Today's authoritarian Republican Party increasingly operates on the Benito Giuliani definition of freedom from back in 1994:

Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

You have free speech so I can be heard. (from 'Freedom Is About Authority': Excerpts From Giuliani Speech on Crime New York Times 03/20/1994
For more than one reason, I generally avoid using the word "fascism" to describe contemporary political movements or arguments. So I would have chosen a different title for Chris Hedges' book on the Christian dominionism in America than American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America (2006). But his book contains a number of "case studies" on individuals, some prominent and some not, that I'm sure will be a valuable resource for other researchers.

One facet of Christian dominionism that discusses is how common words can be redefined in such groups in an almost cult-like manner. For many fundamentalists, as he describes, the entire concept of freedom - including political freedom - becomes defined as submitting to the will of God. As interpreted, of course, by His faithful representatives like Pat Robertson or Sam Brownback. Or, as Giuliani put it, "Freedom is about authority."

On this general topic, check out the comments by Digby (Hail Caesar 08/20/07) and David "Orcinus" Neiwert (Right-wing reductio ad absurdum 08/20/07) about a frank proposal from a columnist, Philip Atkinson, at the conservative Web site Family Security Matters, for a Bush dictatorship. I had never heard of Atkinson before that. And the Web site pulled his post and all his other columns. But the Digby link has the full article. He wrote:

The inadequacy of Democracy, rule by the majority, is undeniable - for it demands adopting ideas because they are popular, rather than because they are wise. This means that any man chosen to act as an agent of the people is placed in an invidious position: if he commits folly because it is popular, then he will be held responsible for the inevitable result. If he refuses to commit folly, then he will be detested by most citizens because he is frustrating their demands. ...

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.

The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the nation's powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result that will be popular with Americans.
I'm not suggesting this is a glimpse of some massive Republican plot. But it is a literate example of how authoritarian thinking can lead to the desire for being rid of the ambiguity of all this troubling democracy stuff, where citizens are expected to think for themselves and take some responsibility for their government. (In the rightwing world, the notion that "Israel" is looking to commit genocide on Iranians, even though the writer seems to like the idea, has a meaning going beyond any foreign policy question, i.e., promoting the idea that The Jews are savage and amoral.)

In a moment like the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks - which made for a pretty long moment - authoritarians can have a chance to push for a "tyranny of the majority", when they happen to be in the majority. The more normal case, though, is for them to be in the minority. And that means their usual position is one of whining about how screwed up all these decadent democratic ideas and practices and popular programs like Social Security are.

Christian fundamentalism also encourages this habit of thought. Fundamentalists normally see themselves as God's Elect and destined to be a permanent minority in an un-Godly world. There's nothing inherently authoritarian in that. But in practice, that can and often does translate into trying to apply their religious certainty to political issues as well, and regarding the very process of compromise inherent in democratic government as un-Godly in itself. The variety of thought known as Christian dominionism particularly encourages that approach.

Tags: , ,