The Inevitable Neville Chamberlain Comparison: My comrade Catherine Seipp directs my attention to this Pacifist-bashing column by Thomas Sowell, for which I can find no link as yet (update: she just sent it -- it's here. Seipp describes the column as “a welcome antidote to the inane thoughts of Michael ‘Tokyo Rose’ Moore, and other idiocies making the email rounds.” Here’s a taste:
On the international scene, trying to assuage aggressors' feelings and look at the world from their point of view has had an even more catastrophic track record. A typical sample of this kind of thinking can be found in a speech by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938:
"It has always seemed to me that in dealing with foreign countries we do not give ourselves a chance of success unless we try to understand their mentality, which is not always the same as our own, and it really is astonishing to contemplate how the identically same facts are regarded from two different angles." […]
What Winston Churchill understood at the time, and Chamberlain did not, was that Hitler was driven by what Churchill called "currents of hatred so intense as to sear the souls of those who swim upon them." That was also what drove the men who drove the planes into the World Trade Center.
Pacifists of the 20th century had a lot of blood on their hands for weakening the Western democracies in the face of rising belligerence and military might in aggressor nations like Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. […]
Then as now, pacifism was a "statement" about one's ideals that paid little attention to actual consequences. When disarmament advocate George Bernard Shaw was asked what Britons should do if the Nazis crossed the channel into Britain, the playwright replied, "Welcome them as tourists."
9/22/2001 03:23:30 PM
Equal Time, Sorta: An alert reader has pointed out that I’ve been dissing veteran Mideast observer Robert Fisk without actually, uh, reading him. Here’s a link to a recent interview he gave.
9/22/2001 03:02:37 PM
Robot Idiocy: I used to like Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom weblog, especially back when it had dozens of weird & interesting links a day to James Joyce marginalia, futuristic info-babble, cam-girls and eclectically leftist politics. Now, he is flirting openly and disgustingly with anti-Semitism and Palestinian apologia. The first line on his links tonight (just past the bit about supporting the divest-from-Israel campaign), is this chilling unlinked assertion:
Civil Rights 2001: This time the redneck bigots are Jews. Links to stories about Osama Bin Laden are noted with tags like “WashPost 'analysis' of ObL omits any mention of Israel … (...tell me again who the traitors are?)" Other link-headlines include “'His aim is to get Americans to consider whether continued support of Israel is worth the bloodshed he promises,'” “NPR whitewashes Israel's racist anti-democracy,” and – most sickeningly of all – a link to WTC-related photos very soon after the attack, with this enlarged-type message: “If you want peace, work for justice.” Fucking gross, ain’t it? The other night, when doing some quick research on Bushwacker warblogger Fred Lapides, I came across Barger and his giant octopus once again. Read it and weep:
This is a forum for discussing my recent headline "Is Judaism simply a religion of lawless racists?" ... Note that it's a question, not an assertion. Are there really any questions that just shouldn't be asked? No Jorn, there aren’t. There are just questions that, on the face of them, are nonsensical, racist, and hateful. Questions like “Do all webloggers who stay in bed all day jerking off to James Joyce deserve to be booked on the next one-way flight to Yemen?” If it makes you feel better, call me an Israel apologist, a politically correct columnist, or even a Jew. The three explanations are equally accurate.
9/21/2001 07:41:25 PM
Sensible Liberals Win, in a Rout: Court Leftist Christopher Hitchens crowns a remarkable day of shouting down the Consequentialist, Pacifist Chomskyite Left.
The bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "the west", to put it in a phrase, is not what western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours. Any observant follower of the prophet Mohammed could have been on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings - yes, even in the Pentagon.
9/21/2001 06:31:49 PM
Economist Dismantles Consequentialism: At a time like this, I value my Economist subscription over the The New Yorker, hands down:
Who is to blame? The simple answer — the suicide attackers, and those behind them — is hardly adequate, just as it would hardly be adequate simply to blame Hitler and his henchmen for the second world war, without mentioning the Treaty of Versailles or Weimar inflation. But that does not exculpate the perpetrators of last week's onslaught, just as the Versailles treaty does not excuse Auschwitz: whatever their grievances, nothing could excuse an attack of such ferocity and size. So what explains it? A surprising number of people, and not just gullible fanatics looking for someone to hold responsible for the hopelessness of their lives, believe that to a greater or lesser extent America has reaped as it sowed. […]
America defends its interests, sometimes skilfully, sometimes clumsily, just as other countries do. Since power, like nature, abhors a vacuum, it steps into places where disorder reigns. On the whole, it should do so more, not less, often. Of all the great powers in history, it is probably the least territorial, the most idealistic. Muslims in particular should note that the armed interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, both led by America, were attacks on Christian regimes in support of Muslim victims. In neither did the United States stand to make any material gain; in neither were its vital interests, conventionally defined, at stake. Those who criticise America's leadership of the world's capitalist system — a far from perfect affair — should remember that it has brought more wealth and better living standards to more people than any other in history. And those who regret America's triumph in the cold war should stop to think how the world would look if the Soviet Union had won. America's policies may have earned it enemies. But in truth, it is difficult to find plausible explanations for the virulence of last week's attacks, except in the envy, hatred and moral confusion of those who plotted and perpetrated them.
9/21/2001 05:55:32 PM
TRB Gets Tough on Robert Fisk, Consequentialist Left: Don’t know about you, but I have found myself woefully ignorant these past days when it comes to arguing about U.S. policies in the Middle East. I frankly have not paid regular attention to the area, because it makes me tired. I can tell you a thing or two about Yugoslavia, or Central Europe, or Communism, or post-Communism … but my Middle East knowledge goes little beyond some vague hunches that the U.S. continues to play some form of oil/religion-inspired realpolitik there, and that it is almost always better to do business and be friendly with nations that are inclined toward democracy. The Pacifist Left’s “Blowback” argument rests on a couple of vital assertions for which I have no concrete rebuttal – that U.S. sanctions are killing several thousand Iraqi babies a month, and that the U.S. is absolutely partial and arrogant in its support for a brutal, occupying Israel. Here is an answer to those points, by Peter Beinart of The New Republic:
But if blaming terrorism on America's alliance with Israel was always tricky, today it is downright bizarre. After all, over the last year and a half, Washington has pushed Israel into offering the Palestinians a state in almost all of the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem, and helped convince Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. It is a good barometer of Fisk's intellectual honesty that he says Muslims are right to hate America because of Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, but neglects to mention that, thanks in part to America, Israel no longer occupies southern Lebanon.
Then there is Fisk's second example of American oppression of Muslims: U.S. sanctions against Iraq. It is now conventional wisdom among American liberals that the Muslim world has every right to be enraged by our vicious policy toward the people of Iraq. In news articles about Arab anti-Americanism after the attack, The Boston Globe wrote that sanctions have caused "widespread suffering among Iraqis," and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution explained that they are responsible for "malnutrition and disease." But both these statements are false. As Michael Rubin noted in these pages ("Food Fight," June 18), Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq -- which is subject to exactly the same sanctions as the rest of the country --suffers virtually no malnutrition. In fact, infant mortality rates in the North are lower than they were before the Gulf war. That's because, under revised UN sanctions, Iraq is now the world's second largest exporter of oil, and those exports provide Kurdish authorities plenty of revenue to buy medicines and food. The reason children elsewhere in the country go hungry is that Saddam resells needed supplies in order to fund his military. In recent years the United States has actually intercepted several Iraqi ships exporting food.
9/21/2001 05:39:08 PM
What’s Nat Hentoff Saying? This is a hard time to be a civil libertarian, or anyone who believes passionately in any aspect of life that is about to be steamrolled by the U.S. government in the name of War. One of the hardest things for these people to do is find the right tone to deal with their concerns in such a way that it doesn’t come across as callous, cruel, or shamefully irrelevant. Nat Hentoff, the foremost writer-defender of civil liberties in the country, acquits himself admirably.
There are people everywhere in this world who identify themselves totally with a system of belief — whether political, religious, a poisonous fusion of both, or some other overwhelming transcendence that has become their very reason for being. These vigilantes of faith have unequivocally answered the question of Duke Ellington's song "What Am I Here For?"
Such people can be of any faith, color, and class. Palestinian suicide-bombers; the self-exhilarating murderous fringe of the Weather Underground here in the "revolutionary" 1960s; John Brown, the abolitionist executioner; and the self-betraying pro-lifers who urge the killing of — and sometimes actually assassinate — doctors who perform abortions. […]
The relatively few uncompromising civil libertarians among us [could] again be regarded with contempt and continuous suspicion by both the authorities and the populace—as took place during the "Red Scare" of 1919 and the 1920s, when J. Edgar Hoover first emerged as the special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who put him in charge of the summary deportation of legions of alleged radicals, subversives, and "Bolsheviks." As a reward, Hoover rose, in 1924, to be the director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, which became, 11 years later, the committed mugger of the Bill of Rights: the FBI.
Continued terrorism could also easily return us to the era of the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, who rode high and recklessly on the esteem of much of the citizenry—and a significant portion of the press. […]
It could happen here again, especially with the Left so riven by its own wars of identity politics — and meager regard for its internal opponents' free speech — that it might be difficult to organize a united front against resurgent McCarthyism.
9/21/2001 04:25:09 PM
LA’s Best Restaurant Critic Describes Post-Sept. 11 New York: Jonathan Gold’s restaurant guide “Counter Intelligence” might have been the best book written about LA last year. Ruth Reichl’s cover-blurb is right on: “In this book, Gold gives you the life of the city, and although it is the best guide you could ever find to the ethnic food of L.A., you could read it like a novel and be very satisfied.” No other recent book has found its way on so many of my friends’ bookshelves. In yesterday’s LA Weekly, Gold focuses his powers of description on a shattered city:
I am drawn into half a dozen conversations about Al Qaeda, a consortium of which I am quite unaware. Half of the front page in the next day’s Times, stories about unintentional hijackers, weapons that didn’t exist, rescues that never took place, will turn out to be inaccurate. A co-worker sees a man running down 42nd Street — “There’s a man running down 42nd Street!” she shouts — and suddenly half the office is at the big windows, watching the man lope down the block until somebody remembers that there is always a man running down 42nd Street. We are told to go home for the weekend. Most of us do. On foot.
I find my way to Astoria, Queens, to an Egyptian restaurant called the Kebab Café, in a section of town populated by Arab coffeehouses and hookah parlors. I am at a table eating broiled goat chops when hooligans burst through the door and start howling at the chef. He shrugs. It is not the first time this has happened today. […]
I round the corner toward my old apartment building, and I gasp: The twin towers had been the dominant feature of the streetscape, as massive and as permanent as the Hollywood Hills, and it was almost as if I had turned around in West Hollywood and realized that I could see through to Studio City from Doheny.
9/21/2001 02:12:50 PM
What's Robert Kaplan Saying? I’ve been wondering how Kaplan, the esteemed international correspondent for the Atlantic, would react to Sept. 11. I have great respect for him, and thanks (for clueing me and tens of thousands of others on to Rebecca West, in his Balkan Ghosts book), but I’ve always found him to be too pessimistic for my tastes about the Balkans, about the United States, and about the potential Clash of Civilizations. Here’s what Kaplan says in an interesting Salon interview:
I'm very optimistic. If you look historically at America, America was coming apart into partisanship and hatred in the '30s -- Huey Long, Father Coughlin, all that. And then Hitler and Tojo came along, and it saved us. After World War II, the U.S. has experienced 50 years of dynamism. Out of World War II came the GI Bill, civil rights, the erosion of anti-Semitism -- all of this came out of World War II.
Without it, America would have rolled into decadence. But we have been a very lucky country. Every few decades, we are faced with almost comic-book evil. You are going to see: A lot will change. […]
The first thing no one has realized yet is that these attacks mean the end of Wilsonian idealism. Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda are all off the charts, assigned to the sepia-toned 1990s. We can only afford to do good works abroad when security at home can be taken for granted.
Absent that luxury, foreign policy goes back to what it has traditionally been: cold national security.
9/21/2001 11:58:17 AM
Please Wipe Froth From Lips: The New York Post’s Andrea Peyser goes apeshit in a column today. Starts off like this:
It's time for the United Nations to get the hell out of town. Peyser goes on to make the absurd and ignorant claim that the estimable Amanpour is somehow anti-Jewish, or anti-American, or pro-Palestinian. Slate’s Timothy Noah should update his “Retract This” feature every day.
And take with it CNN war slut Christiane Amanpour.
Also, short ABC comedian Bill "those bombers were brave" Maher. More on that in a sec.
The U.N. building towers over the East River like a giant middle finger aimed at our shores.
9/21/2001 10:55:00 AM
Here’s a Pacifist I’ll Listen To: The Rev. Tony Pierce argues peace today. Tony has given us much wisdom over the years; the two nuggets I carry around with me are “Tony says Love,” and “Don’t dis the people who dig your shit.”
9/21/2001 10:33:14 AM
More on Frisco’s Shame: I just actually read Debra Saunders’ terrific Chronicle column about the reprehensible anti-American tirades at the memorial for hijacker-foiling hero Mark Bingham. It might be the most damning indictment of that flawed city I have ever read:
Maybe the America Bashers have been so vocal because they see a need to separate themselves from the carnage -- to pretend the Bay Area isn't really part of Target America. As Gar Smith of the Earth Island Journal wrote last week, the terrorists' "real targets" aren't Americans, but "world trade and U. S. militarism." They blame the victim. Perhaps they think if they blame America loudly enough, maybe the terrorists won't strike San Francisco, because San Francisco is so superior to the rest of America.
Except it isn't.
To live in the Bay Area, is to hear countless love songs extolling the Special City, the tolerant Bay Area, home of culture and education. We are, locals imply, superior people.
You wish. The Day of Remembrance shows that the special region is more interested in leftist issues than real people. When it comes time to honor men and women who died horribly and wrongly, the special city can't even do a simple memorial service justice.
9/20/2001 10:21:55 PM
These Must Be Strange Times, if I’m Recommending Him: There’s another war-blogging journalist out there who is spending his time quoting Orwell’s wartime essays, supporting the U.S. military campaign, and railing against what he calls the “Appeasement Left.” It’s Andrew Sullivan, my pal Tim Cavanaugh’s favorite journalist -- not! I’ve never exactly been a huge fan of Sullivan’s, for the usual reasons of jealousy, and because -- like Camille Paglia -- he would rather club his rhetorical opponents in the head like baby seals, than win them over with persuasion. When you are on the opposite side of an issue -- Gary Condit, for example -- he can be unbearable. But for now (and especially since I have a new fast computer and Internet connection), I’m finding him very entertaining and bracingly passionate, certainly more edifying in this crisis than his ex-New Republic pals Mickey Kaus and Joshua Marshall (with whom Sullivan has been having a me-zine catfight the last two days). Here is one example of Sullivan’s valuable contribution:
NEW LOW FOR THE FAR LEFT: I probably shouldn't write this right now since I am literally shaking with anger. A memorial service for San Francisco's victims of the World Trade Center massacre was essentially hijacked by America-haters. San Francisco supervisor Amos Brown took advantage of the occasion - in front of families of the victims - to deliver an anti-America tirade. Paul Holm, the partner of Mark Bingham, the heroic gay rugby player who may well have played a part in downing one of the planes in Philadelphia, stormed off the stage in protest. "America, America," Brown ranted. "What did you do -- either intentionally or unintentionally -- in the world order, in Central America, in Africa where bombs are still blasting? America, what did you do in the global warming conference when you did not embrace the smaller nations? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the the world conference on racism, when you wouldn't show up? Ohhhh -- America, what did you do?" As the leftist crowd cheered, Paul went over to Senator Dianne Feinstein and said to her "This was supposed to be a memorial service." He also went up to Senator Barbara Boxer and Governor Gray Davis and told them he thought Brown's remarks were a disgrace, as they truly were. Then he quit the stage, and will always be forced to remember his husband's memorial service as a place of anger and despair. Brown's sentiments are completely inappropriate in any case. But to express them in front of grieving spouses, people who may well not share Brown's hideous politics, is simply vile. (To her great credit, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, hardly a conservative, disowned and criticized Brown's remarks.) Maybe it's because I know some of Bingham's friends who do not share this perverted politics that I feel so angry right now. I feel as if this hero has been violated after his death. What on earth could possess people to do this at a moment like that?
9/20/2001 10:07:02 PM
Dept. of Bad Timing, Volume 2: From Michael Moore’s infuriating column of yesterday:
I have a question to all the war hawks out there: When you listen and look at our Commander-in-Chief, do you really think THIS is the guy who is going to kick some major league ass? I’m just asking all you conservative drum beaters out there -- man, you must be embarrassed that this is the best we have to offer. I keep worrying that I’m wasting my time, criticizing the Pacifist Left for their beliefs, distortions and alarming reactions to Sept. 11 and beyond. I fear that I am exaggerating their numbers and influence, and going after straw men who most reasonable people find equally ridiculous. Maybe that’s true. But I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people who revere Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins. I’ve read the name “Robert Fisk” the last few days more time than I care to count. I’ve received thousands of angry e-mails in the last two years from people who attack my views foreign policy and economics, with explanations such as “well, I’m just deferring to Noam.” I covered Ralph Nader’s campaign last year, and watched 2.7% of the electorate vote for him, thus delivering the election to Bush (despite the Nader crowd’s brazenly dishonest claims to the contrary). If you can lump these personalities and their political bedfellows into one group, then it’s probably at least 5% of the U.S. population, with certainly a much higher representation within the media and (especially) academia. If you are in favor of a multi-faceted war against international terrorism, as I am, then arguing with these people, pointing out their inaccuracies and actually persuading some of them to shift their views, is crucial. In the always-overheated and somehow timely words of Andrew Sullivan, it is a matter of some importance to deal with “their ambivalence about the outcome of a war on which I believe the future of liberty hangs.”
Let’s take Michael Moore’s little on-the-road e-mail. His second paragraph begins with a mention of Kent State: “Few dared to call it a terrorist act committed by the state of Ohio… but, there I go again.” Yes, Michael, THERE YOU GO AGAIN. Kent State was a vicious case of state-sponsored murder, and it did NOT go unnoticed at the time. The only good Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song came out of that, for instance. And, forgive me, but why the fuck are you trying to find some equivalence with a 31-year-old killing of four anti-war students, and the deliberate terrorist murder of 6,300 people from more than 60 countries?
I was going to go on, but I think the law of diminishing returns (or disintegrating stomach lining) has begun to kick in. I’ll just leave you with more of his ill-timed criticism of the president’s speaking style:
What we have is Bush speaking like a wind-up doll, mouthing a bunch of nonsense clichés, repeating them over and over and over. … You watch in awe and you ask the question that none of us even wants to contemplate right now, and that no one will dare to ask, so I might as well take the hit and be the one: THIS is the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful country on earth? Who amongst you feels secure tonight? What enemy is going to be afraid of this guy?
9/20/2001 09:34:46 PM
The Left’s Battered Wife Syndrome: This is a very good essay in Slate by William Saletan, dismantling the logic behind what he calls the “consequentialist” position of many on the Left; i.e., as in foolish Susan Sontag arguing in the New Yorker that Sept. 11 was “undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions.”
Imagine yourself as a battered wife. Every so often, your husband gets angry and hits you. Why? You struggle to understand the connection between your behavior and his response. What are you doing that causes him to react this way? You hope that by identifying and avoiding the offending behavior, you can regain domestic peace and a sense of control. You're deluding yourself. As long as your husband decides which of your acts will earn you a beating, he's the master, and you're the slave.
This is the problem with the consequentialist argument for revising U.S. policy in the Middle East. Maybe it's true, for other reasons, that we should rethink our position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, withdraw our troops from Saudi Arabia, or ease sanctions on Iraq. But if we do these things to avoid further attacks on our cities, we're granting terrorists the power to dictate our acts by dictating the consequences.
The consequentialists present themselves as humanitarians and idealists. They purport to speak up for the plights, principles, and aspirations of people who are driven to commit acts of terror. But their mechanistic analysis dehumanizes these people. Terrorists aren't animals. No law of nature compels them to blow up buildings when they're angry. We don't have to accept their violent reactions to our policies. We can break that causal chain.
How? By turning consequentialism on its head. We can dictate what happens to people who attack us. Suicidal terrorists may be impervious to this logic, but their commanders and sponsors aren't. Launder money for a man who destroys the World Trade Center, and your assets will be confiscated. Shelter an organization that crashes a plane into the Pentagon, and your government buildings will be leveled. Expel terrorists from your country, freeze their bank accounts, and you'll be liberated from sanctions and debt.
9/20/2001 04:43:55 PM
Thanks, Nick! My friend Nick Denton -- a financial journalist-turned dotcom CEO-turned blogger-turned at visiting lecturer at Berkeley -- mentions this young War Blog (and Ken Layne’s, and others) in a fine UK Guardian column about how weblogs have risen to the occasion since Sept. 11. Welcome, UK friends! Say, Nick -- what’s that book yr working on?
9/20/2001 12:01:13 PM
Hey Journalist Pals! Give us a Hint! The papers and websites are filled with thick stories based on “pentagon officials” and “federal law enforcement sources.” Seems we’re now targeting Saddam Hussein, bracing for a possible second day of terror Sept. 22, and hearing weird report after weird report of Arab types getting caught with pilfered flight attendant costumes and the like. This information is being eked out from a Defense Department, Justice Department and Administration that have all made it crystal clear they will impose a war-time chokehold on information. These people have, are, and will continue to lie to us and block access, just like they did in the Gulf War.
Anyways, I’d like to urge our hard-working journalist friends to give us some idea of who your unnamed sources are, what their possible motivations might be for being anonymous (such as, “don’t want to get fired”), and why they’re spilling the beans in the first place. Are we receiving trial balloons, or flares to distract our attention, or cries of conscience from dissenting insiders, or flat-out PR lies and propaganda? Are you being manipulated, or are you finding clever ways around the rules? I really can’t tell from reading the stories …
9/19/2001 09:52:36 PM
Right, Said Fred: A guy named Fred Lapides has a very good war blog, much more worth bookmarking than mine, if you are looking for a tireless filterer of the day’s news and opinion (he has dozens of links just today, for example). Lapides appears to be an inveterate message-board poster, blog addict, and a person sensitive to the way ideology distorts people’s writing. I know about him only because he e-mailed me this funny little political poem of sorts the other day:
all you have to know is this:
The far right is filled with RAGE
The far Left is filled with GUILT
apply that to all you read and everything will fall into place.
9/19/2001 07:44:49 PM
Michael Moore Rumor: ABC Has Footage of F-16 Trailing Suicide Plane: I’m way late on this, but I haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere. In a Sept. 15 dispatch, the rolly-polly director-activist tacked on the following P.S.
Three days ago, I learned from someone at ABC News that ABC had videotape -- an angle of the second plane crashing into the tower -- that showed an F-16 fighter jet trailing the plane at a distance. I have not shared this with you as I had not personally witnessed that tape myself and did not want to contribute to all the unsubstantiated rumors. It just came across on the TV that the government admitted they did dispatch fighter jets when they knew the planes were off course. From this point, I will pass on any censored information to those of you in the mainstream media who are being blocked from reporting. Is it becoming more clear now that the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was shot down to prevent it from attacking its destination? The truth is harrowing, unbearable -- but it must be told to us. A free people cannot make an informed decision if they are kept in the dark. Let's hear ALL the truth NOW.
9/19/2001 04:35:37 PM
Speaking of High Vague Ideals…. According to this AP dispatch, warplanes are moving to the Persian Gulf in a deployment called “Operation Infinite Justice.”
9/19/2001 12:44:29 PM
With a Capital T: My friend and former boss Henry Copeland, who is gifted with the language, sent a nice note about the War Blog this morning, in which he gently argued against me using such phrases as capital-T Truth. “High vague ideals like [that] … can suck us into rhetoric and bombast (they sound vaguely Maoist, no?), which quickly bores everyone but the choir,” he wrote. Good instinct about the vague words, but as I wrote to him, I am convinced that the dogged pursuit of capital-T Truth is precisely what our situation demands, especially from people in my profession. One could argue – and I will argue, some time after I get back from watching a Dodger game with Greg & Molli McIlvaine and Tony Pierce – that a casual approach toward the Truth these past 12 years has made us more vulnerable. For now, I’ll tell you what I told Henry: my six primary role models – George Orwell, Vaclav Havel, Hunter Thompson, Martin Luther King, Ernest Hemingway and Bill James – were all obsessed, in their ways, with capital-T Truth. Why, here’s the old drunk from just today, on precisely that subject:
Winston Churchill said "The first casualty of War is always Truth." Churchill also said "In wartime, the Truth is so precious that it should always be surrounded by a bodyguard of Lies." That wisdom will not be much comfort to babies born last week. The first news they get in this world will be News subjected to Military Censorship. That is a given in wartime, along with massive campaigns of deliberately-planted "Dis-information." That is routine behavior in Wartime -- for all countries and all combatants -- and it makes life difficult for people who value real news. Count on it. That is what Churchill meant when he talked about Truth being the first casualty of War.
9/18/2001 05:40:44 PM
The Trouble With Journalism Ethicists, Vol. 3: Having never endured a single journalism class in my life (aside from watching some poor wren from the Freedom Forum try to lecture a bunch of baffled chain-smoking Slovak reporters about “Gatekeeper Theory”), I don’t really have any idea what the professors teach. But I would guess that the classes have something to do with critical thinking, workaday math skills, how to read an SEC document or file an FOIA request, libel/defamation laws, how to strive for fairness, that kind of thing.
Well, at the University of Texas, where they have one of the country’s better student dailies, you can take a class called “Critical Issues in Journalism” from an associate professor who marked the World Trade Center outrage by writing a column entitled “U.S. just as guilty of committing own violent acts.”
Robert Jensen has been handing out a lot of such “truth” since last Tuesday. Sept. 14: “There is a difficult truth about the United States that we must come to terms with if we are to understand why we were targeted for this cruel attack: For more than three decades, the United States has been the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, and until we reverse that position we will be the target of the frustration and anger of many people there.” Sept. 15: “Decent people agree that in this time of crisis, we cannot let the lines of color and culture, of language and religion, divide us. But we need to go another step, to understand that the lines dividing people based on nations are just as dangerous.” Sept. 17: “The Bush administration has stolen from us the time to grieve. … Like all wars involving great powers, this is a war about geopolitical strategy. It is a war that aims to extend the dominance of the United States.”
So which journalism paragons inspire Jensen’s, uh, measured approach? I bet you could guess half his syllabus off the top of your head. … Noam Chomsky, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Gary Webb, something by a Brenda Ueland about how “Everybody is Talented, Original and Has Something Important to Say.” Maybe that’s why I’m so bad at being a Leftist – I didn’t go to Journalism School!
Ironically, Jensen was also the author of what I thought was one of the three worst columns written about the Gary Condit media coverage. The irony is, that I was supposed to write that column – a Newsday editor called me at 9 a.m. after the Connie Chung interview, and said he needed an anti-media reaction column by 3. Tired, and surprised that he wouldn’t have noticed that I took the exact opposite view on two separate occasions, I mumbled something about being busy. Ah, those were the days….
9/18/2001 04:51:27 PM
WAR BLOG Blowback!: Thanks to Oliver Willis, there’s been a vigorous little debate on Metafilter about my Orwell-Chomsky post below. The most persuasive arguments against me were that I was using Chomsky as a straw man (I wasn’t; it was a reaction to a volley of nearly identical viewpoints from the Left), and more convincingly that the U.S. is guilty of supporting various dictators and autocrats in the Middle East. I meant to mention (really, I did!) something about the consequences of realpolitik in the Middle East, the only region in the world where we engage in a Cold War-style system of alliances and hostilities, based quite a bit on loyalty, with a ragbag of undemocratic regimes. But I couldn’t find a place to fit it in. I think the fundamental difference here (in the spectrum between moderate Republican and Loony Left) is between those who see the U.S. as the primary source of the world’s wickedness, and those who see it as its leading light. The secondary rift is between the pacifists and the Munichites (those whose definition of military horror was Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 capitulation to Hitler). The final split is between the anti-capitalist anti-globalists, and those of us who actually believe global capitalism is a force for good. My pals on the Left seem to be falling largely in the US=evil, pacificism-beats-Wilsonianism, capitalism-is-a-scam-to-screw-the-poor camp. I am in the other. Am I over-simplifying? Hobbled by ideology? We’ll see. As my darling wife would say, I’m “looking for the truth.” I do not claim to have found it.
9/18/2001 03:06:38 PM
Havel: “This is a big civilization warning which compels us to maximally mobilize our responsibility for this world.” How has Vaclav Havel reacted to Sept. 11? The quotes are scarce, but the philosopher-president immediately condemned the act as an attack against human freedom and democracy, expressed deep sympathy to the victims, warned fanatics that they won’t keep the rest of the world hostage, and endorsed a joint NATO military response. "People have comprehended that something very fundamental has been threatened - human life on this planet, human freedom," Havel said Sept. 12. During the 1990s, Havel was probably the most influential international voice urging Bill Clinton to expand NATO and intervene in Yugoslavia.
9/18/2001 01:07:43 PM
Dept. of Bad Timing: The estimable columnist Russell Baker chose a bad time to pick on New York. The current issue of the New York Review of Books, dated Sept. 20, features a Baker piece that now looks distinctly inappropriate. Humbling to consider how one’s flip criticism can be exposed, by terrible events, to have been incompletely thought-out, if not wholly off-base.
With its lunatic obsession with money, New York from Reagan through Giuliani has become too grotesque to be captured by mere satire. Satire is subtle; turn-of-the-millennium New York runs irresistibly to grossness. In The Bonfire of the Vanities Wolfe has a character die while dining in a fancy East Side restaurant and paints a scene, both hilarious and disgusting, in which the management's only concerns are to get the body out fast and to collect the bill for the dead man's unfinished meal. They end up shoving the body through a toilet window. It is hard to recall a more savage literary comment on New York's character. Some readers thought Wolfe unjustly cruel to the city, and maybe he was. Still, in the present New York people go out to dinner, pay a thousand dollars a bottle for the wine, and go home to three-million-dollar apartments while others are bedding down on sidewalks in cardboard boxes. Only burlesque can catch the spirit of it.
9/18/2001 11:38:21 AM
Oppose All Airline Bailouts: In a succinct, tough and convincing mini-article, Ken Layne argues that the reeling airline companies do not deserve our sympathy, let alone our tax dollars.
Why didn't the airlines accept tough new security a decade ago, when the threat of serious terrorism in the United States became very clear? Because it would cost too much. It cost too much for them to save some 6,000 people on Tuesday. Why are they begging for money from the government now? Because the careless, cheapskate industry let thousands die, and now nobody wants to get on a plane, and the stock went down the toilet today.
9/18/2001 12:05:03 AM
Case Studies in Modern Propaganda, Volume 1: Who is guiltier of degrading the profession of journalism and the quest for truth: the Internet amateur, or the professional media critic? Let’s roll the tape.
Sept. 12. The hippie-anarcho kids at the Independent Media Center post an e-mail from a Brazilian named Márcio Carvalho, who claims that the CNN video footage of Palestinians celebrating the World Trade Center destruction is actually from 1991:
It's simply unacceptable that a super-power of cumminications as CNN uses images which do not correspond to the reality in talking about so serious an issue. A teacher of mine, here in Brazil, has videotapes recorded in 1991, with the very same images. … This kind broadcast have very high possibility of causing waves of anger and rage against Palestinians. It's simply irresponsible to show images such as those.
Like millions of his fellow-travelers on the Apologist Left, Márcio could not resist the opportunity presented by this tragedy to condemn the last three decades of U.S. foreign policy.
The truth is that US government had shown no respect for other countries in the last decades. In the 60s and 70s they had halped lots of military coups throughout the world (including Brazil in 64). Later, with Reagan and Bush Father, the Washington Consensus have been demolishing the bases of our economies, making us more and more dependant (and, many of us, prehocupied with this situation). Your current president quickly made things worse: Kioto Protocol, Star Wars, Colombia Plan, the exchange of rain forest for pieces of external debt, tha abandonment of the position of third party in negotiations between IRA and England, and between Palestinians and Israel. All those mistakes in US external politics made your country more hatred than before, and, of course, more vulnerable.
Many of the anti-globalization Indy Media smurfs jumped on the bandwagon. “Propaganda needs to be exposed for what it is before our damned ‘leadership’ decides to use bombs again, as they do ad nauseum,” said Diane, from “peaceful Northern California,” on the IMC message boards. Some creature calling itself “Apreo International” proclaimed that the trickery was obvious to all those not already pulverized by Yankee propaganda:
It's sickening to see the hatred of americans right now... Epecially when it's based on false information spread by CNN which in turn is controlled by the US-govt. … I don't feel any sympathy whatsoever for USA as a country and system.. The US has always been supressing other countries to make their own financial gain.. The US controls the global economy with force, lies and manipulation.. so this was bound to happen. … CNN is broadcasting it's propaganda worldwide, 24/7... and even shows palestinian street celebrations from 1991! It's so obvious you couldn't possibly miss it...... unless you've bought the hoax and were raised by it. … I'm glad there are others out there still looking beyond the obvious in search for the truth... keep it up people! One day we'll outnumber the nicely herded sheep.
Dave Barry, who wrote one of the finest columns to date about the tragedy, sent off this e-mail about the IndyMedia rumor to Jim Romenesko’s Media News page Sept. 14:
There's a story going around the Internet that the video of Palestinians celebrating was actually shot in 1991, and the Evil Corporate Media are rebroadcasting it now to fan the anti-Arab flames. Allegedly, this was determined by an unnamed professor in Brazil. I assume this charge is nonsense, but I'm wondering: Has CNN, or any other media outlet, refuted it?
CNN Chief News Executive Eason Jordan fired off an e-mail the same day, calling the implausible story a “ridiculous tale.”
The suggestion that CNN used 10-year-old images to illustrate Palestinians celebrating the terrorist strikes in the U.S. is baseless and ridiculous. The videotape was, in fact, shot Tuesday in East Jerusalem by a Reuters TV crew and included comments from a Palestinian praising Osama Bin Laden, who was not a Gulf War player. The more interesting story -- it has the added value of being true -- is that Palestinian officials have threatened journalists for taking pictures of these Palestinian celebrations.
The Washington Post followed up on its website Sept. 15 (printed in the Sept. 16 issue), with a thorough and damning account of how the Palestinian Authority is resorting to crude, violent threats against journalists to suppress all photographic coverage of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Hours after the attacks Tuesday, Associated Press Television videotaped a small group of Palestinians, some of them children, rejoicing in East Jerusalem. That footage infuriated Americans and alarmed Palestinian officials, who moved swiftly to block the release of similar images elsewhere. The same day, Palestinian police stopped photographers from covering a celebratory rally in the West Bank town of Nablus. Drivers honked their car horns, gunmen fired into the air and revelers handed out sweets, according to journalists at the scene. Shortly thereafter, a Palestinian militia member threatened an Associated Press cameraman who managed to videotape the rally, demanding that the tape not be released. A high-ranking Palestinian official, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, told the AP bureau chief in Jerusalem, Dan Perry, that the cameraman's safety could not be ensured if the footage were released. AP decided not to release the footage, said Jack Stokes, a spokesman for the news agency in New York. The Foreign Press Association in Israel, which Perry chairs, condemned the "direct threats" and "harassment" of journalists by the Palestinian authorities and gunmen. On Friday, Palestinian police arrested five journalists in the Gaza Strip who were covering a rally of the militant Hamas organization in memory of an Israeli Arab suicide bomber who killed himself and three Israeli Jews. At least one person at the rally held up a poster of bin Laden.
Case closed, right? Not if you’re a “media critic” from the Apologist Left. I have long argued that the Journalism Ethics Establishment is as responsible as any other culprit for the decline of elite U.S. journalism. There is more than enough material on the subject to fill a book. Still, it was a repulsive shock to read the following words from WorkingForChange.com media watcher Geov Parrish on Sept. 17 -- a full three days after anyone paying attention knew the story was a fraud.
Media outlets must be forced to cover this story in a reasonably fair and complete manner, without jingoism, nationalism, sensationalism, or prejudice. Already, there have been reports that CNN's video of celebrating Palestinians is the same tape played during the Gulf War.
Notice the lovely Totalitarian instinct of that phrase “must be forced.” Imagine what Parrish might be doing, if he was actually “forced” to “cover this story in a reasonably fair and complete manner,” and “without prejudice.” He should thank his lucky stars we don’t have the government and system he surely craves.
9/17/2001 11:39:08 PM
Gosh. I understand today - really, for the first time in my life - why for much of Middle America the word "liberal" is a pejorative. Take Colman McCarthy, the director of the "Center for Teaching Peace," who in today's L.A. Times argues that the proper response to these brutal murderers is to say "We forgive you; we reject vengeance. And then, summoning still more moral courage, to ask them to forgive us for all of our violence - for being the world's major arms peddler; for having a military budget many times greater than the combined military budgets of our alleged enemies; for our bombing of Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia; for supporting dictators; and for blindly believing the jingoism of President Bush."
Sorry, I'm not much in the mood to apologize for my country - which has guaranteed security and peace for Japan, Western Europe and now Central Europe for nearly six decades - having a large military budget. Is the budget too large? Probably, but we are far and away the richest country in the world (due to an economic system much of the American Left hates), and being the world's policeman is costly, not least because sheltered pacifists in Western Europe and Japan automatically rail against every single exertion of state force. Have we made cruel errors in judgment in places like Central and South America, and Southeast Asia? Of course - it's why I didn't register for the draft, back in the '80s. But here's something the marginalized Left will never admit: on the whole, especially since the Cold War ended, U.S. foreign policy has not been guided by an evil drive toward hegemony and "supporting dictators," but to the ABSOLUTE CONTRARY has been geared toward enabling local democracy and blocking the expansionist aims of dictators. Which "dictator" were we supporting when bombing Yugoslavia? Oh yeah, none. In fact, last I remember, Yugoslavia's dictator is now facing a trial for War Crimes, and tentative democracy is gaining a foothold in Belgrade and Zagreb.
As I slowly gather the stomach to read opinion journalism and "alternative" columnists, I am just appalled. Here's the Left's favorite foreign policy expert, the linguist Noam Chomsky. Reflect, while reading this, that this was his first published paragraph after Sept. 11:
The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come to mind. But that this was a horrendous crime is not in doubt. The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen, etc. It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people. It is also likely to lead to harsh security controls, with many possible ramifications for undermining civil liberties and internal freedom. The Sudan bombing was a blight, agreed. Do you think it was carried out with the knowledge that the factory did not make supplies used by terrorists? If you believe U.S. foreign policy to be inherently Evil, then the question answers itself. If you actually try to think, and if your agenda has room for compassion toward your countrymen, then I don't think you can honestly compare the two events in your opening paragraph (the death tolls certainly don't come close to each other; note the "unknown numbers of people" phrase, followed by the unexplained "much worse cases, which easily come to mind.") And to lament the effects of the bombing on our poor Palestinian friends - you know, those people who were dancing in the streets, tossing around candies, and ripping up the film of every Western photographer who dared exercise a little free newsgathering - while basically condemning all non-"working people" in the WTC to an apparently justified Hell … this is heinous and inhumane.
I have been taking comfort in George Orwell's essay, "The Lion and the Unicorn," written in 1941 while Britain was being bombed and the civilized world thought it was facing a choice between Communism and Fascism. In it, he argues for a Socialist Revolution, and makes many absolutist claims about capitalism that turned out not to be true, but above all it was a bracing exercise in precise free-thinking, and emotional real-world response. I urge you all to read it, though dealing with it on the computer screen makes your eyes hurt. So, what did Orwell say about our pacifist friends?
Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement. Some of the extremer pacifists, starting out with a complete renunciation of violence, have ended by warmly championing Hitler and even toying with antisemitism. This is interesting, but it is not important. 'Pure' pacifism, which is a by-product of naval power, can only appeal to people in very sheltered positions. Moreover, being negative and irresponsible, it does not inspire much devotion. On the relationship between intellectuals and patriotism:
England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during 'God save the King' than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British. … If you were an intellectual you sniggered at the Union Jack and regarded physical courage as barbarous. … Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very peculiar kind of war, that may make this possible. On the moral relativism of comparing your country's actions and democracy to that of its enemies:
An illusion [in this case, the illusion that the country is basically just and believes in equal rights] can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is 'just the same as' or 'just as bad as' totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct, national life is different because of them. In proof of which, look about you. … The only question that matters is where one's real sympathies will lie when the pinch comes. The intellectuals who are so fond of balancing democracy against totalitarianism and 'proving' that one is as bad as the other are simply frivolous people who have never been shoved up against realities. On the worry that somehow we'd become our enemy by attacking them:
Already it is customary among the more soft-boiled intellectuals of the Left to declare that if we fight against Nazis we shall 'go Nazi' ourselves. They might almost equally well say that if we fight Negroes we shall turn black. To 'go Nazi' we should have to have the history of Germany behind us. We need to think very clearly, from here on out. Part of that process is assessing, with as much accuracy as possible, whether the suicide attackers' general complaint against America is valid. Are we an Evil Empire? I say we are not, and those who argue that we are, either believe that Henry Kissinger still runs our foreign policy, or that all armies should be dismantled, or that the Cold War never ended. For years, such delusional ideas were quaint little debate points, fodder for writing centrist columns for a Leftist audience. Now, they are the very foundation of the life-and-death struggles to come next. I'm willing to admit, and have always been willing to admit, that America has done some dastardly things in the name of democracy. Are you willing to admit that it also the primary source for geopolitical good?
9/17/2001 09:25:17 PM
This is Ben's test.
9/17/2001 08:12:24 PM
Welcome to War. Sounds like a strange and unpleasant thing to say, but these are strange and unpleasant times, requiring unusual responses. Like many of you, I am reading and hearing and watching too much about the wicked horror of Sept. 11, and finding it a challenge to keep track of how it is already changing our lives. The biggest question facing Americans and other decent people is how the civilized world and its strongest country should respond to this mass murder. I, for one, advocate a Global War to abolish terrorism. Many of you probably disagree. There are -- largely thanks to the values championed by the United States -- many forums to argue over the many issues that are already cropping up, from concerns over reduced civil liberties to an amazing increase in government secrecy. This will be mine ... and yours too, should you want to e-mail me, and agree to let me share it with the others. There aren't many who can think and write clearly in the wake of this terrible sadness, and I don't claim to be one of them, but I will try. This site will also be a press review, allowing you and me both to monitor and react to coverage and opinion as it happens. I had always hoped to conduct my affairs without resorting to the blog, but new times call for new media. Let's roll.
9/17/2001 12:00:06 AM
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