Tuesday, July 31, 2007


On August 1, 2007 the Irate Codger’s sister Diane wrote,

Ned died on Sunday morning in hospital. He was taken by ambulance on Friday evening as he was having difficulty breathing and was put on life support. By Sunday he told me to take him off everything—he wanted to go. The doctor explained to him the process and it went very fast. He was given morphine in a drip and when he felt very comfortable the meds keeping his blood pressure up were removed and he just slipped away.

It had been a long hard road. This is from a letter he wrote on February 8, 1995:

Last fall I heard an interview with the writer Reynolds Price on PBS concerning his book about his own spinal cancer, paralysis, and ten years of pain. He was asked, ‘Do you ever ask, “Why me?”’ He said, ‘That’s one thing in all this about which I feel some pride. I never waste my time asking that question. Why not me?’ Well, I’ve never wasted time on it either. It’s rotten luck, but some people have rotten luck, that’s all. It’s made me despair often, but I don’t feel any grievance. It was nothing personal.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Irate Codger Remembers When He Almost Met I. F. Stone

When thirteen years ago my happy home was sundered by cancer and my wife deposited me on my mom's doorstep, I was compelled to sell off about fifteen hundred books. Some were particularly hard to part with--Roger Angell's baseball books, Whitney Balliet's jazz criticism, and especially I. F. Stone's journalism of the sixties and early seventies collected in In a Time of Torment and Polemics and Prophecies. So it was like welcoming back a revered mentor when last Fall I bought The Best of I. F. Stone, an anthology of Stone's reportage of forty years in The Nation, PM, I. F. Stone's Weekly, and The New York Review of Books, a generous 340 pages of his "best" work as adjudged by Karl Weber.

I've no grounds at all to quarrel with Weber's selections, but I was disappointed to find that only fifty of the 340 pages were given to Stone's Vietnam War pieces, for it was in those polemics, written at the flush tide of his influence, when the circulation of the Weekly rose to 70,000, that his razor-sharp analyses of Johnson and Nixon administration stratagems, blunders, follies and hubris were most desperately needed. Stone and Noam Chomsky, Walter Lippmann, J. William Fullbright, and George F. Kennan saved sanity from near death in those berserk years and kept alive hope that she might eventually be resuscitated and restored to something like full health. (As indeed she was, until 9/11/01 when 89% of the nation decided it was time to go completely nuts again.)

Specifically, I missed in The Best of I. F. Stone a piece Stone wrote in 1969 or 1970 about the monstrous technological advantage the most advanced industrial power on earth enjoyed over its adversary, an Asian nation of thirty million. We had by then dropped a greater tonnage of high explosives on North and South Vietnam and Cambodia than on all theaters in World War II, each bomb making a crater twenty yards across and five deep; we'd sprayed millions of acres in the highlands and marshlands of the Camau peninsula alike with Agent Orange; and then there were the "daisy-cutter" bombs, the Rome plows, the napalm, the Cluster Bomb Units, and even scent-locators dropped over the Ho Chih Minh trail said to be able to discriminate between human and animal urine, so that if an NLF soldier put down a mortar base-plate to take a leak, beep beep, you could phone in an air strike! And despite all that, these scrawny peasants in black pajamas with their MK-47s, their mortars, light artillery, ponji sticks, tunnels, and land mines were undeniably kicking our asses and in the end would certainly win. The title of that piece was "More Than Steel and Chrome Can Bear."

Included in the anthology, however, was an essay I had all but forgotten and which suddenly--as we say--"took me back," "Goldwater and His Tribe," July, 1964. Rather, it seized me by the collar and yanked me back. Gosh, did I ever remember. In July, 1964, I had another month and a half to go as news director at KPFA. It was all settled: I was going back to Berkeley for a Ph.D., I had a teaching assistantship assured me, and Scott Keech would succeed me as news director. But one unsettling fact loomed in the immediate foreground: across the bay at the Cow Palace the Republicans would soon nominate a candidate for president. How should we at KPFA cover this thing? A silly idea, really, a news department with one salaried member, me, attempting to "cover" an event given, in those days, saturation "gavel to gavel" coverage by three giant TV networks. And yet attention ought to be paid. What sort of gesture might suffice to establish that our little lefty news operation was not rudely ignoring the Republicans in their jubilation at having at last, as they said, "a choice, not an echo" in their candidate. The station's relationship to that party was all but nonexistent. There was one Republican on Public Affairs Director Elsa Knight Thompson's "rota" of fourteen or so commentators, Casper Weinberger, then chairman of the California Republican Committee, and much, much later Reagan's Secretary of Defense. Good old Cap would come to the studio twice a month to record his talk, which would always begin, "Good evening. This is Cap Weinberger with your regular Republican commentary..." He was the only Republican in the Bay Area who did not shun KPFA, and he was therefore precious to us.

It seemed to me that we might assemble a panel of four or five newsies for a one hour wrap-up and analysis of the convention on the evening of its last day. Not competing with the networks, mind, which by then would have returned to their regular prime-time programing. Perfect. Then, too, the station had recently acquired a studio, a recording space, in San Francisco, not far from the Cow Palace. Who covering the convention might we be able to lure to so convenient a place? Station Manager Trevor Thomas lightly threw in that I. F. Stone was coming to the convention, that Izzy was a friend of his, and might be persuaded to appear on our show. My God! To meet I. F. Stone! To have him on my show!!

I must have left Scott to tend the newsroom one afternoon, for I remember taking a cable car on a chilly, gray day to Nob Hill, walking into the lobby of the Fairmount, and seeing TV lights, more brilliant than anything I'd imagined, trained, like guard tower searchlights at a stalag, on the elevator bank. Then an elevator door opened and out came the candidate, grimly waving to the cheering throng, his jutting jaw like Dick Tracy's, a nimbus of phosphorescence around his gray head. What was I doing there? Soaking up "color"? Hopeful of interviewing someone? I can't remember.

Then I am interviewing someone, the campaign manager for the dark horse compromise candidate, Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania. The campaign manager is the state attorney general and I'm trying to stammer out cogent, seemingly well informed questions about this impossible candidacy and I'm failing; my ego has experienced vertigo and has plummeted, I feel utterly fraudulent, there's a quaver in my voice and a nerve is pulsing so insistently in my left cheek that I fear it is visible. I'm so obviously unready for this role of crack reporter that the campaign manager, a kindly man, says softly, "Take it easy, son."

In the aftermath of my humiliating failure of nerve with the AG I resolve to maintain a bold, aggressive front at whatever cost, and my ambition has soared to frightening heights. If I. F. Stone, why not Norman Mailer? Mailer is my hero. I've read everything he's written (in high school I delivered a "book report" on The Naked and the Dead, for which my English teacher prudently required I furnish written permission from my mother) and I think "Superman at the Supermarket," his 1960 Esquire essay on JFK is the most profound piece ever written on contemporary American culture and politics. I write a note to Mailer at the Saint Francis Hotel desk.

At the press lounge in the Saint Francis mezzanine I find myself sitting next to a genial gent who introduces himself as Hiram Johnson III. What, grandson of TR's running mate in the Bull Moose campaign of 1912, progressive Republican governor then long-time senator from California? The very same. III lives comfortably in his bachelor quarters in Belvedere and is a non-practicing attorney at law. Although a member of the California delegation, he's more an amused spectator of the mob scene than a participant. Think of Burl Ives and you have him, in manner if not appearance. I like him immensely; he's my Virgil in this Purgatorio, providing owlish asides about bigshots in the passing parade. I confide to him my audacious hope of getting Mailer for my radio show.

The next afternoon I again encounter Johnson, who says, "Guess who I ran into yesterday? Mailer. Fine fellow, we had a few drinks, and he told me he wants to be on your show." Through the roof! (A troubling note, however: Trevor Thomas has not yet succeeded in contacting his friend Izzy.) If Mailer, why not William F. Buckley? They've debated one another. How could Buckley resist appearing in this venue with his old antagonist? I leave a message for Buckley at the Saint Francis desk.

There's another reason I want to get Buckley. In 1962 he appeared at Berkeley in a room on the north side of Wahrenbrock auditorium before about sixty students, mainly admiring undergraduates, and I was there. He began by sliding his tongue over his lips and saying with a sneer, "Is there anyone at this late date who still denies that Owen Lattimore was a Russian spy?" Silence. I wanted to say, "Yes, there is. I deny that Lattimore was a Russian spy." Hell, I knew this was a McCarthyite lie. I had read Lattimore's Ordeal by Slander in high school and knew that Lattimore was still at Johns Hopkins. So why didn't I speak? Because Buckley must know something I didn't, otherwise why would he say this without fear of refutation? Of course it was a lie, as I soon learned to my hot shame. In the studio, I fantasized, I'd compel him to own up.

Next memory. I have somehow secured a floor pass to the Cow Palace and am out on the left aisle making my way past the California delegation. There, midway down one row, are Ronnie and Nancy, she gravely beautiful with startling blue eyes, and he with head cocked to the right, perhaps favoring a hearing aid in his left ear, a half-smile, half-grin on his face, gazing into the middle distance, perhaps pleased by the oratory or perhaps tuned out, in either case prepared to beam at an admirer should one suddenly appear.

(That this man should in two years become governor, burying Pat Brown in a landslide, the same Pat Brown who in 1962 had defeated Richard Nixon by two million votes, is as yet beyond imagining, as would be the circumstances permitting such an outcome, namely the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley which would commence in two months when the UC regents discovered that the southern boundary of the campus extended across the "Bancroft bricks" to the street's gutter, and that the card tables set up by YPSL, YSA, CORE, Snick, etc. were therefore in violation of the "Kerr Directives" forbidding political advocacy on campus. Then would follow in May, 1965, the first march against the war, fifteen thousand students parading down Telegraph Avenue before being halted by the Oakland cops and DA Ed Meese at the Oakland city line. The lesson to the voters of California in 1966 was clear: the hapless Governor Pat Brown simply couldn't control those campus radicals. Well by God Roanld Reagan would! Ah, the painful ironies of history! We activists won the fight for free speech [Mario Savio's great speech on the Sproul Hall steps in December, '64, was just last year, in 2006, included in a Library of America volume of great American orations] but we also unwittingly elected Reagan and made possible his presidency. And did all those years of anti-war marches shorten the Vietnam War by a single day? I fear not. It was a decade from the first march in May, '65, that the war ended in May, 1975.)

But my quarry this day is not in the California delegation, but forty or so yards farther along the aisle, in the New York delegation. He is John V. Lindsay, the celebrated congressman from the upper east side Manhattan "silk stocking district," and there will be no repeat of my collapse before the Pennsylvania attorney general. I am determined to talk some fast shit to get Lindsay as the fourth in my august on-air panel. Think of it, Stone, Mailer, Buckley, and Lindsay, and me as David Susskind, the knowledgeable and witty host. There is Lindsay standing in front of me, the most handsome man I've ever met; he's leaning forward listening intently against the booming oratory from the poldium, looking down at our shoes as I speak, and as I plunge ahead with this impossible sales talk, his eyes rise slowly from our shoes to my face, and register--what? Polite incredulity, I think.

The rest is quickly told. Lindsay won't be able to make it; he has an early flight. I. F. Stone is far too busy (boy, was that the truth. As Stone's account revealed, he was all over the place, the Fairmount, the Mark Hopkins, the Saint Francis, and especially the appalling Jack Tar on Van Ness where most of the redneck delegations were lodged. I get Mailer on the phone. "Yeah, I told Johnson I wanted to be on your show, and I'd really like to do it, but I've thought it over and decided I'd better not. I might say things I shouldn't." I, the fan, helpfully supplied the rest: "Because you're under contract to Esquire and it wouldn't do to say things over the air that might later appear in print?" "Yeah, that's right." Buckley said he was intrigued by the idea of appearing on my show, but circumstances wouldn't permit. However, might he suggest an excellent replacement, namely the president of campus Young Americans for Freedom? Thanks Bill, but no thanks.

So, whom did I get? It was all very much "below the battle," as Randolph Bourne would say, some fascinated lefty political junkies sitting around a table in a darkened studio chatting far beneath all that Republican oratorical thunder filling the skies. Gene Marine, former KPFA news director, now free-lancer; Sid Roger, editor of the United Longshoreman's and Warehouseman's Union Dispatcher; a Canadian journalist I'd run into from the Ottawa magazine Fortnight, much bemused by the ferocity of American politics, especially as manifested by the lynch mob that shouted down Nelson Rockefeller, and a fourth I can't now remember. It was a lot of fun. And I later heard from a few listeners, all KPFA diehards, of course, that it was an excellent show. I simply wasn't destined to play David Suskind. I'd tried, it hadn't come off, and I had no regrets. But one thing I think of now: that fourth, so insignificant I can't remember him: why didn't I pick Hiram Johnson III?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Irate Codger remembers

If Barbara Tuchman were still with us she would now be completing a second and much expanded edition of The March of Folly. And what a grand cavalcade of fools it is, following haltingly and with mounting panic in the footsteps--nay, strides--of our Lunatic-in-Chief as he leads us over a cliff! At this rate, how many months can it be before the Baghdad Green Zone becomes our own Dien Bien Phu?

Since 9/11 I've felt increasingly like Tiresias, Sophocles's blind seer in the Theban plays, cursed with foreknowledge of all horrors but powerless to avert them. When I saw those airplanes flying into the Twin Towers, the immediate certainty that froze my blood was "Now this country is going to go nuts." An orgy of patriotism. Everywhere, large Old Glory decals on the rear windows of sports-utility vehicles. A nation in arms. America, it was said, "has never been this united since Pearl Harbor."

And then the Senate vote for war in October, 2002, every Republican and a majority of Democrats voting to give George W. carte blanche to wage war at a time of his choosing while pretending they didn't know what they were doing. Biden, Rockefeller, Clinton, Edwards, Dodd, and, most disgracefully, Kerry, getting out of the way of the super-nationalist juggernaut, saving their own political hides for a more favorable day when reason might come back into fashion.

I remember a Republican senator taunting Robert Byrd with the reminder that he had voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 1964, and Byrd responding that, yes, he had voted for that resolution and it was the worst he had ever cast in forty years in the Senate, the one he rued more than any other, and now his colleagues had the opportunity to redeem that wrong by not giving Bush the same power he had so heedlessly handed to LBJ.

The Tonkin Gulf resolution. I was 28 then, the news director at KPFA, and I was stunned by that vote. Four hundred and twenty to nothing in the House, 98 to 2 in the Senate, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska the only dissenters. I wrote for broadcast a fifteen minute "Special Report" about the North Vietnamese "aggression" the resolution granted LBJ all power to "repel." The story was that two destroyers, the Maddox and the Turner Joy, were on "routine patrol" in "international waters" in the Gulf when, in the middle of the night, they were suddenly and without provocation attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. I had read a story three or four weeks before in the back pages of the New York Times about U.S. Navy SEALS training South Vietnamese counterparts to stage hit and run raids on North Vietnamese coastal installations. There was a North Vietnamese oil refinery on the coast that had been hit and burned. Could it be, as Morse had suggested, that those destroyers were standing offshore to receive South Vietnamese saboteurs returned from such a mission?

Of course it was all so murky. Much later it would be said that there had been no such PT boat attack at all, that a radar man on one of the destroyers had seen some "snow" on his screen and there had been panic firing upon nothing. Whatever the case, Johnson and McNamara had lied to William Fullbright about the circumstances of the case, and the duped senator from Arkansas had floor-managed the resolution to the final vote after almost no debate.

So, in 2002, Tiresias asked himself, "Have we no memory at all? Must we learn all over again the lesson of Tonkin, and again pay in years of treasure and blood, only in the end to face inevitable ruin and boundless humiliation?" And by degrees the recognition dawned on him that many, perhaps most, of the "liberal hawks" so eager for war in 2002-2003 were not even born in 1964! Think of Martin Peretz's stable of hardnosed young smart-alecs at the New Republic---Jonathan Chait, Franklin Foer, Peter Beinert--or George Packer at the New Yorker, all under forty. Two weeks after 9/11 Packer wrote a piece in the New York Times Magazine titled "C'mon in Liberals, the Water's Fine!" It was an appeal to chronic worry-warts on the left to get over their aversion to patriotism and join the rest of the nation in celebrating our new-found unity and resolve. One knew that if given the opportunity to take it to Saddam Hussein, this guy would be all for it, as he was. (And not only that. Packer in 2006 would write in the New Yorker that yes, he'd been wrong about the decision to go to war, but wrong for the right reasons, whereas many of those who had been right had been so for the wrong reasons. They'd been "simplistic" in their opposition to the war, blind to the real danger posed by Saddam; his position had been "nuanced," attentive to ambiguities they'd ignored. Rather like Scott Fitzgerald's saying that the mark of a first-rate mind as its ability to hold dialectically opposed ideas in equipoise.)

Old Tiresias's mind goes back again and again to a moment in January, 1964, a little more than a month after Kennedy was shot. I had the idea for an on-air panel discussion. We have a new president. What direction should Johnson's Viet Nam policy take? The Berkeley professoriat was rich in both hawks and doves. The most notable hawk was Robert Scalapino, the chairman of the Political Science department. I phoned him and asked if he'd care to take part. He had other pressing engagements, but recommended a junior member of the department, Chalmers Johnson. Johnson agreed to appear. Among the doves, perhaps the most qualified was the sinologist Franz Schurmann from Sociology. He too agreed to participate. I can't remember how I got the third--I suppose he was recommended by either Johnson or Schurmann--anyway, he was a young graduate student from Vietnam named Huynh Kim Khanh.

I, of course, was in no doubt about what Johnson's policy should be: get out while the getting was good. Of course, too, I knew he wouldn't. Here some perhaps tedious background. When I went up to Berkeley in 1961 to pursue an MA, my first contact was Peggy McCormack, a pal who had gone to Berkeley a year earlier to get an MA, but instead had got pregnant, married, and during her pregnancy had immersed herself in a study of Vietnam since 1946 and the gradual involvement in it of the U.S. She'd gone through NY Times microfilm back to 1953 and the Geneva accords and had read every story Homer Bigart, the Times's Saigon correspondent, had filed since, along with a great deal else.

Her lover, now husband, was Bill Plosser, assistant to Gene Marine, the news director at KPFA. I fell in with that lot immediately. I remember a small group of us at a corner booth of Edy's Coffee Shop, downstairs from the KPFA studios on Schattuck, Marine the picture of the hardbitten newsman (he'd become famous a year two before for his exclusive radio interview with Caryll Chessman, the accused "Lover's Lane Killer," weeks before Chessman's execution at San Quentin). I'd never heard of KPFA, the first listener-supported, non-commercial station in the U.S. and the forerunner of NPR. before going up to Berkeley. I began volunteering in the news department almost immediately. In 1962, Chris Koch of KPFA worked up Peg's researches into broadcast form, and that three or four part series was almost certainly the first serious treatment of Vietnam to be featured on any American radio or television station.

In the meantime, Gene Marine left the station to freelance, Plosser succeeded him for a year or so to be followed briefly by John Ohliger, and in January, 1963, weeks after getting my M.A., I became news director. Things were already in a bad way in Vietnam, as anyone could see who had been reading the reportage from Saigon by David Halberstam of the New York Times, Malcolm Browne of the AP, and Neil Sullivan of UPI. Buddhist bonzes were immolating themselves in protest against the rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, "free fire zones" were proclaimed covering vast areas of the countryside over which US aircraft and helicopters bombed or fired on anyone in sight, and "Sunrise Hamlets" were being constructed as containment pens for peasants supporting the National Liberation Front. The week I became news director, the NLF breached the security perimeter at Tan Son Nhut airbase just outside of Saigon and blew up six American fighter jets on the tarmac. Evidently, the ARVN weren't the most reliable guards, weren't, indeed, very good at anything, while "Charlie," the NLF, or Viet Cong, seemed to consist of very determined soldiers.

In February, the State Department put on a public information show for the media at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, and Marshall Windmiller and I went. Marshall, a professor of international relations at San Francisco State, broadcast a ten or fifteen minute program every week on KPFA, also available as a news letter, and he was simply invaluable, as keen and skeptical an observer as I. F. Stone. So there we were in this banquet room at the St. Francis listening to an array of speakers before the star of the show appeared, David Bell, the administrator of the Agency for International Development. A little more than a year ago, Bell said, he'd visited a village in Vietnam where security was frightfully bad and the peasants demoralized and deeply unsure of their government in Saigon. "I again visited that village a few weeks ago," Bell said, "and you would rub your eyes at the recovery of morale of these people, thanks to the security now being provided them." And this was the story wherever you looked in the countryside. Marshall and I rolled our eyes at one another.

A year later, things were much worse. Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, the defense minister, Ngo Dinh Nhu, had been murdered in an ARVN coup (and Mme. Nhu, a Roman Catholic who had scoffed at the "bonze barbecues," had fled to the Riviera with her lovely daughter), and the country was now being run by a general known as Big Minh. My view of the conflict was by then at bottom pretty simple: in a civil war between urban absentee landlords and rural peasants in an overwhelmingly rural country, put your money on the peasants every time.

This was the situation the evening Chalmers Johnson, Franz Schurmann, and Huynh Kim Khanh came to the KPFA studios. During the week before, I'd scouted out Johnson in the library. His credentials were formidable. His doctoral dissertation at Berkeley had been published two years earlier (Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937-1945, Stanford University Press, 1962). I read it. Brilliant. On the strength of it and his obvious promise, Scalapino had not only hired him, but advanced him to a tenured associate professorship. This young man, only 32 or 33, had as a student mastered not only Mandarin, but Japanese as well. So the question for me was how a guy as intelligent as he could be so deluded.

I have no memory now of the points debated in that stimulating hour, although I do remember feeling some disappointment in Khanh, who seemed to me excessively deferential to the two antagonists. As I remember, his family was from Hanoi and had moved south after the division of Vietnam in 1954 to Saigon, and I wanted to know what he, who had seen both sides of the conflict, thought of it all. But discretion was his watchword, understandably, given his delicate position. (Twenty years later, watching an episode of PBS's 20-part documentary on the Viet Nam War, I was surprised suddenly to see Khanh, now in Paris at the Sorbonne, commenting on Vietnamese Communism.)

Schurmann had a rather easier time of it than Johnson because--well, because he was right and Johnson was wrong, but Johnson very ably argued for the view that the expansion of the "Communist bloc" must be stopped in Vietnam, and that it was America's duty to do so. But at the very end of the discussion, his earnestness became intense, agitated, and in the face of Schurmann's increasingly persuasive case that in the end "pacification" in Vietnam was a lost cause, Johnson's voice rose as he said, "I simply cannot believe, I refuse to believe, that with the caliber of our forces there, some of the best trained, most disciplined, and prepared officers and men we have ever sent into conflict anywhere, that victory is not achievable. I just don't believe it." I looked at him, and behind his horn-rimmed glasses, his eyes were almost imploring. All I could make of it afterward was, "He must be CIA."

Twenty years later, Chalmers Johnson moved from Berkeley to the University of California at San Diego, where he had his own Asian Studies department, and he poured out a series of books on Japanese economic history and East Asian politics. Then in 2000 he published Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, a repudiation of everything he had believed thirty-six years before. Everything. In the prologue, forthrightly titled "A Spear-Carrier For Empire," he described how he had become that, first as a young Naval officer in the last year of the Korean conflict, and later, unwittingly, as an academic. "I believed," he wrote, "that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position."

When the student protest against the war erupted at Berkeley in the Spring of 1965, Johnson was outraged by the ignorance of student protesters who simply knew nothing of Asian communism and didn't care that they knew nothing. "As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow....In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naivete and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong."

I won't bother describing what a brilliant, impassioned, and necessary book Blowback is--and its sequel, The Sorrows of Empire. The point I want to make at the end of this very long letter is that Johnson's firmly anti-imperialist stance is so far out of the "mainstream" of legitimate American discourse that Blowback went unreviewed by most of the press, including the New York Times, and was dismissed by Foreign Affairs as "reading like a comic book." You won't find op-ed pieces by Chalmers Johnson anywhere (he used to appear in the LA Times, but that fine newspaper is no more; it was replaced by an imposter when the Chicago Tribune Company acquired it). His utterly disqualifying fault is that he opposed the invasion of Iraq from the outset and years ago described accurately its inevitable consequences.

Molly Ivins, Paul Krugman, and Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler blog have all noted the ruthless exclusion of premature naysayers from the "where do we go from here?" discussion. Whom did Tim Rutten invite to discuss our Iraqi predicament on "Meet the Press" last Sunday? Tom Friedman and Davids Brooks. Yesterday on NPR's ATC, the sought-out expert was Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, whose book of 2002 was titled The Case For War. And everywhere one sees and hears Michael O'Hanlon, also of the Brookings Institution, a hawk from the outset--but, as he always notes, a liberal hawk, a Democratic hawk. O'Hanlon is listened to with such grave respect by Scott Simon of Saturday Weekend Edition, Leanne Hansen of Sunday Weekend Edition, and Neal Conan of Talk of the Nation that you'd think he was a revered parish priest, the beloved Faddah Mike.

The two most-consulted military experts appearing on the TV networks are General Barry McCaffrey and Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, both of whom affect a blunt, even somber realism, but both of whom surely know that if they ever were to utter the obvious, namely that the jig's up, their usefulness as consultants would immediately come to an end. Thus, Cordesman wrote an op-ed for the NYT last wednesday titled "One War We Can Still Win," the tag of which was "The situation in Afghanistan is dire, but not yet hopeless." Keep your chin up, Tony.

In the Sunday Week in Review section for December 10, the Times produced a smorgasbord of twelve expert views of the Iraq Study Group's report that it thought "worth considering." The second was by Richard Perle. The fifth was by Fouad Ajami, whitey's favorite Ay-rab, who wrote a heads-up in the NYTimes Magazine in the early days of Al Jazeera warning that although that network posed as moderate, it was in fact a nest of sinister Islamists to be shunned at all costs, and on The News Hour With Jim Lehrer just before the invasion told us not to worry about a negative Arab reaction; actually, the Arabs favored the invasion, they just couldn't say so openly for fear of the Arab street. The only voice among the twelve who opposed the invasion at the outset (at least, I assume he did; it would be consistent with his sober German skepticism concerning US policies) was Josef Joffe of Die Zeit.

No Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, who wrote on the eve of the invasion that if Vietnam had been a quagmire, Iraq would be a maelstrom. No General Joseph Hoar, USMC Ret., head of Centcom from 1988 to 1993, who said before the invasion that Donald Rumsfeld was deranged and the venture bound to fail. No Chalmers Johnson, and certainly no Scott Ritter, who is about as far from the mainstream as Pluto is from the Sun, who warned beforehand that the grounds for war were utterly baseless, and who recently reaffirmed his extremism for all to see by publishing a book warning of Bush plans to bomb or invade Iran. Such views as theirs are definitely not "worth considering." Only certified spear-carriers for empire need be heeded.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld and the Uses of Historical Analogy

Last week, in an attempt to firm up the national will for the titanic struggle for democracy in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld invoked the specter of appeasement at Munich in 1938, noting the catastrophic results of the failure of the world's democracies to stand up to Fascism then, a tragic mistake we dare not repeat in Iraq. Many before him had invoked that dreadful parallel. Forty years ago, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State to JFK and LBJ, again and again summoned the memory of Munich and 1938 in urging the US to stay the course in Vietnam, even throwing in Santayana's hoary warning that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. As Rusk's unhappy experience reminds us, historical analogies are always fraught with the possibility of error.

The Irate Codger very recently encountered a gentleman in full agreement with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld on what is at stake in Iraq who, while agreeing with them on the saliency of Munich, proposed another, strikingly different, analogy which he insisted was even more compelling. This chap's analogy seems to the I.C. bizarre in many respects. Still, it does possess a certain logic of its own, especially if two or three of its premises are granted, even provisionally, a degree of plausibility. My animated friend, in a distinctly central European accent, spoke so heatedly and with such conviction that I was almost persuaded that he had a serious case. He eagerly accepted my offer to post his essay, but insisted on retaining his anonymity, for reasons which can perhaps be guessed at once his essay has been read. For the consideration of the curious, and as a fascinating exercise in the employment of historical analogy, I reprint it in full:




In the past week, three world-historical figures, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their intrepid, indominatable Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, have summoned the nation and the entire civilized world unflinchingly to gird ourselves for a showdown with Islamo-Fascism in Iraq in what is no mere military conflict but--in the President's stirring words--"the decisive ideological conflict of the 21st Century." Although the century still has ninety-four years to run, there can be no doubt that our President is right. As our gallant British ally Tony Blair said a few weeks ago, there is an "arc of Islamic extremism" stretching half way around the world, from Indonesia in the east to Morroco in the west, if not, as yet, to the Pyrenees, which is the deadly enemy of all that is decent, and all that we cherish. We have before us an unavoidable clash of civilizations.

As President Bush so eloquently said, "If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities." How true that is. Are we willing to do what it takes to destroy the Mahdi Army of Muktada al Sadr in Basra and Baghdad, or do we want to face this Mad Mullah's hordes in Hamtramk and Dearborn? Our very survival is at stake.

Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Secretary Rumsfeld reminded his listeners of the fate of those weak-willed democracies that so ingloriously failed to stand up to Hitler at Munich. Will we go the way of the disgraced Neville Chamberlain, or will we follow the defiant example of Winston Churchill?

As Mr. Rumsfeld said, the signs are not at all reassuring that the United States possesses the requisite will to endure and prevail. Although victory over Islamo-Fascism is within our grasp, the counsels of the cut-and-runners erode and undercut our patriotism. In his speech, Mr. Rumsfeld rightly ignored the timorous clamorings of a gaggle of Army and Marine generals who, from the safety of retirement, have called for his resignation, but he did take note of the sad fact that our defeatist media are focused on the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib, while virtually ignoring the fact that Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith has become "the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the global war on terror." And now critics are emboldened to call the facility at Guantanamo a "gulag," when in fact the prisoners have been given a library in which their favorite reading is Harry Potter. "Can we truly afford," the Secretary pointedly asked, "to return to the destructive view that America--not the enemy--is the real source of the world's troubles?" The consequences of such self-doubt are too severe, he said, to allow a "blame America first" mentality to overwhelm us.

Mr. Rumsfeld made it starkly clear: on the very threshold of victory over a deadly enemy in a struggle which will determine the fate of civilization for the remainder of this century and beyond, the only thing that stands in the way of our triumph is our own irresolution, our own doubts of America's greatness. The magnificent achievements of the Bush administration in Iraq through three costly years of war must not be thrown away by Qaeda-type Democrats. Failure now is not an option.

And so it was with Imperial Germany in the summer of 1918. "What?," the reader will ask. "Germany at the threshold of victory in the Summer of 1918?" Yes, yes, anyone familiar with the History of World War I "knows" that in the spring of 1918, General Erich Ludendorff, by now the virtual dictator of Germany and a megalomaniacal super-annexationist, gambled all on a last-chance spring offensive and lost, and then in September resigned and cynically threw to the politicians the responsibility for dealing with the ruinous consequences of his policies. Germany's defeat, we are told, was then assured. This, at any rate, is the established consensus of triumphalist English and American historians, concurred in, I fear, by not a few German historians who should have known better.

But the truth is precisely the opposite! Consider Germany's position that summer. On the Eastern Front, the hordes of now-Bolshevized Slavs had been vanquished the year before after three years of hard fighting. On the Western Front, the Gauls and Anglo-Saxons were in their last throes. The Americans had learned to their cost that singing "Let's hang Kaiser Bill" is one thing, and facing determined German steel is quite another. Germany had everything to fight for. The Allies had vilified Germans as "the Hun" for applying a firm hand in Belgium, and dared to call the people which had given the world Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Wagner, "barbarians." Germans knew the very survival of their culture was now at stake.

Furthermore, Germany had more men under arms in 1918 than ever before! And finally there is the irrefutable fact that even on the day of the Armistice, not a single hectare of the Fatherland had been trodden by the boots of the "victors"! The army was still in Belgium and France. The Wehrmacht had not been defeated!

How, then, came Germany's humiliation? First, there were the media, specifically the Berlin press, dominated by press lords who were, shall we say, distinctly "cosmopolitan," not to say Orientalized, and who carried in their "sophistication" the virus of defeatism. Second, circling the skies, the vultures of international finance, sprung from their crags and lairs in London, Paris, and Zurich, eager to feed on the financial carrion that was the German people. And finally, the German Social Democratic Party, which had for years been eager for a peace on Allied terms and finally got one. This combination of enemies foreign and domestic in the end prevailed.

In view of what I am now about to say, let me make it perfectly clear at the outset that I carry no brief for Adolf Hitler. As events in the 1930s and forties would prove, he was a wicked man who did many, many bad things. But this was a Hitler shattered after four years of fighting in the trenches by the Great Betrayal, demoralized by Germany's undeserved defeat, as were millions of his countrymen. The young Hitler of 1918 was an idealist, a patriot of the purest type whose love for the Fatherland was bottomless. And it was this fiery young idealist, not yet the master orator he would become, who in a moment of pure inspiration, addressing a meeting of the Wehrverein, found voice to shout, "I say to the wall to those traitors who tell us that Germany--not the enemy--is the source of our troubles! I say the firing squad is but a mercy to those who would blame Germany first!"

Now recall the pride taken by Donald Rumsfeld in the Medal of Honor bestowed on Sergeant Smith. Young Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross for conspicuous bravery in the face of the enemy in 1918. Is it far fetched to think that Herr Rumsfeld, had he been there, might have taken equal pride in pinning the Iron Cross to the dusty gray tunic of young Corporal Hitler with a husky, "Well done, soldier"?


Hmmm... Now that I've re-read and entirely absorbed Mr. Z's words, I think he's almost as far gone in fantasy, almost as much a nut case, as Donald Rumsfeld.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Saving Corporal Shalit, Part Two

"Disproportionate Response"

The question as to whether Israel's response to the abduction of two soldiers by Hezbollah and the deaths of eight others had been "disproportionate" arose when it was confirmed that the ratio of deaths had reached ten Lebanese for each Israeli ("With Israeli Use of Force, Debate Over Proportion," NYT, front page, July 19), but it might well have been raised over "Operation Summer Rain" in Gaza weeks earlier.

"Operation Summer Rain," which still proceeds and which has resulted in the deaths of at least 165 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier killed by friendly fire, was commenced in response to two things, the abduction of Corporal Shalit, and the rain of several hundred Qassam rockets on Israeli territory, mainly in and around the town of Sderot, since January. The firing of these rockets by Hamas from northern Gaza has constituted an unendurable and even maddening provocation in the eyes of Israelis and their allies. Thus David Remnick, the New Yorker editor, writes (July 31), "Palestinian fighters, with the encouragement of the new Hamas government, lobbed more than seven hundred rockets into Sderot and other towns in southwestern Israel. Olmert had to respond." The American Israeli Michael B. Oren, the historian of the Six-Day War, wrote in the LA Times ("Israel: One Nation Under Attack," July 26) that "The attacks from Lebanon coincided with aggression from Gaza, where Hamas terrorists fired about 1000 Kassam rockets at Israeli towns and farms." These assaults from both Lebanon and Gaza imperil Israel's very existence, Oren wrote. "Israel's purpose is not retribution but survival." An outraged Yossi Klein Halevi--the sulfurous Halevi is always outraged--wrote, "No Israeli town within the 1967 borders has experienced the kind of relentless attacks Sderot has suffered." (TNR, July 30)

Usually the Qassam rockets have a range of about three miles, but on July 4, one landed on an empty high school in Ashkelon, six miles from the border. Olmert called this "an escalation of unprecedented gravity in the campaign of terror waged by Hamas..."

One thing that is hardly ever mentioned about the Qassam rockets, however, is the number of Israelis who have been killed by them since January, when the firing began. Whether the number of Qassams fired is 700 or 1000, the fact is that no Israeli has been killed by one. I believe four have been injured. This is remarkable, indeed astonishing, is it not? At least 700 rockets launched and not a single fatality. The futility is almost perfect.

What accounts for it? The rockets are home-made. This Spring a BBC reporter with a cameraman interviewed three or four Hamas "fighters" making the rockets, guys in black ski masks with green Hamas scarves. The rockets looked lethal enough: machined steel pipe, rocket fins, shiny black warheads. But they don't work. Moreover, the Israelis often seem to know the locations of the "factories" in which they're made, so these guys are far more likely to be bombed to bits than to kill an Israeli. Yet the rocket launchings enjoy wide support among Gazans. Why? Because, as a New York Times story reported, what with their power knocked out, sonic booms shattering their sleep every night, huge Israeli tanks roaring through daily, bulldozers destroying their orchards, and Gaza City being bombed nightly, Gazans figure that with the rockets being fired, a few thousand Israelis are losing their sleep every night too.

Here is an example of the weak and powerless finding refuge from their helplessness in purely symbolic retribution. Al Jazeera reported last month that "the resistance" had been just at the point of calling off the Qassams. Hamas was for it, also the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, but a third group--I forget which--said "No," that would be a humiliating capitulation to the Zionist entity, and so the others, not wanting to be branded traitors, reluctantly agreed to the continuation of the "campaign." Here, then, is one of the dire threats to Israel's very existence.

Oh yes, the debate in the American media over Israel's possibly disproportionate response to Hezbollah "aggression." There was hardly any debate, really; you might almost call the response of Israel's supporters "preemptive," so quick out of the box were they. Jonathan Chait, Martin Peretz's most promising young man at the New Republic (Chait's not even thirty), struck a pose of lofty and contemptuous amusement in his LA Times column. The charge of disproportionate force, he said, "is just silly." True, "Israel has taken the lives of several hundred Lebanese civilians (many entirely innocent, others who sheltered Hezbollah rockets)," and true too that "Every innocent death is a tragedy," but look at the big picture and the issue of Israeli intent: "Where Israel has bombed civilian areas, it has been in an attempt to strike Hezbollah's rockets." Anyway, "The brutal fact is that civilian deaths are Hezbollah's strongest weapon." Boy, has young Mr. Chait ever earned his Peretz stripes! Promote that lad to captain.

The Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen ("...No, It's Survival," Tuesday July 21) said calls for "proportion" "rankle." "Israel is, as I have often said,..gentrifying a pretty bad neighborhood." (So Cohen likes to think of Israelis as middle class urban pioneers buying up abandoned Victorians in a ghetto, gamely sprucing them up, dry-walling interiors and restoring their original color schemes, while trying to live with the drug-dealing openly going on down at the corner and the pimpmobiles cruising insolently by.) As Cohen notes, these protests against allegedly disproportionate Israeli force mainly came from "a whole lot of European newspapers" (they certainly didn't appear in American ones) and, he said, "they fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditzy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East." In other words--must one spell it out?--Anti-Semitism!

I read no columnist in an American newspaper who called the month-long bombing of south Beirut what it surely was, a war crime. I read today that the number of "homes" lost to the Lebanese in this war is 15,000. Would it be a fair guess that perhaps 10,000 of these were in Beirut? Contrary to the opinion of young Mr. Chait, there were no Hezbollah rockets fired from there. This atrocity was masked by the American networks' and NPR's quite routine description of south Beirut as a "Shiah stronghold."

My Concise Oxford provides two meanings for stronghold: a fortified place, or a "center of support for a cause, etc." Thus, for example, "the South Bronx has long been a Democratic Party stronghold." South Beirut is a Shiah stronghold only in that sense, but the repeated use of the word "stronghold" implied that the area was a legitimate military target.

One journalist/columnist who has been simply magnificent through the whole month of the war is Gideon Levy, the leftwing columnist of Ha'aretz who Sunday after Sunday has denounced Israel's prosecution of the war, and who called for a cessation even while Condolleeza Rice was using diplomacy to sabotage diplomacy. "Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalist atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything," he wrote on July 30. "The insensitivity and blindness that has characterized Israel in recent years is intensifying."

"The devastation we are sowing in Lebanon doesn't touch anyone here and most of it is not even shown to Israelis. Those who want to learn what Tyre looks like now have to turn to foreign channels." "Lebanon, which has never fought Israel..is being detroyed by our planes and cannons and nobody is taking into account the amount of hatred we are sowing." "Maariv, which has turned into the Fox News of Israel, fills its pages with chauvinist slogans reminiscent of particularly inferior propaganda machines..." And on he went.

Even in peacetime, Israel has had, as Joel Beinin of Stanford has written, "a hypermilitarized political culture," but it has been at floodtide for the last month, and it ran over Levy. Ha'aretz attaches "blogs" to its columns--responses from readers--and those attached to Levy's have been savage. The first one I read said, "How do you spell 'Gideon Levy'? Y*E*L*L*O*W." Subsequent ones were pretty much in that spirit.

Human Shields

It has often been said in American media that Hezbollah, such is its indifference to the loss of innocent life, has employed human shields to protect its fighters. Thus, David Remnick of the New Yorker, while deploring the recklessness of Israel's bombing of Lebanon, felt it necessary to balance this with the observation that, "The Party of God, for its part, uses civilians as both shields and targets, and boasts of its own escape." Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, said, in the NY Times' paraphrase, "Hezbollah had used Lebanese civilians as human shields and had deliberately exposed them to danger in the hopes of stirring expressions of outrage against Israel." (Times, Mon July 31) Then as we have seen, Jonathan Chait, while regretting the loss of "innocent" civilian life, said an indeterminate number of civilians were "sheltering" rockets (I suppose we must call these people voluntary human shields).

So routine were such allegations that NPR anchors felt obliged with some frequency to ask correspondent Ivan Watson, who was in the thick of it in southern Lebanon, if he had witnessed such activity. And Watson wearily replied again and again that he had not. Few Hezbollah were to be seen in the destroyed villages and towns he reported from. The rockets, he said, always seemed to be fired from the next ridge, or from the valley beyond. On one occasion near the end of the conflict he did say he'd spoken to a man in a Christian village who said the Hezbollah had commandeered his house the night before and fired rockets from the second floor. But that was it.

Human Rights Watch's "Summary" of its findings regarding violations of human rights noted (hrw.org/reports, 8/9/06) "The Israeli government claims that it targets only Hezbollah and that fighters from the group are using civilians as human shields, thereby placing them at risk. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attacks." Further, "In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack."

None of which deterred Dubya from saying on August 15 that "Hezbollah terrorists used Lebanese civilians as human shields, sacrificing the innocent in an effort to protect themselves from Israeli response."

The full absurdity of such allegations can only be understood if you try to imagine how a Hezbollah fighter with a couple of Katyushas would endeavor to protect himself from an airstrike with a human shield. "Holy shit, here comes an F-16! I'll just have to grab this woman and hold her in front of me! The kid, too--I'll be safe behind two."

So, no use of human shields in Middle Eastern conflict? Wrong. Ask yourself in what circumstances a soldier might find a human shield a handy thing to have. Say when he's a member of an infantry squad. Patrolling a rubble-strewn bombed out hostile town. A town in which a guy with a Kalashnikov might be drawing a bead on him right now from behind one of any number of dark windows. If that soldier grabs a local man or woman to walk in front of him....

B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories reports "20 July 2006: Israeli Soldiers Use Civilians as Human Shields in Beit Hanun, Northern Gaza." The soldiers seized six people, two of them minors, on 17 July, and had them stand at the entrances of rooms in a house where the soldiers had stationed themselves, and made their captives stay there for six hours, during which time there were intense exchanges of gunfire between the soldiers and armed Palestinians outside.

This sort of thing has been routine in the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saving Corporal Shalit and Other Episodes of Sheer Madness

Two Sundays ago, taking refuge from the lethal craziness in Lebanon on the front page and in the Week in Review section of the Times, I turned to the Book Review for relief and came upon an essay by Nick Tosches on yet another try at translating the Iliad. With all its darkness and bloodshed, Tosches wrote, its insistence upon remarking "dismal death" and "vile destiny," Homer's epic is "more knowing in its awareness of humanity's distinguishing trait--its inhumanity--than literature of later ages."

Boy, you can say that again, I thought. Not in a long time has irrational fury in all its forms and guises been so spectacularly on display as it has in the last six weeks or so in the Middle East, and all these fireworks of human viciousness, this epic of collosal folly, presented on so compressed and visible a stage, too! It's only about 160 miles from Gaza to Beirut, about the distance from San Diego to Thousand Oaks on the Ventura freeway, about a three-hour drive including a coffee stop at Denny's. The Israeli Air Force flew 9,000 missions into Lebanon between July 12 and the cease-fire, and dropped who knows how many tons of ordnance. Hezbollah fired 8,000 Katyushas into the Galilee in the same period, burning up 16,000 acres of forest and grazing lands. Whoopee, Destruction Derby time! All mad, quite, quite mad.

Begin with Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas gunmen who tunneled from Gaza into Israel and snatched the unfortunate youth on June 25. Israel is well known for prizing the life of every young man and woman who serves in the IDF, an admirable national trait. How to get the corporal out? His father pleaded for a prisoner exchange, showing he simply didn't have the right sabra stuff. Instead of betraying weakness, Ehud Olmert launched "Operation Summer Rain," a military rampage through Gaza which so far has killed at least 165 Gazans, most civilians, and shows no sign of abating even today.

I was oddly reminded by this of a book I read in high school, James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." The "tale" I remembered was, I believe, the last, of a downed carrier pilot in a one-man inflatable, sitting out there somewhere in the vast Pacific. The Navy commenced a search operation to recover the pilot. A carrier battle group was diverted. An enormous grid of ten thousand square miles, or some such number, was created, and planes flew back and forth day after day, coursing the entire grid, until one day an Avenger or a PBY spotted this human speck floating on the blue ocean, and he was rescued. Michener counted up how many man-hours had been devoted to the search, how much aviation fuel. The point of the story, which deeply impressed me (well, it must have: I was 17 then and I'm 70 now, and it still sticks with me) was this: never before in history had there been a military force so committed to saving a single human life, or a nation so wealthy as to afford to indulge such a value.

Compare the rescue of that pilot to the attempted "rescue" of Corporal Shalit. Yossi Klein Halevi of the Jerusalem Post and the New Republic writes movingly of the plight of Shalit, "An Israeli soldier held hostage is a taunt against the Zionist promise of self-defense, an unbearable reminder of Jewish helplessness." (TNR Online, 6/26/06). To which one must say Oh please. Jews are not helpless in Gaza, Palestinians are. The lesson of Israel's response to Shalit's capture is not that he is precious to Israel, but that the lives of Palestinians are as nothing to Israel. They are dirt. Human detritus.

(A Reuters dispatch of yesterday reports that Qatar has stepped in to arrange a prisoner exchange, and that a senior Palestinian official said that "Israel has made new offers to Hamas via the Qataris in return for Shalit." Stay tuned.)

Hezbollah's Glorious Victory.

On Monday, August 14, the day the truce went into effect, tens of thousands of Lebanese refugees from Israel's pitiless bombing streamed south across the Litani River, to discover what was left of their towns, villages, and homes, if anything, and were greeted by Hezbollah fighters who, as Ivan Watson of NPR reported, handed out pink leaflets congratulating them on their glorious, strategic, historic victory over the Israelis. Everyone, including most Israelis, it seems, agrees that this was a debacle for the IDF, that the "myth of Israeli invincibility" has been shattered, and on the Arab side that Hezbollah has at long last restored "the nation's" honor. The Hezbollah fighters now join the Minutemen at Lexington and the Spartans at Thermopylae standing off the Persian hordes in the glorious annals of battle. "We won, we won!"

But this is madness. Much of Lebanon has been destroyed. The cost of re-building is reckoned to be $5 billion, I hear, and where is it to come from? Iran, it seems. Hezbollah is handing out $1,500 American, fistsfull of bills, to householders, courtesy of their Iranian benefactors, to cover start up costs. That's not going to go very far. Blocks and blocks of highrise apartment buildings in Beirut are rubble. Highways and bridges everywhere smashed. Two weeks into the war I heard Neal Conan of NPR's Talk of the Nation solemnly announce, "Israel and Lebanon are burning." (This was to maintain the American media pretense that "the suffering" was about equal on both sides.) "Wrong," I thought, "Lebanon has been destroyed, and Israel got its hair mussed." Hezbollah's victory is wholly symbolic; the destruction of Lebanon is real.

The "root cause" of this gulf between symbol and reality is Hezbollah's main weapon, the Katyusha rocket, which is itself all symbol (symbol of defiance, of boldness, of endurance---why, on Sunday, the last day before the cease-fire, Hezbollah fired off more Katyushas than during any previous day--how's that for endurance!). The trouble is that the Katyusha, this symbol of Hezbollah, is of no military value whatsoever. It's useless as a defensive weapon, obviously. It served the Red Army well on the Eastern Front, racks and racks of them mounted on flatbed trucks, fired in massive salvos at Wehrmacht infantry three or four miles in front, short on accuracy, maybe, but with a fifty-pound explosive charge in each they packed a hell of a punch when they landed on a column, or infantry spread out in defensive formation. But Hezbollah is not the Red Army, and this isn't 1944.

No, the Katyusha is good for one thing only: driving Israelis nuts. Hezbollah has been using them for that for years. Kiryat Shemona, that Israeli town about three miles from Lebanon, was finally evacuated last week--again. For twenty years Kiryat Shemona has been to Katyushas what Buffalo is to blizzards. Israel and the United States bellow that Hezbollah "deliberately targets civilians," but you can't deliberately target a Katyusha at anything. Where it falls depends on propellant, trajectory, and windage. Obviously, the Hezbollah sought to kill as many Israelis as they could, and whether the dead or wounded were military or civilian was of no consequence. The point is that they were able to kill so few. Eight thousand rockets fired, and what was it, 40 civilians killed? The Israelis killed almost as many Lebanese civilians with one 3,000 lb. bomb dropped on a house in Qana.

Tom Friedman usually has more than one screw loose, but he is capable of writing a trenchant paragraph on rare occasions, and I think he got it right on August 11 when he said the Lebanese, including Shiites, must ask themselves, "What was this war all about? What did we get from this and at what price? Israel has some roofs to repair and some dead to bury. But its economy and state are fully intact, and it will recover quickly. We Lebanese have been set back by a decade. Our economy and our democracy lie in ruins, like our homes. For what? For a one-week boost in 'Arab honor'?"

What will Hezbollah do now? Almost certainly get more rockets, as fast as they become available from Iran, and since Hezbollah already has a few capable of reaching Haifa, and soon if not now some able to strike Tel Aviv, if we are to believe Nasrallah's boasts, they'll acquire those too. They'll be really awesome symbols. But these will be suicide weapons. Even one hitting Tel Aviv is bound to bring destruction on Lebanon again. So there sits southern Lebanon, in the hands of the Party of God, whose head-of-state, prophet and leader answers only to his God (rather like George W. Bush of the other party of God, the Republican Party) and to hell, as Nasrallah as a Shia visionary must literally say, with the notion of a "multi-confessional" Lebanese nation. More, much more, fanaticism and unreason to come.

Apologies, but to be continued....

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bush is Right, Critics Wrong, Polls show: They Hate Freedom


News Analysis

Bush is Right, Critics Wrong, Polls show:
They Hate Freedom

by Edward Paynter

August 11, '06

For years President George W. Bush has tirelessly and passionately insisted that the only reason Muslim terrorists hate America is that we are a free people. Again and again he has asserted that the terrorists are nothing more than evildoers who have been driven to madness by their love of darkness and tyranny and their hatred for all the things our nation stands for: freedom, justice, and a love of liberty.

Thus, responding to the British roundup of terror suspects plotting to blow up three or more U.S.-bound airliners yesterday, the President said, "This is a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."

But for just as long, critics have insisted that the President is half right at best, and have berated him for trying to distract the world's attention from the "real" causes of Muslim terror, the policies of this nation toward the Muslim world, especially over the last six years, that are rightly or wrongly perceived by Muslims as being hostile to their civilization. Such critics cite especially the Bush administration's unfailing support for Israel's expansion into the West Bank and its building of a "separation barrier" running deep into Palestinian-settled territory. Israel's bombing of Gaza, and now of Lebanon, they say, certainly haven't helped.

Now, an amazingly comprehensive poll of Muslim terrorist prisoners conducted by the CIA and the intelligence agencies of several U.S. allies seems to confirm that the President has it at least half right. These captives do hate the United States for other reasons, the poll finds, but again and again, across the Muslim world from Morroco to Malaysia, results show that what they consistently hate about us above all is our freedom.

Captives were interrogated and given questionnaires everywhere: Morrocans in Spanish prisons, Algerians in French, Muslims of several nations in prisons in German and Italy, Muslim Brotherhood members imprisoned in Egypt, al Qaeda members in Saudi jails, Malayasian and Indonesian al Qaeda terrorists in the jails of those nations, the thousands of Iraqi prisoners in American jails in Iraq, and finally, an especially rich source, the 10,000 Palestinians languishing in confinement in Israeli facilities.

It is true that specific policies of the Bush administration are condemned by these terrorists. For example, 100% of Palestinians interned in Israel said the chief reason they hated the United States was that "America finances, arms, and encourages Israel to take land from the Palestinian people." But what will surprise the President's critics is the second grievance of the Palestinians, shared by 65%: they hate the Bill of Rights.

Similarly, while 80% of al Qaeda inmates held in Saudi Arabia said the chief reason they hate America is that "the infidels defiled the sands of the Land of the Prophet with their filthy presence," 70% said the next worst thing about America was the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment. Sixty per cent also detested habeas corpus.

And so it went across the Muslim world. Iraqi prisoners overwhelmingly said they hated the United States for invading their country, but a surprising percentage, 45, said they specifically loathed the Fifth Amendment guarantee of trial by jury in all criminal cases.

Indeed, it was the First Amendment to the Constitution, with its several guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and the right of petition which was most deeply reviled from Morroco to the Philippines. Among Iraqi prisoners there was an intriguing split between Shia and Sunni over which was the more hateful of the religion clauses, the establishment or free exercise ("Congress shall make no law affecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"), Shia, perhaps reflecting their now dominant status, now hating the first most, while Sunnis especially detest the second.*

President Bush may have been "thinking with his gut" when he concluded that they hate us for our freedom and for no other conceivable reason, but it seems he got it essentially right. But how, quite unknown to Bush, did these Muslims become so well acquainted with the Constitution of the nation they hate? It seems that in madrases from Riyadh to Rawalpindi it is not only the Koran that is taught. Pupils in these academies are also drilled endlessly in the U.S. Constitution, in Arabic, of course, as a sort of "evil writ" which their masters call "The Protocols of the Elders of the Great Satan." Madrasa graduates, then, have a knowledge of the Constitution that our law graduates well might envy, although from a diametrically opposed perspective. What we revere, they hold to be filth.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the person most detested by madrassa masters, one who is almost a stand-in for the Tempter himself, is Thomas Jefferson. Not because he was a slave owner, but because he was the world's most renowned gospeler of Natural Rights. "Jefferson is beneath camel dung," they will say. "Camel dung at least makes for a cheery campfire."

*One Abu Ghraib prisoner who holds a doctorate in Islamic studies from Baghdad University said he actually agreed with the free exercise clause, but that it had been wrongly interpreted. The Constitution guarantees "freedom of religion," he said, "but not freedom from religion." He said he was in perfect agreement with Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.