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Friday, January 20, 2006

 

why we fight


al jazeera yesterday released a tape of osama bin laden, transcripted here, once again reiterating his principles in al-qaeda's continuing place at the spearpoint of a global insurgency against western suzerain.

while the murdochian media of the right in america fell over themselves to be the first to puff out their chest in empty bravado, and the mawkish militants of the white house merely reiterated their specious calls for an impossible absolute victory, the analysis of justin raimondo, echoing michael scheuer and identical in its salient points to the analysis of this page, provide a clearer view of what is transpiring -- that al-qaeda fights for clear, mundane, material and well-articulated goals that revolve around the disinvolvement of western powers in the political and cultural determination of muslim peoples living beyond the western sphere; and that these worldly goals, once materially met, would either voluntarily end the coordinated insurgency against the west or deprive it of the vast majority of its appeal, power and support, thereby forcing its collapse.

this should not be confused, of course, with an end to terrorism -- as with many idealized abstractions that have become the focus of various western "wars", including drugs, poverty and inequality, there is no such thing as victory over a concept. for so long as evil remains in the world, there will always be terrorists and there will always be terrorism. but effective insurgency remains effective only in the service of an widely appealing cause -- to remove the sources of middle eastern anger and frustration with the west is to take bin laden's fish out of its water.

so this does much to explain why they fight and how they could be made to stop. what is less clear, perhaps, is why we fight -- or how we could be made to stop.

the timely topic has become the subject of one of the year's most applauded documentaries -- a film which is probably the best single popularly-accessible study in the perversion of the american experiment into an insatiable engine of war, empire and ultimately an approaching dictatorship. while fundamentally statistical and empirical in its approach, much as is the work of film interviewee chalmers johnson, the revelations of its methodical common sense will be shocking to most americans who see it, being unused to considering the united states as every bit the contemporary vulgarized counterpoint of evil empires vanquished.

president dwight eisenhower's 1961 presidential farewell address to a nation recently victorious in europe and asia but suddenly again submerged in a twilight struggle against a vaguely-defined enemy centered on a warning against no foreign power but against a burgeoning domestic military-industrial complex that eisenhower clearly felt had gone from an invented neccessity of the world war to a self-reinforcing mechanism for the propogation of war itself. as a man who had sent millions to their deaths, eisenhower was acutely aware of his moral responsibility. as one who had watched dean acheson use the power of truman's postwar presidency to void the constitutionally-mandated congressional authority over the armed forces as well as the narrow miss of a war-mad macarthurian overturning (with the help of senator joseph mccarthy) of the entire republican mechanism in a caesarian revolution, he also knew the perils facing our newly and rapidly militarizing society. eisenhower's own administration had consolidated american command of the british empire of westernization which it had inherited with numerous forays into the affairs of ostensibly sovereign powers and a continuation of the construction of the permanent american armaments industry. his frighteningly prescient address serves as a point of departure for eugene jarecki's film.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

... Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
lasting peace remains evasive -- and the fate of the american military-industrial complex would surely have transmogrified eisenhower's wistful disappointment into a hounding despair, had he been able to know it. viewed in this light, it becomes much clearer as to why the united states might have deliberately chose to respond to the criminal act of 9/11 -- a perpetration beckoning for the forensic analysis and individuated response of an international law enforcement community, itself a creation of a western global imperial order, as had the actions of the sicilian mafia -- with a counterintuitive and wholly counterproductive set of military invasions directed with an eye toward the prospect of a perpetual global war in the name of an ideology. moreover, it places the imperial adventurism of iraq and afghanistan squarely in the lineage of american wars of imperial maintenance, both overt and covert, direct and indirect, dating back to the end of the second world war -- which include korea and vietnam, of course, but also smaller military actions of various intensities (here listed incompletely) in nicaragua, el salvador, guatemala, honduras, the dominican republic, haiti, cuba, taiwan, the phillipines, burma, thailand, laos, cambodia, indonesia, colombia, venezuela, bolivia, brazil, argentina, panama, ecuador, peru, chile, congo, ghana, angola, somalia, greece, the balkans, afghanistan, pakistan, libya, syria, lebanon, palestine, israel, throughout the persian gulf region and now increasingly in the former soviet sphere of central asia -- all of which fed to some degree or another this bloated monster that dominates the collaborative nexus of american capital enterprise and american leviathan of resurgent spartanism, encouraging it to remake america by its insidious gravity to fit a distinctly fascist mold.

this page has said repeatedly that it believes the motivations of the bush administration, horrifying and misguided though its policies and politics may be, to be sincere -- the fire is in the minds of these men. but the ideology that motivates them is not immune to the epic gravitational force of american commercial militarism; it was indeed in no small way promoted to the front of the political ranks by its merits, as seen from the perspective of those who need continual war to survive and succeed.

how such a state of affairs might be reversed in the hopes of an end which is not an end is a bewildering problem which indeed may have no solution short of civilizational collapse. we have seen that this administration harbors within it a mad return to that macarthurian view of productive nuclear exchanges -- but to confine the problem to the scope of this administration is to wildly underestimate the depth of the change in american society since eisenhower. we have become the society of war, of fear, of division, of hate that he warned against. should this administration fail to carry out the worst of its possible plans, we are unfortunately all but guaranteed the selection and promotion of some competing political camp which favors, if not as much, yet more the consumption of military hardware in those places where they must ultimately be consumed, where history shows they are always finally consumed -- in the pools of our own blood, in the ash heaps of what were once our own cities.

this is why we fight, god help us. how can we stop?


Eisenhower sent millions to their deaths? I know a lot of people died around that time, but I wasn't aware that Eisenhower was directly responsible for so many.

mk

 
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what was the final figure agreed upon for military and civilian deaths on both sides in western europe between the time of his appointment over shaef (jan 1944) and the end of the war? and for action sresulting from his commands prior as well? i don't think millions is an exaggeration -- and eisenhower had a hand in all of them. one can argue that he did what he had to do, but that of course is not an argument of moral absolution.

 
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I guess my concern was over what you meant by "sent". I was interested.
I honestly wasn't trying to nitpick. I hate to come off like one of those people who use one minor point to try to dismiss someone. As usual a great posting. Keep it up Gaius.
Also, come by and say hi to everyone at H&R every now and then, would ya?
mk

 
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no no -- a vaild criticism, and i should have clarified. and thanks for the kind words!

 
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Alas, I do not live in a city where this will be shown in its current run, so I will have to wait for the DVD. I did catch the director on NOW Friday night, and was impressed by his apparent sense when dealing with the issue of the warfare state and its perpetuation.

What struck me was the evenhanded, though morally clear, tone that Jarecki took in the interview: it seems that his aim is to deal with the threat to democracy that the war state poses, rather than a diatribe against war in general, which has been the home tone of much of the antiwar movement since the war in Iraq began. I live in a midwestern college town known for its liberal politics, and I was consistently struck by the paucity of intellectual and moral thinking that accompanied the earliest protests in 2003. There was never any sense that there might just be something in this world that required defending, with arms, if necessary. While I was not convinced of the Bush administration's arguments for war, I was equally repelled by the effects of "soft power" on so many members of my generation.

I've read Chalmers Johnson and am about to read Andrew Bacevich's book on Americans and militarism, so this topic interests me a great deal. I look forward to the film.

 
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i'm convinced, dr johnson, that the flimsiness and disposability of the antiwar movement in the united states is a direct result of its inability to address tangible reality. it represents, it seems to me, just another ideological lark -- no different than neoconservative visions of an empire of freedom in type, merely different in manner.

cindy sheehan had a chance to really elevate the antiwar movement by focusing dissent around a material reality consequent of applied ideological fantasy -- but, sadly, she is probably not as aware of the overarching philosophical structure of what she is a part of, and has done poorly in defining herself separately from these more self-indulgent elements.

 
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The antiwar movement, in general, seems to suffer from the same malady as the culture at large when it comes to questions of morality: they fail to understand the difficulty of maintaining an ethics firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian soil without normative belief. I personally believe that an ethics based upon sentiment, which is what I feel modern liberalism has become, is intellectually dishonest and rather vapid if examined in any kind of harsh light. When Nietzsche declared his opposition to Christian ethics, he also made it quite clear that any ethic that takes Christianity and lops off the head is equally fraught with impossibility.

The antiwar movement seems to labor under the delusion that hatred, violence, intolerance, etc. can be eradicated. In my opinion, mankind is left to his own devices of naked power and will when he discards Christianity in favor of self-centered "freedom." While I have traditionally voted Democrat, I must say that I am disgusted with what the progressive wing of the party has become, namely, a secular religion of its own, replete with its own language, dogma, and unsatisfied longing for a peace that will never come on their terms.

Credited to Chesterton: "When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything." That, in a nutshell, is postmodern man.

 
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that's a yet deeper indictment than i just made, but no less valid. i think there's a pervasive but virtually unfounded belief -- dating back at least to the utilitarians, indeed probably to the schoolmen -- that there is a evidenciary, rational process by which one can reach the primal tenet of christian belief, that is, "god is love". i don't know that there is -- though i do think that the balance of history demonstrates why it *should* be so. and i'm certain that no one in public life today lives by an exercize of such a rational sequence. ergo, for many, apply chesterton here and watch the many swirl in confusion and nameless angst.

but i don't think all of us now believe in just anything. indeed, this society's managerial elite -- which once aspired to a humble christian law -- now revolves around something else -- and that is the return to sparta, via the humanist conduit. machiavelli, in reanimating the ancient ethics of civitas -- itself a freestanding moral edifice in little need of love -- unwittingly poisoned the well of western culture.

and this is a story we already know the end of. we have walked in blindness the same path, it seems to me, that the hellenic civilization and so many others have -- from religiosity to society to individuality, from selflessness to self-awareness to self-indulgence. and that naturally has involved a change in the place of man in the universe -- from the foot of the staircase (literally under the daemons in the medieval model) to the top of the staircase (as in evolution) to a nullification of any staircase, indeed any externality at all. such hubristic narcissism rides before the fall, coasting as it does on so many false pretenses.

 
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I agree that much of what passes for governance among our leaders is pagan in substance, though couched in the language of Christianity and humanism, often confusedly so. It is the mix of Realpolitik and late-Roman decadence that is so disturbing. It is a strange fate to live in a culture so divided against itself, so dissonant in its ringing multiplicities. Harold Bloom has referred to it as "the evening land of the west." It's not a pretty sunset...

 
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"there is a evidenciary, rational process by which one can reach the primal tenet of christian belief, that is, "god is love". i don't know that there is -- though i do think that the balance of history demonstrates why it *should* be so."

Anselm v. Aquinas. I side against ontological proofs, myself. In one of your recent posts over at BCB, you mention that Schopenhauer helped return you from atheism. Last summer, I was reading a lot of Beckett, which lead me to Schopenhauer, and I suddenly realized that I had backed myself into an intellectual corner from which I saw only one, surprising, answer. Needless to say, my return from atheism was not predicated only on Schopenhauer (help came from Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Milosz, Blake, Augustine, Beckett, et al.); but his writings, and the unremittingly honest picture he gave of the man without God, was quite a jolt.

 
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isn't it amazing how intellectual paths, seemingly totally independent, can so often form a confluence? i had read dostoevsky's "devils" and russell's "history of western philosophy" just before picking up wagner and schopenhauer (to whom wagner's ring cycle led me). rectification arrived during the course of toynbee's "study of history" -- where the decidedly epicurean russell, seeming to me a beautiful tree without roots, suddenly found roots which russell would almost surely have denied. needless to say, it was a turning point in a long journey that began for me in fourth grade, when as a catholic schoolboy i first innocently dissented.

ontology is a shifty thing -- that which has no ground in any empirical reality is not a comfortable chair for me to sit in, given the frequency and persistence of human folly even after great consideration. aquinas' unmoved mover/first cause seems to me, even in a world of spatial relativity, vastly more compelling.

it is heartening to converse (in this limited fashion) with someone well read. do you carry around a list of recommended literature? i'm always looking for new edifying resources -- lol...

 
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My theological dissent came at the hands of fundamentalism nine years ago, though the roots of dissatisfaction are deeper, I suppose.

Limited reading list (it's always long): I'm reading a general overview of Catholicism presently, but there are two books I'm about to begin that I can't wait to read: The Scapegoat, by Rene Girard; Modernity on Endless Trial, by Leszek Kolakowski. From the essays/criticism I've read on these two books, I should be in for a treat.

 
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It's funny that you mention Machiavelli Gaius, as I was just rereading The Prince the other day (or re-hearing it, actually, Most of my reading is done during my horrific commutes). It occurred to me that Bush & Co. had done themselves a disfavor by not adhering to the principles laid out in that book. Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld seem, in the context of that book, to have been hesitant when they should have been decisive.
Machiavelli is mean-spirited and cynical, perhaps, but it would hard not to call him a pragmatist. If one is going to do something like start a war, it would behoove one to do it properly. If the neo-cons are the new Romans , they can hardly be excused for their poor showing.
Anyway, this movie seems to be showing up at exactly the right time for me. I have lately been more and more willing to cast-off my Hitchensesque sympathy for the war for the exact same reasons that seem to be the main points of the film.

mk

 
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Oh, and Gaius, have you read Tolstoy's take on Wagner's Ring Cycle in What is Art?? What are your thoughts?

 
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The neocons suffer from cognitive dissonance; torn between their pagan will and their tattered Christian ethics, they speak out of both sides of their mouths. Until they jettison their religious beliefs completely they'll keep tripping themselves up with ideals incompatible with the Machiavellian ethos they so admire. Cheney, Rummy, Bush aren't real neocons, though; pray a real one never gets to sit on that throne.

 
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i'd agree with dr johnson, mk -- one must trace their intellectual lineage to understand the basis of their doctrine.

one must first, i think, understand that the self-concerned romantic idealism of the 19th c, which underpins so much of the postmodern flight from society, is but an echo -- a poor reconstruction of the western romanesque period of the 9th-12th c intended to rectify what many (rousseau, herder, hamann) considered (indeed correctly, imo) to be already then a troubled society. the chivalric ideals -- particularly those of honor and nobility -- of that age are resuscitated but perverted (quite unintentionally and destructively) in the service not of god but of the state and the self. this is the influence of machiavelli and the humanists interposed, shifting the rebirth of romance in an awful direction.

this is the basic idealistic context not only of neoconservatism but its ancestry in fascism, trotskyism, of ultimately jacobinism, the first western political manifestation of rousseau's ideas -- a primitivist religion of the state, articulated first in rousseau's "social contract". ideas are taken to derive virtue not from their empirical sensibility but from their ethereal nobility -- indeed, are tainted by concessions to a complex reality.

machiavelli (and i highly recommend here isaiah berlin's essay "the originality of machiavelli") worked from an entirely different perspective as a humanist resuscitator of the roman empire. his prince is not just cesare borgia but julius caesar -- a catalogue of the exploits of the powerful "good" emperors. his lessons, then, are entirely pragmatic in means, but the ends are drawn from a different moral line -- that of the roman civitas, where not christian selflessness and love but the powerful leadership of the state was the highest good. this ethical system itself was adopted throughout the hellenic world to counteract those same signs of decay and frustration in society that we have seen in recent centuries in the west with the advance of the irresponsible individual.

the influence of the rebirth of civitas on rousseau through the italian city-state and subsequently western monarchy is not insignificant. his "social contract" never posits a society of persons in concord and consensus of free association -- that age has already passed by 1750. instead, he posits an all-consuming commune that voids individuality entirely, in which the recalcitrant are "forced to be free". (remind you of anyone in the white house?) it is a design to "restore" a crumbling society, "save" a crumbling world.

it has to be seen that the roman emperors themselves lived in a corrupted classical world where the model of sparta had completely consumed earlier social and ethical modes -- particularly the orphic religious culture that dominated the post-minoan, homeric aegean until the time of solon, pythagoras and the rise of the tyrant -- in much the same way as the spartan model through machiavelli has overtaken the modern and now postmodern west. we are living now in an age constantly pregnant with rousseauian emperors -- from napoleon, who rode a jacobin warhorse, to the empires of communism to the empires of european fascism -- and now the post-british anglophone empire, led from washington, has risen to its time in the sun, which could be considerably longer than those prior, being the last man standing in the western civility that has spread around the globe.

 
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Cheney, Rummy, Bush aren't real neocons, though; pray a real one never gets to sit on that throne.

then tremble -- for jeb bush, who is a lock, it seems to me, for an eventual confirmation of our reversion to barbaric dynastic leadership. he is, unlike his more trifling brother, seriously and intellectually dedicated to projects such as the pnac, of which he is a charter member.

 
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have you read Tolstoy's take on Wagner's Ring Cycle in What is Art?? What are your thoughts?

no i haven't, mk -- my reading about wagner generally is widespread, but of the ring particularly i read fr. m. owen lee (which was an excellent introduction) and kitcher and schacht's later scholarship.

what i understand of tolstoy -- again, i have not read this book and would be very interested to hear your views in correction of mine -- is that he was very much a man of his plebiscitarian and vulgarizing times, not only antiaristocratic but an antisocial figure sympathetic to anarchism, if in a conflicted way. it's most obvious in anna karenina, but the entire tonal palate of war and peace demonstrates it. i have often felt him a less insightful dostoevsky.

i am satisfied that high western art in the 20th c all but died, beginning perhaps with stravinsky but accelerating away from that into the dessication of the 1960s and after -- it has become ridiculous and superfluous, moving past the self-indulgent to an attempt to shock in an age where nothing's shocking. as that, it is certainly a mirror of our decrepit civilization, still serving its primal function.

to the extent that tolstoy criticizes what was in the process of becoming, i agree with him. but to the extent that he may have felt art need be comprehensible to the vulgar masses to be valid -- well, i would clearly disagree, and cite television.

 
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I've been living in fear of who will be named successor to the throne; do you really think Jeb is the heir apparent? It would make sense, and putting Condi on his ticket would be virtually unbeatable and would thereby steal liberal thunder in the process. There seems to be a lot of groundswell support for Condi, even as a Presidential candidate, though I know the GOP isn't quite ready for that. And while McCain would certainly draw votes from moderates in both parties, I know the Rove machine will find a way to grind him up once again.

That PNAC charter was spooky. And while it wasn't a shock, I find it a shame that George Weigel lent his name to such a document. You don't have to be an evangelical to serve power...

 
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Funny that you mention Doestoevsky as being insightful in a conversation involving Bush. From the early years of his presidency (reign?), he has always reminded me of Doestoevsky's little spiel about the difference between the man of action and that of the man of intellect in Notes from the Underground. Since I have always seen him through this light, I have never been surprised at his inability to appreciate the role his compatriots have played in creating any of the foreign policy issues we are currently mired in. OTOH, I have taken Doestoevsky's caveat to heart re: them man of intellect who, being aware of both primary and secondary causes, consistently finds himself frozen into inaction.
The few friends I have who are dedicated to Bush always use his "Leadership skills" as the ultimate trump card in defending him. They are truly puzzled by my inability to be swayed by his decisiveness. Perhaps I will start to respond by saying that the Jacobin club showed similar decisiveness :)

RE: Tolstoy, I do hear what you are saying regarding Tolstoy's tendency to vulgarize art. But I think it is of value to take into account the extent to which he was speaking within the context of a Russian Orthodox culture that valued artistic expression as a spiritual medium. Something that was an anathema in the west. Tolstoy seemed to think that the creation of art that did not work as a conduit to the spiritual realm (commercial as opposed to religious, I guess) was what was truly vulgar. But he did come from a culture where artwork was seen as the purview of the monk. Obviously, I disagreed with him on that point, but was sympathetic to it's source.
Anyway, you should read it. BArzun, for instance, namechecked it in his Mag opus. You could read it in a day easily. It's practically a pamphlet.
mk

 
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it seems clear to me, mk, that bush's own circle relates to dostoevsky -- or rather, his characters -- a little too well for comfort.

what you say re: tolstoy also rings true to me, and i will find that bit you mention, thanks!

 
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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
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i think it's jeb or bust, frankly, dr johnson. the bush family has used five presidencies to amass an immensely influential political machinery dedicated less to america or the gop than to the family itself. the strategy of the family has long been rumored to put jeb in high office -- he was always the most promising of the boys.

2008 may be his chance -- and it frankly wouldn't surprise me if elections faded in importance thereafter.

 
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I haven't read The Possessed yet, but will now make it a point to do so.
Everytime I interact with you I end up with another few books to read. I can only do this so often as I am already seriously behind.
BTW, Haklyut never did provide me with his "Top 5 books to annoy Gaius with", even with Schermer as a given.
mk

 
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Thankfully, we agree on politics.

SD Smooth Jazz Man

 
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