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Tuesday, 6 May 2008
Straighten those priorities
Topic: antiwar

At this moment, while results from the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic primaries roll in, we're a bit closer to knowing which pair of warmongers will duke it out for the presidency. John "Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran" McCain may ultimately face off with Hillary "Obliterate" Clinton. Or McCain's opponent might be Barack "Hit Pakistan" Obama, a relative pacifist who has a soft spot for diplomacy - at least before he becomes commander-in-chief, a role that history shows is synonymous with "lock-and-load."

The three contenders' silence about the situation on the ground in Iraq (and Afghanistan, Somalia, etc.) excites almost no concern from the people or the media. Gas prices and the nose-diving economy have grabbed the top spots in the opinion polls. Not that Americans shouldn't be worried about high prices and stagnant incomes, especially since they're accompanied by the usual profiteering - hedge fund thieves as well the classic merchants of death. But really... Everyone should be shaking with outrage about the mass murder now being committed in our name.

Thank goodness the Friends Committee on National Legislation is on the job. Today this Quaker organization, the sort of group that shows a "lobby" doesn't have to have bloody or dirty hands, issued a call about US attacks against Iraqi civilians. Here are the opening paragraphs of an open letter the group has addressed to the White House:

"Press reports indicate that more than 900 Iraq civilians have died so far in the ongoing U.S.-supported assault on militia forces in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Many of the civilian deaths are the result of US air strikes in this densely populated and impoverished urban area in the heart of the Iraqi capital. A photograph published in newspapers last week of a two-year-old child killed in the rubble created by one U.S. air strike is grim evidence of the toll the offensive and the U.S. tactics to prosecute it are taking.

"We at FCNL condemn the U.S. government's decision to launch an airwar against Sadr City, an area of Baghdad that is roughly equivalent in size to bombing of Chicago's South Side, West Philadelphia, or Southeast Washington. As Quakers we oppose all war. But this use of airpower against a civilian population estimated at 3 million people is immoral and a violation of the law of war. We urge you immediately to order a halt to this illicit use of U.S. military force."

The FCNL is asking all of us to join this call for a cessation of violence. It's obvious that many people in Congress, too, need such a letter in their inboxes. And that emphatically includes McCain, Clinton, and Obama.

(After you write your emails/letters, tune into the peace march to Fort Drum, the western branch of which begins this Thursday morning at the Peace Storefront on Monroe Ave. For detailed info, go to

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:09 EDT
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Tuesday, 25 March 2008
Five years... and 95 to go?
Topic: antiwar
Five years and counting... you all know the meaning of the numbers. A million Iraqi dead; countless other Iraqis maimed or terrorized. This on top of a million or more Iraqis who died or whose lives were shattered by the 1990s Sanctions of the Liberals (one of whose backroom players now lusts for the White House). And of course, 4,000 American military deaths in Iraq, plus 15 times that number seriously wounded.

The order of the numbers reporting means a lot, too. Have you noticed that US media always update the casualty totals with the lowest figure first - that is, the 4,000 - or often give nothing in addition for context? That's just their way of doing what they and Hollywood (e.g. Deer Hunter) did throughout the Vietnam war: convince us that our victim is actually the aggressor, and the victims are us. The doctrinal system requires that we see ourselves as innocent targets of the evildoer. Even liberals, sometimes especially liberals, hold this self-image as dear as does a fascist monster like Dick Cheney.

(Here I have to emphasize, though, that I mourn every American death from this and past disasters. I do not blame American military personnel, at least not the lower ranks, for what's happened. Nor - equally important - do I excuse them entirely. In my own military service, I avoided directly participating in the mass murder of Vietnamese and others, but I didn't directly resist the war, either. This has left me with a strange mixture of satisfaction and shame. Oh, to have been a conscientious objector from Day One.)

All this brings us to the rhetorical blood-brother of the numbers game: the "mistake" fallacy.

Look through media coverage of the Iraq war's fifth anniversary and you'll see the word "mistake" everywhere. Sometimes "blunder" or "error" will be the mot injuste. In any case, the meaning is consistent: we're supposed to believe the war was simply the outcome of a bad business plan, or the like. Practicality is king in this society - and so when Americans, elite or rank-and-file, call something a mistake, they may believe they're deploying their most devastating charge. Yet Americans never describe, say, a home invasion-murder as a mistake. We fall all over ourselves in such cases to find words commensurate with the facts: heinous, deplorable, disgusting, outrageous, etc. And always, always such things are described as what they clearly are in legal terms: crimes.

Remember the infamous "doughnut hole" people talked about when the Medicare prescription drug plan first came up? Basically, the plan only covers the lowest and highest costs, with beneficiaries bled dry to pay for the bulk of costs that fall in the middle. Something analogous to this goes on in the world of rhetoric: terms like crime, aggression, ethnic cleansing, and sometimes genocide, are attached to what "retail" purveyors of violence do (al Qaeda or small rogue states), or to what defeated maniacal regimes (like Nazi Germany) have done. But terms like mistake, error, and blunder are reserved for the doughnut hole: actions like those of our own country and close allies over a half century, that is, strategies as cowardly and bloodthirsty as those of any past national power, and outcomes as quantitatively horrific as what our most despicable enemies have ever produced.

And so, as I've said again and again: we've got to call the War Against Iraq by the right name. It's a crime, crime, crime. This truth won't change with the passage of time, not even if the occupation of Iraq turns out to be John McCain's new Hundred Years' War. (Let's pause to acknowledge McCain, whose mad-bomber role in the 1960s Rolling Thunder air war in Southeast Asia should temper our view of his admittedly horrendous experience as a POW.) And no crime should be characterized merely as "the biggest foreign policy mistake since Vietnam" - a galling understatement now regularly uttered by liberals like Diane Rehm, probably imagining they've delivered a verbal coup de grace.

As I and many others have pointed out before, the Iraq war, like all "preventive" wars or wars of aggression, is (in Justice Robert Jackson's words) an example of "the supreme international crime." I almost said Jackson's "immortal words," but I'm not betting that the US media, along with other propaganda and "information" systems, won't succeed in erasing from historical memory the lessons of the Nuremberg tribunals. They've done their damndest to do this for a lot more years than five. But thankfully, they're not quite able to strut on the deck of American moral consciousness - which sleeps but still is alive - and declare "mission accomplished."

Peace folks can stay focused on the only proper objectives (a short list): immediate withdrawal of all US and allied forces, based on binding agreements to insure Iraqis control their political institutions and economy for their own national benefit; introduction of a neutral multinational force acceptable to the Iraqi people and their contiguous neighboring states to secure peace and human rights; and prompt payment of reparations by the US to the Iraqi people for decades, not just five years, of US war crimes.

But let's start with something more rhetorically uncomplicated: Get the fuck out now!

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:44 EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 April 2008 22:17 EDT
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Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Support Arun Gandhi, a true man of peace - but don't withhold criticism of his words
Topic: antiwar

Readers probably have been following the flap about remarks made on a Washington Post blog (q.v.) by Arun Gandhi, head of the M.K. Gandhi Institute, now hosted by the University of Rochester. Amid widespread calls for Gandhi to resign because of his remarks, I've sent the following paragraph to the Institute:

"Despite my misgivings about some points A. Gandhi made on the WashPost blog, I offer him and the Institute my strong support in the current controversy. Gandhi is an authentic man of peace; he certainly is no bigot, and he certainly should not be condemned because of his criticism of Israeli government actions. The vilification of Gandhi reminds me of what has happened recently to Jimmy Carter, who also has been wrongly labeled an anti-Semite."

Also, below are excerpts from two recent messages I sent to friends and comrades; I tried to explain my misgivings about Gandhi’s statements while making it clear that I did not agree with those who attacked him so mercilessly. The excerpts, lacking their original context, may be a bit hard to follow, but I hope they communicate something helpful:

"We all need to respond… to the D&C's recent anti-Gandhi editorial. I'll be doing this myself. Otherwise, I will continue my work, mostly through writing and networking, on behalf of justice and peace. Meanwhile I'll try to brush off unfair commentary from any and all sources, just as I have many times in the past.

"I've read Gandhi’s posts [i.e. on the WashPost religion blog] carefully, including the follow-up post in which he seized (but, I think, botched) an opportunity to clarify what he admitted had been ill-conceived remarks, and I've concluded that he made some serious mistakes in his interpretation of history and the current situation.

"Item: It simply is not true that the Nazi Holocaust was the result of 'the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful' - I mean, the statement is true only in the most excruciatingly narrow sense, since the Nazi genocide, like all genocides, was the result of complex social and historical factors, not something that emanated from a single pathological individual. (Of course, the Goldhagen thesis and the like, which would have us believe the genocide was committed by a universally and inherently evil German nation, is equally wrong-headed.)

"Gandhi also has erred by attributing various things to 'the Jews'; that is, he rhetorically treats an entire group, which of course is just as internally various and complex as any other group, as a monolith; this is reminiscent of the ancient anti-Semitic discourse which we all should condemn and avoid.

"Another point: Gandhi certainly is right in foreseeing that 'a culture of violence is eventually going to destroy humanity,' but what inspired him to charge that 'Israel and the Jews are the biggest players'? It would have been quite different if he'd criticized the Israeli government and its enablers for their destructive militarism, or objectively ranked Israel as a leading military power, but he didn't do any of that - he just made another rhetorical misstep that mischaracterizes Jews as supremely and uniquely violent.

"All this is so regrettable. [I fear that] because of Gandhi's ill-chosen words, both he and the Institute are likely to be discredited, and the cause of progressive peacemaking as regards Israel-Palestine is set back a long way.

"There also have been very local, though comparatively trivial effects: for example, the affair has given [local apologists for Israeli government policies] a chance to hurl the word "reprehensible" at another target. Thus [those who have] done a good deal of damage to the cause of peace locally get a shot in the arm while trashing a person who had a good shot at making a real contribution to the local scene…"

[Below is my follow-up post, written a couple of days after the above.]

"It seemed to me… there was an overwhelming silence on the topic - except for superficial news reports, as in the D&C. Then there were [further] negative comments from [critics including] Joel Seligman. (Isn’t it strange that a UR president would post a premature, preemptive comment in a case like this, which involves academic freedom, among other things?) And did you see the pathetic little note on the situation in the last City Newspaper? It’s amazing how small yet lopsided that note is; it speaks volumes about the decline of the local 'alternative' press.

"Meanwhile, there are things we can do. I’d love to see Gandhi go on Bob Smith’s show, as a couple of people have suggested. Though Smith sometimes drives me nuts… he’d at least give Gandhi plenty of time to answer questions and, probably, parry attacks from listeners. I think it’s important to continue public dialogue on the matter.

"Yes [as one of my correspondents reminded me by email], Gandhi did correct the point about the Jews and responsibility for Israel's crimes, and I should have given him credit for that in my previous message. But I’m concerned how readers, especially those who look for ammunition to use against critics of Israeli policy, may misuse even Gandhi’s correction: it’s all too easy to read the correction as maintaining the charge that Israel is the 'biggest player' in terms of state violence, even as it (properly) exonerates Jews as a group. Objectively, it’s not true that Israel is 'the biggest player' in this regard. True, Israel is a real global competitor regarding military power, mainly because of its armaments industry, air power, and nuclear arsenal. But in terms of committing mayhem, it’s not competitive with governments like those in parts of Africa and, of course, a certain large portion of North America. Here I’m not underestimating the horrors of what Israel has done and is doing to the Palestinians, Lebanese, et al. – I’m just trying objectively to quantify and compare.

"It’s important, I think, for moral spokespersons like Gandhi (and yes, I do see him in this role, regardless of my current critique) to be informed, informative, nuanced, and supremely clear in their public statements. Here’s something like what I wish he had said: 'The nations of the world, most of all the US, have created and maintained an "order" based on war, violence, and outlandish military production; and Israel has been a part of this system far out of proportion to its size. Moreover, some Jewish organizations and individuals have abetted this system; and these organizations and individuals have sometimes abused the memory of the Holocaust by using the latter as justification for crimes against innocent Palestinians, as seen today in the IDF’s ruthless attacks on the people of Gaza.'

"Gandhi’s heart was surely in the right place when he posted his apology (and indeed, when he wrote his original post). But I think the apology falls a little bit short of adequate – simply because Gandhi did not say enough, did not explain and illustrate, did not sound enough like a Shlaim or Zinn or Chomsky, or if that’s an unfair standard, did not sound even like a Jimmy Carter. Had he spoken like any of these -  that is, been analytical and factual rather than sententious - he might have thwarted the criticism. And there’s so much for someone like Gandhi to say, especially given the privilege of having a megaphone like a WashPost blog. He could talk about Combatants for Peace and other peace initiatives in Palestine/Israel, for example, or convey information from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron, etc., etc. – all to show in detail the pacifist/nonviolent work going on in the Gandhian mode.

"I agree with Gandhi that 'when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness,' etc., and that 'it is also important not to forget the past, lest we fail to learn from it.' Indeed, these are truisms. But we need to speak with extreme sensitivity about the Jewish experience of the Holocaust (even as we point out that others, like the Roma, were also victims, and that the Holocaust, though it was 'historic in its proportions,' was not historically unique). The fact is, the Holocaust occurred such a short time ago in historical terms that the wounds are obviously still open; many victims are still alive and living right in our community; many others who escaped ended up losing family members, sometimes their entire family. And the fascist tendencies that led to this horror are unfortunately still alive among some holdouts in Europe and elsewhere. In my opinion, it’s too early to suggest in any way that Jews need to move on. They have a right to their bitterness, anger, etc. (So do the Palestinians and others who have been slaughtered, oppressed, victimized. And we need to hear more of their stories of suffering and survival, along with those of other survivors.) The point is this: We should be urging Jews and other Holocaust victims to channel their very real and understandable feelings into the creation of a just peace, starting with opposition to the anti-Palestinian policies and actions that the Israeli government pursues in their name. That, and only that, will make 'Never Again' a universal reality."

[Update: As I edit this post, the crisis in Gaza, which is approaching the level of a human catastrophe, has been alleviated a little bit by the breaching of Israeli-built barriers along the Gaza-Egypt border, and thousands of virtually-imprisoned Palestinians have crossed the border to acquire vital supplies. The situation remains critical, though.]


Posted by jackbradiganspula at 21:56 EST
Updated: Wednesday, 20 February 2008 23:22 EST
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Saturday, 24 March 2007
Much more than an ounce of prevention
Topic: antiwar

Progressive media are addressing some very big items at the moment – and of course, apart from climate change and its effects, the biggest items are the US occupation of Iraq and legislation dealing with related longer-tern issues, such as eventual control of Iraqi oil. But there are deceptively small items that should command attention. For example, I’m concerned about two little words that, in their quiet way, lead us toward make-or-break, indeed life-and-death decisions.

The words are “preemptive” and “preventive.” You’ve probably noticed one or both - most often “preemptive” - popping up in editorials and columns lately, even in alternative media that should know better. You can be forgiven for thinking these words are interchangeable, because that’s how they’re generally used. Yet there’s an important distinction.

“Preemptive” describes a form of war that’s legal (whether it’s moral is another matter) in the context of international agreements and understandings like the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1927), the United Nations Charter, and the Nuremberg Principles. The idea is simple: If you know you’re about to be attacked, you have a right to pre-empt the attack by striking first. There must be solid evidence of an immediate physical threat. The best-known (and most-debated) example of preemption is the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East. There are very serious questions about Israel’s justification for firing first (Egyptian moves at the time, among other things, may not have constituted a prelude to invasion). But at least in this historical case, it’s certain that both sides were on a war-footing, and that there was mutual hostile intent.

The case of the US vs. Iraq is vastly different. Even if Iraq had possessed WMDs and other offensive capabilities, it had given absolutely no evidence of using threatening force against the US at home or abroad. Iraq had actually been under periodic attack by US forces for years, and these attacks plus the murderous economic sanctions of the Clinton Era had rendered Iraq entirely vulnerable, i.e. in no position to threaten anyone. So no war that the US might launch against Iraq could rightly be labeled “preemptive.” No, the kind of war the US launched in 2003 is properly termed “preventive.” Which is just a polite way to say it lacks justification, that it is in fact what’s known as “aggressive war,” a term that further reduces to “criminal.”

Shades of Nuremberg. Which reminds me: I recently learned that US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief US prosecutor of Nazi war criminals, hailed from the Southern Tier. Jackson actually was born in Warren County, PA, but he grew up and worked as an attorney in Jamestown, NY, which is now home to the Robert H. Jackson Center ( If you thought Lucille Ball was Jamestown’s only famous offspring, think again.

Think harder, though, about Jackson’s famous words at the Nazi trials. He hammered home the plain truth: “To initiate a war of aggression,” he said, “is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

So connect the dots. Following on Jackson, you can’t escape the conclusion that what US leaders have been doing since 2003, if not before, is no different purely in legal terms from what the Nazis did. And that the crimes US troops have committed - atrocities large and small in Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and many other places – may be horrendous, yet in the final analysis, they’re less serious than what George W. Bush and company have dictated.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 13:49 EDT
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Thursday, 7 December 2006
A butcher, a Baker...
Topic: antiwar

After months and years of Bushisms about Iraq – Stay the course, Batten the hatches, Damn the torpedoes, etc. ad nauseam – lots of people sense fresh air in the Baker, Hamilton, and Co.,  report on Iraq. But I smell a rat or two.

The report is just perfume on a policy of continued mass murder. You don’t even have to search the fine print; the headlines make it clear that even under the terms the Wise Elders have dictated, US forces would remain in Iraq in large numbers well past 2008, and whether our soldiers and Marines were explicitly ordered into combat or kept back as “advisers” and “trainers,” they’d keep killing Iraqis. Thus we could see the toll of “excess deaths” in Iraq rise to a cool million very quickly – still far from what we wrought in Southeast Asia a while ago, but certainly a number worthy of a great power.

Nothing in the Baker report or on its pundit-ridden fringes should distract us from the plain truth. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are illegal and immoral, and as such must be stopped immediately. And let’s not take refuge in the passive voice: We are the ones who must end this war and call the “leaders” to account. That includes Baker - who did yeoman service with the Reagan administration and then George H.W. Bush’s dirty little war council, and thus is no rose himself.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 22:51 EST
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