Body and Soul

Thoughts on the body politic, the human soul, Billie Holiday songs (and other people's) -- with a lot more questions than answers

Monday, March 31, 2003

Mama and Papa Hitchens have some strange children.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden has an important (and creepy) addition to the moderation vs. extremism debate -- which Kevin Drum returns to.

The front page of today's Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on Salam Pax.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

More good stuff on the sidebar links

Mac-a-ro-nies

A Moveable Beast

Best of the Blogs

That Said

Testify!

Kerim's News Weblog

The Bloviator

Le Prêtre Noir

The Mahablog

I have enormous respect for Kevin Drum. I learn things from him all the time. But his sense of what constitutes the "center" is downright claustrophobic. I may just start a collection to get him out of Orange County.

I don't need to refute what Kevin said about liberal "extremism." Atrios already did it, and did it well. But, in addition to the flaws in the argument that Atrios identifies, I couldn't help but notice what a good example the post is of what Barry at Alas recently called "the white guy's fallacy." A quote: "Remember Adrien Brody's reaction when he won his Academy Award on Sunday? Everyone loved it — it showed genuine warmth and spontaneity."

Well, obviously not "everyone," because Kevin goes on to quote a killjoy who "was not amused." And I'm with Killjoy. Politics and feminism have little to do with it. Kevin and I simply saw very different moments. Where he saw "warmth and spontaneity," I saw calculation. I might have seen a spontaneous burst of joy if he had bear-hugged her, but that graceful, Fred and Ginger dip looked to me like someone who had figured out ahead of time how to be the front page photo in the LA Times' Calendar section the next day (which, in fact, he was). I thought he was using Halle Berry to show off and advance his career, and while that may not be unusual in Hollywood, it's still rude and ugly.

And Kevin's suggestion that it was okay because Halle Berry was recently a Bond girl is just plain offensive. I don't care if she spends her life dancing naked with poles, it doesn't give anyone the right to maul her if she doesn't want to be mauled.

When the kiss ended, I was doing something that probably very few men were doing -- looking at Halle Berry's face. I was very curious about what her reaction would be. To me she looked embarassed. But smiling. She looked confused at the stupid line about that being part of her "gift basket." During Brody's speech, the camera moved back to her a few times, and she still had that deer in the headlights look. I didn't hear most of Brody's speech, because I was too busy looking at Halle Berry and feeling embarassed for her.

It's a look, an embarassment, I think most women know from the inside, because we've all been in positions where men have said something or done something that makes us feel like a piece of meat, but we just stand there and smile because we know we'd look foolish (or put our jobs in danger), if we said anything. "Everyone" thinks it's funny after all. For some odd reason, "everyone" doesn't always include us.

It's certainly possible that I'm over-reading Halle Berry's expression based on my own experiences. It's equally possible, though, that Kevin missed it because he's never been treated like that. The difference is, I don't assume "everybody" shares my sense of what happened. I know my experience and perceptions aren't universal. I just don't understand why so many nice, intelligent middle-class white guys assume theirs are.

UPDATE: Mac Diva also has an interesting response to Kevin's post.

UPDATE 2: More from Alas and Pandagon.

UPDATE 3: And a very thoughtful and intelligent essay on the need for both moderates and "extremists" (a word I increasingly dislike, but I'll come back to that some other time) by Sam over at Pedantry.

Ha!

A few notes on media coverage of the war
  • The Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post both ran interesting articles this week looking at what news reports in various parts of the world cover, and what they miss. Americans are seeing very little coverage of civilian deaths in Iraq, or of antiwar protests raging in the Muslim world -- which are prominent on television in the rest of the world. American reporters also aren't asking the kind of skeptical question European reporters are. The Post article notes that both American and Arab media are playing to local biases, but its emphasis is on Arab bias, and our failure to get our point of view across to the Arab world (apparently that Americans are also getting a distorted and sanitized view of the war is less important to the Post.)

  • The New York Times notes that Donald Rumsfeld's strategy of embedding reporters to create empathy between the press and the military has produced coverage "so positive as to verge on celebratory." Reliance of official government sources has led to some embarassing mistakes. The Guardian is keeping track.

  • CNN reports that Bush thinks the press is too skeptical, not celebratory enough -- and he's getting ticked off about it. Picking up the ball, conservatives are already suggesting that the problem isn't the setbacks in the war, the problem is the unpatriotic media that reports them.

  • British journalist Terry Lloyd was killed near Basra. A cameraman with Lloyd's team said they were fired on by British tanks after they were approached by a group of Iraqi soldiers who were attempting to surrender.

  • The "best newsman in Afghanistan" was, until recently, reporting for the Christian Science Monitor in Iraq. Last week, U.S. Marines escorted him out of Iraq after the Pentagon accused him of revealing too much information in an interview. The CSM insists that the information was already available in maps and in US and British radio, newspaper, and television reports.

  • According to Ha'aretz, two Israeli journalists and a Portuguese colleague were picked up by U.S. troops, accused of espionage, and beaten.

  • The Defense Department has agreed to allow Reporters Without Borders to send a representative to a battalion operating in Iraq to check on how journalists are being treated.

  • Ironically, there's an interesting article in this week's Village Voice by Sydney Schanberg on the "itch" that makes reporters want to cover war. The irony lies in how little you see, in today's coverage, of the factors that drove Schanberg in southeast Asia in the '70s:

    This may sound corny, even naive, but a reporter can come honestly to believe in the importance of delivering the full face of war—families decimated, bent refugees walking in endless streams, children orphaned, uplifting acts of honor and friendship, unspeakable acts of cruelty and depravity, bravery, betrayal, human lives saved by Samaritans, human beings lying in pieces from explosive projectiles. People should have to look upon all of that.

    If ours is truly a democracy, the people should be told and shown—even if they wish to turn their eyes away—exactly what is being waged in their name. No sugarcoating. No sanitizing. Just a faithful picture of the wild convulsion that is war.


    Not corny at all. Just, unfortunately, becoming rarer by the minute.

Friday, March 28, 2003

God, I am grateful for Anne Lamott:

I am going to pray for George Bush's heart to change, so that he begins to want to be a part of the human family. He really doesn't want to gather at the table with God's other children, because he might have to sit with someone he hates. Iraqi soldiers, or someone like me. I really, really know this feeling. It is something he and I have in common. But I don't think Bush believes that all people deserve to be fed, and I do. Pretty much. He believes in serving the poor, if they are the deserving poor. But I am going to pray for him to be OK today, to feel loved, and to be fed, because I think that if you want to change the way you feel about someone, you have to change the way you treat them. I'm going to try to treat him better. Maybe I will send him a little something; socks perhaps, or felt pens. Or balloons. He's family. I hate this, because he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman. To me, his policies deal death and destruction, and maybe I can't exactly forgive him right now, in the classical sense, of canceling my resentment and judgment. But I can at least acknowledge that he gets to eat, too. I would not let him starve, and I will sit next to him, although it will be a little like that old Woody Allen line that someday, the lion shall lie down with the lamb, although the lamb is not going to get any sleep. That's the best I can do right now. Maybe at some point, later, briefly, I will feel a flicker of something more. Let me get back to you on this. (READ THE WHOLE THING)

I assure you, there's nothing in this blog today as worth reading as...

Daily Kos has been down all day. This is worse than not being able to get coffee in the morning. I'm having withdrawal symptoms. I need my news fix from someone who knows what he's talking about!

UPDATE: Hooray! He's back!

Hmmm....Jim Capozzola, who has one of the best blogs around, is getting somewhat serious about running for Senate and Gary Hart, who might run for president, is get somewhat serious about blogging. Do you realize this country could end up in the hands of intelligent, even literate, people? What a concept!

The Coalition of the...hey, how did I end up on that list?
Slovenia? Nope. Solomon Islands? Nope. I almost feel sorry for an administration that's so desperate for friends it has to invent them.

Something is missing from John Burns' New York Times article on the "explosions" that struck a market in the Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad, killing -- according to the NYT, the numbers elsewhere vary -- 17 civilians. It's not that I think Burns' facts are wrong. Obviously, I have no way of knowing. The details are slightly different from one news source to another, but the basic story is the same: On Wednesday, two explosions -- the Times was the only newspaper I looked at that nursed any serious doubt that they were American bombs -- struck a working-class neighborhood in Baghdad, and killed somewhere between 14 and 20 people.

"Killed" is the antiseptic way of putting it. You could phrase it differently:

From the Washinton Post:

Ali Abdel-Jabbar watched helplessly as his friend, Mohammed Abdel-Sattar, lay on the ground, his legs torn off. He lived. Across the street was the severed hand of Samad Rabai, tossed gracelessly in a pool of blood and mud. He died.


From the Los Angeles Times:

She said she had witnessed the burnt corpses and strewn body parts, the missile craters, the twisted automobiles and the vacant faces of dozens of people who had lost loved ones or were left homeless by the twin blasts. It was, she said, the worst thing she had ever seen.

"It is like Judgment Day," she said.


From the Guardian

Two men from the district, Tahir, 26, and Sarmat, 21, were idling away the day in a small shop that sells water heaters. In an instant the shop gave way, swallowing up the two men.

The sideways force of the blast spewed chunks of masonry and body parts across a six-lane highway. Sizzling chunks of shrapnel tore through plaster facades, leaving pockmarks on the interior wall. Brick shop fronts collapsed, amid cascades of glass that extended for 200 metres. Two cars hurtled in the air, landing on their sides.

The lethal impact of the blast was augmented by cruel circumstance. Several witnesses said an oil tanker had been parked in the area moments before the bombing. Five cars along a slip road were carbonised, and flames licked the first-floor windows of buildings.

One of the burnt-out cars had contained a family with three children, said Hisham Madloul, picking his way through the bloodstains and debris in flip-flops.

"There were three families in the building upstairs and many children," he said.


From the Times of London

There were burnt out shells of five cars on the road. Witnesses said that a mother and child were in one of the cars.


From the Independent

At least 15 cars burst into flames, burning many of their occupants to death. Several men tore desperately at the doors of another flame-shrouded car in the centre of the street that had been flipped upside down by the same missile. They were forced to watch helplessly as the woman and her three children inside were cremated alive in front of them. The second missile hit neatly on the eastbound carriageway, sending shards of metal into three men standing outside a concrete apartment block with the words, "This is God's possession" written in marble on the outside wall.

The building's manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the massive explosion. "I found Ta'ar in pieces over there," he told me. His head was blown off. "That's his hand." A group of young men and a woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film, was Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same instant. His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and grey mess behind a burnt car.


What's wrong with John Burns' narration begins to be apparent in the first paragraph:

Two large explosions that detonated simultaneously in a working-class district of Baghdad this morning, killing 17 civilians and wounding 45, set off a scramble by Iraq to blame the United States for indiscriminate bombing, and prompted a suggestion from the Pentagon that the Iraqis themselves might have been responsible.


There's nothing wrong with Burns' skepticism -- although it seems extreme, and no one else seems to share it. The Washington Post comes closest, noting that the Pentagon denied responsibility, but also reporting that US military officials in Qatar admitted that they were targeting the neighborhood and fired weapons at the time of the bombing. The Times of London, in a separate article on the Pentagon's reaction, points up the contradictions.

But the problem isn't just that Burns is the only reporter to buy so completely into the Pentagon's -- let's face it -- somewhat tortured explanations. The really disturbing thing is the emphasis he gives those explanations. In the first paragraph, after barely telling us what happened, he immediately mentions the Pentagon's theory that the Iraqis themselves could have done it, a charge he repeats in the second paragraph. In the next paragraph, he goes on to write about how the Iraqis are exploiting the deaths, with "lurid coverage" on TV (who would have guessed that the Iraqis were watching Fox News and taking notes?), and rallies by "local party bosses." Eight paragraphs in, he returns to the Pentagon denials.

We're eleven paragraphs into the story before he begins to share any details about what happened, and then wraps the details in a caveat: "witnesses who remembered anything very clearly about the moment of detonation were few, and hard to find."

Odd. Other reporters didn't have a hard time finding witnesses.

Even when Burns writes about the horrible details, he seems to think that it would be unprofessional, or perhaps unpatriotic, to have a normal human reaction to the carnage. He can't tell you about the severed hand, or the "fragments of human remains, including brain tissue" without pointing out that "officials" were there to make sure reporters noticed everything. He ties himself in a strange emotional knot: Bad people want me to care about this, so therefore I won't care too much about it.

Anybody in America paying attention over the past eighteen months knows that politicians are going to exploit tragedy. If it happens in Washington, it will happen in Baghdad. That's worth commenting on. At another time, it may be worth dwelling on. But it isn't -- or shouldn't be -- the main story.

Imagine reading a newspaper on September 12, 2001, and havng to comb through paragraph after paragraph of statements politicians made about a horrible mass murder that took place a day earlier, before finally, halfway through the story, finding out exactly what happened. The idea of structuring the story that way is obscene, as if the fact that thousands of people died were less important than what use politicians made of those deaths. Human priorities were not hard to sort out on September 12. When people die like that, the only thing to do at first is grieve. The only thing to do second is celebrate their lives. Anything else is an abomination. When a few clueless leftists spoke -- even weeks afterwards -- of understanding "root causes," they were, and deserved to be, castigated. To every thing there is a season, and the season of understanding can not follow too hard upon the season of grief.

We understood that when Americans died. We need to understand that the same thing is true when Iraqis die.

There is, as I said, something missing from the way the New York Times covered the story of more than a dozen deaths in a marketplace in Baghdad. What's missing is the basic human understanding that death matters, and human beings deserved to be mourned. John Burns buries the story in context and rationalizations designed to make us care less about people who died. Skepticism is a wonderful quality in a reporter, but Burns goes beyond that, to a cynicism that robs us of normal human reactions -- reactions we need if we're going to hang on to our humanity. It diminishes the people who died. It dehumanizes readers. War does that all by itself. We don't need one of the best newspapers in the country to help the process along.

"Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamned amusement park!" -- Howard Beale

This is discouraging. A consulting company that advises television news directors on everything from set design to hiring to story selection -- their claim to fame is developing the smiley face "Action News" format that began homogenizing local news in the '70s -- is currently sharing with their clients the result of a survey in which viewers said that the last thing they want to see right now is anti-war protests. Not that you should refuse to cover protests, the company is telling news directors. You have an obligation to tell both sides of the story, and all that old-fashioned, Edward R. What's-his-name crap. But since nobody wants to see that stuff, you can bury it late in the newscast, and minimize the amount of time you devote to it. Wouldn't want viewers to get bored now, would we?

Almost half of all Americans turn to cable news as their first source of information about the war. Only 11 percent look at something other than television.

UPDATE: (Via Atrios) Drastically limiting the amount of time you devote to anti-war protests is one way to pass yourself off as a legitimate news source, while still entertaining the audience. Fox found another way. What's next -- Pop-Up News?

UPDATE 2: For Broadcast Media, Patriotism Pays; Consultants Tell Radio, TV Clients That Protest Coverage Drives Off Viewers

Thursday, March 27, 2003

"The United States behaves like a salesman with a fantastic product who tries to force people to buy it at gunpoint. If democracy is to flourish elsewhere, we have to keep our hands off." -- Emma

Go read the whole thing -- it's very good. As is the post below it on "political English."

If you're old enough to remember Vietnam, this is an ominous headline that dredges up horrible memories.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

I've turned off the tv for the duration of this war, because I have an 8-year-old in the house, and I really don't know how to explain any of this to her. I could come up with an explanation for why my country is dropping bombs on people, but it wouldn't be one I believed, and I'm not going to lie to someone who trusts me as much as she does. I can't believe anything my government is telling me right now. For some reason that makes it more important that my children know they can trust what I tell them. I need a little island where the truth exists, just so I can prove to myself that the truth exists.

But there are truths you can't tell an 8-year-old.

I've just about stopped reading newspapers, except for random bits and pieces here and there that catch my attention, because I can't make sense of the news. It makes me feel helpless, and I know that trying to figure out what's going on during a war is insane. Just assume everyone is lying is intelligent advice, but not good for the soul.

Some scattered thoughts and stories, some weird, overlapping mix of the personal and the political elbow each other in my head:

I know something about thugs. My father drank and gambled away money for food and rent. He knocked my mother's teeth out and left her bruised more times than I can begin to count. We ran away, and he caught up with us. We ran away again, and then my mother let her crazy, Irish, offer-it-up religion shame her into going back. Again and again, for thirteen insane years. Once, when I was about twelve and disagreed with my father about something -- a war, as a matter of fact, a horrible, stupid war -- he grabbed my hair in the back and slammed my forehead into a wall. Over and over, until I nearly passed out. In my mind, there are no firm boundaries between personal and political violence.

My father fought in World War II and brought home medals, a sense of righteousness, and a belief in brute force. The "good war." He brought it home, but it was not good.

When I was thirteen, he left. I have a very vivid memory of that night. My mother was at work. I watched him pack. He was drunk, crying, and I felt sorry for him. He kept telling me how everyone loved his father, and he wished he was like him, but he couldn't be. And then he started screaming that he could have been a better father if he just had a daughter who was worth something. He grabbed my face in one big hand and said that if anybody asked me how come I didn't have a father, I better tell them it was because I didn't deserve one. I couldn't figure out if he was angry or sad, and not knowing scared me more than anything. I locked myself in the bathroom for awhile, and when I came out, the apartment was silent. I remember going from room to room, doing something very weird -- looking in the closet and under the bed and in hidden corners, even in the narrow space beside the refrigerator where my mother kept the broom, not trusting that he was gone, terrified that he would leap out at me. And then, when I believed he was gone, and I was safe, I started to cry, because I had made his life so miserable, and now that he was gone -- and somehow I knew that time it was for good -- I had no way to make it better.

I haven't seen him since. A few years ago, out of curiosity, I checked his name on a social security website and discovered that he died about ten years ago. Over the course of several days, I went back and looked at that information quite a few times, half expecting it to change. But finally it sank in, and I sat at the computer with a great wave of relief washing over me, a sense of safety I don't think I've ever experienced in my life. And then I started to cry in big gulping gasps. And for the life of me, I can't explain why.

And all of that enormously over-simplifies the emotions I have when it comes to my brutal father and his longing for a decent child.

Human emotions are enormously complicated. Everyone knows that about herself. Everyone sees that in her friends and family. Why don't we carry that knowledge into our reading of the news? Why, when we read about people in other countries, do we expect them to be less complex, less human than we are?

There's an article in the New York Times today about Iraqi refugees, who despised Saddam Hussein, and fled to Jordan, now returning to fight against the United States. Another, in The Guardian, reports Iraqis returning from Syria. Thousands of Iraqis have returned in the last ten days. I think I know how they feel. Well, "know" is probably the wrong word for that sticky web of thought and feeling. Let's say I think I've felt something similar to what they feel.

From the first time I heard the neoconservative dream that Iraqis would refuse to fight for Saddam and welcome American "liberators" with open arms, it seemed to me not only highly unlikely, but dehumanizing as well. As if oppressed people don't have the same mixed-up emotions that the rest of us have. As if complex inner lives were unique to technologically advanced societies. We want to believe that there's a small number of bad Iraqis who fight for Saddam, and an enormous number of good ones who are on our side, or will be as soon as they can break free enough to express their true emotions. After all, we're good, right? How could they fail to see that?

While I'm sure there are some people who fall into those neat categories, I expect most Iraqis don't know what side to be on right now. And that confusion really shouldn't be hard for any human being to understand. Oppressor or invader -- there aren't any good choices.

Shaping expectations of people to suit your desires -- assuming people will act the way it would be convenient for you if they acted -- seems to me one more way we refuse to see people we want to make war on as human beings with faces and emotions and lives.

Liberal Oasis has an important post up on the complexities of the situation in Basra.

UPDATE: And the Independent explains why the collapse of the water supply is potentially so disastrous.

Lynn Gazis-Sax, who spent some time working with peace groups in the former Yugoslavia in the early nineties, has an interesting post up on something I've wanted to know more about for some time: the role of non-violent resistance movements in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. Her notes on how outsiders can help support such movements -- and, unfortunately, sometimes do unintentional damage to them -- are especially worth reading.

Lynn links to her husband's blog, which, I just discovered, is full of wonderful insights and passionate writing. Pax Nortona joins the blogroll.

The Red Queen Goes To War
In less than a week, the percentage of Americans who think the war will be over quickly dropped from 62 to 43 percent. In a single day, the percentage who thought the war was going "very well" dropped from 44 to 32 percent. Over the weekend, the percentage who thought the war would be over within weeks dropped from 53 to 34 percent. That's not a change in public opinion, it's whiplash. Seventy percent of Americans still think we didn't make a mistake invading Iraq. Well, they tell pollsters they believe that, anyway. I'd love to see the expression on the face of someone saying, this war is going much worse than I expected, but no, it's not a mistake. Sure, it's possible to hold both beliefs, but it has to have an internal cost. Given the emotional conflicts inherent in the responses, it sounds an awful lot like trying to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

The administration is doing its best to help the Red Queens believe the impossible. Who? Me? I didn't say anything about a short, easy war.

Liars.

UPDATE: Liberal Oasis has a good collection of before and after quotes about how the war is supposed to go.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Kip's mom started out taking photographs of her own children, and went on to take photographs of strangers. Go look at Tina Manley's photos of Iraqis. And when you see the pictures of smoke and fire on your television, hold these images in your head.

Remember last year when our friends in the government tried to slip a provision into the Homeland Security Bill protecting Eli Lilly from lawsuits by parents of autistic children? They pulled the provision out as soon as people started complaining, but it looks like the same crowd is assuming we're so busy paying attention to their war right now that we won't notice that they're trying to pull the same stunt all over again. No, actually this time it's even worse. MaryBeth at Wampum has all the details -- and what you can do about it. Make a phone call. Fight. Don't let them use the fog of war to reward contributors by stealing from sick children.

The Nation has an interesting feature up on its Website with dispatches from around the world reporting on reactions to the war. We've thought and written a lot about the war's effect on Iraq, and the ways in which it changes and endangers the United States, but already you can see more ripples in the world at large:

  • In Pakistan which, unlike Iraq, has nuclear weapons -- the US had to close its embassy and evacuate non-essential staff as street protests intensified.

  • In Egypt antiwar activists and demonstrators, including members of the Egyptian parliament, a local journalist who works as a stringer for the Los Angeles Times, and children as young as 15, were beaten by police, arrested, and in some cases, subjected to torture.

  • Iranians have been firing on British and American forces.

  • We forgot about Afghanistan again, and attacks are increasing.

  • Poland apparently sent troops to Iraq, but forget to tell its citizens.

The day the war started, I wrote in e-mails to several people that I thought there was a decent chance that the administration was right about one thing -- southern Iraq would fall easily, and there would be enormous joy in Basra. Life would be better. But two things haunted me. One was a suspicion that the press would record those initial encouraging pictures, and ignore what happens later. I didn't expect the occupation to be nearly as easy as the take-over. The other thing that bothered me was that humanitarian groups have been saying for months that not enough preparation had been made for what would happen if things didn't go according to plan. Even if things ran smoothly, brushing aside those concerns seemed morally negligent to me. You don't depend on luck and dreams when people's lives are at stake.

Things aren't going according to plan. They aren't going as well as I expected them to, let alone as well as Bush's crazier advisors expected them to. The power was cut in Basra, which means the main water treatment plant is not operating, which means most people in Basra have no access to clean water. I've seen several headlines about "thirsty" Iraqis, which infuriate me with how seriously they underplay the extent of the problem. The temperature in Basra at this time of year goes over 100 degrees. Dehydration is a real threat. Dysentery and cholera could break out if the situation goes on much longer. Moreover, Basra and the nearby port of Umm Qasr were supposed to be bases for distributing humanitarian aid throughout southern Iraq. The situation is a lot more serious than a few thirsty people.

There are two bits of encouraging news today -- one of them undeniably good, the other a mixed bag. First, the very good news. Yesterday, the Red Cross asked for security guarantees from both sides that would allow them to send engineers to repair the plant. Today they got it, and an ICRC engineering team is working on repairs.

The second piece of "good" news is that coalition forces have decided Basra is important. Yesterday, the attitude was: Things didn't work out the way we expected; oh well, on to Baghdad. Basra wasn't considered a military priority. Today the humanitarian crisis may have made it a priority. Or maybe not -- the British have sent mixed signals about whether they plan to try to enter Basra. There also are reports of a popular uprising in the city, with British troops firing in support.

With some luck, disaster might be avoided in Basra. But it strikes me that the situation there capture in miniature why this war is a mistake. We discount the potential for setbacks, and aren't prepared when they happen. We create a humanitarian crisis through neglect, until the only way to "solve" the problem is through violence -- and then we'll use that as proof that violence is the only solution. It's such a horrible, insane way to operate.

It must be nice to be smart...
When Eve Tushnet has "scattered thoughts," they're often more to the point than my most carefully considered ones. Scattered among her thoughts on the war is a discussion of the difficulty of building an internal and non-violent resistance movement to overthrow a totalitarian dictator. I have a feeling that's something I'm going to be writing more about, although I need to do some more reading and thinking, but one point that Eve makes I found especially insightful: "You can do it if you have a deep, positive vision driving you forward." Eve, quoting Jane Galt, cites the Catholicism of the Poles. Unfortunately, that intense Catholicism has a downside as well. (It sometimes seems to me that every positive vision has an twisted one squirming around inside it -- just wondering: is the opposite also true?).

For Eve, the difficulties and impediments demonstrate the impracticality of non-violent resistance. To me they're the seeds of further questions. What, in other instances, has provided that "deep, positive vision?" And how do you get there?

But even though I tend to approach the issue from a different angle, I think Eve's point remains valid and important, and I think it's true not just for overthrowing dictators, but for any continuing struggle. Opposition only takes you so far. When all you have is opposition, failures and setbacks turn into cynicism and passivity. Faith is a source of optimism for me, but how could anyone not be aware of its capacity to twist into something ugly, to comfort thugs, and give monsters reason to go on?

For me, it seems so obvious that what we're doing isn't working, that any thoughts about how something better "doesn't work because..." needs to lead instantly to, "Okay, how do we get past that because?"

Questions, always more and more questions....

Monday, March 24, 2003

Aid May Take Weeks To Get Into Iraq, Officials Say

Kevin (whose links Blogger is messing with) found "Empathy in Our Time," -- a pretty good reading of Bush's "advice" on how we should feel toward Iraqis. I probably would have thought it was funny if I hadn't seen it shortly after watching Victoria Clarke respond to a reporter's question about the humanitarian crisis developing in Basra, which is due to a power cut that has left the city without a source of clean water since Friday. (Nobody knows whether Allied bombing or the Iraqis caused the outage.) Clarke noted that aid was "poised at the borders," and ready to be brought to Basra as soon as the situation there is stable. The language was so noble. The welfare of the Iraqis is extremely important to us. We are doing everything we can. And anyway, the real problem is that the Iraqi army was doing something nobody expected them to do -- fight back. Apparently they didn't get the memo that said the Shiites would welcome us with open arms. (They are welcoming us with arms -- they just forgot the "open" part.) In other words, no matter what happens, it's not our fault. If the Iraqis would just give up, we wouldn't have these problems. Her argument was too close for comfort to this.

Halliburton isn't waiting until the war is over and the occupation has begun to make a profit on this war. They're already at work in Kuwait and Turkey.

The promised humanitarian aid is not reaching Iraq. The administration planned for everything going well, and now that things are not going as planned, NGOs can't get in to deliver needed food, water, medicine, hygiene kits and shelter materials. The water treatment plant in Basra has been non-functional since Friday because of power cuts. Another frustration -- reflecting a disagreement that's been brewing for a while -- is that the military is insisting that NGOs carry military badges instead of their own id cards, which independent humanitarian groups fear will tar them as an arm of the military, and endanger them, in addition to making it harder for the people they need to help to trust them.

Salam Pax is back.

When I started this blog, I intended it to be only slightly more public than the notebooks full of meandering thoughts, memories, story ideas, bits of overheard conversation, place descriptions, notes about telling moments and gestures, and so forth, that I'd kept for more than twenty years. My writing in those notebooks was becoming more and more political. I'd always glued newspaper articles into my journals, and written about them, but mostly, in the past, they were odd little pieces from the back of the paper, some of them weirdly comic, some tragic, and some a mixture of the two -- things that felt like story sources. I found myself, at the end of 2001, clipping more from the front pages, and trying to make sense of things that nothing in my faith, education, or experience helped me make sense of. And yet I felt that probing deeper into faith and memory -- not abstract knowledge of politics, or anything else -- was my key to understanding what was going on. A blog seemed like a decent way to do the same thing I was doing in journals without hunting for scissors, or getting glue and newsprint all over my fingers.

I knew that once I put it on the web, a few people would stumble across it and read it -- which I thought was funny; why would anyone want to read someone else's boring journal? -- but it certainly never occurred to me that on an average weekday close to 2,000 people would drop by. I still don't get it. I've always thought that I wrote horrible first drafts, and almost by definition a blog post is a first draft. And I have no special knowledge or insight that would redeem the awkwardness of quick writing. I wasn't in any way kidding, or being modest, when I wrote at the top of this blog that I had more questions than answers. An undeniable fact: I don't know what I'm talking about. I hope, through writing, to figure out what I'm trying to say.

An audience changes things. Knowing people are reading what I write, I feel obliged to write what I'm pretty certain of, what I'm comfortable saying. And sometimes that's fine. The good side of having a blog is that when I find a story buried that I think more people should know about, I have an opportunity to spread it around a bit. And when I feel like there's something I absolutely must say, something I'm sure of, I know someone's listening.

The down side is that the more certain I am of anything, the more likely I am to be wrong. Truths -- or at least the truths I'm privy to -- are quieter, less sure of themselves, and often wrapped in contradictions.

The other down side is that having an audience makes me somewhat hesitant to do what I started out doing -- rambling, playing with contradictory thoughts and facts, trying to deal with my own confusion and ignorance.

This war confuses me so much, knocks me over with so many emotions that I don't even have names for, that I really need the kind of semi-private journal this was originally intended to be so I can write stupid things, things I'm not sure of, things I'm not entirely comfortable saying. Because at the moment, I really have no answers at all.

Where is the anti-war movement going and where should it go? I don't know. I'm swirling in contradictory thoughts.

How is the war going? How would I know? I know I've gone from checking Kos once a day, to several times a day, because his obvious knowledge makes the news less crazy and chaotic. But I'm still lost in the sense that for me "How is the war going?" is an unanswerable question, not just because I don't know enough about military matters to judge, but because I can't imagine what a good outcome would look like. How well something is going depends on how close you are to achieving something you want to achieve. What I want is for everybody to come home safe and nobody to die. (But even putting aside the fact that there isn't the remotest possibility of that happening, I'm not sure it would be a good thing to turn back now anyway.) Or for the right-wingers' fantasies to come true, and the Iraqi army just folds, and everyone in Iraq views this as a liberation, not an invasion, and no one else dies. (And besides the fact that several stories in yesterday's news seem to confirm my sense that that was always a pipedream, even that would not be a blessing. A curse wrapped in a blessing, perhaps -- an easy victory, few deaths, and an encouragement to look for more such "easy" wars.) I think when this war started, something broke that can never be completely repaired.

I don't think there's much point in demonstrating against a war that you can't stop. This isn't Vietnam. It will be over relatively soon, and the important thing is to find a way to limit the damage, to put pressure on Bush not to abandon Iraq the way he abandoned Afghanistan, and to make sure that if he lets his corporate friends suck it dry, everyone knows about it. Move on, and plan ahead. I think that one day, and the next day I see some of these people and these people, on television, and feel the gloom lift momentarily, in a way that has nothing to do with anything practical, but is important nonetheless. They won't change Bush's mind, they won't stop the war, but they reminded me that I'm not alone, they made me feel encouraged about the long-term possibilities of stopping the change in this country from republic to empire, and they made me feel guilty for sitting there watching CNN while they were out there in the cold. And guilt is a great energizer. And I think a community was carved out of opposition to this war, and it's very important not to let that get away from us. And I think that demonstration fed the community more than my search for little scraps of redemption in the dirt.

What I really think is meandering around somewhere between those contradictory ideas.

Letters
I think demonstrating against this war is hugely important -- as important as it ever was. We knew it would probably happen. I was never protesting in the dream I would help prevent it. I pretty much knew it would happen. But with continued protest the chances increase of it ending more quickly (and yes, they should come home right this second) and protest also serves to help undermine a terrible and empire-minded administration.  It is, I would argue, much like Viet Nam, where people said it would be over quick; this isn't going to be over quick. The occupation promises to be long and brutal and full of death on both sides -- or all sides. 

The protests also serve to alert the compromised media to how people feel ( I still hope this march on the media can happen, but I don't know). And I think the horrid double standards about things like the Geneva Convention. (Why was showing the Taliban in custody alright but not US soldiers?  Oh, because the Taliban were terrorists? Something tells me the Iraqis think of the US as terrorists).  Protests are geared to all kinds of things, and to just feel like you have given up makes all the protests one has worked on kind of pointless. Men like Cheney and Rumsfeld and all the rest must be somehow made accountable, and if not, then at least I tried, and I feel better and more courageous for having made the effort. I also learn from the constant discussion and protest. I learn and refine my position and learn how to educate people, and maybe that will make a difference.  I am sick of this god damn 'support the troops' crap. How about supporting the veterans of the first Gulf War who still have nothing from the US government for their suffering, and let's support the people who resist and not only the robots who follow orders in an ugly and immoral and criminal war. Those who take the risk to refuse cooperation are the ones I care about.

I want to support the relief workers and those who fight for the rights of the poor and the forgotten. Not Tommy Franks' men, not the jingoistic FOX news lunatics or the lackies on CNN or the vetted press pool and the embedded quislings who are covering a censored war.  Where are questions about DU? Where are questions about Halliburton and where are questions about occupation and exactly who is going to run the oil fields again?

No, I think I want to keep protesting -- and again, it's not just going to be over quick.

I think you must know that. The repercussions will go on and on and on.

Onward....regards, JS


I think that if there were "register to vote" booths at all events, something useful and positive could come out of all the protests and marches. If there were some indication that these actions might actually effect Bush, he might pay attention. -- Matt Ball


I am responding to the confusion you expressed recently in your blog.  I am an amateur student of history (rather than an academic with a vested interest in the "conventional wisdom"), and I am not nearly so at a loss in this situation as you have expressed.  Here are some comments that will allow you to take a step back, maybe get a better perspective.

The most important battle field right now is not in Iraq, but in the UN Security Council in New York City. The US is going to be called to account for its illegal behavior.  The US government is going to be forced to make a decision: stay in the UN, and abide by the rules; or leave the UN, making it yet another "League of Nations".

An 80 year old man, who had spent most of his professional life working in the UN, said this was what the UN was all about, debating war rather than simply fighting.  He was proud to have lived to see this day.  He considered this to be a great success. Remember, when he was a young man, the League of Nations failed.

OK, so "Duct Tape W" is an ignorant religious fundamentalist who sees nothing wrong in violating international law and trashing the UN.  He is about to discover that this is a small planet, really like an island, and acting like a damn haole isn't going to work for very long. The only thing bigger than the US is the Rest Of the World (ROW), and right now the ROW is pretty united against the US.

What allows a dictator to become a dictator is everyone else going along.  Humans are social animals; they tend to go along.  We can let dictators use this tendency to establish dictatorships, or we can use this tendency ourselves by protesting, thus encouraging more people to protest, to NOT go along, to increase the cost of doing business.  We live in a profit-driven system, where the majority of the profits accrue to the people at the top, the people who advise governments.  If "business" doesn't happen, they suffer the loss disproportionately.  Protesting is far more effective than you think.

In 1968, LBJ had just raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for the war in Viet Nam, and anti-war and civil rights protests were increasing in the US.  Then the Tet Offensive demonstrated that the Vietnamese Nationalist forces were far from defeated.  The wealthiest Americans were not happy. LBJ did not run for re-election, even though he was entitled to. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated; Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and cities burned; the police had a riot during the Democratic Convention in Chicago.  The Establishment was losing it.  Eventually, the President had to resign in disgrace.

The US has been a world Empire since WWII.  Sooner or later that Empire will collapse.  The mechanism bringing about that collapse will be the foreign trade deficit (this is what destroyed the British Empire -- upon which the sun never set, they boasted). The cost of the foreign trade deficit is decided by foreign bankers, who set the interest rates upon the money they loan the US to pay for the excess foreign goods the US imports.  So, far, they have not wanted to raise interest rates because they wanted to encourage US consumption, and the foreign trade deficit has grown larger, making the US more dependent upon the foreign bankers.  When they "lose confidence" in the ability of the US to pay back the loans, interest rates will rise, and imports will become expensive. Think of $4.00 for a cup of black coffee, and $10.00 for a gallon of gasoline.  Sooner or later, it will happen.  Maybe sooner now. -- CV



Saturday, March 22, 2003

My heroes have always been cowboys
I've been meaning to add ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose to the blogroll, and I just got a great excuse to do so. Check out this salute to women bloggers, which is not only nice, but gives me a whole bunch of blogs I didn't know to check out.

And a note to George Bush: Real cowboys like women.

On BBC news last night, there was a mention of civilian casualties in Northern Iraq, including children, along with pictures that went by too fast to sink in. I'd had the tv on CNN (occasionally switching over to the networks) for several hours and never heard anyone mention them.

....................................

In a press conference yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld lectured reporters on why "shock and awe" is not comparable to the bombing of Dresden, because the weapons are so much more accurate than anything that could have been imagined during World War II, and every effort has been made to avoid civilian casualties. It must be the standard Secretary of Defense Gulf War speech -- Dick Cheney delivered it the last time. Nevertheless, I suspect it's mostly true. The US has nothing to gain, and everything to lose from massive civilian casualties. And destroying the infrastructure (the cause of a huge number of post-war civilian deaths in Gulf War I) would be foolish if you're planning to run the place after the war. Self-interest ought to make the Pentagon as careful as is humanly possible, even if compassion isn't kicking in.

I know, I know. I'm absurdly optimistic. I'm told there's no cure for it, either.

Although any more stories about errant cruise missiles landing in Iran might make me a little more mistrustful of Rumsfeld's ode to those nearly perfect weapons.

One small thing disturbed me, though. Rumsfeld repeatedly used the word "humane" to describe the campaign. On the left side of the tv screen, Donald Rumsfeld, his voice filled with uncharacteristic emotion, was speaking of the "humane" effort, and on the right side was Baghdad -- all fire and sparkling orange mushroom clouds. By the time this war is over, the word "humane" may no longer have any meaning.

....................................

There have been several worthwhile articles recently about civilians and war. The most level-headed is Michelle Goldberg's recent piece in Salon which comes to the sensible conclusion that it's impossible to come to a conclusion -- humanitarian groups take all the worst-case scenarios into account, most of which will not happen, while war advocates either assume everything will go perfectly (which is at least as unlikely as all the worst-case scenarios playing out), or assume it doesn't matter.

I can't accept, though, as Michelle Goldberg seems to, that those approaches are equally wrong. If you plan for the worst, you have nothing to answer for morally if things go better than expected. All you have is relief. On the other hand, if you risk people's lives without caring what the consequences are, or because you stupidly assume there will be no consequences, you have a great deal to answer for if things go wrong. In fact, I think even if luck holds and everything goes right, the lack of concern is, in and of itself, worthy of condemnation.

Also worth reading:
  • Sarah Sewall argues that while the Pentagon may have good intentions, they don't make every effort they could to study war's impact on civilians, mainly because they don't want to know. Knowing might force them to take steps they'd rather not take.

  • The New York Times deals intelligently with the "tough judgment calls" that are sometimes involved when weighing civilian lives against military needs. They muddy the waters a bit, though, by setting up a dichotomy that doesn't exist. On the one hand are evil leaders like Saddam, who deliberately put civilians in harm's way, making it impossible for the good leaders to bomb in good conscience, no matter how benevolent their intentions. On the other hand, there are good leaders who are faced with moral dilemmas like whether to destroy power grids that have both military and civilian uses.

    The US did just that during Gulf War I -- by bombing Iraq's power grid, we created food shortages, destroyed water-purification and sewage treatment systems, and disrupted medical care. The NYT notes that Human Rights Watch said the 1991 bombing violated the Geneva Conventions, but fails to mention that Pentagon officials admitted that what they described at the time as "collateral damage," was, in fact, a deliberate targeting of civilians. By destroying facilities that couldn't be repaired (because of sanctions), they hoped to increase the pressure on Saddam to disarm, or even to pressure Iraqis into rebellion. However noble the goal of getting Saddam out, specifically targeting civilians to accomplish that isn't a moral dilemma, it's a war crime.


Letters

Re: Dresden and Baghdad

No, no, this is nothing like, though not for the reason Rumsfeld said.

In Dresden, the Allied forces deliberately started a firestorm -- something that does not require nuclear weapons, though it is much more easily done with nuclear weapons.  I do not believe there is any intention to do that to Baghdad--it would serve no purpose, and I am sure most US generals would refuse to do such a thing.

Talk of Dresden is harmful to the credibility of peace advocates in the eyes of opponents with even a little bit of military or historical knowledge.  The risk to Iraqi civilians is not incineration but dehydration, disease, and perhaps starvation.  Which kill just as surely but with far less drama.  Again, I am sure our general staff intends to avoid such an outcome. But -- "no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy" and devastating accidents are a real risk.  War is, of all the tools of statecraft, the most unpredictable.  I can only wonder that it is the chosen instrument of our current governing coalition. They rule the wealthiest nation on earth, and the one with the most powerful military -- and this is what they come up with?  "This too is nothingness, a striving after wind."  But one need not ally oneself with the nothingness. -- Randolph Fritz


Thanks for the well-reasoned response. I haven't written much about "shock and awe," except to note that I'm shocked by the casualness with which seemingly sane people spoke of enormous violence (I was even more shocked by the threat to use nuclear weapons -- even if it wasn't a very serious threat, the threat alone breaks an important taboo.)

My understanding of military matters is virtually nil, but, like you, I have been concerned that setting up an expectation of enormous civilian casualties, especially direct casualties, was a trap for the anti-war movement. And I think it's a trap that's been deliberately set. We didn't dream up the "enormous casualties" scenario. The author of the plan referred to "shock and awe" as being like Hiroshima. Someone at the Pentagon said there wouldn't be a safe place in all of Baghdad. I know that's a psychological manipulation they're pulling on the Iraqis, but it's difficult not to take them at their word. I think human beings can be forgiven for finding that kind language disconcerting.

But they're already pulling the rug out from under anyone who was trusting enough to believe them. Bush says the war will be longer and harder than "some people" have suggested. As if the people who were recently making that suggestion were not Bush and his cronies. I guess in that case, it's their supporters they're undercutting, since the anti-war movement obviously hasn't been spreading the idea that it would be a "cakewalk." Although I've assumed that they were probably right that the first stage, the military stage, would be relatively easy -- barring unforeseen circumstances; as you say, war is always unpredictable. There will be joy and relief and parades for American and British liberators. And there will be resistance. Hope will meet betrayal. We're dealing with a psychologically complex situation here, and anyone who tells you he knows how Iraqis will react to being simultaneously liberated and invaded is lying. No one can predict the proportions of relief and anger. No one can make any reasonable predictions about this situation.

It's the second stage -- the stage where Iraq becomes the fifty-first state -- that I, and I think most people who oppose the war, have worried about most. That, and the possibility that it would drag on longer than expected, and the less dramatic deaths you (along with most aid groups) spoke of -- dehydration, disease, starvation -- became a factor. I think it's unconscionable that they haven't really prepared for that, even if the odds of it happening are, I hope, small. And I don't really believe they are small.

Rumsfeld berates reporters for making comparisons to Dresden and Hiroshima, as if those kinds of comparisons were not handed down months ago from the Pentagon itself. As I said, I've been wary of that for some time, but my frustration is not directed at the people who bought the lie and were outraged by its implications, but at the people who started the lie.

Best,

JD


Friday, March 21, 2003

My God, talk about gloating! In today's Guardian, Richard Perle is already exulting in victory -- not just over Saddam, but over the UN. In fact, it's hard not to notice that he seems happier about destroying the UN than about ending Saddam's brutal reign. Saddam is just a menace, the real evil is the "liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions." Let's not forget, Perle admonishes us, who held "moral authority" during Saddam's rule. (Please do forget, however -- Perle does not say, but must think -- who armed and encouraged him.) Apparently, we're all supposed to get in line behind the idea that the UN is responsible for Saddam's crimes.

As the Perle antidote, read Michael Kinsley. Kinsley's almost always good, but he's especially good when he's writing -- as he is in today's Washington Post (building on a theme from two weeks ago) -- about why process matters, and why formal constraints on power -- national and international -- are essential. Even if people are constantly pushing at the boundaries, or trying to slip around them, the existence of those boundaries is a good thing. We can't eliminate hypocrites, but if clear rules exist, we can at least shame them.

Maybe. There isn't a lot of shame in this administration. A great deal that is shameful, but no capacity to be ashamed. They'd like us to believe that the rules and constraints we think exist aren't really there at all. The Constitution is a pretty, but fragile little tchotchke -- something you might need to put out of sight until things calm down. International law does not exist unless a great power wants to invoke it. Moral standards apply to things like sex and drugs, not war and peace, not compassion. There are no standards, there is only power and expediency (but just for the hell of it, we'll call that morality). A person who believes that whatever he does is good, simply by virtue of the fact that he is the one doing it, is not shameable. He's made himself into a little god, and a god is never embarrassed.

Never mind. Tune them out. I've been thinking a lot lately about Dorothy Day's admonition to pay no attention to the trappings of the cold war: the bomb shelters, the scrambling under desks, the fear. She believed that ordinary people had a weapon against the powerful: our refusal to let them prepare us mentally for nuclear war, our refusal to accept the premise that it was survivable.

I started thinking about Dorothy during that silly moment when the administration was trying to get everyone focused on how to survive a terrorist attack. My first thought was that Dorothy would not have bought plastic sheeting and duct tape. My second was that when Bush and Ashcroft were still children -- hard as it is to imagine John Ashcroft ever having been a child -- she already understood how powerful people used fear as a means of control. My third -- after Americans virtually laughed duct tape out of existence -- was that Dorothy would have been proud of us. One of our finer moments, really.

But I think there's another mental game they're playing with us, in addition to the manipulation of fear. It is extremely important to them that we all buy the notion that might makes right, that power is all that matters. If you don't believe that, be prepared to be called naive, unpatriotic, perhaps even immoral. (I think the reasoning behind the immorality part is that unless you are willing to blow people up in support of your values, you clearly don't have any, or at least the aren't very important to you; your values are what you are willing to kill for -- but I'm probably not the best person to explain the reasoning of people whose highest value is power. Ask Richard Perle.)

Leaning on Dorothy's example, I'd say that anyone who reasserts that we have a Constitution and we plan to keep it, and that international law and global institutions may be weak, but they are meaningful, and could be -- must be -- made more so, and that, no, God is not on your side, it is you who have a duty to be on God's (and no, those are not the same thing.), anyone who affirms those things is making it harder to turn this country into a ruthless empire.

I got an e-mail from a lovely gentleman this morning telling me that the "damn liberals" have to learn one thing: "You have no control." Fighting back starts with not believing that. Fighting back starts with trying to figure out what Dorothy Day would have told him about how much control we really do have.

UPDATE: Lisa English polishes off Perle.

I assume this combination fell together accidentally, but it's interesting nonetheless.

The Washington Post, like a lot of newspapers on line, puts links to articles related to the one you're reading on the side. After reading this article -- Mexican President Says He Is Against War In Iraq -- at the bottom of the page, you come to a "related" series on "Mexican justice," or the lack of it.

I kept staring at the links, and then poking around, reading a few of the articles, wondering why someone at the WP thought the fact that the rule of law does not function particularly well in Mexico was relevant to the president's position on Iraq.

I'm sure I'm wondering about nothing (I tend to do that), and that the series happened to be what the Post had on hand about Mexico. Still, I couldn't help but think that if I supported this war, I might look at those articles and think, what right does the president of a country where they practice torture, throw children and poor people convicted of minor crimes into brutal jails, rarely investigate, let alone prosecute, rapes, and where burying a man alive can pass for justice -- what right does he have to suggest that what the United States is doing is wrong?

But I don't support the war, and I don't believe that a list of horrors that take place in a country tells me much of anything about the ethcial standards of the country, and so I just find it momentarily fascinating that first, the horrible stories I'm reading about Mexico look an awful lot like the stories I've been reading from the Muslim world the past two years (and which I've been told are unique to the Muslim world), and second, that I've moved rapidly from thinking about a war that is supposedly designed to bring democracy to a country, to a demonstration of how difficult democracy is to achieve.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

(Via Sisyphus)

The rich history of "supporting the troops" but not their orders

What's next? I'm still too numb to think about it. I'm hoping that all the best case scenarios come true, that "shock and awe" was a bluff, that the humanitarian groups were overly pessimistic. I'm praying for miracles. It can happen. I'm not praying that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Powell and Rice will grow consciences. Some things are so beyond the possibility of miracle, it would be presumptuous to ask for them.

Patrick, Tim, and Chris are thinking more clearly about the future than I am.

UPDATE: You know what I kind of fumbled around saying about how praying for some miracles seems presumptious? I said it really badly. If I had said it well it would have come out like this.

Nathan and Barry both have more thoughtful commentary on the death of Rachel Corrie. I also received two letters in response to my comments that I think should be heard:

March 18, 2003

Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine

Many of you will of heard varying accounts of the death of Rachel Corrie, maybe others will have heard nothing of it. Regardless, I was 10 metres away when it happened 2 days ago, and this is the way it went down.

Rachel Corrie, 23, Killed by Israeli Bulldozer

We'd been monitoring and occasionally obstructing the 2 bulldozers for about 2 hours when one of them turned toward a house we knew to be threatened with demolition.  Rachel knelt down in its way.  She was 10-20 metres in front of the bulldozer, clearly visible, the only object for many metres, directly in its view. The Israelis were in radio contact with a tank that had a profile view of the situation.  There is no way she could not have been seen by them in their elevated cabin.

They knew where she was, there is no doubt.

The bulldozer drove toward Rachel slowly, gathering earth in its scoop as it went. She knelt there, she did not move. The bulldozer reached her and she began to stand up, climbing onto the mound of earth. She appeared to be looking into the cockpit. The bulldozer continued to push Rachel, so she slipped down the mound of earth, turning as she went. Her faced showed she was panicking and it was clear she was in danger of being overwhelmed.  All the activists were screaming at the bulldozer to stop and gesturing to the crew about Rachel's presence. We were in clear view as Rachel had been, they continued.

They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time. Every second I believed they would stop but they never did.

I ran for an ambulance, she was gasping and her face was covered in blood from a gash cutting her face from lip to cheek. She was showing signs of brain hemorrhaging.  She died in the ambulance a few minutes later of massive internal injuries. She was a brilliant, bright and amazing person, immensely brave and committed.  She is gone and I cannot believe it.

The group here in Rafah has decided that we will stay here and continue to oppose human rights abuses as best we can.

Sincerely,

Tom

(Forwarded by John Steppling)



I have been reading your blog with much admiration and appreciation for the last few months.  It is what I believe blogs are supposed to be: a space for reflection, conversation, deep exchange, in short a place of education.  As a disheartened former university professor who has been on the front lines of the decline of thinking and learning, I'm especially grateful to find a place where that process I hold so dear is being nurtured.

So first, thank you.

Yesterday you wrote something that I felt I had to respond to, however:

"Barry wrote a second piece about the death of Rachel Corrie yesterday, this time about an issue that I think is terribly important. So many people have focused on the guilt or innocence of the driver whose bulldozer ran over her. But I don't think anyone really believes that the driver deliberately murdered a young woman. It was, almost surely, a horrible accident, and I'm sure the driver responsible is suffering enormously, and deserves more sympathy than blame."

I've italicized the sentence that prompts me to write to you.  It's actually very easy for me to believe that the driver deliberately murdered a young woman in that context. My ability to believe this does not come from some deeply -seated anti-Semitism or from a rabidly pro-Palestinian position.  You put into words part of why it is easy for me to believe this:
 
One of the saddest things about living in a militaristic society is the way its values feed some of the ugliest human instincts. You have to turn off something decent and caring inside yourself in order to go to war without going mad. That's true, I think, even for decent people fighting an unavoidable war. It is even more true of an illegal and unjustifiable war. A conscience just gets in a bully's way.

This post of yours so crystallized for me what's wrong and frightening about our contemporary situation.   When you commented on what a culture of militarism does to our values and how it gives space and license for the unimaginable in basically decent folks to be released, you've echoed one of the organizing principles of the anti-militarization movement.   It's that recognition that has frightened me about the move to the right in US society over the course of my adult life.  The escalation of that process post 9/11 is what has prompted me to seek solutions and sanity. 

It's a bad, hideous, frightening, dangerous component of current US culture.  From what I understand, however, in Israel that same movement is even more developed, it's sharper.  I would encourage you to explore the websites and work of various Israeli peace groups (many of which are women-led and feminist inspired) like New Profile, Women in Black and Coalition of Women for Peace who are vigilant in articulating and trying to counter the militarization of not only the culture and the society in Israel, but also the spirit.  Part of the contribution of the peace work that people like Rachel Corrie are engaging in, is to highlight the process and the consequences of the dehumanization of Palestinians by the IDF.  (We see a similar cultural process in the US when cases of Police shootings/beatings of young men of color are reported.  Remember Amidou Diallo and the acquittal of the officers who shot him?...)  After the incursions into the West Bank and the near destruction of the Jenin camp and Ramallah last April, one of the lesser publicized but incredibly telling details of the carnage left in the IDF wake, was for me, the descriptions of homes, schools, offices smeared with urine and feces, (the soldiers defecated on children's art work!).  That was a line that was crossed, a signal of something omnious.  I felt enormous foreboding as I read those details.  I feared, not only for Palestinians, but for our collective sanity and humanity.

That process of dehumanization and its consequences has increased exponentially in the current IDF incursions and Operations.  There are countless documentations of this, so I'll spare you that. It is, in fact, one of the reason so many reservists and young conscripts have refused to complete their military service in these Territories.  Not only are they refusing to do these things to fellow human beings, but they also refuse to become so dehumanized and desensitized themselves.  Rachel Corrie's death has to be understood in that context, I think.  If we begin to understand precisely those dangers of living in a militaristic society and how they work not only on the bodies and lives of marginalized people, but also on our own values and our consciousness, then its not so hard to believe that he may have deliberately killed her.  Not due to any kind of "inherent evil" but a specifically produced context of values and structure of feeling that makes killing her, if not the right thing to do, then an understandable thing to do. 

The vicious comments and even the satirical comments that she "had it coming" somehow, are also part of the production of that context and structure.  While I'm often torn, because I don't even want to grant them any attention, the degree to which they help to produce the very thing they are making fun of, I often feel the need to counter not so much the comments themselves, but that process.
 
One last thing -- I met Rachel Corrie's parents the other night.  I was at a vigil called in her memory before the Israeli Embassy here in Washington, DC and her parents came.  They spoke with every person who was at that vigil (at least 100 people) and accepted their condolences.  But they also thanked everyone, not just for coming and expressing sympathies, but for understanding why she died and what her work meant.  There are very few occasions in my life where I have witnessed such grace, courage and wisdom up close.  I will never accept a characterization that this young woman was naive, foolish, or did not understand what she was doing. After meeting her parents that's impossible to believe. It's very clear that she knew the risks, understood the need, and chose to act on a very informed basis.  That's not foolishness, it's courage.  Our military would call it making "the ultimate sacrifice". And I was able to thank her parents for the gift to all of us that their daughter's life was.

Warmest regards,

Lane Browning


Quote
Kip: "I know enough to know the struggle for peace isn’t over. It has just begun. Just barely begun. Embarking on a war, someone said somewhere at some point, is like entering a dark room; there’s no way of knowing what will come. So curse the darkness—repudiate it, spit in its face, drag your heels against the hands that pull you into it, curse it—but light a candle, too. (You can do both.) Light a candle. Speak out. Forgive us all our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, but write the fall of every bomb on your heart, and never forget: Never again. Swear it."

A plague on both their houses (and locusts, while you're at it)
Julia: "Saddam Hussein is hoping that the world is too concerned about innocent civilians to hold him to account. George Bush is hoping that America is too concerned about our soldiers to hold him to account."

Quote
"Imagine how it would feel if we could be on a path of increasing compassion, diminishing brutality, diminishing greed -- I think it might actually feel wonderful to be alive." -- Wallace Shawn

The whole thing is thoughtful, honest, despairing, inspiring and humane.

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I've gotten far more mail today than I normally get -- mostly from people just saying, "Thank you." For nothing. Just thank you for writing. I'm not sure why.

I apologize if I don't answer it all. There really are more letters than I can respond to, although believe me, I do appreciate them.

But reading all this very kind mail on an edgy and horrible day has me wondering. I wrote below about war bringing out some of the worst sides of people. But I wonder if maybe it brings out something good, too -- kind and generous instincts, some deep-down belief that through small, individual actions we can begin to heal the world. There seem to be an awful lot of people who've decided to be generous to someone (me) today.

Thank you, everybody. And you're welcome.

UPDATE: This really is "Be Kind To Jeanne" Day, isn't it? Thanks, Devra.

"If we take care of the means, we are bound to reach the end sooner or later." -- Mohandas Gandhi

My local newspaper crossed a line. Yesterday (or maybe it was the day before, I'm not sure, bits of news and information just seem to be tumbling over each other lately), they printed a letter from someone complaining about another letter, which had mentioned Iraqi children. Yesterday's writer was outraged by the mention of those children. They are a gun pointed right at us, she said. We need to kill them all before they get a chance to grow up and kill us.

They've printed nasty letters before, God knows. For several months at the end of 2001, I stopped looking at the letter page entirely, because there were so many graphic calls for vengeance -- a pornography of violence, painful to read. I also feel that no one should be held to account for anything they say when something so horrible happens that grief and fear and anger can't even be peeled apart. As far as I'm concerned, everybody gets a pass on anything stupid, mean, hateful, or bad in any other way, that they said in the last four months of 2001. Even Ann Coulter. (Okay, maybe not Ann Coulter -- fashioning your anger into a good career move is evil.) Some people are at their best during times of tragedy, but I think to demand that grieving, frightened, confused people be at their best is too much to ask. So the less I know about the stupid things people said, the better.

But this is different.

I'm not surprised that there are Americans who believe their safety lies in the deliberate murder of children. I spend too much time on the internet to be surprised by that. I am stunned that the newspaper in this gentle town would publish a letter demanding those murders. I wrote a letter complaining about it, but I doubt it will have any effect. (Well, not on the newspaper anyway. Writing it made me feel stronger, although I'm not sure that matters.) There's a deeper problem when even reasonable people don't immediately recognize that there are levels of hatred we can't put in a newspaper as if they were part of civilized people's range of opinion. If glorying in children's deaths sneaks across the boundary line dividing the monstrous from what is considered acceptable, what's next? Once a boundary like that has been crossed, just saying, "Don't do that again," doesn't even approach being a strong enough reaction.

I find myself wondering if the woman who wrote that letter used to be a decent person -- or perhaps, in some ways, still is.

***************************

Barry wrote a second piece about the death of Rachel Corrie yesterday, this time about an issue that I think is terribly important. So many people have focused on the guilt or innocence of the driver whose bulldozer ran over her. But I don't think anyone really believes that the driver deliberately murdered a young woman. It was, almost surely, a horrible accident, and I'm sure the driver responsible is suffering enormously, and deserves more sympathy than blame.

And yet, it was not really an accident. As Barry points out, it's the inevitable result of a long history of disregard for human life. (And, it has to be added, coming from people whose own lives have been monstrously devalued.) Once you start down that path, the deaths that result aren't accidental, even though there's no individual you can pin the blame on.

An Israeli tank came to Rachel Corrie's memorial service yesterday. Israeli forces fired teargas and stun grenades to break up the service. A convoy of vehicles -- including the bulldozer that killed Rachel -- passed by. A witness said he was fairly certain it wasn't a deliberate attempt to disrupt the service. The convoy was on a job, destroying building somewhere else, and passed that spot by coincidence. They didn't choose to be there, but that doesn't make it an accident.

***************************

"The inevitable deforming of the personalities of decent guys, for what one hopes is a temporary period, is one of the chief moral reasons why one should never fight "optional wars." -- Jim Henley

***************************

Easter is a celebration of new life. Resurrection, if you will. (The return of the earth to life, if you won't.) Where do machine guns, grenades, and knives fit in?

***************************

To this day, no one knows how many Iraqis died in Gulf War I. Estimates range from 2,500 to more than 200,000. Among the problems in coming up with a reliable number is the fact that the number depends on when you stop counting. If someone dies years after the war because an illness they develop that they wouldn't have developed if it hadn't been for a water-treatment plant destroyed during the war, does that count? Or is it an accident?

Something goes horribly wrong when you don't even ask that question.

***************************

I would not put it past Saddam Hussein to launch an attack on Iraqis, and blame it on the US. But there is something twisted and strange about looking for a culprit before you have a crime. It's worrisome as well. What are you capable of if, before you begin, you give yourself absolution.

***************************

One of the worst aspects of war, as Jim Henley says, is the "deforming of the personalities of decent guys." I wonder if the flip side is true, and everything people do to hang on to human decency, to keep from becoming immune to horror, is a step out of the cycle.

It gets lonely being a Southern Baptist, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to make much difference what the clergy think: People who attend church regularly are more likely to approve of going to war than people who don't.

"France's role in blocking a credible U.N. disarmament program was shameful." -- Thomas Friedman

Maybe. But could we spare a little blame for the country that did everything it could think of to politicize and undercut the inspections process? I think that might also qualify as "blocking a credible U.N. disarmament program.

Am I missing something, or is it shocking that the president asks one of his top military advisors for an estimate of how long a war with Iraq will take and Donald Rumsfeld tells the general not to answer the president's question? What, he doesn't want the president to worry his pretty little head with messy details?

Rumsfeld sees this sort of action as reasserting civilian control over the military which supposedly "eroded during the Clinton administration," but when did civilian control over the military translate into, "When planning a war, pay no attention to what the military says. We know more about how to run a war than they do."

Eskimos have -- what? -- 500 different words for snow? Members of this administration must have at least that many euphemisms to express its arrogance. I suppose it's all a matter of what's important to you.

UPDATE: I'm informed by someone who obviously knows a great deal more about it than I do, that people in the far north have, at most, about a dozen words for snow. As far as I know, no one has yet tried to count Donald Rumsfeld's arrogant euphemisms or twists of language.