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Oct 27, 2003
Lowest daily wage paid to undocumented workers at Walmart (in 21 states): $2
Number of members of the Walton family in the Forbes Top Ten of the U.S.’s wealthiest citizens: 5
sources: 1, 2
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Oct 19, 2003
In the most recent edition of The Nation, there’s an excellent review of five books about Israel. The review goes way beyond the usual superficial stuff you usually hear - especially on the news that, following politicians’ examples, show the world as black and white. Recommended!
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Sep 11, 2003
Exactly two years ago we were witnessing one of the most spectacular acts of terrorism the world has ever seen. A lot has been said about how grave and terrible those acts were, and rightly so. A bunch of religious fanatics hijacked four commercial airliners and turned them into weapons, killing a few thousand people and destroying one of the US’ symbols of wealth and power.
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Sep 10, 2003
Seems like it’ll be another exciting day down in the celebrity section of hell with Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, arriving. Teller sold his soul to a different devil, the one where it’s even harder to argue he has done anything wrong. If this weblog wasn’t concerned mainly with photography I’d write something about physicists and nuclear weapons.
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Sep 6, 2003
I’m just back from Canada where I read Curtis White’s The Middle Mind. It’s quite amusing to see the readers’ reviews they got up on Amazon. It’s like the Middle Mind’s reaction to being criticized heavily (note how one reviewers comes up with the infamous “liberal bias” sticky note - in itself already a sign of how little that particular reader has understood what White’s point really is). If you want to read something that goes beyond the usual left-wing (The Nation) or right-wing (Wall Street Journal) rants get a copy of the book. You might find it hard to stomach to see either various NPR shows or Cultural Criticism or your favourite right-wing ideologue writer (think Dinesh D’Souza) criticized in a totally devastating fashion but that’s exactly White’s point: Neither left- or right-wing rants nor what in Germany is called the “consensus soup” - which I’d term the Suburban Starbucks-Borders-The-Gap School of Inconsequential Emptiness - lead anywhere. White’s book is about the total lack of imagination and what (maybe) can be done to fix that.
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Aug 2, 2003
“There is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge that is part of an overall campaign of self- affirmation. It is surely one of the intellectual catastrophes of history that an imperialist war confected by a small group of unelected US officials was waged against a devastated third world dictatorship on thoroughly ideological grounds having to do with world dominance, security control and scarce resources, but disguised for its true intent, hastened and reasoned for by orientalists who betrayed their calling as scholars.”
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Jul 1, 2003
“In spite of the massive impact of cultural and economic Americanization, the rest of the world, even the capitalist world, has so far been strikingly resistant to following the model of U.S. politics and society. That is probably because America is less of a coherent and therefore exportable social and political model of a capitalist liberal democracy, based on the universal principles of individual freedom, than its patriotic ideology and Constitution suggest. So, far from being a clear example that the rest of the world can imitate, the U.S.A., however powerful and influential, remains an unending process, distorted by big money and public emotion, a system tinkering with institutions, public and private, to make them fit realities unforeseen in the unalterable text of a 1787 Constitution. It simply does not lend itself to copying. Most of us would not want to copy it. Since puberty I have spent more of my time in the U.S.A. than in any country other than Britain. All the same, I am glad that my children did not grow up there, and that I belong to another culture. Still, it is mine also.” (text)
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Jun 24, 2003
We are still obsessed with Saddam Hussein, America’s current nemesis, despite his disappearance. Now that there don’t seem to be any of those “weapons of mass destructions” (which, curiously enough, never include those weapons the US uses so frequently such as, for example, cluster bombs or the bomb somebody - in a truly Saddamian fashion of mind - called “daisy cutters”) the rationale for war has shifted away from them. Now Iraq has been invaded to liberate the Iraqis from their tyrant and to bring freedom, democracy, and human rights. This is not the place to discuss what is meant by the freedom and democracy those Iraqis might get. As the leader of the invasion troops, Mr Franks, said “freedom is not free” (link). So let’s not be petty.
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Jun 22, 2003
“It is really extraordinary that there have so far been virtually no independent studies of the health effects of GM. What there is has mostly been done by the companies themselves. We are constantly told that there is no evidence of any greater health risk from a GM crop than from its non-GM counterpart. What is not added is that there have been no health checks to find out. Indeed, the only Government-sponsored work ever carried on the health impacts of GMOs was Dr Pusztai’s work on rats and GM potatoes, and then, when it found negative effects, it was widely rubbished in government circles, even though his paper had been peer-reviewed six times before publication.” (story)
Update: Mr Cieciel sent me this link which points to a document which includes known hazards and problems with GM food. It’s a scary read - even scarier is the fact that in the US, companies are not required to label their GM food unless they want to.
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May 30, 2003
… there is growing evidence that the general public was not being told the truth as far as Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are concerned. While this might not be a problem in the US - where apparently the public doesn’t expect to hear the truth from its own government - it is getting more and more of a problem for all those countries which were only too willing to trump up the charges against Iraq to help the US go to war. Tony Blair’s political fate is directly tied to finding the whole affair.
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May 29, 2003
Excellent article by Slavoj Zizek
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May 29, 2003
Excellent article by Stanley Hoffmann.
(thru Mr Cieciel)
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May 14, 2003
“America’s normative authority lies shattered.”
German philosopher Jürgen Habermas asks “What Does the Felling of the Monument Mean?”
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May 1, 2003
People have been saying that “terrorism” now seems to have replaced “communism” as the enemy. There is a certain truth to that but it’s very important to notice that there are lots of differences. Because of these there will be no simple re-run of the anti-communist hysteria of especially the 1950s. The anti-terrorist hysteria will be or actually is already worse and here’s why. To phrase it in somewhat simplifying terms the difference between communism and terrorism is the following.
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Apr 29, 2003
“I was the political counselor at the US Embassy in Athens then, 45 years old, running a section of some eight people. My mission was to advise the US ambassador on how best we could, as President Bush’s personal representatives in Greece, promote and defend US interests. As the war became inescapable, so, too, became my catastrophic conviction that I could either represent the president or defend US interests, but I could no longer do both.” (full story)
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Apr 24, 2003
I don’t think Robert Fisk is very popular in the US, at least not in those circles which currently hold the power and which just launched, as we all witnessed, war on Iraq. Robert Fisk has been dealing with the Middle East for a long time and he went to Iraq to cover the invasion. In a sense, I’ve always thought that Robert Fisk was a little bit of an old-school journalist because he uses to get very upset when he notices injustice - regardless of who is responsible for it. Contrast that with those people, especially on US television, who now are claiming to be jorunalists! Anyway, here is a long interview with Robert Fisk, done by Amy Goodman. A recommended read or, if you want, listen (there is a link to Democracy Now! where they have streaming audio).
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Apr 9, 2003
Various people have claimed that the beginning of the Iraq War marked a defeat for the peace movement. And now that the war seems to be over even more people will claim that what’s going on in Iraq is a defeat of the peace movement. Neither of these claims is true.
First of all, a movement for peace and justice cannot be defeated. It is a fairly simple historical fact that peace and justice will prevail eventually. It might take some time, maybe a long time. But once the genie is out of the bottle there’s no way to put it back. Likewise, in a fairly similar way, often a movement for peace and justice cannot really win. The struggle for peace and justice is pretty much an open-ended struggle. Throughout history and on most continents peace has always meant the absence of war. It’s more realistic to treat it as such. There will never be a paradise on Earth where wars are impossible and where there is eternal justice. One needs to be realistic about this. Striving for peace means to be aware of all chances for violence. Likewise, striving for justice means to be aware of all those people who want to restrict justice.
But shouldn’t the peace movement at least be happy about the end of war in Iraq? Let’s assume that there really is an end to and let’s assume there will be no Afghanistanization of Iraq with a puppet government installed and with wide-spread misery and no progress outside of the capitol. Yes, the peace movement should be happy about an end of war in Iraq. It means ordinary Iraqis will not have to worry about being turned into heaps of charred flesh called collatoral damage. Iraqi conscripts will not have to worry about being killed and the same goes for foreign troops in Iraq. Everybody should be happy about this. Everybody should also be happy about the fact that Saddam Hussein is not in charge any longer - regardless of what happened to him.
All that, of course, doesn’t change the simple fact that the war did not change any of the arguments against it. It was an illegal war, to a shockingly large extent based on fabrications. Until now, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. We will probably never know whether there were any because, as Russia already indicated, even if some might turn up over the next few weeks there will always be people who claim they were planted there by foreign troops. The US and Britain simply don’t have neither the moral authority nor the credibility to convince anybody they found something - in particular since they really have to find something to persuade the world there was a reason for the war.
But maybe they’ll just stop talking about those weapons and focus on how good it is that Saddam Hussein is gone. How could we disagree with that? The thing is, though, that even though we all agree that he’s gone is good, that doesn’t mean we support the means. Before the war, the peace movement said many times that it deplored Saddam Hussein. So the fact that he is gone doesn’t really change anything because the means were and still are illegal. And they brought death to thousands of innocent people and even more destruction to an already ruined country. On top of that, the US, once one of the democratic role models in the world, is now widely regarded as a bully who only cares about its own interests. Relations between Russia and the US, both if which could destroy the entire planet, have cooled of to pretty low levels. What kind of achievement is that? Do those so-called neo-cons in Washington really think they can be proud of what they did?
There are more achievements to watch: Who will be installed as ruler in Iraq? Will there be democratic elections? Or will the country end up like Kuwait, which has been under military law for over a decade now? Will the people of Iraq finally be able to sell their oil to re-build the once developed country? Or will foreign (American and British) companies take over and create neo-colonial circumstances? Will the US contribute ro re-building Iraq or just forget about allocating funds for it (like in Afghanistan)? Will Israel be able to continually violate all the UN resolutions which were supposed to help Palestinians? And will it be unaccountable for its huge arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? How come those are not a threat for world peace? What about the appaling human-rights violations in Israel’s occupied territories? What about North Koreas weapons?
There are many many more such questions, more than before the war, and the sheer fact that many of these questions are questions which potentially could lead to another war makes them all important for the peace movement. The world has not become any safer after the Iraq war - quite on the contrary. Today, President Bush already “warned” Syria, Iran, and North Korea about weapons of mass destruction. Isn’t it a pretty safe assumption - giving Bush’s track record - that in a few months time there’ll be a lot of talk of waging war on one of those countries to overthrow a dictator (the US public wil be made believe that dictator was responsible for 9/11) and to destroy those dangerous weapons? There’s an election coming up in 2004, and the US economy isn’t doing too well…
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Apr 8, 2003
The U.S. Betrays Its Core Values
by Günter Grass
BEHLENDORF, Germany — A war long sought and planned for is now underway. All deliberations and warnings of the United Nations notwithstanding, an overpowering military apparatus has attacked preemptively in violation of international law. No objections were heeded. The Security Council was disdained and scorned as irrelevant. As the bombs fall and the battle for Baghdad continues, the law of might prevails.
And based on this injustice, the mighty have the power to buy and reward those who might be willing and to disdain and even punish the unwilling. The words of the current American president — “Those not with us are against us” — weighs on current events with the resonance of barbaric times. It is hardly surprising that the rhetoric of the aggressor increasingly resembles that of his enemy. Religious fundamentalism leads both sides to abuse what belongs to all religions, taking the notion of “God” hostage in accordance with their own fanatical understanding. Even the passionate warnings of the pope, who knows from experience how lasting and devastating the disasters wrought by the mentality and actions of Christian crusaders have been, were unsuccessful.
Disturbed and powerless, but also filled with anger, we are witnessing the moral decline of the world’s only superpower, burdened by the knowledge that only one consequence of this organized madness is certain: Motivation for more terrorism is being provided, for more violence and counter-violence. Is this really the United States of America, the country we fondly remember for any number of reasons? The generous benefactor of the Marshall Plan? The forbearing instructor in the lessons of democracy? The candid self-critic? The country that once made use of the teachings of the European Enlightenment to throw off its colonial masters and to provide itself with an exemplary constitution? Is this the country that made freedom of speech an incontrovertible human right?
It is not just foreigners who cringe as this ideal pales to the point where it is now a caricature of itself. There are many Americans who love their country too, people who are horrified by the betrayal of their founding values and by the hubris of those holding the reins of power. I stand with them. By their side, I declare myself pro-American. I protest with them against the brutalities brought about by the injustice of the mighty, against all restrictions of the freedom of expression, against information control reminiscent of the practices of totalitarian states and against the cynical equations that make the death of thousands of women and children acceptable so long as economic and political interests are protected.
No, it is not anti-Americanism that is damaging the image of the United States; nor do the dictator Saddam Hussein and his extensively disarmed country endanger the most powerful country in the world. It is President Bush and his government that are diminishing democratic values, bringing sure disaster to their own country, ignoring the United Nations, and that are now terrifying the world with a war in violation of international law.
We Germans often are asked if we are proud of our country. To answer this question has always been a burden. There were reasons for our doubts. But now I can say that the rejection of this preemptive war on the part of a majority in my country has made me proud of Germany. After having been largely responsible for two world wars and their criminal consequences, we seem to have made a difficult step. We seem to have learned from history.
The Federal Republic of Germany has been a sovereign country since 1990. Our government made use of this sovereignty by having the courage to object to those allied in this cause, the courage to protect Germany from a step back to a kind of adolescent behavior. I thank Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, for their fortitude in spite of all the attacks and accusations, from abroad and from within.
Many people find themselves in a state of despair these days, and with good reason. Yet we must not let our voices, our no to war and yes to peace, be silenced. What has happened? The stone that we pushed to the peak is once again at the foot of the mountain. But we must push it back up, even with the knowledge that we can expect it to roll back down again.
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Apr 6, 2003
“Many years ago, at Bletchley Park near Oxford where the German security code ?Enigma? was deciphered during the second world war, an elderly English gentleman at a security policy conference asked me where I hailed from. ‘Cologne’, I said. ‘Oh, I bombed it,’ he answered.
“Trying to change the conversation, I ventured that I was born in the little East German town of Kî’œhen. ‘Oh, I bombed that too,’ he said. I remember those bombs very well. What did he expect me to say? ‘Thank you for liberating me from Hitler’? I will never forget my mother?s fear-stricken face during those moments in the basement of our house, as the sounds of explosions moved closer and closer. We survived: others did not.
“The bombing of Germany shortened the war. What it did not do was to shift the German people?s allegiance away from Hitler. No doubt he was privately cursed for the prevailing misery, but the immediate blame for the bombings was not transferred to the Nazis until the war was definitively over. The same psychological pattern is becoming evident amongst the bombed citizens of Baghdad and Basra, although they clearly do not identify with Saddam Hussein?s regime as closely as the Germans did with Hitler?s.”
(by Michael Naumann, continued here)
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Apr 5, 2003
War itself is venal, dirty, confusing and perhaps the most potent narcotic invented by humankind. Modern industrial warfare means that most of those who are killed never see their attackers. There is nothing glorious or gallant about it. If we saw what wounds did to bodies, how killing is far more like butchering an animal than the clean and neat Hollywood deaths on the screen, it would turn our stomachs. If we saw how war turns young people into intoxicated killers, how it gives soldiers a license to destroy not only things but other human beings, and if we saw the perverse thrill such destruction brings, we would be horrified and frightened. If we understood that combat is often a constant battle with a consuming fear we have perhaps never known, a battle that we often lose, we would find the abstract words of war—glory, honor and patriotism—not only hollow but obscene. If we saw the deep psychological scars of slaughter, the way it maims and stunts those who participate in war for the rest of their lives, we would keep our children away. Indeed, it would be hard to wage war.
For war, when we confront it truthfully, exposes the darkness within all of us. This darkness shatters the illusions many of us hold not only about the human race but about ourselves. Few of us confront our own capacity for evil, but this is especially true in wartime. And even those who engage in combat are afterward given cups from the River Lethe to forget. And with each swallow they imbibe the myth of war. For the myth makes war palatable. It gives war a logic and sanctity it does not possess. It saves us from peering into the darkest recesses of our own hearts. And this is why we like it. It is why we clamor for myth. The myth is enjoyable, and the press, as is true in every nation that goes to war, is only too happy to oblige. They dish it up and we ask for more.
War as myth begins with blind patriotism, which is always thinly veiled self- glorification. We exalt ourselves, our goodness, our decency, our humanity, and in that self-exaltation we denigrate the other. The flip side of nationalism is racism—look at the jokes we tell about the French. It feels great. War as myth allows us to suspend judgment and personal morality for the contagion of the crowd. War means we do not face death alone. We face it as a group. And death is easier to bear because of this. We jettison all the moral precepts we have about the murder of innocent civilians, including children, and dismiss atrocities of war as the regrettable cost of battle. As I write this article, hundreds of thousands of innocent people, including children and the elderly, are trapped inside the city of Basra in southern Iraq—a city I know well—without clean drinking water. Many will die. But we seem, because we imbibe the myth of war, unconcerned with the suffering of others.
Yet, at the same time, we hold up our own victims. These crowds of silent dead—our soldiers who made “the supreme sacrifice” and our innocents who were killed in the crimes against humanity that took place on 9/11—are trotted out to sanctify the cause and our employment of indiscriminate violence. To question the cause is to defile the dead. Our dead count. Their dead do not. We endow our victims, like our cause, with righteousness. And this righteousness gives us the moral justification to commit murder. It is an old story. […]
The coverage of war by the press has one consistent and pernicious theme— the worship of our weapons and our military might. Retired officers, breathless reporters, somber news anchors, can barely hold back their excitement, which is perverse and—frankly, to those who do not delight in watching us obliterate other human beings—disgusting. We are folding in on ourselves, losing touch with the outside world, shredding our own humanity and turning war into entertainment and a way to empower ourselves as a nation and individuals. And none of us are untainted. It is the dirty thrill people used to get from watching a public execution. We are hangmen. And the excitement we feel is in direct proportion to the rage and anger we generate around the globe. We will pay for every bomb we drop on Iraq.
(“The Press and The Myths of War” by Chris Hedges, full text here)
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Apr 5, 2003
The Reason Why
by GEORGE MCGOVERN
[from the April 21, 2003 issue of The Nation]
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“The Charge of the Light Brigade”
(in the Crimean War)
Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation’s true greatness. Appearing to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces above all other functions of his office, and unchecked by a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court, a largely subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy, George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule.
He treads carelessly on the Bill of Rights, the United Nations and international law while creating a costly but largely useless new federal bureaucracy loosely called “Homeland Security.” Meanwhile, such fundamental building blocks of national security as full employment and a strong labor movement are of no concern. The nearly $1.5 trillion tax giveaway, largely for the further enrichment of those already rich, will have to be made up by cutting government services and shifting a larger share of the tax burden to workers and the elderly. This President and his advisers know well how to get us involved in imperial crusades abroad while pillaging the ordinary American at home. The same families who are exploited by a rich man’s government find their sons and daughters being called to war, as they were in Vietnam—but not the sons of the rich and well connected. (Let me note that the son of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson is now on duty in the Persian Gulf. He did not use his obvious political connections to avoid military service, nor did his father seek exemptions for his son. That goes well with me, with my fellow South Dakotans and with every fair-minded American.)
The invasion of Iraq and other costly wars now being planned in secret are fattening the ever-growing military-industrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned in his great farewell address. War profits are booming, as is the case in all wars. While young Americans die, profits go up. But our economy is not booming, and our stock market is not booming. Our wages and incomes are not booming. While waging a war against Iraq, the Bush Administration is waging another war against the well-being of America.
Following the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the entire world was united in sympathy and support for America. But thanks to the arrogant unilateralism, the bullying and the clumsy, unimaginative diplomacy of Washington, Bush converted a world of support into a world united against us, with the exception of Tony Blair and one or two others. My fellow South Dakotan, Tom Daschle, the US Senate Democratic leader, has well described the collapse of American diplomacy during the Bush Administration. For this he has been savaged by the Bush propaganda machine. For their part, the House of Representatives has censured the French by changing the name of french fries on the house dining room menu to freedom fries. Does this mean our almost sacred Statue of Liberty—a gift from France—will now have to be demolished? And will we have to give up the French kiss? What a cruel blow to romance.
During his presidential campaign Bush cried, “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” As one critic put it, “He’s got that right. He’s united the entire world against him.” In his brusque, go-it-alone approach to Congress, the UN and countless nations big and small, Bush seemed to be saying, “Go with us if you will, but we’re going to war with a small desert kingdom that has done us no harm, whether you like it or not.” This is a good line for the macho business. But it flies in the face of Jefferson’s phrase, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” As I have watched America’s moral and political standing in the world fade as the globe’s inhabitants view the senseless and immoral bombing of ancient, historic Baghdad, I think often of another Jefferson observation during an earlier bad time in the nation’s history: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
The President frequently confides to individuals and friendly audiences that he is guided by God’s hand. But if God guided him into an invasion of Iraq, He sent a different message to the Pope, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the mainline Protestant National Council of Churches and many distinguished rabbis—all of whom believe the invasion and bombardment of Iraq is against God’s will. In all due respect, I suspect that Karl Rove, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—and other sideline warriors—are the gods (or goddesses) reaching the ear of our President.
As a World War II bomber pilot, I was always troubled by the title of a then-popular book, God Is My Co-pilot. My co-pilot was Bill Rounds of Wichita, Kansas, who was anything but godly, but he was a skillful pilot, and he helped me bring our B-24 Liberator through thirty-five combat missions over the most heavily defended targets in Europe. I give thanks to God for our survival, but somehow I could never quite picture God sitting at the controls of a bomber or squinting through a bombsight deciding which of his creatures should survive and which should die. It did not simplify matters theologically when Sam Adams, my navigator—and easily the godliest man on my ten-member crew—was killed in action early in the war. He was planning to become a clergyman at war’s end.
Of course, my dear mother went to her grave believing that her prayers brought her son safely home. Maybe they did. But how could I explain that to the mother of my close friend, Eddie Kendall, who prayed with equal fervor for her son’s safe return? Eddie was torn in half by a blast of shrapnel during the Battle of the Bulge—dead at age 19, during the opening days of the battle—the best baseball player and pheasant hunter I knew.
I most certainly do not see God at work in the slaughter and destruction now unfolding in Iraq or in the war plans now being developed for additional American invasions of other lands. The hand of the Devil? Perhaps. But how can I suggest that a fellow Methodist with a good Methodist wife is getting guidance from the Devil? I don’t want to get too self-righteous about all of this. After all, I have passed the 80 mark, so I don’t want to set the bar of acceptable behavior too high lest I fail to meet the standard for a passing grade on Judgment Day. I’ve already got a long list of strikes against me. So President Bush, forgive me if I’ve been too tough on you. But I must tell you, Mr. President, you are the greatest threat to American troops. Only you can put our young people in harm’s way in a needless war. Only you can weaken America’s good name and influence in world affairs.
We hear much talk these days, as we did during the Vietnam War, of “supporting our troops.” Like most Americans, I have always supported our troops, and I have always believed we had the best fighting forces in the world—with the possible exception of the Vietnamese, who were fortified by their hunger for national independence, whereas we placed our troops in the impossible position of opposing an independent Vietnam, albeit a Communist one. But I believed then as I do now that the best way to support our troops is to avoid sending them on mistaken military campaigns that needlessly endanger their lives and limbs. That is what went on in Vietnam for nearly thirty years—first as we financed the French in their failing effort to regain control of their colonial empire in Southeast Asia, 1946- 54, and then for the next twenty years as we sought unsuccessfully to stop the Vietnamese independence struggle led by Ho Chi Minh and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap- -two great men whom we should have accepted as the legitimate leaders of Vietnam at the end of World War II. I should add that Ho and his men were our allies against the Japanese in World War II. Some of my fellow pilots who were shot down by Japanese gunners over Vietnam were brought safely back to American lines by Ho’s guerrilla forces.
During the long years of my opposition to that war, including a presidential campaign dedicated to ending the American involvement, I said in a moment of disgust: “I’m sick and tired of old men dreaming up wars in which young men do the dying.” That terrible American blunder, in which 58,000 of our bravest young men died, and many times that number were crippled physically or psychologically, also cost the lives of some 2 million Vietnamese as well as a similar number of Cambodians and Laotians, in addition to laying waste most of Indochina—its villages, fields, trees and waterways; its schools, churches, markets and hospitals.
I had thought after that horrible tragedy—sold to the American people by our policy-makers as a mission of freedom and mercy—that we never again would carry out a needless, ill-conceived invasion of another country that had done us no harm and posed no threat to our security. I was wrong in that assumption.
The President and his team, building on the trauma of 9/11, have falsely linked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to that tragedy and then falsely built him up as a deadly threat to America and to world peace. These falsehoods are rejected by the UN and nearly all of the world’s people. We will, of course, win the war with Iraq. But what of the question raised in the Bible that both George Bush and I read: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul,” or the soul of his nation?
It has been argued that the Iraqi leader is hiding a few weapons of mass destruction, which we and eight other countries have long held. But can it be assumed that he would insure his incineration by attacking the United States? Can it be assumed that if we are to save ourselves we must strike Iraq before Iraq strikes us? This same reasoning was frequently employed during the half-century of cold war by hotheads recommending that we atomize the Soviet Union and China before they atomize us. Courtesy of The New Yorker, we are reminded of Tolstoy’s observation: “What an immense mass of evil must result…from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating what may happen.” Or again, consider the words of Lord Stanmore, who concluded after the suicidal charge of the Light Brigade that it was “undertaken to resist an attack that was never threatened and probably never contemplated.” The symphony of falsehood orchestrated by the Bush team has been de-vised to defeat an Iraqi onslaught that “was never threatened and probably never comtemplated.”
I’m grateful to The Nation, as I was to Harper’s, for giving me opportunities to write about these matters. Major newspapers, especially the Washington Post, haven’t been nearly as receptive.
The destruction of Baghdad has a special poignancy for many of us. In my fourth-grade geography class under a superb teacher, Miss Wagner, I was first introduced to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the palm trees and dates, the kayaks plying the rivers, camel caravans and desert oases, the Arabian Nights, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (my first movie), the ancient city of Baghdad, Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent. This was the first class in elementary school that fired my imagination. Those wondrous images have stayed with me for more than seventy years. And it now troubles me to hear of America’s bombs, missiles and military machines ravishing the cradle of civilization.
But in God’s good time, perhaps this most ancient of civilizations can be redeemed. My prayer is that most of our soldiers and most of the long-suffering people of Iraq will survive this war after it has joined the historical march of folly that is man’s inhumanity to man.
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Apr 4, 2003
Washington comes up with something new: “The Bush administration has devised a strategy to declare victory in Iraq even if Saddam Hussein or key lieutenants remain at large and fighting continues in parts of the country, officials said yesterday. The concept of a ‘rolling’ victory contemplates a time — not yet determined — when U.S. forces control significant territory and have eliminated a critical mass of Iraqi resistance. U.S. military commanders would establish a base of operations, perhaps outside Baghdad, and assert that a new era has begun. Even then, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers would remain to help maintain order and provide humanitarian assistance.” (link)
So first it’s all about WMDs and then - as those WMDs just won’t show up - it’s all about liberating Iraqis and then - as those happy Iraqis won’t show up - it’s evil Saddam Hussein who, we were told just a few days ago, was even worse than Hitler and now - as Saddam Hussein just won’t show up - it could be over even if Saddam Hussein was still running around. I wonder what’s next.
PS: I’m glad they found Baghdad. At least something they promised was there! Phew!
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Apr 2, 2003
Today, I read that in a book called “The War Over Iraq” Bill Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan ask “Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?”
The answer, of course, is very simple. The Soviet Union also had “sound principles and high ideals”, in fact very high ideals. But there was a lot wrong with Soviet dominance and even those high ideals didn’t turn out to be that high. Just ask those East Europeans. Or people in Afghanistan. The very simple answer to Messieurs Kristol and Kaplan’s question is that your “sound principles and high ideals” may not be that sound and high in other peoples’ eyes. That’s what’s wrong with dominance in the name of principles and ideals.
Contrary to what Messieurs Kristol and Kaplan think there is no exclusive ownership of sound principles and high ideals. Like all other human notions, principles and ideals are relative. Which is widely known because otherwise, we’d all be living in an anarchistic society, right? If everybody had the same principles and ideals we wouldn’t need any laws preventing people from stealing and killing and raping and pillaging.
And that brings us right to the core of the problem with the Iraq war. Because it does violate international laws and norms - laws and norms literally constructed because of the suffering and death of millions of people during two World Wars - the Iraq war is pretty much the equivalent of lynching. There is a reason why lynching is not tolerated in democratic societies and these very same reasons apply to this war.
Of course, we all know that the law isn’t always ideal. How could it be? It’s made by humans. But in most democratic societies people like to improve their laws instead of abolishing them (It is tempting to make an exception for Mr Ashcroft here because otherwise one would have to stretch the meaning of the word “improve” quite a lot).
And that, I think, is the strongest point to make against this war - apart from the fact that thousands of people are being killed: The war abolishes the law and goes back to the stage of killing and pillaging and I’m not only talking about the literal sense here (as bad as that may be for all those unfortunate Iraqis and “Coalition” soldiers).
Note to Messiers Kristol and Kaplan, and especially to Mr Blair and people at The Economist who like to sound as if they have permanently occupied what they consider to be the moral high ground: There’s something seriously wrong with your principles and ideals if they result in the death of thousands of people, even if most of them are foreigners. Just think about it. It’s not that hard to figure out.
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Apr 2, 2003
Arundhati Roy about the Iraq War
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Apr 1, 2003
“So it was that on a warm, hazy day in central Iraq, the fog of war descended on Bravo Company.”
(Washington Post report on how 10 civilians died in Iraq)
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Mar 30, 2003
Either Take a Shot or Take a Chance
By DEXTER FILKINS
DIWANIYA, Iraq, March 28 ? At the base camp of the Fifth Marine Regiment here, two sharpshooters, Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl. Mikael McIntosh, 20, sat on a sand berm and swapped combat tales while their column stood at a halt on the road toward Baghdad. For five days this week, the two men rode atop armored personnel carriers, barreling up Highway 1.
They said Iraqi fighters had often mixed in with civilians from nearby villages, jumping out of houses and cars to shoot at them, and then often running away. The marines said they had little trouble dispatching their foes, most of whom they characterized as ill trained and cowardly.
“We had a great day,” Sergeant Schrumpf said. “We killed a lot of people.”
Sergeant Schrumpf said that while most Iraqi soldiers had posed little danger, a small number appeared to be well trained and calm under fire. Some, the sergeant added, wore black suits, described by some Iraqis as the uniform of the Saddam Feydayeen, a militia of die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein.
Both marines said they were most frustrated by the practice of some Iraqi soldiers to use unarmed women and children as shields against American bullets. They called the tactic cowardly but agreed that it had been effective. Both Sergeant Schrumpf and Corporal McIntosh said they had declined several times to shoot at Iraqi soldiers out of fear they might hit civilians.
“It’s a judgment call,” Corporal McIntosh said. “If the risks outweigh the losses, then you don’t take the shot.”
But in the heat of a firefight, both men conceded, when the calculus often warps, a shot not taken in one set of circumstances may suddenly present itself as a life-or-death necessity.
“We dropped a few civilians,” Sergeant Schrumpf said, “but what do you do?”
To illustrate, the sergeant offered a pair of examples from earlier in the week.
“There was one Iraqi soldier, and 25 women and children,” he said, “I didn’t take the shot.”
But more than once, Sergeant Schrumpf said, he faced a different choice: one Iraqi soldier standing among two or three civilians. He recalled one such incident, in which he and other men in his unit opened fire. He recalled watching one of the women standing near the Iraqi soldier go down.
“I’m sorry,” the sergeant said. “But the chick was in the way.”
The two marines recalled their battlefield experiences as American commanders halted one of the three main columns advancing toward Baghdad today. The commanders said a combination of tenacious Iraqi resistance and overexposed supply lines had prompted them to catch their breath.
Officers with the First Marine Division, whose troops have driven 200 miles into Iraqi over the past week, ordered their troops to stop their northward push up Highway 1. The column, comprising about 14,000 marines, is the middle of a three-pronged effort to attack Baghdad.
The Marine force, strung out along the highway in the Iraqi desert about 100
miles south of Baghdad, has met steadily fiercer Iraqi resistance since it crossed the Euphrates River earlier this week. Soldiers fighting on the front lines near here said they had killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and irregulars this week.
American commanders said today that they wanted to consolidate the gains they have made, mainly by attacking pockets of Iraqi soldiers who have continued to harass their convoys 100 miles to the south. They also said the halt was necessary to give the Third Infantry Division, which is engaged in heavy fighting to the west, time to catch up.
“We have run into some pretty stiff resistance here on the highway,” said Col. Joe Dunford. “It has slowed us a bit. We don’t need to move as fast as we have over the past few days.”
Colonel Dunford and other American officers were unable to predict when the Marine column would resume its march. But the commanders said the “operational pause,” as they called it, was nothing more than a pit stop on the way to Baghdad. They also said the halt in the ground advance would likely be offset by the continued bombardment of Baghdad by the Air Force.
Still, the decision to halt represents another sign that American military planners had underestimated the breadth and ferocity of resistance that the Iraqis would offer, particularly in the cities the American-led forces had been hoping to bypass.
Fighting between Iraqi and American soldiers has raged intermittently for much of the week. Last night, under Iraqi mortar fire, American commanders sounded alerts for poison gas three times.
Three Americans have been killed in the fighting here over the last five days, and an unknown number wounded. American soldiers said they had killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who tried to block the American advance. For much of the week, the skies here were filled with Cobra gunships circling suspected Iraqi troop concentrations. Fighter bombers dropped 2,000 bombs, which set the earth rumbling.
“I think a pretty fair number have been killed,” Colonel Dunford said.
At an American camp along the highway here, soldiers returning from several days of fighting sketched a consistent picture of the Iraqi resistance, as well as the successes and failures they were having in confronting it. As the Americans pushed northward, they often encountered two types of fighters: large groups of Iraqis who appeared to be untrained and unmotivated, and who posed little threat, and others who fought furiously, even after the marines responded with overwhelming firepower.
Some American soldiers said they had found large quantities of freshly printed Iraqi currency, some in unsealed blocks, in the pockets of captured Iraqi soldiers, suggesting that they had been paid recently in an effort to encourage them to fight.
from the New York Times. I’m sure in most other parts of the world statements like those made by those US soldiers will not be regarded as nonchalantly. I remember the days when the NY Times would be filled with disgust about Serbian soldiers saying stuff like that about the “chick” who got killed. Isn’t it amazing how things change?
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Mar 28, 2003
“‘We’re absolutely sick and tired of putting things out and finding they’re not true. The misinformation in this war is far and away worse than any conflict I’ve covered, including the first Gulf war and Kosovo,’ said a senior BBC news source.
“‘On Saturday we were told they’d taken Basra and Nassiriya and then subsequently found out neither were true. We’re getting more truth out of Baghdad than the Pentagon at the moment. Not because Baghdad is putting out pure and morally correct information but because they’re less savvy about it, I think.’”
found in The Guardian
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Mar 27, 2003
“Yesterday President George Bush made his first public appearance since the start of the war, speaking to service personnel at the MacDill airforce base in Tampa in an obvious bid to reassure Americans and boost the morale of the armed forces. But how do we know this is the real George Bush?”
from the Guardian
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Mar 25, 2003
Channels of Influence
By PAUL KRUGMAN
By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven’t drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have certainly been vehement. One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie Chicks CD’s, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century European history it seemed eerily reminiscent of… . But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can’t happen here.
Who has been organizing those pro-war rallies? The answer, it turns out, is that they are being promoted by key players in the radio industry ? with close links to the Bush administration.
The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of Cumulus Media, a radio chain that has banned the Dixie Chicks from its playlists. Most of the pro-war demonstrations around the country have, however, been organized by stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth based in San Antonio that controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly dominates the airwaves.
The company claims that the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is unlikely: according to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles about Clear Channel in Salon, the company is notorious ? and widely hated ? for its iron-fisted centralized control.
Until now, complaints about Clear Channel have focused on its business practices. Critics say it uses its power to squeeze recording companies and artists and contributes to the growing blandness of broadcast music. But now the company appears to be using its clout to help one side in a political dispute that deeply divides the nation.
Why would a media company insert itself into politics this way? It could, of course, simply be a matter of personal conviction on the part of management. But there are also good reasons for Clear Channel ? which became a giant only in the last few years, after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed many restrictions on media ownership ? to curry favor with the ruling party. On one side, Clear Channel is feeling some heat: it is being sued over allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay of artists who don’t tour with its concert division, and there are even some politicians who want to roll back the deregulation that made the company’s growth possible. On the other side, the Federal Communications Commission is considering further deregulation that would allow Clear Channel to expand even further, particularly into television.
Or perhaps the quid pro quo is more narrowly focused. Experienced Bushologists let out a collective “Aha!” when Clear Channel was revealed to be behind the pro-war rallies, because the company’s top management has a history with George W. Bush. The vice chairman of Clear Channel is Tom Hicks, whose name may be familiar to readers of this column. When Mr. Bush was governor of Texas, Mr. Hicks was chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Company, called Utimco, and Clear Channel’s chairman, Lowry Mays, was on its board. Under Mr. Hicks, Utimco placed much of the university’s endowment under the management of companies with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties. In 1998 Mr. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a deal that made Mr. Bush a multimillionaire.
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but a good guess is that we’re now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy. As Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic, in the Bush administration “government and business have melded into one big `us.’ ” On almost every aspect of domestic policy, business interests rule: “Scores of midlevel appointees … now oversee industries for which they once worked.” We should have realized that this is a two-way street: if politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why shouldn’t we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians ? by, for example, organizing “grass roots” rallies on their behalf?
What makes it all possible, of course, is the absence of effective watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest hint of impropriety quickly blew up into a huge scandal; these days, the scandalmongers are more likely to go after journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don’t you know there’s a war on?
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Mar 23, 2003
In order to justify the attack on Iraq - which very likely constitutes a major violation of international law - the Bush jr administration has shifted its reasoning yet again. As in Afghanistan, they have now discovered human rights. Human rights and democracy always sell well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been more coherent, he has brought up how terrible Saddam Hussein’s regime is for a long time. In fact, he - and The Economist - has acted as if human rights were actually a British invention.
Obviously, we all know how much we’d like to have people like Saddam Hussein removed from power so how could we be against that war? But as usual, things are not that easy. First of all, Bush jr.’s discovery of human rights simply seems to be just another PR stunt. He has come up with all kinds of reasons for his war and most people seem to believe that he doesn’t even care too much about the truth of his claims. I’m not going into that, it’s just too obvious. Second, applying human rights this selectively, namely when you need them to wage war, is, depending on how you want to see it, either ludicrous or cynical. The US didn’t seem to have any problems with Saddam Hussein’s human rights record when he was fighting his war against Iran.
Which brings us to an interesting exercise. For the US, today’s “ally” is tomorrow’s mortal enemy. That seems to be a fairly justified assessment if you look at recent history. So let’s look at the state of democracy and human rights in some of those countries which joined the “Coalition of the Willing”.
BTW, all information on human rights are taken from Amnesty International’s latest year book. I’m quoting from the abstracts for each country.
Afghanistan - There’s a lot to say about Afghanistan but I don’t even want to open that can of worms. I’ve read lots and lots of reports according to which the situation of women hasn’t improved after the overthrow of the Taliban. Also, I’m still missing those democratic elections we got promised. Stay tuned…
Azerbaijan - “At least two men died in detention, allegedly as a result of torture and ill- treatment. Demonstrators and political activists were detained for short periods of time, and some reportedly ill-treated in detention. As respect for media freedoms generally decreased, criminal defamation legislation was used to stifle apparently legitimate criticism of public officials.” (link) Now that sounds very very familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like a good ally.
Bulgaria - “Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials were widespread. Very few of the suspected perpetrators were brought to justice. Many of the victims, some of whom were minors, were Roma. Law enforcement officials continued to use firearms in circumstances prohibited by international standards, resulting in deaths and injuries. Conditions in many institutions for adults with mental disabilities amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression continued to be imposed.” (link) ditto!
Colombia - “Systematic and gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law persisted. Paramilitary groups acting with the active or tacit support of the security forces were responsible for the vast majority of extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances”; many of their victims were tortured before being killed. Armed opposition groups were responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, including arbitrary or deliberate killings. More than 300 people ”disappeared” and more than 4,000 civilians were killed outside of combat for political motives by the armed groups. Over 1,700 people were kidnapped by armed opposition groups and paramilitary forces. All parties to the conflict were responsible for the forced displacement of large numbers of civilians. The security situation of those living in conflict zones, particularly human rights defenders, trade unionists, judicial officials, journalists, members of Afro- Colombian and indigenous communities and peasant farmers, continued to worsen. Evidence emerged of the strong links between the security forces and the paramilitaries. Judicial and disciplinary investigations advanced in several high-profile cases, implicating high-ranking officials in human rights violations, but impunity remained widespread.” (link) Well, what are we going to say about that? Maybe we’ll just add that the US has a large number of military “advisors” in Colombia.
Eritrea/Ethiopia - Two countries which lead a World-War-I style war against each other (incl. trenches etc.). And for Ethiopia, Amnesty reports “Armed conflict continued within Ethiopia between government forces and Oromo and Somali opponents; many human rights violations by government troops were reported. Suspected rebel supporters were detained, tortured and extrajudicially executed. Several thousand remained in detention; some had been held for years without charge or trial. Journalists, human rights activists, demonstrators and other critics of the government were arrested. Most were held without trial, although some received unfair trials. During local elections in March, April and December scores of opposition party supporters were subjected to intimidation, beatings and arbitrary arrest.” (link)
Georgia - “There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Two people died in custody in circumstances suggesting torture or ill-treatment may have contributed to their deaths. The authorities failed to investigate allegations adequately and bring those responsible to justice. Attacks against members of non-traditional religions continued unabated. Prison conditions were often extremely harsh. In the disputed region of Abkhazia, conscientious objectors to military service continued to face imprisonment.” (link)
Philippines - “Defects in the administration of justice were highlighted by reports of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police to extract confessions and of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and others. Women in custody were vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. Complaints procedures, investigations and criminal prosecution of suspected perpetrators of human rights violations failed repeatedly to provide effective redress. Arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances” were reported in the context of military counter-insurgency operations. Armed political groups were responsible for grave abuses, including killings, torture and hostage-taking.” (link) As is widely known - but sparsely being reported - the US likes to use countries like the Philippines to get suspects tortured. Torture constitutes a major human rights violation.
Turkey - “Thousands of prisoners were held in conditions of prolonged isolation which could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, while the debate surrounding the high security ”F-type” prisons intensified. The pressure on human rights defenders increased: they faced harassment, death threats, arrests and prosecution, and branches of human rights associations were closed. Many people were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, particularly when they expressed opinions on the Kurdish question, the ”F-type” prisons or the role of Islam. Torture in police custody remained widespread and was practised systematically, while the perpetrators were rarely brought to justice. Two Kurdish politicians ”disappeared” in gendarmerie custody. Dozens of political killings were reported, some of which may have been extrajudicial executions.” (link)
United Kingdom - I found some interesting information about the UK. I didn’t have time to look into it, yet. Jimmy Breslin reports “I received Friday a report that the commander of British troops who are invading Iraq is general Sir Mike Jackson. He was an officer in the Parachute Regiment in Derry, in Northern Ireland, in 1972. He came out of the Intelligence Division in the Holywood Barracks outside of Belfast. It was shown to be a torture chamber. On January 30, 1972, which in Derry became known as Bloody Sunday, Jackson was on the streets in the unit of paratroopers that committed the atrocities. They murdered 14 men and boys and shot many more. In a tribunal investigating the affair, Jackson said, ‘I was one of the group around Derek Wilford (the commanding officer) and that is where my memory properly kicks in.’” Go and read the whole article. It’s not very delightful to see what kind of people are now supposed to bring democracy to Iraq.
Uzbekistan - “Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials of alleged supporters of banned Islamist opposition parties and movements, such as Hizb-ut- Tahrir, continued unabated. Thousands of devout Muslims and dozens of members or supporters of the banned secular political opposition parties and movements Erk and Birlik were serving long prison sentences, convicted after unfair trials of membership of an illegal party, distribution of illegal religious literature and anti-state activities. Reports continued to be received that devout Muslim prisoners were singled out for particularly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in places of detention, particularly prison camps. Several prisoners, among them a prominent human rights defender, died in custody, allegedly as a result of torture. There were at least 22 death sentences, reportedly imposed after unfair trials, and at least four executions were carried out.” (link)
Plus there are those members of the “Coalition of the Willing” who are quite unwilling to find their names in public. We don’t know who they are but they might include Israel (with its abysmal human rights records)and various Arab countries (ditto).
It seems to me with a “Coalition of the Willing” like this fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights needs a lot of luck. Don’t expect too much. And, ah yes, I almost forgot:
Kuwait - “The majority of human rights violations related to the period of martial law following the withdrawal of Iraqi forces in February 1991. Ten years later, despite the recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2000, the government had still not addressed most of these violations, including the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, unresolved extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances”, and political prisoners sentenced after manifestly unfair trials in the Martial Law and State Security Courts.” (link) If this is the kind of freedom and democracy people have in mind for Iraq there’ll be a lot of work for Amnesty International.
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Mar 20, 2003
Today, I Weep for my Country…
by US Senator Robert Byrd
Speech delivered on the floor of the US Senate
March 19, 2003 3:45pm
I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.
But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.
Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.
We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.
After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America’s image around the globe.
The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.
There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.
The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.
But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.
The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to “orange alert.” There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?
A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.
What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?
Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?
War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.
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Mar 18, 2003
Alright, I found some information on who else, apart from the Brits, is going to help out violating international law… errrrr…. grabbing Iraq’s oil… errrr… overthrowing Saddam Hussein to install a US puppet… errrr… to install a democratic regime. Here we go:
Australia is going to provide around 2000 soldiers, planes and some ships. According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, Australian premier Howard - who in parliament was called a “murderer” by members of the audience - thus wants to make sure his country’s interests are best being dealt with. I see.
Denmark offer a submarine and a corvette (and probably some hardcore porn) to deal with Saddam Hussein’s magnificent navy.
Poland is sending 200 “specialists” (don’t make me comment on that…). Poland’s president Kwasniewski, a former comunist (you can’t be too choosy with your allies these days…), said that sometimes politicians have to disregard public opinion. I’m sure the Poles know how that feels because they’ve been subjected to that since at least 1945.
The Czech Republic hasn’t decided what to send. I mean they needed a few months to find a new president! Maybe some pretzel sticks and some beer? If you mix Czech beer with water - ratio 1:100 - you’d get some decent American-style beer!
Slovakia - which, I believe, Mr Bush once mistook for Slovenia - is sending 69 specialists. Funny how many specialists there are in Eastern Europe. There might be a shortage in specialists in Slovakia because of this.
Romania will send four “special units” including military police. Presumably the same kind of special units which they used to kill demonstrators in their own country. I can see how those would be very useful. During World War II, the German also relied on foreign troops to do the *really* dirty work.
Regional hyperpower Bulgaria - where the former king is now prime minister (how creative!) - might send up to 250 people but they won’t participate in any slaughter they said. That’s nice of them. I’m sure they’ll get some crumbs once it’s over.
Albania is going to send 30 to 70 thugs from their powerful local mafia. No, make that soldiers. Plus, the US can use Albanian territorial waters which might be immensely useful if they moved the whole country by a few thousand miles. They’re still debating on whether they want to do that.
And I gotta quote/translate this directly from Der Spiegel: “Turkey again would like to decide on stationing 62000 US troops and 300 planes and helicopters.”Isn’t that sweet? They’d like to make up their minds. They already made up their minds about invading Iraq’s northern parts to quell those pesky Kurds. Well, you gotta set priorities, I guess. Oh, btw, that’ll be it for Turkey and the EU but don’t tell the Turks…
I also heard that Ukranian housewife Swatislava Krutska wants to support the effort. She might send some sandwiches, provided she can get them out of the country and provided nobody is going to be too picky about those cucumbers she’s growing next to that Chernobyl plant.
Rumour has it that German opposition leader Angela Merkel might, once again, offer her unconditional support in order to get a few seconds of airtime. If you’re irrelevant you can’t be too picky about how to achieve that in pacifistic Germany.
Update (19 March 2003): The BBC was kind enough to provide us with the full list of the “Coalition of the Willing”. Apart from the countries listed above, we also have:
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan (they got oil so they know it’s best to be on the right side), Colombia (where there are lots of US military “advisors” already… did anybody say Vietnam?), El Salvador, Eritrea (they were willing to provide some extra hunger [OK, that was a rude one]), Estonia, Ethiopia (funny how noble causes like this one can unite Ethiopia and Eritrea), Georgia (no, not the US state…), Hungary (my office mate already apologized to me for that [no, I’m not kidding]), Italy (it’s actually only Berlusconi but we don’t want to be that picky), Japan, South Korea (yeah right!), Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia (do they even have an army? I thought they still needed NATO to not completely disintegrate), the Netherlands (sending some amphetamines for US fighter pilots which is a safe thing to do as there no Canadians around which could get killed), Nicaragua, the Philippines, Spain (no troops from there, either - talk is cheap, and Aznar will be out of power soon), and every human rights fighter’s absolute favourite Uzbekistan.
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Mar 17, 2003
If you want to know why Germans have such strong feelings about the upcoming war and about how the rulers in Washington behave have a look at this article which I’ll quote in its full length. Everything written in there Germans are being taught over and over again when they go to school - so that it’ll never happen again. At least not in their country. The article is copyright by Thom Hartmannle.
When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History
by Thom Hartmann
The 70th anniversary wasn’t noticed in the United States, and was barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933. They commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace that mobilized citizens all across the world.
It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would eventually succeed. (Historians are still arguing whether or not rogue elements in the intelligence service helped the terrorist; the most recent research implies they did not.)
But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels, in part because the government was distracted; the man who claimed to be the nation’s leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted. He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw things in black-and-white terms and didn’t have the intellect to understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and internationalist world. His coarse use of language - reflecting his political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats, foreign leaders, and the well- educated elite in the government and media. And, as a young man, he’d joined a secret society with an occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved skulls and human bones.
Nonetheless, he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he didn’t know where or when), and he had already considered his response. When an aide brought him word that the nation’s most prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who had struck and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference.
“You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history,” he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. “This fire,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion, “is the beginning.” He used the occasion - “a sign from God,” he called it - to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their religion.
Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built in Oranianberg to hold the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader’s flag was everywhere, even printed large in newspapers suitable for window display.
Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation’s now-popular leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people’s homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism.
To get his patriotic “Decree on the Protection of People and State” passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the police agencies would be re-restrained. Legislators would later say they hadn’t had time to read the bill before voting on it.
Immediately after passage of the anti-terrorism act, his federal police agencies stepped up their program of arresting suspicious persons and holding them without access to lawyers or courts. In the first year only a few hundred were interred, and those who objected were largely ignored by the mainstream press, which was afraid to offend and thus lose access to a leader with such high popularity ratings. Citizens who protested the leader in public - and there were many - quickly found themselves confronting the newly empowered police’s batons, gas, and jail cells, or fenced off in protest zones safely out of earshot of the leader’s public speeches. (In the meantime, he was taking almost daily lessons in public speaking, learning to control his tonality, gestures, and facial expressions. He became a very competent orator.)
Within the first months after that terrorist attack, at the suggestion of a political advisor, he brought a formerly obscure word into common usage. He wanted to stir a “racial pride” among his countrymen, so, instead of referring to the nation by its name, he began to refer to it as “The Homeland,” a phrase publicly promoted in the introduction to a 1934 speech recorded in Leni Riefenstahl’s famous propaganda movie “Triumph Of The Will.” As hoped, people’s hearts swelled with pride, and the beginning of an us-versus-them mentality was sewn. Our land was “the” homeland, citizens thought: all others were simply foreign lands. We are the “true people,” he suggested, the only ones worthy of our nation’s concern; if bombs fall on others, or human rights are violated in other nations and it makes our lives better, it’s of little concern to us.
Playing on this new nationalism, and exploiting a disagreement with the French over his increasing militarism, he argued that any international body that didn’t act first and foremost in the best interest of his own nation was neither relevant nor useful. He thus withdrew his country from the League Of Nations in October, 1933, and then negotiated a separate naval armaments agreement with Anthony Eden of The United Kingdom to create a worldwide military ruling elite.
His propaganda minister orchestrated a campaign to ensure the people that he was a deeply religious man and that his motivations were rooted in Christianity. He even proclaimed the need for a revival of the Christian faith across his nation, what he called a “New Christianity.” Every man in his rapidly growing army wore a belt buckle that declared “Gott Mit Uns” - God Is With Us - and most of them fervently believed it was true.
Within a year of the terrorist attack, the nation’s leader determined that the various local police and federal agencies around the nation were lacking the clear communication and overall coordinated administration necessary to deal with the terrorist threat facing the nation, particularly those citizens who were of Middle Eastern ancestry and thus probably terrorist and communist sympathizers, and various troublesome “intellectuals” and “liberals.” He proposed a single new national agency to protect the security of the homeland, consolidating the actions of dozens of previously independent police, border, and investigative agencies under a single leader.
He appointed one of his most trusted associates to be leader of this new agency, the Central Security Office for the homeland, and gave it a role in the government equal to the other major departments.
His assistant who dealt with the press noted that, since the terrorist attack, “Radio and press are at out disposal.” Those voices questioning the legitimacy of their nation’s leader, or raising questions about his checkered past, had by now faded from the public’s recollection as his central security office began advertising a program encouraging people to phone in tips about suspicious neighbors. This program was so successful that the names of some of the people “denounced” were soon being broadcast on radio stations. Those denounced often included opposition politicians and celebrities who dared speak out - a favorite target of his regime and the media he now controlled through intimidation and ownership by corporate allies.
To consolidate his power, he concluded that government alone wasn’t enough. He reached out to industry and forged an alliance, bringing former executives of the nation’s largest corporations into high government positions. A flood of government money poured into corporate coffers to fight the war against the Middle Eastern ancestry terrorists lurking within the homeland, and to prepare for wars overseas. He encouraged large corporations friendly to him to acquire media outlets and other industrial concerns across the nation, particularly those previously owned by suspicious people of Middle Eastern ancestry. He built powerful alliances with industry; one corporate ally got the lucrative contract worth millions to build the first large-scale detention center for enemies of the state. Soon more would follow. Industry flourished.
But after an interval of peace following the terrorist attack, voices of dissent again arose within and without the government. Students had started an active program opposing him (later known as the White Rose Society), and leaders of nearby nations were speaking out against his bellicose rhetoric. He needed a diversion, something to direct people away from the corporate cronyism being exposed in his own government, questions of his possibly illegitimate rise to power, and the oft-voiced concerns of civil libertarians about the people being held in detention without due process or access to attorneys or family.
With his number two man - a master at manipulating the media - he began a campaign to convince the people of the nation that a small, limited war was necessary. Another nation was harboring many of the suspicious Middle Eastern people, and even though its connection with the terrorist who had set afire the nation’s most important building was tenuous at best, it held resources their nation badly needed if they were to have room to live and maintain their prosperity. He called a press conference and publicly delivered an ultimatum to the leader of the other nation, provoking an international uproar. He claimed the right to strike preemptively in self-defense, and nations across Europe - at first - denounced him for it, pointing out that it was a doctrine only claimed in the past by nations seeking worldwide empire, like Caesar’s Rome or Alexander’s Greece.
It took a few months, and intense international debate and lobbying with European nations, but, after he personally met with the leader of the United Kingdom, finally a deal was struck. After the military action began, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nervous British people that giving in to this leader’s new first-strike doctrine would bring “peace for our time.” Thus Hitler annexed Austria in a lightning move, riding a wave of popular support as leaders so often do in times of war. The Austrian government was unseated and replaced by a new leadership friendly to Germany, and German corporations began to take over Austrian resources.
In a speech responding to critics of the invasion, Hitler said, “Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.”
To deal with those who dissented from his policies, at the advice of his politically savvy advisors, he and his handmaidens in the press began a campaign to equate him and his policies with patriotism and the nation itself. National unity was essential, they said, to ensure that the terrorists or their sponsors didn’t think they’d succeeded in splitting the nation or weakening its will. In times of war, they said, there could be only “one people, one nation, and one commander-in-chief” (“Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer”), and so his advocates in the media began a nationwide campaign charging that critics of his policies were attacking the nation itself. Those questioning him were labeled “anti-German” or “not good Germans,” and it was suggested they were aiding the enemies of the state by failing in the patriotic necessity of supporting the nation’s valiant men in uniform. It was one of his most effective ways to stifle dissent and pit wage-earning people (from whom most of the army came) against the “intellectuals and liberals” who were critical of his policies.
Nonetheless, once the “small war” annexation of Austria was successfully and quickly completed, and peace returned, voices of opposition were again raised in the Homeland. The almost-daily release of news bulletins about the dangers of terrorist communist cells wasn’t enough to rouse the populace and totally suppress dissent. A full-out war was necessary to divert public attention from the growing rumbles within the country about disappearing dissidents; violence against liberals, Jews, and union leaders; and the epidemic of crony capitalism that was producing empires of wealth in the corporate sector but threatening the middle class’s way of life.
A year later, to the week, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia; the nation was now fully at war, and all internal dissent was suppressed in the name of national security. It was the end of Germany’s first experiment with democracy.
As we conclude this review of history, there are a few milestones worth remembering.
February 27, 2003, was the 70th anniversary of Dutch terrorist Marinus van der Lubbe’s successful firebombing of the German Parliament (Reichstag) building, the terrorist act that catapulted Hitler to legitimacy and reshaped the German constitution. By the time of his successful and brief action to seize Austria, in which almost no German blood was shed, Hitler was the most beloved and popular leader in the history of his nation. Hailed around the world, he was later Time magazine’s “Man Of The Year.”
Most Americans remember his office for the security of the homeland, known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and its SchutzStaffel, simply by its most famous agency’s initials: the SS.
We also remember that the Germans developed a new form of highly violent warfare they named “lightning war” or blitzkrieg, which, while generating devastating civilian losses, also produced a highly desirable “shock and awe” among the nation’s leadership according to the authors of the 1996 book “Shock And Awe” published by the National Defense University Press.
Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of government the German democracy had become through Hitler’s close alliance with the largest German corporations and his policy of using war as a tool to keep power: “fas-cism (fbsh’iz’em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”
Today, as we face financial and political crises, it’s useful to remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and prosperity.
Germany’s response was to use government to empower corporations and reward the society’s richest individuals, privatize much of the commons, stifle dissent, strip people of constitutional rights, and create an illusion of prosperity through continual and ever-expanding war. America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class, enforced anti-trust laws to diminish the power of corporations, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort through programs to build national infrastructure, promote the arts, and replant forests.
To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is again ours.
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Feb 19, 2003
“All of us have heard this term ‘preventive war’ since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time…I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.” (President Dwight Eisenhower, 1953, upon being presented with plans to wage preventive war to disarm Stalin’s Soviet Union)
“Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions.” (Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, in his opening statement to the tribunal) […]
This autumn and winter, nuclear danger has returned, in a new form, accompanied by danger from the junior siblings in the mass destruction family, chemical and biological weapons. Now it is not a crisis between two superpowers but the planned war to overthrow the government of Iraq that, like a sentence of execution that has been passed but must go through its final appeals before being carried out, we have talked to death. (Has any war been so lengthily premeditated before it was launched?) Iraq, the United States insists, possesses some of these weapons. To take them away, the United States will overthrow the Iraqi government. No circumstance is more likely to provoke Iraq to use any forbidden weapons it has. In that event, the Bush Administration has repeatedly said, it will itself consider the use of nuclear weapons. Has there ever been a clearer or more present danger of the use of weapons of mass destruction? […]
The aim of the Iraq war has never been only to disarm Iraq. George Bush set forth the full aim of his war policy in unmistakable terms on January 29, 2002, in his first State of the Union address. It was to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, not only in Iraq but everywhere in the world, through the use of military force. “We must,” he said, “prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.” He underscored the scope of his ambition by singling out three countries—North Korea, Iran and Iraq—for special mention, calling them an “axis of evil.” Then came the ultimatum: “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” Other possible war aims—to defeat Al Qaeda, to spread democracy—came and went in Administration pronouncements, but this one has remained constant. Stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction is the reason for war given alike to the Security Council, whose inspectors are now searching for such weapons in Iraq, and to the American people, who were advised in the recent State of the Union address to fear “a day of horror like none we have ever known.” […]
The Bush policy of using force to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction met its Waterloo last October, when Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly was informed by Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju of North Korea that his country has a perfect right to possess nuclear weapons. Shortly, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated, “We have to assume that they might have one or two…. that’s what our intelligence community has been saying for some time.” (Doubts, however, remain.) Next, North Korea went on to announce that it was terminating the Agreed Framework of 1994, under which it had shut down two reactors that produced plutonium. It ejected the UN inspectors who had been monitoring the agreement and then announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, under whose terms it was obligated to remain nuclear-weapon-free. Soon, America stated that North Korea might be moving fuel rods from existing reactors to its plutonium reprocessing plant, and that it possessed an untested missile capable of striking the western United States. “We will not permit…” had been Bush’s words, but North Korea went ahead and apparently produced nuclear weapons anyway. The Administration now discovered that its policy of pre-emptively using overwhelming force had no application against a proliferator with a serious military capability, much less a nuclear power. North Korea’s conventional capacity alone—it has an army of more than a million men and 11,000 artillery pieces capable of striking South Korea’s capital, Seoul—imposed a very high cost; the addition of nuclear arms, in combination with missiles capable of striking not only South Korea but Japan, made it obviously prohibitive.
By any measure, totalitarian North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons is more dangerous than the mere possibility that Iraq is trying to develop them. The North Korean state, which is hard to distinguish from a cult, is also more repressive and disciplined than the Iraqi state, and has caused the death of more of its own people—through starvation. Yet in the weeks that followed the North Korean disclosure, the Administration, in a radical reversal of the President’s earlier assessments, sought to argue that the opposite was true. Administration spokespersons soon declared that the North Korean situation was “not a crisis” and that its policy toward that country was to be one of “dialogue,” leading to “a peaceful multilateral solution,” including the possibility of renewed oil shipments. But if the acquisition by North Korea of nuclear arms was not a crisis, then there never had been any need to warn the world of the danger of nuclear proliferation, or to name an axis of evil, or to deliver an ultimatum to disarm it. […]
The lesson so far? Exactly the opposite of the intended one: If you want to avoid “regime change” by the United States, build a nuclear arsenal— but be sure to do it quietly and fast. As Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said, the United States seems to want to teach the world that “if you really want to defend yourself, develop nuclear weapons, because then you get negotiations, and not military action.”
Although the third of the “axis” countries presents no immediate crisis, events there also illustrate the bankruptcy of the Bush policy. With the help of Russia, Iran is building nuclear reactors that are widely believed to double as a nuclear weapons program. American threats against Iraq have failed to dissuade Iran—or for that matter, its supplier, Russia—from proceeding. Just this week, Iran announced that it had begun to mine uranium on its own soil. Iran’s path to acquiring nuclear arms, should it decide to go ahead, is clear. “Regime change” by American military action in that half-authoritarian, half-democratic country is a formula for disaster. Whatever the response of the Iraqi people might be to an American invasion, there is little question that in Iran hard-liners and democrats alike would mount bitter, protracted resistance. Nor is there evidence that democratization in Iraq, even in the unlikely event that it should succeed, would be a sure path to denuclearization. The world’s first nuclear power, after all, was a democracy, and of nine nuclear powers now in the world, six—the United States, England, France, India, Israel and Russia—are also democracies. Iran, within striking range of Israel, lives in an increasingly nuclearized neighborhood. In these circumstances, would the Iranian people be any more likely to rebel against nuclearization than the Indian people did—or more, for that matter, than the American people have done? And if a democratic Iran obtained the bomb, would pre-emption or regime change then be an option for the United States?
The collapse of the overall Bush policy has one more element that may be even more significant than the appearance of North Korea’s arsenal or Iran’s apparently unstoppable discreet march to obtaining the bomb. It has turned out that the supplier of essential information and technology for North Korea’s uranium program was America’s faithful ally in the war on terrorism, Pakistan, which received missile technology from Korea in return. The “father” of Pakistan’s bomb, Ayub Qadeer Khan, has visited North Korea thirteen times. This is the same Pakistan whose nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahood paid a visit to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan a few months before September 11, and whose nuclear establishment even today is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists. The BBC has reported that the Al Qaeda network succeeded at one time in building a “dirty bomb” (which may account for Osama bin Laden’s claim that he possesses nuclear weapons), and Pakistan is the likeliest source for the materials involved, although Russia is also a candidate. Pakistan, in short, has proved itself to be the world’s most dangerous proliferator, having recently acquired nuclear weapons itself and passed on nuclear technology to a state and, possibly, to a terrorist group. […]
What is of most desperately immediate concern, however, is that America’s pre-emptive war will lead directly to the use of the weapons whose mere possession the war is supposed to prevent. In the debate over the inspections now going on in Iraq, it sometimes seems to be forgotten that Iraq either does possess weapons of mass destruction (as Colin Powell has just asserted at the UN) or does not possess them, and that each alternative has consequences that go far beyond the decision whether or not to go to war. If Iraq does not have these weapons, then the war will be an unnecessary, wholly avoidable slaughter. If Iraq does have the weapons, then there is a likelihood that it will use them. Why else would Saddam Hussein, having created them, bring on the destruction of his regime and his personal extinction by hiding them from the UN inspectors? And if in fact he does use them, then the United States, as it has made clear, will consider using nuclear weapons in retaliation. Powell has asserted that Saddam has recently given his forces fresh orders to use chemical weapons. Against whom? In what circumstances? Is it possible that this outcome—a Hitlerian finale—is what Hussein seeks? Could it be his plan, if cornered, to provoke the United States into the first use of nuclear weapons since Nagasaki?
We cannot know, but we do know that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has stated that if Iraq uses weapons of mass destruction against American troops “the United States will use whatever means necessary to protect us and the world from a holocaust”—“whatever means” being diplomatese for nuclear attack. The Washington Times has revealed that National Security Presidential Directive 17, issued secretly on September 14 of last year, says in plain English what Card expressed obliquely. It reads, “The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies.” Israel has also used diplomatese to make known its readiness to retaliate with nuclear weapons if attacked by Iraq. Condoleezza Rice has threatened the Iraqi people with genocide: If Iraq uses weapons of mass destruction, she says, it knows it will bring “national obliteration.” (Threats of genocide are flying thick and fast around the world these days. In January, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes threatened that if Pakistan launched a nuclear attack on India—as Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has threatened to do if India invades Pakistan—then “there will be no Pakistan left when we have responded.”) William Arkin writes in the Los Angeles Times that the United States is “drafting contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons.” STRATCOM—the successor to the Strategic Air Command—has been ordered to consider ways in which nuclear weapons can be used pre-emptively, either to destroy underground facilities or to respond to the use or threats of use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States or its forces. […]
We do not have to wait for war in Iraq, however, to consider the likely impact of Washington’s new policies on democracy’s global fortunes. The question has already arisen in the period of preparation for war. The Bush Administration has not forced the world to read between the lines to discover its position. It proposes for the world at large the same two-tier system that it proposes for the decision to go to war and for the possession of weapons of mass destruction: It lays claim to absolute military hegemony over the earth. “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace,” the President said in his speech at West Point. The United States alone will be the custodian of military power; others must turn to humbler pursuits. The sword will rule, and the United States will hold the sword. As the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has pointed out, the policies of unilateral pre-emption, overthrow of governments and overall military supremacy form an integral package (the seizure of Middle Eastern oilfields, though officially denied as a motive, also fits in). These elements are the foundations of the imperial system that Ignatieff and others have delineated.
However, empire is incompatible with democracy, whether at home or abroad. Democracy is founded on the rule of law, empire on the rule of force. Democracy is a system of self-determination, empire a system of military conquest. The fault lines are already clear, and growing wider every day. By every measure, public opinion in the world—its democratic will—is opposed to overthrowing the government of Iraq by force. But why, someone might ask, does this matter? How many divisions do these people have, as Stalin once asked of the Pope? The answer, to the extent that the world really is democratic, is: quite a few. In a series of elections—in Germany, in South Korea, in Turkey—an antiwar position helped bring the winner to power. In divided Korea, American policy may be on its way to producing an unexpected union of South and North— against the United States. Each of these setbacks is a critical defeat for the putative American empire. In January, the prime ministers of eight countries—Italy, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary—signed a letter thanking the United States for its leadership on the Iraq issue; but in every one of those countries a majority of the public opposed a war without UN approval. The editors of Time’s European edition asked its readers which nation posed the greatest threat to world peace. Of the 268,000 who responded, 8 percent answered that it was North Korea, 9 percent Iraq and 83 percent said the United States. Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair is prepared to participate in the war without UN support, but some 70 percent of his people oppose his position. The government of Australia is sending troops to assist in the war effort, but 92 percent of the Australian public opposes war unsanctioned by the UN. Gaddis rightly comments that empires succeed to the extent that peoples under their rule welcome and share the values of the imperial power. The above election results and poll figures suggest that no such approval is so far evident for America’s global pretensions. The American “coalition” for war is an alliance of governments arrayed in opposition to their own peoples.
In a defeat parallel to—and greater than—the military defeat before the fact in the field of proliferation, the American empire is thus suffering deep and possibly irreversible political losses. Democracy is the right of peoples to make decisions. Right now, the peoples of the earth are deciding against America’s plans for the world. Democracy, too, has pre-emptive resources, setting up impassable roadblocks at the first signs of tyranny. The UN Security Council is balking. The United States’ most important alliance—NATO—is cracking. Is the American empire collapsing before it even quite comes into existence? Such a judgment is premature, but if the mere approach to war has done the damage we already see to America’s reputation and power, we can only imagine what the consequences of actual war will be.
The Administration has embarked on a nonproliferation policy that has already proved as self-defeating in its own terms as it is likely to be disastrous for the United States and the world. Nevertheless, it would be a fatal mistake for those of us who oppose the war to dismiss the concerns that the Administration has raised. By insisting that the world confront the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush has raised the right question—or, at any rate, one part of the right question—for our time, even as he has given a calamitously misguided answer. Even if it were true—and we won’t really know until some equivalent of the Pentagon Papers for our period is released—that his Administration has been using the threat of mass destruction as a cover for an oil grab, the issue of proliferation must be placed at the center of our concerns. For example, even as we argue that containment of Iraq makes more sense than war, we must be clear-eyed in acknowledging that Iraq’s acquisition of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction would be a disaster—just as we must recognize that the nuclearization of South Asia and of North Korea have been disasters, greatly increasing the likelihood of nuclear war in the near future. These events, full of peril in themselves, are points on a curve of proliferation that leads to what can only be described as nuclear anarchy. […]
Nations acquire nuclear arsenals above all because they fear the nuclear arsenals of others.
But fear—soon properly renamed terror in the context of nuclear strategy—is of course also the essence of the prime strategic doctrine of the nuclear age, deterrence, which establishes a balance of terror. Threats of the destruction of nations—of genocide—have always been the coinage of this realm. From the beginning of the nuclear age—indeed, even before the beginning, when the atomic bomb was only a gleam in Roosevelt’s eye—deterrence and proliferation have in fact been inextricable. Just as the United States made the bomb because it feared Hitler would get it, the Soviet Union built the bomb because the United States already had it. Stalin’s instructions to his scientists shortly after Hiroshima were, “A single demand of you, comrades: Provide us with atomic weapons in the shortest possible time. You know that Hiroshima has shaken the whole world. The equilibrium has been destroyed. Provide the bomb—it will remove a great danger from us.” England and France, like the United States, were responding to the Soviet threat; China was responding to the threat from all of the above; India was responding to China; Pakistan was responding to India; and North Korea (with Pakistan’s help) was responding to the United States. Nations proliferate in order to deter. We can state: Deterrence equals proliferation, for deterrence both causes proliferation and is the fruit of it. This has been the lesson, indeed, that the United States has taught the world in every major statement, tactic, strategy and action it has taken in the nuclear age. And the world—if it even needed the lesson—has learned well. It is therefore hardly surprising that the call to nonproliferation falls on deaf ears when it is preached by possessors—all of whom were of course proliferators at one time or another. […]
India has maintained a nuclear program almost since its independence, in 1947. Although supposedly built for peaceful uses, the program was actually, if mostly secretly, designed to keep the weapons option open. But it was not until shortly after China tested a bomb in 1964 that India embarked on a concerted nuclear weapons program, which bore fruit in 1974, when India tested a bomb for “peaceful” purposes. Yet India still held back from introducing nuclear weapons into its military forces. Meanwhile, Pakistan, helped by China, was working hard to obtain the bomb. In May of 1998, India conducted five nuclear tests. Pakistan responded with at least five, and both nations promptly declared themselves nuclear powers and soon were engaged in a major nuclear confrontation over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has explained the reasons for India’s decision in an article in Foreign Affairs. India looked out upon the world and saw what he calls a “nuclear paradigm” in operation. He liked what he saw. He writes, “Why admonish India after the fact for not falling in line behind a new international agenda of discriminatory nonproliferation pursued largely due to the internal agendas or political debates of the nuclear club? If deterrence works in the West—as it so obviously appears to, since Western nations insist on continuing to possess nuclear weapons—by what reasoning will it not work in India?” To deprive India of these benefits would be “nuclear apartheid”—a continuation of the imperialism that had been overthrown in the titanic anticolonial struggles of the twentieth century. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, under which 183 nations have agreed to forgo nuclear arms, and five who have them (the United States, England, France, Russia and China) have agreed to reduce theirs until they are gone, had many successes, but in India’s backyard, where China had nuclear arms and Pakistan was developing them, nuclear danger was growing. Some have charged that the Indian government conducted the 1998 tests for political rather than strategic reasons—that is, out of a desire for pure “prestige,” not strategic necessity. But the two explanations are in fact complementary. It is only because the public, which observes that all the great powers possess nuclear arsenals, agrees that they are a strategic necessity that it finds them prestigious and politically rewards governments that acquire them. Prestige is merely the political face of the general consensus, ingrained in strategy, that countries lacking nuclear weapons are helpless—“eunuchs,” as one Indian politician said—in a nuclear-armed world.
Curiously, the unlimited extension in 1995 of the NPT, to which India was not a signatory, pushed India to act. From Singh’s point of view, the extension made the nuclear double standard it embodied permanent. “What India did in May  was to assert that it is impossible to have two standards for national security—one based on nuclear deterrence and the other outside of it.” If the world was to be divided into two classes of countries, India preferred to be in the first class.
As Singh’s account makes clear, India was inspired to act not merely by the hypocrisy of great powers delivering sermons on the virtues of nuclear disarmament while sitting atop mountains of nuclear arms—galling as that might be. He believed that India, with nuclear-armed China and nuclearizing Pakistan for neighbors, was living in an increasingly “dangerous neighborhood.” The most powerful tie that paradoxically binds proliferator to deterrer in their minuet of genocidal hostility is not mere imitation but the compulsion to respond to the nuclear terror projected by others. The preacher against lust who turns out to take prostitutes to a motel after the sermon sets a bad example but does not compel his parishioners to follow suit. The preacher against nuclear weapons in a nation whose silos are packed with them does, however, compel other nations to follow his example, for his nuclear terror reaches and crosses their borders. The United States terrorizes Russia (and vice versa); both terrorize China; China terrorizes India; the United States terrorizes North Korea; North Korea terrorizes Japan; and so forth, forming a web of terror whose further extensions (Israel terrorizes…Iran? Egypt? Syria? Libya?) will be the avenues of future proliferation. It is thanks to this web that every nuclear arsenal in the world is tied, directly or indirectly, to every other, rendering any partial approach to the problem extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The devotion of nations to their nuclear arsenals has only been strengthened by the hegemonic ambition of the United States. Hitherto, the nuclear double standard lacked a context—it was a sort of anomaly of the international order, a seeming leftover from the cold war, perhaps soon to be liquidated. America’s imperial ambition gives it a context. In a multilateral, democratic vision of international affairs, it is impossible to explain why one small group of nations should be entitled to protect itself with weapons of mass destruction while all others must do without them. But in an imperial order, the reason is perfectly obvious. If the imperium is to pacify the world, it must possess overwhelming force, the currency of imperial power. Equally obviously, the nations to be pacified must not. Double standards—regarding not only nuclear weapons but conventional weapons, economic advantage, use of natural resources—are indeed the very stuff of which empires are made. For empire is to the world what dictatorship is to a country. That’s why the suppression of proliferation—a new imperial vocation—must be the first order of business for a nation aspiring to this exalted role. […]
War in Iraq has not yet begun, but its most important lesson, taught also by the long history of proliferation, including the Indian chapter just discussed, is already plain: The time is long gone—if it ever existed—when any major element of the danger of weapons of mass destruction, including above all nuclear danger, can be addressed realistically without taking into account the whole dilemma. When we look at the story of proliferation, whether from the point of view of the haves or the have-nots, what emerges is that for practical purposes any distinction that once might have existed (and even then only in appearance, not in reality) between possessors and proliferators has now been erased. A rose is a rose is a rose, anthrax is anthrax is anthrax, a thermonuclear weapon is a thermonuclear weapon is a thermonuclear weapon. The world’s prospective nuclear arsenals cannot be dealt with without attending to its existing ones. As long as some countries insist on having any of these, others will try to get them. Until this axiom is understood, neither “dialogue” nor war can succeed. In Perkovich’s words, after immersing himself in the history of India’s bomb, “the grandest illusion of the nuclear age is that a handful of states possessing nuclear weapons can secure themselves and the world indefinitely against the dangers of nuclear proliferation without placing a higher priority on simultaneously striving to eliminate their own nuclear weapons.”
The days of the double standard are over. We cannot preserve it and we should not want to. The struggle to maintain it by force, anachronistically represented by Bush’s proposed war on Iraq, in which the United States threatens pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons to stop another country merely from getting them, can only worsen the global problem it seeks to solve. One way or another, the world is on its way to a single standard. Only two in the long run are available: universal permission to possess weapons of mass destruction or their universal prohibition. The first is a path to global nightmare, the second to safety and a normal existence. Nations that already possess nuclear weapons must recognize that nuclear danger begins with them. The shield of invisibility must be pierced. The web of terror that binds every nuclear arsenal to every other—and also to every arsenal of chemical or biological weapons—must be acknowledged.
If pre-emptive military force leads to catastrophe and deterrence is at best a stopgap, then what is the answer? In 1945, the great Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr said simply, in words whose truth has been confirmed by fifty-eight years of experience of the nuclear age, “We are in a completely new situation that cannot be resolved by war.” In a formulation only slightly more complex than Bohr’s, Einstein said in 1947, “This basic power of the universe cannot be fitted into the outdated concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world.” Both men, whose work in fundamental physics had perhaps done more than that of any other two scientists to make the bomb possible, favored the abolition of nuclear arms by binding international agreement. […]
The inspected and enforced elimination of weapons of mass destruction is a goal that in its very nature must take time, and adequate time— perhaps a decade, or even more—can be allowed. But the decision to embrace the goal should not wait. It should be seen not as a distant dream that may or may not be realized once a host of other unlikely prerequisites have been met but as a powerful instrument to be used immediately to halt all forms of proliferation and inspire arms reductions in the present. There can be no successful nonproliferation policy that is not backed by the concerted will of the international community. As long as the double standard is in effect, that will cannot be created. Do we need more evidence than the world’s disarray today in the face of Iraq’s record of proliferation? Today’s world, to paraphrase Lincoln, is a house divided, half nuclear-armed, half nuclear-weapons-free. A commitment to the elimination of weapons of mass destruction would heal the world’s broken will, and is the only means available for doing so. Great powers that were getting out of the mass destruction business would have very short patience with nations, such as Iraq or North Korea, getting into that business. The Security Council would act as one. The smaller powers that had never made their pact with the devil in the first place would be at the great powers’ side. Any proliferator would face the implacable resolve of all nations to persuade it or force it to reverse its course.
Let us try to imagine it: one human species on its one earth exercising one will to defeat forever a threat to its one collective existence. Could any nation stand against it? Without this commitment, the international community—if I may express it thus—is like a nuclear reactor from which the fuel rods have been withdrawn. Making the commitment would be to insert the rods, to start up the chain reaction. The chain reaction would be the democratic activity of peoples demanding action from the governments to secure their survival. True democracy is indispensable to disarmament, and vice versa. This is the power—not the power of cruise missiles and B-52s—that can release humanity from its peril. The price demanded of us for freedom from the danger of weapons of mass destruction is to relinquish our own.
(Excerpts from an essay by Jonathan Schell in The Nation)
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Feb 15, 2003
In midsummer of 1943, during a long heat wave, the RAF, supported by the United States Eighth Army Air Force, flew a series of raids on Hamburg. The aim of Operation Gomorrah, as it was called, was to destroy the city and reduce it to ashes. In a raid early in the morning of July 28, beginning at 1am, thousands of tonnes of high-explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped on the densely populated residential area north of the Elbe. A now familiar sequence of events occurred: first, all the doors and windows were torn from their frames and smashed by high-explosive bombs weighing 4,000lbs, then the attic floors of the buildings were ignited by lightweight incendiary mixtures, and, at the same time, fire bombs weighing as much as 30lbs fell into the lower stories. Within a few minutes, huge fires were burning across the bombed area, which covered about eight square miles, and they merged so rapidly that, only a quarter of an hour after the first bombs had dropped, the whole airspace was a sea of flames as far as the eye could see. Five minutes later, at 1.20am, a firestorm arose of an intensity that no one would ever before have thought possible. Reaching more than a mile into the sky, it snatched oxygen to itself so violently that the air currents reached hurricane force, resonating like mighty organs with all the stops pulled out at once.
The fire burned like this for three hours. At its height, the storm lifted gables and roofs from buildings, flung rafters and entire advertising kiosks through the air, tore trees from the ground, and drove human beings before it like living torches. Behind collapsing facades, the flames shot up as high as houses, rolled like a tidal wave through the streets at a speed of more than 90 miles an hour, spun across open squares in strange rhythms, like spinning cylinders of fire. The water in some of the canals was ablaze. The glass in the tramcar windows melted; stocks of sugar boiled in the bakery cellars. Those who had fled from their air-raid shelters sank, in grotesque contortions, in the thick bubbles thrown up by melting asphalt. No one knows for certain how many lost their lives that night, or how many went mad before they died. When day broke, the summer dawn could not penetrate the leaden gloom above the city. The smoke had risen to a height of five miles, where it spread like a vast, anvil-shaped cumulonimbus cloud. A wavering heat, which the bomber pilots said they had felt through the sides of their planes, continued to rise from the smoking, glowing mounds of stone. Residential districts whose street lengths totalled 120 miles were utterly destroyed. Horribly disfigured corpses lay everywhere. Bluish little phosphorous flames still flickered around many of them; others had been roasted brown or purple and reduced to a third of their normal size. They lay doubled up in pools of their own melted fat, which had sometimes already congealed. The central death zone was declared a no-go area in the next few days. When labour gangs of prisoners and camp inmates could begin clearing it, in August, after the rubble had cooled down, they found people still sitting at the tables where they had been overcome by carbon monoxide.
Elsewhere, clumps of flesh and bone or whole heaps of bodies had cooked in the water gushing from bursting boilers. Other victims had been so badly charred and reduced to ashes by the heat, which had risen to a thousand degrees or more, that the remains of families consisting of several people could be carried away in a single laundry basket.
(taken from an edited extract from On the Natural History of Destruction by WG Sebald)
I have always wondered why people in Germany just never talked about the bombing campaign against their cities. It’s not that grievances were never uttered. There was some talk about what people went through in Russia, say - where one of my grandfathers died. I grew up in Wilhelmshaven which, I think, was the first German city bombed. It was and still is a major naval port and thus attracted much attention. On top of that, on the way home bombers used to drop what was left over Wilhelmshaven. 70% of my hometown was destroyed during WWII.
I always thought that destruction was the price Germans just had to pay for the war they inflicted on Europe. But maybe that’s not a very good way to think about things. Now I think that the bombing war was utterly immoral and a major war crime. Of course, I’m including the German bombs on Rotterdam, say, and Hiroshima, too. It is known for a fact that the bombing of German cities actually strengthened the Nazi regime. And it had almost no effect on wartime industrial production.
Bombing civilians can never be justified. It’s a disgrace for the human race. And with a war in Iraq coming up, with an expected number of civilian casualties ranging into the tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands, this discussion has all the more importance. Can we allow our democratically elected leaders - stretching the meaning of “democratically elected” in the case of Bush jr. somwwhat - to kill so many innocent people for those “principles” they claim to stand for - especially if through those principles we see shining through commercial interests like oil?
If you read what Mr Blair said today, warmongering in the face of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens demonstrating against the war he wants to lead, you can only be disgusted. He’s seriously delusional enough to think he knows what’s best. Those demonstrators have Britain given back some of its dignity which it has lost due to the disgraceful politics of Mr Blair.
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Feb 6, 2003
In today’s The Gaurdian Timothy Garton Ash goes beyond the ridiculous crap we’ve lately been given as opinions about Iraq and weighs arguments for and against the war on Iraq. You could easily add some more to that list. You’d think that you’d find something like this in newspapers of democratic countries. Sadly enough, that’s not the case. Shouldn’t we learn something from the very fact that what they give us a newspapers hardly qualify as anything else but - to quote Martin Luther - an “ass wipe”?
“In defence of the fence” by Timothy Garton Ash
After watching Colin Powell’s riveting performance at the UN security council, with its crackling phone intercepts, satellite photos and carefully crafted televisual moments, I asked myself: what does this change in your view of the Iraq war? The answer is: not much. I remain unconvinced by the case for - and doubtful of the case against. “He has the fence firmly stuck up his arse,” a friend recently remarked of the poet laureate’s position on Iraq. “Fence-sitter” is rarely a compliment. Most people admire decisiveness and despise vacillation. Adversarial party politics demands the immediate taking of stands and the exaggeration of minor difference. The media, fiercely competing for viewers, listeners and readers, cry out for strong, polarised positions: Bush v Saddam, Benn v Thatcher, Hitchens (C) v Hitchens (P). It makes better television, you see. But on Iraq, I would still like to defend a position of tortured liberal ambivalence. Being liberal doesn’t mean you always dither in the middle on the hard questions. I was strongly against the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, against the American interventions in Nicaragua and El Salvador, for military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, and for the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan, all on good liberal grounds. Iraq is different and more difficult. I see four strong arguments on each side. For 1 Saddam’s regime is one of the nastiest in the world today. He has committed genocide against the Kurds and holds his own people in terror. To remove him would be a blessing for his country and the region. However messy postwar Iraq became - and it surely would be messy, like postwar Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan - it could hardly be worse. 2 Saddam has twice attacked neighbouring countries. He has, as Powell documented, stockpiled large quantities of horrifying chemical and biological weapons, and is hiding what remains of them. He is still trying to get nuclear ones. If he ever got an effective, deliverable nuclear weapon, this would be a major disaster for the world - as it would be in North Korea, but rather more so, because of who Saddam is and where he is. I support CNDD: the Campaign for the Nuclear Disarmament of Dictators. 3 He has flouted 16 UN resolutions over 12 years. He clearly does not want to disarm, or to cooperate fully with the UN inspectors. (What self-respecting sovereign dictator would?) The justification in international law for military action is stronger in this case than over Kosovo. A second UN resolution would give the “proper authority” required by Just War theory. 4 Consequences (optimistic). This could be a catalyst for democratic change in the Middle East. A peaceful, prosperous, reconstructed Iraq - an “Iraqi West Germany” - could be a model for the whole region. Next stops, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The spread of freedom might eventually transform the regional context for solving the Israel-Palestine problem, as the democratisation of eastern Europe finally brought the solution to the division of Germany. Against 1 War should always be a last resort. However magically precise the new American hi-tech bombs are, innocent Iraqis will be killed. Couldn’t Saddam be kept in check for years to come by the current combination of deterrence and containment? 2 Just War theory asks for “right intention”. On balance, I think Blair has the right intentions. I’m not convinced about the Bush administration. Different people there have different agendas, of course, and human motives are always mixed. As a crude indication, I’d put the motives index something like this: · A feeling that this is part of a broader “war against terrorism” which since September 11 is a fight for the homeland security of the US, 20%. · A genuine conviction that Saddam with weapons of mass destruction poses a major threat to the free world, 20%. · Frustration at not being able to get Osama bin Laden or wrap up al-Qaida, coupled with the conviction that you can at least use your vast military power to defeat Saddam, 15%. · A sense of unfinished business from the first Gulf war, plus George Bush’s personal anger at “the guy who tried to kill my dad”, 15%. · An initial calculation by Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove, perhaps now regretted, of domestic political advantage, 10%. · A sense that there’s no way back. How can Bush go into the next presidential election with Saddam still in power? 10%. · That hope of transforming the Middle East, also to the long-term advantage of Israel, 5%. · Oil, 5%. You can vary the percentages according to taste, but whichever way you turn it, this does not add up to a majority set of good liberal reasons. 3 Saddam’s links to al-Qaida are marginal. All the evidence that Colin Powell could muster showed little more. It just will not do to claim that war on Iraq is the continuation of an enlightened struggle against “Islamic fascism” that began on September 11. Osama bin Laden regards Saddam’s regime as apostate. They are two very bad things, but they are also two very different things. 4 Consequences (pessimistic). Even if Islamicist terror bombers hate Saddam, an American-British “imperial” invasion of Iraq will increase the chances of Arab terror attacks in Europe and America. If you want to democratise the Middle East, an imperial war is not the best way to start. Supporting a velvet revolution in Iran, fostering democratic reform in Saudi Arabia and knocking together the fat heads of Sharon and Arafat to advance an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would all be better. Anyway, the model occupation-born democracies of West Germany and Japan are historical exceptions. We’re as likely to see an “Iraqi Yugoslavia”, torn between Kurd, Shia and Sunni. Bush’s America has no stomach for “nation-building”, and the acronym-soup international administrations of Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc are hardly encouraging examples. Altogether, the regional consequences are more likely to be bad than good. My hunch is that if you injected Tony Blair with a truth serum in the dark reaches of the night, he would confess to most of this liberal ambivalence. I don’t believe that he has secret intelligence of a kind that would convince us all if only we could be allowed to see it. And the Foreign Office is constantly whispering warnings in his ear. But in public, he is full of passionate, even missionary conviction. Why? Because of who he is, of course - a Gladstonian Christian liberal interventionist. Perhaps because he thinks that maintaining British solidarity and influence with the US is more important even than the probable negative consequences of a war with Iraq. But also because he’s prime minister, not a writer or commentator. He has to decide. He has to lead. He has to convince a sceptical public and resentful party. That doesn’t mean we all have to do the same, putting just one side of a complex dilemma with passionate, simplistic conviction. Even if it does make better television.
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Jan 29, 2003
Being one of those pesky foreigners (worse still, being one of those Germans who just don’t want to go to war any longer) has a bunch of advantages. You’re viewing things in a different way. In a sense, it’s easier to see through things - at least through things in other countries. I bet I have no clue about all the crap going on in Germany because I’m so used to it. But as I live in the US I’m mainly dealing with all things American now, and, frankly, it’s quite amazing.
Take that “State of the Union” speech last night. The president enters the room and there’s applause. From everybody. How can that be? Doesn’t the US have an opposition? When the German Chancellor (or any other leader of any other democratic country I know of) gives a speech like that the opposition doesn’t applaud. Quite on the contrary. So that’s weird to me. And then they have the camera which shows Bush jr *below* what seems to be his waist level. So Bush jr looks really big. That’s just some cheap manipulation.
Anyway. So Bush jr. gives this speech - which I duly didn’t watch coz that’s the thing to do I learned. It suffices to read the main points the next day and, no surprise, no surprise, there’s nothing new in it. Well, you have that in any country I suppose. But there are some funny bits to the whole thing. For example, Bush jr continued claiming all those really weird things - like that really bad math about how “on the average” all the people get so much money back (hey, if Bill Gates is in the same room as me that makes me a billionary - on the average), and about Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda (for which we haven’t seen and - let me predict - will not see any solid evidence). And what does the press do? They just keep buying it. It’s like watching a commercial where they tell you all that stuff which obviously isn’t true at all but if they repeat it often enough you (literally) buy it.
And the longer Bush jr is president, the more efforts are made to explain that he’s not really dumb or stupid - as if we all didn’t know how to spot somebody who’s dumb. So the latest explanation - courtesy of the New York Times - is that Bush is just “anti-intellectual” or not interested in details. Well that might well be but with those kinds of qualifications they wouldn’t let you run a kindergarten here, right? And the New York Times isn’t worried or rather *very* worried?
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Jan 24, 2003
Very good article about whether Europeans are anti-American or just anti-Bush.
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Jan 18, 2003
Need some investing advice in these hard times? Why not buy stocks of those companies which benefit the most from Bush jr’s policies? Check out the Perpetual War Portfolio.
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Jan 8, 2003
It’s quite amazing to see how the Bush administration has turned that weapons inspector business into a modern equivalent of a witch inquiry - with only slight modifications. In the old days, there was basically no way for people to show that they were no witches. If they survived whatever was done to them that was proof that they were witches. If they didn’t survive… Well, that was too bad. For instance, people used to tie up a suspect and throw her into the river. If she drowned… You get the idea. Bush’ way of dealing with those weapons inspectors is basically the same. First of all, like the witch inspectors, he assumes he’s dealing with somebody who’s guilty (which, btw, is not exactly the kind of behaviour you’d expect from somebody whose jurisdiction follows democratic rules…). And the inspection will just show that Hussein is guilty. If they don’t find anything bad that’s just sign that he’s guilty because he’s hiding the stuff. If they find something he’s guilty, too.
Of course, we shouldn’t feel too sorry with somebody like Hussein but I think we should expect slightly higher standards and a more civilized behaviour from the person who is supposed to be the leader of the free world. And I’m not even going to mention all those double standards involved here. So expect a war on Iraq. The decision has been long made and as Bush’s approval ratings haven’t been that great lately there would be a nice side-effect. Plus, for a while people will stop wondering why all those grandiose tax cuts schemes won’t help the economy (hint: check out Economy 101…).
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Nov 7, 2002
An interesting interview with Chris Hedges, author of the book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. After the US elections this week this topic has become ever more pressing.
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