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November 1, 2005

“Dirty hippies”, i.e., you and me
Posted by Patrick at 12:13 AM * 293 comments

Tom Tomorrow:

I’m really sick of hearing the liberal-hawks-turned-peaceniks claim that they supported the war only because of Colin Powell’s breathtaking performance before the UN, and are shocked and saddened to learn they were lied to. Bullshit. You supported the war because you didn’t have the courage to buck what you perceived as mainstream opinion, didn’t want to align yourselves with all those dirty hippies marching in the streets. As it turns out, of course, the dirty hippies, i.e. citizens from all walks of life, turned out to be a lot more on the mark than you were. Colin Powell made those remarks on February 5, 2003, and if you were out there reluctantly arguing the case for war before that date, as most liberal-hawks-turned-peaceniks were, then shut the fuck up about Colin Powell and admit you were as wrong as it was possible to be.

I remember being on the Well and being authoritatively informed, in a private conference, by a respected Well elder, that Dan “Tom Tomorrow” Perkins was “an idiot.” And yet. Somehow.

Why, it’s almost as if the process of eliciting consent for the morally indefensible were a well-rehearsed industrial process. Ya think?

UPDATE: Teresa tells me the above post reads as if I’m suggesting that Tom Tomorrow is an idiot. To the contrary, in fact I agree entirely with “Tom”, and I was trying to gesture—evidently incoherently—toward the process by which viewpoints which have been pre-defined as “radical” get marginalized even when by all reasonable standards of evidence they’ve been proved correct. More on this in the comments.

Comments on "Dirty hippies", i.e., you and me:
#1 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 12:30 AM:

I'm idly curious, Patrick: Was that "idiot" judgement offered in a similar context?

This is a wonderful quote. I'm yoinking it.

#2 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 03:59 AM:

*is actually quite clean*

Oh, there were whole heirarchies. The anti-war folks who weren't in the streets didn't want to be associated with the ones who were, the ones who were in the streets THIS time didn't want to be associated with anyone who'd been out for Afghanistan, the ones who'd been out for Afghanistan didn't want to be associated with anyone who'd been out for Seattle or Quebec, and NOBODY wanted to know the Quakers.

"We're not *shudder* PACIFISTS or LEFTIES or anything, we just don't like THIS war...". It ought to have been a march chant.

Made for some FASCINATING anti-war marches, what with everyone desperately trying to out-hawk each other so they'd be, I don't know, taken seriously.

It would have been funny, if it hadn't been so awful, watching all these people bend themselves into little twisted knots trying to look serious and sensible to people who didn't give a damn what anybody thought and who were going to say whatever they wanted to about us -- and everything else -- no matter what ...

#3 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 04:47 AM:

and NOBODY wanted to know the Quakers

Not my experience from Britain - at the anti-war marches, the Quakers were picking up a lot of unaligned marchers who were happy to be seen as Quaker and extremely unhappy to be marching along side those cheering for the Intifada and Sharia Law or the various factions of Trots. The Quakers were the nice safe neutrals that everyone could respect and most could agree with. And this despite not having a megaphone between them.

A lot of the moderate left rediscovered why they dislike the far left more than the moderate right at those marches.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 06:24 AM:

"...the ones who'd been out for Afghanistan didn't want to be associated with anyone who'd been out for Seattle or Quebec..."

Quebec? Okay, Marna, what's the place of my birth been up to again?

#5 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 07:27 AM:

Eliciting consent for the morally indefensible is what the Cold War was all about, and the practice continues to this day. And yes, it is a highly industrial process.

#6 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 07:38 AM:

Francis:

A lot of the moderate left rediscovered why they dislike the far left more than the moderate right at those marches.

Oh no, I assure you that as a moderate lefty ("moderate" meaning "not a Soviet" in this case), I dislike the moderate right far, far more than the far left.

The far left just annoys me. When the ISO took over the peace coalition at my college and made it about their agenda, it was annoying, but I realized that it was inevitable, since they were the most organized activist group on campus and it's not like the rest of us pushed back at all.

But the ISO has never driven me to fits of cursing rage, not even when they've been obnoxious at a peace march. The moderate right constantly drives me to such fits.

#7 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 07:40 AM:

then shut the fuck up about Colin Powell and admit you were as wrong as it was possible to be

If this is how he would treat people he ostensibly wants as allies, no wonder they are in such short supply.

#8 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:22 AM:

Ohellyes.

At the roots of my vehement reaction to prominent even-the-warhawk Mr. Drum is the part of his [everyone else] culpa where he acknowledged that he was wrong about the war, but explained that he was forced to support it by the seriousness of its supporters, in blinding contrast with the basic unseriousness of the hippies on the other side.

It's our fault, really, if only we would take responsibility and gracefully let the conventional wisdom weathervanes make all the decisions from now on.

#9 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:22 AM:

No, Doug, I believe (since a lot of us feel this way and have spoken about it at some length and with some heat, frex most recently in a discussion started by tristero over at Hullabaloo) that what he wants is for the "respectable" liberal-ex-hawks - who are only ex, as we all well know, now that every one with more wits than wishthinkfulness can see this is quickly turning into a tossup between Tribune Crassus' Excellent Adventure (aka Why Real Estate Tycoon CEOs Shouldn't Run Foreign Policy) and Anabasis II with King Croesus of Lydia in the running for a three-way-tie - to stop pretending that they have any moral authority to speak for "the Left," and that they have somehow (even now) more moral authority and intellectual respectability, than those who opposed it from the start, whether from general Quaker principles, Clementian anti-Imperialism, or more specific wrong-war-wrong-place-wrong-time beliefs.

To "get out of the way, or get runned over" as the old song goes, IOW.

#10 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:25 AM:

If I was not clear enough, Doug - we do not particularly want them as allies, so much as we want to remove their efficacy as adversaries. "Vichy Dems" and Quisling liberals are at least as disastrous to the causes of social justice and civilization, as any ranting blood-maddened Victor Davis Hanson.

Because at least you know what side Hanson is on, and what positions he is going to defend, and that he will attack you is not in question.

#11 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:34 AM:

If you want to be reality based, you admit error.

You admit the possibility of error, too, and you privilege facts over desire and don't call it a fact just because someone has associated a number with an assertion.

If you're not reality based, you're not a liberal, more or less by definition.

The Right has always been marked by a greater commitment to desires than facts; in the absence of a disdain for facts, that's tolerable, if not itself laudable.

In the presence of a disdain for facts, which is itself contemptible, it's not tolerable at all. Allies like that are more trouble than they're worth.

#12 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:39 AM:

How about people who supported invading Afghanistan? Lots of us did (including Patrick); if I recall correctly, Tom Tomorrow didn't, and I'm beginning to think he was right, if only because of the political capital that gave Bush to fuck up other things. Is Patrick a quisling too?

Speaking as a person thoroughly morally tainted by support for the Iraq war (unlike some ex-liberal-hawks I make no protest otherwise; I've been trying to figure out what my real reasons were and I don't think they were rational), I do think we have to figure out how to make common cause. Anyone who is not a robot is going to disagree with you about things, and sometimes those people are going to be enormously, fatally wrong; but even if you've been right all the time, limiting your movement to the sufficiently pure is not going to get you anywhere, any more than liberals ignoring antiwar lefties got them anywhere.

#13 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:43 AM:

It's nice seeing some people come around, but it would have been nicer to have gotten an iota of support when it might have made a difference to, oh, about 2,000 Americans and some fifty times as many of those people we've been save-bombing. There's also been a lot of collateral damage of the type "Of course we have to pass this law giving your kids to an oil company! Don't you know There's A War On??"

Given how badly this screws all of us in the bottom 98 percent, I think a little swearing isn't out of line. Damn it.

#14 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:51 AM:

Fully agreed; swear away.

#15 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:58 AM:

...Here's the place I always come to when I think about this: I spend a lot of time wondering whether I deserve some sort of punishment, whether as an accessory to murder I really ought to be dead, whether I should live each moment of my life with the images of the maimed and killed in the front of my mind, etc., etc.,...

and then it's followed by "Fuck! The smug bastards who lied to me 24 hours a day for months on end and actually planned this thing are still there in Washington not feeling conflicted about it at all. Why am I wearing the hair shirt? I didn't even vote for the sons of bitches."

#16 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 09:45 AM:

Caroline:

Can I check which side of the atlantic you are on please? If you mean American moderate right, I completely understand your position - from what I can tell, the Republican Party would be extreme right in Britain, and Clinton a Tory (or more probably "New Labour").

And when it comes to left vs right in Britain, Poly Toynbee (Guardian columnist) gets me at least as annoyed as Michael Gove (former Times columnist and new Tory MP) and idiots calling for Sharia Law (or called George Galloway) are almost as obnoxious as the BNP. (The British Libertarians can be safely ignored).

#17 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 09:47 AM:

Funny thing; I was against Afghanistan because I thought that it would take ages, we would be bled dry, etc, but in the event it was much faster and much less bloody than I thought. And I was for Iraq because I thought that it would be fast and easy and thus not a distraction from the important work.

I know: now I look like a fool. But I was betting on Pathans being more warlike than town Arabs - the way it turned out was a hell of a surprise. I've reversed my positions on both since, naturally.

And making the link between Iraq, Afghanistan and Seattle (eh?) is just weird. It's like a Vietnam protester saying to another "Well, yeah, you're against Vietnam; but I remember you supporting the Korean War! And you said the Rosenbergs were probably guilty!"
Iraq's a (deep breath) different war from Afghanistan, folks! That's WHY it's a bad idea!

#18 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:06 AM:

Mark Twain on the Philippines. I doubt he'd ever have considered himself as having greater moral authority than somebody who was against the invasion in the first place. But, on the other hand, realizing you were duped is an amazing motivator.

#19 ::: JohnD ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:21 AM:

I recall Powell's breathtaking performance distinctly. He drew a long face, showed a fuzzy satellite photo of a building with trucks around it, another photo of the same building without trucks, then an artist's conception of what a weapons lab inside a truck might look like, and told the UN to go to war.

Suppose I were a lawyer, going in to court to make a case against an alleged bank robber:
Your Honor, we all know that bank robbers are people. And people live in houses. And bank robbers drive getaway cars. Well, here's a picture of a house with a car in the driveway! The person who lives there could be a bank robber! That car could be a getaway car! And here's another picture, of the very same house, without the car. And to top it off, here's a cartoon of a bank robber driving a car. I drew it myself, Your Honor! This man is guilty, I rest my case.

I'd be laughed out of court, but the same argument apparently convinced Congress...

#20 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:25 AM:

My hope with the whole Plame investigation is that it will restart the talk about Bush faking the case for war. If people can start talking about Bush's hyping of false intelligence, it gives the war supporters political cover to change their tune.

"He lied! Of COURSE I wouldn't have supported a war if Bush had told the truth."

I had such long arguments with very well-educated friends about the war. I was called a "Soft bigot" because I didn't believe that we could export democracy on the tip of a Tomahawk missile. After all the names we anti-war people were called, "bigots" "appeasers" "cowards", it's hardly harsh to call the pro-war crowd dupes.

Admitting mistakes, as it has been pointed out, is part of moving forward. Some of us ex-Naderites have voiced our regrets. In fact, not admitting mistakes has been a hallmark of this administration and a huge obstacle to correcting the mistakes that have been made.

#21 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:26 AM:

What's the difference between a liberal who supports (the) war and a conservative who supports (the) war?

And what is the difference between opposing any one particular war, and opposing war as a general principle?

#22 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:37 AM:

Ajay:

The major difference is in the mission objectives. Both Iraq and Afghanistan were extremely fast to conquer (I think Afghanistan was slightly better at resisting). The difference is that the mission in Afghanistan was to kick over the Taliban (easy) and then not a lot, whereas in Iraq it was first to kick over Hussein (easy, should have happened in 1991) and then to rebuild (incredibly dificult, especially with a hostile populace) whereas there was very little of Afghanistan to rebuild and the soldiers don't go far from Khabul. A very different mission.

#23 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:39 AM:

JohnD: I recall Powell's breathtaking performance distinctly.

Me too. And Powell's speech is what convinced me that they were lying.

I'm just old enough to remember Stevenson's 'Cuban Missile Crisis' speech to the UN. And Stevenson had actual pictures of actual missiles that were, you know, actually pointed at us. It was enough to convince the typical seven-year-old.

The BEST evidence Powell had - after forty years of improvements in intelligence-gathering - was an artist's rendition of what an Iraqi portable CBW lab might look like. (If it existed.) It was obviously a lie.

Even if by some chance it wasn't a lie, it begged the question: How was Saddam going to drive it here? Even if Powell's obvious lie was somehow true, Saddam's WMDs STILL constitututed no threat to the United States.

#24 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:42 AM:

Wow, first time I've ever been mistaken for a dirty hippie, sigh.

"If you want to be reality based, you admit error."

And if you want to win elections in the USA, you claim infallibility, which is the sign of the blessing of the gods, er, god. Just like the Olde Days.

#25 ::: Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:45 AM:

John D says it all: Powell's "proof" was insulting to the intelligence of anyone who was paying attention, and anyone who says that they found it convincing is admitting either that they are too stupid to be trusted to go to the store and come back with the right change, or that they were already receptive to the case he was making. To this day I'm not so sure he belived it himself-- I always thought he was smarter than that.

#26 ::: JohnD ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:54 AM:

Bob and Bill: I remember thinking at the time, "How can I know that the building isn't a carpet warehouse in New Jersey or something?" After all, going places and leaving again is what trucks do, and buildings tend to look alike from above.

I still can't believe all he had to sell a war was two grubby photos and a drawing.

#27 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 11:03 AM:

The mission in Afghanistan was, as I perceived it, to capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice, and if it could be better done without knocking over the Taliban, so be it.

We fell down on the principal objective -- indeed, I feel we lay down on the job: The Times headlines about our pulling out of Tora Bora before securing Osama because the mission was just about done infuriated me -- remember those?

I felt going in that we were going to make a hash of Afghanistan, and so couldn't support it. I don't feel time has proven me wrong.

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 11:23 AM:

I seem to remember a joke told by our side in the days of the buildup to war.

How do we know that Saddam has WMDs?
Because we still have the receipts.

#29 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 11:26 AM:

Let's say you sit on the town council of a small, rural community that's evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Let's say, too, it's been the practice of this council, over the years, to not comment on state or federal actions that have no direct relationship to Town programs and policies. Let's say you personally opposed the war, but now that our military is in Iraq, you believe the options have become far more complex, and are no longer sure what the right -- the just -- action should be with regard to our involvement in that country. Let's say one of your fellow councilmembers has righteously decided to break prior practice and agendized, for the next council meeting, an antiwar resolution. What do you do when you're sitting at the dais and the resolution comes forward?

And I wish I could say this really is a hypothetical question...

#30 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 11:57 AM:

There is quite a lot of Afghanistan to rebuild - not so much that we knocked down in '01, but lots that they knocked down themselves in '89-'00, and plenty more that the Sovs (and the muj) knocked down in '79-'89.

Ironically, I suspect, one of the reasons for our comparative success in governing the country as a colony - if not in catching UBL - is probably that we are forced to act with a light hand, because we are so short of troops. Putting 130,000 men on the ground and the world's supply of F-16s in the air would probably just turn the place into another Iraq, with far too many idiot green-army types thinking that you do urban policing work with JDAMs and 155mm shells.

At present it looks good; optimism reigns on the elections, the warlords are gradually being co-opted or (in the case of Ismael Khan) marginalised, and the violence is far, far less severe.

I reckon I'll be able to go back there (as a backpacker, this time) in ten years. I doubt I could say the same for Iraq.

#31 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 12:04 PM:

If I can expose myself as an idiot here, I considered myself around the time of Mr. Powell's speech as a supporter of a UN-led invasion to enforce UN authority. I suspect that Mr. Powell's speech played a part in that. The photos were clearly just supporting evidence to the recordings (as we quickly found out, those were sketchy as well), but Mr. Powell, at least, put the matter to my taste. The agreement between the UN and the Ba'athist government was being flouted, and if it were not enforced, the UN may as well close up shop. Certainly just sticking with the restrictions and occasional abortive inspections didn't appeal to me at all. I still find that argument compelling, in some ways.

It wasn't until March 1 of that year that I declared myself anti-war, and that was not because I felt that the principle was wrong, but that it was clear that (as I put it) 'Bush has fully convinced me that if their plans (and I call them plans, but I don't trust that they are thought out well enough to seriously be called plans) are carried out, it will in fact be worse than continued sanctions.'

I'm not sure why I'm going through all this again. I suspect it's because Mr. Tomorrow (OK, Mr. Perkins) thinks I'm an idiot, and I think I was wrong, but not an idiot. Also, as we liberal interventionists eat our own livers, I'm not convinced that there are a lot of us who are blaming the whole thing on Mr. Powell's UN Speech. I think that's a straw man. I think there were a lot of people, particularly Senate Democrats, who were not prepared for the breadth of the lies coming from the White House, and who felt that there must be some kernel of truth at the middle of it. Exaggerations, rather than lies. Mr. Powell contributed a lot to that, and not just in the UN speech.

I'll also say, as a liberal interventionist, non-hippie, who felt and still feels that the case for intervention must be made on a case by case basis, grounded in good intelligence and good planning, that the anti-war street movement never seemed to want me on their side, never seemed interested in convincing me on anything like my terms, any more than it seems Mr. Perkins now wants me to do anything more than shut the fuck up. They all seemed to assume that Mr. Powell and all of Our Only President's cronies were lying—which they were—which always seemed to me to let them off the hook for the actual lies they tell.

Thanks,
-V.

#32 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 12:09 PM:

You can possibly morally legitimately make an argument for Just Wars of Aggression.

I can't, any more; and I certainly can't for Afghanistan, and I couldn't six *years *ago when I had an inkling, no more than an inkling then (altho' that is not the case now) of how *heinously* we had used and betrayed and devasted Afghanistan and how this was indeed blowback, and how we owed them not more bombs but the Marshall Plan we had lied and failed to deliver them after using them as Russia's Vietnam - but someone ignorant of that might blamelessly believe and argue otherwise, at that juncture.

*Might.* Wilful ignorance is culpable; and when the truth is out there, how much ignorance is innocent? I still blame myself for being the Afghan-war cheerleading Reaganite 11-year-old, although how much arguably could a sheltered conservative 11-year-old pro-lifer who had never *heard* of the October Surprise be blamed, I grant it may be minimal.

But I *personally* knew by 9/13 at the outside latest, that they had no interest in anything but using it as a pretext for nailing Saddam, and I had watched them clamor for a "spiralling" missile shield program, blunder diplomacy with Russia & China as you would expect a bunch of old Cold Warriors to do, and wreck detente with NK destabilizing a friendly leader of an ally and satrap in the process (SK) and so had *no* room for any comforting self-delusion that House Bush & Cheneyburton might actually mean to do right *or* was capable of doing so. From the beginning I thought, and said privately to like-minded souls, that the definitive history of late 20th c American foreign policy would be titled Beyond All Recognition--

--Cold comfort, though.

#33 ::: Fernmonkey ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Not my experience from Britain - at the anti-war marches, the Quakers were picking up a lot of unaligned marchers who were happy to be seen as Quaker and extremely unhappy to be marching along side those cheering for the Intifada and Sharia Law or the various factions of Trots. The Quakers were the nice safe neutrals that everyone could respect and most could agree with. And this despite not having a megaphone between them.

A lot of the moderate left rediscovered why they dislike the far left more than the moderate right at those marches.

That's why I didn't march. I may not have ever supported the war* but I do rather like capitalism and I am vehemently not anti-Israel.

*My husband did, and we went round and round about it. He thought that it would be done in a pragmatic long-term nation-building sort of way, and I considered that to be something of a spherical cow.

#34 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:19 PM:

"How about people who supported invading Afghanistan? Lots of us did (including Patrick); if I recall correctly, Tom Tomorrow didn't, and I'm beginning to think he was right, if only because of the political capital that gave Bush to fuck up other things. Is Patrick a quisling too?"

The war on Afghanistan was much more defensible than the war on Iraq ever was. It was still wrong however and Afghanistan only looks good because Iraq is such a mess. Even then it was clear that even if you did believe in justifiable wars, Bush was not the right person to wage them and nothing good would come of it

At the time I seem to remember I was very angry with Patrick in rec.arts.sf.fandom for his stance on the war; in retrospect too angry, for which I'd like to apologise.

#35 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:22 PM:

I still blame myself for being the Afghan-war cheerleading Reaganite 11-year-old

Much is explained.

#36 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:32 PM:

Matt McIrvin writes: ...I make no protest otherwise; I've been trying to figure out what my real reasons were and I don't think they were rational...

Sounds like you've done what Tom Tomorrow says you ought to have done, i.e. "shut the fuck up about Colin Powell and admit you were as wrong as it was possible to be."

Welcome to the anti-imperialist movement, Matt. Here's your copy of The War Prayer, by Mark Twain.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:51 PM:

I did indeed support the intervention in Afghanistan. I was wrong and Martin Wisse was right. It's very gracious of him to apologize for being heated toward me in those long-ago Usenet articles, but in fact I apologize to him for being equally heated and, in addition, wrong.

I'm tempted by the position that it was fundamentally a good idea for us to invade Afghanistan but who could have known the Bush regime would make such a mess of it. However, my actual position is that both Afghanistan and Iraq have made me much more dubious about the merit of any such adventures, under any imaginable American administration. I'm not a pacifist or categorically an isolationist (insert standard disclaimer yadda yadda) but I don't think the lessons of Afghanistan or Iraq boil down only to the insight that this administration is incompetent.

I do want to say that I'm not actually trying to excommunicate anyone from being part of political argument. I'm just pointing to the fact that even after the hippie peaceniks were proved right and the centrist "reasonable" pundits wrong, the world has gone on as if nothing happened. It's enough to make you believe there might actually be a class system. (Shhhhh.)

#38 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Vardibidian writes: ...the anti-war street movement never seemed to want me on their side, never seemed interested in convincing me on anything like my terms...

A lot of us who marched on February 15, 2003 were acutely aware that the Bush administration had sabotaged UNMOVIC by openly admitting they had penetrated the inspection teams with American intelligence assets. This was a clear message to Saddam Hussein that UNMOVIC was actually a battlefield preparation operation, not a counter-proliferation operation. It was intended to provoke the Iraqi government into refusing to cooperate wit UNMOVIC and thereby provide a pretext for an invasion.

In other words, the U.S. burned a real counter-proliferation effort— does that sound familiar?— in order to gather intelligence for the coming war.

I distinctly remember bringing well-researched and credible citations for the evidence of this to my "liberal interventionist" friends, and I clearly remember their response. They told me I was "objectively pro-Saddam" for offering an argument that involved asking them to see matters from Saddam's perspective. Seriously.

This didn't get any better when Saddam Hussein opted to cooperate with UNMOVIC even though he knew they were only gathering intelligence for the war and were not interested in finding nuclear weapons. At that point, the liberal interventionists didn't give a flip that the inspection teams had completely free run of the country, could go anywhere and look at anything they wanted, and were saying they were almost convinced there would be no nuclear weapons related program activities to find, and that all they needed were a few more weeks and they would have enough proof to settle the matter once and for all— no, at that point, the liberal interventionists were still convinced that war, instead of continued inspections, was absolutely necessary.

We "dirty hippies" brought you an argument. On your terms. You rejected it. Why?

Why— when UNMOVIC had free run of the country and Saddam Hussein couldn't stop them from going anywhere and looking into anything they wanted— why did you want the inspectors pulled out of Iraq so the ground war could begin?

Why did the liberal interventionists not want the United Nations to be able to do its job?

#39 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 02:08 PM:

(My apologies: it finally dawned on me that there are two of us who were posting with just the first name 'Michael', and as *I* am not the archangel, I guess appending my family name might not be a bad idea).

FWIW I have the utmost respect for anybody who admits they were wrong to support the war. We all make mistakes, and we all go through a learning process. To me, it was obvious on the face of it that invading Iraq was both wrong and stupid, but I have the advantage of being one of those Quaker hippies everybody apparently loves to hate, and, during the period in question, not having cable television. Keeps the brain clean, you see.

My sister, though, was in the Iraq-war-as-catharsis group. She doesn't talk about it much lately, but she voted for Kerry last time, and her a registered Republican, in Indiana. She hasn't explicitly come out and said she was wrong. But in our dysfunctional way, we both know that she's tacitly admitted it. And I respect her for that growth.

But really -- I've found it difficult all along to understand how anybody could believe that this Administration had America's best interests at heart in starting either of these wars. It's made me a very bitter person over the last years, seeing so many people I thought I respected, being so very thoroughly duped into supporting an incompetent lack of morality. Come on. Bombing Afghanistan to smithereens to find OBL? Stupid. Just stupid. Especially when it was obvious that Rumsfeld just wanted to blow shit up, then Bush would let Afghanistan down. But then Iraq? Blatantly stupid.

On September 11, 2001, I walked into the Indiana University Student Union and saw some pretty damned cool footage on the big-screen TV, and my first thought -- ask my wife, she was there -- was "Reichstag". It was fricking obvious. And for the last four years I've made sure the passports are in order (fortunately things didn't end up degrading that far, but the time to leave is when you still can, you see) and I've avoided talking to people who've been drinking the Kool-Ade. And now, now that people are starting to realize that they were FUCKING MORONS, sorry, blood pressure and four years of enduring this crap will out, anyway, now people are starting to pretend they knew it all along, or they were reluctant to embrace the war.

They weren't reluctant. They wanted to feel that vicarious ability to kill, that's all. I don't even mind it, especially if people can be honest about it. I admit I felt the same, sure, even though on the *policy* level I knew that war was a mistake, and said so, repeatedly. But being told I hate America because I love American ideals, that shit just rankles. And the worst of it is the people that realize they were had and *still* say I hate America. That's just too moronic for words.

God. I love America. But I do hate about 70% of Americans now, yes I do.

Well. *That* was an emotionally conflicted post. Take it as you will. I still respect anybody who can admit they were wrong about the whole thing. Which was my original reason for posting. Thank you, I'll be here all week and don't forget to visit the snack bar!

#40 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 02:15 PM:

Just read Veribidian's post -- I find myself agreeing with him. The rabid anti-war types *do* turn on their nominal allies awfully easily. I've always considered peace something that starts at home, and I get along with my neighbors even if they have Bush/Cheney bumper stickers. And if somebody doesn't loathe me on sight for "hating America" everybody's happy.

That is to say -- it wasn't the policy division that got to me. It was the fact that civility itself was considered, you know, vaguely quaint. Republican thuggism was the New Thing.

Of course, living in Indiana probably made it all look different. Sigh. And now I don't. Largely due to all this, actually.

#41 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 03:08 PM:

In re:

"On September 11, 2001, I walked into the Indiana University Student Union and saw some pretty damned cool footage on the big-screen TV, and my first thought -- ask my wife, she was there -- was "Reichstag"."

Michael, I think we're generally in agreement about the Iraq war being a crappy idea and the Bush administration being a bunch of jerks--but I'm honestly quite dubious about the proposition that the U.S. gov't had any hand in the events of 9/11.

I will certainly concede that there are people in the USA nutty enough to contemplate such a crime against their own citizens. Further, I don't doubt that there are people possessing the requisite level of ethical bankruptcy in the current administration. But--serious question--do you think it's realistic to think that a plan on the scale of 9/11 could actually have been implemented in secret by the U.S. gov't?

In support of my skepticism, let me cite Oliver North and Gordon Liddy as representative examples of the type of personality one might expect to see involved in such a scheme. Neither of them strikes me as the martyr type.

Please understand, I'm not defending the decency of the government, I'm attacking its competence.

Lately I've heard a number of people giving this same basic idea serious consideration. I'm curious what the consensus is. Anyone care to chime in?

#42 ::: marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 03:27 PM:

(answering in haste, from the wife's computer)

Matt: I'm with you. That was my one and only rant -- well, more of a long deep sigh -- re: how all that played out and I'm done.

Serge: Quebec City, 2001, Summit of the Americas.

And just to be clear, I understand that there were people legitimately were in all of those categories.

The decision to stick them out front where the photogs could see them and pretend that that was 'the new face of the anti war movement...' I get why it happened. At the time, I even thought it might work, in which case, roll on the humble pie.

Just -- can we remember it didn't and not waste too much more time trying to look 'credible' and 'serious' based on a standard set by people who would just as soon see us driven into the ocean?

The extreme left has always driven me batshit, as has the extreme right. And the 'extreme middle' of people who insist that what they're selling is just 'common sense.'

Actually, almost everyone drives me insane, so I'm a bad one to comment, there.

Someone once told me that if your coalition doesn't drive you batshit, it's probably not broad enough, and I find this helpful to remember.

#43 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 04:13 PM:

Getting a distaste for the far left isn't hard. They're the ones who show up at every protest, regardless of what it's for, with the LEGALIZE POT banners and the tie-died Che Guevara T-shirts.

The moderate right is much easier to deal with simply because, as moderates, there are other things they can talk about besides politics, and actually be interested in them too.

I was less than thrilled with the invasion of Afghanistan, but I wasn't going to protest it either. I simply wished Bush would go about capturing Bin Laden a bit more efficiently. (Still wishing. Isn't working.) Iraq I protested, both times, simply because if a country isn't attacking us, we don't have any business invading.

As for WMDs, any time someone comes up with a trendy new acronym, not only are they selling something, but they're also trying to hide something. As happened after the invasion, where Bush was trying to claim that they'd found Weapon of Mass Destruction Processed Cheese Food Product Programs (in development).

#44 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 04:33 PM:

This:

I do want to say that I'm not actually trying to excommunicate anyone from being part of political argument. I'm just pointing to the fact that even after the hippie peaceniks were proved right and the centrist "reasonable" pundits wrong, the world has gone on as if nothing happened.

is quite a long way from this:

shut the fuck up about Colin Powell and admit you were as wrong as it was possible to be

which is why I read Patrick's blog and not, generally, Tom Tomorrow.

This:

Someone once told me that if your coalition doesn't drive you batshit, it's probably not broad enough, and I find this helpful to remember.

also strikes me as quite good.

bellatrys, you seem to be arguing for an opposition to Republican rule that is comprised entirely of the pure and the righteous. I submit that this is not a majority and that the effect of your approach will be permanent Republican rule. Is that what you want?

(Incidentally, Vichy and Quisling are pretty strong to be tossed around in what is presumably meant to be a civilized debate. From where I sit, twenty minutes by boxcar from Dachau, your comparison is wildly out of proportion.)

#45 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 04:44 PM:

In re "Reichstag" -- on 9/11 I thought "Reichstag" in the sense of something damned useful for Bush and his people -- and in that I was borne out. I have to admit I want to resist the tinfoil, the charges set in the building theory, etc. -- but the fact that there was no fire-safety investigation done, that all the metal was shipped to China as scrap, leads me to think there was *something* covered up there.

No, I think they didn't expect the damned buildings to fall down. They wanted a big bang, 50 dead, let's attack Iraq. Instead everything fell down, 3000 dead, and they'd grabbed the tiger and were trying to ride it. And they've managed to avoid getting eaten for four years. I like to think the tiger isn't toothless and stupid, and they'll get eaten soon. But I've stopped believing it, because I've been too hopeful too often that rationality would reassert itself. To the point where I now think that the rational, good America I grew up loving was a pipe dream all along. Doesn't that suck? I really, really hate having to think that "we hold these truths to be self-evident" now identifies me as an America-hating, terrorist-loving, appeasing hippie.

Yeah, I'm mad. Still. For years now. It's basically ruining my life. But at least Washington hasn't tried to liberate me yet, and I can still walk on my two legs and see my children and work to support myself when not obsessing about atrocities.

#46 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 07:28 PM:

I knew Powell was lying. The UN had inspectors in Iraq -- if the US had such good documentation of where the buildings and trucks were, they could have notified the inspectors. With our spy satellites, it wouldn't matter how mobile the "platforms" were -- we could track them from space and provide a minute-by-minute GPS update on their position.

We didn't. Because we couldn't. That told me this was just another lie.

#47 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:03 PM:

"I knew Powell was lying. The UN had inspectors in Iraq -- if the US had such good documentation of where the buildings and trucks were, they could have notified the inspectors."

In January 2003, Hans Blix was publicly complaining that U.S. intelligence agencies were not sharing the supposedly reliable information they claimed to possess, which we now know to have been completely fabricated bullshit, that purported to indicate where the weapons of mass destruction could be found.

In February, we marched in the streets around the world.

In March, the UNMOVIC inspectors— who still had found nothing— bugged out of Iraq mere days before the American and British invasion.

In October, the Iraq Survey Group issued a preliminary report— later confirmed in the final report— that there was no evidence of the "weapons of mass destruction related program activities" that were used to justify the invasion.

Tell me again why liberal interventionists wanted to stop the UNMOVIC inspections and invade— because it's clear to me that it was never about Colin Powell's speech and the weapons of mass destruction.

#48 ::: Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:06 PM:

Vardibidian makes an interesting point in saying, "I think there were a lot of people, particularly Senate Democrats, who were not prepared for the breadth of the lies coming from the White House, and who felt that there must be some kernel of truth at the middle of it."

I think that the majority of people in the country were (and probably are) unwilling to accept that our government is being run by the worst kind of thugs. They stole the election in 2000, and we have closed our eyes to that, and to just about everything else they have done since, in the foolish belief that Bush, Cheney, and the rest of them are, at a minimum, acting out of the good faith belief that what they are doing is in the best interests of the US and the world. We just don't want to admit that we have been so stupid as to have turned the controls over to a group of criminals who, on a world historical basis, can be number with the worst of all time.

And guess what? They are consolidating their position. By mocking dissent, they have neuralized the ability of the opposition to even critique their policies.

#49 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:14 PM:

I'm a liberal. I'm a peacenik. And I accurately predicted what would happen if we invaded Iraq (may verify by Googling Usenet).

I think pot and a lot of other drugs should be legal.

I'm wearing a tie dye shirt, but no Che Guevara because I know what he did.

I'd still be marching except that I don't walk very well anymore and the doctors don't want me to use a wheelchair yet.

I don't do/believe all this because it's somehow fashionable. I believe it's the right thing to do/believe.

#50 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 08:53 PM:

Francis:

Sorry; I was offline for a while.

I'm on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, and in the Southern U.S. at that. This explains a lot about our respective perspectives.

#51 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 10:44 PM:

I supported the invasion of Afghanistan and the destruction of the Taliban regime, and the involvement of my country's troops. It seemed then, and still seems, to be worthwhile in itself. That regime was an offence to humanity. That which replaced it seems a little better. Maybe it will be a lot better.

I supported the invasion of Iraq, and my own country's involvement in it. I was willing to countenance a limited war against an odious regime because I thought then, and think now, that the use by any regime, or by jihadists, of the weapons I was assured were present, would touch off a far wider, far worse, and far more destructive war.

I still cannot express regret at the demise of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq, though I confess that this good outcome has been dwarfed by other evil outcomes. But that is not the point.

For there were no weapons, and no means of producing them, nor any likelihood that such means existed. What I thought were facts - what were presented to me as facts - were not facts. I now think it likely that they were deliberate untruths. Lies.

I was wrong. At least I never voted for them, and I never denigrated those who dissented. But I never protested. Because of that, I am part of the consensus. I regret that.

So now what? I now know that I should never have consented, but I have to ask Lenin's question: What is to be done?

And if the answer is Lenin's answer, I will recognise the bitter justice of it, but I will not consent to that, either, despite everything.

#52 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 11:10 PM:

Dave Luckett writes: What is to be done?

You have to ask? (Sigh.)

An investigation into whether there are grounds for articles of impeachment. That's what.

That's what has been left undone for going on three years now, while reactionaries and their liberal interventionist enablers have hoped against hope that it would never be necessary to conduct such an investigation.

#53 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 11:50 PM:

Scott H, it's generally agreed that the Reichstag fire was probably not deliberate, but that doesn't mean the Reich didn't use it for everything they could.

So, yes, 9/11 was our Reichstag fire. It was my first thought, too.

#54 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 12:35 AM:

This is all identity politics. It's useless.

I see a lot of it among republicans. There are honest republicans today who're trying desperately to pretend that there's some reasonable explanation for the whole iraq thing. Because they have so much of their identity tied up into being republicans that they can't look at anything else, so attacks on a republican get automatically discredited because they're attacks on a republicsn.

The splitting among anti-war groups is more identity politics. Each little group of good-guys who agree against all the others. Useless except to reaffirm identity.

The issue at each step is what specific goal are we attempting, and who can help, and will they help.

Here are some possible goals:

Goal 1. Get the troops out of iraq. Continue whatever economic support we can reasonably do, and try to persuade iraqis they benefit from international reporters reporting whatever they find.

What can we do: Aproach A: Get Bush/Cheney out, replaced by somebody who'd get the troops out.

Approach B: Get the groundwork prepared for a military exit in early 2009.

Goal 2: Get Bush/Cheney's records set read/only followed by their removal from office.

Approach A: Persuade republicans that Bush is a powerful threat to the GOP. Republican legislators then require Bush/Cheney to resign or be impeached.

Approach B: Attempt to take the House, gain Senate seats in 2006. Impeachment soon after. Get support from republicans who want to win the presidency in 2008 etc.

Approach C: What would it take for the Administration medical staff to declare them both medically unfit for duty?

Approach D: A partial general strike. Get as many people as possible to swear they will not do business with the Bush administration. A partial boycot of those who do. If enough people and businesses participate then Bush's chef has to pay for his pastry flour with his own account and get it delivered to his own home because nobody wants to sell pastry flour to Bush. His Secret Service guys stop for a donut at their usual place and have to lie about who they are to get served. Etc. It worked on Batista and on Marcos. If there's enough of a consensus it could work on Bush.

Goal 3: Destruction of the politicians who brought us this.

Approach A: Get rid of incumbents unless they have a good excuse. Primary fight for every incumbent who voted for the war, unless they have extremely stromg redeeming virtues. Support for democrat facing any republican incumbent.

If you really want to vote for a republican, tell him, "I like your ideas. I'll vote for you, and contribute money, and volunteer for your campaign -- if you run as an independent. Or a Libertarian. I have to oppose you while you're owned by the GOP."

Approach B: Support for libertarian candidates, particularly electible republicans who run as libertarians. If within 3 elections or so the libertarians become the second-largest party, the GOP will disband. They can't survive as a third party.

Goal 4: Election reform.

Approach A: Work toward a credible system with recounts. There are various technical approaches to have accountability with a touch-screen system. Find out what it takes to make this change and do what you can to further it.

Approach B: Work toward a way to avoid gerrymandering. Look over the various proposals for creating voting districts that allow little or no human input. Work to get one of them used in your state.

Approach C: Work toward Instant Runoff Voting. There are other systems that are a little better but this is good enough and easy to explain. Work to get it accepted locally, for local elections or for your state. Or for Democratic primaries. It's a natural for democrats. Candidates are rewarded for avoiding negative campaigning against each other. If the winner gets 92% of the vote (counting everybody who voted for him in any slot) and the first runner-up gets 86%, there needn't be hard feelings among the campaigners and they can all work hard to support the winner. And for the presidency, early primaries aren't such a big deal. Now the New Hampshire winner has a big boost. If the NH winner got 89% and the first runner-up got 83% it wouldn't look so impressive.

IRV would tend to produce electable candidates. And if it worked for democrats then other parties would use it, and it wouldn't take nearly as long before we were ready to use it for the actual elections.

I don't care about your politics. If you're with me on any of my goals, then I'll work with you on that goal.

You want a libertarian to win? I'll gladly help you get him on the ballot. I'll sing his praises to my republican friends. If I think he's more electable than the democrat I'll campaign for him. I have a lot of disagreements with libertarians but I'd far rather argue out an honest difference of opinion with you than put up with what I've gotten from republicans for the last 5 years. I'm not 100% with you but let's work together whenever we agree.

#55 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 12:37 AM:

I think that the anger of Tom Tomorrow's rant is entirely justified.

I personally really don't care for a lot of the tropes of left activist culture. But when people keep being right about things I was wrong about, then if I'm serious about this whole "reality-based" thing, then it's time for me to tell my taste to go shut up so my reason can listen to them. If and when I manage to be as consistently right on a matter of national and global importance, then I will feel at liberty to dictate to them about fashion and all the rest.

Prose fandoms affect to care more about meanings than superficial trappings. As usual, this seems not to apply to our own tastes, even when it's really important. I wish I didn't have such an internal struggle to pay attention to people who actually do have things to tell me that I need to know to do my civic duties. But at least, I tell myself, I'm learning some and making some progress. I commend the exercise to others.

Remember:

When you're wrong, get yourself right before you start dictating too much to the people who were right all along.

#56 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 01:23 AM:

Michael Roberts:

I now think that the rational, good America I grew up loving was a pipe dream all along. Doesn't that suck? I really, really hate having to think that "we hold these truths to be self-evident" now identifies me as an America-hating, terrorist-loving, appeasing hippie.
Bruce Baugh:
I personally really don't care for a lot of the tropes of left activist culture. But when people keep being right about things I was wrong about, then if I'm serious about this whole "reality-based" thing, then it's time for me to tell my taste to go shut up so my reason can listen to them. If and when I manage to be as consistently right on a matter of national and global importance, then I will feel at liberty to dictate to them about fashion and all the rest. [...]

Remember:

When you're wrong, get yourself right before you start dictating too much to the people who were right all along.

Me? Just noting two really good comments.

#57 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 06:59 AM:

I was really in two minds about the war in Afghanistan. I was against it in principle but couldn't work up much passion to oppose it. I did think that toppling the Talibans was probably a good side effect anyway, even if the death and devastation it would entail would certainly by hard to justify.

I'm not sure how I judge the outcome of the Afghanistan war. The Talibans are gone, but apart from Kabul, much of the country in the grip of the same thugs as it was before.

I do think that the Talibans, as well as a lot of other endearing qualities, were also actively supporting international terrorism and, even worse in my view, fanatical fundamentalist ideology. Of course the same can be said of much of Pakistan, and couldn't be said of Iraq.

(Waving desperatly and ducking back into my Internet-deprived London life after this, alas)

#58 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 08:31 AM:

The problem, Anna, is that the Taliban were the natural reaction to the war-wracked chaos that we created by provoking the Russians to invade in '79, playing proxy-war there for years, with all that involves of destruction of civilization and order and substituting armies of young men who have known nothing else, and then abandoning them after pledging reconstruction.

--Think about that: people initially welcomed the Taliban as the party of law and order, because things were so bad: our various proxy-warlords were fighting a ruinous civil war, for one. (I know that even the CNN anchors were unaware of this, at the start of our invasion, but it *was* pretty widely available information.)

Yes, they were puritan assholes, but they were putting the brakes on the libertarian assholes - ie drug-dealing gunslinging warlords, who had prior to that been the biggest threat, since the breakdown of the secular government in '79.

So now we have disrupted - not destroyed, mind you, the survivors have simply regrouped in the countryside - the Taliban; and created again the same situtation that was there before, that made the Taliban the best of all bad alternatives that we left them with before.

After - and never forget this, when judging the Afghanis - wrecking their country not even for the crass but at least honest motive of conquest, as with Musslini and Ethiopia, nor even wink-wink conquest as "liberation" - but secretly, by catspaw, to make a briar patch for the Soviet Union.

Which was, again, Evildum vs. Evildee, initially the plan of a Democratic administration. (As far as I know, Carter's NSA has never apologized for it, even post 9/11, either, though maybe Zbig has, somewhere.)

Then there's the problem that we, as in the US govt, were happily using the Taliban, too, until we sandbagged them: they were, after all, useful allies in the War on Drugs, which has all gone down the tubes with their downfall, as the desperate farmers and warlords alike ramp up opium production again; and then there were negotiations going on between various Oil/Gas interests, as well. "People like us, people we can do business with," was the Hegemony's attitude, before they decided that they *had* to go to war against them in the face of overwhelming popular opinion, that they couldn't do the thing they really wanted - invade Iraq, and start the Plan - until they dealt with (coffcoff) Osama and the Taliban.

Not that hard of a sacrifice, either. What's one wog satrap more or less, particularly in such a backwater? It wasn't like they ever intended to tie up any significant amount of their financial or military resources there, and they haven't.

#59 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 08:37 AM:

The afghan war was run as a sideshow from the start, which let it do minimal damage by comparison.

I try to make sense of the news reports, and while suffering a bout of metaphoric deformation I get....

Imagine it's a long time from now, say 15 years. The US economy is doing very very badly. The US army has mostly disbanded for lack of funds, and various parts of the country are run by various militias. Rough democracy -- one gun, one vote. The country is nominally run by a coalition of republicans, with a platform of christian values. Convicted abortionists are executed and there are lots of stories about suspected abortionists getting summary execution. Women who are caught looking for abortion are publicly humiliated in various ways, head shaved, the usual. The civilised world thinks we're crazy but they don't care as much as they did when we were a superpower.

The chinese decide the republicans have to go, for international reasons that most americans have paid no attention to and don't understand. The chinese pay large sums of money to militias that are willing to fight republicans. Quickly there is a libertarian majority attacking, and the republicans melt away. The chinese occupy Washington, DC but not much else. There are a number of incidents that give some idea of it -- like, some chinese intelligence guys are visiting Virginia governor John Warner when Ollie North and his regiment come in the gates. The chinese find out about it and demand that North be arrested as he isn't a libertarian at all but a goddamn republican. Warner shrugs and announces that North and his men are in custody. The chinese insist on interrogating them and Warner again shrugs and thrusts the agents into a room full of armed North guys. The chinese army winds up attacking and before it's over Warner's Governor's Compound has been thoroughly bombed. General hilarity among all uninvolved.

Virginians don't particularly mind having the chinese next door, because the ban on tobacco farming has been unofficially lifted and some money is finally circulating. A few moralists are bothered that nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs known, but hey, caveat emptor, we need the money.

The chinese make lofty promises about restoring socialism and social services of all kinds, but they don't do much about it and neither do the libertarian warlords, many of whom switched from being republicans when they saw where the profits were. Most people voted in the recent national elections, perhaps partly because of the rumor that places with a high voter turnout were less likely to get airstrikes in the coming year. And partly because each militia (who supervised the vote in its own area) ran a vigorous get-out-the-vote campaign. The noted libertarian Alan Greenspan, still vigorous at his age, won overwhelmingly. Greenspan announced that once the various regions pledged allegiance to him and were unified under a central command, we could start a massive road-building project to restore the interstates, and restore Social Security, and also we'd get a national health insurance system. And a large professional standing army and navy. When asked to comment on this last, the chinese ambassador to the USA General Lin Shu said, "We welcome the day when the USA becomes a free communist nation that no longer requires foreign assistance."

#60 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 09:21 AM:

I supported the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban wouldn't turn over Osama bin Laden when asked. It seems to me that if one of your private citizens is waging war on a foreign power, you either deal with that citizen, or prepare to face the foreign power. (I still think this is a pretty good principle in a world where killing a hundred million people is only getting easier.)

The war in Iraq was a whole different matter. Sure, I was in favor of Saddam getting the boot--and even rebuilding the country had a certain appeal--but such things can only be done from morally-unimpeachable high ground. Clearly the Bush administration was playing a crooked game. Else, why not give the inspectors another two weeks?

The potential downsides of the war were obvious at the time. Civil war, prolonged occupation, and long-term blowback were all very real possibilities. And considering Bush's track record, how could anyone have expected him to do a good job? My litmus test: We should only go in if the Iraqis would be thanking us in 5 years. And I never had that kind of faith in Bush.

The anti-war movement didn't really influence my decision, because, well, I could never tell if their message was "This war is incredibily dumb," or "We should never go to war." In retrospect, I should have been out there marching--perhaps I wouldn't have needed to go canvasing in below-zero weather a year later.

For a while after the invasion, I believed in the Pottery Barn theory: We broke it, we bought it. But then I spent some more time reading about Vietnam (hey, I wan't born when it happened), and concluded that if you can't fix it, you might as well go home.

I was listening to the radio with my boss--a liberal retired military guy--when we heard that the president had just reinvaded Fallujah, and was gearing up for action in Najaf. We looked at each other, and said, "It's over, isn't it? We just went off the edge."

My biggest lesson from all this: Policy is never about grand ideological debates in your own mind over interventionalism, or personal responsibility, or whatnot. It's about whether specific people are going to die if you do some specific thing.

And oh, yeah: The moderate Republican party of Eisenhower and all those quintessentially grown-up New England Republicans is dead, dead, dead. The Democrats may be corrupt spineless fools, but they're the only game in town.

Here endeth the confession.

#61 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 11:20 AM:

I recollect that when we ordered the Taliban to turn over Osama, they asked where's your evidence that he masterminded 9/11? And we said you can't have it. Am I wrong about this? Can that info be such a secret?

And in reply to Scott H way up there, I (who some folks here know worked in the WTC) felt from the afternoon of 9/11 that no way did what happen happen without some complicity on the part of someone, possibly military, possibly civilian. Nothing that has emerged since then has dispelled my gut instinct on that point.

#62 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 11:40 AM:

The anti-war movement didn't really influence my decision, because, well, I could never tell if their message was "This war is incredibily dumb," or "We should never go to war."

That is a good statement of the topic of this thread. It sounds to me like, the anti-war folks turned out to be right, but it just didn't feel right, to certain people, to support them.

It is frustrating.

I'm not afraid to call myself a pacifist, although I am wondering what the generally accepted definition of "pacifist" is, and what exactly is wrong with being a pacifist.

Maybe the pacifist position is more like "Most wars are incredibly dumb, which is a good reason to avoid going to war."

#63 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 11:53 AM:

"I supported the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban wouldn't turn over Osama bin Laden when asked. It seems to me that if one of your private citizens is waging war on a foreign power, you either deal with that citizen, or prepare to face the foreign power."

I agree they should have turned bin Ladin over, or at the least given him a short time to sneak out of the country.

The thing is, when you've accepted a guest under your roof you don't just turn him over to his enemies. We should have had anthropologists helping us on this. How we ask, how we explain our needs, how much time to give them, would it be enough they turn him out and we catch him across the border or do they have to give him a running start ....

Give them some time and thay might have worked it out. They had an absolute duty to protect their guest. Osama had an absolute duty to leave rather than see his host destroyerd.

We might have gotten something a lot better than an invasion that failed to catch bin Ladin, if we'd tried. I'm no anthropologist but it looked to me at the time like we might have had expert advice on how to state our demands to be sure they refused, so we could invade.

#64 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 12:06 PM:

As I recall, the Taliban's best counter-offer was to put Osama before an Islamic tribunal. Personally, I would have settled quite happily for the ICC or any other UN war crimes getup. And if the Bush administration had been more competent, perhaps this could have been achieved.

I do feel our leaders bear significant responsibility for 9/11: The administration harbored PNAC nutters who were waiting for "a new Pearl Harbor." The administration never made a significant effort to combat terrorism. And, rather damningly, civilians with cellphones responded to the attacks faster than our air defense.

The hawks in the administration publically admitted a major terrorist strike would benefit their agenda. And they did amazingly little to prevent one. In my book, this is an open and shut case of depraved indifference.

The inability of "moderate" Republicans to see these problems--in 2004, when it mattered--is why I hold them in the highest contempt. That includes you, McCain, and don't think I've forgotton Hillary's cheerleading, either.

#65 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Patrick writes: ...the process by which viewpoints which have been pre-defined as “radical” get marginalized even when by all reasonable standards of evidence they’ve been proved correct.

It would help if— when our friends among the liberal interventionists decide they were "as wrong as it is possible to be" about the War™ in Iraq— they didn't continue to marginalize the views of those of us who weren't.

It's like they're saying, "Yes, I was wrong. But, at least I wasn't a dirty hippie." Blech. This is why they continue to ask "what is to be done?" rather than step up and join with us to demand justice and restitution.

p.s. I use War™ with a trademark symbol, because it's not at all clear to me, given the open issues in U.S. law on the subject, how it can be a War— rather than merely a delegation of war powers to an executive branch that remains conflicted about whether a "state of war" exists, or it's just enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions.

#66 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 01:15 PM:

j h, what do you see as "justice and restitution"?

#67 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 02:58 PM:

If it helps any, they fooled me on WMDs and I was still against the war, because I thought they were friggin' idiots.

Except for thinking that the administration would be merely lying, and not despicably and stunningly venal, I've pretty accurately predicted the run of this war.

#68 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 03:00 PM:

At a minimum, articles of impeachment, real criminal investigations, and a withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Iraq, followed by about five hundred billion unconditional dollars in reconstruction funds to be administered by whatever government the United Nations recognizes with a seat in the assembly.

#69 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 03:33 PM:

Where people stood a year ago and what they said then is less important than where they stand today and what they do today and tomorrow.

#70 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 03:59 PM:

You know, I'm baffled by all these people who think pacifism is widespread among non-hawks. Between the hawks and the relatively tiny number of pacifists, there are the vast majority of us who actually need a good reason before going to war.

Someone tells me some impossible bollacks about Saddam being able to launch a nuclear strike on us before Christmas when he's never tested a nuke and has no delivery systems, I know I'm being shined.

It's pretty simple. If you don't have a good reason to go to war, you don't go to war. And you were never given a good reason. End of story.

There are really not all that many pacifists around, even in the left - but many of those who objected to the invasion weren't even in the left. Brent Scocroft is hardly in the left, for example.

So why was it so easy to believe that pacifism had all that much to do with it?

#71 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 04:57 PM:

"So why was it so easy to believe that pacifism had all that much to do with it?"

Because pacifism is weak. Pacifism is unAmerican. Pacifists are cowards who wouldn't stand up to Hitler and Tojo. Pacifists are snivellers who would let Stalin take over the world with godless Bolshevism. No real American wants to be a weak, cowardly, unAmerican enabler of Bolshevism.

Not that I think these things are true, but there are an awful lot of people in this country who feel that way. It's a frame many of us were raised with, and it's a hard one to step away from. It's possible to suggest a better one, such as "Before I beat up my neighbor for kicking my dog, I want to be sure the dog was kicked, he's the one who did it, and that I've got a good chance of beating him up, instead of him beating me up. If the answer to any of these is NO, I need another plan."

While I don't agree with everything James Webb wrote in his combination of family memoir and informal study of the Scotch-Irish in America, Born Fighting, there's a certain amount of that hillbilly intransigence* he identifies at work here, and it's been manipulated and played to with magnificent and malign skill by this administration, and by those using this administration as their tool, as they used Reagan as their tool. One of the basics of that creed is: You don't back down from a fight, especially if you think the other guy started it. Closely examining how the fight really got started, as well as trifling details like who is set up to benefit from it, and whether honest men have been dragged into it by people with ulterior motives that can't stand the sight of daylight is likely to be despised not as a prudent caveat but as a cowardly attempt to back down.

*I am a hillbilly, and I'm prepared to admit it--there's a strain of self-destructive hard-headedness we have in spades, and which we have bequeathed to the rest of the country. It causes trouble, and the trouble isn't very pretty, all too often. You can't back down; backing down is weak. You can't not fight; people will take advantage of you if you won't. Even when changing your mind and doing something different is entirely to your benefit--changing your mind and doing something different means you're weak.

I said it was self-destructive.

#72 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 05:07 PM:

Machismo. Bleh.

I've been trying to figure this out,and I pretty much agree with fidelio.

Also, you know, those hippies couldn't possibly have had rational objections to the war, because they're all too stoned to think straight. Cool-headed, objective people analyzed the situation and said, "Yep, invading Iraq is the right choice here." Or something.

#73 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 05:08 PM:

I'm just startled by how many people don't seem to have read Shirer on the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

I didn't get out and march against the Iraq invasion because I'm a pacifist -- I did it because the framing of the rhetoric coming out of the White House was indistinguishable from Goebbels' effusions in the summer of '39. There's a particular stench that rises to the surface when a government is psyching up its people for an unjustified war of aggression -- all sizzle and no steak. The media coverage of US government statements on Iraq from September 12th onwards stank of coordinated agitprop. It was glaringly clear that the arguments presented were going to be used to justify an invasion, so why did they all fade into vapour whenever I started looking for concrete evidence to support them?

The pattern was: present an assertion, draw in a sketch of what supporting evidence ought to look like, mumble darkly about how awful it would be if the nay-sayers were proven wrong, then move on to a fresh assertion of evil. Never stay on the topic long enough to let the other side pick holes in it. If you let them start to dig, they'll find out that there's nothing there, and you'll be back to square one -- but if you can keep moving on, you can build skyscrapers of propaganda on foundations of fluff.

The demonization of the enemy, carrying the faintly sulpherous whiff of racism, didn't help either, but as I said, the main anti-war tipping point for me was the propagandization of public policy. Because if it was justified, why not simply tell us the truth? The act of lying tells us that something is wrong, and we're complicit in the lie if we refuse to pay attention.

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 05:25 PM:

Charlie: You got that one right. I remember a person at my getting-on-the-train station who said that all the Middle-Easterners in the US should be locked up (shades of 1942!), and I looked at him, and said "You want to be careful saying things like that. you look pretty Middle Eastern yourself." He shut up. That was on 9/12.

I called all the justifications coming out of DC the "excuse of the month club". The conditions for not-going-to-war sounded way too much like "I dare you", repeat until the other guy gets mad and takes a swing at you: provocation trying to hide under diplomacy and not doing it well.

#75 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 05:46 PM:

I was a proud career member of the US military.

I was in the Personnel Reliability Program (I don't know as that means much to most folks, but those who know what it means will understand).

I had a Top Secret clearance, based on background investigation.

My belief was (and is) that the best defense is a strong and confident military response to any attack.

I supported the war in Afghanistan (though my objectives might have been different -- more on that in a minute).

I opposed the war in Iraq, as long-time readers of Electrolite will recall, based on several factors, many of which turned out to be accurate predictions. One was that there were no WMDs in Iraq. I based this (I had not given nor received a classified briefing in around fifteen years at that time) on open sources.

My loyalty is still to the US armed forces.

Had I been President on 11 September 2005, I would have called in my cabinet, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and said:

Ladies and gentlemen. We cannot stop surprise attacks against the United States. But we can make those who carry them out wish to God that they had never tried.

Here's what I want to have happen:

Capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Using the minimum level of force necessary, take Afghanistan.

Rebuild Afghanistan. Local labor shall be used. Trade unions shall be established and supported.

Within the next century the following things shall become true: Every town shall be connected to every other with a hard-surface road. Every house shall have: Running water, electricity, and a phone. Every town shall have: A church or mosque, a town hall, a school, a medical clinic, a police station, and a fire station, all fully staffed.

Kabul shall be linked to every adjacent capital and to a warm-water port by a rail line.

There shall be a world-class national university.

There shall be a world-class national airport.

There shall be a national self-defense force sufficient to deter any aggression by their neighbors.

The constituion of Afghanistan shall be the United States Constitution, as amended.

The national language shall be English.

We will haul down the flag and turn over our last military base on 12 September 2101, when the smallest baby born there today will have already died of old age and Afghanistan as it was has passed out of living memory.

For every mile of road that we build in Afghanistan, we shall build or refurbish a mile in the United States. For every clinic we build in Afghanistan, we shall build or refurbish a clinic here. And so on, building for building, mile for mile, person for person.

I'm going to start calling the presidents, prime ministers, and kings of the nations of the earth to let them know our plans and ask their help.

Ladies and gentlemen, make it happen.

#76 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 05:53 PM:

PJ, I'm still banned from the About Beading forum because after 9/11, I argued against interning Arabs in the US.

#77 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Marilee: Good for you!

#78 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 08:07 PM:

James D. MacDonald writes: My loyalty is still to the US armed forces.

Mine is to the U.S. Constitution.

Had I been President on 11 September 2005, I would have called in my cabinet, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and said [a lot of perfectly reasonable things that no sane person would have expected George W. Bush to have ever considered saying].

Interesting. My first inclination when deliberating about What Is To Be Done in response to a hostile threat to national security is not to imagine what I would do if I were President, but rather how I would vote (and what I would say to my colleagues) if I were a member of Congress. Call me weird, if you must. It's how I think about national politics.

If I had been a member of the 108th Congress, I might have dug in my heels and refused to vote for military action in Afghanistan unless it were explicitly tied to some or all of the conditions James enumerated in his comment above. I would have been branded a radical, called "objectively pro-terrorist" and probably forced to resign under a cloud of suspicion.

I wonder if all that shows is how there is something fundamentally broken about my personality. Oh well... I'd never win an election anyway. Not even in San Francisco, where I live.

#79 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 08:38 PM:

I recall Powell's breathtaking performance distinctly. He drew a long face, showed a fuzzy satellite photo of a building with trucks around it, another photo of the same building without trucks, then an artist's conception of what a weapons lab inside a truck might look like, and told the UN to go to war.

Props to JohnD for that. I, too, remember watching Powell's 'performance' with a friend and both of us actually laughed. No, I mean really: "Look! There were some trucks there -- and now THEY'RE GONE!!"
Jeebus.

#80 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 08:39 PM:
James D. MacDonald writes: My loyalty is still to the US armed forces.

Mine is to the U.S. Constitution.

That isn't fundamentally different. As a military man, my oath is "To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The same applies to all my comrades in arms. We are all sworn to defend the Constitution. That is where I place my loyality: With those who are so sworn.

(For those who were wondering where I fit in the great scheme of Making Light: I am far, far to the right of Miss Teresa and Mr. Patrick.)

#81 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 08:42 PM:

j h woodyatt: This is why they continue to ask "what is to be done?" rather than step up and join with us to demand justice and restitution.

I asked "what is to be done", not because I am in any doubt about what I should do, but because I wanted to hear your answer, and that of others.

I wondered if I would get Lenin's answer to Lenin's question. I asked it, I suppose, out of purely academic curiosity of no particular practical application. Please accept it in the spirit that you appear to have done: as an invitation to tell me what you think.

Please understand also that I am not entitled to any opinion as to the impeachment of a President of the United States, and for the purposes of this discussion, have none.

#82 ::: Karl T. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 09:10 PM:

Mr. Macdonald, did you mean "11 September 2001" where you typed "11 September 2005" above, or were you thinking of an invasion of Afghanistan four years after the fact?

#83 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 09:13 PM:

@Charlie Stross: From the belly of the beast, I personally find Shirer's Berlin Diary even more apropos than the Rise and Fall. Particularly the entries from the build-up to the attack on Poland, a few of which I quoted here, amid some other stuff...

#84 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 09:28 PM:

James, you do realize that trying to impose a national language on someone else has caused a great deal of endless civil warfare, every where it has been tried? and would likely obviate the Good Works in the rest of your Plan? I personally cannot come up with a single instance when it hasn't - or isn't - resulted/ing in bloodshed, from Poland to North America to Spain to Turkey. It galls worse than taxes and levees, by all accounts.

There is no greater symbol of cultural imperialism, except banning a religion, than to say - your language is dirt: you will speak as we speak, scum. Because we know better than you what's good for you. (Thus the propaganda and political wars over ESL, Ebonics, Hip-Hop and Rap in this country.)

Try the thought-experiment in reverse. See if *you'd* go along with it, when the Altarans come along after the reception of their Envoy and his faithful servant, and no more English, in this country...

#85 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2005, 09:58 PM:

1) Yes, I meant 2001, not 2005.

2) I'm well aware that imposing a language means cultural genocide. That's what I was proposing. The annihilation of their heritage.

#86 ::: Chimpy ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:35 AM:

I think that anyone who ever supported the war in Iraq should be ashamed. But then I'd forgive them.
Still, that's buckets of blood that their hands have been soaking in.
If that's harsh … well, tough.

#87 ::: gmanedit ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:50 AM:

Anybody who was paying attention to the 2000 election knew who George Bush was and what he would do. Remember the Onion's "Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over"? Remember Bartcop's "Bush Family Evil Empire"?

I was against invading Afghanistan, against approving for judge any member of the Federalist Society. Bush didn't steal the election to do right by the working man.

#88 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:31 AM:

James:

"2) I'm well aware that imposing a language means cultural genocide. That's what I was proposing. The annihilation of their heritage."

You'll fail. That's what the Soviets tried: failed. That's what the English and Russians before tried: failed. That's what Alexander the Great tried: failed.

And it is needless. It was not necessary to annihilate Germany's heritage to create a democracy from the greatest dictatorship ever known, therefore it is not necessary to do it to Afghanistan.

#89 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:50 AM:

The Brits seemed to have done fairly well establishing spoken English in India.

The idea is to let other nations know that an attack on the United States brings their personal destruction. We can't salt the earth. We can change their cultures forever.

#90 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:40 AM:

JDM: you misunderstand how and why the British empire established English in India. It wasn't implanted as a conscious act of cultural genocide, but as the language used by an imperial administration; learning it was a necessity for collaborators who wished to rise. Once the occupiers left, it remained useful because India had not previously had a single administrative language. Afghanistan, in contrast, is populated by folks who mostly speak two languages. The need for an imperial administrative language is absent, and so any attempt to impose one will be highly inflammatory.

And imperial administration is what you're talking about. What you're proposing for Afghanistan would basically involve the United States in running the sort of colonial occupation that bled the UK white during the 20th century. Not to mention automatically miring the USA in the cess-pool of Pakistani and Iranian domestic politics -- the borders of the countries formerly overlapped by the Durrani empire aren't exactly well-marked, after all.

Some reading/analysis of the cause of the uprising in Afghanistan in 1978-79 -- the one that the CIA funneled money to, and which ended up provoking the Soviets into rolling in to support their satellite state government -- would be informative. You know that the proximate causes of the rebellion in the provinces were attempts at land and dowry law reform? They're as crazy-independent as Texans like to think they are.

Afghanistan is best governed with patience, a very light hand, and lots of baksheesh. And even then, it's going to hurt you.

#91 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:47 AM:

The idea is to let other nations know that an attack on the United States brings their personal destruction.

So if someone punches you in the face, the right thing to do is to shoot them dead? You might stay safe that way, but I don't think you'd have many friends.

And anyway... why bother trying to commit 'cultural genocide' at all? Give them twenty years of peace and prosperity and you'll get the same effect.


The Brits seemed to have done fairly well establishing spoken English in India.

And very badly at eliminating Welsh and Gaelic, when we tried that. And the Russians, Austro-Hungarians and Germans didn't have much luck with eliminating Polish, to pick another example from many. Perhaps we weren't trying for the same effect in India?


#92 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 09:30 AM:

"I'm well aware that imposing a language means cultural genocide. That's what I was proposing. The annihilation of their heritage."

I'd mourn for the textiles, at least.

It seems to me, though, that attempts to obliterate that heritage that are not accompanied by genocide are likely to fail; the great powers east and west of Afghanistan have been trying to root out the Afghans for centuries, and have succeeded only in brutalizing the Afghans. What's your reasoning here?

#93 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 09:32 AM:

when has cultural genocide worked without actual genocide alongside it?

#94 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 09:33 AM:

So if someone punches you in the face, the right thing to do is to shoot them dead?

No. If someone commits an act of war, you give them the war they wanted.

#95 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 09:36 AM:

At any rate I believe enforcing english as a national language in that scheme would be a bad thing for english.

#96 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 09:47 AM:

Also, note the difference between establishing English as a widely spoken language of convenience - as Britain did in India, the Scottish Highlands, Wales and Ireland - and wiping out another language - as the Turks are trying to do with Kurdish.

Welsh and Gaelic aren't good examples, because they only survived through government effort; neglect (never mind repression) would have doomed them by the middle of the last century.

I'd actually reckon that English might be a good addition for Afghanistan; one of the many sources of division there is between the Pushtu-speakers of the south and east and the Dari-speakers of the north and west. A single official language would help, and trying to enforce either Pushtu or Dari would irritate half the country. Plus, English is the language of the world, and the Afghans could do with a bit of globalising.
But even if all the Afghans end up speaking English as a second or third language, it won't mean their culture has been destroyed. Language != culture. Look at some other Anglophone cultures for proof: Sierra Leone, Canada, India, Botswana.

The rest of the policy seems very silly. Pumping in money will simply mean lots of rich corrupt American officials. Look at Iraq, for heaven's sake: the CPA was probably the most corrupt government (in percentage terms) that the world has ever seen. If you want to run an empire, you need Curzons, not Sopranos.

As for the 'wiping out their culture' thing: it's been done before. A combination of military defeat, sudden urbanisation and industrialisation and opportunities for emigration (military and otherwise) did the trick once, converting hairy, murderous religious fanatics into exemplars of Balmorality. Don't know if you can do it a second time, though.

#97 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 10:33 AM:

I'm well aware that imposing a language means cultural genocide. That's what I was proposing. The annihilation of their heritage.

Do you really believe that Afghan culture is the cause of terrorism? That doesn't seem logical.

Culture is about cool things like food, folklore, national clothing, and of course language. It's also about uncool things, like believing it's okay to kill certain types of people.

OTOH, I would happily argue that American culture is the cause of things like Abu Ghraib. But still.

If all you want is to punish them, why not just kill them all?

#98 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 11:48 AM:

No, I don't think that Afghan culture is the source of terrorism.

I think that the threat of losing their culture would keep other countries from harboring terrorists.

#99 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 11:57 AM:

Methinks James has lost sight of the point that the government of Afghanistan did not attack or otherwise declare war on the USA -- but that a renegade from Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of local traditions of hospitality and perceived commonality of religious beliefs, chose to hide out there while sending his agents to attack the USA.

To pursue the simile, invading Afghanistan over 9/11 is like shooting your neighbour because their cousin from out of town (who came to stay with them a couple of days ago) punched you, at the instigation of a friend of theirs (who your neighbour doesn't even know), who holds a grudge because your dad stole their can of gas and was rude to their wife.

The terrorism problem we face is not amenable to solution by the tools of conventional state diplomacy, including conventional warfare, because the actors involved are not nations and will not be deterred or neutralized by actions taken against nations. Intelligence-led policing is a better fit for the problem, along with diplomatic initiatives to deprive the activists of the base of popular support they rely on for funding and recruits. The latter will, however, require -- as a necessary but insufficient precondition -- a complete reappraisal of the relationship between the west and the islamic world. A relationship that has been systematically poisoned by our dependency on oil and two centuries of pre-existing imperial occupations, from Napoleon's invasion of Egypt onwards.

We're going to have to wean ourselves off oil and off the habit of trying to play Curzon in that part of the world before we can sort the mess out.

#100 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 11:59 AM:

I think that the threat of losing their culture would keep other countries from harboring terrorists.

In what way do you imagine closing or blowing up mosques in Dewsbury and Bradford would keep the UK from harbouring suicide bombers?

#101 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:02 PM:

No. If someone commits an act of war, you give them the war they wanted.

I've taken a long time to write this, because I have too many things I want to say and they all sound rather trite. To put it simply: what makes you think that your proposal is right or just?

#102 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:02 PM:

James, you know a lot more than I do about a lot of things. But I think that you're utterly, damnably wrong about this. I use the word "damnably" in its technical sense, for cultural genocide is as evil as actual genocide. If you want to change Afghanistan's culture--or any culture--free their women and teach every single child to read.

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:08 PM:

If you want to change Afghanistan's culture--or any culture--free their women and teach every single child to read.

You may have noticed that that was a big part of the plan.

I personally don't think every culture is worth preserving. The world can get along quite nicely without Sharia Law.

#104 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:13 PM:

In what way do you imagine closing or blowing up mosques in Dewsbury and Bradford would keep the UK from harbouring suicide bombers?

In no way. That's an utter non-sequitur. What on earth are you talking about?

To put it simply: what makes you think that your proposal is right or just?

It benefits the maximum number of people while harming the minimum number.

#105 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:13 PM:

I did notice that. I don't understand why you think that cultural genocide will help. There's more to Afghanistan than sharia law. Hell, there's more to Islamic culture than sharia law. The world can get along quite nicely without restrictions on abortion and onerous bankruptcy laws, too, but does that mean that American culture should be wiped off the map?

#106 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:23 PM:

TexAnne, I'd add to that a serious Islamic effort to provide educated, rather than indoctrinated, preachers and religious leaders. In some ways, it's good that Islam emphasises the primacy of the original Arabic text of the Koran, but it seems to me that it requires an Islamic preacher to have the skills and context-knowledge to be a translator, and that's not common enough.

The sort of translation problem is a weak point in the Islamic world's ability to resist memetic infections, such as suicide bombers.

#107 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:24 PM:

JDM, where people like McCain stood in the summer and fall of 2004 is immensely important to me, far more so than where they claim to stand in 2008. Here's why.

In 2004, McCain knew several things: (1) The Bush administration was filled with corrupt scumbags (scuttlebut says that McCain and his inner circle have loathed Bush for a long time). (2) The war was being poorly run. (3) The leaders of our country were winking at torture. (4) Bush had, in the South Carolina primary, allowed his operatives to insult McCain's family and child.

What did McCain do? He got up on stage and hugged Bush, repeatedly. The message couldn't have been clearer.

Now, in 2008, it will probably be obvious to everybody that Iraq is a disaster, and Bush was a lousy president. So saying those those things in 2008 will impress me very little.

As Jon Stewart said about Col. Lawrence Wilkerson: Great, you think our country is being led by a corrupt and incompetent cabal, and you're telling us in 2005.

Sheesh, the people who will sell America down the river--without a tear--to preserve their Presidential ambitions, their cushy job, or their cocktail party invitations. Cowards, the lot of them.

#108 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:25 PM:

JDM: I don't see how you can redefine 9/11 as an act of war by Afghanistan on the US.

Osama bin Laden is a Saudi.

Terrorism is a really different thing from war between nation states.

Also, that isn't what you did to Japan, who attacked you even more, and what you (for General MacArthur values of "you") did with Japan demonstrably worked. See also the fine modern liberal democratic state that is Germany.

Oh, and as this is the place where one is supposed to restate one's past positions, I am not a pacifist, I consider each situation on its merits. Immediately after 9/11 I wanted bin Laden brought before the International Court at the Hague. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan, in a hesitant and conditional way, after they refused to yield bin Laden to justice, and opposed the invasion of Iraq. In 1991, I wanted to Kuwaitis (who had money but no troops) to hire the recently redundant Red Army to liberate them. I was for the Falklands War. I was strongly against the CIA assassination of Allende. I was against Vietnam, for Korea right up to the Yalu, for WWII, against WWI, against Fashoda and all the colonial clashes and invasions of the C.19, for the Napoleonic Wars and hesitantly for the War of 1812. I was against the fall of Constantinople, strongly against the Crusades, but for the Byzantines at Manzikert. I was for the Romans against the Huns, and for the Romans in general, certainly in the Punic Wars, but opposed some of the Roman colonial wars -- we had no business intervening in Armenia or Dacia, for example. I was unashamedly and enthusiastically for conquests of Alexander the Great. I was for the Athenians against the Spartans, for the Melians against the Athenians, for the Greeks against the Persians, for Troy against the Greeks, and always and everywhere for peace, civilization and liberty against chaos, barbarism and oppression.

#109 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:25 PM:

Me: To put it simply: what makes you think that your proposal is right or just?

JMD: It benefits the maximum number of people while harming the minimum number.

Not to go all Socratic on you, but what does that have to do with rightness or justice? And are you quite sure you have a better idea of what's a benefit and what's harm than anyone else does?

#110 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:32 PM:

I ardently oppose anything that causes a language to die out. Bad, bad Jim.

And Laura is right. The Taliban were doing your work for you, Jim, if your goal was to destroy Afghan culture, which predates Islam by thousands of years.

No, the culture you want to destroy is the Wahhabist culture of Saudi Arabia. Too bad they're our buddies, right? Too bad in so many ways. They're the ones who produced OBL, and failed to control him. They're the ones who, ultimately, are responsible for the Taliban.

I'd oppose demolishing the culture of Saudi Arabia entirely. But Wahhabism? Green light.

#111 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:36 PM:

Chimpy, thank you for your forgiveness, for which I did not ask, never having offered you insult or injury. You might, however, wish to withdraw it when I tell you that I regret having misjudged the case for war in Iraq, but feel shame only in being deceived.

#112 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:02 PM:

In what way do you imagine closing or blowing up mosques in Dewsbury and Bradford would keep the UK from harbouring suicide bombers?

In no way. That's an utter non-sequitur. What on earth are you talking about?

Terrorists. Harbouring terrorists. Generating terrorists.

The UK is quite capable of generating suicide bombers, despite roughly 95% of the population being non-muslim and 95% of the muslim population disapproving of suicide bombing their neighbours.

You appear to imply that cultural genocide would be an appropriate way to prevent the events of 7/7 from recurring.

I call bullshit. Terrorists in general and suicide bombers in particular are motivated by a sense of injustice and by a perception that their nation is being occupied by foreign invaders. What you're proposing is a recipe for generating terrorist incidents, not suppressing them.

#113 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:02 PM:

Thanks, Xopher. What was I right about?

I don't think that a military response (call it retaliation, if you will) to terrorism can ever be effective.

They are everywhere. Plus, they are mixed in with innocent civilians everywhere. How are you going to sort them out? Bearing in mind, of course, that killing and torturing civilians only breeds more terrorism.

#114 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:06 PM:

I call bullshit.

I call bullshit right back, Charlie. You're generating a straw man.

#115 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:08 PM:

James MacDonald: It benefits the maximum number of people while harming the minimum number.

I'm highly suspicious of the utilitarian argument, because it ignores ex ante considerations of law and justice in favor of hypotheses about how the future will turn out. Those hypotheses may be wrong.

A rather notorious example: Sayyed Abdullah, the director of Soviet Pol-e-Charki prison in Afghanistan, cast aside basic morality in hope of a better future. He was alleged to have said, "We'll leave only 1 million Afghans alive [out of 15 million]--that's all we need to build socialism."[1] The Soviets may not have tilled the fields with salt, but they certainly filled them with landmines. And despite all this, their efforts ended in the collapse of a superpower and a ruined Afghanistan. How can the ends justify the means if the ends are never acheived?

Similarly, both our invasion of Iraq and world communism as a whole were based on the notion that "you've got a break a few eggs to make an omlette." In the one case, the neo-conservatives hoped to democratically transform the middle east, and in the other, the communists hoped to build a just world--whenever true communism finally arrived.

So I have two questions about your proposal: (1) Is it just? and (2) Will it work?

Outside of the "cultural genocide" bit, you could certainly argue (1). But I'm highly suspicious of (2). Afghanistan is a nasty place to occupy if you step outside of the cities on foot. Perhaps we'd have a better chance of success with a lighter occupation, and a reconstruction closer to the Marshall plan?

[1] "The Black Book of Communism", page 713.

#116 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:20 PM:

For the sake of argument, let's say everyday Afghanistan is responsible for 9/11.

They killed three thousand innocent civilians, destroyed a major center of finance, and a major government building, in an unprovoked act of war.

We, on the other hand, killed ten times that many civilians, and added to that beatings, rape, and torture. They destroyed two buildings, we destroyed many times that, including major infrasture, bridges, mosques, roads, and whole towns. Added to which we destroyed electricity, plumbing and sewage, took over the country's major export, allowed the destruction of their major cultural and historical artifacts, and dismantled much of government, law enforcement, and their entire military. We allowed their borders to go unprotected and let in heavily armed bad guys. And oh yes, we started a civil war. All of which was an unprovoked act of war.

So, you believe everyday Afghanistan deserves cultural genocide. I hesitate to ask what we deserve.

#117 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:24 PM:

Jim, I like you very much, but if so many people are suggesting your measures either A: Go too far, B: Are aimed at the wrong target (or C: Both), you might want to consider the possibility they're right.

On first reading your proposal, I thought "On September 12-30, 2001, I would have supported that," even with the language mention -- since I was presuing it would be more along the lines of giving all the people a common language, not of entirely destroying their own (again, more like India than like the other examples suggested).

But that's because at the time of the attack, and moreso with the media's reaction, I, like so many others, equated Afghanistan with the terrorists in question.

Seeing the actual invasion of Afhganistan, and the failure of this to do more to Al Qaeda but remove some lieutenants and shift their base of operations, put paid to that idea. If we don't know better now, we never will.

But the people here who are pointing out that blaming the nation for the actions of someone they let in as a guest is wrong, well, they're right for the most part (It might change to some degree if you, or anyone, could conclusively prove that the nation not only kept to their own hospitality laws after the fact, but knew exactly what their guest intended to do, in explicit detail, beforehand -- rather than just knowing their general political bent and aspirations.)

And those who point out that the culture you're advocating smothering is not the one that created the problem are even more right. That's definitely a problem.

#118 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:27 PM:

I don't think it is actually possible to eradicate language by force or by decree.

Languages can die - or can be born - but they seem to do it organically. This has to do with the way people learn and use them - you can't effectively legislate against mothers singing lullabyes to their babies in the forbidden language nor force people to use a language they learn as adults for the communication of emotion (although English would work well for all technical matters).

That said, if English is made to be the official language of courts and business, of all things-that-get done and things-that-get-fixed, it would become a strong second language soon - and eventually would take over primacy.

All other aspects of your proposal are fine, JamesD. That one is unenforceable so should be removed - so that the rest would WORK.

#119 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:37 PM:

All of which was an unprovoked act of war. ... I hesitate to ask what we deserve.

What we got: A war.

Need I mention that I think that all of Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney's actions from 12 Sep 01 to date have been wrong?

#120 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Eh, this is something I wrote up yesterday, and then I thought, Are we talking about the rightness of the war on Afghanistan here? Not necessarily. But today we are, so:

1. Four men alleged to be members of Al Quaeda were convicted in American courts of bombing the African embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And this was in June and July of 2001, when they still had lawyers and the right to face their accusers and everything. The prosecutor's name: Patrick Fitzgerald.

18 others wanted in connection with the case were hiding in Afghanistan, among them Bin Laden. In May of 2001 the Taliban said they would never hand him over. This made it a matter of nations clashing, and when the more peaceful tools of clashing nations (such as diplomacy and sanctions) failed, war was an appropriate response.

2. I remember that e-mail that was going around in the late 90s (something like it here). Sent by liberals, invariably: the "I was a woman doctor in Afghanistan before the Taliban... Now I'm a prisoner in my own house. So many of us are killing ourselves in despair. Please, please, help us." How were we to help these women?

---

I agree with James D. Macdonald that the war on Afghanistan was right. I agree with him that there should be more money poured into infrastructure there. When I marched in the Iraq war protests in the fall of 2002, I was carrying a sign that said "Fix Afghanistan First/Marshall Plan for Afghanistan".

The cultural imperialism is overboard, and a waste of time and money. All we have to do is get them all televisions and computers or jobs so they can buy their own televisions and computers and they'll learn English and adopt as much of our culture as they can take. I'm secure that Western culture can win just fine all by itself, without applying any force save economic.

#121 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:51 PM:


Some reading/analysis of the cause of the uprising in Afghanistan in 1978-79 -- the one that the CIA funneled money to, and which ended up provoking the Soviets into rolling in to support their satellite state government -- would be informative. You know that the proximate causes of the rebellion in the provinces were attempts at land and dowry law reform? They're as crazy-independent as Texans like to think they are.

I think it's a bit misleading to say that the uprising is what caused the Soviet invasion. The Soviets invaded in order to secure a change of government, in part because they were afraid that a formerly loyal client state was drifting out of their control because of factional fighting within the government (more specifically, because of a coup that eliminated the a "loyal" leader and left someone the Soviets didn't trust in charge). That's why one of the first elements of the Soviet invasion was a large-scale assault, launched from the Kabul airport, on the Afghan presidential palace and other centers of government, with the (successful) aim of killing the current leader and eliminating his loyal supporters within the government.

#122 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:55 PM:

On the other hand, Madeline... If we had not lost interest in Afghanistan after the Soviets left... If we had not lost interest in Osama Bin Forgotten after training him... Some of what's going on MIGHT not have happened.

#123 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:06 PM:

Methinks James has lost sight of the point that the government of Afghanistan did not attack or otherwise declare war on the USA -- but that a renegade from Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of local traditions of hospitality and perceived commonality of religious beliefs, chose to hide out there while sending his agents to attack the USA.

To be fair, Al Qaeda seem to have been a lot more closely involved with the Taliban than your analogy suggests. In particular, the majority of people who went through Al Qaeda's camps weren't trained to be urban terrorists and sent off to the West (or Saudi Arabia); they were trained to be soldiers and were loaned out as shock troops to the Taliban for the latter's battles against the Northern Alliance and other local enemies.

So Al Qaeda was somewhere in between a friendly mercenary force and some kind of weird autonomous Foreign Legion for the Taliban. Not an official part of the Afghan government, no; but not just some renegade taking advantage of local customs, either.

There's also at least some evidence that bin Laden was encouraging the Taliban leaders to think that by supporting him in Afghanistan, they were helping to build the glorious future Islamic Caliphate (possibly with the Taliban at the center of things).

#124 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:09 PM:

It benefits the maximum number of people while harming the minimum number.

I remind you of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The first unintended consequence of destroying cultures is...suicide bombers, car bombs, truck bombs, and 2,000+ dead American soldiers.

Also, saying that you think that BushCo is wrong doesn't impress me, when your suggestions are equally evil. You didn't suggest torture, but how else do you think you're going to destroy a language?

#125 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:12 PM:

I know, lets build space colonies and mine asteroids and then everyone will be rich and >>>SLAP!!!

#126 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:19 PM:

The problem with the terrorism issues we're confronting is that they arise from a bottom-up social context; people who are angry get talking to each other, start discussing things they can do or friends they know who can pass on tips and money, and drift further and further towards the idea that violent action will work against their perceived invaders or oppressors.

Traditional nation-state relations rather assume the opposite, that actions result from policy and policy is set from the top down, so that violent actions reflect national-level goals.

The very term "war on terrorism" is so conceptually wrong that it's dangerous. (You might as well declare a "war against people shouting angrily", or a "war on pink".) Terrorism is an emergent social phenomenon, a cultural response to certain stimuli, and if we want to get rid of it we need to both change the culture in which it's rooted and stop pushing the buttons that promote it.

But despite knowing all this ... I didn't protest the Afghan invasion. Despite knowing that trusting the Bushies was stupid, despite of knowing that the invasion would result in a prolonged occupation and a nasty brushfire war in the sticks, despite knowing that they were doing it for all the wrong reasons (google on Hamid Karzai and UNOCAL, if you haven't already): in spite of all that, I couldn't find it in my heart to defend the Taliban. They're just too odious.

The problem with taking a nuanced view of things is that sometimes your nuances make a hypocrite of you.

#127 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:27 PM:

(The rest of mypost above was inadvertantly commented out by a poor choice of SLAP delimeters.)

Short form: I tend to agree with Madeline. Fix things. Give people a stake in things staying fixed.

#128 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:35 PM:

Terrorists in general and suicide bombers in particular are motivated by a sense of injustice and by a perception that their nation is being occupied by foreign invaders Taking this as a definition for Terrorists - one who is motivated by a sense of injustice - I do wonder what motivates the American Friends Service Committee?

Then too I would consider many present and past Algerians whose actions inspire terror or some of the militias in Africa (or South America) today as terrorists. These groups certainly have aims and motivations but it is not obvious to me that the child soldiers in Africa or their leaders are motivated by a sense of injustice nor that their aim is justice. I'd go along with discussion in Star Ship Troopers on the causes of war including population pressure when I look at Darfur as a war over water rights and lebensraum. Rape as a weapon in conflict motivated by a sense of injustice seems absurd to me. Given a definition for terrorists that excludes what I call death squads I'd be lost for words. Of course one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter but is that division so strict that we cannot agree on even one death squad as terrorist?

Seems to me that defining suicide bomber as: one who is motivated "by a perception that their nation is being occupied by foreign invaders" - leads to an interesting notion of their nation when applied to Reed the shoe bomber or to the Tamils and their victims (or is it oppressors?) in Sri Lanka.

I'd go so far as to sometimes distinguish the motivation for instigators and for those who accomplish suicide bombing. I'd do this based on the published interviews with repentent or simply forestalled bomb carriers as well as family interviews.

Finally, if someone comes into my territory and punches me in the face and proposes to continue then I will make that person stop - and notice that the English language sometimes refers to say the .45ACP as a man stopper because the idea to stop the man. If I go into another's territory improperly and get bounced then I won't shoot the bouncer. Where I live the debate is over territorial rights and properly and improperly not over the stopping. In other places the debate continues - Martin case and current debates continue.

Obs SF - Languages of Pao and IMHO people don't give enough weight to the Deathworld Trilogy as a commentary on Vietnam and by extension the application of force to make change - first force creates its own opposition (Saye's Law generalized?) then foreign technology changes culture then real change doesn't come easy. Real change leaves lots of real blood on the hands and the omelet really does require breaking eggs. I'm not one to send forth the best ye breed and I wouldn't have committed to staying in Afghanistan or in Iraq en masse. I'd have supported subsidized exports of expertise.

On the other hand to pick inflection points in history - as President on November 5, 1979 I'd have addressed the nation to the effect that the Iranians were holding a number of Marines prisoner and any Marine who didn't want to go get them immediately could have a general discharge immediately - the other services to support and any other Americans in Iran would be brought home alive or dead in the course of the action.

#129 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:40 PM:

(It might change to some degree if you, or anyone, could conclusively prove that the nation not only kept to their own hospitality laws after the fact, but knew exactly what their guest intended to do, in explicit detail, beforehand -- rather than just knowing their general political bent and aspirations.)

Hmm. So, starting with Madeline F, several people started making, if not that particular point, then logical connections of a like bent. Hmm. It might well change (It's not, after all, like I regret the destruction fo the Taliban, just the absence of reasonable replacement or significant rebuilding).

The second part - that Bin Laden is much more a product of Saudi Arabia than of Afghanistan - does hold.

#130 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 03:35 PM:

the destruction of the Taliban
Curiously I don't see the Taliban as destroyed? Deposed yes but not destroyed.

For my money imposed change does entail destruction - destruction far beyond any level I could call creative destruction.

In this country the South fought until it could fight no longer far beyond being a lost cause and long after its high water mark in what was after all only a raid not an invasion of the North.

I've noted references to rebuilding Japan and Germany in these discussions under various thread titles but little talk of just how far down the allies took those 2 countries before starting back up.

Starting back up before enough blood has been shed - enough have died and been seen to die (original Star Trek on wars that are too clean, or the cute story that disintigrators don't deter wolves so well as arrow wounds) doesn't work. That's one reason Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot were mass murderers not just murderers.

I suggest that the great mistake of what some call Jacobins sometimes called Neo-Cons in the current conflicts was a belief in making omelets without breaking eggs and so an effort to stir unbroken eggs into a light frothy mix. Unpopular though it make me in this company I think the same people believed they could make an omelet without breaking eggs before those people were "cons". Madeline Albright on "boy scouts".

I'd say if it wasn't worth the destruction of the Taliban - if you strike at a king kill him - then indeed we are doing something wrong - debate whether morally or practically at leisure but that's just semantics.

#131 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 04:04 PM:

Up above somewhere, Bryan asked about when did cultural genocide not come connected with actual genocide.

In Canada, Bryan.

In the early part of the 20th century, the government of Canada and the Catholic Church created a program of residence schools, set up to make an entire generation of Native children into well-indoctrinated pseudo-Europeans, equipped with everything they needed to join the great white culture as contributing citizens. To this end, they were collected into the schools and prevented from seeing their families (sometimes for a decade or more at a time), prevented from using their own languages or practicing any portions of their own cultures (on pain of punishment) and given instruction in English, history, math, etc., as well as made to wear clothing and hairstyles as approved by the indoctrinating culture.

To say that these efforts failed is to understate the monstrosity of what these children went through. Whole generations of children from some communities went through this program (I think the last residence school closed in the 1970's). As a result, those communities went into meltdown, with families disintegrated, social systems dissolved, and self-reliance crippled. Alcoholism, criminal behavior and suicide rates all skyrocketed, and these effects are still seen in families that are *three generations* removed from the residence schools.

Not to mention the deaths that occured in the schools from excessive punishments, or the sexual abuse that was also rife within them.

Most of the survivors of these schools don't speak their own languages... and they regret it. Many do not connect with either their own culture--if any portion of it is still around--and they don't connect with European-inspired white culture, either. And many are involved in long, protracted lawsuits against the Catholic Church and the government of Canada, and likely will be until they all die off. --Then their descendants will be the ones suing for compensation, and so on, and so on....

Physical genocide was never the aim in the residence schools--they were strictly for 'Their Own Good, Because Their Way Isn't The Right Way'. But somehow, thousands of First Nations people (their preferred term) died anyway, and many more are so damaged that they don't function anywhere near to the goal of 'contributing citizens'.

****

Jim, I usually think what you have to say is interesting and informative, but this time, you're so wrong you aren't even on the right planet. If you want to commit cultural genocide, you give the receiving culture lots of good reasons to abandon the way they do things *without* destroying their own sense of self worth. That way, they'll ask *you* for more, and the only people grumbling will be the old folks muttering about, "Kids these days...!"

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 04:29 PM:

I wonder why that aspect of Canada's History wasn't covered in the classroom when I lived there, Renee. Then again... Since that assimilation program was set up by the Catholic Church, teaching about it would have basically made people start questionning the Church's wisdom. (Why didn't the Curch of England have its own program, by the way?)

#133 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 04:43 PM:

Serge: probably for the same reason that the Swedish eugenics program -- which only ended in the 1970s -- wasn't exactly part of the classroom curriculum there, and the Irish Potato Famine didn't feature to any great extent in the history syllabus I was fed in [English] secondary school.

#134 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 04:44 PM:

Serge,

We learned about the program that Canada used to "Westernize" the native tribes in my "Health Ethics and Law" class last year. And we had a gentleman who had gone through the program come and speak to our class about it.

The gentleman who spoke to us was one of those who reacted the what had been done to him with violence and aggression, and only later in his life seeing that violence wasn't going to solve those particular problems.

Other thing they did was forced sterilizations done without the premission or even knowledge of the women involved.

I don't have my class notes and books here, but I can look them up at home if you would like references.

#135 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:03 PM:

Thanks, Michelle and Charlie. Of course, people prefer focusing on the positive stuff... This reminds me of a conversation I had a year ago when I visited a friend back in Quebec (after a 9-year absence). We got to talk about Iraq and we reached the conclusion that America probably is no good at empire-building because of the Story of our Origin.

Our ruler became a tyrant so we threw him out and became our own rulers.

That's it in a nutshell. Of course I know that the reality was much more complicated, but Stories are what defines us.

#136 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:12 PM:

The Residential Schools were run for the government by several churches -- RC's, Anglicans, United Church, and at least one other.

There is considerable litigation over the schools, but most of it to date has been over incidents of physical and emotional abuse which, although repeated in many different schools, were neither universal nor part of the formal "policy" of the government. Churches which ran the schools have been found liable on the basis of responsibility for their agents. There are pending lawsuits about "cultural genocide", but it looks as though these are likely run into the objection of "discloses no cause of action known to the law" and most if not all of the settlements to date have explicitly not included this claim.

I learned about the residential schools generally -- this was long before any litigation involving abuse -- in Grade 13 history in 1975.

The old saying about "good intentions" applies here doubled, redoubled, and in spades. One of the troubling things is that the opposite policy of preserving native communities with little regard to the demands of outside Anglo (or Quebecois) society has also been unsuccesful, usually for economic reasons. Lots of approaches have been tried, many involving providing significant amounts of money to the First Nations, but no approach has, so far, been succesful overall.

It is not unique. One can also look into (for example) the French treatment of the Bretons and the Basques, or the Australians' treatment of the aboriginals, although in many cases the approach taken involved less massive transportation to residential environments (which is expensive on a per-person basis) and more the strict imposition of cultural rules on all aspects of public life.

#137 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:13 PM:

A culture is a hard thing to get rid of. More ruthless people than modern Americans have tried and failed. The required brutality of performing a culturectomy on an unwilling populace pretty much ensures that you'll wind up with a bigger problem than you started with. That thing in Chechnya doesn't seem to be going so well for the Russians...

What you can do with a culture is slowly pull the rug out from underneath it. Hollywood (by which I mean Western visual media) has learned how to make optical crack: we can decry Paris Hilton and reality TV all we want but people will watch it until their eyes cross. Those skills, that craft can be used, and not simply as a blunt instrument. Could Serbian nationalism have gotten the traction it did if "Vuc Lazarevic" and "Despot Stefan" were characters that appeared on children's jammies and in goofy cartoons, as well as history?

What needs to be done, if you want a population to set aside the past, is to convince them that tomorrow will be better--lots better--with new habits, ways, and goals. It's slow. It's tedious. And shooting people hasn't ever done the trick. Today has to be better than yesterday, which has to be better than last week.

Afghan culture is mostly fine; what needs to be sanded down is belligerent tribalism supported by apocalyptic religious fervor. And that needs to be sanded down nearly everywhere.

#138 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:18 PM:

Sad to say, the Canadian schools for First Nations children were modeled on a plan begun and widely adopted in the United States in the 1860s. The first of those schools was based on a program designed to brainwash ("educate") Native Americans who were captured by the US Army as prisoners of war. The Canadian peoples have done a better job of collecting stories and making the history known, but all of the same things happened in the US.

#139 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:45 PM:

Even aside from thinking cultural genocide is wrong --

Err. Okay. There are some things I regard (in, I confess, defiance of what seems to be one of the ruling axioms of the internet, but hey) as morally questionable to calmly discuss on their merits, as this can lead to giving the impression that they might have some --

Aside from the fact that cultural genocide is an appalling moral wrong and that deliberate, premeditated cultural genocide is a concept so obscene that I can only reconcile my firm belief that Jim is a good and decent man with this suggestion by assuming that his logic has slipped a large cog he hasn't located yet, but will soon, somewhere in there -- ok, I can live with that --

-- ASIDE from all that, Mrs Lincoln --

Were the United States to decide upon, plan, and successfully carry out a deliberate, conscious, premediated act of cultural genocide -- and I find it unlikely that they would completely succeed, the attempt more usually seems to produce a bastard, twisted stepchild of a culture with most of the violent and isolationist and change-resistant features of the original culture turned up to ten -- but if it were to do this thing?

And then make it clear that it were prepared to do it again?

I, a pacifist by conviction, nice quiet polite Canadian, friend and lover to a number of US citizens, would conclude that the USA was the greatest danger to the rest of us to have been minted since Rome and set out to bring it down, render it as weak and fragmented and unable to do harm as humanly possible, using every means within my power and conviction, and begin to actively encourage others to do the same, fully aware that this effort, if successful, would almost certainly forever damage or even destroy my own nation.

I... think it unwise to assume that the rest of the world is full of people less brave than I, for I am not very brave.


#140 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:50 PM:

Other thing they did was forced sterilizations done without the premission or even knowledge of the women involved.

That is to say, it DID come connected with actual genocide. Sterilizing the women is a way of getting rid of a particular race; it's slower than gassing them all, but just as effective.

oliviacw, but here it came connected with deliberate acts of genocide in the purest sense. From the massacre of the Pequots by the Puritans, to the wholesale destruction of the native food supply by scum like Buffalo Bill, to the Trail of Tears (which I don't believe was actually intended to result in Cherokees living out west...or anywhere).

#141 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 05:57 PM:

Xopher: Don't forget Kit Carson and his gifts to the Indians of blankets infested with smallpox.

#142 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:14 PM:

Charles Stross: Prior to World War II, eugenics programs were widespread throughout the western world, and common throughout the United States. They typically involved forced sterilization of criminals and the poor. Nobody teaches this here, either, for obvious reasons. I think the Germans are nearly unique in their willingness to learn the dark side of their history--and I admire them tremendously for it.

James MacDonald: The larger problem with your plan was identified by Machiavelli. As he argued in the Discourses, the thing about tilling the fields with salt is that half-measures don't work. Either you destroy the land, and sell the people into slavery, or you make your occupation as benevolent as you can (without sacrificing your objectives). The Romans pretty consistently did one or the other, and succeeded almost everywhere but Judea (where not even Trajan's butchery was sufficient).

Now, stomping out Sharia law and closing the terrorist training camps are necessary if you want peace. Educating the Afghanis, allowing them form trade unions, and de-mining the country are all absolutely praiseworthy. This fits nicely with the "happy Roman" strategy, or the reconstruction of Germany and Japan.

But trying to stomp out the native language and culture belongs in the other Roman playbook, the one that makes the Soviets look like softies. If Machiavelli is to be believed, no good ever came of mixing the two approaches.

And, for what it's worth, I would never do you the injustice of suggesting you approve of anything Bush has done, ever. :-)

#143 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:24 PM:

Strange Synchronicity:

Yesterday's "Law and Order" concerned the investigation of the death of a woman weakened from the side-effects of an I.U.D. doped with a sterilizing agent. The device was inserted by a nurse working for a free clinic who was engaged in her own low-key eugenics campaign.

It was the first episode in a long while that I found genuinely gripping.

#144 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:29 PM:

Renee said: Xopher: Don't forget Kit Carson and his gifts to the Indians of blankets infested with smallpox.

Is that something actually attested anywhere? The only historically plausible charge of whites knowingly handing out smallpox-infested blankets with the hope of causing an epidemic that I'm aware of is Jeffrey Amherst, British commander in North America, suggesting this to a subordinate in 1763. There's at least some evidence that the subordinate (Colonel Henry Bouquet) did in fact attempt this.

#145 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:40 PM:

There's at least some evidence that the subordinate (Colonel Henry Bouquet) did in fact attempt this.

A quick pass through Google indicates that Bouquet probably didn't try this, but another officer, named Ecuyer, did. (Microbiologists question whether this could succeed. Smallpox is apparently transmitted person-to-person, and viruses are more fragile than bacteria like those causing anthrax and plague.)

#146 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:41 PM:

Peter Erwin: A casual Google search says yes, Carson did this, in Taos, New Mexico.

It also says he contracted the disease himself, and another snippet seems to imply that the disease was already among the Ohio tribes at the time. I'll research this more later.

#147 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:53 PM:

What's wrong with: It's your custom to burn widows; it's our custom to hang people who do?

I'd be interested in a reasoned defense of Thuggee and the Assassins (a, perhaps the, prime example of what it takes to change some cultures).

Native Americans in North America certainly had fertility rites that compared unfavorably with a Hell's Angels initiation - should they be preserved in current society? Flower Wars to compete with Roller Ball on pay per view? Anybody who wants to take up arms or bombs in defense of polygamy in Utah can likely find somebody on this board to put them in touch - bearing in mind that nobody here has been defending a sitting Judge with three wives say.

The Catholic Church acted improperly in schools in Canada as described above to my knowledge. I don't know but I believe the tales and movies about the Magdalenes in Ireland. On the other hand the Jesuits for 200 years tried to preach to the indigenous populations of Central and South America in their native tongues - much as Moody Bible has done something to preserve language.

I'd grant that Cody was notoriously unfaithful to his family and something of a fraud but notice the animal population kills currently attributed to residents long long before Columbus or the modern horse. I'd suggest that Cody deserves far less credit/blame for killing bison and more as a showman who gave halfway decent jobs to Sitting Bull and such.

We'll just have to disagree on the intent of the Trail of Tears. Given actual numbers it was a notorious failure at genocide. Why I've even been to schools with Cherokee whose family never made that trip at all.

The required brutality of performing a culturectomy on an unwilling populace pretty much ensures that you'll wind up with a bigger problem than you started with IFF you don't use "[t]he required brutality" but something less. Depends on the size and isolation of the populace. Speaking of the Catholic Church look at the stories of Jews baptized young at the individual level.

It's just as hard for me to believe that what is to be done is to deliberately set off a revolution of rising expectations - cf Paris this week. Obs SF without Mycroft Holmes we can't be sure what to do - tit for tat games well in iterated games.

#148 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:07 PM:

I'd grant that Cody was notoriously unfaithful to his family and something of a fraud but notice the animal population kills currently attributed to residents long long before Columbus or the modern horse. I'd suggest that Cody deserves far less credit/blame for killing bison and more as a showman who gave halfway decent jobs to Sitting Bull and such.

Cody and his gang of state-sponsored terrorists killed the bison on a wholesale level, by whole herds. They skinned them so they could claim their bounties (I think), but left the rest to rot. They did this with the specific intention of starving the Indians to death.

If there's a hell, Cody is burning in it.

#149 ::: Oskar ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:12 PM:

I can't believe that the pros and cons of committing crimes against humanity by way of a punitive measure against innocent people is seriously being discussed here.

James, you're the same kind of megalomaniac as the neocons and the neolibs.

Democracy and Western culture may be great things to those who believe in them, but spreading them with the sword is tantamount to spreading Christianity with the sword.

The question whether it can be done successfully is entirely irrelevant.

#150 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:18 PM:

PJ Evans said: A quick pass through Google indicates that Bouquet probably didn't try this, but another officer, named Ecuyer, did. (Microbiologists question whether this could succeed. Smallpox is apparently transmitted person-to-person, and viruses are more fragile than bacteria like those causing anthrax and plague.)

Ah, well, my "quick pass through Google" mentioned Bouquet and not Ecuyer. One of the problems with Googling: it's hard to be sure you've seen all the right sources, even if you can successfully avoid all the erroneous ones.

My understanding is that the smallpox virus can linger in clothing, making blanket-based transmission at least possible. This FAQ from the CDC mentions the possibility, though it says this is not a common route of transmission and later says that the virus is indeed "fragile."

Whether and how often people actually tried this, and how often it actually worked, is something else again.

I've found references in US military medicine textbooks (e.g., here or here [PDF file]) to Confederates who apparently plotted to sell both smallpox-contaminated and yellow-fever-contaminated clothing to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Since yellow fever is only spread by mosqitoes, the yellow-fever plots would have failed completely even if they were carried out.

#151 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:26 PM:

Peter: found here:

INDIANS AND SMALLPOX (8 posts) (xIEAHCNET)
April 16-27, 1995

Includes references.

#152 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:30 PM:

James D. MacDonald writes: That is where I place my loyality: With those who are so sworn.

Ah, yes. There's that "transitivity of trust" problem, again. Alice is loyal to Bob, and Bob unquestionably is loyal to the Constitution, therefore Alice is loyal to the Constitution. Easy as cake.

#153 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 07:46 PM:

Dave Luckett writes: Please understand also that I am not entitled to any opinion as to the impeachment of a President of the United States.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. There are a few people who are prohibited by law from expressing such opinions— and if you're one of them, then I would encourage you to meet what remains of your contractual obligation, then resign your commission, or otherwise terminate your service, at your earliest available opportunity, because there are at least two layers of scum at the top of your chain of command.

Otherwise, if you're not one of those people, then your silence is acceptance.

#154 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 08:34 PM:

P J:
Wow, looks like a pretty good find (discussions among actual historians!).

So it appears that Amherst's suggestion to Col. Bouquet -- and the latter's reply suggesting he might try it -- has gotten confused in some accounts with Captain Ecuyer's separate but nearly(?) simultaneous act.

(I'd also be willing to believe that the transmissibility of smallpox via clothing is still an unsettled issue, and that the CDC FAQ is (sensibly) erring on the safe side.)

#155 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 08:51 PM:

I don't think so.

Cody himself was under contract to feed railroad people so the carcasses were used. While young and shooting bison in the west Cody was neither a leader nor a member of a gang (he did keep several buffalo skinners busy) in any significant meaningful sense of the word. Cody was a businessman who found success as an entertainer. Cody was involved in buffalo hunting only briefly although with some success.

The majority of buffalo hunters were hide hunters whose assistants (gang if you insist) skinned the animals (see the images from Dances with Wolves) so the hides could be used for belting leathers - absolutely and positively nothing to do with bounties - in those days the authorities did not waste money paying for what the market would buy at high prices. First the water mills and later electric motors would drive a central shaft - often just under the vee of the roof - down the middle of a room and flat leather belts would be driven off the central shaft and drive the machines of the industrial revolution. Hence the reference to belting leather in high end luggage (Hartman?) today. No bounties at all.

No bounties involved. Though I can't read their minds from here the hide hunters seem to history to have been entirely mercenary, although many enjoyed the lifestyle, with no animus toward either the local population (with whom they often intermarried for some values of married see Bent son of Bent's Fort who was present for the Indians at Sand Creek) or the animals - given that at Adobe Walls and such there were some conflicts - but notice that Adobe Walls is remembered as almost unique (and involved only a handfull of buffalo hunters) - and the shot is unusual if not unique.

So far as I know there was substantial encouragement given by the U.S. government, often in the form of the local military, to the hide and food hunters. The buffalo shooters relied on protection and resupply from Federal sources and I believe the U.S. bought more buffalo meat than it really needed to encourage hunting but also to feed not to starve the local Indian population. The Indians were discouraged from moving around and following the herds as they had done for a couple centuries since getting the horse. The acknowledged intent was to concentrate - see the discussion on changing culture - not to starve the Indian but to make them dependent.

Notice that prior to getting the horse the lifestyle, culture if you will, was substantially different. Introducing foreign technology will change culture sometimes.

#156 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 10:41 PM:

So -- Jim Macdonald is a successful troll.

Just some minor points -- hard-surface roads are very expensive, and their maintenance is quite expensive in mountains with lots of freeze-thaw cycles. No point in building more and better roads than the afghan economy can maintain, unless we intend to subsidise them indefinitely like israel, or let it all fall apart.

So we'd want to build up the afghan economy somehow. I can hardly imagine how. Their location is not very good for international trade and their local resources are poor. That land just isn't worth much unless you want to invade russia from india or vice versa.

If we wanted something like Jim's idea, we'd do better to relocate the afghans and their flocks to the Rocky Mountains. Not for 100 years, the ones born here would be citizens and could do what they wanted. While they were in the USA they could learn english or not, buy TV sets or not etc, like our other immigrants.

And then the next time we wanted to do that sort of thing we could move somebody else into afghanistan. Maybe we'd go into myanmar and deport the Shan to afghanistan and the Chin to the Rocky Mountains. Then we'd be all ready to deport the Chechins to myanmar....

But in a way this is silly. When we joined the UN we agreed not to do such things. No ethnic cleansing. No invasions without very very good reason. Somehow I doubt the UN would think that temporarily refusing to give up some international criminals would be justification for a 100 year occupation or for ethnic cleansing either one.

Of course, in 2001 we had a lot of folks who believed that we were the only superpower and we could do whatever we wanted, and if the UN didn't like it we'd dissolve the UN and if any combination of nations didn't like it we'd bomb them into submission. I was hearing that a lot in those days. When people argued invading iraq they argued whether it was the right thing to do, but hardly anybody argued that it might cost us more than we wanted to pay. We were mostly sure we could just roll in and smash things and have it all our way. "Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...." It seems like the distant past, far more than 4 years ago.

Oh well. Jim's idea of telling the marines about marines held prisoner in Teheran and letting them invade iran gives yet another chilling glimpse at what our marines have become. They are loyal to the Marines only, and to argue that they aren't a clear and present danger to the USA we have to argue that what's good for the Marines is good for the USA. It's looking increasingly clear that we must disband the marines forever, and replace them with some other elite group that has its head on straighter.

See, I can troll too.

#157 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 10:43 PM:

j h woodyatt: I regret that I must differ. Everyone is not entitled to an opinion on that matter. I am not entitled to an opinion as to the impeachment of the President of the United States because that is a matter solely for the citizens of that nation, among whom I do not have the honour to be included.

#158 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 11:00 PM:

Oh, so just because you aren't a U.S. citizen, that should mean you're not entitled to tell us what we should be doing about our President?

You're wrong. 'Cause, believe me, Dave— the citizens of the U.S. feel no such compulsion against telling you what to do about your government. Hell, in this country, we worry about people who think Americans shouldn't make the government of other countries into their own business. We call them "dirty hippies," usually—

#159 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 11:36 PM:

Dave, because we're in America, everyone is entitled to freedom of speech and thought, or was last time I looked. that's the bottom line, period. Any less is against the Constitution. Until amended by whim of the current fascists* who run our government. (*I got that definition from someone else here earlier, see below.). I'm really really pissed off by our current government, they are not anyone I'd vote for if someone paid me to do it. And the guys who were elected from my side are rolling over and letting the bad guys take advantage. it sucks. Big time.

While communism is the control of business by government, fascism is the control of government by business. My American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as 'a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership together with belligerent nationalism.' Sound familiar?
-- Robert Kennedy, Jr.

#160 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:04 AM:

Ah. With respect, Paula, you confuse the immortal and glorious words of your great Constitution with what is allowed to a guest. I am a guest here. It is not for me to comment on any way on the domestic arrangements of my hosts. It is for them, and for them alone, to set their house in order, should they feel the need.

Insofar as the actions of the government of the United States affect my own country, or the world in general or me in particular, I may comment. Any implication on my part to the effect that the citizens of the United States should change their government, its system, its personalities or its offices, would be at best presumptuous.

Pace j h woodyatt, I cannot recall an instance where a citizen of the United States has not reciprocated that rule. No doubt it may have occurred, in which case I trust it was politely ignored.

#161 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:33 AM:

That wasn't Jim about tell it to the Marines - that was my take and my choice on an inflection point to fight some aspect of the current issues in alternate history. Just what do you think the Marines have always been but the President's bully boys? (paging Smedley Butler)

cost us more than we wanted to pay. We were mostly sure we could just roll in and smash things and have it all our way There is a real difference between cost us more than we wanted to pay and being the best use of our resources. Does anybody seriously doubt that the United States can indeed just roll in and smash things? See again Albright, boy scouts and the armed forces are world class at "breaking things and killing people" - and if the armed forces are the tool used then people will indeed be killed and many things broken - some of them us. I've given some specific examples you almost certainly never read about of the death of innocents elsewhere on these boards.

There is also a moral guilt in those who fail to discourage aggression - perhaps the Falklands might have been forestalled; the first Gulf War almost certainly need not have happened save the United States implied the way was open. An appearance of weakness might be as much an invitation to sin - thank God for the fleas - as an unfenced swimming pool be an attractive nuisance.

#162 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 01:15 AM:

On the historiography of Buffalo Bill.

The man died a universally acclaimed hero - command performances before the crowned heads of Europe including flying the American flag in England at the express permission of Queen Victoria - said to be the first ever such display. By his own account he killed just over 5,000 bison and they all went to feed construction workers - no doubt some was wasted and others spoiled but all killed for food.

Within about 10 years of his death Cody had been pretty thoroughly debunked - certainly a womanizer and according to his business partners a shady dealer in general.

With no place to go but up his reputation did indeed start up. Among others Vine Deloria Jr. has written that Cody treated the indians as well as any and presented them as well as any in the wild west show and to a world audience.

I do know that Cody maintained a breeding herd of bison and gave breeding pairs to zoos and such. Given the time lapse I suspect as many bison owe their particular existence to Cody as he killed - that may be an exaggeration of number but if not true today it will be soon.

#163 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:07 AM:

I can't believe that the pros and cons of committing crimes against humanity by way of a punitive measure against innocent people is seriously being discussed here.

I can't believe that someone thinks that building schools, mosques, and roads, and providing basic civil services and jobs is a "crime against humanity."

Get real.

#164 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 05:13 AM:

well the main thing that bothered me about James's suggestion was the English, a secondary thing that bothered me was the American Constitution bit - given that there are other models of Democracy. Why does it bother me so much though?

As a citizen of a country where people speak a strange language and where various things are done differently than in accordance with the political will of the American people I worry when American political statements tend to the messianic.


Ann Coulter made the suggestion that the U.S should invade, kill their leaders, and convert them all to Christianity. It seems to me that James is making the same suggestion, only of course his particular good thing is American-style Democracy that will be imposed (seemingly ignoring that there are other forms for Democracy to take).

Now when I think about it, isn't this one of the main suggestions of the Bush administration? That American-Style Democracy be imposed (hard to impose something one does not understand or like, but it does seem to be one of the hazy theories they operate under)?

This is actually the reason why I am glad Bush is the American president, as opposed to someone like James or John Kerry. I believe this theory of imposing American-style democracy, a variant of American Exceptionalism, is very much a part of current American society (I base this statement on having lived in the U.S for 20+ years in various parts of the country, although I left approximately 7-8 years ago), this meddling attitude could of course be quite beneficial in societies that have totally fallen apart but I worry also that the meddling will be applied to societies that seem to function just well without American intervention, and as I live in one of these I don't appreciate the attitude at all.

Given my fears about American Exceptionalism I am glad that the current exponent of it in the White House is an incompetent who is totally incapable of changing course when pragmatism dictates. He will continue his program despite all evidence of its failure, even as it thouroughly destroys his ability to work his will elsewhere, until such a time as the ability of the U.S to do anything but bluster and get laughed at is gone. Huzzah! If, on the other hand the neo-colonial program espoused by James were in the hands of suitably competent people they might not succeed but they would probably be able to keep it running for a long time and not destroy their country in the process.

I realize of course that James does not see this as an application of a neo-colonial dream, that this in his view is basically only caused by an attack on his country. I see it however as the attack being used to justify what otherwise would be more manifestly unjust. As an excuse to realize hidden desires for the improvement of a messy, recalcitrant world.

#165 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 05:38 AM:

I am reminded of a pre 9/11 Onion article proposing how to deal with all the insoluble conflicts in the world. The wiseacres at the Onion decided to place all warring factions in the world into Israel/Palestine for a 'no holds barred' contest, where one warring sect would emerge victorious from the fray.

Apostasy to contemplate these days.

#166 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 07:49 AM:

While most Americans believe that free speech (including the right to criticize our government) is guaranteed to all by our Constitution, the Supreme Court has in fact ruled that that right applies only to citizens. The remedy for non-citizens speaking out against the government is deportation. This was implemented against someone from Canada back in the 1980s; I don't remember the details.

Some of us think that ruling went against the intention of the framers, and very notion of American freedom. We patriots believe that the Bill of Rights must apply to anyone within our borders in order to have meaning. "No one is free until everyone is free." I'd even argue that another Constitutional Amendment is needed, to the effect that the rights outlined in Amendments 1-10 apply to all persons within the United States, its Territories, and its areas of control, regardless of their citizenship or national origin. But that's not the current state of the law as given by the Supremes.

So no, Dave Luckett does not have a legal right to criticise our government; I'd maintain that he certainly does have a moral right to do so.

#167 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 09:24 AM:

Well, no; Dave has both a legal and a moral right to criticise your government, as long as he does it from (say) the UK. If he does it in the US, then he could be deported.

"...Thus died Jan Masaryk, who said during the war: "My war aims are very simple. I want to go home. And I want to be able to ride in a tram down Wenceslas Square and say to my neighbour, 'You know, I don't think much of our present government.'"

#168 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 10:00 AM:

I can't believe that someone thinks that building schools, mosques, and roads, and providing basic civil services and jobs is a "crime against humanity."

It isn't. Destroying a culture is. I'm not the one who needs to get real here.

#169 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:22 PM:

I don't see how you can build mosques for them if you're intent on destroying their culture.

#170 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:36 PM:

Xopher, I'd argue that the Constitution does not grant rights to people so much as it places limitations upon the government. So my right to free speech isn't something in me, it's a lack of authority on the government's part to interfere with my speech.

If we think of rights as residing in people, it makes some sense to ask why non-citizens should get the same rights as citizens. If we think of rights as the absence of government authority, it makes sense to ask why the government should suddenly get new powers (and powers not stated in the Constitution) when dealing with non-citizens.

#171 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:40 PM:

I think James was probably suggesting that if you're going to take Afghanistan, you should take it. Conquer the whole country and make it U.S. territory for the next hundred years.

Props to him for only wanting to turn back the clock a hundred years (and not go back before the Treaty of Westphalia, like some people in his former line of work), because there was some virtue to that old discussion we used to have in America before we joined the United Nations and made the issue moot: should the flag follow the Constitution, or should the Constitution follow the flag?

Still, this part of the discussion is where we are drawn once again back into the quagmire of what's wrong with the modern U.N., how it got that way, and what is to be done to fix it. That's an aspect of the topic for this thread that could probably be good for another thousand posts.

#172 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:44 PM:

If we think of rights as residing in people, it makes some sense to ask why non-citizens should get the same rights as citizens.

Personal opinion: Residents, whether citizens or not, should have basic civil rights. They don't get to vote, which is the form of opinion restricted to citizens. (Why should a permanent resident not be allowed to express views?)

#173 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 12:57 PM:

Before I became a citizen of America, I was a resident alien for a few years. No, I couldn't vote. But I paid taxes just like the full citizens. I was subjected to the same laws. So DAMNED if I shouldn't get the same rights.

#174 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 01:24 PM:

No taxation without representation, Serge?

#175 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 01:31 PM:

Where people stood a year ago and what they said then is less important than where they stand today and what they do today and tomorrow.

Admiting that one has done wrong in the past is part of "what they do today and tomorrow". Making amends isn't just a sop to the need to feel good, or vindicated; it is a tangible sign that one has recognized one's bad behavior and wishes to avoid acting badly in the future.

#176 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Actually, Dave, for a resident alien, it's taxation WITHOUT representation since one can't vote. Which sort of makes one into a second-class citizen. But when 'they' talk about not granting the non-voting rights either, that makes the resident alien into the third-or-fourth-lass category. That's not what MY America is about.

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 01:47 PM:

"Why are you here?"
"I am here to fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way."
"Then you'll have to fight every elected official in this country."
"You don't really believe that, Lois."

#178 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 02:09 PM:

"(Why should a permanent resident not be allowed to express views?)"

PJ Evans, in a practical sense when the choice comes whether to deport somebody, some individual has to make that choice. And if they happen to notice things the potential deportee has said, they can hardly help but take it into account.

While it would be very nice if we officially expressed the hope and the wish that resident aliens can say whatever they want, it would be very difficult to actually prevent them from suffering retribution for it.

#179 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 02:41 PM:

J Thomas: Not if they had legal recourse if they did. In the present situation, an alien can be deported if the President is offended by something they say, or prevented from entering the country on the basis of something they might say.

If the Supremes were behind them on Freedom of Speech, they could challenge their deportation or visa denial on the basis that their protected speech was taken into account.

Oh, what am I talking about? We're living in an America where natural-born citizens can be imprisoned without trial on the basis of evidence which the Executive Branch refuses to disclose - effectively, without evidence of any crime - and that means that Free Speech, even for citizens, is at best a polite fiction.

Even in that America, however, I cannot believe that someone I quite like, and found very pleasant in person, could propose cultural genocide as if it were something that any reasonable person-of-good-will could seriously contemplate.

That's painful.

#180 ::: Nancy Wallace ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:09 PM:

I can't believe that someone thinks that building schools, mosques, and roads, and providing basic civil services and jobs is a "crime against humanity."

You seem like an intelligent guy, James, which makes this comment come off as incredibly disingenous. Of course no one thinks that building schools, mosques, and roads is bad--but that's not all you proposed, is it? You're talking about eradicating the language and culture of a people to punish them for something their leaders did. There's no justification for that.

#181 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:14 PM:

Not only "their leaders" -- their oppressors. It's like eradicating Yiddish because it's German and so was Hitler. (Yes, I know he was Austrian.)

#182 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:30 PM:

It's also applying a collective punishment to a population -- a practice that a certain court in Nuremburg took a very dim view of, and hanged several people for.

#183 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:33 PM:

I actually have a contribution [albeit a late one. . .]

I recently read The Speckled Monster recently. It's about the discovery/spread of the smallpox inoculation in the early 18th century. There are well-documented anecdotes[1] about smallpox being spread, most likely through bedding. A sailor died of smallpox, was buried at sea, his bedding and clothes were auctioned off. The winner of the bedding also contracted smallpox and died, and the winner of THAT auction contracted smallpox and died. I believe those were the first three smallpox deaths on that ship, but I don't have the book in front of me.

I heard the "giving smallpox-infected blankets" story in high school, in 1986, under the Jackson Administration and the Trail of Tears. (one of the links Yahoo gave me calls it a fabrication of the mid-90s. Bah.) I expected it to be in Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States" but there was no mention of any intentional smallpox cases other than the British business at Fort Pitt.

It may be a piece of false history, like the 4'4" tall medieval peasants who got married at 13. [2]

[1] I do realize that anecdotes are not data.
[2] my personal favorites. . . based on suits of armor without people in them being shorter than with, and aristocratic families marrying their children at the earliest conceivable age. But you probably knew all this.

#184 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:34 PM:

Nancy Wallace write: ...There's no justification for that.

The justification comes from believing that every Act of War, without exception, requires an escalation in response.

Now, supposedly— we woke up in 1945 and decided, here in San Francisco, to apply brakes to that process before we escalated beyond killing cities to killing the whole planet.

"WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind..."

Regrettably, some people still enjoy the scourge of war so much that they don't want to work within the United Nations anymore. Every time you hear somebody telling you the U.N. should be closed, you should know what it is they're really saying: "we enjoy war, and so should you."

#185 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:36 PM:

For 'enjoy' substitute 'profit from', and you have an even scummier motive, but one which, unfortunately, is really driving here. IMHO.

#186 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:37 PM:

Um, by 'here' I mean 'among the people who think the UN should be disbanded' or whatever, not 'here in this blog'. I don't think Jim has any profit motive for his views on Afghanistan!

#187 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:38 PM:

Argh. Two blatant proofreading errors- and I checked it.

On the topic of "What rights do you have as a noncitizen?"

I appreciate your tact and grace as a guest. I believe that tactless, graceless political discussion is a founding principle of this country.

. . .of course, a few months ago I tried and failed to find the key Supreme Court case where a resident alien has the same rights, when arrested, as a citizen. I'm sorry that I failed; someone should improve the laws around here.

#188 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 03:58 PM:

Ladies and gents, it might be time for a new thread. This one is starting to smell like burning rubber.

#189 ::: Eric Jarvis ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 05:43 PM:

I think it's a tad on the over generalised side. There are nearly as many positions on Iraq and Afghanistan as there are people who have paid any attention to the subjects.

I hold positions that never seem to be mentioned. I was for the invasion of Afghanistan. I am vehemently against the war on terrorism. I have been in favour of military intervention to change the regime in Iraq since the late 80s. I was against the invasion of Iraq without full UN support.

There are two things that always need to be considered. What is morally right, and what is possible. It's not just a matter of doing the right thing. It's also important to do it properly.

My argument is that it wasn't possible to deal with both Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously without making a complete mess of one or both and causing large numbers of unnecessary deaths. It's also wrong to go to war under false pretences. One of the things that has led to so many problems for Vietnam vets is that many feel they were lied to and can't take pride in what they did.

There are probably a good number of reasons why somebody would be for the invasion of Iraq before it happened and against it now. Some may have believed that once an invasion started the UN would have put its weight behind it and the US have turned the occupation over to a genuine multinational force. Some may have expected a much larger force to be used.

I'm inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt on an individual basis. On the other hand a lot of what is in that post resonates with me.

#190 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 10:05 PM:

Yeah, it probably is time to move on to another topic before anyone says anything too divisive.

However, before we do, I'd like to say something in defense of the less popular position in this debate. We've illustrated that it's difficult to compose an ethically defensible argument for propositions along the lines of "Let's eliminate their culture!" Based on the recent dearth of posts defending that position, I'm about ready to conclude that the originators have either reconsidered or been shouted down.

However, I would like to argue that the tendency to allow one's thoughts to drift in that sort of direction from time to time is an inherent part of being a pack animal. Yeah, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" and "don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their moccasins" and all that other happy crappy. But I think it goes a lot deeper than that.

A couple of years ago I was watching one of those making-of specials about the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. Roddy McDowall told an anecdote about how, at lunch breaks, all the people painted up as orangoutans sat with the the orangoutans, the gorillas sat with the gorillas, and the chimpanzees with the et. cetera, regardless of who the person under the makeup was in terms of skin color, religion, or politics. I chatted this over with my brother--a psychologist--and he confirmed that the obvious conclusion has been repeatedly borne out by academic research. Human animals instinctively prefer to associate with human animals whom they perceive as similar to themselves.

Certainly I see examples of this phenomenon daily in the cafeteria at my office. Probably you do too.

It's a stretch to argue that everyone reading this has a culture that they wish to annihilate. However, I would argue that everyone everywhere has a group from which they withold empathy to some degree. Maybe it's child molesters, maybe it's war criminals, or serial killers or the guys who flew the planes into the WTCs on September 11, 2001.

With the advent of the hydrogen bomb, the stakes for mutual understanding, sympathy and respect have gotten a lot higher. But I would argue that at the core of the human mind--yes, yours too--is a pack animal that divides the world into groups of "us" and "them."

Now, it's a fine and admirable goal to attempt to be as inclusive and understanding about other persons as you are able. But if you're going to extend empathy to Afghanis that you'll almost certainly never meet, maybe you should consider extending the same courtesy to participants in this discussion who are, simply and understandably, pissed off that someone attacked their country, their culture and their friends. Hyperbole is not a crime.

Having said all that, I would make the lesser point that the Marshall Plan implemented after WWII was dramatically more successful (both econonmically and in terms of Whirled Peas) than the Treaty of Versailles. Probably there's a lessson in there somewhere.

#191 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 02:38 AM:

It's a complex problem, to which I do not pretend to have answers. What does one do when confronted by a set of - what? cultural values? religious convictions? fundamental beliefs? - that are the product of a specific culture, and that insist that Western secularism is evil and intolerable, and hence that the society is immoral and an offence to God that must be destroyed by any means?

For I think that is what confronts us. It seems to me self-evident (what a useful expression!) that the West cannot co-exist with those beliefs or the cultures that produce them.

#192 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 03:39 AM:

Dave Luckett writes: It seems to me self-evident (what a useful expression!) that the West cannot co-exist with those beliefs or the cultures that produce them.

Finally! Someone agrees with me that Texas must be destroyed!

#193 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 04:02 AM:

"Finally! Someone agrees with me that Texas must be destroyed!"
what's the matter with Kansas?

#194 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 05:53 AM:

Scott H:

"if you're going to extend empathy to Afghanis that you'll almost certainly never meet, maybe you should consider extending the same courtesy to participants in this discussion..."

"The same courtesy..." Yes, quite.

Nobody laid a finger on the gentleman. Nor yet on his culture. Nor as far as I can tell does anyone wish to.

There was a loudish but relatively polite chorus of "Sir! Wash your mouth out! You can't know what you're saying!" And this is all.

I am FOR responding with shock and disapproval when people say dreadful things.

I am AGAINST deliberately setting out to destroy cultures.

And I am EMPHATICALLY AGAINST rhetorical efforts to conflate things that are not at all alike.

Apples and Agent Orange levels of not alike, in this case.

#195 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 05:57 AM:

Also:

However, I would like to argue that the tendency to allow one's thoughts to drift in that sort of direction from time to time is an inherent part of being a pack animal.

Yes. This is what we have friends, and engage in discussion with them, for. One of the things.

So that they will occasionally stop dead and stare at us in shock and say in tones of great horror 'excuse me, but are you LISTENING to yourself?', thus giving us the opportunity to yank ourselves back from the great gaping abyss that is the human capacity for atrocity.

#196 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 10:11 AM:

What does one do when confronted by a set of - what? cultural values? religious convictions? fundamental beliefs? - that are the product of a specific culture, and that insist that Western secularism is evil and intolerable, and hence that the society is immoral and an offence to God that must be destroyed by any means?

Personally, I'm not real fond of Western materialism. I can think of a lot of valid criticisms of the same. I don't support violence, or the destruction of anybody's culture - Western or Islamic.

I also bear in mind that Islam, Christianity and Judaism all sprang from the same roots, and IMO are essentially the same religion.

My hypothesis is that the most vicious hatred and the most violent conflicts arise between groups that share religious or cultural backgrounds, or who are simply in physical proximity.

Northern Ireland. Israel/Palestine. Rwanda. The Balkans.

It's true that humans prefer to associate with those who are similar to them. But it's also true that humans frequently hate those who resemble them. Because they see their own flaws in those people.

#197 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 10:30 AM:

The point I was trying to make was that both sides of the debate were engaging in the same sort of us-vs.-them thinking. The only difference I saw was that JDM was making a 'them' out of people he never met and can't possibly affect, whereas some of the more strident remarks seemed to be aimed at making a 'them' out of their internet acquaintance JDM. I'd venture to guess that some of the remarks stung.

People should by all means debate positions that they find morally reprehensible, particularly when among friends. But I would argue that it's better to do so in a way that doesn't make the debatee feel as if he or she is being cast out of the pack.

Of course, if the underlying motive was not to help a buddy by gently dissuading that person from ethically questionable thinking but rather to get a cheap thrill by asserting one's own moral superiority then the tactics that were employed were perfectly sound.

#198 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 10:47 AM:
"cultural values? religious convictions? fundamental beliefs? - that are the product of a specific culture, and that insist that Western secularism is evil and intolerable, and hence that the society is immoral and an offence to God that must be destroyed by any means?"
Remembering that this, from what I've heard from their supporters, also includes both Catholic & Protestant kinds of Christian Fundamentalism.

I think radical Jewish conservatism only wants to apply itself to Jewish people, and to be left alone in their own land, or in other lands where they have a presence (commemorating 10 years since Begin was killed by an extreme Orthodox supporter, and remembering that Gandhi was also assassinated by a Hindu extremist - again I suspect that this is not proselytising, and wishes to drive Western decadenceas well as Christianity, Islam, etc out of its existing territory, but I don't claim expertise, so comment from knowledgable people might be illuminating.).

#199 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 01:42 PM:

Scott H - you make a good point. So i will declare here that I *am* interested in hearing JDM respond, if he so desires, and will do my best to hear what he has to say without jumping on it unthinking. Nor will one opinion undo all the many and varied good he has done elsewhere.

I also think some of his phrasing has in fact obscured his actual meaning, because, as someone noted, the building of mosques alone would contradict several of the interpretations and implications used here in discussing cultural genocide. Particularly, reread his original post. Among other things it includes an *invitation* for other nations to observe, and even to become involved, in the good and the bad. This isn't Bush's snubbing of nations combined with half-hidden measures and undeclared intentions. I think if anything in his intentions reached the level where it would require a sequel to Nuremberg, that would be noticed, and judged.

I do still think the point that the people of Afghanistan were/are not the attackers merits consideration.

#200 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 03:52 PM:

I think radical Jewish conservatism only wants to apply itself to Jewish people, and to be left alone in their own land, or in other lands where they have a presence (commemorating 10 years since Begin was killed by an extreme Orthodox supporter[...]

Epcaris, Zionist radicalism (to differentiate it from Jewish radicalism, which is another thing entirely) actually wants to toss the remaining 3 million or so Palestinian Arabs out of the land that they call "their own land". This land was almost (but not quite) entirely non-Jewish until the early 20th century.

And the leader who was assassinated a decade ago was Rabin (socialist nationalist leader) not Begin (fiscally conservative nationalist leader).

Begin had been a terrorist working against the British mandate over Palestine (this is before the 1948 establishment of Israel and conquest of Palestine). Rabin's armed militia was at war with Begin's. Begin ended up winning the Nobel peace prize (along with Carter and Saadat) for the peace treaty with Egypt and the declaration of Palestinian autonomy. He died a short while after Ariel Sharon (who was then the minister of defence) tricked the Israeli cabinet into a plan to conquer a big chunk of south Lebanon - apparently, Begin had been appalled at the death toll that this conquest took.

Rabin had been prime minister when the first Intifada started. His order to "break their arms and legs" (about the Palestinians uprising against the occupation) was the matter of quite some Israeli investigative committees. Later - in the 90s - he became instrumental in the Oslo accords, which were heading towards establishing a Palestinian stae. The man who murdered him (Yigal Amir) felt that by signing away the occupied territories, he was "giving away the land of Israel", and therefore was a traitor and killing him was permitted. Apparently, he had rabbinical permission for his action.

In any event, the phrasing "radical Jewish conservatism only wants" any particular thing does a grave injustice to all the Jews who disagree with that desire. And it confuses an ideology (Zionism) with a religion (Judaism).

#201 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 05:52 PM:

Lenora and others: I'll admit to a kneejerk "WTF?!" reaction to JDM's flat pronouncement that he would commit cultural genocide, but I don't think that my comments in opposition were over the top. If they were, I apologize. I'm extremely interested in hearing Mr. Macdonald's reasoning about why it's not an inherently evil proposal and how the US could insure that the supposed benefits wouldn't outweigh the known disadvantages. As I noted in my first reply, Mr. Macdonald knows a lot more than I do on many subjects, the most germane of which is the military. So, while I doubt I'll change my mind, I'm willing to listen to why he thinks it's a good idea, assuming that he's willing to continue the conversation.

#202 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 07:05 PM:

The only difference I saw

Well, that is unfortunate, but clearly not in my power to address.

JDM was making a 'them' out of people he never met and can't possibly affect

Jim is, I collect, a citizen of the US.

It is because of the willingness of altogther too many US citizens to actively support, passively condone, or stand by helplessly and watch as this shit goes down that we are (all) in this mess now.

Tell me again how he can't possibly affect the fate of people halfway across the world?

(Note to my USian friends. Yes, I DO expect you to go the length of revolution in the streets if necessary. It's not like you've never done it before...)

And please provide excessive quantities of supporting detail.

(Yes, Canada has troops there too, though not in Iraq. Mea Culpa. I have yet to forgive myself for having been too slow, too quiet, too chicken, too damned polite, to blast my way through the fog of 'you can't argue with us now, we are VERY UPSET' and do more to stop it.)

whereas some of the more strident remarks seemed to be aimed at making a 'them' out of their internet acquaintance JDM. I'd venture to guess that some of the remarks stung.

Direct quote from Jim:

"I'm well aware that imposing a language means cultural genocide. That's what I was proposing. The annihilation of their heritage."

If anything I said after he said that stung?

Um, yay. Without prejudice to my previously mentioned generally positive impression of the gentleman, "stinging" was precisely where I was going with that, thank you very much.

And I, for one, must respectfully decline to take responsibility for the level of warm sticky all-embracing fuzzy acceptance you seem to be persuaded this debate requires.

I'd venture to guess that if Jim were overly upset about it, he's more than capable of speaking up for himself, and admirably at that. I smell an axe behind your back, sir; care to take it out and grind it in public?

#203 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 07:18 PM:

I must break this habit of following myself up. But. Just to be clear:

Mr MacDonald, from my perspective this is a open and clean, if major, disagreement we are having.

If you feel otherwise and consider that I have gone over the line, please let me know so that I may apologise to you.

And I am sorry for having fallen into the trap of discussing you in the third person.

#204 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 09:46 PM:

Circumstances alter cases, and all that . . . nevertheless, I can't help but note that the last time the obliteration of a local culture was discussed in these precincts (in particular, here and following), the overall tone of the discourse was considerably more approving.

#205 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 11:23 PM:

Debra, I am not so old that I have forgotten the Gretna, LA debate quite like it appears that you have.

In Gretna, the police force kept starving, thirsty people from leaving New Orleans with the bogus rationale that they would destroy their society.

Perhaps you haven't kept up with the news, but the raving hordes of New Orleanians that we were scared with by the MSM, turned out to be mainly bogey man stories.

I would suggest that you go back and take a look at the more sober pieces of journalism that started appearing after the worst of the damage had already been done. Then go read the Brownie emails that came out this week, where he couldn't be bothered to do his goddamned job (and he is still getting paid btw as I type this for "consulting" work. If you still feel that there were ravening hordes ready to destroy civilized society at the drop of a weapon, I really don't know what to do to help you then.


#206 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2005, 11:45 PM:

If you still feel that there were ravening hordes ready to destroy civilized society at the drop of a weapon, I really don't know what to do to help you then.

If a person were to actually re-read the various Katrina threads, he or she would note that I was at no point a proponent of the "ravening hordes ready to destroy civilized society" theory. (Making Light's "View All By" function is particularly helpful in that regard.)

#207 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 12:47 AM:

"Nobody laid a finger on the gentleman. Nor yet on his culture. Nor as far as I can tell does anyone wish to."

I did. I suggested perhaps we ought to permanently disband the Marines.

The Marines are a distinct culture within the USA, subsidised almost entirely by taxpayers, who theoretically "protect" the rest but who in practice may provoke more attacks than they stop.

I'm not sure the Marines should be disbanded, but I believe the question deserves careful consideration, and perhaps we should have a national referendum on the question every 2 years. So long as the referendum is voted down the Marines remain, if it passes once the Marines may never again recruit and never again practice marining, and will be as dead as the Confederate Army when the last veteran dies.

This is more justifiable than destroying afghanistan. For the afghans the two justifications are that they are a deep threat to us (which appears silly but might be true), and that they make a good example to the rest of the world that anybody who attacks us will be erased utterly. (This second is MacDonald's claim, it doesn't so much matter about the afghans themselves as that we make an example of them.)

But for the Marines we have a third justification, that they exist at the will of the US voters and have no excuse to exist against that will.

On the other hand I'm bothered that I'm looking for justifications. I have the idea that by the time you try to justify your means you've already admitted they're wrong.

#208 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 04:08 AM:

Marna — belatedly — yes to your Nov 3rd post. At the time of our invasion of Iraq I said that we had done what was done to us at Pearl Harbor, attacked without a declaration of war and without UN backing, so entirely illegally, by US and international law. (I think. Those with more legal expertise can set me straight.)

But more to the point, we had proved ourselves a major danger to the rest of the world. And by the logic used to justify our "preemptive strike" anyone else in the world would have far better justification for a preemptive strike against us, since we had proved we were a real danger, not a faked up one, to anybody we started making threats against. Iran? Syria? Korea? France?

#209 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 09:11 AM:

J Thomas: Do you mean the Marines, or the US armed forces as a whole? If just the Marines, what makes them different from, and presumably more dangerous than, the rest of the armed forces?

#210 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 09:37 AM:

US law. On this, I defer to others who know.

International law: Simply put, there is no such thing. There are covenants between sovereign nations. These generally last precisely as long as each nation judges them to be in its own self-interest. Each nation, being sovereign, may denounce or ignore such a covenant at any time, with no consequences other than what other sovereign nations at their several discretions may choose to exact. Nearly always this will amount to little or nothing. Occasionally it will involve various actions up to actual hostilities, but if these cause submission, it will be without any consideration of impartial justice.

This is not law, as I understand the term. Law is impartial, enforcible and actually enforced, by some agency that has effective authority and control over the entities concerned, whether they will or no.

#211 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 10:18 AM:

Laura: I used to believe that civil wars were the worst as well, indeed I wrote a book resting on that assumption. I've recently changed this opinion.

The IRA terrorism in London was really horrible to live through. But they phoned in warnings when they were going to bomb. They always had half an eye on the media, and on US popular opinion, where their funding came from. It was most like a civil war and one of your examples -- but it was a damn sight better than the 7th of July tube bombings, with no warning and with suicide bombers.

WWII in Europe was deeply unpleasant. In some ways it can be considered a civil war within Western culture, both sides agreed to the Geneva Conventions, and the treatment of prisoners by both sides was on the whole civilized. In contrast, in the Pacific War, which was a war between civilizations, the allied prisoners were treated appallingly. You can also contrast general treatment of captured populations -- Paris vs Nanking for example. The way the Holocaust fits into this is complex, obviously. But I think if you think in terms of warring countries, there was far less hatred and barbarism in the war in Europe. (Look at the fall of France, in particular.)

Would the US have dropped the Hiroshima bomb on Berlin? Would they have resorted to stuff like Agent Orange in Europe?

The more I think about it and the more I go back further the more it seems that the worst and most brutal wars historically were not civil wars or wars between neighbours who know each other but wars between civilizations.

The same thing that makes civil wars so terrible -- the chosing of sides, fighting over land you know -- also makes them more human, because the other side and the land is known to you, because there is empathy, because they're not faceless enemies you can give a rude name to and hate purely.

I think the reason I was wrong about this in 2000 is mostly because I'd lived through the IRA stuff and I'd never lived through a war between civilizations. Then.

#212 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 10:48 AM:

Jo: you're mistaken about the war in Europe. The Germans systematically starved over three million Russian PoWs to death in 1941-42, for example; for their part, of IIRC 600,000 German soldiers taken prisoner at Stalingrad by the Soviets, only about 30,000 survived the war. Even where the Nazis behaved "better" than on the eastern front, as in the case of France, they were capable of feats of stunning cruelty and barbarity: for example the events at Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane carried out by the SS after D-Day, or the mass deportation and enslavement of French workers prior to D-Day.

As for your assertion about civil wars being more human -- that seeing your enemy up close and personal could be expected to make things more civilized -- alas, this does not seem to be the case. Back when wars were waged with pointy bits of metal at arm's length, the level of brutality was breathtaking; and within living memory, the Rwandan genocide was mostly carried out by means of the mark one machete.

All that distance and a clash of cultures does is to make it easier for those of us who aren't on the sharp end to generalize airily about "those people".

#213 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 11:48 AM:

Charlie: without going into too much detail, I think the contrasts between German behaviour in France and Russia support my point, and in any case certainly don't show that civil war is worse.

Rwanda is genocide, and I think genocide is a different thing, which is why I left the Holocaust out above. Genocide really does come of hating your neighbour. Scapegoating is universal in human culture.

I think in civil war there's just as much hate but it's less anonymous.

#214 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 12:55 PM:

My hypothesis is that the most vicious hatred and the most violent conflicts arise between groups that share religious or cultural backgrounds, or who are simply in physical proximity.

I used to believe that civil wars were the worst as well, indeed I wrote a book resting on that assumption. I've recently changed this opinion.

I'll suggest that using World War II in Europe as a test case depends too much on defining Europe. Former Yugoslavia in or out?

Looking at the lines I've quoted above I'll say that I don't know how to make comparatives out of vicious or violent or indeed out of war. (obs SF - the aliens land and encounter a grizzly bear, decide the Terrans are pretty vicious; watch the grizzly run off by a wolverine, aliens decide the Terrans are really vicious; watch humans treat the wolverine as a pet, aliens decide the Terrans are impossibly vicious and flee the planet)

As I am so fond of saying, I've only met one man who owned up to being a true believer Nazi and he was pretty decent when I knew him. Knew lots of German and Italian military though. It's not obvious to me that it was Nazis at Oradour-sur-Glane given that the folks in the dock for it later were mostly serving French soldiers at the time of trial. Nacht und Nebel on the one hand and Bader's legs on the other hand - there is no gripping hand. We all remember the Christmas in the Trenches from WW I. Americans and Germans sang Christmas songs at each other during the Bulge in 1944 as well but they mostly stayed in their respective holes. In the Pacific the American leadership at Okinawa made some effort to deal with and spare the life of the Japanese Colonel they knew (former Military Attache in DC with lots of American connections) but not otherwise .

During the Swiss internal conflicts - according to the gaming tables the peak of pointy bit fighting - they would famously - if not all that often - break for a shared lunch. The shared lunch points up that the nominally religious (Catholic/Protestant) conflicts were also economic as between the highlands who had the grazing and brought milk and cheese to the table and the lowlands with the croplands who brought bread to the table.

Whole cities known to history only for not opening their gates to the Mongols and so being wiped from the record - more or less civilized? Quantrill and the Jayhawks - more or less civilized?

I'd guess the most violent conflicts occur in a civil war context but that may be related to a more even match. Sacking a city is violent but not so much a conflict.

I don't know about the hatreds - in Europe I knew a Belgian tortured by the Gestapo whose best friend was the most highly decorated German I ever met - but then at the end of his life
Saburo Sakai said Joe Foss was his best friend.

Proximity may make it easier for us to say: (s)he really should know better.

Maybe a hundred year occupation of Afghanistan would be a good way to reshape American cultures (obs SF Space Viking). There was a brief period when a lot of Americans had Grundig home entertainment centers before the Japanese conquered the market - I wonder what the impact on American architecture might have been if people had been encouraged instead of eventually forbidden to bring home armoires as pieces of furniture? War brides make burqas fashionable?


#215 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 01:23 PM:

To obscure the point - for civil war I'd contrast German behavior in France with French behavior in France and German behavior in Russia with Russian behavior in Russia.

(taking France as the metropole - see e.g. The Sorrow and the Pity -but taking France as the entirety does not detract from the point - see current news for talk of the treatment of folks from the Ivory Coast in France and the behavior of French troops in the Ivory Coast (the Octagon is no better behaved than the Pentagon?) and taking Russia as everywhere Stalin's writ eventually ran (examples omitted as exercise))

Seems to me in both countries what folks did to themselves was less civilized if you will than what the Germans did to them.

On the other hand, having mentioned the Ivory Coast - because today's papers mention the backgrounds of today's French rioters (who are so much better off in France than they would be in Africa) - consider whether anybody anywhere anytime ever behaved with less civilization than Leopold of Belgium in the Congo.

#216 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 02:09 PM:

Mina W: At the time of our invasion of Iraq I said that we had done what was done to us at Pearl Harbor, attacked without a declaration of war and without UN backing, so entirely illegally, by US and international law.

Umm, not quite. Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack upon a legitimate military target.
We opened our attack upon Iraq with a sneak attack upon a restaurant in a residential neighborhood.

Bush's attack was much more barbarous than was that of the "infamous" Japanese.

Note too that we hanged Tojo for his crimes when we got our hands upon him.

#217 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 02:37 PM:

Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack upon a legitimate military target

The sneak part is interesting, in itself: the Japanese ambassador was supposed to hand the ultimatum-declaration of war (whichever you prefer to call it) at the time the attack was beginning. He was delayed by, among other things, typing errors, so handed it over after the WH learned of the attack.

#218 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 05:27 PM:

"Nobody laid a finger on the gentleman. Nor yet on his culture. Nor as far as I can tell does anyone wish to."

I did. I suggested perhaps we ought to permanently disband the Marines.

I am inclined to make a distinction between a subculture and a culture.

We disbanded the Airborne for less than it seems clear the Marines have set their hands to recently. Broke up the regiment, burned their colours, dissolved them in disgrace.

The distinction between subculture and culture is not, I think, spurious.

The most integrated member of the Marines still (I sincerely hope; I may be clueless about US Marines, having only ever encountered them casually and individually) is and identifies as a member of the larger US culture and would NOT be left adrift in the world with nowhere to go were the Marines to be disbanded. One assumes that they'd stay in service, even, most of them, which is another, larger subculture.

Mira: your point is well taken.

In the words of Christopher Fry, I wish I could like the look of the immediate future. But I don't.

#219 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 07:30 PM:

I don't think questions about the type of war have the right end of the stick.

I'd suggest that the more appropriate questions are what are the perceived consequences of losing and what is the perceived status of the opponent.

Those issues have large (and usually indirect) economic components, but they also really do depend on the stories a culture -- or a caste -- tells itself.

Apocalyptic language, "everybody dies" views of conflicts, and cultural -- rather than concrete -- war aims make the situation vastly worse, in part by de-humanizing the enemy (cultures able to fight wars against human enemies exist, but they're much more expensive wars to be able to have, in terms of cultural machinery, than wars against demonized non-people) and in part by having no way to stop fighting.

This is one of the very real and very culpable failings of the Bush administration, and George W. Bush and the individual members of his cabinet in specific; their 'war on terror' has been sold as a obliterative, only-one-survives cultural conflict, and it is neither inherently that kind of conflict nor best prosecuted on those terms, even assuming that the objective is to obliterate the opposing culture.

Which, really, the objective must be; not for the range of despicable dick-shrinkage reasons usually cited about this topic, but because materially impoverished cultures do not survive becoming prosperous.

So either the objective is to make sure the people of the Islamic cultural zone stay poor, forever, or it's to -- directly or indirectly -- destroy the cultures presently there by making them prosperous. (Or at least not impeding their attempts to become prosperous, which is impedance is very much the current policy.)

Material prosperity means, at a minimum, a high generally standard of education for all and control of reproductive choice vesting in women.
The majority of the current cultures in the Islamic cultural zone can't survive that; very likely, they won't be anything like the same.

It's not wanting to make that change in American culture that drives the Neocon movement; they don't want the present degree of prosperity if it means a cultural choice space that doesn't have room for their patriarchial slave-holding absolutism, and they're quite willing to make everyone much poorer if that's the price of avoiding that change.

They have in this common cause with the mullahs in Tehran and the House of Saud, rather than their fellow Americans. (...Canadians, British, everybody who thinks prosperity and diversity and peace are good things.)

The apocalyptic language is, in part, meant to disguise this.

#220 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 08:13 PM:

they don't want the present degree of prosperity if it means a cultural choice space that doesn't have room for their patriarchial slave-holding absolutism, and they're quite willing to make everyone much poorer if that's the price of avoiding that change.

I keep wondering just what it is that they're so afraid of, that makes them so unhappy in their own lives, that they want to inflict it on the rest of us just to make themselves feel better. Seriously dysfunctional worldviews, these neocons (and fundamentalists in general, I think: not much to choose from between one flavor and another).

#221 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 08:59 PM:

Graydon said: Material prosperity means, at a minimum, a high generally standard of education for all and control of reproductive choice vesting in women.

It is dangerous to conflate material prosperity with the adoption of a Western moral set. Athens was quite prosperous, and it had a relatively high level of education, but that did not have many positive consequences for women's reproductive rights. Baghdad under the Abbasid caliphate was a center of learning and scholarship, not to mention an economic locus--but the status of women deteriorated dramatically from what it had been at the time of Muhammad.

Our own present economic success is not inextricably linked with our morals--indeed, it could be argued that it is quite the contrary.

The majority of the current cultures in the Islamic cultural zone can't survive that; very likely, they won't be anything like the same.

I don't quite understand you here. You are right, change cannot be purely economic: social ramifications are unavoidable. That is different, however, from arguing the obliteration of culture by economic factors. Was Japan's culture entirely destroyed by U.S. reconstruction? Conversely, did the Great Depression destroy the fabric of American culture? I imagine an economically vibrant Middle-East would be substantially the same as it is now--although, hopefully, happier.

That said, I agree that material prosperity and education are the two most powerful weapons against oppressors at home and abroad.

#222 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 09:28 PM:

It's a worldview issue.

The world we have -- the world of facts -- has error bars; absolutes are not available.

The worlds we construct -- inevitably, as a consequence of brain function -- and actually experientially inhabit have an idea of absolutes.

If the only way you've got to construct "good" involves absolutes, giving up the absolutes -- which is one of the consequences of being reality-based -- means being bad.

If you're the product of child-rearing practices that instill an unreasoning terror of being bad, you're not likely to be willing to do that, and you're not likely to have much access to your reasons for being unwilling.

There's also a whole lot of difficulty with the distinction between helpless -- which is not optional -- and hapless -- which is, and which being reality-based requires one to confront.

#223 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 09:49 PM:
Graydon said: Material prosperity means, at a minimum, a high generally standard of education for all and control of reproductive choice vesting in women.
It is dangerous to conflate material prosperity with the adoption of a Western moral set.

I'm not. (I think the idea of morals as a decision making tool is a bad one.)

Prosperity, here-and-now, means a post-industrial, automation-precision-and-information economy. You cannot get that effectively while maintaining agricultural economy levels of focus on reproduction, because the childrearing costs kill you. (The degree of education required per kid, and the cost of having all those coincidentally female geniuses unavailable for economic activity other than childrearing, wallops your economy. This is painfully obvious if you look at the differently patriarchal regions of Europe.)


Athens was quite prosperous, and it had a relatively high level of education, but that did not have many positive consequences for women's reproductive rights.

Athens was a slave-holding, slave-taking, gang of thugs in bedsheets, with an economy able to undertake offensive war due to silver mines worked by fungible children.

A tiny, tiny fraction of the Athenian population had the lesiure to be educated, but even by the standards of the day, Classical Athens was not particularly prosperous. (Consider the Spartan commander's comment on the folly of the wealthy Persians come to rob them of their poverty.)


Baghdad under the Abbasid caliphate was a center of learning and scholarship, not to mention an economic locus--but the status of women deteriorated dramatically from what it had been at the time of Muhammad.

And the Caliphate was not where any of the three wind-and-water power revolutions took off, and the Caliphate was decidedly pre-industrial in consequence.

Any culture that makes learning the domain of either the leisured aristocracy or a specific case has failed.


Our own present economic success is not inextricably linked with our morals--indeed, it could be argued that it is quite the contrary.

I'm a ruthless pragmatist with a general disdain for moral arguments. I'm not arguing from moral anything.

That's much of the point -- the least sufficient means to have a prosperous -- which includes "able to defend itself" -- culture at the current available tech level requires not consigning the women to being breeding machines. It's not a moral statement; it's a pragmatic one. Until your culture does that, it's going to lose relative power, relative influence, and choice space until it becomes irrelevant.

The majority of the current cultures in the Islamic cultural zone can't survive that; very likely, they won't be anything like the same.


I don't quite understand you here. You are right, change cannot be purely economic: social ramifications are unavoidable. That is different, however, from arguing the obliteration of culture by economic factors. Was Japan's culture entirely destroyed by U.S. reconstruction?

Segments of it ceased to exist; it was very profoundly changed, and that was after they'd successfully industrialized. The culture that exists now is in very serious stability trouble, too. (It's having a lot of trouble not being misogynist and conformist.)

Try looking at the loss of the UK agrarian squirarchy, or the consequences of industrialization on the US Northeast. Economy determines what culture is possible; culture also determines what economy is possible. If you want an automation-precision-information economy, there are certain things which must be true of your culture.

Dynamic hierarchy and general education are two of those things.

Conversely, did the Great Depression destroy the fabric of American culture?

Yes, it did. Trying to put it back the way it was is a core objective of the thugs and theocons.


I imagine an economically vibrant Middle-East would be substantially the same as it is now--although, hopefully, happier.
That said, I agree that material prosperity and education are the two most powerful weapons against oppressors at home and abroad.

You might get a better feel for what I'm getting at if you thought of oppression in terms of hoarding choice, and being willing to limit the amount of choice generally available in a society to ensure specific outcomes.

#224 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 11:23 PM:

Conversely, did the Great Depression destroy the fabric of American culture?

Yes, it did. Trying to put it back the way it was is a core objective of the thugs and theocons.

My grandparents were farm-raised. They ended up in the big city after the depression and the beginning of WW2. Their children grew up in small towns and cities and mostly became engineers and technical types, and their grandchildren are pretty much city-dwellers with a liking for plants, regardless of what they do for a living (and some of them are very high tech at work). It's a lot of change in two generations. We can only go back on visits.

(Want to know where satellite dishes, computers, and cell phones took off fastest? Try the rural areas: fast communication in areas that hadn't had it.)

#225 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2005, 11:26 PM:

"J Thomas: Do you mean the Marines, or the US armed forces as a whole? If just the Marines, what makes them different from, and presumably more dangerous than, the rest of the armed forces?"

Jakob, I mean the Marines. The Marines are a distinct culture, separate from the USA. They say there are lots of ex-army guys but there are no ex-Marines, once you're a Marine you're a Marine until you die.

Jim MacDonald didn't say he was loyal to the Marines but to the US armed forces. I don't know which service he was with, but Marines -- not former Marines, nobody admits to being a former Marine -- pretty consistently say their loyalty is only to the Marines.

The USA doesn't have what it takes to do without any armed forces. We're probably better off without Marines. But maybe not.

#226 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 12:16 AM:

"If someone commits an act of war, you give them the war they wanted."

This differs from carrying a chip on your shoulder how? It makes you vulnerable to provocation, and limits your strategic options.

Jim, you aren't making sense.

"I think that the threat of losing their culture would keep other countries from harboring terrorists."

Or perhaps make them more inclined to attack. A dark reality of history: threats don't work; they usually make the threatened group more belligererent, not less.

#227 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 04:44 AM:

Graydon: apologies for misreading your argument. However, material prosperity doesn't neccessarily require general education or women's rights in a pragmatic sense either. It is certainly one way to do it (and arguably the most stable), but hardly the only.

Prosperity, here-and-now, means a post-industrial, automation-precision-and-information economy.

Prosperity means post-industrial, automation-precision-and-information economy if you happen to be a resource-poor education-rich first world country. If, however, you happen to be uneducated, poor, but in control of extensive natural resources (say, oil), prosperity means extracting these resources by whatever processes (agricultural, artisan, industrial, post-industrial) that are neccessary. Modern oil extraction requires a generally high level of education for your workers. Diamond mining, somewhat less so.

So, depending on the education required to extract your resources, education is entirely optional for prosperity*. How about women's reproductive rights? Or to put it in more pragmatic terms, women's participation in the work force.

You cannot get that effectively while maintaining agricultural economy levels of focus on reproduction, because the childrearing costs kill you. (The degree of education required per kid, and the cost of having all those coincidentally female geniuses unavailable for economic activity other than childrearing, wallops your economy....)

Let's take a look at Japan. The accepted pattern in Japan, which is finally starting to crack in the last decade**, was that women got married, quit their job and raised kids. Losing all those educated potential workers doesn't seem to have an undeniable negative impact on their economy in the last 50 years.

Japan has had remarkably liberal laws regarding women's reproductive rights since well before WWII. It is nonetheless a useful example in disproving the logical chain that backs your assertion that reproductive rights are inextricably linked to prosperity.

If you want an automation-precision-information economy, there are certain things which must be true of your culture.

Like I have said, an automation-precision-information economy is hardly the only route to prosperity. Resource-extraction economies have considerable revenue that comes without any impetus for universal education or women's reproductive rights. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait all have no need for women to serve as anything other than breeding machines.

What an automation-precision-information economy neccesitates that a resource-extraction economy does not is a generally high standard of living, i.e. education and reproductive rights. If all you are aiming for is brute monetary prosperity, then there are certainly alternatives to an automation-precision-information economy.

*prosperity is a hard concept to define. I am going to take it to mean a high GNP.

**And when I say "starting to crack" I mean that, because of the societal pressure to quit their job when married, women are simply not getting married.

#228 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 05:33 AM:

Heresiarch: and what happens when the resource-extraction economy runs out of resources to extract ...?

Note: we've seen this, up close and ugly, in the UK in the past generation. As recently as fifty years ago, there were well over a million men working down coal mines in the UK. Twenty-two years ago, prior to the Miner's Strike, there were about a third of a million miners. The current number is well under 30,000. The mining regions had failed to make a shift to general education prior to the collapse of the British coal mining industry; the result was an entire generation written off, and some of the most blighted areas in the country. In mining towns, the economy was driven by money input from working miners; when the mines closed, everyone ended up poor.

Luckily for the UK as a whole, coal mining was just a regional industry; life went on without it, unless you were directly affected. But when Saudi Arabia runs out of economically extractable oil, that's virtually all economic activity over. Iran has other stuff; an agricultural sector, manufacturing, even an attempted nuclear industry. But Saudi Arabia is a monoculture in more ways than one.

#229 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 05:53 AM:

Heresiarch --

Japanese women are also not getting married due to exposure to other cultures and ceasing to see the conduct of Japanese men as inevitable. More or less by definition, a culture where copying the culture into the future is actively resisted by a large part of the population is one which is not doing well!

Prosperity isn't appropriately defined as a high GNP; that's (possibly) affluence, but not certainly. You might want to google 'oil trap', or look at how the New Zealand or Uruguan agricultural economies tanked.

Prosperity means a diverse economy with import replacing cities; resource extraction gets you boom/bust cycles and some sort of authoritarian control of the critical resources. When the resources are gone -- whether oil or fish -- the money hasn't stuck to you, it's stuck to whomever had control, and it's often a net loss for your culture/region/population group.

The oil economies you cite as "prosperous" all have serious social unrest issues and authoritarian governments with very limited ability to handle change. Prosperity requires an ability to benefit from change. If you can't, you're going to lose relative economic position quickly, because you're certainly going to get change.

Oh, and you're wrong about Iran; it's not being maintained by American imperial power, and does need a full participation economy to keep from sliding backwards. The tension between that need and what its ruling theocracy wants are a major source of social unrest in Iran. (Kuwait and Saudi, on the other hand, are trading present affluence for their elites for subservient populations; that's going to have nastier consequences than it already does, by and by, and neither has an economy that can make anything, or do anything. Both must by expertise as well as material goods.)

#230 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 10:54 AM:

Saudi Arabia, ... Kuwait all have no need for women to serve as anything other than breeding machines.

Nor do they need men, really; the economy survives on the backs of expat workers, everything from US oil engineers to Filipino house servants. If all the Saudis suddenly vanished from Saudi, it's arguable how much the economy would suffer - it might well survive better than it would the loss of every Pakistani engineer and mechanic, for example.

#231 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 01:46 PM:

"Prosperity, here-and-now, means a post-industrial, automation-precision-and-information economy. You cannot get that effectively while maintaining agricultural economy levels of focus on reproduction, because the childrearing costs kill you. (The degree of education required per kid, and the cost of having all those coincidentally female geniuses unavailable for economic activity other than childrearing, wallops your economy."

That's a fascinating idea. Let me guess at some of your lemmas. Without an automation-precision-and-information economy you use more resources to get worse results. As resources get in shorter supply, everybody who wastes them gets poorer. Am I on the mark so far?

As the precision economy continues, it requires increasing intelligence to find new ways to get more efficient. The fewer human beings actually participating in the automated economy the less their limits bind us, but we still need humans to plan and find further efficiencies. And to maintain an increasing population we must keep improving the efficiency. A large cadre of very smart people are needed for that, and keeping half of them busy raising children is a loss in both directions. (Except for the seed-corn problem. To the extent that the next generation of very-smart people comes from genetics or particularly early-childhood experiences with this generation's very smart people, we might need those women to breed and spend some time with their children.)

It looks to me like there are further problems for US "prosperity" by your concept. What happens to the workers who get displaced by automation? Will they be given a share in the profits of automation just because they're citizens? Once an automated economy really took hold it might be *extremely* prosperous for a small population that was willing to work hard planning, but what about the large redundant population that the economy would have no particular use for? Unless they could be deported, wouldn't they cause a lot of trouble?

#232 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 02:27 PM:

"Once an automated economy really took hold it might be *extremely* prosperous for a small population that was willing to work hard planning, but what about the large redundant population that the economy would have no particular use for?"

Beggars in Spain covered this territory. It provided no easy answers.

#233 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 02:34 PM:

From my point of view, there are no smart people; "smart" is one of those awful creationist concepts that don't survive close examination. (There are some capable people, in particular contexts, but that's not at all the same thing.)

You're also apparently assuming that 'planning' is some sort of small-group activity; the activity of the elite of an hierarchical system.

That's a social structure optimized to conserve power; I'm suggesting that the more appropriate choice is a social structure optimized to generate access to choice, in part because the amount of power which results is much larger in absolute terms.

#234 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 02:36 PM:

Japanese women are also not getting married due to exposure to other cultures and ceasing to see the conduct of Japanese men as inevitable.

I remember reading in a mag that retired husband syndrome is one of the faster-growing health complaints in Japan.

#235 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 03:45 PM:

Graydon, you didn't address my earlier lemma. An automated precision economy can more efficiently use resources and so can support a larger population at equivalent prosperity compared to a less-efficient one. Have I got that right?

But it isn't enough to give a lot of people a lot of choices. They must somehow make good choices or we lose the efficiency advantage. If their choices are just "what I want", I want an olympic-size swimming pool, I want to watch the new movie, I want a pony, then what good is it?

The story where some elite is charged to efficiently make choices for everybody has obvious holes -- how do you choose the elite and how do you monitor their efficiency etc -- but how do you even tell the story where maximising the population's choices is a means to some end other than itself?

#236 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 03:56 PM:

Stross-- The same thing that happens to an automation-precision-information economy undercut by cheaper, more efficient competition. It changes. No economic system can survive indefinitely.

Graydon--

The "exposure to other cultures" argument would work better if you could demonstrate a significant new influx of American (or some other equalitarian) influence in the last several decades. Unfortunately, it is the opposite--Japan has increasingly been focused on continental Asia, hardly a stronghold of women's lib. This is all besides the point, which is that the system endured, with remarkable economic success, for fifty years.

When I wrote GNP I meant to write GNP per capita, which is to say the potential individual wealth, were wealth evenly distributed. I can't really think of any other measure of prosperity that can be fairly applied.

Prosperity means a diverse economy with import replacing cities;

A diverse economy is not prosperity. It is a mechanism that may generate prosperity, or may not. If prosperity is to be a measure of economic success, it must not espouse a particular economic system.

Resource-extraction economies are, I grant you, at best temporary. However, I would argue that all economies are--everything is in a constant process of evolution. That does not neccessarily mean that resource-extraction economies must always crash. The United States is a good example of a resource-extraction economy that fairly successfully transitioned, in several stages, to an industrial economy.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are two of the most poorly managed of the oil states. Some members of the U.A.E. are being much smarter about the future and using their sudden oil wealth to lay the groundwork for future, sustainable prosperity. It is a pattern you see as often as you see boom/bust cycles. Interestingly, when foreign interests aren't involved, things tend to go better for the locals.

#237 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 04:33 PM:

The United States is a good example of a resource-extraction economy that fairly successfully transitioned, in several stages, to an industrial economy.

And now gets resources extracted from other countries. But also see the continuing debates over the Arctic wildlife refuge and oil extraction. The latest is that some of the evangelical leaders are coming out against drilling and global warming, because the bible says to take care of the world, not just exploit it. It may take time to get that idea through, say, Inhofe's head, but it's going to have some effects.

#238 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 04:40 PM:

From my point of view, there are no smart people; "smart" is one of those awful creationist concepts that don't survive close examination. (There are some capable people, in particular contexts, but that's not at all the same thing.)

I'm not sure I agree with this- but it's making me think. Rather than meandering for several paragraphs and doing my thinking in public, I will ponder in private.

So my response, I guess, is "Hmmm."

#239 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Dave Luckett writes: International law: Simply put, there is no such thing.

The substance of your argument to support this would apply equally well to the law of the United States of America, its states and local governments. All of those bodies of law are nothing more than covenants between entirely human agencies with no stone tablets from angry sky færies to fall back on if you get into a dispute. These laws tend to remain on the books only as long as the government of the people, by the people and for the people continue to believe in them. U.S. law is routinely ignored by Americans and their government, with no apparent consequence except the occasional insurrection, which are usually nothing more than over-hyped riots. Its impartiality is a wretched and obscene joke. Have you watched the way we elect legislators? Have you watched the way we appoint executive officials? Have you noticed the way we select members of the judiciary? You can say a lot of things about American law, but its impartiality is merely a cheap façade.

I say all this, because it's been my experience that, as a practical matter, international law is every bit as real as any other kind of secular law. People who want me to believe international law doesn't exist, without also explaining why U.S. law should be any different, make me very nervous.

ObTopic: this is part of my ongoing complaint about the liberal interventionist war supporters who are now publicly questioning their previous stand. It would be a very good thing if they were willing to come out and repudiate their arguments from two years ago that invading Iraq may have been a violation of international law, but who really cares about international law anyway?

"International law?" President Bush said. "I don't know about that. I better call my lawyer."

Yes, George. You should have. And your lawyer should have been someone more competent than Harriet Miers.

#240 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 07:08 PM:

A diverse economy is not prosperity. It is a mechanism that may generate prosperity, or may not. If prosperity is to be a measure of economic success, it must not espouse a particular economic system.

And yet you're trying to measure it with a notion of Gross Domestic Product, which is almost entirely a measure of money, and money is a function of a particular set of economic systemsjj.

We have, as a species, been building import-replacing cities for somewhere between five and ten thousand years. The means to the end, the rationale and the rationalizations and the customs of the tribe, may not matter any more than that some beaver dams are birch and some are poplar.


Graydon, you didn't address my earlier lemma. An automated precision economy can more efficiently use resources and so can support a larger population at equivalent prosperity compared to a less-efficient one. Have I got that right?

Nope. Population maximization is one of the agriculture hangover ideas that's just unkillable, but it's not a good idea. (Unless you're using 90%+ of the population to farm, and power depends on the absolute size of the 10%, and even there it's not the best idea.)


But it isn't enough to give a lot of people a lot of choices. They must somehow make good choices or we lose the efficiency advantage.

You're trying to be moral. The best that can be said of being moral as an approach is that it doesn't scale.


If their choices are just "what I want", I want an olympic-size swimming pool, I want to watch the new movie, I want a pony, then what good is it?

People get their swimming pools and their ponies.

Linus Torvalds has been known to write about evolutionary models of software development, and point out that open source quality in part depends on seeing what people really do use.

It's pretty much the same with the idea of maximizing realizable access to choice -- what do people do when they can do what they want, or more of what they want?


The story where some elite is charged to efficiently make choices for everybody has obvious holes -- how do you choose the elite and how do you monitor their efficiency etc -- but how do you even tell the story where maximising the population's choices is a means to some end other than itself?

It is an end in itself. Most of the other ends are side effects, and work a lot better that way.

Peace and prosperity are, after all, just about hopeless as objectives. But if you arrange for a mild real labour shortage and some approximation of the rule of law and you'll get some approximation of peace and prosperity, too.

Then you have to figure out how to cope with change, which is the same as saying "how do I get this, or a copy of this, or something like this, into the future?", and that is the same problem all life shares.

#241 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 08:13 PM:

Slightly more thought on "competent":

If you are "competent at learning to do new things", is that not a very close approximation to "smart"? Because that leads to "competent at a lot of things" in a hurry. Or is there something I'm missing there?

#242 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 10:31 PM:

But you aren't competent at learning to do new things; you're competent at learning to do some kinds of things under some circumstances.

"Smart" is a quality, like "blue"; it carries no notion of context with it, and all ability is highly contextual.

#243 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 10:47 PM:

Graydon said: And yet you're trying to measure it with a notion of Gross Domestic Product, which is almost entirely a measure of money, and money is a function of a particular set of economic systemsjj.

Fair enough. I am not very happy with GNP per capita either. The best I can say for it is that it allows us to compare dissimilar economies with at least a stab at objectivity. Whereas I still have no idea at all what you mean when you say "prosperity." By all means, please suggest another definition--one that does not simply label a particular economic artifact (import-replacing cities) as "prosperous" and deny the label to anything else.

Even if stability is an important criteria for prosperity, as you seem to suggest, it is still possible to generate what I would call a "prosperous" economic system that is not an import-replacing city. A sustainable, prosperous resource-extraction economy is quite concievable. Perhaps not if you are growing grain, but if you growing opium or marijuana (or bio-diesel, in the conceivable near future), well, then things are different. Or how about viniculture in France? It is essentially a high-profit artisan-run economy--a remarkably stable one at that.

Give me a value for "prosperity" by which these kinds of economies are substantially inferior compared to your import-replacing city.

We have, as a species, been building import-replacing cities for somewhere between five and ten thousand years. The means to the end, the rationale and the rationalizations and the customs of the tribe, may not matter any more than that some beaver dams are birch and some are poplar.

We had been marginalizing and oppressing women for the vast length of that time--and yet that turned out to be a malleable artifact of human culture subject to change after all.

#244 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2005, 11:08 PM:

j h woodyatt: I am truly sorry to hear your opinion of the state of the law and justice in the United States.

Nevertheless, I must insist that law is more than a set of rules agreed between individuals, who obey them only so long as they meet their interests. Law is imposed by a community on all its members, will they or no, and enforced by agencies with effective powers to compel compliance. These powers do not respect persons. Their application is ultimately rooted in the notion that the community has powers as a collective entity that its individual members do not have. There are no sky fairies here. There is, rather, a cession of sovereignity that simply does not apply between nations, and never will so long as nations exist as sovereign entities themselves.

If I assault, rob, or defraud my neighbour, and in return my neighbour might or might not get his friends together and might or might not beat me up, that is not law; but that is the essential international situation.

Law would be operating only if the assault, robbery, or fraud were met by compulsory arrest and trial before a court that had no previous part in the process, and that could and would reliably restrain, sanction and punish the offence (when proven), because it had effective power to do so. Similar processes apply to ordinary civil disputes. In all cases, the law is paramount and backed by sovereign power. I confess that this sometimes results in injustice. But the alternative is not law.

#245 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 01:23 AM:

There is a group which has been working on an agreed objective set of criteria and measurements to set standards of comparison for something along the lines of 'happiness' or 'prosperity' or 'working well as a society' between places across the world.
From memory it included a series of things apart from just money -- like crime rates, education, imprisonment rates, and so on -- and also things like how evenly across the people in it that the overall money was distributed.

Working hard to finish task for a deadline before I go away for a holiday for the first time since 1997, so I don't quite have time to research it, but this may jog someone's little grey cells.

[Almost paralysed with near-panic at thought of travelling elsewhere for the first time since my operation, which left me with several medical problems, but alive today; which was not in the alternative choice (seriously considered at several low points). May strap some of the medical necessities to my body, as well as spares in hand luggage and hold luggage. Luckily an airport will not be involved, unless plans go awry. "What, me worry?"]

#246 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 02:00 AM:

Returning to a topic which I think everyone was glad to abandon, and I hesitate to risk reanimating — which kind of war is worst:

I think we have to ask, on a comparative basis, what kind of culture the soldiers themselves have. The example of the European nations who were all following the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners is near one end of the spectrum.

Recently some of the objections to the institutionalization of torture in the American military have been from high-ranking military officers. One of those reasons is that if we (any army) do it, it is more likely to happen to our soldiers who are captured. One that is not mentioned is what kind of people it turns your good soldiers into.

I remember reading in a Pearl Buck book long ago, about local children running away and hiding from local (pre-communist Chinese) soldiers. When questioned by the western child, the reason was that you never knew what they might do. It was part of the cultural expectations that soldiers would (approx) commit random acts of violence. Where this is expected, it has to encourage worse wars than where adherence to the Geneva conventions is assumed and enforced.

This is probably why the young African-origin Frenchmen were running away from the police recently, the ones whose deaths sparked the riots. France has a long history of xenophobia.

In Japan, with its strict codes of behavior, there is a free pass given for the state of drunkeness. And it used also to be the case that tourists, travellers away from their own home environment and its restrictions, would behave very differently. I understand that that has been discouraged recently. I do not know, but guess, that the expected behavior of soldiers would have been very different from the same men at home.


I am not intending to point fingers at any specific country except my own (the US). And the (fairly) recent problems in our military, including rapes and sexual harassment as part of the culture, and the recent encouragement of torture coming from above, seem to me very bad signs. Even worse is the the increasing use of "security firm" mercenaries, who are not subject to US military law, and claim to not be subject to Iraq law either. When anyone claims to be above the law (like Bush) that is a recipe for disaster.

Please, Dave Luckett, don't encourage them to believe there is no such thing as international law. We are signatories to various treaties, including the Geneva conventions, and it is our obligation to abide by them. They should not be looking for loopholes to slide through. Of course, that is one of the first things Bush did in office — back out of and say he would not abide by several existing and potential treaties.

#247 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 02:41 AM:

Law is imposed by a community on all its members, will they or no, and enforced by agencies with effective powers to compel compliance. ... There is ... a cession of sovereignity that simply does not apply between nations, and never will so long as nations exist as sovereign entities themselves.

In other words, it's the Hobbesian state of nature. The point there, I think, is that by taking advantage of the security ensured by a government you implicitly give that government the right to enforce its will on anyone, including you. If you live in a democracy, you implicitly accept that the majority has a right to disagree with you, and even try to kill you. (Hobbes says you also have a right to fight back - hey, two rights don't make a wrong!)

Taking sovereign states to be analogous to individual people, this means that no international government means no-one to enforce any laws and so no effective law. Sovereign states can do as they like. Who is going to stop them? (The UN is an attempt to answer this question, but it doesn't really. It isn't a government but a talking shop. I think it's valuable for that reason even if for no other, but never mind.)

So basically there is no international law because there is no international police force. There are views other than the Hobbesian, but I think they end up depending on some concept of natural law or on the sanctity of a contract, and risk divorcing us from the reality-based community.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was against both the Afghanistan war and the second Iraq war; but I had friends who were not, and I still think some of their arguments were convincing. Some people were wrong for the right reasons, and some people right for the wrong ones. I don't trust people on the basis of whether their predictions match up to the results but on whether their arguments seem reasonable and rational. Of course, if what I think is reasonable and rational turns out to be a rotten predictor then I might rethink my criteria...

I'm in the US on a visa. I shall watch myself in criticising the government here from now on.

#248 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 03:41 AM:

Mina, the "them" you speak of cannot be encouraged by me not to believe in international law. They already know what its true status is. You admit this yourself. Bush, you say, has decided unilaterally to breach treaties. There is no effective means to prevent him, nor any prospect of response.

What I say is no more than the brutal, unwelcome, and bitter truth: there is no obligation on any nation to abide by any rule that it believes to be contrary to its interests. Of course, in determining those interests, a government will take into account the predictable consequences of denouncing or ignoring international rules. (Or it will, if the government is remotely rational.) Nevertheless, there is no obligation. The United States is not obliged to abide by the Geneva Convention. I understand that its government has decided not to do so in certain cases, and there is no sanction that can be applied to it, other than at the hands of its own people.

I think that sanction will eventually arrive, because I believe that the average American is decent. It will not happen because of a violation of international law, per se, but because of that decency. In fact, I have the feeling that if the rest of the world were to say to the government of the United States that its abrogation of the Geneva Convention is an act of barbarism, it would only have the contrary effect.

#249 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 04:59 AM:

Dave, you are wrong. International law and international agreements already constrain the US and other countries. Take, for example, the WTO - which sets out rules on trade, decides whether a member state has broken them, and imposes (or rather authorises other countries to impose) penalties in the form of sanctions. This is international law in action. Be sure that there are plenty of sanctions that can be applied to the US if it breaks its treaty obligations. The US is not an autarchy.

Bush can unilaterally decide to break international treaties - by providing unfair government support to Boeing, say - but the response will be punitive tariffs on US exports to other parts of the world.

International law certainly applies to other countries. Look what happened to Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. An international body decided that Iraq had broken international law and imposed penalties.

You may be confusing (as candle is) the absence of an international police force with the absence of international law. Law existed for a long time before policemen - it was simply enforced by the action of citizens, either themselves or through agents (thief takers, posses, investigators, or whatever). Of course, if everybody (or most people) decide that the law should be ignored, it will be irrelevant - parliaments and courts will simply become talking shops. But at present most countries in the world find it easier to keep to international law, and to cooperate in enforcing penalties on criminals.

#250 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 06:45 AM:

Ajay, I wish that you were right. The world might be better if you were.

The "penalties" against Iraq were a standing joke. It is well established that many nations and the UN itself regarded the "sanctions" as no more than an administrative inconvenience. This, alas, includes my own country, which used devious means to evade them.

The United States, the EU and Japan all flagrantly ignore their "obligations" under GATT, while lambasting each other. There is no prospect whatsoever of restraining any of them, and any talk of "sanctions" is so much hot air.

Most of the nations who piously point to the Kyoto Protocols only meet the standards because they actually couldn't exceed their allowance if they tried, and the instant that they could, they'd ignore them. Those that don't meet the allowances don't bother, and there is no recourse. The International Whaling Committee issues all sorts of protocols against whaling, and Japan blithely ignores them under the transparent falsehood that it is conducting "research".

Many signatories to the law of the sea are "flag of convenience" countries that have no intention of restraining their nominal fleets from flagrantly illegal activities, and there is no recourse. There are other examples without number.

I repeat, nations only obey those rules that they regard as being in their own reciprocal interest, though they may give lip service to others. If they are ever brought to book, it will be by other interested nations who regard that action as being in their own interest, and any question of justice or right will be nugatory.

This is not law.

#251 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 07:59 AM:

Give me a value for "prosperity" by which these kinds of economies are substantially inferior compared to your import-replacing city.

The rate of change in generally realizable access to choice is of positive sign over generational time.

Prosperous farming economies -- even the nearly ideal, slight-labour-shortage, many-smallholders, no landlords, cheap transport versions -- need markets and max out their economic scope and stay there. Absent wars and aggressive central governments, that sort of economy will keep nodding along, more or less unchanging, for centuries. (Whereupon either environmental change or a more dynamic culture eats it.)

We have, as a species, been building import-replacing cities for somewhere between five and ten thousand years. The means to the end, the rationale and the rationalizations and the customs of the tribe, may not matter any more than that some beaver dams are birch and some are poplar.
We had been marginalizing and oppressing women for the vast length of that time--and yet that turned out to be a malleable artifact of human culture subject to change after all.

Oppression of women has always been optional, and is by no means a universal trait of pre-industrial cultures. (You can argue that you can't have a culture dominated by an Abrahamic religion without getting oppression of women, but that's a different container of newts.)

#252 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 08:18 AM:

Graydon, I find your ideas interesting. Is there someplace I could find them expanded? A book, a website, a movement with a name?

You appear to be suggesting that we automate heavily in a flexible way, so that instead of assembly lines that produce lots and lots of the same things we could let individuals custom-design whatever they want and get it built. And you appear to be suggesting that the results of the automated precision economy get distributed among the whole population, as something that's good in itself. I agree that would be morally good, but how could a puritanical/libertarian oriented culture like the USA do that? Wouldn't it be more natural for us to decide that the owners of the automation own most things, and that only the most successful designers get a share, based on the degree of improvement compared to the 2nd-best designer in each case?

Why would we give poor people anything but charity when in traditional terms they provide nothing?

#253 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 01:32 PM:

A question to carefully consider:

What does a Wall Street Trader actually produce? Is their income anything more than pilfering from the flow of goods which passes through their hands?

#254 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 01:46 PM:

"What does a Wall Street Trader actually produce?"

[SQUICK ALERT]
They perform a vital role . . . they're personal lubricant for the Invisible Hand of the Market.
[/SQUICK ALERT]

#255 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 01:48 PM:

Wall Street (together with all the other stock, derivative, and commodity markets) as a whole produces liquidity. That's what markets are "for" in the first place.

Individual traders may (if market makers) be directly tasked with maintaining liquidity. Otherwise, liquidity is the desirable byproduct of their activity as a group, along Mandevillian lines.

#256 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 01:55 PM:

ajay, the police force point was just a rhetorical way of making the main point. Law may have existed before a police force, but it has never existed in the absence of an agreed body acknowledged by all citizens to be entitled to enforce it. Sure, there are constraints in international politics, just as there are in the Hobbesian state of nature: but as Dave has been saying, they don't amount to law. What they are is the exercise of force in support of private interests. Sometimes these coincide with the interests of the majority. More commonly, they are the interests of the most powerful actors.

If you kill someone, you agree that the state has the right to try you and perhaps imprison you. The point about international law is that there is no such abstraction as the state which can respond to breaches of the laws. In that case, even if there are agreed principles of international conduct, all you have are shared ideals. And the actions of the US and Iraq, for instance, show that these ideals are not exactly universal.

If the rest of the world gangs up on Iraq, or even on the US, chances are they will get their way. It might be even easier if they can exert rhetorical or moral pressure: 'you signed this agreement, so you should stick to it'. But it depends entirely on keeping a coalition together. This isn't law: it's simply power politics.

It is important to be aware of the difference between a mutual agreement and a legal agreement. If I promise to pay you 1000 dollars by Friday, and then I don't pay up, you can apply moral pressure or make me feel guilty; you can threaten not to lend me money in future; you can get your friends around to threaten to beat me up. But I won't have broken any law, and there will be no legal recourse. Things get done, internationally, in much the same way, and I don't think they are always done badly. But to imagine that there is some legal basis for it depends, as I said, on the invocation of some higher authority than the sovereign state: natural law or an international government. A lynch mob is not the same thing.

#257 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 02:14 PM:

Actually, if you agree to pay me 1000 dollars by Friday, and I change my behavior based on that (say, I buy $750 worth of bling), then I do have legal recourse under US law. My change in behavior is the consideration of the implied contract; if I can convince a jury that you did make that promise, and that my bling buy was in response to it, I win my suit. This is civil law, not criminal, but it's incorrect to say there's no legal recourse.

Saying that there's no such thing as international law is like saying that it's legal to park anywhere there are no police. If you murder someone and never get caught, or the police refuse to investigate, you still broke the law. Sometimes enforcement is lacking.

In the case of international law, the enforcement mechanism is truly an ancient honor code: if no one will deal with you on an honorable basis, you will die. The US can't be forced to keep its obligations; it can only lose its perceived honor if it does not.

This has happened. Now we will pay the price, yea, unto the seventh generation.

#258 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 04:44 PM:

Graydon said: The rate of change in generally realizable access to choice is of positive sign over generational time.

Interesting. You would define prosperity as the value of a rate of change. I would rather define it in terms of an absolute--as the realizable access to choice itself, to parallel your example.

There are two problems with your definition that I can see. First, as choice increases it will tend to increase economically-unsound choices proportionally more than it will increase economically sound ones. This means the proportionally smaller numbers of the populace will be engaged in activities that actively increase economic access to choice. Populations with high absolute levels of choice will have very small fractions of the populace engaged in "prosperity"-increasing activities. This begs the question--is the rate of change in the generally realizable access to choice more or less important than the access to choice itself?

Secondly, as societies approach a level of absolute choice (where all options are equally available and equally economically rewarding), the law of diminishing returns will kick in. It will get progressively harder and harder to realize gains at all, especially with a very small proportion of the society actually working. So why this emphasis on rate of change?

These criticisms are based on a gut sense of what "generally realizable access to choice" means. If you have a technical definition that you are using, these may not apply.

Prosperous farming economies...need markets and max out their economic scope and stay there.

Is continuous growth really that valuable and neccessary a trait? It is certainly important if you concieve of your economy as competing against other highly "dynamic cultures." But what of a system that is not in competition with any other? Say, for example, the world economy taken as a whole. In this situation relatively stable economies would be preferable, I would think.

It seems only fair to offer you a definition of prosperity of my own in return. I would define prosperity as the proportion of their time that individuals must work to meet basic survival requirements: food, shelter, etc. Communal prosperity would be a function of prosperity per capita--regardless of how the workload is in fact divided. Comment?

#259 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 05:39 PM:

Traders also provide to producers and consumers the service of managing risks of future supply and demand disruption.

#260 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 06:03 PM:

"I would define prosperity as the proportion of their time that individuals must work to meet basic survival requirements: food, shelter, etc. "

Standards have grown, for basic survival. (Childbirth being an example, and diabetics being another.)

Is there an "industry standard" for basic survival? 1500 calories, balanced diet, 55 degree F shelter, clean water, whatever?

#261 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 07:39 PM:

J Thomas --

Graydon, I find your ideas interesting. Is there someplace I could find them expanded? A book, a website, a movement with a name?

I'm essentially presenting a personal synthesis of "man is an East African plains ape, specialized to co-operate in groups" (Diamond and Dawkins being good places to start for this), Jane Jacobs' economic theories (Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Systems of Survival), and old style cybernetics on the question of complexity handling and control (Stafford Beer, Platform for Change).

You appear to be suggesting that we automate heavily in a flexible way, so that instead of assembly lines that produce lots and lots of the same things we could let individuals custom-design whatever they want and get it built.

We have done that -- you can order custom machine parts done to tolerances of one ten-thousandth of an inch in very small lots (like, five) easily and cheaply, for instance. That isn't possible without powerful automation.

As always, social organization badly lags technical capability, so the assumptions of the nineteenth century are being used to define what's possible in the twenty-first.


And you appear to be suggesting that the results of the automated precision economy get distributed among the whole population, as something that's good in itself. I agree that would be morally good, but how could a puritanical/libertarian oriented culture like the USA do that?

It very probably wouldn't.

(And I don't agree that it would be morally good; I think evaluation of morals cannot extend to scales beyond the personal, or perhaps the familial.)


Wouldn't it be more natural for us to decide that the owners of the automation own most things, and that only the most successful designers get a share, based on the degree of improvement compared to the 2nd-best designer in each case?
Why would we give poor people anything but charity when in traditional terms they provide nothing?

The reason to care for the poor is that you yourself will surely be old and helpless one day; no one escapes death forever, and while they do, they do not escape the future, where all harm lies.

No matter how dearly held, or how fervently, a belief that this is not so must itself pass through the future, and harm -- or at least strong counter-example -- shall find it.

#262 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 08:08 PM:
Graydon [defined prosperity as] The rate of change in generally realizable access to choice is of positive sign over generational time.

Interesting. You would define prosperity as the value of a rate of change. I would rather define it in terms of an absolute--as the realizable access to choice itself, to parallel your example.

It's important to remember that "absolute" is a false concept -- there aren't any. Everything has defining context and error bars.

So it's often much easier to have confidence about measuring a rate of change than it is to have confidence about the values on either end of the change.


There are two problems with your definition that I can see. First, as choice increases it will tend to increase economically-unsound choices proportionally more than it will increase economically sound ones.

That doesn't, to my mind, follow at all -- people very reliably do what they perceive to be in their best interest, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's not like anyone can know what the economically sound choices are, since that requires knowledge of the future. (Or a simplified model that doesn't have calamitous events in it.)


This means the proportionally smaller numbers of the populace will be engaged in activities that actively increase economic access to choice. Populations with high absolute levels of choice will have very small fractions of the populace engaged in "prosperity"-increasing activities.

You can make the exact same argument about the percentage of the population engaged in food production in an industrial economy, you realize?


This begs the question--is the rate of change in the generally realizable access to choice more or less important than the access to choice itself?

More; if the sign is positive, things are getting better. Given the eventual certainty of calamitous events (though not any specific calamitous event), the more scope of choice that's accumulated, the better the odds of having a good way to cope with the calamity available.

(This is why diversity is strength, and I could wish more people understood this.)


Secondly, as societies approach a level of absolute choice (where all options are equally available and equally economically rewarding), the law of diminishing returns will kick in. It will get progressively harder and harder to realize gains at all, especially with a very small proportion of the society actually working.

Why is there a limit to asymptotically approach? Eventually, some of the choices are things like 'upload into a group mind' or 'ecology as artform', and the folks standing in that choice space will keep right on seeing the stuff they can maybe do someday.


So why this emphasis on rate of change?

It's more straightforwardly measurable than the amount of access to choice, and it doesn't rely on the absence of calamitous events to make the model work.

The future is unknowable; social organizations that forget that get reminded, which is expensive.


These criticisms are based on a gut sense of what "generally realizable access to choice" means. If you have a technical definition that you are using, these may not apply.

Your gut sense is probably pretty close -- what can someone realistically (without exceptional luck or talent) expect to do?

So both having long distance telephony at all, and having long distance telephony for cheap, are major increases in the generally realizable access to choice that have occurred over the last fifty-sixty years or so. (Long distance telephony was available before then, but not generally realizable; too expensive, and not pervasively available.)

Prosperous farming economies...need markets and max out their economic scope and stay there.
Is continuous growth really that valuable and neccessary a trait?

Not growth; the increase in skill.

It is certainly important if you concieve of your economy as competing against other highly "dynamic cultures." But what of a system that is not in competition with any other?

There is always something. Climate change, aggressive neighbor culture, some goof goes and invents a cheap way to refine iron and the social order -- based on the cost of bronze armor -- collapses...

Say, for example, the world economy taken as a whole. In this situation relatively stable economies would be preferable, I would think.

Do you find that holds if you replace "growth" with "skill"?


It seems only fair to offer you a definition of prosperity of my own in return. I would define prosperity as the proportion of their time that individuals must work to meet basic survival requirements: food, shelter, etc. Communal prosperity would be a function of prosperity per capita--regardless of how the workload is in fact divided. Comment?

It's a snapshot measure, rather than a measure of the way the odds of coping successfully with the unexpected -- those calamitous events -- are changing.

#263 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 09:43 PM:

Xopher - my mistake about the state of US law (although I would want to argue that there is a significant difference between civil and criminal law, especially given the US interpretation of the former as being pretty much anything of which you can convince a jury). I still want to maintain, though, that there is a philosophical difference between an honor code and a legal system. The point is not about getting caught, or about consequences: it is, as you say, about the abstract existence of a law which you have broken and could in theory be rightfully punished for.

My definition of a law is of something which you agree applies to you whether or not you agree with it. That's to say, I agree that the US government has the right - not just the power - to expel me for expressing my views, even though I don't think it *should* have that right. This is a difficult concept, but it is the main point of Hobbes' Leviathan (and really he should be arguing this, not me).

There is nothing comparable in international relations unless you bring up a concept of natural law. This is what an honor code is, really: something to which you have to believe everyone subscribes to whether they actually act in the appropriate way or not. For it to be law in the sense Hobbes defines, then you have to accept that it is right that people will exclude you - which means you have to agree that their principles are right (and that your actions are at some level wrong). Anything else is just peer pressure, or a lynch mob, as I was saying. And that is not the same thing as a legal system.

I'll have one more go at explaining what I mean - I'm not doing it very well, evidently - and then I'll give up and recommend people to read Leviathan (or David Runciman or Quentin Skinner on Hobbes). For law to exist you don't have to agree with every provision it lays down; but you have to agree that what it says applies to you.

The rule of law is a creation of civil society, in which people lay down some of their rights (all except the inalienable ones, in fact) in exchange for parallel restrictions on the rights of other people - which is what a law is. The necessary condition for this to happen - says Hobbes, anyway - is the existence of a sovereign power implicitly acknowledged by every member of a society to have the legitimate authority to enforce these limitations on people's rights - and by extension, legitimate authority to enforce the laws on you, whether you like it or not.

You can opt out of this kind of society and live as Thoreau suggests in Civil Disobedience: taking no protection from the state in return for giving up none of your independence. But at that point you have abandoned any concept of law except the idea of a natural law which *everyone in the world* impliclitly accepts as applying to them - usually founded in God or some other divine power.

If you don't live in a civil society, and you don't believe in natural law (= the honor code), then you live in what Hobbes calls the state of nature - no laws, complete rights to do whatever you want. The risk you take is that everyone else in the state of nature has complete rights too, and can beat you up with impunity.

Clearly the world doesn't operate on the civil-society model: if it did, there would be a world government and we would all have legal protection from that government wherever we were. (As it is, all we have is a few conventions which no-one is obliged to agree with - as Alberto Gonzales will point out if you ask him.)

I think it's also highly dubious to suggest that the world operates on an honor-code/natural law system. Sure, countries can gang up on other countries and make them face the consequences of doing unpopular things. But I'd suggest that the vast majority of countries don't think that this is the enforcement of some transcendent morality to which they secretly subscribe themselves. It's pure pragmatism.

The whole point of an honor code is that it can't be enforced. It is a system based on trust. Law is a system based on right.

So Hobbes says, anyway. Other people have since come up with theories of natural law which I don't find convincing; but I'm apparently not being very convincing myself. I'll shut up now.

#264 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 11:12 PM:

Bakers can't hedge wheat futures absent a speculator willing to bet the other way.

It seems only fair to offer you a definition of prosperity of my own in return. I would define prosperity as the proportion of their time that individuals must work to meet basic survival requirements: food, shelter, etc. Communal prosperity would be a function of prosperity per capita--regardless of how the workload is in fact divided. Comment?

On that assumption there is no rioting in France as basic survival requirements are met without working and so there must be universal prosperity and Maslow was flat wrong? For me commodity is a primitive - fuzzy - concept but if we accept the Marxist definition then we can proceed to define prosperity as each head gets enough commodities to meet his needs regardless.

Or of course we could look at what we mean by work - living on welfare frequently requires a great deal of effort including. for cases I have some knowledge of, chasing all over town with young children in tow.

We have done that -- you can order custom machine parts done to tolerances of one ten-thousandth of an inch in very small lots (like, five) easily and cheaply, for instance. That isn't possible without powerful automation.

It's said with some truth that Toyota hasn't made 2 cars the same in many years now and although it didn't save Levi Strauss & Co from going off shore and otherwise morphing so as to be unrecognizable still with current technology custom clothing is now available from Sears/K-Mart (Lands' End Custom) over the web - no need to Ebay from India

So this idea of "need" is important. What is a "need" in today's dominant postindustrial world? .... In "Society of the Spectacle" (1967), French philosopher Guy Debord suggests that the idea of economic necessity as something that one truly needs -- food, clothing, shelter -- must be destroyed by the economy itself and replaced by a "ceaseless manufacture of pseudo-needs." I would argue that the economy is entering individuality into the realm of pseudo-needs, and marketing it accordingly. Not only do I need Levi's jeans, I need to have my Levi's emblazoned with my personalized ensignia, a modern territorial pissing of sorts.
Custom jeans for every butt
Levi's promises individualized denim for every fancy. But one explorer discovers that mass customization is trickier than it looks.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Sarah Lidgus
Salon March 5, 2003

Absent a static population of constant age pyramid it seems likely that at least a cycling economy is necessary (or at least inevitable which may be the same thing) and for a growing population a growing economy.

That doesn't, to my mind, follow at all -- people very reliably do what they perceive to be in their best interest, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's not like anyone can know what the economically sound choices are, since that requires knowledge of the future.

Socratic fallacy on the one hand suggests that people do not do what they perceive to be in their own best interest very reliably but maybe times or people have changed? On the other hand it doesn't follow that some other social choice mechanism leads people to act in their own best interests more consistently.

Without of course knowing the future I choose to draw to an inside straight only in the rarest of circumstances (obs SF Glory Road). Seems to be on average economically sound especially given that choices must be made - you can't win, you can't break even and you can't quite the game (RAH again and I don't know his source).

Honor/Shame societies seem to enforce behavior at least as thoroughly as Draco did laws. Though honor/shame and right/wrong societies are often in disagreement. See Edward T. Hall - The Silent Language - for a deservedly famous example of 2 only slightly different societies (anglo/hispanic in the same town) enforcing identically the same traffic laws with the same established mechanisms yet in different ways.

Prosperity may be achievement of the Midas Plague?

#265 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 11:48 PM:

I would add one caveat to candle's able exposition of the nature of law: you don't have to agree that law applies to you for it to be actually applied to you. It is enforceable in effect and actually enforced upon you, whether or not you recognise it, or argue that there is some higher principle that supercedes it. It doesn't matter whether you consent or not; it doesn't even matter if you are completely ignorant of it. Law applies to you anyway.

#266 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2005, 11:53 PM:

Well, if the definition of law includes that it must be enforced/enforceable, then no, there's no international law. But you've also said that law doesn't apply (as much) to wealthy people, or to the police themselves, or to anyone with friends in high places.

Because the law is NOT generally enforced on them. Otherwise our President would be in prison.

#267 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 12:01 AM:

It is important to be aware of the difference between a mutual agreement and a legal agreement. If I promise to pay you 1000 dollars by Friday, and then I don't pay up, you can apply moral pressure or make me feel guilty; you can threaten not to lend me money in future; you can get your friends around to threaten to beat me up. But I won't have broken any law, and there will be no legal recourse. Things get done, internationally, in much the same way, and I don't think they are always done badly. But to imagine that there is some legal basis for it depends, as I said, on the invocation of some higher authority than the sovereign state: natural law or an international government. A lynch mob is not the same thing.

Xopher - my mistake about the state of US law (although I would want to argue that there is a significant difference between civil and criminal law, especially given the US interpretation of the former as being pretty much anything of which you can convince a jury). I still want to maintain, though, that there is a philosophical difference between an honor code and a legal system. The point is not about getting caught, or about consequences: it is, as you say, about the abstract existence of a law which you have broken and could in theory be rightfully punished for.

Perhaps there is a useful as well as a practical distinction between law and as here equity? The sovereign state may sometimes enforce equity as with U.S. Marshalls and on the other hand sometimes decline to act as with "John Marshall has made his decision let him enforce it." Marshall Dillon did a pretty good job but with his limits.

Quoting Estoppel From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia as of current date.

Promissory estoppel
The doctrine of promissory estoppel prevents one party from withdrawing a promise made to a second party if the latter has relied on that promise and acted upon it.....

English law
In English law, a promise made without consideration is generally not enforceable.... Estoppel is an exception to this rule.

The doctrine of promissory estoppel was first developed in Hughes v. Metropolitan Railway Co [1877] but was lost for some time until it was resurrected by Lord Denning in the controversial case of Central London Property Trust Ltd v. High Trees House Ltd [1947] K.B. 130.....

Australian law
The doctrine of promissory estoppel was adopted into Australian law in Legione v. Hateley (1983) 152 CLR 406; however, the plaintiffs were unsuccessful in that case because the reliance was unreasonable and the promise not unequivocal.

In fact, now Australian law has gone beyond the position espoused in the High Trees case; it has has been extended successfully to cases where there is no pre-existing legal relationship between the two parties, and promissory estoppel can be weilded[sic] as a "sword", not just as a "shield". Wilson and Mason JJ in Waltons Stores (Interstate) Ltd v. Maher (1988) 164 CLR 387 held that if estoppel is proven, it gives rise to an equity in favour of the plaintiff, and the court will do the minimum equity that is just in the circumstances. From this case, it is also possible for the promise to come from silence or inaction.

As noted above, in Australian law, there is an element of unconscionability, which is satisfied if one party encourages the other party to create assumptions that lead to reliance.

American law
In the many jurisdictions of the United States, promissory estoppel is generally an alternative to consideration as a basis for enforcing a promise. It is also sometimes referred to as detrimental reliance.

It remains, I think, an open question whether in the example given Xopher would get nothing, $750 for the bling or $1000 for the promise.

Similarly we see international sanctions of one sort and another talked about for nasty conduct as well as for enforcement of international agreements. International agreements may be enforced against states never a party to that agreement as well. If the police were all so good as Poul Anderson's U.N. Man then I think we would have world peace through world law. But notice again Edward Hall - The Silent Language - where one community in the United States was unable to live at peace with itself under agreed upon written laws where the whole community agreed on the laws but disagreed about the enforcement.

To achieve equity in Darfur we might do better to spend the effort on water (desalting technology) than on a world court.

#268 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 12:16 AM:

law doesn't apply (as much) to wealthy people, or to the police themselves, or to anyone with friends in high places.

Sure it does, "the law in its majesty....". Much of government consists of outlawing everything and then selling licenses to break the law. This certainly applied to Chicago parking laws when I lived in Hyde Park. There was a high opportunity cost in buying the license to break the rules from the local police, at the precinct level or from the good Mayor. The law by its terms applies but as Jimmy Carter observed fairness doesn't - life is not fair. See the sidebar.

#269 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 12:27 AM:

J Thomas: not former Marines, nobody admits to being a former Marine

A counterexample -- who just snickers at the above attitude, when visitors leave hard-ass comments to "A Few Good Men and Me".

Graydon: The reason to care for the poor is that you yourself will surely be old and helpless one day.

Oh? Given law, people with money are not helpless even if unable to defend themselves physically. Could this be why the oligarchs guard their fortunes at the cost of wrecking the country?

#270 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 02:21 AM:

It's important to remember that "absolute" is a false concept -- there aren't any. Everything has defining context and error bars.

To be sure. My objection is to the use of a second-order measurement--something that can only be measured over time. Which brings me to:

So it's often much easier to have confidence about measuring a rate of change than it is to have confidence about the values on either end of the change.

This leaves me at somewhat of a loss. I cannot, in chemistry, economics, physics, sociology, or any other field with which I am remotely familiar, think of a single variable for which is easier to measure the derivative of the variable than the variable itself. Change, as Hume would put it, is not an impression, it is not perceivable--it is a series of impressions. Change is only discovered by comparing the impressions. Change itself is ineffable.

That doesn't, to my mind, follow at all -- people very reliably do what they perceive to be in their best interest, on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's not like anyone can know what the economically sound choices are, since that requires knowledge of the future.

That is a poor argument--your second point invalidates the first. If no one can make sound decisions, then what difference does their basis for those decisions make?

People make decisions about what is economically sound all the time. As Clark E Meyers said, one can choose not to draw to an inside straight (a sound economic decision) without knowing the future. People make these decisions, with different levels of success, day in and day out.

They do not, however, always make their decisions on the grounds of what is economically sound. I am a prime example--if economics had played a role in my choice, I would not be an Asian Studies major. My decision is based on my idea of my own best interests, yes, but not on what is economically sound. The two diverge, and diverge more sharply as people get more prosperous (my definition) and economic factors play less of a role in decision-making.

You can make the exact same argument about the percentage of the population engaged in food production in an industrial economy, you realize?

Yes. That basic activities like food production, and, eventually, industry, can meet the need with prgressively smaller fractions of the populace is the core of my argument.

Given the eventual certainty of calamitous events (though not any specific calamitous event), the more scope of choice that's accumulated, the better the odds of having a good way to cope with the calamity available.

Calamitous events happen at discrete times. At that particular instant, the question I'd be asking is "How well is my economy able to deal with calamitous events right now?", not "Are we on an upward or downward trend in being able to deal with calamitous events?" To put it another way, I'd far rather live in an economy that had a vast array of choices available than in an economy that had a limited number of choices, no matter how fast it was developing.

(I asked) Say, for example, the world economy taken as a whole. In this situation relatively stable economies would be preferable, I would think.

Do you find that holds if you replace "growth" with "skill"?

No. I'm sold. Positive rates of change are good too. However, I am still wary of your emphasis on rate of change as the best measure of prosperity.

It's a snapshot measure, rather than a measure of the way the odds of coping successfully with the unexpected -- those calamitous events -- are changing.

I'm not going to deny that seeing how they change over time is worthwhile. However, when a calamitous event occurs, how fast you are developing new ways to deal with calamities isn't going to matter nearly as much as whether or not you can deal with one now.

#271 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 03:58 AM:

Graydon [defined prosperity as] The rate of change in generally realizable access to choice is of positive sign over generational time.

Heresiarch: Interesting. You would define prosperity as the value of a rate of change. I would rather define it in terms of an absolute--as the realizable access to choice itself, to parallel your example.

Graydon: It's important to remember that "absolute" is a false concept -- there aren't any. Everything has defining context and error bars.

So it's often much easier to have confidence about measuring a rate of change than it is to have confidence about the values on either end of the change.

Heresiarch: This leaves me at somewhat of a loss. I cannot, in chemistry, economics, physics, sociology, or any other field with which I am remotely familiar, think of a single variable for which is easier to measure the derivative of the variable than the variable itself. Change, as Hume would put it, is not an impression, it is not perceivable--it is a series of impressions. Change is only discovered by comparing the impressions. Change itself is ineffable.

Clark E Myers: I think there is a false precision in speaking of a variable with a derivative. I suppose we are mostly talking time series and so with respect to time but already that assumes something about the function. Indeed economics is at one level all smoke and mirrors in supposing smooth well behaved everywhere differentiable functions - we wave our hands and granularity disappears - stepping functions of number of metro buses become passenger miles and so it goes.

(eventually after great effort we deal with more realistic assumptions and find the same conclusions so continue to assume simple functions)

Flows may often be easier to measure than stocks. Consider world oil supply - hard to measure, and a state secret in some places - and world oil consumption - easier to measure. In a bouncing vehicle it may be much easier to measure fuel flow than fuel stock. Gimli gliders happen more often than we realize.

I can't define money supply ( M1, M1a, M1a*,things migrate in and out as currency to meet needs and that's the easy part), and seasonal adjustment is both indispensable and impossible. Still I can get a pretty good handle on direction and a fair handle on magnitude of movement.

There is a straight Strategy of Technology (Possony, Pournelle et.al) issue in deciding whether to prepare well for a current disaster or better for a future disaster. This implies what I believe to be true that we can't do both. IFF the rate of change is cyclic there can be some hope of being well positioned when things slow down.

Obs SF Pavane - all we need is a real if invisible hand.

#272 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 03:53 PM:

Consider world oil supply - hard to measure, and a state secret in some places - and world oil consumption - easier to measure.

World oil consumption is not a rate of change. It is a directly quantifiable variable--x gallons of oil were used on a particular day. X gallons were used on the next day. So on. You can average them to find a general rate, which is nice because it allows us to make assumptions about the future. However, when the future comes it may or may not reflect your predictions. The only way to find that out is to measure it again--how many gallons of oil were used today?

All measurements happen at discrete moments in time. We have a lot of equations that allow us to convert these discrete measurements to rates, but it is impossible to measure the rates directly. All measurements are snapshots. All rates are abstractions.

#273 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 04:00 PM:

All rates are abstractions.

Miles per gallon. Miles per hour. Interest rates. Tax rates. Deaths per thousand. Births per year.

Not abstractions.

Be careful about the use of 'all'.

#274 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 05:56 PM:

We now have a fine new example of the failure of an attempt to obliterate culture, courtesy of the French. See Juan Cole's coverage of the riots in Paris.

#275 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2005, 08:13 PM:

Randolph --

That wasn't an attempt to obliterate culture; that was an attempt to ignore difference. (Obliteration works fine, given a couple-three generations of effort, and doing it as the price of economic integration works really very well.)

Heresiarch --

People make decisions about what is economically sound all the time. As Clark E Meyers said, one can choose not to draw to an inside straight (a sound economic decision) without knowing the future. People make these decisions, with different levels of success, day in and day out.

The inside straight is in the context of a game constrained against calamity. Even nice neat modern stock markets aren't that. ("And some we had for silver, and some we got by trade, and some we had by courtesy of pike and cannonade" very much less so.)

Calamitous events happen at discrete times. At that particular instant, the question I'd be asking is "How well is my economy able to deal with calamitous events right now?", not "Are we on an upward or downward trend in being able to deal with calamitous events?" To put it another way, I'd far rather live in an economy that had a vast array of choices available than in an economy that had a limited number of choices, no matter how fast it was developing.

But the economy we have now is always sharply limited in choice space compared to the economy we could have in the future.

How well, or how badly, are we doing at approaching that future economy?

If you're trying to measure increase -- and that's what I'd like to measure, the increase of realizable access to change -- it more or less has to be a measure over time.

Because, really, it doesn't matter what it is now; it matters what it is in the future, compared to what it could have been when the future was the future.

There's a known-optimal algorithm for computer memory paging -- page out the information that will be wanted furthest in the future.

It can't, obviously, be implemented in the general case, but it's straightforward to run it against a known sequence of memory requests. People who are writing general case page swapping algorithms do this, so they can find out how good their algorithm is -- 94% of optimal, sorts of things.

That's the kind of approach I'm thinking off -- how close are we getting to where we could have been?

And yes, realizable access to choice matters as a long term trend -- most people in Anglo-NorAm in 1970 would not have believed that they would have less economic security in 2005 than they did then, but it happened all the same. Mostly because of an acceptance of measuring prosperity with snapshot measures that amounted to a diffusion of the abstraction of money.

#276 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2005, 12:54 PM:

"I cannot, in chemistry, economics, physics, sociology, or any other field with which I am remotely familiar, think of a single variable for which is easier to measure the derivative of the variable than the variable itself. "

Velocity while lost.

#277 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2005, 06:37 PM:

P J Evans said: Be careful about the use of 'all'.

I am not engaged in hyperbole. I meant precisely what I said. No rate can be directly apprehended. All rates are abstractions.

Take the example of velocity. In order to measure velocity you need to know four discrete, directly measurable things. You need to know initial position, final position, starting time, and finishing time. All of these are quantifiable via direct observation. Velocity, however, can only be found by first determining these four variable and then applying a certain formula. It is an abstraction based on the interrelation of other, quantifiable data. It is incredibly valuable as a tool of extrapolation, but it is nonetheless an abstraction.

Note that directly quantifiable is different than absolute. It is the relative position and relative time that is important.

Graydon: But the economy we have now is always sharply limited in choice space compared to the economy we could have in the future.

Arguably. Arguably not. The assumption that we can have anything more than what we have at that moment is always just that--an assumption, not based on any empirical evidence.

Because, really, it doesn't matter what it is now; it matters what it is in the future, compared to what it could have been when the future was the future.

I disagree entirely. All that matters is what it is available now, for people who are living and making choices now. And in the future all that will matter will still be the choice space people are actually living in, not what it might have been. Like I said: when the calamity strikes, might-have-beens go right out the window.

Rate of change is a useful tool when thinking about prosperity, but what I care about is whether people are able to make choices freely or not. What I care about is whether people are starving to death, whether people have economic flexibility--not what it may be in some potential future (and all futures are merely potential).

That's the kind of approach I'm thinking off -- how close are we getting to where we could have been?

But how the hell do we judge where we could have been? Computer programmers have very well-defined parameters, which make those kinds of judgements useful. But no one has any idea what an economy with a perfect array of choice would look like--we are so far from it we can barely guess. And we are the closest now that we have ever been.

And yes, realizable access to choice matters as a long term trend -- most people in Anglo-NorAm in 1970 would not have believed that they would have less economic security in 2005 than they did then, but it happened all the same.

And yet I would still rather live in downward-trending NorAm in 2005 than in upward-trending China in 2005. And I would definitely rather be hit by a hurricane in NorAm in 2005 than be hit by a earthquake in ?-trending Pakistan in 2005.

#278 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2005, 07:32 PM:

Some people enjoy splitting hairs more than I do.

Velocity is not a rate, it's a vector, which is a bit different: speed is a rate. So if speed is an abstraction, what exactly does a speedometer do? I know that it's measuring wheel rotations per time-unit; that's as close to real as you can get: physical motion per time-division.

Measuring economies does get abstract, but currency is real. Interest rates are real in at least some senses. Satisfaction and happiness are abstractions, and not exactly measurable, even in polls.

#279 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 12:49 AM:

Velocity is not a rate, it's a vector, which is a bit different: speed is a rate.

True--my mistake.

So if speed is an abstraction, what exactly does a speedometer do? I know that it's measuring wheel rotations per time-unit; that's as close to real as you can get: physical motion per time-division.

That is essentially my point--that is as real as you can get, and it isn't real at all. It is a __ per __, which is not something we can have an impression of, is not something we can experience. Our eyes are cameras, taking still images over and over. Continuity is a phenomenon created by the brain.

A rate is a measurement which can only be made in retrospect, and yet it is constantly assumed that it can be used to predict the future. Perhaps it will predict the future, perhaps it will not. The only way to find out is to wait for the future to happen, then look back again and see if it matches up.

Satisfaction and happiness are abstractions, and not exactly measurable, even in polls.

No, but the number of people starving to death is fairly quantifiable. The number of people dying from lack of medical care is quantifiable. The number of people unable to meet basic survival needs while working full time is quantifiable.

#280 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 04:17 AM:

Speed is an abstraction. We say miles per hour, but we're not measuring it over an hour (usually). The car is moving at variable rates of speed over any period we can reasonably measure -- what the spedometer measures is a moving average over a fixed time.

And that's totally leaving out relativity and the Uncertainty Principle...

#281 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 04:43 PM:

Actually, in some applications it's much easier to measure acceleration and integrate it, than to directly try and measure distance covered. This is how inertial guidance platforms work, for example in missiles or aircraft.

#282 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2005, 07:02 PM:

[I promised to shut up back then, but this time I want to agree with someone. Kind of. Sorry for dragging this out if no-one cares anymore]

It doesn't matter whether you consent or not; it doesn't even matter if you are completely ignorant of it. Law applies to you anyway.

Yes: I would say that by living in a society you implicitly agree that its laws apply to you. You can avoid this by seceding or just by leaving. This is why extradition treaties exist. Meanwhile, a president likely knows he is breaking the law even though he expects to get away with it. 'Enforceable' is a different thing from 'enforced'. As Dave also says somewhere.

Here's a French 17-year-old complaining about the behaviour of the police (from the Guardian): "I got caught the other week smoking on the train. OK, you shouldn't smoke on the train. But we get to Aulnay station, there are six cops waiting for us, three cars..."

I think it's fascinating. Even when he is trying to be conciliatory, it's hard to imagine Bush saying "We've been criticised for invading Iraq. OK, you shouldn't invade other countries. But.."

#283 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 09:03 AM:

IMHO, if you can measure, it's real. It may be intangible, but it isn't abstract. (Numbers are abstract. Sub-atomic particles are intangible.) Speed is real - they have a reason for telling you what size wheels and tires to use on vehicles; changing either or both changes the input to the speedometer.

#284 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 11:23 AM:

Jakob hits on it: Actually, in some applications it's much easier to measure acceleration and integrate it, than to directly try and measure distance covered.

Yes. In an inertial frame of refernce, you have no sensation of speed, but you can directly sense acceleration.

The society you live in tends to be analogous to an inertial frame of reference: it might be hard to notice your speed, but you can be exquisitely sensitive to its derivative - - you KNOW when you start falling.

Similarly: you might not be overly aware of exactly how free your society is in absolute terms, but you can certainly sense when your choices are being expanded or contracted.

#285 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 03:05 PM:

Bob Oldendorf said: In an inertial frame of refernce, you have no sensation of speed, but you can directly sense acceleration.

No, you cannot directly sense acceleration (m/s^2). You can, however, directly sense force (Newton), which is quite different. Luckily, Isaac Newton came up with a handy formula interrelating the two.

#286 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 04:18 PM:

Well, ok, but we're splitting hairs at this point: would you be happy if I said that physiologically, you perceive the force inside you and interpret it as acceleration?

The larger point is that while you can't perceive speed directly as such, you can perceive acceleration. (Ok, "F", if you insist. But I think for all practical definitional purposes, it IS a you perceive, because you're also sensitive to changes in a - the next derivitive.)

And going 'way upthread to Graydon's initial point: by analogy, you could similarly say that a person can directly perceive "the rate of change in generally realizable access to choice".

#287 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 04:33 PM:

Every teenager notices when they get car keys, frex. They may not be able to afford the gas to go anywhere they couldn't go on the city bus already, but they notice -- their scope of realizable choice has expanded.

No, but the number of people starving to death is fairly quantifiable. The number of people dying from lack of medical care is quantifiable. The number of people unable to meet basic survival needs while working full time is quantifiable.

And these numbers don't measure how well your society is organized relative to the resources you have; if all you have are iron hoes and oxen, those numbers are going to suck rocks in an absolute sense even if they're very good in a relative sense.

I'm not after a 'are things good?' measure; I'm after a "is this a social organization that leads to things getting better?" measure. And yes, that's a little more abstract, but I think it's a lot more worthwhile -- "are things good" is necessarily a comparison with the past, not a selection of possible futures.

It's the future that has choice in it.

#288 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 06:35 PM:

Well, ok, but we're splitting hairs at this point: would you be happy if I said that physiologically, you perceive the force inside you and interpret it as acceleration?

Splitting hairs is all we're doing at this point; if you don't like it, I am surprised you made it this far in this conversation. =)

It's the act of interpretation that is the problem. You only interpret it as acceleration because us humans are lazy thinkers. It is not actually acceleration that you are experiencing, no more than observing parallax is experiencing velocity.

Graydon:

I feel pretty comfortable at this point saying that I understand the point you are arguing. I simply happen to disagree. That's fine, really. It is a reasonable disagreement.

You are more interested in the question: If this system is allowed to develop, where will it end up? I am more interested in the question: How well is the system doing right now?

There are strengths and weaknesses to each approach. Take the example of the coastal Indians of the Pacific Northwest. They were, by the standard I suggested, quite prosperous. The environment provided the necessities of survival with relative ease, leaving them with enough leisure time to develop highly complex arts. However, they were fairly limited in terms of economic choice--no blacksmiths, architects, philosophers, professional musicians. etc. Medicine was primitive. Nor did they show any tendency to progress. Thus, by your standards, they were not prosperous--and, when I compare them to our own society, I can see your point: I appreciate x-rays and penicillin.

On the other hand, take the industrialization of Japan. No denying that it was progress of a mind-blowing sort. Nowhere else has such a thing ever taken place. Its cost in human suffering, however, is nearly immeasurable. No doubt it was progress, but the people arguably suffered in 1897 more than they had in 1853--albeit in new and exciting ways. And they continued to suffer, and suffer, and then World War II came and they suffered even more. And throughout this, economic progress continued. Was this prosperity? Not of any sort that I would welcome.

Why do I still prefer my criteria? My focus is on suffering, and in preventing it. I believe that progress is the best, and the only sure way to lower the amount of suffering. But I do not hold progress itself to be intrinsically good. It is often functionally good, and occasionally a necessary evil, but I do not embrace it for its own sake.

#289 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2005, 07:38 PM:

I am not saying they weren't prosperous; by a number of measures of prosperous, they certainly were. (I'm also not trying to talk about prosperity, as such.)

If you're going to focus on prevention of suffering, you have to pick a time horizon.

My assertion is that, given enough time, you get an outside context problem -- something happens for which your culture has no coping mechanisms -- and even without one of those, you get calamities (flood, fire, earthquake, and economic disruption) which are understood but not easy to deal with.

So I'm saying that the appropriate response is not "progress" -- raw change in capability -- but generally realizable access to choice. (In ancient Egypt, Pharoh could have ice cream. It doesn't count until you've got ice cream cones at the corner store in poor neighborhoods.)

The "generally realizable" part of what I'm talking about is important; that's what gets a diversity of response to calamity, and increases the odds of there being some survivors.

#290 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:32 AM:

Graydon, I *like* your point of view. It doesn't work to try to prevent suffering, people suffer about the same amount per life regardless. People who have everything they need can still do pretty intense suffering over being snubbed by, say, a science fiction fan club.

Focusing on personal choices by random people will tend to include human rights, and liberal societies, and a whole lot of good values.

I hadn't seen it expressed in those terms anywhere except some of the Croyd books by Ian Wallace. Wallace's hero expressed that as his ideal, but gave no details.

#291 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 03:24 PM:

J Thomas said: It doesn't work to try to prevent suffering, people suffer about the same amount per life regardless.

I can't entirely disagree, except to say that starving to death is a qualitatively different sort of suffering than nervous anxiety. People should be given the opportunity not to suffer, even if they don't/can't take it. And if you don't agree, then why worry about bettering anything at all? Just join a Buddhist monastery and practice being not.

#292 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:46 PM:

Let me revise that and say that people suffer about the same amount per year, not per life. If that's closer, then when somebody starves to death and their relatives say "At least his suffering is over" I'm agreeing with them.

We can reduce the suffering a whole lot by euthanasing people. The fewer the people, the less suffering. But to increase choice you do better with more people who all have more choice.

While I'm not clear how to measure total choice, it seems like a good theoretical goal to aim for. More than reducing suffering.

#293 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 09:07 PM:

Measuring choice where reading Stafford Beer comes in -- he spent effectively all of his long and productive working life thinking about that question.

Reduced suffering, like a lot of other things, is best achieved as a side-effect.

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