Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Footnote to the preceding

I was reading through Tom Tomorrow's Dumcrat convention blog and I came across this:
[T]here was a line in Michelle Obama's speech that also showed up in Nancy Pelosi's, and these things don't happen by accident: "Barack Obama will end the war in Iraq responsibly." And I can't help but suspect that within that one word qualifier lies a world of hurt.
And which just reaffirms my contention that independent leftists will be needed more than ever come post-election time.

So here we go

Apparently, we're on the road again. No snags appeared, so now we have to pack up and get out. A colleague told me this evening that the thought of packing and moving everything was so intimidating it was a big reason why she and her husband were still in the same house even though it's no longer big enough. Damn I know how she feels.

Between packing and extra work shifts to help pay for this madness - the route from the living room to the kitchen is already becoming circuitous for all the boxes - plus various other assorted personal and financial crap I have no intention of getting into, this space will inevitably suffer.

What this means for Lotus is that posting will be sparse for the next few weeks. I'd even suggest to folks that they don't bother checking more than once a week during September. There will be stuff up, I'm sure, but I imagine it'll be commentary, not time critical stuff; if you read it a few days after it was posted, it won't matter.

However, I also intend to make a renewed commitment to this thing come early October - October 1 if no unexpected hassles intervene. Maybe even a change in appearance, I dunno about that yet, but I do know I intend to commit myself to posting something worth reading or at least interesting enough to note every day. The more I see people wrapping themselves up in the Obama campaign - Jeebus, is there anyone who is not going on about the damn convention? - the more I'm convinced that the relatively few of us who are independent left voices need to raise our banners ever higher.

In the wake of the 2004 election, I noted an essay by William Rivers Pitt of, who wrote of a loss of morale among progressives, marked by an "odd silence" in the face of ongoing outrages. I said at the time that
yes, it's true, there is an odd silence. It has fallen over us at least partly because, foolishly but predictably, we tied everything to John Kerry, to "Anybody But Bush".... So of course when the election was over, win or lose but worse lose, there was nothing to do, no next step to take.
I see the same future for 2008: Everything is being tied to Obama and the Dimcrats. How bad is it? The folks running a local weekly peace vigil, who've been at it week after week for nearly five years now, have announced they are going to stop after the election because "if Obama wins, it's Mission Accomplished. If McCain wins, all is lost." Whatever happens, come November a significant portion of the supposedly "progressive" community will simply have no idea what to do next. Not just about the war but about the economy, about health care, about civil rights and constitutional liberties, about energy and the environment, about the list goes on. In their minds, if Obama wins, they need do nothing; if McCain wins, they can do nothing. They are leading themselves into logical and moral paralysis.

I believe that after November, the voices of independent leftists and radicals will be needed more than ever to avoid the twin evils of complacency and despair. We may just be candles in the rain, just flickers in the night, but we need do what we can. And there is that bit about lighting one candle - and since I've done a couple of music references, there's also the song about one voice. So raise your voice and your candle against the increasing darkness.

Footnote: It has nothing to do with the post, but since I included a Willie Nelson song I thought what the heck, I'll link to this one, too. It's one of my all-time favorite songs. Loving, hopeful, and a touch melancholy all at the same time: my favorite theme.

On the other hand, this is kinda related. Worth a look.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The making of an un-American

I'm sure you've heard about the case of Paul Stephens, the San Marcos, Texas cop who stopped a couple for speeding only to learn that their dog was dying in the back seat and they were racing to get from San Marcos to an emergency veterinary clinic in New Braunfels, something under 20 miles away. Showing absolutely no sympathy - "It's just a dog. You can buy another one." - Stephens kept the couple there for 20 minutes, some of which time he spent chatting with two other cops who arrived on the scene. And during which time the dog died.

Now, just to make sure it's clear and contrary to almost all the defenses of the cop I've seen, the issue here isn't that Stephens stopped them. It's what he did after he stopped them, which went beyond callousness and into the realm of emotional cruelty.

There were calls for the cop to be fired or otherwise disciplined (my favorite was the proposal that he be forced to do community service at an animal shelter) but the outcome was that he was "reprimanded" by being required to watch the video of the incident while being "counseled" on how he could have handled it better. And police have dismissed the speeding ticket. BFD, frankly.

The story has shifted somewhat since the beginning: Instead of going "over 100 miles per hour," it's now said the couple was doing 95; instead of them being held for 15 minutes, the time has stretched to 20 minutes. Minor changes perhaps, but another is more significant: Police Chief Howard Williams said
he believed his officer's assessment that the dog was not alive when he pulled over Michael Gonzalez....

“This dog was already dead,” Williams said. “That is one of the reasons the officers showed no urgency. Nothing the officers did or said caused this dog to die.”
That is bullshit. The video released by the San Marcos police shows Stephens looking into the back seat of Gonzalez's car with his flashlight - but at no point does he say anything about the dog being dead or appearing dead and he did not examine the dog. It was utterly impossible for him to reasonably conclude the dog was dead. So if he did in fact decide from what was little more than a cursory glance in the dark that the dog was dead, he's an idiot. But I think a more likely explanation is that he just didn't give a damn if the dog was alive or dead and this after-the-fact claim is just cheap CYA.

But that CYA is just the point here. Williams called it "a rookie mistake" but I think that's more bullshit. I don't think it was a "rookie" mistake and I don't think it was a rookie "mistake." I don't think it was a mistake at all. I think, rather, that it's exactly what is to be expected when a cop gets their ego bruised, in this case by the fact that the car didn't stop at once. Stephens was going to prove that he was the boss, that he was in charge, that he could make them do whatever he wanted, including punishing them for implicitly challenging him by making them stand by while their pet suffered and died.
The couple pleaded with Stephens to allow them to get the dog to the clinic and then turn themselves in later, or to let Gonzalez stay and get his speeding ticket while Hernandez completed the trip alone.
No and no. No alternatives, no sympathy, no offer of help. They were going to sit there until he was damn good and ready to let them go. Because he was the cop and they were just - just not cops. So they had to just shut up and do what he told them. Because, goddam it, his ego was at stake and no damn crap like a dying family pet was going to keep him from showing that he had the power.

The tragedy of police work is that all too often the kind of person who is attracted to it is exactly the kind of person who shouldn't be doing it.

Oh, and don't give me any of the "they risk their lives every day" crap; when it comes to dangerous jobs, cops don't even make the top 10.

Footnote: The fact is, when you're a cop, the rules are different. If they exist at all. Continuing on the subject of dogs, what do you think would happen to you if you left your dog in your car for 13 hours until well after its brain fried because you "forgot" it was there? If you were a cop, you'd be acquitted of animal cruelty. Not only acquitted, you'd be interviewed by the local media to whine about how you were led into "a modern heart of darkness" by a misdemeanor charge and to express your deep shock at
the way the sheriff and his publicity team handled the whole thing - holding a national news conference on the arrest, publicly disgracing the veteran sergeant and stonewalling his defense team on information nearly every step of the way.
You'd get to have it described as an "ordeal." Because really - the police humiliating the accused and stonewalling the defense? Who ever heard of such a thing?

And what do you think would happen to you if you shot at a dog without any indication in the record that the dog was threatening you? If you were a cop, you'd get to "voluntarily resign" with a $75,000 cash payment, a clean record, and enough months added to your time of service to make you eligible for a pension.

I expect that later on we'll get to how the rules are different in the case of people - tasers aren't the only issue in that case. Even murder can be forgiven - if you're a cop.

Footnote to the footnote: I will be completely fair. Regarding the first incident in the footnote, the cop in question
said the experience has changed the way he looks at police work and suspects on the street.

On traffic stops and interactions with the public, he said, the thought of being a defendant for a year is fresh on his mind.

"I certainly got an education of what it's like to be in the defendant's seat," he said, "and a little bit of what a defendant's feeling."
I suspect that's an experience from which a hell of a lot of cops would benefit - and which a good number deserve to have.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Footnote to the preceding

Something else that has disturbed me is the dismissive attitude some have taken, the verbal shrugs of the shoulders to be found around. I realize these discussions are focusing on the political aspects, but still it makes me uncomfortable. For example, Kevin Drum said this a couple of days ago:
I'm willing to bet that a decade from now, far from being seen as the first step in reassembling Russia's old empire, the Russo-Georgian war will be virtually forgotten, a tiny, weeklong border conflict over a couple of unimportant territories that had been in limbo for 17 years and were bound to blow up sooner or later.
As part of his remarkable 1980s 7-part TV documentary on "War," Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer discussed some wars from ancient history, noting how even though they seemed to those living them to be all-consuming events that would shape the entire human future, now we would be hard put to find any difference that the outcome has actually made. That is, in terms of the world in which we live now, who won and lost those wars is by any discernible measure irrelevant - and thus so are the wars themselves.

Even in the event of more recent wars, the impact can be hard to find. Who remembers the "Soccer War" of 1969? Can anyone demonstrate a long-term significance? Even the wars over Kashmir between two bigger opponents - India and Pakistan - don't seem ultimately to have affected anyone beyond those in the region.

So I'm sure that Kevin is right: Ultimately, this really won't make much of a difference, if any at all. Still, the phrase "anyone beyond those in the region" echoes. Yes, it won't affect anyone beyond those in the region. But what about those in the region? On a geopolitical scale, this is a blip, a hiccup. But that doesn't change the fact that there are scores, maybe hundreds, of people dead, hundreds, maybe thousands, wounded and maimed, whole families destroyed, whole villages burned down, whole city neighborhoods leveled.

Even as I agree that on a world scale this is small potatoes, even as I agree that there are places, many too many places, where things are as bad if not worse and many where people suffer outside the gaze of the world media, still, still, I can't think about this and go "hey, BFD."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Just a song before I go

Updated I will take a moment to make two related observations about the Georgia-Russia war, with perhaps more to follow (no promises):

At the very top, though, I want to note on my own behalf that some people were surprised by the outbreak of hostilities. Some others weren't. But to the comments:

First, South Ossetia is a breakaway province of Georgia which has been striving to be unified with North Ossetia (and therefore become part of Russia) for some time. Many of the people there are ethnic Russians and think of themselves as Russian rather than Georgian. It has been de facto self-governing since the 1990s.

However, when the USSR broke apart, the borders of Georgia were established based on the borders of the Georgian SSR, of which South Ossetia was part. South Ossetia has never been independent and as far as I'm aware, no nation on Earth recognizes its independence from Georgia, not even Russia.

For that reason, it is just wrong to describe the initial Georgian assault, as some have, as an "invasion." This does not in any way - nor is it intended to - justify or defend the fact that the Georgian assault apparently involved heavy and perhaps indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, causing hundreds of casualties. It is, rather, the rejection of a bias demonstrated by too many supposedly progressive bloggers.

That bias is the second point. I also reject the contention by some among that same number that the Russian invasion - and yes, that was an invasion - of Georgia was a "humanitarian rescue" or "simply" a protective measure for ethnic Russians. More broadly and more bluntly, I reject the contention that drives that assertion, the usually-implicit but sometimes-explicit conviction among some that in any conflict, a side which has US support is by definition "the bad guy."

A clear example of what I mean was provided by Richard at American Leftist:
The Russians have won a decisive victory in Georgia, one that will probably lead to the removal of the Georgian president by either the Russians or the Georgian populace. It is a huge defeat for the US, NATO and Israel. They sought to transform Georgia into a sort of Israel of the Caucasus, a country that would enforce the edicts of the US throughout the region.

The Russians have mercilessly exposed this lunatic scheme, and no amount of belligerent bleating by Bush and Cheney can revive it. From a tactical standpoint, it is a positive development for the global left. A US military outpost of the "war on terror" has been overrun, an outpost created for the actual purpose of extending the reach of a neoliberal capitalist order with global aspirations.

He went on to say the crisis "has exposed the hyperaggressiveness of US foreign policy" [emphasis added]. Earlier he had insisted that Georgia "invaded" South Ossetia and the Russians "responded" to "protect Russian citizens."

Note first that Richard, a vociferous (and well-informed) opponent of the Iraq war approves of overthrowing foreign governments so long as he gets to decide the targets. And exactly how Georgia was going to be capable of "enforc[ing] the edicts of the US throughout the region" is a mystery to me and I suspect would be to Richard, too, if he came out from behind his sloganeering.

But the point I really wanted to make was that describing a massive invasion that has destroyed and seized military bases, occupied cities, blockaded port facilities, and effectively divided Georgia in half as a "protective response" for Russians in South Ossetia is outrageous. That becomes even truer when it's considered that Colonel-General Anatoly Nagovitsin, deputy head of Russia's general staff, declared the purpose of the invasion was "to weaken the military potential" of Georgia. What's more, Russia has hinted - in fact done more than hinted - that the ultimate intention is to absorb South Ossetia and perhaps the other breakaway region of Abkhazia. Consider statements from Russian officials over the past few days:

- Sergei Ivanov, Russia's deputy prime minister, declared "We recognize the sovereignty of Georgia ... but territorial integrity, it's another matter."

- Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said "One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity."

- Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said it's "unlikely" that Abkhazia and South Ossetia could remain part of Georgia.

- In a statement issued after meeting with representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who had gone to Moscow seeking formal recognition of their self-declared republics, Medvedev declared that Russia will act to "guarantee" any decision the two regions make about their future - as if there was some question as to what that decision would be and, it could well be noted, an option apparently not available to Chechnya.

So while I certainly don't buy the paranoid rantings found on a couple of wingnut sites claiming that Russia "has been planning this for years," do spare me the claims that there was anything "humanitarian" about this or that Russia was not taking advantage of an opportunity to advance its own selfish interests or that it's driven by such interests any less than the US is.

Finally, thinking of what "taking advantage of an opportunity" entailed brings me back to Richard's post, wherein he says the events are a "positive development for the global left." Well, I say that describing the Russian invasion, which multiplied civilian casualties, generated thousands of refugees, unleashed ethnic cleansing by ethnic Ossetians against ethnic Georgians, and involved shelling cities - including the use of cluster bombs - in such terms is utterly appalling.

I find nothing positive in ever-higher piles of bodies or ever-more crowded refugee centers. And I refuse - utterly refuse - to regard human lives from the "tactical standpoint" of geopolitical analysis or to join in the yes-and-no, us-and-them, light-side-and-dark-side, style of argument, one best suited for two-year olds, in which all too many - including Richard here - engage.

Note well: This has nothing to do with whether or not South Ossetia (or Abkhazia) should be part of Georgia or part of Russia or independent. Certainly people are free to argue the people of those regions should be able to choose their own path; certainly they are free to argue that all peoples should be able to do so. That is an entirely honorable and defensible position, albeit one rarely applied evenhandedly.

But that is not what I'm seeing being argued. What's being argued is that the justice, even the morality, of a conflict can be decided in advance based solely on who backs who. Deciding in advance of events who's right and who's wrong, dividing the world into white hats and black hats, angels and demons, may be comforting, it may relieve the stress of ambiguity, but it does not reflect the real world and just as importantly it will not create "positive development[s] for the global left."

In the wake of the first Gulf War, I wrote in response to a criticism of my analysis of that war, that I believe

[t]hat humanity cannot be conveniently divided into our friends, the victimized innocents, and our foes, the venal infidels. That war does not bring peace, that hatreds do not produce love, that a river of blood, no matter how thick, deep, wide, or red, does not, cannot, will not mark the path to justice. ...

Having at long last dumped the fantasy that war is a grand, glorious, and honorable adventure, having finally dumped what Wilfred Owen called “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est/Pro patria mori,” it’s time - it’s well past time - that we dumped our remaining fantasy that we can slash and burn our way to peace and justice.

Learning that lesson, now that would be "a positive development for the global left."

Footnote: Human Rights Watch has on its home page several reports from its observers in Georgia, including in South Ossetia. In those reports, both Georgian and Russian forces are charged with indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas. But what I wanted to mention was something I found interesting in one report:

A doctor at Tskhinvali Regional Hospital who was on duty from the afternoon of August 7 told Human Rights Watch that between August 6 to 12 the hospital treated 273 wounded, both military and civilians. She said her hospital was the only clinic treating the wounded in Tskhinvali. The doctor said there were more military personnel than civilians among the wounded.... As of August 13, there were no wounded left in the Tskhinvali hospital.

The doctor also said that 44 bodies had been brought to the hospital since the fighting began, of both military and civilians. The figure reflects only those killed in the city of Tskhinvali. But the doctor was adamant that the majority of people killed in the city had been brought to the hospital before being buried, because the city morgue was not functioning due to the lack of electricity in the city.
And then there was this, from another:
A doctor at the Java hospital told Human Rights Watch that on August 9 and 10 the hospital treated about 50 wounded (both military and civilians), and on August 8 had already treated 60 (also military and civilians)....

The doctor also said that five bodies were delivered to the hospital between August 8 and 11, all military personnel and South Ossetian volunteer militias from outside of Java. Representatives of Java town administration told Human Rights Watch that over the last four days, four people were killed in the town. The administration initially said that all of the casualties were civilians, but later clarified that in fact three of the dead were members of the militias, and one of them, a woman, was a civilian.
Taken together, that's 53 killed and 383 wounded, the majority of them military personnel. Which would surely seem to support the assertion in an NPR report from South Ossetia that Russian claims of over 2000 killed in the initial Georgian assault were seriously inflated - and therefore (I'm saying this, not NPR) that it's early claim that that's what provoked the invasion is seriously doubtful.

Except to some, of course.

Updated with a clarification: Vladimir Putin has obviously been itching for an excuse to do precisely what he did. As Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly pointed out,

You don't think Russia was able to mount a highly precise counterattack within 24 hours just by coincidence, do you?
So when I referred to the idea that Russia had been "planning this for years" as wingnut paranoia, I did not mean there was no planning on the Russian side for such an opening. I was rather referring to the claims by some that the entire crisis was engineered by Russia, which somehow tricked or induced Georgia to launch the assault on South Ossetia in order to create the excuse for the Russian invasion.

Time out

I haven't been around much lately as I imagine is obvious to anyone who can read a date on a post which I assume is all of you. The thing is, there's been some serious personal stuff going down recently and I simply haven't had either the time or the inclination to vent scream analyze or otherwise pontificate.

Part of the deal is that we're moving. Again. There's good and bad about this, the good being that the new place is both bigger and cleaner than this apartment and it's a short move, just to the next town rather than a thousand miles like some of the last moves have been.

The downside is moving. We don't really want to move, we like where we are, it's convenient to both work places, it's on a quiet street in walking distance of downtown and the harbor. But for some reason our landlord has suddenly gone truly weirdly ballistic over our pets (of which he knew when we moved in), claiming the Health Department will condemn the property because of things like a cat litter box in the corner of the kitchen by the basement door.

Given the choice between the place and the pets, we choose the pets.

And so we have to move again. Which has meant finding a place and coming up with the requisite cash and all in short order. That's now been accomplished - we hope and assuming no last-minute snags - but then comes the actual process of moving.

We hope this will be the last one but we hoped the most recent one would be the last one, too. For me, I decided I did not want to move again when I realized I had spent each of the previous five Christmases in a different place.

But as it falls out, after less than three years, here we go again.

So I'm neither gone nor sick nor giving up which I do from time to time but never completely so I wind up trying again, but I am somewhat occupied for the moment.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

And to remember again

August 9. "The days pass by, too quickly it seems." And here it is, three days later. And just so the day does not pass without notice, this is a link to a post from one year ago today, a post on the second crime, in many ways the greater crime.

And again, if any among us are tempted to think this is all of the past, simply a matter of history, be aware that just this past January, while we were all distracted by the initial FISA fight, a manifesto by five of the west's most senior military officers and strategists, including former JCS Chair General John Shalikashvili, declared that NATO
must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the "imminent" spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction....

[T]he former armed forces chiefs from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands insist that a "first strike" nuclear option remains an "indispensable instrument"
of military policy. We may have forgotten nuclear weapons, but the generals and the rest of those who refer to them as "instruments" and value pride and politics above people, have not.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Failures of memory

It was after 11:30pm when it suddenly registered with me that it's August 6.

August 6. A date that we now tend to pass over without thinking, without considering. Without remembering.

Memory is a fickle thing; it can trick us into believing that what we don't regularly call to mind no longer exists (or at least is no longer important). But reality is not fickle, it just plows ahead. And while the reality has shifted and changed its nature over the years, it has never ceased to exist and has never lost its importance. It has only slipped from frequent memory.

Even as we fail to remember them, there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons in the world today, some of them stockpiled but still many thousands deployed. Most all of those, as I'm sure you know, are in the hands of the US and Russia. Pretty much all we've heard about those arsenals over the last several years has been how they are being reduced - but what we don't hear is how the present-day weapons are more efficient, more accurate, in every way "better" than those in those old massive arsenals of a few decades ago, how today's weapons, those designed and built since the 1980s, are, as one person put it, "more for use than deterrence."

Beyond that and likely of even greater danger of being used are the nuclear weapons held by the seven other members of the "nuclear club." Those countries each possess anywhere from a handful to a few hundred such weapons - and the issue of their potential to create a hair-trigger regional arms race, particularly in the Middle East, is very real and very current.

So having almost failed to remember the day myself and finding time too short to do much but unwilling the day to pass without remark, I'm going to repost something I put up here three years ago on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945: an examination of the lies at the root of the atomic age. The only changes were to kill dead links.


This week marks the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the week there will be, if past experience is any guide, a few news stories recalling the events, a few photographs of paper cranes showered over the monument in Hiroshima's Peace Park, and a few "it must not happen again" editorials all expressing with appropriate regret the "necessity" of the bombings. It will, in short, be a week of comforting, reinforcing, oft-told tales - that is, of myths.

That is perhaps more fitting than we realize, because the nuclear weapons age was born in a myth: the myth of the Nazi bomb. Most people date the start of the American nuclear arms effort to a famous 1939 letter to President Roosevelt, written by Dr. Leo Szilard and signed by Albert Einstein (because it was thought his name would be more impressive), noting the possibility of developing an atomic bomb. By the time of Pearl Harbor, the US already had a small nuclear bomb project going that had made real progress.

The political argument given for building the atomic bomb, for investing the enormous amounts of time, money, resources, and scientific talent in what became known at the Manhattan Project, was that some intelligence reports said that Nazi Germany may have been working on one. If so, we had to have one and we had to have it first. Although it must in fairness be noted that it may not have been known at the time, the fact is that although the Germans were indeed doing some experiments in that direction, they were going about it in an extremely inefficient way and it would've taken them decades to develop a bomb - if it was possible at all.

Some of late have tried to resuscitate that threat by claiming the Germans were "closer than we knew." The argument, however, is based on their progress in enriching uranium and relies on the supposition that in the 1940s scientists working on the project could have suddenly changed gears and adopted a different approach - that is, do exactly what they had decided against doing years before. At least one writer added the argument that a commando raid that destroyed a enrichment facility in occupied Norway set back the project significantly. That undoubtedly slowed production, but it didn't affect the problems with the process itself. That is, the "closer than we knew" assertion in based on a series of "what ifs," which makes for interesting speculation but not a persuasive argument.

But no matter what you think of that point, what's important here is that it was the claimed threat from Germany that supposedly provided the logic, the argument, the purpose of the Manhattan Project. And yet, and yet....

By late 1944 US intelligence knew that the German nuclear experiments had failed. The Manhattan Project didn't even slow down.

Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 - 10 weeks before the first successful test explosion of an atomic bomb. (Code-named Trinity, it took place at Alamogordo Testing Range, 230 miles south of Los Alamos, NM on July 16, 1945.) With the surrender, the entire founding logic of the Manhattan Project evaporated. But instead of stopping or even slowing down, the project accelerated, in part because some on the staff were afraid the war would end before they got the bomb built. We simply switched myths: from the myth of Nazi atomic bombs to the myth of the fanatical Japanese. The weapon that was supposedly designed for defense against Germany now "had" to be used on Japan.

And here is what's probably the most important myth of all, because it provided the logical (if you can call it that) underpinnings for actually carrying out the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for actually vaporizing tens of thousands of human beings in the flash of an instant and opening the door of the atomic age, a myth that gets replayed, reproduced, repronounced, reproclaimed every time Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned, a myth that people continue to believe today, as a Gallup poll shows 57% of Americans approving of the bombings: the myth that the Japanese were so fanatical that the only possible alternative to the devastation of those cities was a bloody land invasion of Japan.

It's just not true. It's more than a myth, it's a damned lie. A 60-year old damned lie.

To begin with, the yearly claims, sure to be heard again this week, that such an invasion would've cost 250,000 or 500,000 or 1,000,000 American lives (the numbers vary unpredictably) is utter nonsense. Even President Truman originally cited an estimate of 250,000 casualties (not deaths) - although in later years he doubled it, then doubled it again. More to the point, the War Planning Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff never expected more than 40,000 American deaths, and thought they might've been as low as 20,000 because they thought it a fair likelihood that Japan would surrender during the first part of the campaign.

Which in turn raises the more important question of whether such an invasion was necessary at all.

It wasn't.

By the spring of 1945 Japan was already a defeated nation. It no longer had any navy to speak of, its air force had been decimated, its army driven back to its own shores. It was incapable of mounting any offensive action or even of defending itself against US air raids. Critical materials and even food were in short supply. The situation was so bad that even attempts to justify the bombings wind up confirming Japan's desperate condition: Several years ago I had an email debate with a man who tried to project the classic image of a well-defended Japan bristling with military forces. At one point, trying to show the determination of the Japanese to defend the homeland no matter what the cost, he said "Japan pulled some 500 loaded ships out of China and not one of them made it back to Japan," because of attacks by high-altitude bombers. In response, I noted that he had thereby agreed, if unintentionally, that Japan's air force was so thoroughly destroyed that it couldn't even provide air cover to get its own retreating troops back safely.

In fact, the situation was so bad that before - before - the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan had already made secret overtures to the United States through Sweden and the Soviet Union stating that it was ready to surrender. All of this was known to the US military, all of this was known to Truman, who rejected the offer because it wasn't unconditional: Hirohito would've kept his throne.

What was also known to Truman was the USSR's intent to declare war on Japan and its likely impact: In his journal about his meetings with Stalin at the Potsdam conference, Truman wrote on July 17, 1945, "He'll be in Japan War on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about." (Sidebar: Truman stalled at the beginning of the conference because he wanted to know that the Trinity test had been a success before he dealt with Stalin.)

The atomic bombings were simply unnecessary. But we refused to accept the idea, refused even to accept surrender - because by then peace was not enough, even victory was not enough: It had to be utter, smashing, devastating, total victory.

So we destroyed Hiroshima and then Nagasaki when Japan didn't surrender fast enough. We destroyed them even though military leaders, including "Hap" Arnold and Dwight Eisenhower (who at the time called nuclear weapons "those awful things," even though he himself was later to give serious consideration to their use during the Korean War), declared it unnecessary. That judgment was proved correct by US analysts sent to Japan in 1946 who concluded it would've surrendered before November 1, 1945 "even if atomic bombs hadn't been dropped, Russia hadn't entered the war, and no invasion was planned."

And just as victory had to be total to satisfy our national psyche, our pride and arrogance, it had to be now - now to hold off the demon of our postwar mythology: the Soviet Union. Truman's note about "fini Japs" when the Soviets entered the war against Japan was not enthusiasm; it was a reflection of concern about Soviet influence in the post-war world. We had to finish the war in the Pacific so Stalin could take none of the credit. And for one other reason:

Before the bombings, some officials urged that we stage a "demonstration" blast on a deserted island or in an uninhabited area of Japan to show the Japanese the power of the weapon we had and to give them a chance to surrender before we actually used it. (Among those pushing such an idea was Leo Szilard, who, perhaps having second thoughts about his role in all this, pleaded with Secretary of State James Byrnes not to use the bomb on people and circulated a petition to Truman to rule out its use because it would open the "door to an era of devastation of an unimaginable scale.")

The idea of a "demonstration" blast was supposedly shelved. But, in fact, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstration blasts. They were intended to show the awesome power we held in our arsenal - only the target of the demonstration wasn't Japan. It was the Soviet Union. US officials, including Byrnes, presidential advisor Bernard Baruch, and top military leaders, had urged the bombings as a means of warning the Soviets not to challenge American plans for a postwar world dominated by US interests, to make them "more manageable," as Byrnes put it, by showing both our power and our willingness to use it.

Which means, ultimately, that hundreds of thousands of Japanese were destroyed, disintegrated, as sacrificial lambs at the start of a decades-long campaign to "contain" the Soviets if not to bully them into submission. From Nazi bomb scientists through wild-eyed Japanese fanatics to intractable Soviet deceivers, the mythmakers had constructed an image of the United States as appointed to protect and shape the world, with the atomic bomb, as President Truman put it, the weapon given us by God that we were to use "for His purposes and His ends." The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the last shots of World War II, they were the first shots of the Cold War, and the Japanese the first of its many victims.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Olympic spirit

For better or for worse, it was likely inevitable that dissidents in China would use the occasion of the Olympic games to move aggressively on behalf of their causes, the better being the hope of gaining the attention of the world at a time more eyes would be on China, the worse being increased bloodshed. The BBC says that
[u]nidentified attackers have killed 16 policemen in an attack on a border post in China's restive Muslim region of Xinjiang, state media report.

The attackers drove up to the post at Kashgar and threw two grenades, which also wounded 16 members of the border patrol armed police division.
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said that attackers used a dump truck to break into the police post Sunday evening, US time.

Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur (also Uyghur) people, who for some time have been subjected to "a crushing campaign of religious repression" according to Human Rights Watch, a campaign that gained both strength and cribbed legitimacy after 9/11, when the Chinese government could present the repression as past of the "worldwide campaign against terrorism."

Still, resistance continues. In April, Chinese officials had to admit that they were facing ethnic unrest in the region. As many as 500 Uighurs had demonstrated in Hotan on March 23, the New York Times reported. The government accused the protesters of "splittism" and while some local sources said the demonstrators called for independence, others said the protest was against cultural restrictions, such as a ban on Islamic scarves.

This is not to say that the long campaign waged by Uighur separatists has not included or at the very least claimed acts of terrorism: A group called the Turkestan Islamic Party claimed responsibility for three explosions on buses, one in Shanghai in May and two more two weeks ago in Yunnan province, that killed a total of five people. Chinese officials denied there was any connection to terrorism, but so far as I've been able to find, have offered no alternative explanation for the explosions.

The Turkestan Islamic Party also has released a video in which it threatens the Olympics, due to start Friday. It can be expected that the Chinese government, having used the War on Terror(c)(reg.)(pat.pend.) as a handy excuse to repress the Uighurs, will now use the "threat to the Olympics" born of the very failure of that effort to redouble its attempts to oppress them into passive submission to their gradual disappearance.

I finally have an excuse to say this: Developing....


...back in the part of Iraq to which most major US media actually pays some measure of attention,
[a] minibus packed with explosives detonated in northeastern Baghdad on Sunday morning, [CNN reports,] killing at least 12 people and wounding 22 others, according to an Interior Ministry official. ...

Another roadside bomb wounded four people when it exploded in southwestern Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said. The official said the bomb was targeting an Iraqi police patrol but missed its target.

Another roadside bomb exploded near eastern Baghdad's al-Kindi Hospital, wounding nine people, the official said. Three police officers were among those hurt, he said.

Two people were wounded by a bomb that targeted but missed a convoy of SUVs in southeast Baghdad's al-Ghadir neighborhood Sunday morning, the official said.
So that's 12 dead, 37 wounded. Does it matter if "violence is down?" Not to them, it doesn't.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Once more into the breach

(Cross-posted to the Out of Irag Bloggers Caucus.)

Remember what I said just over a week ago, how Kirkuk remains a potential "flashpoint for ethnic conflict?" Juan Cole brings the goods: First, he cites Reuters for Friday, which reports that Kurdish councilors
called for the city [of Kirkuk] to become part of the largely autonomous region of Kurdistan. ...

Thursday's decision by Kurdish councilors at a provincial council meeting was symbolic because other factions boycotted the session. The council's head, himself a Kurd, also noted the call was unconstitutional.

But tensions have been rising over the city's fate, with demonstrators taking to the streets several times this week.
One of those rallies, last Monday, was attacked by a suicide bomber. Some 23 people were killed.

The central Iraqi government rejected the councilors' call while urging calm:
"The Iraqi government calls upon all parties and groups in Kirkuk province to refrain from carrying out any [actions] that might harm the national unity," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement. "The Iraqi government is stressing its [opposition to] any unilateral measure to change the status of Kirkuk."
Kurds regard Kirkuk as their historical capital and demand that it become part of the largely-autonomous Kurdish region. The central government's opposition is likely based not only on questions of "national unity" but concern over the prospect losing direct control over the oil-rich region of which Kirkuk is part. Another significant player, Turkey, is also watching warily: For its own internal reasons, Turkey fears any strengthening of Kurdish interests and expressed "anxiety" over the proposal.

But the real source of potential conflict comes from a third source: The non-Kurd residents of Kirkuk, particularly the Turkmen (also Turkomen), who also regard Kirkuk as home and fear ethnic oppression if the city becomes part of Kurdistan. This is something I first brought up over four years ago. Over a year ago, I noted that the leader of a Turkmen group in Kirkuk said "all the Turkmens will become suicide bombers to defend the Turkmen identity" of the city.

The intensity of that feeling remains, as evidenced by an interview with Narmin Al-Mufti, an official of the Turkoman Front, published in the Kurdish newspaper Chawder. Juan Cole posted the translation done by the US federal government's Open Source Center.

In the interview, Mufti called the Kurdistan Regional Government "not a lawful region but an internal administration." That is, the Front accepts the Kurdish area as an administrative region but does not accept autonomy, charging it is contrary to the Iraqi constitution. In fact, he said they do not recognize the constitution itself
because it has been forced upon us without our agreement. We prefer and recognize the older constitution, which contained 39 articles and did not contain Article 140,
which relates to the future of Kirkuk.

He also said the Turkoman Front does "not believe the Kurdish leadership," who "are only concerned about, and work for, their own interests" and that
[t]he Turkoman Front does not agree with elections, because balloting would be in the interest of the Kurdish political parties and they are always carrying out vote fraud.
Fraud such as, he charged, moving hundreds of thousands of "non-residents" to Kirkuk to affect potential elections. Kick those "non-residents" out, he said, and the Front could accept elections, because then "the Turkomans would have the majority vote in Kirkuk."

"I want to tell the Kurdish leadership," he concluded, "that we would rather be part of China than Kurdistan." The Kurds, every bit as determined on the matter, would probably be willing to grant that wish.

The chance of any short-term breakthrough on this impasse seems unlikely, especially considering that
Iraqi parliamentarians failed on Sunday to pass a law on provincial elections, putting the date of important polls in doubt and leaving unresolved a political standoff that has stoked ethnic tensions[, Reuters reports].

After struggling for hours to reach a quorum, lawmakers indefinitely postponed a special session they had called to pass the law, which has come unstuck over plans for the disputed northern city of Kirkuk and angered minority Kurds.
Still, hope springs eternal and all that.
Lawmakers did not say when they would reschedule the debate, but political leaders continued meetings to seek a compromise. ...

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said a compromise was close at hand and parliament would hold another vote when faction leaders signal they have reached a deal.

"We are waiting for the white smoke to rise," he said.
The trouble is, when we see the smoke rising, will it mean what Othman wants it to mean? Or will it signify a heat that is starting to do more than just smolder? Or even an impending explosion?

Stargeek Continuum

A friend of mine was fond of saying "Life sucks and then you die." I've been feeling that way a lot lately, which is largely responsible for the erratic posting - but then again, there's always stuff like this to make life seem kinda cool. It's from the BBC, today:
The world's smallest snake, averaging just 10cm (4 inches) and as thin as a spaghetti noodle, has been discovered on the Caribbean island of Barbados.

The snake, found beneath a rock in a tiny fragment of threatened forest, is thought to be at the very limit of how small a snake can evolve to be.
It is so small it could curl up comfortably on a US quarter.

The snake has been labeled Leptotyphlops carlae by its discoverer, Dr. Blair Hedges - "leptotyphlops" meaning "small blind snake" (with over 80 species known previously); "carlae" in honor of his wife, Carla.

The reason for the conclusion about size limits is that while other, larger, snakes lay multiple eggs in a single clutch - as many as 100 - in this case the female lays just one massive egg at a time, producing a hatchling half the size of the its adult body weight. That may be the largest egg-to-body-mass ratio in nature: The San Diego Zoo says the kiwi lays the largest egg in proportion to its body size - in that case an egg that can be up to a quarter of the size of the adult. Proportionately, that's only about half the size of that produced by this snake. So it would not seem that the snake could produce a larger egg. But if it produced just two eggs at a time, the two would have to occupy the same total space as the one, which would mean each hatchling would be half the size, with the result that
[t]he hatchlings might then be too small to find anything small enough to eat.
But just as you're thinking cool and score another one for evolutionary adaptation, comes this:
Researchers believe that the snake - a type of thread snake - is so rare that it has survived un-noticed until now.

But with 95% of the island of Barbados now treeless, and the few fragments of forest seriously threatened, this new species of snake might become extinct only months after it was discovered.
And life re-emerges. Damn.

Footnote: A few years earlier, Hedges, together with his colleague Richard Thomas, found and described the world's smallest known lizard. It can rest on a dime.
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