It’s Always 1938

Michael Rozeff at puts it best when he writes about the neocons:

Appeasement and Munich are favored neocon themes to promote and justify more war. In a dangerous trend, they are being picked up by more columnists. Strange that the more force that the U.S. applies in the Middle East, the more that the neocons wail appeasement and the more force they demand. Strange, because repeated applications of force, the opposite of appeasement and applied in the name of avoiding appeasement, have brought no tangible gains. They have brought losses, and losses should be cut. Once again, neocons can’t think straight. One should not throw good money after bad. The U.S. can’t win in the Middle East. It should take its chips off the table. It should never have sat down at the table.

Every year is 1938 for the neocons, and every threat is Nazism. Gemal Abdel Nasser was in 1956, Nikita Kruschev was in 1961 and 1962, Leonid Breazhnev was again in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I suspect Ho Chi Minh was as well in the mid 1960s, and let’s not forget Manuel Noriega (and his portrait of Hitler) in 1989, Saddam Hussein and invasion of Kuwait AND all those chemical and biological weapons he supposedly had in 2003, and of course Iran today. I think there were hoards of smaller Hitlers (Mao Zedong, who was Hitler for Brezhnev as well as many Americans, proving even a wanna-be Hitler can have his own Hitler to keep him up sleeplessw at night) I don’t remember who were never bombed. (Idi Amin? Emperor Bokassa? Pol Pot — actually, the last guy was bombed, now that I think of it.) Also, all those terrorist groups, all clearly working together to the same, diabolical anti-American end. Anything short of massive war to defeat them is, well, appeasement.

Trading on the mistaken notion that somehow WWII could have been avoided — if it could have been avoided, it would have been — as well as ignoring exactly why nothing was done about Hitler’s Germany (the carnage of the 1914-18 war comes to mind, as does France’s political isolation in the West after the pointless invasion and occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, as well as general rightist sympathy in “the democracies” for German nationalism, sentiment against the Versailles agreement, and general support for dictatorship in the early 1930s no matter where it was), the neocons espouse a “lesson” of history that all alleged emerging dictators are somehow Hitler-in-waiting. And that something must be done, right this minute, or else we are all doomed.

It’s led to a great deal of war — not the “inevitable” war that comes when Hitler and his supposed spiritual children wield power, but the war that comes when those eager to stop Hitler invade and bomb. Makes me wonder — how much war is one entitled to wage in order to stop every brand new Hitler, to smother him in the crib? And if Hitler was all about invading and occupying, why is invading and occupying — preventatively — the moral response? What, exactly is Hitler’s crime in this worldview? Waging war? Hating Jews? Or just “being Hitler?” When does one, in aching to stop the next Hitler, and thus prevent the genocide, become Hitler?

The nice thing about it alwasy being 1938 is that you cannot talk with your opponents, never need to understand them, and in the case of Iran, one can again prevent the alleged looming mass murder of Jews. (An aching similar, I think, to the militant desire some Christians in the West have to do all they can to prevent the crucifixion of Christ.) I don’t see how this gets done without the mass murder of Iranians, but since God doesn’t love them as much as God clearly loves Jews and Americans, I guess it hardly matters. We can never become Hitler no matter how many nations we invade or how many people we kill. Because, well, just because.

In fact, the nicest thing about it always being 1938 is that you never need to think, or measure your actions, and contemplate the costs and consequences. Just set the bomb sites on the city below and push the button. God has got your backside and history — that told by the survivors, at any rate — will vindicate you.

Creating Some Distance

John McCain is running for president. You can tell because he’s resurrected his “straight talking” personna and is creating some daylight between himself and the delusional nincompoops currently running the country:

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republican Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), a staunch defender of the Iraq war, on Tuesday faulted the Bush administration for misleading Americans into believing the conflict would be “some kind of day at the beach.”

The potential 2008 presidential candidate, who a day earlier had rejected calls for withdrawing U.S. forces, said the administration had failed to make clear the challenges facing the military.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required,” McCain said. “Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I’m just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.”

Those phrases are closely associated with top members of the Bush administration, including the president.

Yes, they surely are.

Whoever the next president is — Democrat or Republican, it hardly really matters — the next administration will have to deal with the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters and the current administration’s lack of seriousness in truly combatting Al Qaeda. The Iraq war is lost, and all that awaits us is the cutting and running. Whoever is the next president will have to show that he (or, heaven forbid, she) sees that world as it really is, acknowledges and deals with that reality, as opposed to engaging in a whole lot of wishful thinking about the ability to change things in a part of the world where we are not and cannot be the agents of change. A lot of pieces to pick up from the disaster made by the Bush folks. Not sure anyone is up to that. And I’m not sure it will matter.

The Cruelty of Popular Government

A couple of months ago, I noted in this space a Saudi Gazette story I’d edited, an interview with a Saudi executioner, highlighting his role as a kind-of counselor to both the condemned as well as the families of victims. Especially important in the piece was the role of the executioner in letting the victim’s family know they can, under Saudi Arabia’s version of Islamic law, pardon the condemned (forgive me for borrowing wholesale from my previous blog entry):

The job of the executioner is not only to carry out the death sentence, Al-Bishi said. The swordsman is also a kind-of counselor, sometimes approaching relatives of a murder victim and reminding them they can pardon the convicted up until the very last moment. Al-Bishi related an incident when his father was an executioner and was preparing to carry out a death sentence on a young expatriate awaiting execution for killing a friend, who was an only son. The mother of the victim repeatedly declined to pardon the killer of her child.

“My father had a hunch that the heart of this bereaved mother could soften up,” Al-Bishi said. “[My father] walked up to her, with his sword in his hand, and told her that the head of the young man awaiting execution would separate from his body in a few seconds’ time, but that she could raise her hand any time before that if she decided to pardon the killer.”

“She was adamant still and as my father lifted the sword for the last time to go through with the execution, the mother of the victim raised her hand to motion to my father that she had pardoned the murderer,” Al-Bishi continued. “The crowd rushed towards her, cheering and saying that God the Almighty is great, and prayed for her to rest in paradise as a reward for her forgiveness.”

Three times, he’s been able to convince families of victims to pardon the murderers after everything was ready for the execution.

“I can tell from the expression on the faces of the victims’ family members if they are considering pardon,” Al-Bishi explained.

Late last week, I edited another piece on the wave of pardons currently being issued by King Abdullah:

Prisons all over the Kingdom have turned into beehives of activity since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, pardoned thousands of inmates and ordered their release, according to a report in the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat.

“I was convicted because I failed to repay a debt of SR 60,000 and I spent eight months in prison,” said 23-year-old H. Al-Harbi, who was released under the royal pardon. “I was released when the committee responsible for the release of the inmates reviewed my case and found that I was working as a driver for SR1,200 a month and caring for eight children.”

Al-Harbi said he has not seen his children since the day he was convicted.

Those pardoned include prostitutes, thieves, drug dealers and people convicted of illegal possession of alcohol. According to the report, thousands were cleared by a royal pardoning comission. All those interviewed were, of course, both grateful to the king and very repentent:

Released 57-year-old Saudi inmate S.W. said he was sent to prison for 14 years for selling drugs but that the King’s pardon released him after only seven years.

“After spending seven years in prison, my eldest daughter has graduated from university and got married. But I couldn’t share her happiness,” S.W. said. “The King’s pardon allows me to attend my son’s wedding party. For the sake of my children I will start a new life.”

The whole thing led me to thinking — why has no U.S. state governor or president been so magnanimous to pardon thousands of people convicted of relatively petty crimes? Is there something about “popular” government — and by that, I mean government that claims to rule “in the name of the people” — that makes it crueler, harsher, and less able or willing to be merciful and magnanimous?

Consider this: most of the governments of the last 150 years have, in some form or another, rules “in the name of the people.” Fascism, socialism, Social Democracy (in all its forms), Arab socialism, even Islamism (to a very limited extent), all claim to rule in the name of “the people.” We know that such governments have been among the most costly and murderous in human history. They have demanded absolute obedience of citizens, the right to conscript their bodies, minds and lives, to annihilate human beings because they are inconvenient or don’t fit in with the plans of those who rule in the name of the people.

In contrast, the Saudi state takes as it’s constitution (such as it is) the Qur’an and the monarch, while the Saudi system is become a proper state system and the monarch a senior civil servant of sorts, gets his right to rule from God, and is accountable only to God. This is not the same as the Western “divine right of kings” because the king is not soveriegn in the same way. He does not “own” everything (even though the Arabic word malik descends from the verb MLK, which means to own or be sovereign) in the same way Western kings did, though the result is still much the same.

So, you would think that popular government would be more merciful and autocratic government that doesn’t claim to represent the people would be much less merciful. Yet that does not appear to be the case? Why is that? Is there something in the popularly elected executive — a president, a governor — that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for that executive to exercise any significant amount of mercy or forebearance? Conversely, is it easier for someone who holds power BUT is not theoretically or ideologically accountable to “the people” to be merciful? I don’t know, but it is interesting to note that American elected executives seem only to issue pardons when they won’t ever have to face voters again.

I’ve come to conclusion, of late, that popular government, aside from being a fraud, is an evil in and of itself. I have also come to accept Hans Hermann Hoppe’s view that limited monarchy (which the Saudi state is rather rapidly marching away from), in which individual rights and responsibilities are guaranteed as much by culture and custom as they are by law (or moreso), is the best way to rule large collections of people (if they must be ruled — Hoppe’s caveat and mine as well).

However, I continue to remain a big believer in self-government, and at some point in time will explain why popular government, known to most of us as “democracy,” is not the same thing.

Winning, Regardless of What the Enemy Does

National Public Radio interviewed a U.S. General George W. Casey in Baghdad this morning, to talk about the progress of the war. Because Bush Jong Il yesterday was so keen to say he believes success is possible and that the commanders on the ground would ask for a new strategy if they believed their current one wasn’t succeeding.

(Sure they would…)

Anyway, the interviewer pointed out the huge increase in insurgent attacks over the last three years, from under 20 per day at the outset of the resistance to more than 90 per day now. The general said yes, attacks are up, but even one gunshot counts as an attack and most of those attacks are not effective, so we shouldn’t read too much into those figures.

And then General Casey said something so utterly and confoundedly stupid that it simply boggles the mind and buggers the imagination:

You shouldn’t be put in the position where your success is judged by enemy actions.

Affecting enemy action is the whole point of war. Why else bomb, shoot and attack if not to reduce enemy action or force the enemy to change his mind and make him give up? What other measure of success do you have? Rounds expended? Operations conducted? Dead bodies counted? Schools built and painted? I’m trying to find a suitable metaphor for this, but one is not coming. Maybe it’s akin to saying that profits ought not to determine the success of a business venture. We all know how that ends.

Agonizing Reading

I knew, when I applied to study at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, that I was going to be in for some fun and some pain. People here cannot speak ten words without two of them being “social justice.” The meaning of the word is far too subjective. What is “justice” anyway? And who gets the privilege of not only defining what it is but then imposing their idea of it? That’s why I long ago gave up any belief in justice — it is simply a code word for “I/we get what I/we want”with a possible addendum of “and you[singular/plural] have to pay for it because I/we say so” — I’m not actually interested in “doing justice.” I’m interesting in being merciful and charitable. If that’s justice, then good. If not, then not.

I’m certain I will comment on much of the upcoming nonsense, time permitting, once school actually starts.

Anyway, I have to read what must simply be the world’s most annoying book for my upcoming orientation, THE WOLF SHALL DWELL WITH THE LAMB: A SPIRITUALITY FOR LEADERSHIP IN A MULTICULTURAL COMMUNITY. (Um, is it me, or is it not possible anymore to titles books without using colons?) I’m about a third the way through it, it is as utterly awful a book as it sounds, and already this obnoxious tome has rubbed my libertarian/anarchist sentiments all the wrong way. It’s like everything I saw at San Francisco State University in the late 1980s on steroids. (The book was published in 1994.) Needless to say, it is not about dealing with people as individuals, it is not about respecting them, caring for them and loving them as individuals, it is about dealing with them as members and appendages of groups, it is about understanding that ascribed group values must be taken into consideration. It is full of identity nonsense (the author is Chinese-American, and makes much of that as he relates his understanding and misunderstanding of various individuals’ “cultures” in his stories), it is condescending, it is insulting, it assumes — at least it seems to — that all white people are powerful but don’t realize it. “In a multicultural encounter, the whites tend to become too powerful and the people of color powerless,” the author notes after relating how the gospel elevates the poor but has no words of comfort for the powerless. Ahh, I can see it now — Hate yourself, flog yourself and flay yourself, Charles!

The author does, however, give his notion of what justice is: “Justice means equal distribution of power and privelege among all people.”

Mmmm. Achievable. Realistic. Possible. Oh, I’m going to have a swell time here.

Liberty or Else

Saturday, Jennifer and I decided to get out of the house and find the best Indian food we could afford here in Chicago. That meant an expedition to the far north side of town, to Devon Street.

It was amazing, like stepping back to Dubai and Jeddah. The street was wall-to-wall Indo-Pakistani shops for as far as we could see. The scent of the food was overwhelming, and there were a few street vendors selling ices and corn on the cob. (I did not know Indians ate corn on the cob, but slathered in garlic sauce and covered with salt, some do…) Restaurants, appliance stores, travel agencies, sweet shops, book and video stores, even an international bank or two. And Saturday was the day the local community chose to commemorate Indian Independence Day, so the street was blocked off (but accessible to bicycles) and there was a parade, music, a raffle (we didn’t enter) and crowds of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus enjoying the day and ignoring the rain (it didn’t rain much).

There were a couple of Independent Baptists handing out badly printed pamphlets outlining the causes of tyranny in “Amerika”:

This nation called the United States of America has been historically examines and explained and discovered to be a Judeo-Christian based nation. Every President the United States has ever had has affirmed the importance of the bible in the life of the individual American. What Ethic or Value system do we follow Socially or Culturally? Buddhism, Islam, Humanist, Confuscian or Christian? Find a society that has a religious value system that teaches AND PRACTICES, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Only in a Christian so-called country can you find this practices among the populace in general.

Oh my. A couple of points. First, I have never understood the impulse among some social conservatives and Christian nationalists to try and use the state to legitimize scripture. I recall some preachers, pastors and believers who say the Bible is the word of God and we know in part because Congress said so in 1911 (or somesuch). As if somehow the Caesar “seal of approval” makes the Bible more valid. Here, the author of the pamphlet (a certain Brother Fort) stresses his point that Biblical values are important collectively to America because every president has said so. But is that true? And would it matter if it weren’t? And does the way presidents actually live matter as much as what they allegedly have said? Why does what the president says on an issue of faith matter anyway? I won’y pay for his sins, nor will he pay for mine.

Second, I cannot think of a human society that doesn’t practice some version or other of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In her book THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, Karen Armstrong says that the four major civilizations of the ancient world — China, India, Hebrew and Greek — all, in the midst of the violence and chaos that is human life, created some version of “do unto others.” The Muslim forumla — a true Muslim wants for brother what he wants for himself — is actually a little more striking than the Jewish/Christian version.

Finally, I don’t see “do unto others” practiced more thoroughly and effectively here in the United States than I saw elsewhere — Saudi Arabia, Panama, secular Europe. True, honest compassion for humanity and for the wants, needs, joy and suffering of others knows no doctrinal bounds.

But let’s continue with Brother Fort’s badly written pamphlet:

The oppressed from other nations, unless willing to melt into this society and this culture .. WILL bring their oppression to these sacred shores through their religious practices and governments and cultures and thought patterns. Prove me wrong. Show me a country anywhere in the world. I challenge you. Japan is a repressive country where police can enter any home at any time.

Again, where do you start with this? It is hardly “doing unto others” to expect people to “melt.” I’m assuming that Brother Fort, if wandering around India in the hopes of finding converts, would not “melt” into its culture and society.

What the pamphlet is saying is, effectively, that immigrants refusing to become good Christians (and Baptists Christians at that) are why the country is losing its freedom. It’s a stretch to think that non-Christian migrants are somehow lessening the national freedom, given that so many alleged conservative Christians have run the country. Especially now. Are Hindus living on the north side of Chicago the real cause of warrantless wiretaps, the rail jailers at Guanatamo Bay, and the real culprits behind the Bush Administration’s grab for executive power?

And I’m sorry, even in 2001 — when the first edition of this pamphlet supposedly appeared — police in any US jurisdiction could “enter any home at any time,” warrant or not.

A little ways up on the last page, Brother Fort confidently says that Communists “cannot stand Christianity” and have tried to “eradicate Christianity from among their populaces.” He also says that “Humanists do not want a God restricting the godless actions and lusts and thus are anti-Christian.” But let’s follow the pamphlet all the way home:

The Communists will tell you that Christianity is the greatest enemy of Communism. WHY? The bible speaks of Private ownership of Land, Being free, Capitalism, Being the best you can be & Most of all being free from the bondage of this world. If Jesus makes you free, You’re free indeed.

Communists, oh my. I wan’t aware that communists still were worth fearing in 2001.

My biggest criticism with this — as with all who harp on god’s law — is the statement about God’s rules restricting the actions of the alleged godless. One conclusion I came to long ago, and one reason I am no longer Muslim, was the continuous emphasis on implementing the divine law instead of man’s law. Only then would the world be guided by justice. That, however, has a couple of logical problems for me. First, you cannot prove that what you have is really, truly God’s law. You can only assert that — it is an act of faith to believe that the Sharia’ or Deuteronomy contain the “Law of God.” Neither is provable as revelation. Second, even if you did have God’s really and for truly law, you don’t have God interpreting and enforcing it, you only crummy old sinful men doing that work. Men are no better at ruling justly by God’s law as their are the laws they make, interpret and enforce with their own minds.

To borrow Martin Luther’s sentiments on the subject, God’s Law doesn’t restrain us because it can’t. It convicts us of our sin and makes us understand the need for Grace. The 10 commandments are effectively unenforceable in a religious sense, since we are all sinners to begin with. Of course some human societies base their legal systems on what they believe to be God’s law. But “God’s Law” doesn’t restrain much of anyone.

This miserable pamphlet is just more American nationalism and collectivism, the kind of caesaropapism, state worship and country worship (“sacred soil?” who is Brother Fort kidding?) that too many alleged American Christians have become far too comfortable with. It’s idolatry, as Luther described it in the Long Catechism on the first commandment, this worship of nation and government. God-n-Country Christianity is a false religion that has misled many.