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May 10, 2004

Arkhangel grieves for lost honor
Posted by Teresa at 05:47 PM *

Arkhangel, who is former military, writes a very distinctive weblog, Better Angels of our Nature. He’s been furious with grief since the Abu Ghraib story broke. I linked to him the first time I wrote about it. Here he is on the underappreciated issue of our national honor.

There is no honor.

I saw Don Rumsfeld’s testimony today, and there is no honor. Certainly, the other men present at the witness table did not acquit themselves well, but in the end, it comes down to Rumsfeld and the President. And there is no honor.

“Who was in charge? What was the chain of command?” Simple questions, these. Asked by John McCain, an honorable man. Simple questions, deserving of a simple answer. But the simple answer never made it past the lips of the Secretary. There were evasions and dodges, a dance of deceit, if you will.

No one was in charge, it seems—because that way, the only people who suffer punishment are the sergeants and privates in the photographs and videos. And as for the chain of command, well…uh…well, that was left behind somewhere in the recesses of the Pentagon. And there is no honor in that.

“When did you see the pictures?” Another simple question, asked by another honorable man, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, deserving of a simple answer. Answered not with a simple answer, but with a desperate dodge.

Certainly, the Secretary had his defenders. The schools, the schools, they cried, all of them—Hutchinson and Dole, and two men who wouldn’t know honor, dignity and grace if they went twelve bloody rounds with them. I speak of Saxby Chambliss and Jeff Sessions, and the less spoken about them, the better.

But what of the schools? What of all the good we’ve done there? So what? Does it make the horrors we’ve seen, and those we’ve yet to see any more excusable? Is this what Republican morality is all about? Getting an extramarital blowjob in the Oval Office is a national crisis, but you can abuse and torment all the Iraqis you want—just make sure you build them 2,000 schools to make up for it.

And just when you thought one side had the market cornered on moral hypocrisy, you had Saint Joe Lieberman, patron saint of pious sanctimony, try to wash away the sins of Abu Ghraib by saying that since the Secretary had apologized (the way a six-year-old apologizes, only after being caught red-handed with the broken shards of pottery in his hands), and the 9/11 hijackers hadn’t, that made things better.

I thought the world of Joe, once. Not anymore—I despise his empty bromides, his saccharine piety. If there was any way I could run against him in two years, I would. Hey, Sen. Dodd, there’s something you can do with all that money you’re squirrelling away: get someone to run against this sorry excuse for a Democrat.

I harbor no illusions that Secretary Rumsfeld will resign, or be impeached. The President is far too mired in the muck, the web of deceit, corruption, and irresponsibility for him to fire one of his closest advisors—because ultimately, the final responsibility lies with him, in the Oval Office.
Comments on Arkhangel grieves for lost honor:
#1 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Maybe I have missed something (and I would welcome a correction on this), but it appears to me that the various authorites cleaning up after this managed to move Gen Taguba out of the way (with a kick upstairs, to be sure) and resolved the cases against officers quickly with career ending reprimands and such either just before of shortly after the pictures went public. This left the sergeants to face courts martial. Now, I could have the specifics wrong, or might not be viewing these actions in the correct perspective. But I do wonder, because this is not the way it is supposed to work.

When I was growing up an Air Force brat, I was informed by my officer father that it wasn't an officers job to always be right or good, but without exception to take responsibility for his decisions and the actions of his unit. Actions by his subordinates that might only rate adminstrative punishment, could result in a court for him. In particular, as the commander of a combat-rated B-52 crew, it really did not matter who screwed up, as it was the ship and the whole mission that he was responsible for. If there was a problem, Dad would be in just as much trouble as anyone else, short of direct insubordination by a member of his crew. And God help the squadron commander that tried to go around him . . .

That's what I have been waiting for in all of this, the officer that woul show some goddam spine and act like a commander. Hersh's latest New Yorker article has one or two examples of lower level MP commanders that told MI to piss off when asked to have their troops "assist" with interrogation. But were is the captain, colonel, general or secretary of defense willing to say "I'm in command here. If you are forming courts, start with me"?

But I should know better than to ask. If there were real commanders involved, this probably would not have happened.

#2 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 07:06 PM:

As the daughter of a Navy captain, I have been thinking the same thing, all along. Very well said.

Also, one of the overwhelming problems in all this is not just the misconduct and torture meeted out, as documented in the Taguba report exec summary, but that the same summary showed a complete breakdown in military command structure. That the command structure had been circumvented, obfuscated, and otherwise ignored. That that isn't being addressed is damned scary -- if it's as widespread as is hinted at in the report, then the military is in for a world of trouble.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 09:07 PM:

The same thing's been bothering me. Rumsfeld waffling when McCain asked him about the chain of command was like a cold wind down the back of my neck. You don't do that. You don't ever do that. You always know your chain of command.

So the next question is: what does it mean, when they do things you simply don't do? When they do things that violate the most basic structures of the institution? What do they know that you don't know? What do they think is going on?

This is one of those moments like hearing about the attack on the vote count in Florida by a "mob" which largely consisted of out-of-state Republican campaign workers, funded through the national Republican organization. You look at it and think about how many laws and regulations have been violated. Then you realize that they don't think they're going to be called to account for it. And you wonder what's being planned.

I did see something yesterday that suggested that a bunch of Marines have been moved to Abu Ghraib -- on whose orders, it didn't say. That's interesting, given that they don't answer to the Army's command structure. The Marine at AG who was writing about it was referring to the Army personnel there as "those morons". I'm inclined to regard it as hopeful unless proven otherwise.

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 09:33 PM:

One of the things I like about the Marxists is that they'll talk about power.

Power is real; power is an inevitable consequence of people getting together to do stuff.

There's a lot of machinery to handle power, to create power in a working military or a working society.

Someone who talks about power as though it doesn't, or shouldn't, exist is pretending that people are something else.

Someone who talks about power as though the only thing necessary is obedience isn't themselves planning to obey.

#5 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 09:37 PM:

I have a notion that people who believe in unrestrained punishment are especially unlikely to be willing to risk being on the receiving end.

And I've hated Lieberman for quite a while--ever since I heard him say that in any conflict between parents and popular culture, the parents should always win. Sorry, no cite, so I may have misremembered, though.

#6 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 09:49 PM:

What I find creepy is despite the fact that everybody is saying Rumsfeld should resign, bush seems to be giving him more support than ever. Doesn't that make you wonder who is really pulling the strings?

"Okay, dear boy, if you want to keep your job, you'd best get out there on camera and pucker your lips to my ass!" said Rumsfeld. "Understand?" He face was deadly serious and reminded poor George of when the frat brothers used to threaten him with all sorts of hazing during his time at Yale.

"Answer him, boy!" Cheney said, slamming his fist down on George's TV tray.

"Y-yes, sir," Poor George said. But when the cartoons came back on, his feelings of anxiety left him and all was right in the world. After all, Iraq was far away. So far, in fact, that it didn't seem like it really existed.

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 10:01 PM:

Randall, keep in mind that, from Bush’s point of view, Rumsfeld hasn’t done anything worth being canned over. All he’s done is screw up. So what? Dubya’s screwed up nearly everything he’s ever put his hand to, and he never got fired over it. Instead, his buddies helped him out, ’cause that’s how things work in his circle.

Now if Rummy had been disloyal, that’d be a different matter.

#8 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 10:19 PM:

Shark Denied Counsel

It was apparent a long time ago (as I'm sure most of you know perfectly well) that Rumsfeld, along with a number of other Prominent Individuals, is a CEO of a type now not uncommon: he has no leadership ability (which used to be recognized as a component of "management"), no inspirational qualities, and lacks a basic understanding of how the "business" he's been put in charge of actually operates.

Instead, he decides what the company is supposed to return on its investment (or achieve in the short term), demands "plans" to achieve this, and hands off those plans to people who are expected to implement them successfully with whatever resources they can scare up. Anyone who stands in the way of the CEO's imperial will by pointing out that for the plan to work will require airborne squadrons of hypersonic pigs is told to make it work anyway, under whatever threat happens to be available. The CEO -does no work,- including making actual operating decisions. He makes a demand and collects a bonus. If the plan fails, or for that matter the company, that's someone else's fault. Probably government regulators'.

For some decades it has been considered, and often taught, that "management" is a "skill" independent of the business it is applied to; running an airline is no different from running a pizza parlor, and being too deep in the details the pizza business (never mind -liking- it) might get in the way of your getting the airline job. And the business of America is ROI and P/E; it has nothing whatsoever to do with making a product or delivering a service.

Rumsfeld was going to "reinvent" the US military. Now, armed forces do, sometimes, need new thought and new directions; but the actual game plan was to produce a small, cheap force that could still do anything asked of it (and, at some point, would be shifted to "special forces," so it would be under direct executive control, without any inefficient checks and balances). The war was going to prove that this New Coke Model Army worked as advertised; any suggestion that it needed to operate more like, well, the Old Army called the model into question, and might wreck it entirely if the force the Old Commanders wanted won the war (which was taken as a preordained condition).

McNamara tried a variation of this, with results many of us recall, and his business models were considerably less degenerate than Rumsfeld's. And, of course, McNamara eventually had the awareness to see his errors and take some responsibility (as distinct from "full responsibility") for them.

#9 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 11:27 PM:

Teresa, I know of the Marine whom you mention (at least through journal channels); we send him books to get him through some of his less interesting shifts (since he reads a lot of our authors anyway).

Anyway, yeah, he does refer to "those morons" in his journal, but that needs to be taken in context. I'm sure he can correct me here (Dave?) but I believe he means that "THOSE F*CKING MORONS" (my asterisk) refers to the people implicated in the Taguba report, rather than "the Army personnel there."

Sorry, but it's a sticking point with me, since not all Army personnel are necessarily morons, and not even all Army MI. Even thought it may look like it from a distance here, given what's just surfaced in the news.

BTW, those Marines have been there for while now.

#10 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 11:49 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz:
Oh, I've hated Lieberman ever since he said that I could never be as moral as he is, because he's so religious.

Did anybody catch Safire’s column?
“In last week’s apology before the Senate, Rumsfeld assumed ultimate responsibility, as President John Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.”

Huh?? Is even Safire admitting that Bush is a powerless figurehead, and that Rumsfeld is in charge?

The weird power dynamic of Bush going over to the Pentagon today for a meeting with his cabinet secretary was a bit odd, too.

#11 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2004, 11:52 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz:
Oh, I've hated Lieberman ever since he said that I could never be as moral as he is, because he's so religious.

Did anybody catch Safire’s column?
“In last week’s apology before the Senate, Rumsfeld assumed ultimate responsibility, as President John Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.”

Huh?? Is even Safire admitting that Bush is a powerless figurehead, and that Rumsfeld is in charge?

The weird power dynamic of Bush going over to the Pentagon today for a meeting with his cabinet secretary was a bit odd, too.

#12 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 12:02 AM:

Monday's WashPost has an article on BGEN Karpinski, where she says it's not her fault, un uh, she's the scapegoat.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 01:18 AM:

What John Said.

I took some fascinating, well-taught classes at CMU's business school. Great stuff on how to manage and develop technology, with lots of case studies and attention to background material. Many of the professors were engineers who went into business and then decided to teach engineers; they understood both technical sweetness and the demands of business. The other engineers who took business classes were pretty good to work with.

The actual business students . . . oye. They were the ones who, as project partners, insisted on putting a magic combination of buzzwords into each paper. Two of the hot classes for the come-to-class-in-a-suit crowd were acting and golf, and the hottest of all was Finance. They were there to learn how to play the money game.

#14 ::: Liz ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 01:24 AM:

Two brief comments: IMNSHO, Bush is publicly supporting Rumsfeld (regardless of what he might have said in private) so that when Rummy does resign, he can appear to be doing it "for the good of the country," instead of being canned.

Secondly, thanks much for the bumper sticker ("Bush has no honor"). It's been ordered. I tried to make one at, but their user agreement restrains one from using "defamatory language." I didn't think I could in good conscience agree to that, since that was exactly what I meant to do!

#15 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 02:24 AM:

I'm curious how many people posting here have actually been in an executive position.

I was, for the 2002 Worldcon. I fired a high level person. I accepted some other high level resignations. And I had to accept some very difficult compromises, that in the long run led to a better convention. It's not an easy job.

Bush is a f*ck of a lot higher up than I'll ever be. I have almost no respect for him, because I don't see him making the necessary hard choices. But in terms of letting Rumsfeld go -- I hate to say it, but I feel his pain. I just wish he'd cop to the hard job he's taken on, and do what's right. It's not easy. But every day he delays makes it worse.

Every day takes away another layer of respect. And he doesn't have very many left, in my opinion.

#16 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:04 AM:

I wouldn't call Lindsey Graham honorable, exactly...

#17 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:05 AM:

Oh, and another thought:

Shall I think of honour as lies
Or lament it's ancient, slow demise
Shall I stand as a total stranger
On this day, in this stone chamber

-- VNV Nation, Honour

#18 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 04:21 AM:

Honour? tut, a breath;
There is no such thing, in nature: a mere terme
Inuented to awe fooles.

Ben Jonson, Volpone, 1607

Seems somehow apposite.

#19 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 04:32 AM:

I've had no use for Lieberman for some time due to his personal vendetta against video games. Not much compared to the horrors out of Abu Ghraib, I know, but his basic lack of respect for first amendment rights appalls me.

Perhaps the single good thing I can say about the 2000 election is that at least Lieberman didn't get to be vice president.

#20 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 04:58 AM:

As for impeaching Rumsfeld, I quote Robin D Laws.... "Why take the grnade away from your enemy when he's not finished blowing up yet?"

He's doing more damage to the Bush administration's chances by staying than going. In election year, I hope he stays around as a gross embarassment right up to polling day.

#21 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 05:17 AM:

From the post at Better Angels of Our Nature excerpted above:
"Joe Lieberman.. saying ...since the Secretary had apologized ... and the 9/11 hijackers hadn't"
Once again, there seems to be an implication of this false link between Iraq & the September 11 attacks.

You could say he's just saying the US is behaving better than terrorists, but, again, what does that have to do with Iraq, unless he's admitting that by moving into Iraq they've stirred up terrorists to come there and attack Coalition of the Willing troops and others? Is he implying the prisoners are terrorists? Could he be worried that if he says Saddam hasn't apologized for the things done in his name, that there'll be questions about what SH is saying these days, or that SH will, at trial, make a spectacular Act of Contrition?

BTW, like others, I am an offspring of an ex-serviceman (Artillery, a Bombadier). He retired injured & rather embittered -- like others who've said they agree with the ideals, but not necessarily the people involved and the way things may actually be done. I wonder if these relationships are commoner than one thinks, or if this subject is one of greater interest to us?

Anyone who's subscribed to the re-run of The Academia Waltz strip by Berkeley Breathed may find the one for today (where the wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran finishes by saying "It's been a long decade..." [original ellipsis]) strikes a bit of a chord. At least at the moment, it does look like quite a few people are paying attention to an important issue. One hopes the attention span will last the distance.

#22 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 06:38 AM:

Epacris, I think we're meant to believe that all those in Abu Ghraib are all international terrorists, rather than the mixture of insurgents, ordinary criminals, and innocents who had the misfortune to be in a place raided by US soldiers looking for insurgents.

BTW, just what is happening with Saddam these days? Does anyone know? Do you think he's going to be ready for whatever set-piece publicity stunt they're going to run before the election?

#23 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 06:52 AM:

They probably want to make sure that Saddam is very, very well broken before they put him in front of public cameras.

If he decided to be rebellious during his trial, and took the stand in his own defense, he could cause the administration a lot of trouble. It's known that Cheney did business with Saddam during the 1990's (through a 'condom', a Halliburton subsidiary). I'm sure that there's a large boatload of other ties between Saddam and BushCo, not only during the 1980's, but the 90's as well - these guys are so corrupt that they couldn't pass up some high-profit margin deals.

#24 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 07:29 AM:

You know, I'm shallow enough to watch "Survivor" but brave enough to admit it, and I can't help but notice the parallels between that show and American culture right now.

It seems that Survivor is the perfect encapsulation of the United States. Everyone refers to the show as a "game" as if it takes some great skill to play it. Everyone has these continuously shifting alliances. Everyone has this ridiculous sense of fictional honor that they try desperately to hold on to, but when push comes to shove, they abandon without batting an eye. And everyone on the show is so self-important that they'll do anything to screw their fellow contestants and then claim that their feelings are hurt when they, themselves, get screwed.

I watched the Survivor finale on Sunday and was embarrassed at the way people were behaving. Then, I turned on the news the next morning and were embarrassed at the way people were behaving. So sad...I'm thinking of writing a big article on it someday, but I think making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might be more interesting...

Oh, of course, I'm not embarrassed at MY behavior. I watch Survivor with an objective more of a cultural study than mindless entertainment. Contradiction is balance, you see...

#25 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:14 AM:

Wow. Great piece; thanks for linking it, Teresa. I'm adding Arkhangel to my daily reads now.

#26 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:27 AM:

I've just been hearing NPR reporting that Taguba is to appear before Congress today. At military insistence he isn't going to be there alone, as was asked by the committee. He will be flanked by two officers senior to him.

Way to encourage a frank and open discussion, guys! And how far up the chain of command did that one come from? What? Oh, there is no chain of command anymore? Harry Truman's old "The Buck Stops Here" sign has been replaced with one that reads "The Buck Stops in my Cayman Islands Account" and no one is responsible.

Certainly, no one seems to be planning to fall on their sword for the good of the rest of the (mis)administration. (Do we even want to remind any of them that the phrase has been used metphorically rather than literally for a few years now?)

BTW--for the early poster, yes the general was "promoted," but it was to a backwater Pentagon posting that sounds as though he'll be encouraged to seek retirement if he ever wants to see daylight again.

#27 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:39 AM:

Randall, I think you're on to something.

I've been trying to put my finger on what it is that bothers me about Survivor (and reality TV in general) for years now. And that's what it is: Survivor is the worst of American culture in miniature. It's not just our political model; it's the way we do business, and, by extention, the way we treat each other given the slightest encouragement. It's all just a game, but somebody's got to win. Get there firstest with the mostest. And there's no point if there's no drama along the way, so everyone be as awful and difficult to each other as you can. Vesti la giubba!

It's almost enough to put me in the market for a Guy Fawkes mask.

#28 ::: colleen lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:43 AM:

Don't know if any of you saw this yet, but even the Army Times is jumping in the bandwagon and calling for those in charge at the highest levels to step down. See article here

#29 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 10:49 AM:

I'm just listening to someone (didn't catch who) saying that these people who are terrorists, murderers and have American blood on their hands, why are we concerned about them?

Guilty until proven innocent, apparently.

Oh, and he's sickened by the do-gooders crawling over the prisons looking for human rights violations...

#30 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Anyone catch last Sunday's "60 Minutes" spot about the 5 Western men who were arrested and tortured in a Saudi jail?

How about the two Palistinian men who dressed as women and tried to fire on a memorial service for the pregnant Israeli woman and her four daughters who were murdered a week earlier. I guess it's OK to face the horrible humilation of wearing women's clothing if you're doing it to kill Jews.

What happened at Abu Ghraib is wrong. It's unjustifiable. Those in charge and those who did the dirty work need to answer for their actions.

Or maybe we should wring our hands and discuss the "root causes" of why these young G.I.'s did this?

#31 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 11:40 AM:

The issue of The New Yorker with the Abu Ghraib article (May 10) also has a pertinent quote from South African political satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys: "They say it's unpatriotic to criticize. Nonsense! A patriot is somebody who protects his country from its government."

#32 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 12:11 PM:

My people are drinking Stars' Tears.

#33 ::: Stephanie ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 12:37 PM:

Julia, that was James Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma. It made me ill to listen to him.

Short Inhofe: It's fine if we torture people because some value of 'they' did bad things first. The pictures were sickening and perverted but the fact that people are outraged by them is far more sickening. The Red Cross is a bunch of do-gooders (well, I guess he's right there, but it sounds like if you're Inhofe, it's not actually good to do good). And it's all partisan politics anyway, since some bad people are pointing out that this horror show might be a good reason not to vote for Bush. And Rumsfeld is a great man and the bad people are out to get him.

He can bite me. Lieberman too.

#34 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 12:52 PM:

Dan writes: "Survivor is the worst of American culture in miniature."

I thought that was "Fear Factor".

#35 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 12:58 PM:

Well, Dan and Jon, I thought it was "Scare Tactics," but perhaps we're tarring with too narrow a brush: reality TV in general not only shows, but panders to, the very worst of our culture, and the very basest part of our species' nature.

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 12:59 PM:

(Sorry, meant to include: if not, I'd argue for my choice as the worst, since the people who are being humiliated haven't signed up in advance.)

#37 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 02:17 PM:

Xopher, it may pander to the most base part of our nature, but man, does it make for good tv sometimes...

Joy, I get a little tired of the "they're inhumane, too" arguement. In my opinion, regardless of what "they" do to "us," we still profess to be the "enlightened" culture and therefore our actions should reflect what we profess to be. If you take the approach that bush takes, which is probably, "We need to speak in the language that they understand, and the only language they understand is violence," then I guess you're missing the point of what our country's true ideals and values are. If we want to change the world and bring democracy everywhere, then we need to lead by example and not simply react to the perceived horrors that others inflict upon us and those associated with us.

I guess the bottom line is that I think the United States needs "fixing," and until we fix the problems we have, we have no right to lecture ANYONE else as to what they do.

#38 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 02:34 PM:

Actually, I sort of meant Survivor as shorthand for the whole noxious pack of them, but as you will.

If you want my vote, the most monstrous of the lot that's been dreamed up so far is The Apprentice. It earns my particular bile for almost, but not quite, showing the Beast for what it is. These are our new demigods; this is the best we aspire to - Borgia in the boardroom, Glengarry Glen Ross without the irony. We cheer on qualities in these wanna-be celebrities we'd rightly despise in our friends, and call it "drive" and "ambition" and pretend that those aren't euphemisms for shallowness and baseness and visciousness.

And The Apprentice makes it all seem sexy and edgy - nice suits, sleek haircuts, top-notch accessories. It dresses up the abomination in velvet and silk and sprays it down with civet, and tells us that this is the pinnacle of our culture, and it's meant to inspire the audience with envy and lust and appetite. It's worse than just money porn, status porn, power porn; it inspires people to wonder what they'd do for half a chance at the golden ticket, and just maybe inspires them to treat the show's examples as role models. This is the dream, it says; this is what you should be to attain it. And nobody seems to notice that the reward for First Place is to be a glorified, high-class toady.

At least with Survivor, we can pretend that it's all Lord of the Flies insanity that happens when you take people away from civilization. The Apprentice is meant to be the height of civilization. And I suppose it is. It's the civilization that breeds Bushes and Cheneys and Rumsfelds, and then allows otherwise intelligent people to believe that these are courageous, admirable, honorable men.

#39 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:03 PM:

My perspective: I was a business major in college, but I also grew up an Army brat who nearly applied to Annapolis (age issues) and would have tried for some form of ROTC if I hadn't wound up getting a deal from the school instead. Now, I'm manager of a small team, in a non-profit research institute.

In addition to this, my brother and a cousin are active duty officers, and I have accordingly spent a fair amount of time at flight school graduations, change-of-command ceremonies, and similar milestones.

On top of all of that, I read way too much military SF.

I therefore find myself making comments about "line vs. staff" and "chain of command" even in day to day work situations; my mindset runs that way far more than the financial/numerical analysis side, even though I can certainly do that.

I'm with Claude, and Nancy, and Teresa, and the Army Times editorial, and John M. Ford; but I'd go farther. This is not only McNamara's mistakes all over again, and this isn't only a screwup with nobody willing to take responsibility. It's worse. At least JFK saw service, and combat; if he trusted Robert McNamara that's a different level of mistake than having an entire administration of people who, for all the fine words they say about supporting the troops, shaft 'em at every opportunity, because they didn't actually serve, and therefore hold a hidden reserve of contempt for the saps who actually did.

That's what makes me really, truly, angry about the situation. I worried that we'd win the war and lose the peace; now I'm worried that we're losing the peace so badly as to create a far worse war.

And that nobody in what should be a position of responsibility can see it, or will open their eyes to do so.

#40 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:05 PM:

Oh, and the one reality show I actually respect? The Amazing Race. The competition is "be your best" instead of "knock the others down". I'm looking forward to season 5.

#41 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:21 PM:

Joy, I'll grant you your basic point, and even say it's a point well taken. But don't expect much more from me -- maybe from someone else. Because for me, this issue is very personal.

Part of it is that I spend a certain amount of time inside prisons, and I do know what can go wrong, and how hard many of the professionals inside work to prevent it. The moment you toss it off with a "well, things happen", you are guaranteeing that more and worse will occur. We do know how to do this right and we generally do it well -- and in particular the military has the reputatiohn of doing a pretty good job of running conventional detention facilities, if allowed to.

But as I mentioned before, I'm a military brat (and even worse, an overseas military brat). This means that my relationship to (in my case) the Air Force in general is a bit like someone else's relationship to their home town. You may not live there any more, and you will never move back, but it is where you came from and it is a big part of who you are.

This is not just the hideous acts of a half dozen airheads. The process that got us here, as documented by NGO reports, the military's own multiple investigations, and all the other stuff leaking out every day is the direct and express responsibility of persons up and down the chain of command. The vapid, passive voice evasions of personal responsiblity, coupled with what appears to be an attempt to dump all accountability on enlisted persons (at least so far) violates the core values of the military community.

Or to rephrase, I may only be a single civilian voter thses days, but it's where I came from and I damm well will not stand for it.

#42 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 03:48 PM:

Christopher, The Amazing Race is the best show on television and I have vowed to forever abandon that idiot box the day it goes off the air.

But sometimes I wonder whether it's only people who have lived for an extended period of time overseas that truly enjoy the show...Maybe I'm wrong...

#43 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 04:50 PM:

I'm a Navy brat, reared in the Ring of Fire, and spent most of my career working for defense contractors on Navy projects. (I used to be an expert on communications software for computerized weapons and intelligence systems.) I'm pretty familiar with the military.

The news is talking about a video of an American civilian, Nick Berg, being beheaded. The group doing it says it's revenge for the Abu Graib torture, but I doubt that. I think it's just a good excuse and I'm afraid we'll find more and more people using that excuse. WashPost story here:

#44 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 05:30 PM:

(Randall, I'm not overseas-reared, and I tried watching The Amazing Race last year for the first time, on the advice of a friend who knows how I feel in general about reality TV... and I was absolutely fascinated! Behave like a typical American tourist and you'll lose. No need to compromise your honor to win. Cool challenges in fascinating locations.)

I heard Darby, the guy who handed over a CD of pictures that turned the CID investigation around, has gotten death threats. Of course, if it hadn't been him, they might have gotten at the truth anyway, as some of the images were being used as screensavers at the prison... so I can only hope the solace of having done the right thing is enough reward to get him through the next few months.

#45 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 06:17 PM:

"So the next question is: what does it mean, when they do things you simply don't do?"

Anything should be considered plausible. The exact opposite of the chumleys sneering at "conspiracy theories". Develop the rapid-response eval, but listen, weigh the likelihood, and move.
What's happening, what is really happening, behind the dust and nonsense, is going to be weirder than you want it to be.

Try the template of it's exactly what was intended.
That the morass, the miasma, and the quagmire were all foreseen and accepted as necessary.
The de-stabilization of Iraq was the goal, and it really is "Mission Accomplished". Almost. Sort of.
Next, on to Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, maybe even Egypt eventually.
It was on purpose, try that.
The darkness isn't chaos, but the cloak of subtle purpose and intent.
All those wind-up dolls in the White House are fusible links. The Manchurian cabinet.
And they're all taking some designer mood-enhancer that makes them calm in the midst of the utter collapse of the dream.
The Tower of Babel crashes down on top of them, and they grin, hesitantly, testing the wind, listening for cues.

Who knows, really? But anybody who thinks an election in November is going to fix this is nuts.

#46 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 06:17 PM:

Randall: I wasn't overseas-reared; my dad's overseas tours were in Korea, so we were left behind. Still, I do enjoy travel, so TAR fills that bill nicely.

#47 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 08:09 PM:

I'd like to ask two things of Lance Boyle:

(1) "Anybody who thinks an election in November is going to fix this is nuts." Who, specifically, does Lance suppose thinks that "an election in November" will "fix" everything? Name names; we're big boys and girls.

(2) Paragraphing.

#48 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:15 PM:

Okay, I'm going off on a big tangent here, but does anyone else think this whole beheading thing is kind of weird? It's so horrible, but there are so many strange things that go along with it that it kind of freaks me out. What was this guy doing in Iraq? He wasn't with contractors. He wasn't with any aid organizations. He was just there as an "entreprenuer." What's up with that?

Now, before anybody jumps on my case about this, I think that what happened to this guy is truly disturbing and the thought that this might open up a whole new precedent for dealing with Americans in Iraq chills my blood, but what in the world is this guy's story? He was just over there trying to make a buck? His parents refer to him in an AP article as being a "free spirit", but this "free spirit" also worked at the 2000 Republican national convention, and spent some time in Ghana teaching people to make bricks. WTF? All the free spirits I know (and I know plenty) certainly wouldn't be working at the Republican National Convention. And his parents? They knew he was dead and I swear that they had quotes on the AP article like half an hour after the article was posted on yahoo, detailing everything this kid was doing over there. If your son was beheaded and found on the side of the road, would you want to chat up the media thirty minutes after the video of your son's death appears on the internet?

I know, I'm venturing dangerously close to crackpot territory here, but the timing of this thing is suspicious, the guy's history is suspicious, and the articles I've read stink to high heaven. Anybody out there care to discount my skepticism? Please, somebody, for the love of god, tell me I'm just being a wack-job!!

#49 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:15 PM:

What does it mean, when they do the things you simply don't do?

It means it has now become dangerously naive to dismiss a dark idea that presents itself, based only on your instinctive response that "they wouldn't do that."

Maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they would have, but didn't get the chance. Or maybe, they did. Once you realize that they had no problem with breaking some of the norms, you need to stop trusting that they've kept any of them. What happens, when they do the things you simply don't do, is that they lose the presumption of innocence. Oh, not in a court of law, that rule still has to hold. But in your minds, when you are assessing what they say and do... you have to remember that these are people who have shown they think norms don't apply to them.

That unfortunate young man Nick Berg was detained for two weeks in US custody. The Post story says he was released after his parents threatened to sue the US government, but in the video (I've only seen a single frame of it and don't want to see more) he is still wearing US orange prisoner garb.

So here's the dark thought: who were those masked men, really?

And as you mull the (several) (unpleasant) possibilities, remember that you can no longer just say, "Oh, but they wouldn't do that."

#50 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:33 PM:

The last they heard from him was apparently April 9; he'd been trying to get out of country after a period of detention from Iraqi cops when he was (probably) kidnapped. CBC just had an interview with a reporter from his home town.

#51 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:55 PM:

Sorry -- I conflated two stories I'd read. The Post article doesn't mention the lawsuit. That's at the end of this AP story here:

On April 5, the Bergs sued the government in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military.
Berg was released the next day, and he told his parents he had not been mistreated. They did not hear from him after April 9.

So if he was released on April 6th -- wait, wait, if he told his parents by phone (see how careful you have to be?) that he had been released, on April 6th... and then on April 9th, that he was coming home by way of Jordan, Turkey, or Kuwait...

You can make up a story that fits. He could, for instance, have been released by the US to a perfectly safe area, and gotten captured by bona fide terrorists while attempting to leave the country via Jordan, Turkey, or Kuwait. And perhaps US orange prisoner suits aren't that hard for terrorists to get hold of, if they want them, to make a visual point.

But that's not the only story that can be constructed around the facts, now is it? Especially when you remember that the Jordanian Zarqawi was running that camp in the US-protected no-fly zone, the camp that Bush categorically refused to bomb prior to the war, and then kept using as an excuse for claiming Saddam was connected to al Qaeda.

#52 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 09:59 PM:

Tom: Bush is a f*ck of a lot higher up than I'll ever be. I have almost no respect for him, because I don't see him making the necessary hard choices. But in terms of letting Rumsfeld go -- I hate to say it, but I feel his pain.

I've chaired two Boskones (one aka The Boskone from Hell) and allegedly co-chaired a World Fantasy Convention; there's probably someone reading else this who has been a better con chair (it wouldn't be hard...). But there's a big difference between leading a group of volunteers and being the boss of a paid organization. This was shown at the 1999 Smofcon, when a member of the panel on hard decisions started coming out with standard managerial language from his own experience; my immediate reaction, seconded by several of his fellow panel members, was that those steps would be a good way to lose the entire group. Cons are sometimes chaired by the least-unwilling, and cope with that is they may; the manager of a professional organization can be expected to know that firing is part of the job -- even Townsend, in Up The Organization, noted this, arguing that a new top man should find and fire the worst apple in the barrel in the first few months on the job.

Certainly real management experience doesn't transfer 100% to politics -- here in Massachusetts, Governor Romney demonstrates this by failing to understand the difference between being appointed CEO and being elected head of the executive branch. And you can argue that Bush has no qualifications as manager, that he was put on boards (and made money) for his name and was run for governor as a pretty face. But I would feel no sympathy at all for someone sitting in the Oval Office who didn't have the gumption to fire a malfeasor like Rumsfeld.

#53 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 10:11 PM:

By the way, Arkhangel clarifies on his blog that he's not "former military," he's a member in good standing of the United States Army.

#54 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 11:21 PM:

CHip -- you're right, I'd feel a whole lot more sympathy for him if he actually fired the (pick your favorite expletive).

I still feel some sympathy for him being in the position of having to choose.

That I feel sympathy for him doesn't mean I like feeling sympathy for him.

#55 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2004, 11:39 PM:

Sylvia, I saw Berg with maybe 15 seconds of video on the news. That's not a prisoner jumpsuit. The prisoner jumpsuits are cotton and the clothes Berg is wearing look like silk or rayon (maybe polished cotton). Also, the prisoner jumpsuits have long cuffed sleeves that can be rolled up with a tab to hold them. Berg's clothes had a wide short sleeve, more like a robe than a jumpsuit. I didn't see him standing. Apparently they made it orange to be like the jumpsuits symbolicly.

#56 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 01:03 AM:


"Anybody who thinks an election in November is going to fix this is nuts."
Who, specifically, does Lance suppose thinks that "an election in November" will "fix" everything?

"This" meaning the thing Abu Ghraib is a symptom of, the current topic here and virtually everywhere.
Some folks are trying desperately to keep responsibility for it confined to a few aberrant military, others are tracking it out to the human condition itself.
I mean it as mostly in the middle, the idea that if what caused the images could be excised, if what caused the invasion could be excised, well wait, not so much in the middle, but not all the way out to the human condition itself.
But not everything. Not my mom's glaucoma. Not the oil leak in my girl-friend's car.
"This" meaning what those digital images represent, unavoidably, forever.
The thing that holds us together as a culture is malevolent, malignant.
The automobile is the largest industry in the US. The automobile is the single largest killer of people under 30. The automobile is directly responsible for climate disruption. And it is directly responsible for the economic impetus behind American complicity in the invasion and destabilization of Iraq.
That "this".
Not everything.
Too much of the very small amount of resistant energy that's still active politically is focused on removing Bush, and replacing him with John Kerry.
My point is not that that won't fix everything, but that it would be a continuation of precisely what "this" is.
There are still core elements of the American presence in Iraq that are not clear, and are not being questioned. Removing Bush is not the remedy, he's disposable. A disposable President.
As far as "specifically" who "believes" etc... A bunch of people evidently. People believe that Bush is the problem, people believe getting rid of Bush will address the problem.
And adding them in to the already powerful mass of the majority who believe what they're told by the television (WMD's, binLaden/Saddam/WTC), makes for a formidable obstacle. To peace.
To survival.
If there's a harsh tone to what I'm saying, or implying, it's not scorn believe me, and it's not sneering, I don't sneer, at anyone.
I'm angry but I'm not smug.
Like Brecht, I believe a man who can laugh is one who hasn't heard the news yet.
Is it protocol here to address correspondents in the third person? Or is that something you're doing just for me?
What is "(2) Paragraphing.", when it's at home?

#57 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 01:06 AM:

Removing Bush from office will not restore honor to America.

It is not sufficient.

It is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

#58 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 01:19 AM:

Find and replace 'believe' with 'think'.

#59 ::: Richard Parker ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 02:14 AM:

Lance: What is "(2) Paragraphing.", when it's at home?

Patrick is suggesting that your practice of inserting a line break after every sentence makes your comments rather more difficult to read than they otherwise need be. Is there a purpose behind your avoidance of paragraph structure or is it a byproduct of the manner in which your browser handles text input? If your browser is indeed mangling your comments a simple work-around is composing them in another program, such as a word processor, and then using copy-paste to transfer the comments to the browser input box.

#60 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 03:52 AM:

Paragraph structuralism is a manipulative device cunningly masked as text management.
Another insidious tool of crypto-fascism.
That should have been obvious from the beginning.


#61 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 03:52 AM:

Paragraph structuralism is a manipulative device cunningly masked as text management.
Another insidious tool of crypto-fascism.
That should have been obvious from the beginning.


#62 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 03:52 AM:

Paragraph structuralism is a manipulative device cunningly masked as text management.
Another insidious tool of crypto-fascism.
That should have been obvious from the beginning.


#63 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 04:13 AM:

Richard Parker-
After three different browser trials I'm not seeing what you're seeing.
My "practice of inserting a line break" was non-existent, anywhere. And of course I'm embarrassed to be doing something gauche, even unintentionally.
But it's also interesting to me that you would assume that it was intentional first, then cover the possibility of accident after, rather than the reverse. Would someone do that on purpose? Why?
I mean coupled with the site master's sort of put-up-your-dukesish third-person response.
Is there an agenda somewhere?
My cards are on the table; stained and dog-eared and continually ill-used, but here they are.

#64 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 04:59 AM:

Lance, you're really being a jackass.

Patrick can tell you this himself when he wakes up; I'm sure he'll lay waste to your online persona with about seven or eight perfectly-chosen words that could peel paint from a battleship hull; like a scrimshaw artist carving a relief sculpture of a raised middle finger on a single grain of rice and then flicking it at someone only vaguely worthy of his scorn.

I wish I could do that, but I can't. Also, it's stupid early in NYC, so I'm stealing this pleasure all for myself: What on earth do you think you're accomplishing by being a smirking dink? Is common courtesy a second language for you? And how can a paragraph that starts with "I'd" be third person?



#65 ::: Richard Parker ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 06:37 AM:


I've created a line break test page that makes use of your test post. Hopefully you will find it useful in diagnosing your problem.

#66 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 08:08 AM:

A general point: a lot of people have said that we should refrain from torture because "we're better than that". I think I have a better argument.

The most reliable effect of torture/degradation/gross humiliation is to make people crazy with rage, and who wants to deal with crazy people?

#67 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 09:04 AM:

The most reliable effect of torture/degradation/gross humiliation is to make people crazy with rage, and who wants to deal with crazy people?

"Crazy rage" wasn't the result of interned Japanese-Americans or Holocaust survivors or survivors of Pol Pot's regime or survivors of the Cultural Revolution--just to name a few.

Those folks dealt with the horrors they experienced by moving on, living their lives and building something productive. The Islamofascists and their appeasers will use this to fuel their endless store of self-pity and victimization.

#68 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 10:27 AM:

So, Joy, are you saying that Jews, Japanese-Americans, and Cambodians are so well-adjusted and productive today because someone had the foresight to torture them in the past?

And you see torture as the key to turning around the Arab world and welcoming them as productive members of the world community?

#69 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 11:27 AM:

Joy, you're right that not everyone who's on the receiving end of gross injustice takes revenge. Some people just deal and move on, as you say.

HP, you're wrong that she implied that gross injustice is good for people. Afaik, she's saying that a "living well is the best revenge' attitude is proof that you're a better sort of person.

On the other hand, even if it doesn't lead to maddened rage all the time, it certainly does some of the time, and we're seeing it now.

#70 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 11:35 AM:

"Crazy rage" wasn't the result of interned Japanese-Americans

Gosh, possibly because Executive Order 9066 didn't mention anything about genital electrocution, naked human pyramids, guard-dog attacks, anal rape, or forced oral sex at gunpoint, now did it?

or Holocaust survivors

Meek and mild, those Holocaust survivors. Like the ones that founded Israel, and a little outfit called the Mossad. Like the ones that rose up in the Warsaw Ghetto. Like the ones that snatched Adolf Eichmann from his pleasant retirement and publicly hung the fucker.

You seem to have skipped one of the required steps in the use of history books; it's either "opening them" or "comprehending them," but I wouldn't presume as to which.

Those folks dealt with the horrors they experienced by moving on, living their lives and building something productive

So, that's what you'd tell the survivors of 9/11/01, and the family members of the dead and injured, right?

And if a bunch of foreign soldiers detained you on false premises, strapped electrical wires to your genitals, set attack dogs on you, etc., you'd move on and live your life and build something productive, right? Leading by example and all that? I mean, not that we doubt your manifest righteousness; perish the fucking thought.

#71 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 12:15 PM:

I wasn't sure how I was going to bring Israel into it, but now it's been done for me. It still may be relevent that no one took revenge on Germany/Germans except (in many cases) by boycotting German goods. It may also be relevent that Germany apologized and paid restitution.

More generally, I've been trying to wrap my head around the question of when it makes sense to fight back vs. when it makes sense to take your losses and start over, but I haven't made any progress.

There's a distinction to be made between fighting back and attacking people who are vaguely associated with those who have hurt you, but that doesn't begin to cover the whole question.

#72 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 01:27 PM:

Joy, it sounds like you're arguing that it's OK to torture "Islamofascists", because they're just going to overreact, anyway.

Not all interned Japanese, or Holocaust survivors, "dealt with the horrors" in the productive ways you describe (I don't know as much about Cultural Revolution survivors, but I suspect it's a similar story). Some committed suicide; some sufferred horrible psychic aftereffects for the rest of their lives; some became terrorists (well, not the Japanese, as far as I know, but maybe there's a difference between unjust imprisonment and torture or murder).

But don't let reality get in the way of your nice theories about how you and the people you like are so wonderful, and your enemies are beyond redemption.

#73 ::: Bobbi Fox ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 01:32 PM:

There's a thought-provoking op-ed piece in today's Washington Post by a man who formerly commanded the 372nd MP Company:
Not Just Following Orders: I'm ashamed of the unit I once commanded.

#74 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 02:36 PM:

The Islamofascists and their appeasers will use this to fuel their endless store of self-pity and victimization.

The who? Are you channeling McCarthy? Even assuming the more radically militant of the organizations in the ME have a greater store of unjustified self-pity and sense of victimization than any other group, it's absurd to suggest that they've no legitimate right or reason to be outraged by Abu Ghraib.

Frankly, I'd be surprised if Iraqis or anyone who identified with them did not feel themselves to be victims here. I'd be wondering what planet they lived on. Characterizing them as self-pitying whiners is base.

#75 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 03:45 PM:

Scott Lynch- smirking, no.
I'm full of existential dread, it hasn't stopped for weeks.
I see nominally intelligent people obsessing with the minutia of horrible events, while the real causes of those events roll on like a conquering army, unopposed, unquestioned, taboo.
It doesn't lead to smirking, or sneering, or scorn. Contempt maybe a little, but I keep thinking there might still be time, that there might be something we could all do besides debate points of order, or the symbolic import of the colors of the flag.
Underlying too much of the discussion of Abu Ghraib is the tacit acceptance of American military presence in Iraq to begin with, and the consequent deaths of over 10,000 civilians as collateral damage. In my view those are 10,000 murders. Something I don't find trivial or deserving of scorn.
Richard Parker-
Thanks for your labors, we may have found the problem.
There's a little dot at the end of this line. I use it to break the rhythm. And then sometimes for extra emphasis I break to the next line.
On purpose.
I could see where that would be irritating; especially if you were prepared to be irritated going in.
In other words, that agenda thing again.
Also there's maybe a colloquial issue. Or parochial. One of those.
But scorn, no; smugness, no; sneering no.
Generally speaking, if there's a period at the end of the line, it's intended to be read as a sentence. Chances are then good if the next line starts with a capital, it's how I meant it to be read as well.
With that out of the way, I have one last point I'd like to make.
Bush is a sock puppet, in a little clump of sock puppets. Rat-packing him into political oblivion is cheap catharsis, and it's why he's there.
It's doing what you're expected to do. He's disposable. Those moves were anticipated.
And it's time to consider the seemingly bizarre idea that the images have served a darker, more cunning purpose. They've certainly been delivered to the eyes of the entire world, and by the same craven media that cheer-led the invasion and occupation from the beginning.
And has anybody ever come up with a plausibly logical reason Tony Blair has been so athletically supportive of this debacle?
There's a place to begin. Answer that.
There is no longer any weight to the charge of "conspiracy-theory". As comforting as it was for so long, to so many.

#76 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 04:20 PM:

There's a little dot at the end of this line. I use it to break the rhythm. And then sometimes for extra emphasis I break to the next line.
On purpose.
I could see where that would be irritating; especially if you were prepared to be irritated going in.
In other words, that agenda thing again.
Also there's maybe a colloquial issue. Or parochial. One of those.
But scorn, no; smugness, no; sneering no.

Your first para above belies your last. Your smug, superior tone, taking the position that we need to have periods explained to us, is obviously intended to offend.

I had no agenda for irritation when I saw your first post (on Electrolite, not here). Your ugly little choppy paragraphs with no spaces between them were just too visually confusing to bother reading. I never even got to your content; lucky me.

I had some sympathy, when it briefly seemed that your browser was at fault. It's actually a relief to know that you're doing it on purpose; now I can ignore whatever you post with no pangs of conscience, rather than give myself a headache trying.

Putting in a paragraph break for emphasis as frequently as you do is as foolish as ending every sentence with an exclamation point, or bolding your entire comment. You lessen the impact of an emphasizer by overusing it.

#77 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 04:45 PM:

This is how it starts, mm?
Talk to one - talk to all, back and forth.
"Wha'd you call me?" Turn toward that voice.
Then you get slammed from the side.
Turn toward that and get slammed from the other side.
There's no plural "you" Xopher, just Richard Parker, and behind him sort of, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. The initial sideways motion didn't come out of my style - unpleasant though it may be. It has its beginning somewhere else. Patrick knows that.
There's scorn here, but it's not in me.
But that's not what matters.
What matters is that the very minimal energy of resistance to what's really happening, right now, in the real world, to all of us, is being channelled into easily-controlled cathartic melodrama, while the causes of that resistance proceed unchecked.
This isn't about me or my personal stance. You guys are gonna wake up to what's been done too late to stop it, if this continues as it is.
That's what matters.
Wake up.

#78 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 05:56 PM:

Lance, I sympathize, I really do. I think "full of existential dread" sums it up more than adequately for all of us; have you been hanging out around here long? You might have noticed one of the most unflappable and erudite supporting casts in blogdom flipping the hell out as the Abu Ghraib debacle broke into the open, snapping at each other over trivial misunderstandings, getting generally pissy and trying to find some center, any center, to cling to in a shit-storm of awfulness.

But let me say that you're not the first high-strung, presumably well-meaning, confrontational sort to come storming in here recently and start lecturing everyone else about great and glittering abstracts, about how "none of these trivial discussions matter" (or some variation thereof), as though all we ever do is vent here without taking any "real" action; I assure you that's not even remotely the case.

You're also not the first to receive a just and mild rebuke/request from Patrick, and then flip out as though he had insulted your mother. Insult her he didn't; flip out you did.

So kindly ditch the "I alone can see the horrible, horrible truth!" posture; curb the incoherent metaphors, and try to chill out.

In answer to your hypothesis: I don't think that what we're seeing really is some deliberate attempt to cast a cloak of evil across the world like something out of a Left Behind novel; I happen to think it's a train wreck of hubris, ignorance, hypocrisy, and the exaltation of stirring fantasies over unpleasant facts. Ascribing Dark Jedi powers to the Bush administration does nothing but add a useless layer of romanticism to our analysis. We're not fighting a rising tide of supernatural daaaaarkness, we're fighting a cabal of pretenders and assholes that has circle-jerked its way into a very tight spot; the fiction that the administration is on top of the situation is unravelling before everyone's eyes.

They are mortal, they are fallible, they are still bound by certain rules. The more anger and energy we pour into the coming election, the less chance the dickheads will have to subvert the process. Our country has been through some serious shit in its 228 years; if we can't believe that this, too, shall pass, what's left? Kill ourselves? Get real. If you want to do real damage to our chances for positive change this year, keep arguing that hope is a weakness.

#79 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 06:52 PM:

I had another post I sweated over for half an hour, but I ditched it. I want to say something about evil.

Evil is not something "out there," not in any meaningful sense. Evil is right inside you (and you and you and YOU!), waiting for an opportunity to show itself. If you're at all serious about trying to come to terms with evil in the world, the first step is to look in the mirror.

No one asked me, but I'm going to tell a personal story, because I think it's relevant to the larger issue of evil, which seems to be what we're all wrestling with these days.

How many times have you picked up a paper or turned on the news to see "Distraught Man Kills Estranged Wife, Self"? It's common enough, and no less evil for that. When my wife left me about ten years ago, I realized soon after that I could kill her. Not that I could get away with it, or that it would solve anything, but simply that I could do it. I was capable. I didn't, of course. And not for moral reasons, but because of impulse control, awareness of consequences, and personal entropy.

I sometimes think that I am peculiarly blessed, in that I know firsthand the kind of evil I'm capable of committing, and yet choose not to.

I've never gotten that sense of naive hubris from TNH or most of the posters here, which is one of the reasons I'm here most every day. But every once in a while I read or hear someone describing evil as though it were something other people do, or some abstract force, and I cringe. Are 19 hijackers or 7 MPs or countless stormtroopers and klansmen more evil than me, because I stopped and they didn't? What would I have done if there had been institutions set up (like al-Queda, or the DoD, or the Klan or the Reich) to tell me that I was within my rights?

I think ultimately institutions are value-neutral, because I don't think it's effective to assign values like good or evil to institutions. Only by confronting the evil inside ourselves, however, can we hope to see the role of institutions in making the difference between potential evil and realized evil, and then take steps to change those institutions.

#80 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 07:25 PM:

Yeah, I've got a story like that too, HP. I swear no bones in the woods are accountable to me, but it got to the planning point where it was do it quick so they don't see it coming, or do it slow so they know it. It shook me, because I realized *this is wrong* and simultaneously *I don't care* and for about a week I went around fantasizing various ways and thinking about clorophorm, rope, etc., all the while telling myself that it was just abstract, before I shook myself out of it. The person hadn't even done anything to me directly, but had used me to get at someone else, and I found out about it. I was just out of college then, and had not been sure if I was one of those who could, or who could not kill, if push came to shove. I have never been the same since.

#81 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 09:29 PM:

There is serious discourse on this blog, as well as snarky and counter-snarky; yet I'd like to throw out a science fictional question.

In the movie of "Starship Troopers" -- which I enjoyed more than many Heinlein purists -- we have an aspect weirdly related to the Iraqi torture conundrum. In both book and film, we see a genuinely heroic fighting force against an enemy who preemtively attacked Earth and wiped out Buenos Aires. Much of our fighting force (and those of our allies) in Iraq is good and sometimes heroic. [contrast: Iraq had essentially nothing to do with 9/11 despite White House disinformation].

Both film and book give emphasis and attention to HOW the force is trained (and, for our viewpoint characters, educated in High School); and certain types of volunteers washed out in Basic Training.

In the film, when the "brain bug" is captured, our telepath in pseudofascist leather determines the alien is scared. He says so. The crowd cheers.

Then we see a computer/video for the masses of a brain bug being tortured under guise of medical exam -- object bigger than a light-stick thrust into an orifice, and so forth.

What does this film tell us about what American audiences want to see about treatment of an enemy?

Conversely, why did critics of BOTH film and book fail to understand what Heinlein meant by a volunteer force, with volunteering being a prerequisite to citizenship? What did people think of the casual, offhand way that the History teacher -- later Lieutenant -- mean by saying "after democracy failed..."?

Just wondering. I think it matters, and maybe the film "Troy" matters more. Nobody ever wrote better of war than in the Iliad, though I have nothing but translations to go by, and those of writing down an earlier oral work (maybe anthology or mashup). Good buzz from those who've seen it, as mentioned on this blog.

Literature matters in illuminating the human condition. Science Fiction can be great literature. Film, TV, the web, and electronic games overlap literature in interesting ways.

Is this on topic, or am I free associating again?

#82 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2004, 11:27 PM:


(does that stand for Hewlett-Packard, Hiroshi Paradox, real initials, or something entirely different? But I digress.)

About a year ago, my second cousin on my mother's side was murdered by her own husband. He then killed himself.

The only details I know are that the (adult) kids discovered her, and that the cops had visited their house several times that week due to domestic dispute claims by neighbors. The rumor is that she found something from his army days that he didn't want her to find. He received a military burial, and she received a memorial service packed to the brim with sobbing high school students, and all of the people she had touched over the years.

Yes, people are capable of great evil. But we're all still human; it's that capability that makes us so. I berated 2 of my LJ friends today for saying what terrible people the Iraqis are. Because Iraqis are human, too. And it's the us/them dichotomy that causes so many problems in the first place. What we don't need is to feed it. What we do need is to encourage understanding and begin the healing process. Yes, we're allowed to be outraged and angry, but at those who've committed the murders and put terrible people in power, not those who just happen to fall into the same category as them by some accident of birth.

#83 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 12:11 AM:

 this film tell us about what American audiences want to see about treatment of an enemy?

I'm not sure it can really tell us a single meaningful thing, especially since the director of the film is Dutch.

Conversely, why did critics of BOTH film and book fail to understand what Heinlein meant by a volunteer force, with volunteering being a prerequisite to citizenship?

You'll need to specify just how and what "they" failed to understand before I can give you any sort of answer, JVP.

Sorry to be snippy; I'm just a bit pressed for time right now. Gotta go jogging before another storm blows in.



#84 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 12:47 AM:

One of the strangest things about watching the politics of the past few years is that I found I was a patriot with a sense of honor.

This is fall-of-the-empire stuff. Jo? You out there? Any parallels with Rome, a generation or so after Augustus? Speaking as a cold-blooded political analyst, or perhaps military strategist, it seems to me that one great horror here is the loss of military trust in our civilian leadership.

If they had honor, W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld would all resign, and submit themselves to the justice of an international tribunal.

#85 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 04:08 AM:

Good point, HP -- I'm reminded of Kathy Li (a frequent poster here) pointing out at one point that the troublemakers are us. I tend to aim my anger at myself, and not at other people.

That sort of evil, though, manifests itself in many ways. When I was working at the Bank of America many years ago, I got to help with an audit of "held alive" securities -- basically, bearer bonds that the bank was keeping for their owners. I remember being in the (dual custody) vault, with another (geeky, somewhat freakish -- I got serious points with him because I knew the album DEEP LISTENING and loved it) employee, and realizing that we were holding over a million dollars in bearer bonds that the bank did not realize they had. I looked at him, he looked back ... and we put them back in the folder, shaking our heads.

But I still wish I'd embossed my copy of THE BOOK OF THE LAW with the BoA corporate seal I found in a desk they assigned me to. That would have made a great item for conspiracy theorist to play with.

#86 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 04:38 AM:

Randolph, I too have been surprised at the depth of my outraged patriotism. I always thought I was too cynical to care about things like that; I knew our government did crappy things fairly often, and I didn't like it, but I never expected to get this emotional about it.

Yesterday I was thinking about the idea of "courts martial all the way up the chain of command." That is, not just court-martialing the enlisted personnel, but those whose failure of leadership or illegal orders and policies allowed or caused this to happen: the NCOs and field officers and generals up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defence and the Commander in Chief.

Then I realized that as much as he deserves it, a court martial of the President is definitely a bad precedent.

But subjecting the President to a trial before an international tribunal... what a way to reverse America's recent history of holding itself above international law!

#87 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 04:59 AM:

This is fall-of-the-empire stuff... Any parallels with Rome, a generation or so after Augustus?

I don't know exactly what you've got in mind here, but that's about a century before what's usually considered the high point of the Roman Empire, and about four centuries before the fall.

If you're looking for a tragedy of hubris in foreign policy and the corruptions of power then you're better off with Thucydides's "Peloponnesian War".

#88 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 02:57 PM:

The transcript of an excellent segment on NewsHour about the psychology of what went on at Abu Ghraib is up and it is well worth reading. It's a real all-star cast with Robert Jay Lifton, Philip Zimbardo, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (a psychologist who has taught at West Point) and historian Jay Winik.

A portion relevant to this discussion:

MARGARET WARNER: So Col. Grossman, you've taught at West Point . How conscious is U.S. Military leadership in general of this potential and what do you... what do they do to try to train and teach young soldiers to be to resist this sort of sick culture that can develop?
LT. COL. DAVE GROSSMAN (Ret.): Ever since Mylai, every single soldier is required by law to be repeatedly trained on a yearly basis about what is an illegal act, what is an illegal action and not just how to identify illegal actions but how to go about reporting them and how to disobey orders.
This is the first time in human history that an army has been taught to disobey certain orders. The potential for atrocity, all of my fellow speakers tremendously imminent individuals, keep speaking of war as a situation which by definition has these problems. But the reality is that it has the potential for these problems.
The goal has to be a consistent systemic process at every level. The individual must be held accountable. The leaders who were immediately responsible must be held accountable. The individuals who were responsible for establishing the framework must be held accountable.

Two important notes: Zimbardo asked if Reserve and National Guard units got the same training. Grossman said that they did, but that NG units were often not as disciplined as regular units, which is a real problem.

The other is that Grossman is in error when he states that this is first time that an army has been taught not to obey certain orders. Just before all this broke out (what ghastly irony) I started rereading Joseph Persico's book on the Nuremburg tribunal. One of the most important pieces of evidence used was the notice printed in the German Army paybook that a soldier was not obliged to follow illegal orders.

It is a good discussion on why these sort of things can happen -- worth reading.

#89 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 03:20 PM:

Scott Lynch climbed onto his high horse and posted:

Gosh, possibly because Executive Order 9066 didn't mention anything about genital electrocution, naked human pyramids, guard-dog attacks, anal rape, or forced oral sex at gunpoint, now did it?

***The latest reports I've seen, including the interview with Pvt. England [sp?] indicate that some of those photos were staged. It has not been proven that torture occurred.

But Nick Berg and a pregnant Israeli woman and her four daughters are most definitely dead.

Meek and mild, those Holocaust survivors. Like the ones that founded Israel, and a little outfit called the Mossad. Like the ones that rose up in the Warsaw Ghetto. Like the ones that snatched Adolf Eichmann from his pleasant retirement and publicly hung the fucker.

****You said "meek and mild", not I. In case it was unclear, that's what I meant. Holocaust survivors made lives for themselves, built a new country, created a new generation.

You seem to have skipped one of the required steps in the use of history books; it's either "opening them" or "comprehending them," but I wouldn't presume as to which.

****You're a very rude person.

So, that's what you'd tell the survivors of 9/11/01, and the family members of the dead and injured, right?

****Wrong. Listen...I never said they should ignore or forget about what happened. On the contrary--prevail and show the cowardly bastards that they failed to break them.

#90 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 04:18 PM:

"It has not been proven that torture occurred."

If by "proven", you mean proven mathematically, beyond any possibility of a shadow of a question that aliens from Alpha Centauri didn't zap in and alter the photographs and eyewitness testimony...

If by "torture" you mean something worse than rape, forcible sodomy, dog bites, beatings, possibly to death...

then you are "correct".

The abuses in Abu Ghraib are no more justified by murders by terrorists elsewhere than the recent beheading of an American is justified by the abuses in Abu Ghraib. Even if the people in Abu Ghraib were all murderers (and they're not), that doesn't justify torturing them. The end result of "an eye for an eye" is that everyone on both sides ends up blind.

As far as your earlier comment 'Or maybe we should wring our hands and discuss the "root causes" of why these young G.I.'s did this?', that's roughly what a lot of us are advocating, without the derogatory tone of "wring our hands". Not excusing the individual perpetrators' actions, but looking at just how much their situation might have been set up by their superiors to encourage (or at least ignore) their offenses, and whether such offenses were in fact unwritten policy from the highest levels.

#91 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 06:29 PM:

You're a very rude person.

Ouch! Something bit my ankle!

But yes, I am a bit lacking in sensitivity toward the willfully historically ignorant. And toward solipsistic nationalists who crave blood more than they crave effective results. And toward the intellectually dishonest. And toward those who confuse a war directed at genuine perpetrators of terrorism with one addressed to "Occupant."

Which means that being rude to you is a very efficient use of my time indeed; four birds with one stone!



#92 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 06:36 PM:


HP are my real initials. It's also short for "Hard Pressed," which is a psuedonym I used to use. I think of it as my Nabokov name, after an article I read about names in Nabokov's works being sort of assonant or reminiscent of particular English phrases. If you squint your mouth and ears while saying my given name, it sounds like "Hard Pressed."

The thing I discovered while writing the post above is the relationship between the evil within and institutions. One reason wife-killing is such a common evil is that we are still reckoning with a historic institution that sees wives as chattel. (That's the version of marriage, BTW, that is threatened by Gay marriage.) Of course, wives sometimes kill their husbands, and poor Pvt. England shows us that the capacity for evil is not gendered.

Fundamentalist Islam, Arabic Nationalism, American Neo-Conservativism, Premillenial-Dispensationalism: These are all institutions in the business of telling people that their darkest passions and deepest reactive impulses are necessary, justified, right, and will be rewarded.

Oh, and one more thing: Thanks to Teresa and all of you wonderful people for making this a place where I can confess my own dark impulses and not feel like a pariah. Alice, you amaze me. I wouldn't like me if I were you.

#93 ::: Lance Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 06:50 PM:

All images are staged images, even the security cams at the edge of the desert that just catch the wind-drift of sand.
No one knows anything, not even what they see in front of them, while it's happening. It's all so subjective it doesn't get through when we try to tell each other.
But the air is getting hotter, and there's more cars than ever before. Most people spend almost all their time inside now.
How conveniently incompetent al Qaeda are when it comes to the media. Blowing up that train in Madrid, right before the election, making the Spanish people look craven instead of defiantly proud and honorable. Boy, was that dumb. And then beheading an innocent Jew, right after the Abu Ghraib photos have created a groundswell of outrage more intense than the demoralizing impact of those photos on Arabs world-wide. Right when a lot of people were starting to question the integrity of this whole Iraq deal.
Or wait. They said they were al Qaeda - or wait, Fox News said they said that they were. No, Fox News said the CIA said they said that they were, al Qaeda. Yeah, that's it.
And that they did it "partially in response to the abuses at Abu Ghraib". Which we only just found out about, here in America.
But you'd think they would have already known that, wouldn't you, being Arabs and connected and all? Because that evil darkness was happening for months before Joe Darby broke the story, back in January, right? I guess not though.
So, in their simple, unsophisticated way, they're responding to what Fox News told them was happening in Abu Ghraib, is that it?
Me, I think whoever runs Fox News wants us to believe the fiercest men in the Arab world are as dumb as the American public.
I'm having a hard time getting ahold of that.

#94 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 07:36 PM:

'Amaze?' In the sense that you feel sorry for my naivete, or in that there's something admirable in that?

You see, I don't hate anyone until after I've gotten to know them.

I've always had this odd balance, too, between cynicism and naivete. If you met me in person, you'd assume I'm naive, fresh, have never had a bad thing happen to me in my life. People at my place of employment still describe me as "too nice."

Then, there's meeting me on a bad day, or when I haven't the energy to be nice. And it will quickly become apparent that I loathe every last member of humanity. Despicable, lazy, stupid creatures not worth my attention, all of them. If I give them half a chance, my posture suggests, they'll stab me in the back and take what little I've scraped together for myself. I've been called the 'ultimate cynic' by those who know me best.

Both of those versions of me ARE me. I'm not bipolar, nor do I have any dissociative disorders. I carry both perspectives around with me - that people are basically good, and that people are basically bad. I know at all times that both are true. Sometimes I focus on one or the other, but knowing people are flawed helps my optimistic side remember that the person probably just made a mistake, and knowing people are good makes my pessimistic side wish people would USE their brains once in a while.

It's hard to explain, and doing so has made me forget if there was a point to this rant.

I guess my question is, don't MOST of us realize the great potential inside all of us for terrible deeds, or for great heroics? Seeing that in ourselves, shouldn't we know it applies to everyone else, too?

#95 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 01:07 AM:

HP, years ago I had a moment like that. I was furious at someone, justly furious; and it came to me that I could take various actions over a period of about a year and a half that would make scorched ground of that person's life and social circle. I made a list of what to do and how long each item would take, and thought about it. Then I considered what things would be like afterward, and I didn't do it. But even now, there's a corner of my heart that wishes I had, and would still be tempted by an opportunity to do that if it were presented to me.

I didn't refrain for the sake of the person with whom I was angry. In fact, that person still has my full and complete permission to step off the curb in front of an oncoming beer truck. I refrained partly for the sake of everyone else involved, and more than that for my own sake. There were things I didn't want to learn to do, or get good at.

Joy: This isn't just a debate; it's a long-running and wide-ranging conversation. Civility is a virtue we hold in very high esteem.

You are not allowed to use the word "Islamofascists" again until you've given three examples, with particular details, of what you're talking about. You are not to extend any new arguments until you've substantiated your description of Muslims' "endless store of self-pity and victimization." Failure to take heed will be penalized by the loss of your vowels.

Meanwhile, Scott is awarded the Order of Light for his post which began, "Ouch! Something bit my ankle!"

Seith Lance Boyle:"All images are staged images, even the security cams at the edge of the desert that just catch the wind-drift of sand. No one knows anything, not even what they see in front of them, while it's happening. It's all so subjective it doesn't get through when we try to tell each other."

If that were true, there'd be nothing you could legitimately say; and yet you go on talking. You, too, are hereby put on warning to particularize and specify your statements in future.

Randolph, I hadn't picked up on that, for which I apologize. When did that realization hit you?

Xopher, thank you for helping maintain civilized order yet again. Tom, Alice, Jeremy, Sam, Claude, excellent and substantial, and I need to go to bed now, and perhaps tomorrow? But what a good discussion. Thank you all.

#96 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 09:13 AM:

Claude, thanks for the link.

I'm still looking for the balance between "we all have those impulses" and appropriate outrage. Perhaps it's possible to say truthfully "I would never do that" and still say "Nonetheless, the person who did that is my fellow human being."

As for Zimbardo's experiment, those college students weren't blank slates or pure samples of human beings. For quite some time, there's been a common view in the US that prisoners should put up with whatever is done to them because they're guilty and guilt makes them property of the government. (I think I'm portraying this accurately, but I'm trying to deduce the logical underpinnings of a view that makes no emotional sense to me.)

Might the experiment have come out differently if the subjects had been from a different culture?

#97 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 09:34 AM:

Nancy --

Almost certainly.

Ritual is a major source of impulse control; if you don't have any rituals for a social situation, and have to make them up, the learning experience isn't likely to be very neat.

Note that the US has effectively no rituals about the proper use of power, and that the participants in the experiement are unlikely to have had any experience of the 'fair treatment of prisoners' rituals that US culture does have. (which aren't a patch on the post-30-Years-War European professional army rituals of courtesy to fellow officers, of course, but which do exist.)

#98 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 09:48 AM:


I don't believe anyone can truthfully say, "I would never do that." Never is a long time-- time enough to be (self-)brainwashed, acclimated to violence, and, yes, do that. Nobody is a blank slate. All the same, slates take time to fill up, and I'm sure the current you couldn't do that.

I find it hard to believe that it was the U.S. attitude toward prisoners that led to the abuses in the Zimbardo experiment. The processes at work in the experiment are similar to the familiar peer-dynamic that generates schoolyard bullies worldwide. The power-asymmetries between prisoner and guard (bully and victim) were artificially manipulated in the experiment beyond what can be achieved in a school, and the abuses were correspondingly worse.

#99 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 09:55 AM:

Nancy and Graydon:

Having just read Graydon's post, let me add a caveat: If you live in culture that has rituals for dealing with prisoners, then I'll agree that the experiment might come out differently. Thing is, how many cultures really do have such rituals? Most civilians aren't in a position to interact with prisoners and accumulate any rituals concerning them.

#100 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 11:12 AM:

Oddly enough, Andy, I could imagine that a slave-owning society might have such rituals for dealing with such an extreme assymetry of power (though I don't know of any). And I wouldn't be surprised if such rituals ended up fading away, either.

#101 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 11:39 AM:

I don't know where you draw the line between rituals and ideas, but there are concepts/talk about how little prisoners are owed current in the US. I don't know if those matters were different when Zimbardo did his experiment.

For that matter, I think there's a notion current in the US that damaging the body matters a lot more than damaging the mind. It looks as though the guards in Al Graib were mostly inhibited against gross physical damage, or at least against showing themselves doing it.

As for how little prisoners are owed, there was a story yesterday on NPR about a British journalist who didn't have some sort of a special journalist visa when she tried to enter the US at LAX. She was told she had to return to Britain. Since the next plan wasn't till the next day, she was put into a cell with bad ventilation, no padding (all steel) and the shopping channel blaring all night.

A spokeswoman for the government not only didn't apologize, but said that when people treated that way understand that everyone is under the same rules, they don't mind, and furthermore (repeated several times) "This isn't a hotel".

May she spend her whole pension on insomnia cures, and may none of them work.

#102 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 12:10 PM:

Nancy --

Ritual is a reinforced, repeated behaviour toward a not-entirely physical end. (Digging post holes can count, if you think digging post holes has the Buddha Nature.)

So if there's the way to treat prisoners; you collect their sword, they give their parole, you return their sword, they're invited to dinner at the mess, and ransomed, you've got a ritual; you know what to do even when your blood is high and your nose is full of the smell of smoke and your brain isn't working overly well.

There are more modern rituals than that, of course; I think that one is a neater (shorter!) example.

And yes, US culture has been developing that nasty trend toward making moral judgements rather than pragmatic judgements for awhile now, particularly about anyone who can be declared immoral, which is getting conflated with being in violation of the law. I think that's mostly a reaction to increased insecurity due to an advertising driven experience of culture.

#103 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Nancy, Dahlia Lithwick (Slate editor and legal writer) posted a story on this earlier this week which is excellent. She describes the craziness of the antics of CIS, the Agency Formerly Known As The INS. One example is the I-visa, which is now being required for all foreign journalists, including those from countries that we do not normally require visas for. Like the UK. (but remember, we fought a war with them in 1812, that must be it . . .)

Based on a comment from antother journalist on where she had seen this behavior before, Lithwick came up with one of the best mottos for what we have seen from the Bush Administration:

America: Striving to be more like Yugoslavia each day.

I can see it, in gold letters, below the Department of Homeland Security seal at the port of entry.

#104 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 02:14 PM:


Could be. We were previously a slave owning society, and any such rituals (if they existed) have certainly faded from civilian life. Not sure I get your point, though, assuming you weren't just making an aside.

#105 ::: Jonquil ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 02:21 PM:

You may recall that the Administration has been claiming righteously that "their lawyers" had approved the rules for treatment of prisoners.

Turns out those were civilian lawyers (LA Times, registration required), and military lawyers, who have familiarity with the Geneva convention, were excluded from the process.

"They were extremely upset. They said they were being shut out of the process, and that the civilian political lawyers, not the military lawyers, were writing these new rules of engagement," said Scott Horton, who was chairman of the New York City Bar Assn. committee that filed a report this month on the interrogation of detainees by the U.S.

The report was released just days before the first photos were broadcast showing naked Iraqi detainees being abused at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

#106 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 05:01 PM:

Lance Boyle: if I'm interpreting your vagueness correctly, you're trying to suggest that the beheading of Berg was not done by al Qaeda -- that the only assertion for this comes via unreliable agencies. The stories I've seen do \not/ credit either CIA or Fox with the rendering of the Arabic title of the video as -"Mussab al Zarqawi beheading an infidel"-; IIRC, Zarqawi has been identified as operative of al Qaeda, and not just by Fox and the CIA.

If I'm misinterpreting -- perhaps you can write for comprehensibility rather than effect?

#107 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 06:17 PM:

Alice--Admirable. I felt a bit like a monster making the original post, and you've encountered similar monsters. I was scared of what people would think when I wrote it. But then, I've been having a low-self-esteem couple of months, lately.

I think a fair number of people believe that they have no capacity to commit terrible deeds ("I could never be a guard in a Nazi camp!") and at the same time believe they have an incredible capacity for heroic acts ("If I'd been in Germany in 1932, I'd show those Nazis a thing or two!"). I think these people dismiss the horrible things they do ("Your problem is you're too sensitive") and at the same time elevate their inaction to a positive trait ("He would've just spent the money on beer"). I think these people are currently running the country.

Did I just violate Godwin's law? Or did I exploit it for illustrative purposes?

Many people I've known don't demonstrate any real sense of universal humanity. They pay lip service to it, but it doesn't stop them from talking about them and how they're just that way. I suspect sometimes I lack the gene complex for tribalism. Maybe you do, too? (There's some species of irony in this paragraph, I know, but I'm not sure what it's called.)

And I can't tell you how many times I've been told what a nice guy I am.

Completely OT: I was listening to an old episode of X – 1 on the radio this morning. Is it really pronounced "Fritz LYE-ber"? Ach du lieber.

#108 ::: piet ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 07:37 PM:

hey, your characterization of indymedia the site by smash (doesn't know the first thing about the relation between defense and ash) is pretty ok, see the wojtek post on choice at lbo to finesse the subject of 'open' anything, and if combined with not just eye (but rather great big and lots of rockload) opening content behind link at bottom you may start to envision a clue that manifests what well directed forces can do .. . anyway appreciate your sharp tongue is all I'm trying to say and to prove how impressed I am here's a sneak preview for a fresh log entry on ya:

I 've gotten around to reading the comments at the smash guy (links up in last issue, concerning the indymedia poster who provided some advice on sending troops reminders about a little history they should have studied before going on similar missions, though I learn there was a marked difference between vietnam and Korea as far as fragging was concerned), and this lady stood well out of the crowd, in fact, she towered above it and was spot on except for .. .. .well, make up your own mind there, I mean here: - Language, fraud, folly, truth, history, and knitting. Et cetera.

oh, by the way, fom some time in 2002 (via a google cache): "The moral condition of the army was hopeless. You might describe it by saying the army as an army no longer existed. Defeats, retreats, and the rottenness of the ruling group had utterly undermined the troops." -- Leon Trotsky,History of the Russian Revolution (54) The murder of American officers by their troops was an openly proclaimed goal in Vietnam. As one GI newspaper demanded, "Don't desert. Go to Vietnam, and kill your commanding officer." (55) And they did. A new slang term arose to celebrate the execution of officers: fragging. The word came from the fragmentation grenade, which was the weapon of choice because the evidence was destroyed in the act. (56) In every war, troops kill officers whose incompetence or recklessness threatens the lives of their men. But only in Vietnam did this become pervasive in combat situations and widespread in rear base camps. It was the most well-known aspect of the class struggle inside the army, directed not just at intolerable officers, but at "lifers" as a class. In the soldiers' revolt, it became accepted practice to paint political slogans on helmets. A popular helmet slogan summed up this mood: "Kill a non-com for Christ." Fragging was the ransom the ground troops extracted for being used as live bait. (57) No one knows how many officers were fragged, but after Tet it became epidemic. At least 800 to 1,000 fragging attempts using explosive devices were made. The army reported 126 fraggings in 1969, 271 in 1970 and 333 in 1971, when they stopped keeping count. But in that year, just in the American Division (of My Lai fame), one fragging per week took place. Some military estimates are that fraggings occurred at five times the official rate, while officers of the Judge Advocate General Corps believed that only 10 percent of fraggings were reported. These figures do not include officers who were shot in the back by their men and listed as wounded or killed in action. (58) Most fraggings resulted in injuries, although "word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units." (59) The army admitted that it could not account for how 1,400 officers and noncommissioned officers died. This number, plus the official list of fragging deaths, has been accepted as the unacknowledged army estimate for officers killed by their men. It suggests that 20 to 25 percent -- if not more -- of all officers killed during the war were killed by enlisted men, not the "enemy." This figure has no precedent in the history of war. (60) Soldiers put bounties on officers targeted for fragging. The money, usually between $100 and $1,000, was collected by subscription from among the enlisted men. It was a reward for the soldier who executed the collective decision. The highest bounty for an officer was $10,000, publicly offered by GI Says, a mimeographed bulletin put out in the 101st Airborne Division, for Col. W. Honeycutt, who had ordered the May 1969 attack on Hill 937. The hill had no strategic significance and was immediately abandoned when the battle ended. It became enshrined in GI folklore as Hamburger Hill, because of the 56 men killed and 420 wounded taking it. Despite several fragging attempts, Honeycutt escaped uninjured. (61) As Vietnam GI argued after Hamburger Hill, "Brass are calling this a tremendous victory. We call it a goddam butcher shop... If you want to die so some lifer can get a promotion, go right ahead. (see the rest in 10-22.doc)
See also:

#109 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2004, 11:01 PM:

"I wasn't sure how I was going to bring Israel into it, but now it's been done for me. It still may be relevent that no one took revenge on Germany/Germans except (in many cases) by boycotting German goods. It may also be relevent that Germany apologized and paid restitution."

Except, that's not true, see _The Avengers_ by Rich Cohen. Various Jews who hid out in the woods as part of the Resistance and were still alive past the end of WWII DID concoct vengeance schemes and carried at least one of them out, poisoning the bread in a facility full of incarcerated German soldiers (Nazis?), and planning other revenge killings -- except some of the plotters must have changed their minds and reported their associates intent on going forward with revenge killings. Those who were still alive who knew what had happened, refused to discuss the subject with the book's author.

Contributory to the anger fueling the desire for vengeance was not only the destruction of their families and way of life, but the treatment of the Jews who were still alive, who were kept in the same death camps and concentration camps in miserable though not longer intentionally deadly conditions, for months, with no place to go and no real citizenship. Many of them wanted to go to what today is Israel, feeling they had no place to go in the geography that had handed them over, sometimes gleefully, to be transported off to death camps and never be seen again. Those who went back to Kielce were massacred by citizens angry at there being Jews returned to Kielce and reoccupying the houses they'd lived and owned, displacing the residents of Kielce who'd take the opportunity of the earlier forced departure of the Jews, to take possession of the Jews' homes and possession. That wasn't only the ugly, lethal story of violence and death committed on Jews who returned to where they'd lived before the war, but it was the most vicious.

#110 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2004, 12:16 AM:

HP - I don't think you can violate Godwin's law; I think you can only prove it.

Nancy - I've always believed that people should be allowed to feel however they feel. Emotion is more often a reflex or an impulse rather than a choice. The important part is what we DO with those feelings.

For instance, if I'm feeling worthless, depressed, unproductive and depressed, I COULD just lie around in bed all day. That would be the easiest way of dealing with it. But I know that only feeds it, and doesn't help me feel better. So instead I drag myself out of bed and do things I like doing - I read a book, watch a movie, get outside for a bit, take a nice, long shower, and get my living space clean and organized in a way I like (not that there isn't plenty of grumbling about the cleaning part). And then I find that I feel better, and I'm motivated to stay up and keep the momentum going.

Yeah, it's a simplistic approach, but it works.

So those who've been wronged have every right to feel angry. And if it solves anything, I'd encourage them to channel that anger against their enemies. More often than not, though, hate begets more hate, and it all spirals downward. This is why I'd encourage people to step back a moment, remember their enemy is only human, too, and to think about whether lashing out will solve anything, or whether it will make things worse.

I think the US has been missing a step or 2 in there.

It occurs to me that perhaps that is the separation between those who do wrong and those who have thought of it but not acted on it: the ones who did it forgot to take that step back.

#111 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2004, 12:17 AM:

(Yes, Fritz pronounced it Lye-ber: that's why it's spelled Leiber, not lieber. Standard German pronunciation.

I speak from having heard him say his name, personal experience.)

#112 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2004, 04:02 AM:

"Randolph, I hadn't picked up on that, for which I apologize. When did that realization hit you?"

That I was a patriot with a sense of honor? "I never knew I cared about honor, until I started thinking about W. Bush's." That would put it in the past few years, though I can't quickly find the Usenet post in which I first commented on it.

#113 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2004, 12:53 PM:

There was an AP article I saw in passing -- is the first place that came up with it when I googled -- which reports that the approval rate for bronze star recommendations for the 800th MP brigade dropped from 80% to 20% after the Abu Ghraib story broke.

In the article, there are fairly extensive quotes from a letter that Brig. Karpinski sent to the AP.

And, frankly, they're horrible stuff. Karpinski may be a nice person -- I don't have enough information to judge that. But she's presenting as a horrible officer. There are any number of angles from which her comments can be criticized -- a drop from eighty to twenty percent in approvals is not an eighty percent drop in approvals, for one thing. The decision to throw a snit in the press is also problematic. But that's not what caught my attention.

Her primary complaint is that, as she characterizes it, the majority of the 800th were good soldiers, doing their jobs under difficult circumstances, and it's not fair to fault them for the actions of those who were doing bad things.

Now, I'm not sure how far to trust that -- the very kindest read of the Abu Ghraib situation that can be made is that Karpinksi is not necessarily the person to turn to if you want to find out what the 800th MP brigade is up to.

But even if it were true, to make this claim shows that she doesn't understand what a military unit is, and that she doesn't understand either honor or dishonor.

A brigade is not a collection of individuals who happen to be doing similar jobs. The members of a unit are answerable to each other, and the members of a unit are responsible for each other. And even if what happened at Abu Ghraib was the work of lone psychopaths, unlikely as that may seem, those psychopaths brought dishonor on the US, on the armed forces, their division, on their brigade, and so on down the line. And it gets more concentrated every step of the way.

Further, she explains that this decision is going to be bad for the brigade's morale. Well, actually, the quote has her saying that ''This will contribute in a large way to the morale of the soldiers who placed their lives on the line every day and survived", but I think she meant that it will do the opposite of that.

And, you know, assuming that she did actually mean something sensical, rather than the words she typed, it's a point. Not getting medals will hurt their morale. And getting medals would be good for their morale. And you know what would be really good for morale? If they all got Bronze Stars. Hell, why stop there? If every member of the 800th got the Congressional Medal of Honor, they'd probably all be mighty bucked up.

This is what happens when you do bad things -- other people suffer. And not just the people you're doing the bad things too. But your friends, your comrades in arms, the people who you're counting on to save your ass, they're going to get hurt too. Their individual heroism and their individual accomplishment are tarnished. And it's all your fault.

That's the way it has to be, because an army is an army, not a conglomeration of heroes. No, it's not fair. Fair doesn't enter into it. An army that relies on individual bravery to get people to fight, an army in which every man's responsibility is to look solely to himself, is an army that will lose.

And it's not just Karpinsky who doesn't quite get it. There's a soldier quoted who is in the 800th MP brigade.

From the article:

"Karpinski's subordinates at Abu Ghraib at times disregarded her commands, and didn't enforce codes on wearing uniforms and saluting superiors, which added to the lax standards that prevailed at the prison, said one member of the 800th MP Brigade."

Translation: We were terrible, terrible soldiers. Yes, the officers, particularly Karpinski, should have done something about that, but it doesn't change how wretched we, personally, were.

"The soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said commanders in the field routinely ignored Karpinski's orders, saying they didn't have to listen to her because she was a woman."

Also, we had something of a leadership problem.

Now, that soldier said his own Bronze Star commendation was quashed after the investigation started.

"''I was supposed to get one and so were others. (The recommendations) were downgraded and subsequently kicked out,'' he said."

Despite this, I should get a medal.

"''There's a stigma of belonging to the 800th. You don't deserve any medals. Everybody thinks it's the 800th that's guilty of these crimes, when it's a subordinate unit.''

The seven soldiers facing criminal charges in the abuse case, including those posing with naked prisoners, are members of the Army's 372nd Military Police Company, based near Cumberland, Md. The 372nd is one of more than a dozen companies within the 800th MP Brigade."

By subordinate unit, apparently, he doesn't mean a unit from a different brigade that was attached to the 800th. He means one of the 800th's component units.

I could probably sympathize more if this guy stuck with the line of "it never happened, and they deserved it," than I do with his, "it's the next unit over that's been doing monstrous things for quite some time before they got themselves caught, and it's not fair to blame me." It's at least got a certain amount of spine in it.

Dishonor tars the innocent and they guilty; the only way to avoid it is to be the guy that stands up to it, and speaks out. In addition to being about parades and medals, and people saluting you, honor means taking the responsibility for things that you didn't personally have a hand in; sanctions within the 800th for the 372nd are certainly appropriate. But the 372nd was part of the 800th, and the other people in the 800th can't just walk away from that.

Similarly, the army can't just pretend that the 800th wasn't part of the army, and Americans can't pretend that the army isn't part of America.

And I'm baffled as to how a woman who doesn't seem to get any of this managed to rise to the rank that Karpinski did. I'm far from an expert on the US military, but if this is the sort of people we have as generals, the military's problems aren't a product of the current administration, and I'm not sure if they even can be solved, let alone how they're going to be solved.

#114 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2004, 03:59 PM:

Alter --

I can't answer your questions, but that's a splendid analysis, excellently well put.

#115 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2004, 12:26 AM:

Alter --

as to the last,

"In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery--
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy,
You'll say a better--"

--well, "Brigadier General" doesn't scan, but you get the gist.

Though this blast from the past might be even more appropriate:

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.

He polished up the handle of the big front door.

I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

He polished up that handle so carefullee,
That now he is the ruler of the Queen's Navee.


I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.

He never thought of thinking for himself at all.

I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

JS Mill wrote seriously on the subject of the education system being designed to create good little regurgitators who would be good little citizen-sheep when they got out; G&S wrote satirically, but they both lived in an era where it was not only true that people got promoted for political reasons, but there wasn't any pretense that it was otherwise - though there was a lot of official furor when they started making fun of it in the 19th c equivalent of "The Capitol Steps."

#116 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2004, 02:49 PM:

Teresa: I'm annoyed that you smacked Joy so well, that I have nothing left to say, save that I (surprise) disagree with her.


Re Grossman. He is wrong about the US Army being the first to deal with unlawful orders. The post Bundeswher not only teaches such, it is a duty, not just a responsiblity.

The Israeli Army has similar policies, which most recently made news when a group of Air Force pilots refused to bomb Palestinians.

Alter: I understand your general point, but the other members of the 800th MP Bde may be being unjustly tarred. One of the things to remember is they are spread out across a space the size (if I understand all the locations described) the size of Arizona, at times in units as small as a company (my Bn was spread out over an area larger than that, being as we were in 10 man teams from Baghdad to Mosul, over to Kirkuk, and at times As Salimanyiah. It was a three-hour drive from my base to the Bn HQ, and another three hours from there down to Baghdad). Lots of things could go on to which the rest of the Bde had no more way of knowing than we did back here.

#117 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Randolph -- sorry not to reply sooner, I was busy. I said on rasseff that the US had stopped reminding me of the Late Republic and started to remind me of the Early Principate.

Good people of the USA, volunteer to scrutinize and count the votes in November. Half a loaf is much better than no bread. Perfection isn't within mortal abilities, imperfection is still much better than outright evil.

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 12:26 PM:

Jo - i.e. "don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good." The trouble is that in many areas there will be no scrutiny by humans at all. No paper trail, no nothing, because of the fraud-encouraging Diebold machines...

I'm not sure what I'm going to do if Bush seems to win in the fall. I'm not sure I can trust that result to really reflect the will of the people, who granted have been stupid before, but this...

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 02:38 PM:

So much said above that one of the things I wanted to say got lost (if only I could jump back and forth to the comment box, without losing my place... mixed blessing, this way I tend to spout off less).

I too have had horrible fantasies, some of which I am certain I could get away with, and some of them still tempting, years, perhaps decades after the initial injury has been committed.

The part which worries me, is that they are proportional, at some level, to the harm done to me... I don't want to kill, or destroy all of them, but merely make them suffer indignities, of a comensurate level to mine.

And I don't need to know that they know for why they were singled out, in fact imagining them wondering why such things happened, and not knowing, it adds to the imagined joy.

But, to date, I have never indulged, and that I cling to, as evidence that I am merely human, not also monstrous.

#120 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2004, 04:41 PM:

Fraud encouraging Diebold machines? And who brought us motorvoter and other fraud encouraging schemes? Problems/solutions there is no Utopia.

Those who have been following Hackworth - and if not why not? If ever a man earned the right to be heard he has (sometimes he's wrong and sometimes his perspective is limited but he's always to be heard)- are being reminded regularly of George Washington's words that the citizen soldier does not put off the citizen when he puts on the soldier and that was before Germany was unified.

#121 ::: Gartheride ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2004, 04:03 PM:

A danger foreseen is half avoided...

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