Nov 08

The other day, I was thinking about a Trump presidency. Hillary Clinton had been sliding in the FiveThirtyEight forecast for a days, and it seemed more possible than ever that the unthinkable (electing a President Trump) was possible.

As I pondered a Trump presidency, for a moment I felt genuine fear. It seemed totally real that, under Donald Trump, a nuclear war is possible. For the first time in my lifetime, I wouldn’t trust the President with nuclear weapons.

That’s genuinely terrifying.

As we were thinking about what we should write for the election, I contemplated a post along the lines of “why veterans shouldn’t support Trump” or “the veteran viewpoint against Trump” but I decided not to. I mean, he has Representative Tom Cotton backing him, and he’s a veteran. Should we really tally up all the veterans to see who they support and choose our president that way?

Of course not. It’s like how Trump counts 88 flag officers (admirals and generals) backing him and Hillary counts at least 95. Or how Trump trots out General Michael Flynn and Hillary trots out General John Allen. It’s a wash.

Really what matters to veterans and soldiers is the same thing that matters to Americans: who will start unnecessary wars that put the lives of soldier and Americans at risk? We’ve written a lot about why you shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. We’ve mentioned all the facts he gets wrong, all the moral codes he breaks and all the democratic norms he ignored, but we mostly ignored the larger philosophy of the two camp’s foreign policies. When you dig into the philosophies, you understand why you should vote for Hillary and why you shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton is a foreign policy liberal. Liberalism in international relations (distinct from being a “liberal” or “progressive” in politics) is the deeply held belief of On Violence, the operating philosophy of this blog. This liberalism is about supporting democracies, human rights, free trade, and international institutions to decrease the frequency of war and increase the prosperity of everyone. Clinton largely supports liberalism (it’s why she advocated going into Libya and Syria). Her stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership notwithstanding, if On V had a gripe with her, it is that she (like most of establishment foreign policy types) worries too much about the short term and not the long term.

Donald Trump has rejected every pillar of liberalism: supporting democracies (he loves strong men or dictators), human rights (he supports torture and mass murder), free trade (he will erect trade barriers) and international institutions (his attacks on NATO and the UN). But it goes further than his rejection of liberalism: Trump rejects nearly every other major foreign policy philosophy as well.

Take realism. While it seems like Trump fits in as a realist with his focus on US interests and avoiding foreign entanglements, he can’t seem to find a realist who supports his beliefs. One of the biggest names in realist thinking--Stephen Walt--refuses to endorse Trump. (My gut is that John Mearsheimer does as well.) There are also plenty of realist thinkers on this list of 122 international relations Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump, and it was hosted on a realist website. Realists usually understand that Trump is close to realism, but know that in practice Trump’s brand of diplomacy, his economically disastrous trade ideas, and Trump’s ability to overestimate and underestimate US power (at the same time) violate realism in practice.

Any other philosophies are out too. Isolationism? Donald Trump has said he would intervene to stop ISIS in Syria and would do so with the help of Vladimir Putin. Neo-conservatism? Again, Trump doesn’t believe in remaking the Middle East with democracies, so probably not. Constructivism nee idealism? Donald Trump doesn’t have time to understand what this viewpoint even means.

So what is Donald Trumps foreign policy ideology? Selfishness bordering on narcissism. He’s unconstrained by any morals or ethics (advocating torture) while he only cares about winning, for himself. He admires other rich or powerful individuals, but only because he envies them. He’s not rational enough to be a realist so he’s just an unconstrained egotist.

And that’s where the danger from the beginning of this article comes from. Donald Trump is a complete liability if he were to take over the office of the President. Since he has no guiding principles in foreign policy, he could do anything, which makes him a complete liability with nuclear weapons and our military.

Nov 07

When we decided to write up our posts on this election, Michael C asked who these articles were for. Who did we want to convince? Which was a good question, since Eric C initially wrote up a series of “devastating” posts endlessly mocking Trump. But what good does that do, except further reinforce what Hillary partisans already believe?

Yesterday, we made the case for Clinton because Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to President. But the worst thing he has done is subvert democratic norms in America. He has challenged the legitimacy of the Constitution, and if he were elected, has a chance to permanently harm America.

If you’re a moderate or liberal who is still considering voting for a third party candidate, we’d politely ask you to first consider the damage that could be done to our democracy by helping elect Trump.

First, Donald Trump spent the primary campaign encouraging his supporters to use violence against their political enemies. I know, this feels like it happened ages ago, but it is easy to forget that, in his early speeches, Donald Trump would pine for the days when people could get beat up at rallies. And then his supporters would punch people at rallies. Since his official nomination, Trump has continued with calls for violence. Zack Beauchamp details the possibility of violence, especially among armed militiamen, on election day. Perhaps this doesn’t need to be said, but advocating armed revolution to stop a legitimate election should terrify everyone in America.

Second, Donald Trump has challenged American’s right to vote. Going hand in hand with Donald Trump’s threats for violence are his calls for his supporters to “monitor” polling places, using racist dog whistles to refer to minority communities. The Republican party, as a whole, has limited voter’s access to the polls in nearly a dozen states. The threat is two-fold. It erodes faith in our electoral system while challenging one of the most basic tenets of the constitution: the right to vote.

Third, Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns. True, there’s nothing unconstitutional about this. But every major party candidate has released their tax returns since the 1970s. His refusal to do so limits the public’s knowledge about him and threatens to destroy this practice entirely, limiting the knowledge future voters will have about Presidential candidates.

Fourth, Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to jail his political rival. While the entire country, rightfully, excoriated Trump over the leaked Access Hollywood tape, more concerning to On Violence was Donald Trump’s promise to put Clinton in jail during the second Democratic debate. This is what happens in third world countries. This is not how democracies work.

Fifth, Donald Trump refuses to concede the election if he loses and claims the election is rigged. Or to put it another way, he’s undermining faith in America’s electoral process. The foundation of our democracy is the right to fair and just elections to establish the will of the people. Donald Trump, by refusing to say he’ll accept the results, subverts the entire system by which this country exists.

Why should voters support Clinton? Because Donald Trump represents a threat to our democracy. One could argue that he isn’t that big of a threat, since he probably won’t win, though poll numbers appear to be tightening.  

But if even a small chance of victory risks ending the country, then it is one we have to avoid.

Because make no mistake: Donald Trump is a threat to the future of the country.

Nov 02

So it’s become fairly common for people to opine that the 2016 election is a choice between “the lesser of two evils”. If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, I’ve seen people make this complaint daily. I’ve had five people say it to me in person. And South Park has mocked the current election as a choice between a “turd sandwich” and a “douche”.

This is absurd. People complain about choosing between the “lesser of two evils” every election. (Here’s a Christopher Hitchens example in 2000, another example in 2004 and an example from 2008. It took maybe three minutes to find these; I’m sure I can find more.) Clearly, the problem isn’t the candidates; it’s unrealistic expectations. I’m sure Jesus could run against Hitler and disaffected Green Party voters would complain about his tax policies. Though many people like to point out that these are “the two most disliked candidates in American history”, both Hillary and Trump’s supporters actually like them.

But that’s not really the counter-argument that matter. This is not a choice between the “lesser of two evils”; it’s a choice between a normal candidate versus one of the worst, most dangerous candidates in American history.

Actually, it’s barely a choice since the choice is obvious.

If you don’t believe us, check out the work by various media outlets systematically cataloguing Donald Trump’s failures as a candidate for America’s highest office. Slate currently has a running tally of the “230 Things Trump Has Said and Done that Make Him Unfit for Office”. The Atlantic has a running time capsule of his daily embarrassments. The New York Times has an ongoing tally and a tracker of when Republicans pulled their endorsements. Major conservative newspapers have not endorsed him, many for the first time in their publishing history.

Or you can compare our writings in 2012 to today. We wrote a grand total of 4 posts for the entire 2012 election. Check out our introduction:

“Confronted with the first presidential election in On Violence’s short history, we want to write something about both men campaigning for the country’s highest office. We’ll discuss Barack obama first, then Mitt Romney.

This isn’t an endorsement, even though it is probably pretty obvious which candidate we support...But we can say that neither candidate comes out glowing.

We’ll focus on the this blog’s main topics: foreign policy, defense spending, veterans affairs and civil rights...We will criticize both candidates for their failings on foreign policy, and compliment them where they get it right. For Obama, we’ll analyze his time in office, good, bad and inbetween. For Romney, we’ll discuss his stances on the issues. Both candidates get an equal word count.”

Wow. We really ripped in Romney there. Some conservatives have blamed liberals’ rhetoric for Trump’s rise, saying they’ve overhyped threats by conservative candidates in the past. That’s both wrong (Trump rose for other reasons which we don’t have time to get into), one-sided (just ask 50% of Republicans what country Obama was born in) and doesn’t apply to us (see above quote).

By contrast, we’ve written over a dozen posts on Donald Trump and the Republican party’s dangerous foreign policy positions this year. (Check out yesterday’s post ] or this entire series on the 2016 primary.)

Like we said above, Donald Trump is unfit to be President of the United States of America. You could point to his disastrous foreign policy positions, including endorsing torture or civilian air strikes. Or his terrifying obsession with using nuclear weapons. Or the hate speech and vilifying of Muslims. Or his racist and sexist behavior. Or his stances against free trade. Or his desire to build a wall on our borders. Or his shoddy business record. Or his poorly run campaign for President. Or his ignorance on far too many policy positions. Or his irrational temper. Or his constant lies. Or his disdain for the American political system and its norms, which we’ll cover tomorrow.

Of all these faults, the second most-concerning is Trump’s ignorance on basic policy issues, both foreign and domestic, which can be hard to pin down, given his penchant for lying. Despite Trump’s assertions, crime is down, ISIS is crumbling, and illegal immigration rates are falling. Trump claims NAFTA destroyed America’s economy, but it barely had an impact.

Here’s a clearer example. In the second debate, Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton “acid-washing” her emails. What does that even mean? Nothing, since Trump is confusing the software program “BleachBit” with bleaching clothing. Trump literally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. On one of his primary campaign talking points.

The job of President, despite the high profile optics, is mainly bureaucratic. The President has to run the most important organization in the world. They have to hire a bunch of people, go to a bunch of meetings, and dive deep into complex policy issues. In short, Trump has shown no capability to do this job. Clinton has spent her whole life training for it.

We realize that a significant portion of Republicans will vote for Donald Trump no matter what he says or does, and we get that we can’t reach them. But there are a lot of moderates and liberals who may feel uneasy about voting for Hillary.

But know this: Donald Trump is unfit to be President.

Even worse, he could threaten the future of America, which we’ll cover tomorrow.

Nov 01

Somewhere, a long time ago, we decided we weren’t ever going to do a “Sorry we haven’t posted in awhile” post, because, well, it’s trite. (Someone even made an entire blog aggregating blog posts where people did that.) But the good news is we’re working on a huge new project, dropping later this year. (Keep your fingers crossed pre-Christmas for the holiday drive and travelling.)

That said, did you really think On V would let an election that challenges democratic norms and features one of the least informed politicians that’s ever ran for President without commenting on it? (We commented on the primaries here.) But before we get to the top of the ticket race, let’s look at where the two major American parties stand internationally.

Everytime we write about elections, we have to make the point that foreign policy--unlike domestic policy--is usually non-partisan. As we wrote before the 2012 election, both sides tend to use foreign policy as an easy way to score cheap political points:

“Foreign policy, unlike domestic issues, is a mostly non-partisan affair. More than that, the parties can’t agree on what they disagree on. Do liberals or libertarians oppose Guantanamo? Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan and Dennis Kucinich all support American isolationism. Democrats are supposed to be anti-war, but their presidents started World War II, the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, Kosovo and intervened militarily in Libya.

Politically, both sides of the aisle use foreign policy victories or mistakes to score cheap political points. Conservatives opposed Clinton heading into Kosovo, supported the war in Iraq, and then half-opposed intervening in Libya, depending on what the President did. Liberals protested the invasion of Iraq, then changed the subject when anyone asked them about Libya; they also hated Bush’s drone strikes in Afghanistan, and have ignored them under Obama’s watch.”

Taken at face value, 21st century foreign policy seemed pretty clear: Bush, embracing a neo-conservative foreign policy, started a series of disastrous foreign military engagements designed to reshape the Middle East. Liberals mostly opposed what Bush did, but Obama continued some of the same policy mistakes, like drone strikes. (Enough to get Conor Friedersdorf, a thinker we really respect, to pull his endorsement in 2012.)

Alas, this is no longer the case. As we’ve been writing about all year, Republicans--frightened by ISIS’s terror attacks, then catalyzed by Donald Trump’s popularity--advocate a foreign policy that is dangerously illiberal, factually wrong and morally bankrupt.

Here are some examples, culled from our posts on the Republican primaries, starting with the factually dubious claims:

America is safer than it has ever been. Republicans, throughout the entire primary, have made an effort to make Americans scared. Terrified. (Mostly of people from other countries or minorities). As the Trump campaign fumbles its way through early October, their only talking point is that the murder rate went up last year. (It did. It’s also lower than it was forty years ago.)

- Don’t Worry about EMPs, WMDs or ISIS: Sorry, Republicans The World is Getting Safer

ISIS isn’t nearly the threat Republicans want you to think it is. Not just that, but all of the available evidence points to a decline in ISIS’s membership, territory, revenue and military capability. Sure, ISIS will launch future terror attacks, but they won’t “take over” America. Ever.

- ISIS, You Ain’t No Existential Threat, Bruv

The U.S. military isn’t crumbling. Despite exaggerations to the contrary, the American military remains the largest fighting force in the world. Actually, we’d argue--and have been arguing--that the American military is too big. The money America spends on defense could be better spent elsewhere, especially if that were coupled with smart improvements to our wasteful military contracting system and ]focused less on building weapons that have no relevance to the wars we’re actually fighting abroad. Just a few weeks back, the U.S. Army admitted it had a 6 trillion dollar accounting error.

- Actually, the American Military is Y-uuuuge

Torture. And now we move from factually wrong assertions to morally reprehensible statements. In short, the Republican party endorses torture, which violates everything our nation stands for.

- Torture. Still Wrong.

Killing Civilians and Loosening the Rules of Engagement. Look, the Rules of Engagement (ROE) are a complicated issue. No one is denying that. But it is one thing to debate the merits of our current ROE and another to actively encourage killing civilians. The latter isn’t just wrong practically, it is wrong morally. (And Republicans routinely exaggerate and misrepresent the military’s ROE.)

- Let's Kill Women and Children: The Republicans on War Crimes

- What We Talk About When We Talk About Loosening ROE

Supporting Dictators. Few things irk Michael C more than this. And to be fair, Democrats are far too cozy with far too many dictators. (Looking at you, Saudi Arabia!) That said, Republicans have taken it to another level with campaign, praising dictators no one should support.

- I Hate Dictators and Some Republicans Don't

Using hate speech. For Eric C, in light of every other ugly thing that has been said this election cycle, the tearing down of civility is the worst. The Republican use of hate speech against Islamic people represents this. The only upside is that Kzahir Khan made an eloquent defense of America’s multi-cultural identity and, more importantly, Democrats have embraced it.

- Hate Speech: We're Still Against It  

When we started writing this post, Michael C asked Eric C who it was meant for. The point is this: on down ballot races, on foreign policy grounds, we don’t recommend voting for Republicans. This may (and hopefully will) change in the future. But there is an ugly, anti-democratic, illiberal bent to Republican foreign policy right now (illustrated by the numerous conservative foreign policy experts who have come out against Donald Trump). Don’t let this continue to expand.

Aug 15

(Spoiler warning: This post contains massive, “The Wall”-sized spoilers for Game of Thrones. This is a show that deserves not to be spoiled, so proceed at your own peril.)

Game of Thrones is incredibly violent. Amazingly violent. It’s more unusual for episode to not contain some act of violence. But connecting this show, philosophically, to our site isn’t easy. Outside of a pat “violence sucks” message, there usually isn’t anything else to say. (This happens with a lot of favorite pieces of art. They’re violent, but we can’t shoehorn them onto the blog.)

But a few years ago, after reading about the audience’s reactions to Jaime Lannister raping his sister Cersei in the fifth episode of the fourth season, I found my angle: Game of Thrones proves the world is getting safer, which we posted about two weeks ago. We had so much material, including our responses to potential rebuttals to our argument, that we had to have a second post to hit it all.

Rebuttal 1: Who says this? Who really believes this?

Basically, I can imagine some people, in response to our piece, saying, “Of course the world today is safer than 600 years ago.” I mean, you couldn’t tell by the rhetoric of politicians--which we’ve quoted multiple times--who scream about how unsafe the world is today. Hell, the Republicans just made it the central talking point of their convention.

If you need quantitative proof, Slate published a piece trying to find the worst year in human history. The poll results at the bottom show 9% of people--on a liberal website--voted for 2016. Another 5% voted 2003, which is insane.

Rebuttal 2: No seriously, who is actually saying this?

Racists.

A number of neo-racist groups--like the new white supremacy movement, the “alt-right” or the “neo-reactionaries” that have spread online--base their very existence on claiming that democracy has fundamentally made the world a more dangerous place. The solution--for this very fringe movement--is a return to monarchy with heaping doses of racism. I (Eric C) accidentally stumbled onto all this (in a post on TechCrunch) a day before Vox wrote a big piece on it.

Basically, the idea that the world is falling apart undergirds a new, burgeoning anti-democratic, racist ideology. Again, proving that the world is safer matters.

Rebuttal 3: Some outlets are (finally) reporting that the world is getting safer.

In a way. Sometimes. Kind of.

Fact-checking Trump’s acceptance speech, many news outlets reported that America is actually statistically safer than it was 8 years ago (when Obama took office) or 38 years ago (when the country apparently fell apart in 1968). Perhaps this is becoming the new norm for critics and reporters on the left? Or is it just a temporary response to a candidate most on the left abhor?

I‘d guess the latter. Take this headline from Slate two weeks ago: “More of the same: Gun Violence/Terrorism Edition”. On the Fivethirtyeight podcast, one of the reporters said, “Yes, the world is a dangerous place”. On Vox’s The Weeds, Ezra Klein described the world in similar terms. (We still love both of these shows.) So no, this idea hasn’t taken hold yet.

Rebuttal 4: Game of Thrones shouldn’t have depicted rape period.

We first wrote yesterday’s post two years ago after the Jaime/Cersei rape debacle. Since then, there was the Sansa rape by Ramsay Bolton that caused a sitting U.S. Senator to stop watching the series.

But as distasteful and opposed to rape as we are, if you want to depict the past realistically, you have to include rape. (But you don’t have to show it, and Game of Thrones had the rapes occur off camera.) As our post lays out, rape was a part of life in the past, especially during war. Game of Thrones made this clear in the first episode, when Daenerys was raped by Khal Drogo.

It wasn’t just the rape that was bad in the Middle Ages. Back then, women were property. A huge cultural shift occurred over the 20th century when the idea that women were independent agents, not marital property or birthing vehicles, came into being. In Game of Thrones’ world, women don’t decide who they can marry or who they can divorce. (Though, in fairness, Game of Thrones depicts powerful women leading behind the scenes.)

In other words, Sansa’s rape wasn’t a crime. It was daily life for women. More people should know this.  

Rebuttal 5: What about modern instances of slavery, torture, homicide, and so on?

I can already hear readers pushing back against each example in our post, asking, “What about modern day slavery? Or sexual assault on college campuses? Or the Charlie Hebdo shooting? Or Guantanamo Bay and waterboarding? Don’t those show society hasn’t improved at all?”

Pinker debunks that criticism on his website:

“There is an enormous difference between a clandestine, illegal, and universally decried practice in a few parts of the world and an open, institutionalized, and universally approved practice everywhere in the world.”

Torture, rape, slavery and other modern horrors were accepted and even celebrated in the past. Today, only criminals engage in them. Take slavery. Some people will point out that there are more slaves today than in the 1800s. But the highest estimates--which are almost surely over-estimates by interest groups--estimate that the modern world has 29 million slaves. Divided by the global population, that’s .003% of the population. So yeah, huge improvement.

We actually left off numerous improvements in the modern world, including religious fanaticism, entrenched racism and sexism, or the general improvements in healthcare or technology.

The world is so much better today.

Rebuttal 6: But this is a fantasy show...

This complaint comes from my dad who didn’t understand the point of our guest post. In short, Game of Thrones has dragons. Why look at it realistically?

Because George R. R. Martin based his series on the past. He made it realistic...then added dragons and zombies. If you can’t get past the fantasy elements of Game of Thrones, I’d recommend watching Rome, HBO’s less-fictional, historical predecessor to Game of Thrones. All of the same instances of violence occur. Slavery? Check. Torture? Check. Rape? Check.

Aug 08

So...Marcus Luttrell’s speech wasn’t all that exciting from an On V perspective. (Hence why it took so long to post this.) He didn’t recap his own personal story (which is the main thing we wanted to fact check) or say anything noteworthy. Instead, he delivered a standard convention speech, albeit one filled with conservative talking points. (Though he did endorse Donald Trump, and what can be more disappointing than that?) Nor did the media cover it all that much, with much bigger news--like Melania Trump’s plagiarism charges--taking the spotlight on the first night.

We plan to analyze the whole Republican foreign policy night (“Make America Safe Again”) in greater detail before the election. And we’ll fact check as many claims as we can (repeating “Americans are actually quite safe”, ad nauseum).

Still, Luttrell’s speech wasn’t entirely honest. Most of the coverage centered on the fact that Luttrell went off teleprompter in the middle of his talk. AOL ran the headline, “Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell goes off-script at RNC in stunning tear-jerker speech”. Breitbart had something similar.

Here is Jody Avirgan from FiveThirtyEight describing that moment:

“Halfway through his speech, Marcus Luttrell said that he wasn’t used to teleprompters, and that he was just going to speak from the heart. The crowd here in Quicken Loans Arena ate it up. It was a great moment of showmanship. The catch? Given our vantage point behind the stage, we could see that every subsequent word of his speech was also in the teleprompter. Great theater takes practice, folks.”   

What else to say about that?

Next up, Jake Tapper sent a tweet and mentioned on air that Marcus Luttrell was a part of “Operation Red Wing”, and linked to Luttrell’s website. We took a screenshot the day of the speech. To be clear, this is still the wrong name as the mission was Operation Red Wings, named after the hockey team.

As Neil O’Hanlon said on Twitter, “7 out of 8 letters isn’t bad.”

Jul 25

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

Donald Trump definitely made America seem like a dystopian hellscape last week at the convention. (See Seth Myers on Late Night for good coverage.) Trump’s theme was clear: the world is in chaos. With multiple wars in the Middle East, terrorist attacks in Europe, police shootings, and violence at political rallies, everything seems to be falling apart.

Trump wasn’t the only person spreading fear this year. Almost every Republican candidate for president--from mild-mannered Jeb Bush to bombastic Chris Christie--told the electorate during the Republican primaries that we live in truly “dangerous” and “perilous” times. Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention just made it their official theme.

Republican politicians aren’t alone in fear mongering. Democrats like Diane Feinstein believe we live in a “dangerous world”. Even a liberal commentator like Jon Stewart--who just called Trump out for fear-mongering on The Late Show--ended his run on The Daily Show (in the second to last episode) saying, “'The world is demonstrably worse than when I started.”

We need some perspective on how great we really have it.

And for that, we turn to the fantasy world of Game of Thrones.

Each week the show offers helpings of war, torture, rape, incest, mass murder, terrorist insurgencies, beheadings and so on, which should just depress us more. But it’s actually refreshing. Contrasting the pessimism of the daily news to this dark but wonderful TV show, we can’t help thinking, “Man, the world is so much safer today.”

Game of Thrones is a fun world to visit, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to stay. If modern times are “perilous”, how would you describe the Middle Ages? Despite the anxiety that pervades our culture, when compared to the past, we’re living in a modern golden age.

And Game of Thrones proves it. Unlike past fantasy authors, Martin based his world on actual European history. George R.R. Martin has said numerous times that he places a high premium on accuracy. “My novels are epic fantasy, but they are inspired by and grounded in history,” he told The New York Times.  Along with accuracy in food (lamprey pie), dress (velvet doublets) and weapons (two-handed greatswords), Martin’s Westeros is an excellent analogue for the ugliness and violence of Europe of hundreds of years ago (specifically, the eras of the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses). A trip through that world reveals just how much more dangerous and violent it was compared to contemporary times.

(Wall-sized spoilers abound for the rest of this article.)

Rape

Two seasons ago Jaime raped his sister Cersei and some fans got upset. Last season, Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark, outraging many, many fans, including US senators. Viewed from a modern perspective, Sansa’s rape was disgusting. Show that scene to someone from the 1300s and they’d wonder why people were upset. Arranged marriages among royal families were an unquestioned part of life in the past, along with subsequent marital rape.

Sansa’s rape was far from the only sexual assault in the world of Game of Thrones--214 instances and counting in the books. Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane uses war as an excuse to rape as many people as he can. Sansa almost got raped by a mob in season two. And the series opened with Daenerys getting raped by Khal Drogo in the same circumstances as Sansa. (I’m not sure the Dothraki can even have consensual sex.) As Martin has said, in response to criticism both two seasons ago and last season, rape has always been a part of war. To not depict it would artificially sanitize his medieval world.   

Today, governments work to stop sexual violence. For one of the first times in human history, politicians have opened investigations into sexual assault in the military. Husbands can no longer legally rape their wives. This isn’t to say there still isn’t work to end sexual assault--there is--but we have come a long way.

Homicide

One of the scariest parts of Game of Thrones is watching someone travel. Anywhere. As Catelyn Stark found out travelling to the Vale, even armed guards can’t keep you safe. You could be murdered at any point, or in the best case scenario, robbed of your savings, which Sandor Clegane did two seasons ago to a person giving him room and board. Or you could get captured by pirates with an interest in dwarf penises.

Homicide today is not what it was in the past. According to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, 14th century England had a murder rate that was 95% greater than it is today. In the short term, as has been widely reported in Slate and other outlets, the murder rate has declined, in some cases below levels in the 1950s and even early 1900s.

Slavery

In the world of Game of Thrones, slavery is illegal in Westeros, but it’s legal in Essos. And boy howdy is it legal, with an entire region named Slaver’s Bay. The people of Astapor castrate slave warriors and the people of Meereen crucify slaves who rebel.

Until the middle 1800s, slavery was legal in most of the world, including Asia, Africa and Europe. The ugliest and most infamous example was probably the Transatlantic slave trade between 1525 and 1866, when slavers shipped 12.5 million slaves across the Atlantic. (Almost 2 million of them died during the trip.)

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Game of Thrones leans heavily on the Westerosi tradition of “trial by combat”, in which someone accused of a crime can fight their way out of it. This was really only practiced in Germany. Trials by ordeal, on the other hand, were quite common in Europe, forcing people to endure starvation, drowning and fire to prove their innocence. Though many think this only applied to witches, it was actually quite common.

The “justice system” of the medieval world was barbaric and capricious, often catering to the mob. Criminals found guilty weren’t taken to prison, they were paraded through the streets (like Cersei walking naked through the streets of King’s Landing), then ritually tortured (like having their nipples torn off with hot pincers), and then killed in gruesome ways (like being ripped apart by horses). The guillotine was actually invented as a more humane method of capital punishment.

Torture

Remember in the middle of season two of Game of Thrones when Arya, captured by the Lannisters, watches as Lannister henchmen systematically torture dozens (hundreds?) of prisoners? Pretty brutal stuff, plucking one prisoner each day, at random, then torturing them to death.

And pretty realistic to medieval uses of torture. As Pinker told Scientific American about torture five hundred years ago:

“Religious instruction included prurient descriptions of how the saints of both sexes were tortured and mutilated in ingenious ways. Corpses broken on the wheel, hanging from gibbets, or rotting in iron cages where the sinner had been left to die of exposure and starvation were a common part of the landscape.”

The World Is Getting Better

We could go on, listing the multitude of ways the world has become less violent. (We haven’t even mentioned the decline in war, the end to institutionalized racism, and more.)

Over the last few years, a cottage industry has sprouted up among academics trying to prove this academically. Stephen Pinker, John Horgan, Joshua Goldstein, John Mueller and others have tried (vainly) to convince the world that war is decreasing in frequency, terrorism is more hype that danger, and that overall things are getting better. Pinker summed up the argument for Slate a few years ago, “The world is not falling apart”. Charles Kenny titled a piece for The Atlantic in December “2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being”.

But this line of thinking hasn’t broken through. Thanks to the media’s steady stream of daily violence, people believe the world is a scary, dangerous place.

By giving us an accurate, bloody depiction of the ancient world, Game of Thrones may actually give people a sense of how good we have it now. Hopefully, sometime soon, politicians and pundits will stop complaining about the sorry state of the modern world.

Or perhap they’d rather live in Westeros?

Jul 18

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

So....here we are again. For eagle-eyed observers following the news, you may have noticed that Marcus Luttrell is speaking at the Republican National Convention tonight. (Tonight’s theme is “Make America Safe Again”. Remember, these are the safest times in American history.) Honestly, we thought we were about done with Lone Survivor and its author, but Luttrell keeps himself in the news, especially as a Republican spokesperson.

We’ll be watching Marcus’ speech today (and hopefully live-tweeting @onviolence), looking to see if he either A. repeats misinformation (especially misinformation reporters could easily fact check) or B. rebuts his past statements or writing.

In case anyone is googling his name and landing at our website, here’s a quick summary:

- Marcus Luttrell continues to exaggerate or distort the facts about Operation Red Wings. (His website still calls it “Operation Red Wing” as of July 17th, 2016.) For a primer on all the mistakes and inaccuracies, check out our post here. For a mainstream feature article, check out the second half of R.M Schneiderman’s Newsweek cover story from last month, “Marcus Luttrell’s Savior, Mohammad Gulab, Claims ‘Lone Survivor’ Got It Wrong” and our reaction to it here. SOFREP has an in-depth discussion (alas, it’s behind a paywall) here. And finally, this all started with Ed Darack, so read his stuff here.

- Marcus Luttrell is a political figure, which both justifies this level of scrutiny and indicts the media for not providing it. This can’t be said enough.

- Operation Red Wings was an historically important mission for the U.S. military. Getting the facts right about it matters, as Michael C wrote about here. Also, as we’ll discuss later this week, the U.S. military never seriously investigated this failed operation.

- Despite the above two bullet points, the media (hate to say it, but “mainstream media”) has shown almost no interest in covering Luttrell’s persistent distortions. If we had to call one figure out in particular, it’d be Anderson Cooper, who regularly invites Luttrell on as a guest and did the really bizarre, softball 60 Minutes feature (our link here).

In honor of the convention, we’re posting a piece we tried--but failed--to get published last year, after the Brian Williams’ fiasco, comparing the Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly controversies to Marcus Luttrell and Chris Kyles’ repeated inaccuracies, along with the media’s response to both.

The Media Shouldn’t Hold Veterans to a Different Standard than Brian Williams

In February of 2015, when Brian Williams admitted he fabricated a war story about his time in Iraq, the news media rightfully excoriated him. Anderson Cooper called it a “blow to the profession.” David Carr on CBS’s This Morning with Charlie Rose called Williams’ actions “dumb”. (Williams was demoted last month to MSNBC.) Also in February, Bill O’Reilly also came under fire for exaggerating his experiences in war zones (O’Reilly’s exaggerations literally filled a book).

Seeing the outrage over Williams and O’Reilly fabricating events in a war zone and the media’s continued obsession with debunking non-fiction memoirs, it made us ask: what about Republican political operatives who happen to be veterans--specifically former Navy SEALs Marcus Luttrell and Chris Kyle? Why aren’t they held to the same exacting standard, especially when they use their stories to push Republican candidates and endorse conservative policies like gun rights?

Take Lone Survivor, the story of Marcus Luttrell and Operation Red Wings. Both the film and memoir of Lone Survivor contained massive inaccuracies on par with the Williams and O’Reilly exaggerations. We’ve spent years debunking the claims of Luttrell in his memoir Lone Survivor on our blog, On Violence. For those not familiar, Marcus Luttrell was part of a four man sniper team whose position was discovered by three goat herders in Afghanistan. After freeing the Afghans, the team was attacked by insurgents, and only Luttrell survived.

Luttrell’s memoir has significant discrepancies from official military reports about the battle. In his memoir and later speeches, Marcus Luttrell claims 200 men attacked his team while the U.S. Navy’s official documents said it was closer to 50. Other reports have cited 20 to 30 attackers (and some even lower). In the memoir and interviews, Luttrell falsely claims that the target of the operation, Ahmad Shah, was a high level Taliban operative with ties to Osama bin laden. Neither claim is true. In both interviews and his memoir, Luttrell claims Shah had killed many, many Marines in the months before the mission, when only five Marines had died in Afghanistan at that point and none were killed by Shah. Luttrell also claims he saw evidence of WMDs and, more shockingly, an al Qaeda training camp in Iraq. (And there are many more mistakes, including getting the title of the operation wrong.)

When Charlie Rose interviewed Marcus Luttrell before the release of Lone Survivor (the film), he let Luttrell repeat many of these exaggerations, including Luttrell saying, “We were sent out to capture/kill a high ranking individual in bin Laden’s army.” Charlie Rose also played a clip from the film repeating the claim that 20 Marines died the week before in Afghanistan, when in reality no Marines had died, a fact easily discovered by using iCausualties.org.

Most egregiously, in his memoir, Luttrell claimed the SEAL team took a vote over whether or not they should kill three goatherders. During Marcus Luttrell’s appearance on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper--in addition to ignoring the other discrepancies and exaggerations in Luttrell’s memoir--Cooper only casually mentions that in, “the past [Luttrell has] been criticized for saying they took a vote… something that’s not supposed to happen in SEAL teams because it’s up to the team leader to make a decision.” But Cooper didn’t ask Luttrell why he wrote that in his book, why Luttrell told Matt Lauer on the Today Show that they took a vote, or ask Luttrell why he changed his story. In other words, ask the same questions the media asked of Brian Williams.

And on the same night Anderson Cooper described Brian Williams’ actions as a “blow to the profession”, who was his earlier guest? Marcus Luttrell.

Outside of an article we wrote for Slate and a piece by Ed Darack in The Marine Corp Gazette, no major media outlet has asked Luttrell about the discrepancies in his book versus reality, compared to the thousands of new stories about Brian Williams. [Update: As of today, Newsweek is the only exception.] Despite Marcus Luttrell endorsing Rick Perry for President (twice) and regularly appearing as a pundit on Fox News, he has not been held to the same standard as journalists. He also joined other Navy SEALs in founding a company they bill as a “movement” that runs paid speaking tours and sells ammunition.

Perhaps you could explain away Marcus Luttrell’s exaggerations as minor details, but Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame made up at least three stories since he left the military: he claimed he punched Jesse Ventura in the face (Ventura later sued Kyle for defamation and won), he claimed he shot looters in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and he claimed that he killed two men who attempted to carjack him in Texas. (Like Luttrell, Kyle also claimed he saw evidence for WMDs in Iraq, something not even the current crop of Republicans running for president think is the case.)

Yet the most important falsehood told by Chris Kyle is this: despite claims on American Sniper’s website that Kyle “donated the proceeds of American Sniper to the families of his fallen friends”, according to court transcripts, less than 2% of the over $3 million in book royalties went to charity.

Promoting American Sniper when it was released in January, outside of a few blog posts, the majority of media coverage ignored Kyle’s tall tales. On February 9th, after covering the Brian Williams scandal, Anderson Cooper closed his show by announcing the CNN special Blockbuster: The Story of American Sniper. This special didn’t debate any of the above fabrications, including Katrina, Jesse Ventura or shooting the carjackers.

Luttrell and Kyle used their bestselling memoirs to promote Republican politics and profit. Both American Sniper and Lone Survivor are filled with political rants against liberals, the media and the military’s rules of engagement. Marcus Luttrell tours the country giving speeches for conservative groups, like the NRA, Glenn Beck’s rally, and Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign. He’s also started selling gun ammunition. Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle’s widow, recently gave a speech at an NRA convention. And she has her own memoir coming out in the next couple of months. Tara Kyle also joined Marcus Luttrell in founding their company-styled as a philanthropy Team Never Quit.

And a few weeks ago, both Taya Kyle and Marcus Luttrell endorsed Rick Perry for president and joined him on-stage for the announcement. [Update: And now, of course, Luttrell is supporting Donald Trump for president and speaking at the RNC.]

We criticize veterans from the position of one who served. One half of our writing team deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as an officer in the US Army. We believe we (veterans) should be held to the same standard as the rest of society. The fact that Luttrell and Kyle have profited from exaggerating their stories upsets many veterans, just like Brian Williams’ exaggerations.

In the end, Brian Williams has been replaced with Lester Holt. Last year, Holt did NBC News’ segment on Lone Survivor and this year covered American Sniper. He didn’t cover any of the mistakes or exaggerations of either Luttrell or Kyle, and in fact, allowed deliberately false information to stand.

In other words, veterans continue to get a pass.