Saturday, November 29, 2003

War is a Useful Word

"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." - General Dwight D. Eisenhower

The men and women who have waged this atrocity, this defilement of human endeavor and of human life, have done so, not to protect or to safeguard, but to legitimize their own power. War is obsolete. The wholesale slaughter of enemies no longer serves any purpose. But the word War is still useful, as Erik points out. So are other words, such as witch hunt and due process.

What else should we expect? We Americans all stood by, and because we are who we are and we believe that our system of government is essentially fair and benign, we allowed the peaceful ascension to power of a man who was not duly elected or qualified to serve.

President Bush is no statesman. By his arrogance, he has squandered the good will that most of the planet vested in America in the days following our national tragedy. Now because we are essentially, effectively alone, lacking any viable moral mandate, we have no means to defend ourselves from perceived threats but swaggering polemic and staggering violence.

I’m reminded of an old joke. A man working in a candy factory falls unseen into a giant vat of chocolate syrup and can’t get out. Facing death, he cries out desperately, “Fire!” Men come, pull him out, and ask him why he yelled, “Fire!” … “If I’d yelled, ‘Chocolate!’ no one would have come.”

Of course he’s going to keep bellowing “War!” It’s all he has. If he hollered anything else, such as “in God’s name, let us feed the hungry and house the poor,” or “let all the nations peacefully bring terrorists to justice,” the world would know he’s too small a man for such a vision. The curtain would fall away, so OZ would stand there as he is. But war is easy to say, a small word for a small man of small means; an easy word, like blood and ice and fire.

Comment on "Name that War," Kyle's post, two posts below

I find the imaginativeness of NYT readers heartening--and distressing. The suggested names for this latest "war" were illuminating, entertaining, clever, incisive, but I'm troubled by the use of the word "war" in this context, as in so many recent contexts.

I recall that for years the pols wouldn't refer to the Korean War as a war. It was a "conflict" or a "police action," because no one was willing to use the word "war." We'd fought two devasting world wars and weren't able to admit to another, even though hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the four-year "police action."

Same with Viet Nam. For years, it wasn't called a war, but a "conflict."

But lately we've cheapened the word war. We have wars on poverty, drugs, AIDS, and, lately, terror, or as our eloquent president pronounces it, terr'r. We've diluted the terrible consequence of the word "war," making it a Madison Avenue term to be applied to any challenge, of any parameters, against even nameless enemies, such as addiction, unfair distribution of wealth and, lately, terr'r. For those who've lived through real wars, these recent appications must be galling indeed.

Then threre's this: Even though the standard dictionary definition of war doesn't include any reference to the military balance or fairness of the conflict--no factor such as the odds of victory--I've always felt that if a military encounter is to be called a "war" there must be some element of risk, some question about the outcome. Accordingly, our invasion of Grenada couldn't be called a "war," not because we didn't invade a sovereign state (which we assuredly did), but because that state hadn't declared war on us, hadn't done anything to us, in fact, and was a little-bitty place that was manifestly vulnerable. Same with Panama. We invaded Panama, raced through its capital city and killed innocent Panamanians (as well as hundreds of Noriega's soldiers) to "arrest" its ruler. Not a war, though, because there was no doubt about the outcome. We were too powerful to have "made war" on Panama.

Now, however, with Afghanistan and Iraq, suddenly "war." Why do we use this word? Are we hyping here? Are we justifying, or sliding away from what's really happening? Are we electing to use the awful, horrifying word war so that we don't have to admit that we're really just invading powerless foes to act out our aggression on helpless states? Are we willing--are we psychologically compelled--to use the word war to avoid acknowledging that we're really empire-building, defeating hapless foes in order to entrench our forces worldwide, to allow us to dominate the planet?

Just asking.

The power of incumbency

This article, unhappily headlined "President's Iraq Trip Reinforces Role as Leader,", makes the points I make in previous posts, and points up the frustrating impact of incumbency on those who are opposing the officeholder.

I admit it. My posts were reactive, angry that his trip was such a well-presented political ploy: quick, perfectly timed, with super effect. It drives me crazy. I guess my only solace is that Clinton must have driven his opposition nuts too. But it still stings.

Howver, the voters have short memories, and there's almost a year before the election. Meanwhile our troops keep dying, and that doesn't require memory, just conscience.

Name That War

Check out Name That War at the NY Times ... it's pretty interesting, what some folks came up with.

Friday, November 28, 2003

"A long, hard slog"

The words that Ubermensch Rumsfeld used to describe America's occupation of Iraq apply equally to the task that lies ahead to defeat Bush's reelection. He's got the money, the media (see below) and the ability to control events, such as his cutesy Thanksgiving sojourn to Iraq and, as I noted in an earlier post, the likely announcement of some major development about Iraq--probably our "handing over of power"--just before the election.

I happened to watch NBC's Nightly News report of Bush's Thanksgiving fiasco last night. (I don't have a TV and so rarely see television news, and haven't seen a major-network telecast for months.) I was astounded by the coverage. Bush's visit--video of him chowing down with the troops, ladling out gravy in the cafeteria line and so forth--was the lead story, of course. This was followed by a separate piece about how dangerous the trip was and how secret, likening it to Ike's trip to Korea and Johnson's trips to Viet Nam (neither of which was secret; and not mentioning Clinton's trip to Kosovo, which seems more relevant), and how morale-boosting his arrival was for the troops.
The NBC coverage was slatheringly sweet--an advertisement, not a report--and baldly obeisant. Not a critical word: Nothing about how different this security-fraught visit was from what we'd been led to expect about our success in Iraq, nor a whisper about its obvious political purpose.
And that's not all. The Nightly News closed its half-hour "newscast" with yet a third piece about the trip, this with snippets of Bush's speech to the troops, which BTW was greeted with only mild applause, even though Bush waited often for cheers that didn't come.
On top of this, of course, is Google News listings of press accounts of the trip, in the thousands!

So, how can the opposition defeat such a juggernaut? I have ideas, that I will share in later posts. But all of them require a long, hard slog.

(Not all accounts of the trip were uncritical and naive. For reports from newspapers in the Middle East, go here. Tickler: Islam Online labels the trip a "PR stunt.")

Thursday, November 27, 2003

They're onto Bush in Baghdad. Why not in America?

The plans of Tribune Bremer to pass "authority" over to the Iraqis by June 1, 2004, have hit a snag. Seems that a powerful Shiite cleric believes the people who draw up the constitution must be elected--not a series of appointed bodies--and this may delay the process.

Bremer and others are trying to work out some program that will satisfy the cleric, and the Iraqis know why Bush is in such a hurry to complete the power transfer by June 1. According to the NYT, Ahmad Chalabi, a savvy Iraqi Governing Council member, said: "The whole thing was set up so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on." American officials deny that electoral concerns played a role in their planning.

A poll koan

The Globe & Mail conducted an online poll recently, in which the question was: "Do you participate in online polls?"

Results: 81% Yes. 19% no (?!)

Hail, the conquering hero

Seven months after landing in a jet fighter on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln, with (literally) fanfare and banners flying, our fearless leader has visited the troops who fought the mission that he proclaimed was accomplished.

No fanfare, no banners this time. A night-shrouded, secret flight into an airbase outside of Baghdad for a quick meal, and a flight out two hours later. Too dangerous to announce the trip. The mission, it seems, is not quite accomplished after all.

But this much I grant the president. He's consistent. He's still a media-manipulating coward.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Early warning signs

Here's the deal. Certain regional groups (how selected, how administered?) will choose representatives (how will they choose, how many will they choose?) to meet and then choose (how, when?) a body that will have power (how determined, how administered?) to decide (by what vote, by what form of ballot?) to draft a constitution (of what import?) that will then be submitted (by what means, with what amending or reviewing power?) to the public (of what composition?) for ratification (by what percentage, how determined?), which will then (when--and if not ratified, then what?) be the governing instrument in Iraq.

And what if, at the onset of this process, leading forces of the majority Shiites opposes its cant and emphasis?

Ah--Somebody's finally catching on.

Of course it's the French. For those of you who read their language, go here. For the rest of you (including me), here is a translation.

The final paragraphs are too telling to summarize. Read them and weep for us.

"...the [NeoCon's] demonization of al-Qaeda is very practical. A superb media invention, a security haute couture label, a consensual poster for the bounty-hunters of another age, a crude, but effective, propaganda: if al-Qaeda didn't exist, it would have to be invented.

"Since September 11, 2001 the al-Qaeda label has surreptitiously slid from designating a criminal band with Bin Laden at their head, to specifying a high-tech organization, to finally qualifying as a planetary network: al-Qaeda has "CNNized" itself, like the al-Jezira channel which serves its communications. Al-Qaeda is everywhere, therefore, nowhere. Just as the hidden Imam, Bin Laden, simultaneously dead and alive, is behind every unexplained bomb explosion. Fortunately, his organization is there to give sense to all the world's disorders.

"The phantasm of a planetary, pyramidal al-Qaeda, that of a new orchestration or of an International similar in all respects to Comintern's, is in the process of justifying the biggest American military-strategic redeployment effected since the end of the Second World War. The endless war against terror has replaced the war against the Communist monster. Consequently, it's not surprising to see old U.S.S.R. experts redeploying their old scholasticism on the pretext of an Islamist violence about which they know nothing, applying anachronistic Kremlinology schemas to it. These American neo-conservative ideological go-betweens stand guard on the old continent. For the American Empire, it's important that the al-Qaeda mythology persist. To survive, the empire needs an enemy to its measure and to make war on: endless war."

The docile media

I've read hundreds of articles, of which this is representative, haranguing the US media--press and television, but television with particular vitriol--for failing to report items that are unsupportive of the Administration's position on the Iraq invasion and aftermath. From the President's failure to attend funerals of soldiers, to the nonreportage of deaths and woundeds in Iraq, to the failure of the reconstruction efforts--including graft and unfairness in the bidding process, to the complaints by Iraqi police about their inferior equipment, to name just a few recent items that have been given no play by the mainstream media.

Equally mystifying to me is that I haven't heard from the spokespersons of the major media (putting Fox aside, because they are beyond the pale of this discussion) a single word of justification for their miserable reporting, a single defense or rebuttal. Has Brokaw, Rather or Jennings said anything, addressed these complaints at all? If so, I missed it.

If anyone has a citation to such an occasion I'd like to know of it.

Wait a goldarned minute!

We've run out of money to pay Iraqi contractors for their reconstruction efforts?

Where'd it all go?

Does this bother anyone?

This article reciting the US Army's arrest of the wife and daughter of a former Saddam Hussein official, "in an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender" strike me as odd. Not the tactic itself--it comes straight out of the Gestapo handbook--but the blandness with which it is reported.

What are we becoming?

Monday, November 24, 2003


This website presents some great animations, as well as a Real Player recast of Wesley Clark taking on Fox News, head-to-head. Well done, General.

Mass firing of teachers?

This UPI report says that the Provisional Authority, with Bremer's concurrence, has fired 28,000 teachers in Iraq. Seems they were Baathists, which was a condition of gaining public school teaching positions under Saddam Hussein's regime.

So, who's teaching the kids, Wahhabis?

Sunday, November 23, 2003


So Japan is considering sending some materiel to Iraq, but not troops. Seems there's a snag. As reported by AP, the newly-reelected PM "Koizumi won approval from Parliament in July to send Japanese ground troops to help with reconstruction and other non-combat duties. But the legislation specifies they can only serve in "non-combat areas" — which the prime minister's political opponents say don't exist in Iraq."

Ode to our soldiers

The Favorite Poem Project that Kyle turned me onto includes a poem by Wilfred Owen entitled "Dulce et Decorum Est." It can be found here, and I recommend watching the video of the woman who recites it. (Click on her image.)

I wonder if Bush, Rumsfeld and the NeoCons have read it. Certainly not recently.

"Major combat operations"

Recall the flap some months ago about Bush's announcement from the flight deck of the carrrier Abraham Lincoln that "major combat operations" in Iraq were concluded? The White House, after combat continued, even amended its website to add the word "major" to a headline.

Well, even as amended, Bush's announcement was/is bullshit, because as of today, the number of military deaths during the month of November for both US soldiers (74) and total number of deaths (95) exceeds the death toll during any previous month, including March, April or May, at the height of the war. And November isn't nearly over.

Bring 'em on?

F.B.I. Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies

Are you feeling in the mood to get out and exercise your First Amendment rights and fulfill the moral imperative of informed dissent and skeptical scrutiny of leadership? Well, you have my support but be forewarned: Big Brother lives. They're making a list at the FBI, checking it twice ... no, sorry, wrong autocrat.

Come to think of it, doesn't Santa know a little more about us than due process should allow? He knows where we live, whether we've been naughty or nice, and what we want for Christmas....

Hey Erik, whataya say we slap a class action suit on that suspiciously jolly guy. Invasion of privacy, trespass, product defect, racketeering, mail fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress. I'm just getting warmed up. Of course, I've got no problems with him, but there must be a billion kids out there who've been royally hosed over the years. Contingency OK?

New York Times article