I think all intelligent, patriotic, and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Adolph Hitler. In fact, an Iraqi Hitler would be even better than an Iraqi Stalin.
Both propositions strike me as so self-evident as to require no explanation. But as I have discovered in recent days, many otherwise rational people can’t think straight when the names Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler come up.
Let’s put aside, at least for a moment, the question of which man was (or is) "worse." Suffice it to say, both have more blood on their hands than a decent conscience should be able to bear. Still, if all you want to do is keep score, then Stalin almost surely has many more bodies on his rap sheet. Robert Conquest estimates that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million people, though the real number could be many times that for the "socialist paradise."
But there are measures beside body counts. Stalin took Russia, once among the most prosperous empires in Eurasia, and collectivized the economy even as he modernized it. The nation was a prison, and trying to leave could be a capital crime.
Civil liberties were a sham, freedom of speech and freedom of the press were nonexistent, and dissidents were routinely thrown in prison. Civil society became deeply politicized and, hence, corrupted. In the two five-year plans, Stalin rapidly advanced the Russian economy, but his collectivization of agriculture quickly reduced much of Russia to near starvation. Stalin, rudely taking a long time to die, eventually transferred power to his successor, Georgy Malenkov. Not exactly an open primary. On the plus side, we are told, Russia had very impressive literacy, longevity and infant mortality rates—and lavish accommodations for fellow travelers and defectors.
Now consider Germany. Führer Adolph Hitler seized a country that was coming apart at the seams. He too clamped down on civil liberties and the press. He too dispatched souls. The Holocaust History Project investigating his dictatorship found that Hitler had at least 9 or 10 million bodies in his column; but many of these probably died of disease or other wartime conditions. Many more were tortured or forced to flee the country.
But on the plus side, Hitler's abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Germany was no prison. There was a whole Lebensraum. Hitler built up institutions and infrastructure. And by partnering with corporate partners, he lifted the German volk out of poverty. In 1945, he stepped aside, feeling that some failed military policies necessitated a new political direction for Gemany. Yes, he feathered his nest from the treasury and took measures to protect himself from his enemies. His list of sins--both venal and moral--is long. But today Germany is a thriving, healthy democracy. Its economy is the envy of Europe, and its literacy and infant mortality rates are impressive.
I ask you: Which model do you think the average Iraqi would prefer? Which model, if implemented, would result in future generations calling Iraq a success? An Iraqi Hitler would provide order and put the country on the path toward liberalism, democracy, and the rule of law. (If only Ahmad Chalabi had been such a man.)
Now, you might say: "This is unfair. This is a choice between two bad options." True enough. But that’s all we face in Iraq: bad options. When presented with such a predicament, the wise man chooses the more moral, or less immoral, path. The conservative defense of Hitler was that he was the least-bad option; better the path of Blood and Reich than the path toward Stalinism, which is where Germany was heading before the National Socialists seized power.
These days, there’s a newfound love for precisely this sort of realpolitik. Consider Jonathan Chait, who recently floated a Swiftian proposal that we put Saddam Hussein back in power in Iraq because, given his track record of maintaining stability and recognizing how terrible things could get in Iraq, Hussein might actually represent the least-bad option. Even discounting his sarcasm, this was morally myopic. But it seems to me, if you can contemplate reinstalling a Hussein, you’d count yourself lucky to have a Hitler.
Friday, December 15, 2006
I think all intelligent, patriotic, and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Adolph Hitler. In fact, an Iraqi Hitler would be even better than an Iraqi Stalin.
Jim Henley plans to send troops to Iraq directly from Freddy "Kruger" Kagan's butt to Iraq, as does Spencer Ackerman, and of course, Justin Logan, who is the original source of the butt troops. Ah. Wait. There are no butt troops? Good god, man!
I, meanwhile, was on a carpet on the floor last night and had just lifted myself into a very pleasant salamba sirasana asana. I used to listen to classical radio when I did yoga after work, but I switched to All Things Considered because it had even less of a chance of surprising me and upsetting my balance. Imagine then my displeasure at tumbling over because I heard Kagan tell Michelle Norris that
"The key thing here is that we have to have a fundamental change in American strategy. So far, throughout this war, it has never been the objective of the American military forces in Iraq to establish security for the Iraqi population as a matter of priority."You'll pardon my departure from my usually couth prose, but supposing this is so, just what the fuck have our objectives and priorities been in Iraq until now, if not establishing security for the Iraqi population? Because it seems to me that any other objectives, beginning with the ouster of the Saddam Hussein régime, were accomplished, more or less, some time ago. I even seem to recall signage to that effect:
Kagan, and McCain earlier in the interview, both say that these additional troops must provide security for the Iraqis so that something called "the political process" can "move forward." But whether we're fighting a native rebellion or a terrorist insurgency originating in points east and west of Iraq, isn't the "priority" necessarily establishing security, protecting the Iraqi population, and ensuring sufficient domestic tranquility for political accomodation to take the place of internecine warfare as a means of establishing national governance and national consensus?
Of course it is. (Not, of course, to suggest that any such thing is possible.)
If you listen to the full interview, which tragically epitomizes the obsequiousness and deferential politeness of the ostensibly nonpartisan news media, you'll hear Kagan, without challenge from his interviewer, making the case that troops have basically been dicking around in Iraq for the last few years, "clearing" neighborhoods and then moving on, leaving them to sink back into strife, engaging in fanciful training exercises for an army and police that can't ever really be trained until some degree of stability is achieved in the country as a whole. These aren't actually points to disagree with. The military is missionless in Iraq, with no operational goal toward which it can gear its efforts, trapped between competing objectives, with no end game, no strategy, and no obvious measure of success (and, one notes, we're back to body counts!).
Kagan pivots and gives the old Churchillian song-and-dance: It is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning. Like all so-called serious commentators on the Iraq War, he treats civil warfare in that country as a sui generis phenomenon, and appeals to the better, peacekeeping nature of right-thinking Americans, casting the whole conflict in terms of stabilization until some new national coalition government emerges, or until the current one gets serious about . . . something. Logan says that the neocons are getting a mulligan. As a once-upon-a-time golfer, I must disagree with the comparison. The more appropriate metaphor is the fat guy with the high handicap who yells "Winter rules!" whenever he hooks it into a hazard or duffs a drive into the trees. He waddles over to his ball, pulls it out of the sand or off of the tree root, drops it right in the middle of the fairway with the best possible line to the green, lines up, wiggles his fat, khaki-clad ass, jiggles his 5-iron, then lets loose the ugliest, elbow-flying swing you've ever seen, hooking the motherfucker right back into the weeds. It's ugly; it's useless; and he never, ever wins, not even when he cheats.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
"The kind of stuff in these books--murder and greed and violence. Why do they have to read them in school?"Unless it's Sunday school, presumably, although Laura Mallory, like so many professed Christians, seems to have a somewhat tenuous grasp of the actual contents of the book to which she swears her holy allegience. She's talking about Harry Potter, and I was astonished--probably unreasonably--to learn that the Potter series are "the most challenged texts of the 21st Century."
I barely managed to finish the first Potter book, which was truly awful, so I carry no water for Madame Rowling, but to the complaint that it "indoctrinates children into witchcraft," well . . . The most rational response is that there's no such thing as witchcraft, and a kid in 2006 who reads Potter is no more likely to take to the roof with his mother's broom than a kid in 1976 would have been to start bending her spoons after encountering Uri Geller. You might also ask such parents to note that there is precious little children's literature that doesn't somewhere feature magic, mayhem, talking animals, or that old bogeyman, porno!
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
GENERAL JACK D. RIPPER: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridated water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream?Evidently, I'm the last to board the bandwagon, but it appears that someone named James Rutz, whose surname is unfortunately homophonous with a vaguely bestial term, the chairman of something called "Megashift Ministries," which I presume to be almost as silly as it sounds, believes that "Soy is making kids 'gay.'" I can't imagine why the quotation marks appear around gay, except insofar as Monsignor Rutz is the sort of verbal atavist who longs for a production of West Side Story during which no one titters at Maria's declaration: "Pretty and witty and gay!" Well, I suppose that's an awfully gay example. I myself long for a return to the halcyon days when I could entertain the gents at the club over big, long, thick, brown cigars, snifters of brandy, and declarations that so-and-so from such-and-such is a right gay fellow, without any imputation that he prefers actual cock to the unsodomitical exclusive company of other men.
COL. LIONEL MANDRAKE: Good Lord.
RIPPER: You know when fluoridation first began?
MANDRAKE: No. No, I don't, Jack. No.
RIPPER: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your postwar commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard core commie works.
MANDRAKE: Jack... Jack, listen, tell me, ah... when did you first become, well, develop this theory.
RIPPER: Well, I ah, I, I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
MANDRAKE sighs fearfully
RIPPER: Yes a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly: loss of essence.
RIPPER: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women . . . women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.
Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because "I can't remember a time when I wasn't homosexual." No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can't remember a time when excess estrogen wasn't influencing them.Here, I think, is a winning slogan for the cultural conservativism: Homosexuals: They weren't born that way, they just can't help it!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I don't normally read La Noonan, because I don't like too much air with my eggs, but I've been reading her fine new collected essays, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, and I just reread "In the Realm of the Fisher King," her seminal (that, at least, is the unfortunate bookchat adjective) essay on Ronny, Nan, Noonan, and the MGM-backlot Washington D.C. of the Reagan Revolution years, brought to you by General Electric. In the early days, before war and deficits dealt declining fortune to what Washingtonians call his "legacy," George W. Bush and his supporters heralded the second Bush as the second Reagan. But of course Reagan wasn't really that Reagan and Bush wasn't really that Bush; by the odd transitive property of such image-making, then, George W. really was the reiterated Reagan. Didion:
The favored style here, like the favored foreing policy, seems to have been less military than paramilitary, a matter of talking tough. "That's not off my disk," Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North would snap by way of indicating that an idea was not his. "The fellas," as Miss Noonan called them, the sharp, the smooth, the inner circle and those who aspired to it, made a point of not using seat belts on Air Force One. The less smooth flaunted souvenirs of action on the far borders of the Reagan doctrine. "Jack Wheeler came back from Afghanistan with a Russian officer's belt slung over his shoulder," Miss Noonan recalls. "Grover Norquist came back from Africa rubbng his eyes fromt aking notes in a tent with Savimbi." Miss Noonan herself had lunch in the White House mess with a "Mujahadeen warrior" and his public relations man. "What is the condition of your troops in the field?" she asked. "We need help," he said. The Filipino steward approached, pad and pencil in hand. The mujahadeen leader looked up. "I will have meat," he said.If only La Noonan had recalled, or Didion imaged, her reply. It is, in any event, striking to read a twenty-year-old essay with most of the same players, most of the same egoisms, most of the same errors, and all of the same absurdities as today. Only our friends and enemies were different. The carnivorous mujahadeen turned traitor, and George W. Bush looked into Vladimir Putin's unreconstructed Russian soul and pronounced him and his nation our good friend.
Didion may be the greatest living American writer. La Noonan writes for the Wall Street Journal. Those are fitting ends for the Reagan outsider and the Reagan insider. Didion uses a pen like Durer used a knife. Meanwhile, lord only knows what Noonan is trying to say:
It is not fully right, or fully fair, to guess about another's emotions. But no one who knows George H.W. Bush thinks that moment was only about Jeb. It wasn't only about some small defeat a dozen years ago. It would more likely have been about a number of things, and another son, and more than him.No matter how far the flying nun of conservativism has drifted from the actual centers of political power, she can't help but write in the cadences of bad political oratory. Neither nor. Either or. "Not fully right, or fully fair." Like many politicos of her generation, she internalized Kennedy as Cicero, and always went for the easy reverse. She loves windy abstraction. "It would more likely have been about a number of things, and another son, and more than him." The "things" thuds against the ear. What she wants to write is: "He wasn't just upset about Jeb's loss in the gubernatorial race, but about George's failures and plenty more besides." Noonan is a writer who feels compelled to unburden her vast store of poetical sentiments on her readers. She murders syntax and thinks of it as scansion.
Age exposes us, if we're lucky enough to be given it. Some say it makes you softer, some tougher, some a mix of both. Some say it just leaves you more so--whatever you were, you are, only more.
Noonan muses on Reagan: "emotionally moved by American history and the Founders," perhaps the single most dishonest thing ever written about an American president, including every word ever penned about Bill C. and Vince Foster. Bush père, contrariwise, is "moved by personal relations," especially to his sons. Then she feints left and darts right into valedictory Yeatsian musings:
From what I have seen, growing older can leave you more exposed to the force of whatever it is you're feeling. Defenses erode like a fence worn by time. But what you feel can surprise you.It's a mackerel-crowded sea away from drowning. "The force of whatever it is you're feeling." "Thinking about what was." "Touched you in some way." More "things." "The order is expressed by the mysterious force of a fragment of a moment." La Noonan really is sailing to Byzantium, folks, full steam ahead.
You're thinking about what was, and suddenly apprehending for the first time how important it was. You think of your son, age 3, on the lawn when you drove up that time. Once that memory touched you in some way you don't fully understand, but now it makes your throat constrict because you realize that of all the things that ever happened to you, none was as important as how he looked on the lawn when you drove up that time.
Age reorders. The order is expressed by the mysterious force of a fragment of a moment. And there you are at the podium, mugged by a memory.
The argument of Noonan's essay is actually unobjectionable. The younger Bush is too insubstantial for grief and doubt. He's confident because he doesn't know any better. He doesn't suffer because suffering of this sort is a characterological trait of maturity, not privileged adolescence. He leaves the worrying to his father, whom he disregards, and whose personal and intermediated advice he derogates and disregards. She wants to make it poetic to raise an idol of noble ideas betrayed, of manly "anguish" unfelt, of elder wisdom unheeded. Well, the ideas weren't noble, they were base, the anguish wasn't for the fate of the boys sent off to die but over the fate of the jerk in the White House (excepting, only possibly, Lincoln, but even he . . .), and elder wisdom is usually just past folly colored in by nostalgia. Reagan and Bush senior were almost as casually destructive as their spiritual and physical son. Almost.
Monday, December 11, 2006
The Baron Marquis Lord Knight of the Round Table Eton Yorkshire Hyacinth Dandelion is by his own admission a once-illegal immigrant, now a naturalized American citizen. How he came to his current state of rabid anti-immigration rabble-rousing is anyone's guess, so long as anyone guesses that he's found a well-paying niche riling the emotions of those who wonder why folks in England speak American. Lord Dandelion has decided to wander into the debate: Libertarians: Liberals who hate the Government, or Conservatives who hate God? There are some substantive counterarguments to make to his article, "Libertarianism in One Country," but first a bit of groundwork. It is axiomatic that no argument containing the sentence, "I think that libertarians should take a leaf from Stalin’s book," will ever convince a libertarian to listen to you. (Replace it with "I think that Jews should take a leaf from Hitler's book" and you have a roughly equal absurdity, and yet somehow Lord Dandelion's turn of phrase is even more disconcertingly, untentionally ironically, disarmingly preposterous.)
Several things emerge from Lord Dandelion's scribblings. He doesn't know what a liberal is. He doesn't know what a libertarian is. He knows that socialism, which he resolutely capitalizes, is bad, but he isn't sure what it is. He doesn't consider it ironic for an English-born American immigrant who has chosen to adopt crude nativist rhetoric in order to appeal to the low feelings of red-blood and white-bread Americans to quote approvingly Samuel Gompers, also an . . .
Let's look at the hard nugget, the uncracked nut, of Lord Dandelion's impassioned plea for libertarians to come around to closed, militarized, fencified, fortified, pastuerized, mechanized, computerized, shooterized borders:
As to why I think libertarians are nuts to favor mass uncontrolled immigration from the third world: I think they are nuts because their enthusiasm on this matter is suicidal to their cause. Their ideological passion is blinding them to a rather obvious fact: that libertarianism is a peculiarly American doctrine, with very little appeal to the huddled masses of the third world. If libertarianism implies mass third-world immigration, then it is self-destroying. Libertarianism is simply not attractive either to illiterate peasants from mercantilist Latin American states, or to East Asians with traditions of imperial-bureaucratic paternalism, or to the products of Middle Eastern Muslim theocracies.Now I understand that conservos like Lord Dandelion, who encounter immigrants so rarely--except, of course, for their yardworkers, their nannies, their maids, the cooks and dishwashers at their favorite restaurants, the groundskeepers at the golf course, the poolkeepers at the club, their busboys, their waiters, their valet attendents . . .--imagine that these "people of color," as Dandelion titles them in an unimpressive dig at American liberalism, are undisposed to work and prefer to live high on the hog with free hospitals, schools, and a comfortably spacious two-hundred-square-foot, fifteen-person efficiency apartment with a working toilet down the hall. Despite their loud-mouthed patriotism, conservatives basically believe that America sucks, that American ideals are godawful and unappealing, and that no one not born an American would ever want to be one. Conservatives are collectively the world's worst marketing department. They don't believe in the appeal of the thing that they're selling.
Those of us for whom the good lord of lexicography invented the word sane, however, consider that the reason so many of the third world's huddled masses try so goddamn hard to get into America is because they want to be Americans. They think it might be the model for them. They're the folks who aren't thrilled by autocracy, theocracy, petrocracy. If Lord Dandelion had jumped from his surreptitious stowing-away on the Good Ship Lollipop and actually read Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus," he might have noted that those "huddled masses" are modified by a participial phrase: "yearning to be free." Those of us--liberal, libertarian, sane conservative, pwog, whatev--who believe in free and open borders (libertarians in the unimpeded flow of labor and capital wherever possible and practicable), believe so because we believe that there is something attractive about living freely, and that rather than gallivanting around the world attempting to compel people to freedom, another catastrophically uninvestigated irony in the conservative brain stem, we might for once try a little hospitality and free market democratizaion. If you don't like the product down the street, stop into our shop, in other words, and see if you don't find something you like.
Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the President of Iran, has called a conference to determine if the Holocaust really happened. What it’s really about is: "Aw, how come everytime I say something about the Zionist occupiers, they’re like, yo, Mahmoud, the Holocause n’ shit? That’s fucked up, man."
Who Is IOZ? is now accepting invitations for our upcoming spring conference:
Sassanids: Fact or Fiction.We will examine all the available data fairly and accurately before coming to the determination that Persia really belongs to the Parthians, and that the post-Zoroastrian Islamic occupiers must be wiped from the pages of history.
He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one.Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's prequel to The Patriot, consists of a brief introduction, a deadly march, some human sacrifice, and then a series of serendipities that, taken individually, might be excused or even enjoyed as a part of the fantastical vocabulary of action filmmaking, a genre with a pleasantly operatic disregard for the ordinary constraints of probability. Taken together, though, the series of exceedingly lucky breaks acheives a sort of transcendent absurdity. Mel Gibson has unintentionally made the Spinal Tap of chase movies. The hero is saved, in order, by a total eclipse of the sun, a not-quite-dead-yet comrade, a jaguar pouncing at exactly the right moment, a waterfall (over which, of course, he jumps), a poison toad, a preset hunting trap, and the arrival of Europeans on the shores of the New World. Yes. A solar eclipse and the coming of the Conquistadors. Within forty movie minutes of each other.
-Mark Twain: "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses"-
In Braveheart and The Patriot, revolution isn't a matter of personal fidelity to the cause of freedom, but rather the necessary political side-effect of a dude avenging his dead wife/family/child/what have you. In both instances, the hero doesn't really give a damn about his purported cause, although he makes awkward, hortatory speeches about it. He just wants to kill some dudes and go back to the farm. In Apocalypto, our pre-agrarian hero just wants to get back to hunting and gathering, and his character isn't merely a servant of the revolution but literally a harbinger of a civilizational apocalypse. Thus, presumably, the title, not to mention the quotation by Will Durant--to the end that civilizations commit suicide--that serves as the movie's gravitas-lending epigraph with all the goofy inappropriateness of relocating Rodin's Burghers of Calais to the entrance to Disney World.
Like Gibson's other movies, Apocalypto's humor and violence emerge from the same offenses against manly virility. Penises are compared. Pig balls are eaten. Babies are born underwater. Women are frightened. The hero is at first reluctant, but then, inexplicably, pulls himself from a pit of quicksand, blackened and gasping, blowing chunks out of his nose, a symbolic-literal rebirth (yes, he is literally born again of the jungle), and vows with steely (flinty?) determination that he, the hunted, shall once again be the hunter.
It's all, in other words, resoundingly, magisterially silly. The premise is silly. The wounded phallic pride is silly. The spooky city people are silly. The scary warriors are silly. The human sacrifice is silly. The mass graves are silly. The Natty Bumpo forestry is silly. The cultural Luddism is especially silly. Just as Gibson's American and Scottish patriots fight for the right to farm their land free from the coercions of cosmopolitan, fallen London, his new native hero fights for the right to hunt and gather free from the coercions of agrarian city-builders. It is nostalgia transformed into an addiction: in every Era, Gibson takes the preceeding socioeconomic arrangement as the utopic, communitarian ideal. His next step may well be a series of noble prehuman hominids fighting to resist the depredations of a fully upright gait.
It's usually the provenance of rightwing culture warriors to mine ideological nostrums from works of art, but since Gibson's movie is decidely not that, let me say this about his apparent sex and politics: whack. His movies in the last ten years are the snarling opposite of Michael Dukakis' famed demurrals when asked if he'd strangle the motherfucker who raped his wife and daughter with his own motherfucking hands, or whatever. In Gibson's world and the world of patriarchal conservativism (as if there's any other kind), the answer to the question, "Would you kill that bastard," is, "I'd kill the fuck out of him." Manliness--pardon the term--consists not of wisdom, temperance, judiciousness, solidity, patience, quietude, forbearance, and resolution to uphold these qualities even in extremis, even in combat, but rather of virility (of the literal sort) and a willingness to match brutality with brutality. It consists of a willingness to become just like your most vicious enemy in order to defeat him, and because such a view is so resolutely immature, it refuses to consider that there might be moral and spiritual consequences to such a decision. Kill your enemy, then go back to the forest. Whether in a presidential debate or a Gibson flick, the women carry no independent value except as incubators of sons and catalysts for manly vengeance. They wait around to be raped, murdered, or otherwise brutalized, at which point their men have license to kill the dudes who done it. Might we not dispense with the violated women altogether and allot a week as a national holiday for men to kill each other without consequence and without the bother of all those screeching ladies?