The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Clarification and a thinkpiece

I had a conversation with a conservative a little while ago where we discussed whether or not Pro-President Bush people were war criminals. Of course, as many people remember, a Nazi on trial at the Nuremberg Tribunal plaintively cried "But I was just following orders." The Tribunal concluded that no, that wasn't an all-purpose excuse, that no one had an excuse to follow illegal orders no matter how insistent their military superiors were. People, both in uniform and out, are expected to know the difference between legal and illegal instructions and to react accordingly. No one among the netroots considers the actions of our telecom companies in assisting the government to stomp all over our Fourth Amendment rights to be justified. The telecom companies have used reasoning very similar to that of the Nazi at Nuremberg, but as they have large staffs of expensive lawyers, we don't accept their reasoning. They knew full well they were doing something that was completely illegal and they should be jailed for that.
Many religious authorities during the build-up period for the Iraq War examined the issue as to whether or not the proposed invasion of Iraq fit the definition of a "just war" and largely concluded that it did not. Is it fair to condemn pro-Bush people for fighting in or supporting that "unjust war"? A major problem with doing that is that our traditional media was keeping up a steady drumbeat about how Saddam Hussein had something to do with Osama bin Laden and therefore with 9-11. I can't even count how many cartoons I saw that featured Hussein and bin Laden sitting in a cave together. Were cartoonists formally instructed to use this visual metaphor or did they simply read the news in the traditional media and interpret that as what "everybody" was saying?
The number of people who believe there was a Hussein-bin Laden connection is still alarmingly high, but as the traditional media has never really pressed very hard to inform people of the change in the storyline, that's not terribly surprising.
As people are pointing out in connection to the Bruce Ivins/anthrax case of October 2001, the American people were strongly encouraged by our Establishment to believe that America was under attack from beyond our shores and that Hussein was probably guilty. ABC News especially has been fingered as having passed on stories about the anthrax attacks that were very favorable towards the end of heightening citizen fear and paranoia.
I didn't watch Secretary of State Colin Powell's dramatic presentation at the UN (I was too busy preparing for the February 15th demonstration), but my brother-in-law did and he described the presentation as "Convincing, if you were looking into the whole situation for the first time. If you were familiar with the evidence before that, it wasn't persuasive at all." The alternative media (The left blogosphere didn't exist yet) pounced on Powell's speech and quickly tore it to bits, but the traditional media was absolutely floored, awestruck and amazed by how utterly convincing Powell's case for war was. "Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise" than that Iraq was guilty, proclaimed an allegedly liberal columnist.
Add to these the usual "Rally 'round the flag" tendency of citizens to support their government in times of perceived crisis, and you have a pretty compelling case for citizens to support the war that's still ravaging Iraq and driving so many Iraqis to seek shelter in foreign countries.
So, although war crimes are never forgivable and as the invasion of Iraq counted as a "war of aggression," but as it's really not clear how many American citizens were fully and truly informed on that issue, we on the left don't automatically count all pro-war people as being war criminals.

Also, we discussed whether someone is really a warrior if they're in the military, but in a relatively safe part of the military. We on the left apply the term "chickenhawk" to a very small number of people who actually wore military uniforms during the Vietnam War precisely because there is indeed a large gray area between being in the military and between being "in harm's way." If one was back in the Roman Army or one was a fighter in a German tribe, there were no two ways about it. If you were part of the army or were considered a "warrior," you were a front-line fighter who made direct contact with the enemy. Sailors were no exception as, in the days of the wooden ships, the call to "repel boarders" was heard frequently.
Since at least America's Civil War, we've had specialties within the military that do not involve front-line fighting. We've had military specialties like supply clerks or Yeomen or Hospital Corpsmen (My own Navy specialty, Personnelman, is distinct from Yeoman in that I dealt with Enlisted persons as opposed to Officers. Since I left, the PN specialty has been merged with that of the DKs, or Disbursing Clerks). And since Navies all over the world went to metal ships, there hasn't been much hostile boarding. Generally, the attitude on that is to give the great majority of all military members the benefit of the doubt as to whether they really count as warriors or not. In my capacity as a member of the Damage Control/Firefighting team, yes, there was a possibility of my being physically injured, but the risk of injury was far lower than it would have been had I served on a wooden ship or in America's Army during the Revolution or during the Indian Wars.
An Army officer was talking to some shipmates of mine and was trying to get them fired up and enthused by declaring they were "killers." They agreed with the officer, but later said among themselves "Well, yeah, we're killers. We push a button and ten miles away, something blows up. So...yeah, technically, we count as killers, but...well..." As I said, there's a large gray area between being in the military and between being an actual warrior.


US and Poland ratchet up tension further

In the aftermath of what appears to be a settling of the South Ossetian war between Russia and Georgia, the US and Poland ratcheted up tensions another notch by Poland agreeing to accept a US missile interceptor base on its soil. Back in 1983, the original design for what was then quickly dubbed "Star Wars" (A continuation of the ABM system which had been temporarily forced to proceed as an entirely privatized system running "on spec") was for it to be a series of satellites that would launch small rockets upon detecting a missile launch. As that was rather obviously a system that could very easily be used in an offensive, first-strike role (A rocket fired from the upper atmosphere would be traveling quickly enough to wipe out just about anything without even the need to carry an explosive payload), it was reconfigured to use different means to knock down missiles.

In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the US integrate its latest iteration of Star Wars, "Missie Defense," with a Russian weapons system, specifically by using their Gabala radar station located in Azerbaijan. The US countered that they could build safeguards into their system so that Russians need not be concerned over it being used against them. Obviously, for the US to have constructed an integrated system would have meant that the two systems could not have been un-integrated in a hurry. Looking at it from the Russian perspective, they clearly would have felt much calmer and more relaxed had their proposal been accepted.

The Russians have made it quite clear that they interpret the Polish acceptance of a Missile Defense system as a hostile move aimed at them. Apparently, America's neoconservatives have been trying to encircle Russia since at least the administration of the Elder George Bush. Of course, as US military assets are pretty thoroughly tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's not at all clear that the US has any serious response available should Russia demonstrate its displeasure through more energetic means.


Fight for survival or the fight of the chickenhawks?

William Kritsol in the NY Times says:

Russia is aggressive, China despotic and Iran messianic — but none is as dangerous as the 20th-century totalitarian states.

Okay. But then he carries on with all sorts of 1930s, pre-World War II, Hitler and Churchill and appeasement-type analogies. Which is it Bill? He spends most of his column drawing a picture of a dark and evil world united against the forces of "freedom and democracy," only to acknowledge that well, it isn't all that bad. Diplomacy is an utterly hopeless and useless option, but it's not as if The West is in a fight for its very survival.

First off, Bill displays the usual right-wing misconception as to why diplomacy exists. We can debate the late 1930s European example (and we have, ad infinitum and ad nauseum), but leaving that example aside, we can see that diplomacy is not and never was an attempt to "be nice to the bad guys" in the vain hope that they will be nice in return. It was always an attempt to find common ground, to find areas where we could agree and to build upon those areas of mutual interest. The US and the Soviet Union decided they had a mutual interest in survival in the face of many tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Ipso, facto, ergo, sum, we engaged in diplomacy to try and defuse the struggle, to try and lower the temperature, to try to find a mutually satisfactory accommodation. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed from its own internal weaknesses, diplomacy prevented the two adversaries from blowing up the world in the meantime.

And I'm sorry, but If the United States "...seem[s] oddly timid and uncertain" in the face of this existential/not so serious threat, it might be because, from President Bush on down, the right-wing side of the political spectrum in this country refuses to call for any real sacrifice for this melodramatically-named "War on Terror." The right-wing screamers and pontificators refuse to call for either higher taxes or for a draft, making a complete joke out of their picture of it as a "generational struggle" of allegedly huge significance.

The problem with Kristol and all of his chickenhawk fellow travelers is that their rhetoric and their actions are in completely different worlds, where one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. As to this:

But Georgia, a nation of about 4.6 million, has had the third-largest military presence — about 2,000 troops — fighting along with U.S. soldiers and marines in Iraq. For this reason alone, we owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty.

Erm, I'm sorry, but there is no mutual, nationwide "we" that invited Georgia, formerly a province of Russia, to send 2,000 troops to Iraq. "We" peaceniks and hippies and people who felt that the unprovoked invasion of Iraq was a really bad idea never supported the war to begin with. Much less did we support other nations joining in on the fight. From the very beginning, the invasion of Iraq was what we considered to be an unwarranted war of aggression, illegal under international law. Yes, concerning Georgia, "Russia has sent troops and tanks across an international border," but on March 19, 2003, so did the US.

The US looks upon the invasion of Georgia, not as a country that is morally superior to Russia, but as one that is their equal.


Conversations with conservatives

Had some extensive email conversations with conservatives recently that I think are of some interest. Number 1 (PDF - 70+ kilobytes) and I've appended extra comments to Number 2 (PDF - roughly 200 kilobytes). I think these conversations are worthwhile to the extent that one can make one's speech shed light instead of heat, but it really helps when both people have a fair amount of understanding between them to begin with. A condition that I don't think was really present in either case.