Monday, May 28, 2007
Since, as Paddy Chayefsky has his main character say in his movie The Americanization of Emily, " We...perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices" (see this and this), I've long thought that what is called Memorial Day would be better recast as Revisionist History Day. The state inculcates an unquestioning faith in its war-making by associating it with patriotism, heroism, and the defense of "our freedoms." This strategy builds in its own defense against any criticism of the government's policies. Anyone who questions the morality of a war is automatically suspected of being unpatriotic, unappreciative of the bravery that has kept us free, and disrespectful of "our troops," in a word, un-American.
To counter this we should do what we can to teach others that the government's version of its wars is always self-serving and threatening to life, liberty, and decency. A good way to spend part of the day would be to pick a war and read a high-quality revisionist account of it. Here are some books (in no particular order) you might use as a guide:
Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, by Paul Fussell
Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleman Williams
The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur Ekirch
The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic, 1890-1920, by Walter Karp
The Costs of War, edited by John Denson
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer
All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, by Chalmers Johnson
War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin
The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, by David Hirst
A good place to start is this article by Robert Higgs: "How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor" (The Freeman, May 2006).
Many other books and articles could be added to the list. The point is this: if we are to prevent wars in the future, we must self-educate and then, when opportune, teach others.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
I second Arthur Silber's motion here:
Our national media remain cowed and intimidated, and they refuse, a few honorable exceptions aside, to provide details of the daily and hourly horrors in Iraq to the public. A single major newspaper could provide a noble and invaluable service: if they gave a damn at all about unnecessary death and suffering, they would select the most awful and horrifying picture they could find -- a body with its guts falling out, a bloody corpse shorn of arms and legs, a mutilated face made unrecognizable -- and fill up their entire front page with it, a new one every day. Perhaps after a month or two, enough Americans would demand that their government stop butchering people who never harmed us. [To achieve the sought-for effect, the pictures obviously should be of Iraqis, and only Iraqis. The Iraqis had no choice about our criminal war of aggression, and the endless destruction we have unleashed; the United States did -- and does, even today. We could leave, as we quickly would if we had any remaining decency and humanity, but we won't.]
Hat tip: James Ostrowski
From The Progressive:
With scarcely a mention in the mainstream media, President Bush has ordered up a plan for responding to a catastrophic attack.In a new National Security Presidential Directive, Bush lays out his plans for dealing with a “catastrophic emergency.”
Under that plan, he entrusts himself with leading the entire federal government, not just the Executive Branch. And he gives himself the responsibility “for ensuring constitutional government.”
He laid this all out in a document entitled "National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51" and "Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20."
The White House released it on May 9.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The quote, the best summation of why we should not honor the war dead, comes from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily, script by Paddy Chayefsky. The lead character American Charlie Madison (James Garner) speaks to to his English girlfriend's (Julie Andrews) mother, who lost her husband, son, and son-in-law in the World War II:
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.In other words, it is we who must stop the madness because it is we who make it possible in the first place.
The new compromise immigration bill is drawing lots of flak, not least from conservatives who object to granting amnesty to millions of so-called illegal aliens in the country. (I prefer to think of them as independent migrants.) Here I have to agree with the conservatives. The illegals shouldn’t be granted amnesty. Amnesty connotes forgiveness for doing something wrong — and they have done nothing wrong. Indeed, the government should be asking forgiveness from them.The of my op-ed, "Immigration Policy Reveals What We Are," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.
Friday, May 25, 2007
The so-called guest-worker program, part of the controversial new compromise immigration bill now before Congress, sums up everything that is wrong in how many people think about immigration. On one side are those who want to keep foreigners out of the country on grounds that they will compete against American workers without providing offsetting benefits to the U.S. economy. On the other are those who want to admit some magic number of the right kind of foreign workers because it will benefit the U.S. economy. While they sling endless econometric studies at each other, some of us wonder: What about freedom? That question may seen quaint in the Age of Scientism, when economists and other practitioners of social science assume the role of high priests, but it's still worth asking, because a tower of statistical studies showing adverse effects on wages does not trump individual rights.The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Be Our Guest (Worker)," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The Insurgent Advantage
By DAVID BROOKS
The war on terror has shredded the reputation of the Bush administration. It’s destroyed the reputation of Tony Blair’s government in Britain, Ehud Olmert’s government in Israel and Nuri al-Maliki’s government in Iraq. And here’s a prediction: It will destroy future American administrations, and future Israeli, European and world governments as well.
That’s because setbacks in the war on terror don’t only flow from the mistakes of individual leaders and generals. They’re structural. Thanks to a series of organizational technological innovations, guerrilla insurgencies are increasingly able to take on and defeat nation-states.
Over the past few years, John Robb has been dissecting the behavior of these groups on his blog, Global Guerrillas. Robb is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and Yale University, and he has worked both as a special ops counterterrorism officer and as a successful software executive.
In other words, he’s had personal experience both with modern warfare and the sort of information management that is the key to winning it. He’s collected his thoughts in a fast, thought-sparking book, “Brave New War” that, astonishingly, has received only one print review — distributed by U.P.I. — in the month since it’s been published.
Robb observes that today’s extremist organizations are not like the P.L.O. under Yasir Arafat. They’re not liberation armies. Instead, modern terror groups are open-source, decentralized conglomerations of small, quasi-independent groups.
There are between 70 and 100 groups that make up the Iraqi insurgency, and they are organized, Robb says, like a bazaar. It’s pointless to decapitate the head of the insurgency or disrupt its command structure, because the insurgency doesn’t have these things. Instead, it is a swarm of disparate companies that share information, learn from each other’s experiments and respond quickly to environmental signals.
For example, the U.S. has spent billions trying to disrupt attacks from improvised explosive devices, but the I.E.D. manufacturing stream has transmogrified and now includes sophisticated metallurgy, outsourcing and fast innovation cycles. The number of I.E.D. attacks has remained pretty constant throughout the war.
Superempowered global guerrillas — whether it’s Al Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents, Nigerian oil fighters or the Brazilian gang P.C.C. — specialize in what Robb calls systems disruption. They attack the networks that support modern life. In one case, Iraqi insurgents spent roughly $2,000 to blow up an oil pipeline in Southeast Iraq. It cost the Iraqi government $500 million in lost revenue. For the insurgents, that was a return on investment of 25 million percent.
The 9/11 attacks, the Madrid bombings, the Niger Delta oil well attacks and even the Samarra mosque bombing were all attempts to disrupt the economic and social systems of target nations.
But, Robb continues, these new groups are not seeking to take over their countries the way 20th-century guerrillas did. They have a prenational, feudal mind-set to go along with their postnational Silicon Valley-style organizational methods. They merely seek to weaken states, so they can prosper in the lawless space created by collapse of law and order. That way the groups don’t have to construct anything or assume responsibility for anything.
In fact they’ve learned, as Lawrence of Arabia learned decades ago, that it’s better to weaken target governments, but not actually destroy them. When nations don’t feel existentially threatened, they don’t mobilize all their resources to defeat their foes. They try to fight wars on the cheap, and end up in a feckless semibelligerent state somewhere between real war and nonwar.
Robb is pessimistic (excessively so) that top-heavy, pork-driven institutions like the Defense Department or the Department of Homeland Security can ever keep up with open-source insurgencies. Since 9/11, he believes, big government institutions have engaged in a process of hindsight re-engineering designed to reduce future risk, when in fact, the very nature of the threat is that it’s random and cannot be anticipated.
He thinks democratic nations need to build their own decentralized counterinsurgency networks, though he goes over the top in imagining local squads of grass-roots terror fighters.
But time and again, he hints at the core issue, which is that nation-states are inefficient learning organizations, at least compared to their feudal and postnational foes. If the Iraqi insurgents defeat the U.S. then every bad guy on earth will study and learn their techniques. The people now running for president will find themselves in bigger heaps of trouble than the current one now is — trouble that this presidential campaign hasn’t even dealt with.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
[W]hy is law enforcement so political and has it always been this way? No.The full article is here.
Several hundred years ago, English law enforcement was a private system that included dispute resolution and closely resembled modern arbitration and mediation. The system was very different from today's adversarial system of criminal prosecution. When an injustice occurred, people would bring their dispute to private informal courts where the victim was compensated by the perpetrator.
Private law enforcement worked quite well until the Normans invaded England and the government decided to use the system to collect revenue, passing laws prohibiting private restitution and requiring all compensation be made to the king.
Eventually, when parties could no longer resolve disputes on their own, the system of private law enforcement disappeared. Only later did theorists develop arguments justifying why a government monopoly over law enforcement is allegedly necessary....
Government monopolies are not responsive to consumer needs in other areas, so we should not expect them to be responsive in the area of police and courts.
Luckily nongovernment alternatives do exist. The more we move away from a government monopoly, the less we are likely to see repeat tragedies such as the wrongful prosecution of the Duke lacrosse players.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Malkin tries to make much out of Paul's stated mistrust of government and his belief that government investigations often cover things up. Wow! These are things conservatives find subversive? Have they fully embraced the Fuhrer principle? I guess so. All the more reason for kudos to Ron Paul.
What? Are we to conclude that Giuliani -- the persecutor of Michael Milken -- or anyone else who was on that stage, favors an unfettered free market? (Only Ron Paul comes anywhere near that position.)
Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Another is here.
And if you can bear to be disgusted by the smearing of Paul, see this.
My own defense of Ron Paul is here.
"[I]t would be quite illogical to believe that a scientist may without inconsistency subscribe to any value-position whatsoever...." That provocative sentence is found in an article by Belgian liberal legal scholar Frank Van Dun, "Economics and the Limits of Value-Free Science." What does it mean and how is it relevant to economic and political freedom?The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Political Science," is at the Foundation for Economic Foundation website.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Did you notice how Sean Hannity immediately changed the subject on Paul after the debate? Hannity first asked him how he can blame America for the 9/11 attacks. And when Paul tried to repeat what he had actually said, Hannity switched gears and asked whether "we" should do nothing when dictators mistreat their people?
Pardon, Sean. But one subject at a time, if you please. Are we to conclude that you concede Paul's point that U.S. policy seeded the ground for terrorism and now you want to argue that terrorism is the price we must pay for an interventionist foreign policy? If so, say so.
Or do you just have attention deficit disorder?
MR. GOLER: Congressman Paul, I believe you are the only man on the stage who opposes the war in Iraq, who would bring the troops home as quickly as -- almost immediately, sir. Are you out of step with your party? Is your party out of step with the rest of the world? If either of those is the case, why are you seeking its nomination?
REP. PAUL: Well, I think the party has lost its way, because the conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a noninterventionist foreign policy.
Senator Robert Taft didn't even want to be in NATO. George Bush won the election in the year 2000 campaigning on a humble foreign policy -- no nation-building, no policing of the world. Republicans were elected to end the Korean War. The Republicans were elected to end the Vietnam War. There's a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican party. It is the constitutional position. It is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them.
Just think of the tremendous improvement -- relationships with Vietnam. We lost 60,000 men. We came home in defeat. Now we go over there and invest in Vietnam. So there's a lot of merit to the advice of the Founders and following the Constitution.
And my argument is that we shouldn't go to war so carelessly. (Bell rings.) When we do, the wars don't end.
MR. GOLER: Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attacks, sir?
REP. PAUL: What changed?
MR. GOLER: The non-interventionist policies.
REP. PAUL: No. Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right.
We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)
MR. GOLER: Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?
REP. PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- (bell rings) -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.
MR. GIULIANI: Wendell, may I comment on that? That's really an extraordinary statement. That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. (Applause, cheers.)
And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that. (Applause.)
MR. GOLER: Congressman?
REP. PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.
They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us?
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Moreover, with ten candidates on the stage, we knew going in there would be no time for any positions to be developed. The whole thing was a joke, more precisely, a media event that MSNBC could milk for ratings.
If that network (and the others) were serious about informing people about who was running for these nominations, they would do, let's say, one-hour interviews with each candidate -- one on one. But no, for a couple of reasons they won't do that. First, they know the ratings would be too small to justify the time. How many people will tune it for ten long interviews?
Second, that format would require that "minor" candidates -- such as Ron Paul, an antiwar Republican who thereby doesn't fit most people's worldview -- would have to be given equal time.
So that's why we were stuck with the joke we saw the other night. I despise what most people call "democracy." And so do the television news people. But at least I admit it. I don't play Chris Matthews's game and pretend to be gaga about the process.
Speaking of Chris Matthews, who says he was against the Iraq was from the start: why does he say the troops are serving "their country." If the war is against the interests of most Americans, which Matthews says he believes, they can't be serving the country. At most they are serving the president. (I e-mailed this to Matthews. So far no answer.)
Friday, May 11, 2007
The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution has been used to justify a wide expansion of government power, from antidiscrimination laws to drug prohibition to a ban on guns near schools. In objecting to use of the Commerce Clause for such remote purposes, some constitutionalists rely on a particular historical interpretation of both the Clause and the Constitution as a whole. Could that interpretation be wrong?The rest of this week's TGIF column, "That Mercantilist Commerce Clause," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.
Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.
Monday, May 07, 2007
In their [workers'] social relations, too, there has been an entailed retrogression rather than a progression. The wage-earning factory-hand does, indeed, exemplify entirely free labour, in so far that, making contracts at will and able to break them after short notice, he is free to engage with whomsoever he pleases and where he pleases. But this liberty amounts in practice to little more than the ability to exchange one slavery for another; since, fit only for his particular occupation, he has rarely an opportunity of doing anything more than decide in what mill he will pass the greater part of his dreary days. The coercion of circumstances often bears more hardly on him than the coercion of a master does on one in bondage.
From Chapter IX of Principles of Sociology. The mainstream critics of Spencer, ignorant as they are of what the man actually wrote (see this New York Times article), would be surprised by this passage.
Spencer does not appear to attribute the workers' predicament to government intervention, but rather treats it as something inherent in the nature of things. At the end of the chapter he write, "...there appears to be no remedy."
Friday, May 04, 2007
Anthony de Jasay, an occasional contributor to ... The Freeman, is a refreshing political thinker. His classic, The State, asks questions few have asked since Thomas Hobbes assured us that swapping freedom for security under Leviathan was a slam dunk. De Jasay never fails to challenge his readers. Leave it to him to ask, "Is limited government possible?The rest of this week's TGIF column, "De Jasay on Limiting Power," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Here's an excerpt from "Higher Education Conformity":
[T]here are ways in which the higher education industry is becoming a racket: Buy our product or be condemned to life of penury, and our product can easily cost well over $100,000.
The pundits keep chanting that we need a more highly skilled workforce, by which they mean more college graduates, although the connection between college and skills is not always crystal clear. Jones, for example, was performing a complex job requiring considerable judgment, experience and sensitivity without the benefit of any college degree. And how about all those business majors -- business being the most popular undergraduate major in America? It seems to me that a two-year course in math and writing skills should be more than sufficient to prepare someone for a career in banking, marketing, or management. Most of what you need to know you're going to learn on the job anyway.
But in the last three decades the percentage of jobs requiring at least some college has doubled, which means that employers are going along with the college racket. A resume without a college degree is never going to get past the computer programs that screen applications. Why? Certainly it's not because most corporate employers possess a deep affinity for the life of the mind. In fact in his book Executive Blues G. J. Meyers warned of the "academic stench" that can sink a career: That master's degree in English? Better not mention it.
My theory is that employers prefer college grads because they see a college degree chiefly as mark of one's ability to obey and conform. Whatever else you learn in college, you learn to sit still for long periods while appearing to be awake. And whatever else you do in a white collar job, most of the time you'll be sitting and feigning attention. Sitting still for hours on end -- whether in library carrels or office cubicles -- does not come naturally to humans. It must be learned -- although no college has yet been honest enough to offer a degree in seat-warming.
Or maybe what attracts employers to college grads is the scent of desperation. Unless your parents are rich and doting, you will walk away from commencement with a debt averaging $20,000 and no health insurance. Employers can safely bet that you will not be a trouble-maker, a whistle-blower or any other form of non-"team-player." You will do anything. You will grovel.
I don't think much of her proposal in the final paragraph:
"[W]e need a distinguished blue ribbon commission to investigate its role as a toll booth on the road to employment...."
That's like trying to use a pea shooter to kill an elephant.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can't help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.You fill in the blank in the title.
Loyalty Day, 2007
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America
America was founded by patriots who risked their lives to bring freedom to our Nation. Today, our citizens are grateful for our Founding Fathers and confident in the principles that lead us forward. On Loyalty Day, we celebrate the blessings of freedom and remember our responsibility to continue our legacy of liberty.
Our Nation has never been united simply by blood, birth, or soil, but instead has always been united by the ideals that move us beyond our background and teach us what it means to be Americans. We believe deeply in freedom and self-government, values embodied in our cherished documents and defended by our troops over the course of generations. Our citizens hold the truths of our founding close to their hearts and demonstrate their loyalty in countless ways. We are inspired by the patriotic service of the men and women who wear our Nation's uniform with honor and decency. The military spouses and families who stand by their loved ones represent the best of the American spirit, and we are profoundly grateful for their sacrifice. Our country is strengthened by the millions of volunteers who show deep compassion toward their neighbors in need. All citizens can express their loyalty to the United States by flying the flag, participating in our democracy, and learning more about our country's grand story of courage and simple dream of dignity.
The Congress, by Public Law 85-529, as amended, has designated May 1 of each year as "Loyalty Day." This Loyalty Day, and throughout the year, I ask all Americans to join me in reaffirming our allegiance to our Nation.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2007, as Loyalty Day. I call upon the people of the United States to participate in this national observance and to display the flag of the United States on Loyalty Day as a symbol of pride in our Nation.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.
GEORGE W. BUSH