Oct 31

(Last month--having run short on "Quotes Behaving Badly"--On Violence launched our first "Facts Behaving Badly". Check here to find all facts misbehaving.)

Extra-terrestrials don’t cause crop circles. That’s ridiculous. Obviously, Gaia, the mother earth’s mind-being, created crop circles to express her displeasure with human pollution and destruction of her environment. Duh.

What you don’t agree? “Show me the evidence,” you say. No, you show me the evidence. Prove me wrong. You can’t, because it’s impossible.

Simply put, you can’t prove a negative. So in an argument, even though one side has no evidence to support its position, the other side can’t prove them wrong. (Philosophically speaking, this is tricky ground. But rest assured, the above argument is not true just because you can’t prove it false.) You can’t prove aliens haven’t visited America. You can’t prove the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist. You can’t prove the mafia didn’t shoot JFK.

Fortunately, we don’t have to prove those things. The burden of proof is on the one making the assertion. Which brings us to our next “fact behaving badly”. In this case:

The WMDs went to Syria.

They didn’t. Or at least there is not a shred of evidence/intelligence that they did, which is the same thing. As recently as my last deployment to Iraq, I heard soldiers and contractors make this ridiculous, unprovable claim. Every time someone argues this silly “fact”, they hide behind this wonderful line, “Well, you can’t prove they didn’t go to Syria.” And you can’t prove they didn’t go to Canada.

True enough. And people smart enough to work for the government use this anti-logic all the time. In the update to the Iraq Survey Group, the Duelfer Report says, “It was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place,” but takes care to say they also can’t rule out that possibility. (Again, they probably didn’t go to Canada, but the Duelfer report can’t rule that out either.) Retired Lieutenant General James Clapper said the weapons went to Syria, though he couldn’t provide any evidence. He also said that he couldn’t prove they didn’t go there.

So instead of proving a negative, look at the gaping chasm of non-information. Consider this: in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion, as the economy collapsed, and people were struggling to survive, not a single Iraqi informant came forward to tell investigators where the Iraqi WMD had gone inside Syria. Not a single, credible (credible, as in the report yielded additional evidence) one, even though intelligence operatives were handing out thousands of dollars for information. There wasn’t a single piece of evidence found by thousands of investigators in Iraq. Of all the spies and operatives in Syria, not a single one gave credible evidence to any intelligence agency of the locations of WMD in Syria.
        
Maybe we are quibbling over semantics. This isn’t a fact--though many soldiers have sworn to me they knew someone who knew where the WMDs went--as much as a vicious urban legend. At a car wash, someone told Eric C he knew a Marine who “knew” the truth. All these people know/knew, and no one told President Bush.

I can’t disprove this myth. That doesn’t make it true. The burden of proof is on the accuser. And with a gaping chasm of non-information, it is as likely the WMDs went to Canada as Syria--at least the evidence is the same.

If you want to know more about this, check out theses resources:

FactCheck.org on WMDs  and Wikipedia’s quotes from The Duelfer Report.

(Two, only two, defected Iraqi generals have come forward saying they know the weapons went to Syria. Neither provided U.S. intelligence with their current location; both came forward many years after the invasion. One was peddling a book, and went on The Sean Hannity Show and The Daily Show to publicize it. To be clear, during the invasion, when it would have been useful, these men were silent. When they had books being published, they came forward with this now unverifiable information, the definitional unreliable narrators. Further, one of the generals claims the WMDs were flown to Syria, which goes against most of this urban myth that says the WMD were trucked out of the country. That is what General Clapper--now the Director of National Intelligence--hinted at as well.)

Oct 27

Robert Heinlein belongs on the Mount Rushmore of science fiction writers. (For kicks, Asimov and Clarke join Heinlein--the huge Big Three--with vigorous debates about the fourth. Eric C says Gibson or Le Guin rounds out the quartet; I say Orson Scott Card.) But as far as quotes go, he’s a one trick pony. And that trick is Starship Troopers. In the last year, we have run quotes from both the book and the movie based on that book.

These quotes heavily influence conservative thinking on war. Unfortunately, his other masterpiece, Stranger in a Strange Land, doesn’t get quoted nearly so often. So for a little fun, I have chosen a handful of quotes from his influential masterpiece that show quite a different view of the world.

     “Secrecy begets tyranny.”

     “It would be a waste of breath to tell a man who believes in guns that you've got something better.”

      “A prude is a person who thinks that his own rules of propriety are natural laws.”

And now two scenes at the heart of the book:

      "’This poor ersatz Martian is saying that sex is a way to be happy. Sex should be a means of happiness. Ben, the worst thing about sex is that we use it to hurt each other. It ought never to hurt; it should bring happiness, or at least pleasure.
     "’The code says, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.' The result? Reluctant chastity, bitterness, blows and sometimes murder, broken homes and twisted children — and furtive little passes degrading to woman and man. Is this Commandment ever obeyed? If a man swore on his own Bible that he refrained from coveting his neighbor's wife because the code forbade it, I would suspect either self-deception or subnormal sexuality. Any man virile enough to sire a child has coveted many women, whether he acts or not.
      "’Now comes Mike and says: 'There is no need to covet my wife... love her! There's no limit to her love, we have everything to gain — and nothing to lose but fear and guilt and hatred and jealousy.' The proposition is incredible. So far as I recall only pre-civilization Eskimos were this naive — and they were so isolated that they were almost 'Men from Mars' themselves. But we gave them our 'virtues' and now they have chastity and adultery just like the rest of us.’"

     "’Eskimos were invariably described as the happiest people on Earth. Any unhappiness they suffered was not through jealousy; they didn't have a word for it. They borrowed spouses for convenience and fun — it did not make them unhappy. So who's looney? Look at this glum world around you, then tell me: Did Mike's disciples seem happier, or unhappier, than other people?’
     "’I didn't talk to them all, Jubal. But — yes, they're happy. So happy they seem’slap-happy. There's a catch in it somewhere.’
     "’Maybe you were the catch.’"

Yeah, a lot of people take Heinlein at his novelistic word when it comes to a Machiavellian/real politic/”war is war” vision of violence. But hardly anyone ever mentions his crazy free-love-sex-for-all utopia.

A shame.

Oct 26

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

 Let’s start this post with a little honesty. As a soldier, I was never a very good shot. Sure, I qualified expert once, indoors, with an ACOG, but for the most part, I worked the radio better than I worked the M4. (I was pretty good with a machine gun, but that was Rangerrrrrrrr School.)

So last February, when I took aim and fired at Robert Heinlein, the literary uber-mench of the “War-is-war”-iors crowd, I missed. See, I aimed at his book, Starship Troopers, and a particular passage by Colonel Dubois on violence (naked force and its ability to settle conflicts).

Unfortunately, Heinlein quotes don’t always come from Heinlein. In this case, one of the lasting “war-is-war”-ior quotes comes from the movie Starship Troopers, again said by our dear Lt. Rasczak/Colonel Dubois:

(Who ends up commanding either a company or platoon in the film. Who knows how those wacky Federation Mobile Infantry units organize themselves. And also, why did Lt. Rasczak not instantly recognize Rico. He was in his class for a semester, in Buenos Aires, what, a couple months before that?)

‘Violence, the supreme authority from which all others are derived...”
               Lt. Jean Rasczak
               Starship Troopers, the film

This quote lives on in forums and discussion boards. It has popped up in Yahoo Answers and TV Tropes “Violence Really Is The Answer”. Courtney M. of Great Satans Girlfriend and Wings Over Iraq fame has linked to it twice as well. (And on this website, where we got the picture for today’s post.)

We can’t establish a realist, Hobbesian view of the world by using one quote about violence. So I ask, is the supreme authority “violence”, from which all others are derived? What is the proof, philosophical or otherwise?

First, no philosophers (that I know of) have proven, logically, that all authority derives from one central, higher authority. Maybe Plato, but his central pivot wasn’t violence. In fact, in Neo-Platonic and Neo-Platonic inspired Gnosticism, violence is a corruption of the good/ideal.

Second, if there were a central authority, why would it be violence? I know Hobbes comes to mind, maybe. Even so most people haven’t actually read Hobbes. He doesn’t argue that violence is the supreme authority, simply that nature, in its complete state, is shockingly violent. This comes from both nature and humanity. (In ye olden tymes, remember, man feared wolves, bears and beasts as much as each other.)

I prefer Hannah Arendt’s discussion of power, violence and authority, as different forces influencing humanity and society. Power and violence are different, and power has many different tools besides violence.

Third, from a Christian perspective, wouldn’t this authority be God Almighty? I--for one--don’t interpret/worship the Lord God as an incarnation of sheer, malevolent violence. If you do, please re-read the New Testament. In fact, every major religion invariably places another authority over Violence. The Golden Rule and plenty of Christian teachings specifically condemn violence. The statement above either indicates one is an atheist, or should be amended, “In human endeavors, God (submit deity here) endowed violence as the ultimate authority in human affairs.” That doesn’t work nearly as well.

Fourth, from an atheistic scientific perspective, where is the evidence? The world before man was filled with eating, and dying, but also birth. In fact, the number of deaths in the world have always been exceeded by the number of births. An ecosystem could be viewed as a Hobbesian battle for supremacy, or an intricate web of interconnected cooperation and symbiosis. Pessimist or optimist, you can’t rely on science to prove that violence is the supreme authority. Some science suggests that cooperation has done more for man than violence. Think corporations, governments, religious organizations and even the Army. Before you have widespread violence, Armies must cooperate to deal it out.

Violence is a powerful force in our society. No argument from me here. But it isn’t the highest authority. It isn’t the supreme authority. That is an important distinction.

Oct 25

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

When I first told Eric C about my “war is war” series, he said I should mention that “war-is-war”-iors want to (roughly), “carpet bomb the Middle East”. I said no. Who would actually advocate that position? It is ridiculous.

Man, I hate losing arguments.

On September 11th, I was listening to Wayne Resnick on the local LA area conservative talk radio station KFI AM 640, home of “more stimulating talk radio”. Wayne Resnick was arguing exactly what I said “war-is-war”-iors would never advocate: bombing the Middle East.

Resnick summed up American policy thusly, “We put up with too much stuff.” We--America--don’t “have to put up with people who want to kill us.” After his commercial break, he promised to ask the question, tactically speaking, whether, after 9/11, we should have gone and “bomb[ed] Afghanistan out of existence.” Specifically, he used the intentionally incendiary phrase, “carpet bombing”. He continued, “There is some tactical precedence for this, Nagasaki, Hiroshima.” To the naysayers who say, it “will play into the reasons they hate us,” he parries with, “Is it really going to make the situation worse?” (Download the podcast on iTunes--search Wayne Resnick, date September 11th--if you want the full story. It’s about thirty minutes in.)

I want to answer the question he never really answered: if we had pursued a “war is war” approach to the post-9/11 world--i.e. bombing civilians--would it have made us safer? (I will ignore his Army lexicon misuse of strategy versus tactics; we all know what he meant.)

So let’s assume--days after 9/11--the U.S. had decided to carpet bomb Afghanistan from one end to the other. As Resnick said, "we don’t put up with stuff anymore". So day after day, U.S. bombers would wipe out village after village. I mean, if we wanted to, we could have announced that we were trimming our nuclear arsenal by a hundred bombs and used those too. Perhaps we put boots on the ground, I don’t know what point they would serve, short of sighting the remaining targets to destroy. Again, Resnick uses the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, meaning deliberately targeting civilians and population centers. Those are his terms. After hundreds of thousands, more likely millions, of deaths we would eventually stop. (I guess the civilians would desperately beg for peace.)

At this point, we would have pacified Afghanistan. The rest of the Arab world probably fears American might too. As Resnick points out, the Islamic world already hates us, we might as well embrace it. If I were a betting man, though, following America’s genocidal civilian bombing campaign, I believe Americans anywhere in the world would be deliberate targets. Terrorism would sky rocket. (Unlike what happened after 9/11; terror attacks against Americans in the last decade have been exceedingly rare and primarily the products of “lone wolves”.)

Then comes the OPEC oil embargo. Sure, they would lose a ton of money, but China would pick up the slack, eventually. So oil prices in the U.S., at the least, would skyrocket. Saudi Arabia just wouldn’t “put up with” bombing Muslim civilians. Now the U.S. might need to carpet bomb OPEC nations to get the oil flowing again, but that might not work, and it could destroy the means of oil production in the first place.

The European Union would contemplate an economic embargo as well. Same with Canada and its oil. At this point, the U.S. could try to bomb those countries into submission, but that probably wouldn’t work either. Remember, Europe and Canada don’t want to see millions of people slaughtered in retaliation for 9/11. They would have to respond, economics be damned. Their peoples would demand it. They just would not “put up” with it.

Oh, and remember, most Americans don’t want to see millions of people massacred, as I wrote here. At least a third to half the country would vigorously condemn the mass murder of innocent Afghans who literally couldn’t find America on a map and had never met Osama bin Laden. Many Americans just wouldn’t see those deaths as justified. Wayne Resnick sees them as responsible because they lived in Afghanistan. How many share his belief?

Back to the real world. The war in Afghanistan was probably the right response to 9/11. Maybe some tweaks, maybe some more focus on the long term, but generally the right response. What Mr. Resnick missed is that the U.S. “putting up with stuff” is a good thing. Otherwise we are tyrants. We aren’t, we are leaders who have force and persuasion at their disposal. Like all great leaders--including mafia bosses--persuasion is superior to force. (The Don Corleone approach to the Sonny Corleone approach.)

An even better thought is that “we put up with stuff” because of all the global constraints on war. The liberal perspective on international relations says that as the world gets more inter-connected, and as global institutions tie the world together, the more infrequent war will be. The UN, NATO, the World Bank, the G-20 G-7, G-8, G-infinity, the IMF, NGOs, ASEAN, OAS and other international bodies help prevent war. We “put up with stuff” to gain the benefits of an inter-connected world, an inter-connected world without generational wars that cost and slaughter millions.

Despite common misconceptions, the number and intensity of war has decreased dramatically since 1900, and even greater since 1950. That’s a good thing.

Oct 24

I close “The Firebombing of Dresden (Two) Week(s)” with this, a collection of Gustav Klimt’s lost works. I remember learning about the loss of one of Klimt’s masterpieces, “Medicine, Philosophy and Jurisprudence” in college. Unfortunately, good copies or photographs of that mural don’t exist.

I’ll share some of the others, mostly destroyed by fires set by German forces retreating from Austria.

Malcesine on Lake Garda:

Farm Garden with Crucifix

Garden Path with Chickens



Other lost Klimt works include: Musik II (1898), Schubert at the Piano (1899), Golden Apple Tree (1903), Procession of the Dead (1903), Portrait of Wally (1916), The Friends (c. 1916-17), Leda (1917), Gastein (1917).

Oct 21

(To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

It’s taken me a long time to understand Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death belongs in the (admittedly small) group of "the greatest war novels ever written". It can stand alongside The Naked and the Dead, Catch-22, and From Here to Eternity as one of the top four World War II novels ever written. Spare, uncompromising, nihilistic, and anti-war, I genuinely love it, not just as a book of war, but as a work of art.

Like any great work of art or fine wine, it gets better with age. As a naive high school student with a distant understanding of life, I didn’t fully understand it. It tasted great, but its complexity was lost on me. I enjoyed Slaughterhouse-Five more through its innate power, respecting the handful of images that stayed with me from the first time I read it to today. Like Paul Lazzaro’s monologue about killing a dog that wronged him:

“You should have seen what I did a to a dog one time...

“Son of a bitch bit me. So I got me some steak, and I got me the spring out of a clock. I cut that spring up in little pieces. I put points on the ends of the pieces. They were sharp as razor blades. I stuck 'em into the steak--way inside. And I went past where they had the dog tied up. He wanted to bite me again. I said to him, 'Come on, doggie--let's be friends. Let's not be enemies any more. I'm not mad.' He believed me...

“I threw him the steak. He swallowed it down in one big gulp. I waited around for ten minutes. Blood started coming out of his mouth. He started crying, and he rolled on the ground, as though the knives were on the outside of him instead of the inside of him. Then he tried to bite out his own insides. I laughed, and I said to him, 'You got the right idea now. Tear you own guts out, boy. That's me in there with all those knives.'"

Or the sadistic soldier Weary, with his trench knife and pornography, bullying Billy Pilgrim. Or the German soldiers then bullying the bully. Or Billy Pilgrim’s assassination at the end of the novel. Or the image that impacted me the most, the firebombing of Dresden.

I still don’t fully understand the Slaughterhouse-Five, but I don’t think anyone else does either. Between Wikipedia and Spark Notes, most critics believe that Slaughterhouse-Five’s main themes are fate, free will, the illusion of free will, fatalism, the destructiveness of war, and the illogical nature of human beings.

Yeah, that’s all in there, but it’s not what it’s about.

Slaughterhouse-Five is about vengeance.

If you look at all the images that clung to my mind like a child clings to its mother, they are all about revenge. Lazzaro kills the dog who wronged him, and later assassinates Billy Pilgrim for wronging him.  Weary punishes Pilgrim for almost getting them killed. The Germans bully Weary for being on the wrong side of the war. The Germans shoot “poor old Edgar Derby” for the same reason.

And of course, we bombed Dresden because the Germans destroyed the city of Coventry.

Vengeance is a festering, corrupting wound, that pollutes the soul and the person. If there is one villain in Slaughterhouse-Five--and there really isn’t a villain in Slaughterhouse-Five--it’s Lazzaro. And you pity him more than you fear him.

The real villains of Slaughterhouse-Five, the officers who ordered the Dresden bombings, exist off-screen. Instead Bertram Copeland Rumfoord, a Harvard historian who defends the Dresden bombings with the pat, sorry excuse that “It had to be done...That’s war,” represents this feeling. He goes on to pity the bombers more than the civilians.

War is futile, only because vengeance is futile. Instead of applying “So it goes” (Slaughterhouse-Five’s magic three words that occur after every death in the novel) to death’s inevitability, we should apply “So it goes” to those who trespass against us.

Maybe Slaughterhouse-Five is really about forgiveness, because vengeance, like Dresden, makes no sense when you actually think about it. It feels right, but it isn’t.

Oct 19

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.

Matty P. is continuing our series A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden.)

When Michael asked me my opinion on Dresden, I was under the impression that my opinion should be universal and obvious. Killing civilians is bad. No circumstance could change that. The concept of war with regard to just war theory, the questions of when to go to war, and the discussion of viable targets could be considered admittedly complex but the targeting of innocents couldn't be argued. Or so I thought.

There’s a discussion on the wisdom of bombing Dresden. It’s been suggested that the city qualifies as a military target because it housed military barracks. I read one post that suggested that Dresden broke the spirit of the German people in much the same way Hiroshima and Nagasaki broke the will of the Japanese. And one forum spouted such gems as “War is hell” and “Who cares? They were Nazi’s.”

Michael addresses these concerns very analytically. With logic akin to a cost-benefit analysis he comes to the conclusion that killing civilians is a no-no. My response is more emotional.

As I was formulating this I thought, “Are you s***ting me? I have to be that guy who says: no, never, not under any circumstances?” We have rules of engagement, the Geneva Convention, and any number of monotheist, polytheist, and atheist philosophical belief sets that all dictate that killing innocents is wrong. This issue lack complexity.

First, the US abides and recognizes the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Which means every US citizen is mandated to recognize and follow these rules. Within the LOAC, there is a section about “distinction.” Simply put, distinction dictates lawful targets in armed conflict. For example; non-combatants, civilians, prisoners of war, and enemy wounded are not viable targets. Further, there is a specification that bombing military targets must not cause damage to civilian targets. ie. You cannot bomb an a military barracks if it will destroy a hospital.

Second, the Article 3 of the Geneva Convention states not that civilians and enemy wounded are not only discounted as enemy targets, but are guaranteed safety, personal property, and dignity. It even goes so far as to mandate that sick and wounded are to be allowed care by a humanitarian third party.

Third, I can think of no religion or philosophy espouse by any non-deviant human being that would allow the ending of innocent life. As a Christian, I cannot believe a merciful Christ who humbled himself to death would be fine with bombing 35,000-100,000 civilians simply because it broke Germany’s will to survive. I’ve no doubt the same is true of all schools of thought that value human life.

Finally, consider that the ordinance dropped contained magnesium and phosphorus. These are terrible to inflict upon enemy combatants, to say nothing of turning them on innocents. The fires were reported to burn so hot in Dresden that people flung themselves into the city’s fountains hoping the water would protect them. These people were boiled alive as the water evaporated. Eric C has asserted that taking a life should break your heart. How much worse is the murder of civilians?

Oct 19

(To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

Today, as part of “The Firebombing of Dresden (Two) Week(s)” I wanted to share some pictures of the great art we lost to Allied bombing.

Van Gogh’s "Vase With Five Sunflowers"



Mantegna's "St. James Led to His Execution"

Oct 17

(To read the entire "War at its Worst” series, please click here.

To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

Today, as part of our week on civilian bombings and Dresden, we have “War at its Worst” with selections from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and its depiction of the fire bombing of Dresden:

       “It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke, The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.
      “So it goes...”

      “The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbing them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things--hot to the touch, often unstable--eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.
      “Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.
     
      “American fighter planes came in under the smoke to see if anything was moving. They saw Billy and the rest moving down there. The planes sprayed them with machine-gun bullets, but the bullets missed. Then they saw some other people moving down by the riverside and they shot at them. The hit some of them. So it goes.
      “The idea was to hasten the end of the war.”

And later...

       “There were hundred of corpse mines operating by and by. They didn’t smell bad at first, were wax museums. But then the bodies rotted and liquefied, and the stink was like roses and mustard gas.
       “So it goes.
       “The Maori Billy had worked with died of the dry heaves, after having been ordered to go down in that stink and work. He tore himself to pieces throwing up and throwing up.
       “So it goes.”
       “...Somewhere in there the poor old high school teacher, Edgar Derby, was caught with a teapot he had taken from the catacombs. He was arrested for plundering. He was tried and shot.
       “So it goes.”
Oct 13

(To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

This week and next, I want to share some of the paintings lost in the fires, looting and destruction of World War II. This post will show the Art destroyed by the Nazis.

First up, Courbet’s “The Stone Breakers”, stolen by the Nazis and destroyed by Allied bombings.

Next, The Destruction of Niobe’s Children by Richard Wilson, bombed in 1944 by the Germans.

Oct 12

(All week, we’re dedicating On Violence to Dresden, the most famous city destroyed in Germany. Michael C promised, in Wednesday’s post, that we would respond to the question: is bombing civilians in war time ethical? I don’t think war is ethical, so obviously killing people who aren’t a part of the conflict isn’t either. I will, however, discuss an issue that’s bugged me ever since I studied Dresden in high school.

To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

It is safe to say that American loves “The Good War”.

During Word War II, according to the traditional, grossly over-simplified narrative, American soldiers saved Europe from death and destruction. Between Captain America: The First Avenger and Inglorious Basterds, between every History or Military channel documentary and every comic book, film and video game that uses Nazis as stock villains who only exist to be killed, we’ve disregarded a basic truth:

World War II was a war, and war is always awful.

Though I could, I don’t want to write about the people who died in Dresden or World War II. I want to write about the things we destroyed. This may seem odd. Death trumps destruction every time. How could you compare people dying to buildings or artworks being destroyed. I’m not. The unspeakable evil that was Dresden was the murder of innocent civilians that Michael C covered on Tuesday.

Still.

Still, World War II destroyed art. We--and by “we”, I mean humanity--destroyed priceless things. Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” miraculously survived a bomb blast that cratered all four walls of its building except the one that “The Last Supper” was on.

But that was one of the only victories, for art, during the war. We lost countless pieces of art to Hitler’s pillaging armies. One of Hitler’s goals was to create the greatest collection of art in the world, which meant stealing them from the rest of the world, even “degenerate” works of art. The allies even created the Monument Men organization to protect art. We lost Van Gogh’s "The Lovers: The Poet’s Garden IV" to Nazi plundering, and it hasn’t been found since.

Firebombing destroyed countless more works of art than the Nazis though:

- Courbet’s “The Stone Breakers” was stolen by the Nazis along with 154 other paintings. In February 1945, the Allies bombed the Nazi stronghold where the Germans kept it.

- Nazi bombings in 1944 destroyed "The Destruction of Niobe’s Children" by Richard Wilson.

- Three more Van Gogh paintings were lost to fire. "Vase With Five Sunflowers" was destroyed during the firebombing of Tokyo. "The Painter on his Way to Work" and "The Park at Arles with the Entrance Seen Through the Trees" were destroyed by fires in Berlin in 1945.

- 3,000 year old Syrian statues were destroyed by an Ally bombing in 1943.

- "St. James Led to His Execution" by Andrea Mantegna was destroyed in 1944 after the Allies bombed an Italian chapel.

For me, none of these were the biggest losses. As I was researching this post, I came across this link to the Clark Photography and Clipping Archive of Masterpieces destroyed during World War II “...that represent the only remaining documentation of important works of art---art that was destroyed before high quality color photography became the standard for documenting art.”

As I was flipping through the photos researching this post, I saw them, fifth and sixth from the left, top row on the third page. Those who know him and love him know exactly who uses that signature patterned collage technique: Gustav Klimt. In total, we lost 12 Klimt paintings during World War II, destroyed by fires set by retreating German troops.

All of which pales in comparison to losing the artistic value of entire cities. Because of the German Blitz, we lost the city of Coventry. Nazi bombings destroyed most of that city’s interior and the glorious Coventry cathedral.

In response, the Allies destroyed, “The city [that] was known as the Jewel Box, because of its baroque and rococo city centre.” We lost dozens of the most beautiful building ever built in Europe’s grand architectural history, including “the beautiful Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross)” and its library of sheet music.

As I wrote earlier, World War II was a war. And in war, art suffers. From the barbarian armies defacing Greek and Roman statues to the looting of the Baghdad National Museum during the invasion of Iraq to Islamic extremists destroying ancient Buddhist statues, war means the destruction of great art. It is just another one of the many costs we never think about.

Oct 11

(All week, we’re dedicating On Violence to Dresden, the most famous city destroyed in Germany. Today, Michael C answers the question, “Is Bombing Civilians in Wartime Ethical?” To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

Of the two questions haunting the “just war”-rior debate about Dresden, I want to tackle the harder question first: should we even be asking, questioning or Monday-morning-quarterbacking the decisions of our men in harm’s way? I deliberately staged this question to try to make it seem silly.

Whether it was a year ago or seventy years ago, our actions in war consequences. Actions have impacts. Actions can be ethical or unethical, in warfare and outside it.

Like the cliche about politics, ethics don’t end where warfare begins. From the beginning of warfare, historians have written about wars and second-guessed them. We might as well discuss the ethics of warfare while we are arguing over minute tactical and strategic details. To do otherwise seems like burying one’s head in the sand; it feels like moral relativity, or a lack of moral certitude, or moral cowardice. And Americans aren’t cowards, in battle or in ethical debates.

Of course, this whole discussion of ethics and morals presupposes that wars have an ethical component. Unlike “war is war”-iors, I think that’s true.

Let’s go back to Gulliver’s “The Air Bombing versus Machine Gun Hypothetical”. Imagining some American Colonel ordering his men to line up the people of a major German city to shoot them, it feels wrong. It feels innately wrong, ethically revulsive. As a logical starting point, then, we can agree that ethics don’t end when war begins.

Our psychology often influences our morality in ways that logic says it shouldn’t. Machine gunning civilians feels more wrong than dropping bombs at thousands of feet; the first is more personal than the second. Same with using say, bayonets as opposed to firing squads. This emotional reaction influenced the political and legal debates--even if emotionally--from WWII to the present day. (See Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s work on the levels of killing to truly understand the difference between bayonets, machine guns, grenades, and bombs.)

This has born itself out in philosophical research. Most humans would direct a runaway train towards the track with less people on it, to minimize damage, if say one track had one person and the other had ten. But when given the choice to kill one person to save ten, most people wouldn’t conduct the murder themselves. (This example was used in both Philosophy Bites and RadioLab.) 

So psychologically, emotionally, we feel different about two cases that are remarkably similar. The difficulty with judging the actions of Dresden--and A.C. Grayling confronts this time and again in his book--is moving past our innate psychological feelings and towards raw logic. We also need to remove the gauze of patriotism from our eyes to examine this issue dispassionately, not as patriots or Americans or traitors, whatever the label.

To debate the ethics of bombing civilians, we need to ask two questions: why did they die? and was it proportional? First, motivation. In a time when bombing runs were excessively inaccurate, targeting factories was difficult. But we know, and the officers at the time admitted this, that the bombings of Dresden and other cities in Germany, then later in Japan, were not done to eliminate the means of production. They were done to destroy the cities and the inhabitants therein. They meant to kill civilians, not military targets.

(Some documents suggest the plan was to de-house all the Germans so they wouldn’t have places to live. No one told the Germans and Japanese to leave their homes, and the officers in charge knew they would be in their homes during nighttime bombing runs. Vis a vis, they knew the bombing runs would kill massive amounts of civilians.)

That makes their actions ethically unjust.

The second key element is proportionality. Perhaps firebombing entire cities was the only way to destroy factories. Just wars rely on proportionality to stay just in execution. We weigh the deaths of civilians versus the perceived military gains. Destroying whole cities did not need to happen. Proportionally, there was nothing to gain.

Is this an uncomfortable truth? Yes. Does it suck to say that America and Britain didn’t conduct WWII ethically perfectly? Kind of, but show me the military historian who says we fought those wars tactically perfect. So if we didn’t fight them tactically perfect, it makes sense we probably didn’t fight them ethically perfect either. As this Onion article makes light of, the job of history is to learn from past mistakes. If we, as a society, can truly understand why targeting civilians is wrong, that is so much the better. We will have evolved.

Oct 10

To read the rest of our short series A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, follow these links:

It Turns Out The Allies Weren't Perfect

The Good War! or: The Things We Lost in the Fires

What We Lost: Art Destroyed by the Axis Powers

War at its Worst: Slaughterhouse-Five and Dresden

What We Lost: Art Destroyed By the Allies

Guest Post: A Not So Analytical Look at Dresden

So It Goes: Slaughterhouse-Five and Vengeance

Guest Post- There's No Honor in This

Since we launched, Eric C has wanted to write about World War II. Since he is a pacifist, I philosophically question him with this conundrum: how do you challenge the most unassailable just war? He always responds with one word:

Dresden.

As a “just war”-rior, I have to answer the question: can we hold American, British and Allied officers morally responsible for their actions? What--ethically--do we say about an army waging a just war with morally dubious actions?

I didn’t want to address this issue. It’s too messy. It offends too many people. Then, I read a philosophical question posed by Gulliver at Ink Spots a few months back and I re-listened to A.C. Grayling on bombing cities during World War II on the Philosophy Bites podcast. These philosophical issues merit discussion, so I decided to give Eric C a week on WWII and Dresden--discussed philosophically and artistically.

As Gulliver wrote, it is hard to distinguish between a Colonel ordering his men to shoot every civilian in a city, and a Colonel ordering his fleet to drop bombs on that same city. The former is a war crime and never happened in World War II by the British or Americans; the second isn’t and happened repeatedly. Philosophically, what’s the difference? (Of course, the Germans and Russians are a different story.)

To understand the terms of this week, I recommend everyone read the Ink Spots post. Then I recommend that everyone listen to A.C. Grayling’s Philosophy Bites podcast on killing civilians in wartime. A.C. Grayling--especially in his book Among The Dead Cities--goes to great length to separate coming to grips morally with the actions of officers in World War II, and demeaning the troops. He clarifies in his book, much better than I can summarize, that, as moral creatures, we owe it to ourselves to question all actions, even those of our heroes.

Let’s get the various positions out of the way:

First, there’s the rationalist, realist or consequentialist approach. Especially when applied to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, defenders of civilian--carpet--bombings argue that America saved lives by detonating two nuclear bombs, firebombing Tokyo and targeting population centers. The other often mentioned defense is that carpet bombings (mostly) targeted legitimate military targets. In all, this position relies on the “had to do it to win/total death count was lower” argument.

Of course, “war is war”-iors mount an even more vigorous defense. In war, generals have the final say on what they do. Absolute war requires absolute means. Civilians and politicians shouldn’t second guess generals after the fact. Clausewitz is usually cited in this position (and indeed the second comment on Ink Spots did just that).

Then you have the ethical, idealistic or deontological position. In his final analysis, A.C. Grayling determines that neither of the two previous philosophies hold weight. We have laws of war based on sound humanist (in Grayling’s version) and religious (in historical sense) morality. Abandoning them just because war started doesn’t make sense. In the end--after debunking many claims of effectiveness and intention--and this is a massive summary of a complex argument, he finds that Allied Army Air Corps officers intended to kill civilians, and this violates moral and legal law.

The trouble of A.C. Grayling isn’t the clarity of his position, it’s the difficulty in execution. I think as humans, we can generally agree what position is more ethically evolved, more morally correct. What “a perfect world” would follow. As the realist always contends, we don’t live in a perfect world. The “perfect world” tends to require much more self-sacrifice from the idealists. Take capital punishment. In a perfect world, it doesn’t exist. The world isn’t perfect, and it does.

If bombing civilians from another country helped end the war, so be it, many would say. This makes Grayling’s position so hard to justify. Like capital punishment, if it doesn’t quite feel just, well, it doesn’t quite feel wrong either. Trying to argue against civilian bombings feels like arguing for martyrdom and self-sacrifice. Good luck convincing most people to do that.

In two weeks on this human tragedy, Matty P and I will attempt to answer the question, “Is bombing civilians in wartime ethical?” Eric C will punt on the issue entirely, digressing into posts about the art we lost and Slaughterhouse-Five. We won’t solve the Dresden problem this week, but we have a few posts on it that hopefully add to the discussion.

Oct 06

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

Let’s sum up. “War is war” is vague, doesn’t offer solutions, confuses security, defensive and offensive operations, and believes that war is only fighting, killing, death and destruction.

More than anything, though, I believe “war is war” is impotent, because...

“War is war” is politically unfeasible.

People may doubt that globalization exists. No one, though, doubts that a global media exists. Killing too many civilians isn’t just “bad tactics”, it’s bad news, it’s bad publicity. I’ll list the usual culprits: cell phones, the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, cable news--CNN, Al Jazeera, The BBC, NPR, Fox News and Russian and Chinese news channels--Twitter, Facebook, Google, Politifact, satellites, and wiki-technology.

Because of this reality, the global population has little appetite for dead civilians. Americans don’t have an appetite for war, or the deaths caused in war. This is a more evolved ethical position; it’s a good thing. (If America could, would they fight wars without bloodshed? If they could, yes.) As Marshall McLuhan said, hot wars don’t work on a cold medium. Especially when it comes to wars conducted overseas--where the homeland isn’t threatened--Americans don’t like to cause unneeded deaths.

The British in Malaya didn’t have to deal with a hostile media. The Sri Lankans didn’t have to deal with the media either. So they used violent tactics. The British did have to eventually deal with that reality in Northern Ireland, hence the emphasis on the population. The U.S. didn’t have to deal with the media in the Philippines. Again, violent tactics. The U.S. does have to deal with this reality in Afghanistan and Iraq (and to some extent Vietnam), hence the emphasis on the population.

“War-is-war”-iors hate this situation. However, they rarely, if ever, acknowledge their unpopularity. For example, take Colonel Gentile’s article in The Infinity Journal. In “The Death of American Strategy,” Colonel Gian Gentile broadly claims officers stopped thinking strategically.

In actuality, Colonel Gentile doesn’t really believe strategy or strategic thinking is dead. Instead he believes a specific strategic option has died. This option--roughly conducting massively brutal wars in which large quantities of people die through fighting, bombing and killing a--has died. He specifically cites the rise of counter-insurgency as the death of the other options. In other words, he bemoans the death of the “war is war” position.
   
I agree that the “war is war” position is dying (not quite dead), but I don’t blame the Pentagon for this killing. The military (along with many officers) want violence and war and killing and fighting, or the freedom to pursue those options if needed. No, that option died because we don’t have the domestic political will. The American people don’t want to kill hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands in war. This may “suck” but it’s reality. It has become a cliche, in op-eds and online rants and movies, that “politicians” hamstring the military. It’s one of Lone Survivor’s main themes. Politicians only hamstring what their constituents tell them to hamstring.

Like my complaint against William F. Owen in my post yesterday, Colonel Gentile doesn’t let us know how to resurrect strategy. Do we change the American population’s mind? Do we un-sign the Geneva conventions? Do we change our ROE to allow...what?

Like the failures of the capital punishment system, the blame doesn’t rest on the system, it rests on the people who vote that system into power. This democratic effect on war is probably what the Founders of America set out when they made their city on a hill. (Many readers probably don’t know that Jefferson, Madison and company truly believed the U.S. would never engage in wars.)

In contrast, population-centric counter-insurgency is immensely politically feasible.

Here’s my advice for “war-is-war”-iors: don’t hide behind platitudes and vagueness. Say exactly what tactics we need to employ to win our current wars in your opinion. And don’t focus on your fellow military officers; they get it. Write articles to convince moderates, liberals and progressives why massive bloodshed is in the nation’s interest. Be blunt about it. Don’t say, “We need to do what it takes to win.” Tell the Americans what “it takes” really means.

Oct 05

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

I’ve said on the blog a couple of times that I hate offering complaints without offering solutions. That, in particular, is why I made three clear suggestions for fixing the problem of combat pay in my Washington Post op-ed, “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”. Complaining, by itself, isn’t productive.

Since this is a “War is War” post, I’ll come right out and say it: "war-is-war"-iors avoid answering the questions “How?” or “So what do I do?”  As I wrote in “War is War is Vague”, "war-is-war"-iors  are, well, vague. In this post, I want to capture one part of that vagueness: the refusal to offer tactical solutions. Tomorrow, I’ll explain why.

In my very first “War is War” post, I cited the Small Wars Journal Council--the SWJ name for their forum--as a major source of “war-is-war”-ior-ism. Just after I returned from Afghanistan--as Eric C and I were preparing to launch On Violence--I discovered the SWJ Council and what I hoped would be a community ready to engage.

So I dived into the tactics section and the deployment sections. After avoiding technical discussions on the various merits and drawbacks of 5.56mm versus 7.62mm caliber ammunition, and the usual complaints about 9mm handguns, I found some posts about counter-insurgency. I immediately read, then asked my question, “Great, if I need to kill more people, how do I do that?” Time and again the answer was, “By killing more bad guys.” Or, “Use better tactics.”

(To be clear, the SWJ itself is not “war-is-war”-ior. They host articles from all viewpoints; that’s why we’ve blog-rolled them and my iPad is filled with their articles. Their forum, though, can go off the rails.)

I found myself--and I have no qualms saying it was mainly with the editor of The Infinity Journal William F. Owen--stuck in a loop. To kill more bad guys, I needed to get better intelligence. Better intelligence came from the enemy fearing you. Fearing you came from killing more bad guys. And so on.

Unlike Boyd’s OODA loop, I have no idea how to break into this “killing bad guys loop”. “Killing bad guys” doesn’t distinguish between offensive and defensive operations. It doesn’t mention, nor value, security. Apparently the population provides no support to the enemy. If they do, then they are enemies too. “Killing the bad guys” doesn’t help distinguish between the two.

To avoid creating a Ray Bolger, (I could find some forum examples, but I just don’t have the time to wade that far back in council history.) I'll share quotes from a prominently released article by William F. Owen that perfectly captures my complaint.

In the British Army Review’s Spring 2011 issue, Owen wrote the aptly named essay “Killing Your Way to Control”. Ignoring the merits of the argument--discussed elsewhere by Spencer Ackerman--I want to emphasize my point: William F. Owen roundly ignores the, “How?” of military operations.

For example he writes, “How proportionately, precisely or discriminately lethal force is applied will be dependant on the tactics employed. Thus Rules of Engagement (ROE) are those limitations on lethal force and military activity that armed forces use to ensure that force does not undermine policy.” Okay, so if really restrictive policies support policy, are they okay? What should good ROE look like?
 
Or, “if your “kinetic” operations are killing too many civilians, then something is lacking in terms of the skill to conduct operations. Tactics are bad.” Okay, how do we improve those tactics? Where do I read about that?

Then, “As in Malaya, the object of military operations should be to hunt the enemy into extinction. This is not to suggest that this is easy. It is not. Climate and terrain alone make it incredibly demanding, but demanding as it is, the objective is a very simple one. If you are really killing the enemy day on day, with captured weapons supplying the proof of a legitimate and armed threat, then sooner or later the enemy’s will to endure will be broken. No enemy has unlimited manpower. If the enemy is infiltrating into your operational area from a huge population in another country or province, then that has to be stopped. This is obvious, and has to be done. The British Army knows exactly how do it.”

Okay, then why aren’t they doing it better in Afghanistan? Why didn’t they do it better in Iraq? Was it because of those rules of engagement?

In fairness, William F. Owen doesn’t claim to offer tactics, techniques and procedures for prosecuting counter-insurgencies; his paper tries to change a mindset, an operational course. Part of the mission of The Infinity Journal is clearly to change minds towards a strategy of enemy-centric operations. My contention, though, is that the strategy isn’t the problem. If "war-is-war"-iors really want to kill more bad guys, they should have created a journal on tactics, not strategy. Don’t just tell our soldiers why or that they need to kill the bad guy. Trust me they get that. Tell me how.

There is a very simple explanation for why "war-is-war"-iors avoid offering solutions. But you’ll have to tune in tomorrow for that.

Oct 04

(Today's guest post is by Joseph McAtee, Communications Coordinator for the National Resource Directory. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. In today’s post, though we are glad to host The National Resource Directory.)

Earlier this year, a report from the chairman’s staff of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee laid bare the challenge. On the left side of the graph, a muted red bar noting the unemployment rate was ominous enough.“8.5% - Non-Veterans, 18 and older.” But beyond that stood a taller, darker, more imposing bar.  “10.9% - Post-9/11 Veterans.”

In June, The New York Times reported that during a hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, a Congressional Budget Office analyst suggested in her testimony that the annual cost of caring for Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would could rise from $1.9 billion in 2010 to $8.4 billion in 2020.

Citing recent data published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, a USA Today article said the number of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who are “homeless or in programs aimed at keeping them off the streets” has doubled three times since 2006.

Whether it is employment, health care, housing or any of the other myriad factors that apply to Service Members, Veterans and those who care for them, the challenges that face the military community are unique.

In order to meet those challenges, the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs created the National Resource Directory, a portal of nearly 14,000 resources that provide assistance to the military community from education and training organizations to resources that facilitate employment of Veterans to homeless assistance and more.

Michael C, one of the founders of this blog, has expressed his dissatisfaction with the culture of the Army and the role it played in his decision to leave the service, notably in “talking about ‘helping soldiers’ while not, and a refusal to acknowledge that the soldiers most in need of help are the ones getting dishonorably discharged.”  

That’s exactly what the NRD was created for. I can attest to its success, because I too recently ETS’ed.

A year ago, I was in Iraq; by February, I had completed my initial term of service and had been honorably discharged. I was lucky.  I was never harmed during my two deployments, I don’t suffer from the kind of mental and behavioral difficulties that so many I served with do, and I had graduated college before enlisting. Many, if not most, Service Members who make the transition back to the civilian side don’t do so with such stability.

Both Michael and Eric approach violence, contextually and logically, with a reverent eye toward history and logic. The question they’ve asked often (“What is violence?”) is one that from an academic perspective, from an intellectual perspective, engages an informed readership. The U.S. faces a similar question, one that challenges our responsibilities to Veterans: What do we owe those who face violence?

Judging by the number of organizations that do so much for so many in the military, it is apparent that Americans feel a responsibility to assist Veterans in need, to assist our wounded warriors. It is a question as much about “how” as it is “what.”

I know the contributors here often have answers to the questions they pose in their blog posts. I don’t. I don’t know how to ensure that every Veteran, Wounded Warrior, military spouse and child receives what they deserve (that in and of itself is a question to be asked…just not here and not by me). I do know that the National Resource Directory is part of that answer, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Oct 03

(To read other editions of "An On V Update to Old Ideas", please see below:

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Two

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Three

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Four

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Five

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Six

An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Seven

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Drone Strikes, Iran and Lexicography

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Iran, Guantanamo, Hypocrisy and Bar Fights Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Marketing, Management, and Shaken Babies Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: More ASU Talk, Modeling Emotion, and Iran Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Military Waste, DADT and OPSEC Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Quotes, American Military Superiority and Orwellian language Edition

An On V Update to Old Ideas: Obama and Whistleblowers, Checking the Mental Health Block and Robocop

On V Update to Old Ideas: Sexual Assault Edition

On V Update to Old Ideas: Money Edition)

Mistakes in the U.S. judicial system haunt me. In my mind, nothing embodies injustice better than a poor, probably minority, suspect trying to prove his innocence in the face of a system spending millions to ensure his death. After listening to a series of Frontline articles on both Afghanistan and wrongful convictions, I made the connection that “Intelligence is Evidence”--mistakes on the battlefield and in the courtroom are more similar than they are different.

While I’ve (mostly) finished my series “Intelligence is Evidence”, the justice system hasn’t stopped making mistakes, so Eric C and I decided to post a link drop updating various topics we’ve covered here at On Violence. If today’s post has a theme--especially in light of the Republican presidential campaign--it is that wild mistrust of government can’t just apply to social policy; it has to apply to the whole kit and caboodle.

Especially to the use of violence.

Update to “Intelligence is Evidence”
   
Our theme comes from an excellent Dahlia Lithwick article from a few weeks back. She trenchantly shows how Republican nominees from Perry to Romney to Paul rail against government waste, mismanagement and general incompetence. Except when it comes to killing people.

Her article preceded Troy Davis’ execution in Georgia, the biggest piece of capital punishment news in the last few months. Plenty of words were printed on this topic, but our favorite is this piece by Trymaine Lee. (Lithwick and Andrew Cohen covered the execution too.) On the other hand, some states have dismissed notable capital cases, including the Memphis Three (read about it at On The Media here). McClatchy also wrote a great series about how the military poorly prosecutes capital cases as well.

All of the news about capital punishment has the same ring to it: we just don’t know. Some commenters said that “intelligence has a lower threshold for proof than evidence” when we first published “Intelligence is Evidence”. Well, it seems like “evidence” has a pretty low threshold for proof too. More than anything, these cases show that the power of the state can easily overwhelm poor and uneducated suspects.
   
The burden of proof is so hard to prove because so many of our beliefs about the criminal justice system don’t hold water. For instance, The Economist had a great article about how easily people confess to crimes they didn’t commit. The science isn’t definitive, but the idea that no one would confess to a crime they didn’t commit is just a belief, not fact. If we overturn that principle, plenty of convicted criminals would go free. This Slate article shows how easy it is for eyewitnesses to make mistakes too.
   
Update to Contracting

Right now Representative Darrell Issa is holding hearings about the bankruptcy filings of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that went bankrupt after getting 500 million dollars or so worth of government loans. Bill O’Reilly made the same point about Solyndra on The Daily Show, using Solyndra as the raison d’etre for why we need less government.

But what about the contracting decisions made by the Department of Defense? A few months back we wrote about some of the irrational spending overruns by defense contractors. Representative Issa, please check out the Department of Defense too, the single largest spender of the discretionary budget. Check out cases like this one.

Or this one.

Or start reading DangerRoom on a regular basis.

Update to Terrorism

Continuing with our “faith in government theme”, I’ve been stunned how loosely the Republican candidates define “government”. Apparently mandatory health care is creeping socialism; anything that keeps citizens “safe” is perfectly constitutional--no need to worry about tyranny or fascism in those sectors. Plenty of candidates love the second amendment, but forget about the first, third, fourth...and so on amendments. This article by The Economist’s Lexington columnist--one of my favorite weekly reads--explains how the trinity of wars on terror, crime and drugs have eroded civil liberties. (It’s a bit late but I can’t believe I never linked to it before).

Last spring, Eric and I went on a bit of a kick about how terrorism is not worth the amount of money America spends on it. The anniversary of 9/11 brought a host of articles echoing this theme:

- NPR had a fantastic series about counter-terrorism at work at the Mall of America.

- Fresh Air also had a great piece asking, “Where is the language legacy of 9/11?”

- The LA Times came to a simple conclusion: the biggest result of 9/11 is more domestic surveillance.

- The NY Times calculated the cost of terrorism at 3.3 trillion.

- As George Will noted the spending and decisions made after 9/11 were mistakes in and of themselves.

- Finally, John Mueller of Ohio State and Woody Hayes broke down exactly how likely we are to die of terrorism.

Update to Language Training

Thomas Friedman’s 9/11 column echoes one of our core arguments about the post-9/11 world: America let a great opportunity go by. He even made the same Eisenhower and the Cold War analogy. He didn’t mention language training, but recommended everything else we did. This SWJ post does lay out a way forward for language training and cultural immersion; I’m skeptical the Pentagon will ever embrace it though. We might write about this topic again in a few weeks.

Update to Art
   
Friend of On Violence Matt Gallagher wrote a spirited defense of Once an Eagle by Anton Meyer for the “Battleland” blog at time.com. I agree with him that the novel isn’t as bad as the press it receives, and we are going to get resident art reviewer Eric C on it. I will write a post eventually comparing the treatment of revolutionary/irregular war to conventional war, a fascinating undercurrent in the novel.  

Update to Sympathizing with Warren Buffett

This last update doesn’t have anything to do with violence. Warren Buffett wrote a controversial op-ed in The New York Times, saying billionaires and millionaires should pay more in taxes. A common refrain was, “Fine, why doesn’t he just pay more then?” We got a similar response with “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”. I just love that so many Americans--especially some really smart pundits--resort to such a silly rhetorical argument that is essentially, “I’m going to ignore the merits of your argument while I insult you with a ridiculous proposition.”

Stay strong Warren, we know how you feel.