December 24th, 2008

Loch Icon

Lets look at what you're really saying.

LTC Robert Bateman appears to be a semi-regular commenter at Altercation. He’s in the military, in some wise and thinks “liberals” don’t do enough to understand, and bridge, the “disconnect” between themselves and “the military”.

Let’s just say I have some problems with his positions. First, he seems to think pissing everyone off means he occupies some happy medium.

Of course, for my troubles I am periodically called a "neo-con warmonger Bush/Cheney apologist" by some, and a "liberal mouthpiece in the pay of George Soros" from others.

We see this a lot, the myth of the “justified middle”; the MSM likes to claim this is, “objectivity”. It fails to consider the possibility that one of the sides is actually right, and being in the middle is not only wrong, but pushing for it is damaging.

But that’s not what rises to the level of blithering nonsense. Part of it is tone. He puts all the burden for understanding the other side on, “the liberals”. The question is, what are all of you doing from the outside to remove that theoretical gap? Are you encouraging your liberal sons and daughters to pursue national service in the Armed Forces...or do you try to dissuade them?.

What an amazing piece of hubris. He says he complains about his service. He fails to address the problem of service. The military is an arm of policy. If the policy is justifiable then the honorable person has no problems. If the policy is horrible immoral, the honorable person has problems, but the problems are more of repercussion than decision. The edge cases are the real problem. What does one do when a policy leads to orders which are lawful in the pursuit of ends which seem iffy (I had this problem with Iraq... I still don’t know that I made the right call, but I can’t see how I could have made any other. As a pilot said of his experience in WW2, “It was a million dollar experience you wouldn’t pay a nickel to do again”)?

If one is an employee that’s not a big deal. Quitting may be hard, but it’s doable. Walking away from the Army isn’t quite so simple as leaving a civilian employer. The officer has it a little easier than an enlisted member. An officer has the privilege to resign his commission if he likes. Such resignation isn't automatic (as Lt. Watada found out), but it's an option. The enlisted member can't do that.(just look at the guys who decided they conscientious objections. They were told they were wrong, and either had to go, or desert. Some of them are still dealing with the aftermath of that. Some of them are fugitive in Canada, because they couldn’t walk away. They are living in Limbo, appealing for refugee status, and looking prison in the face if they don’t get it).

Deciding to roll the dice that one’s gov’t won’t start to pursue terrible policies is hard to do. It’s a lot harder now. When I joined the Army the idea that my job was going to be front and center in the national discussion wasn’t completely beyond the pale. The core subject of that discussion turned out not to be what I’d have figured it would be.

That torture is the topic doesn’t surprise me, per se. That the “debate” is about how much we should engaging in. Just which tortures we wanted to institutionalise... that croggles me. I never imagined that would be the case. We didn’t do that.

But that’s a minor blind spot. Lots of people who are happy with their service (or, perhaps haven’t had to bump against that problem) don’t see that this is a thing which might be a deal breaker for people who otherwise think some sort of giving back to the nation is important.

No, the real failure in his arguments is how he attempts to justify the use of force.

Thus, when dealing with a hard-core anti-war protestor who is against all use of force, I use the Socratic method and ask, "You oppose Iraq, right?" (yes) "You also support women's rights?" (also usually a massive yes) "But you support cultural independence in all cases?" (usually a yes) "So you oppose going in to Afghanistan and would prefer that all women there must live as they did under the Taliban?" (sometimes, not often, but sometimes that gets a "yes") ... we will progress along these lines until the person has renounced fighting against the Holocaust, or re-uniting the Union and ending slavery ... at which point I'll usually give up, but hope that the person I engaged has second thoughts now. Sometimes they do. In the process I also hope that they have come to a better understanding about the military in general, the uses of force by our democracy, and have in some small way closed the divide on that side.

That is just stupid. Boiled down his argument is, “Might Makes Right.” conjoined with the idea that somehow the American Way of Life™ is so special that exercising that Might is something we can do anytime we think some other country isn’t acting properly.

It’s dressed up with being against Hitler, and ending slavery, but if you look in the middle part you find the meat of it. "You also support women's rights?" (also usually a massive yes) "But you support cultural independence in all cases?" (usually a yes) "So you oppose going in to Afghanistan and would prefer that all women there must live as they did under the Taliban?".

Got that... how a minority group is treated is justification for aggressive war. Now, this means one of two things. There is an absolute value for how to treat people, and we have to spend our treasure, blood and reputation to do that, it’s “Bear any burden” territory.

Or it means that the Taliban is justified in using force to spread its beliefs.

The first is a problem in that following it pretty much requires we put our own house in order. We are far from that, and more to the point I don’t see his appeals to the rights of women in Afghanistan being extended to blacks, hispanics, immigrants and women here. If our blood and treasure are so worth spending abroad, we can’t really expect much of a reputation if we don’t pursue it here.

The second... well that’s a real problem. In the simplest of reasoning it fails. No one ever has casus belli. The only complaint about al Qaeda attacking us would be they weren’t a state; and that defeats the attack on Afghanistan to respond to it.

I am not a pure pacifist. I think renaming the War Dept. the Department of Defense is the right way to go. Response to aggressive war is the only truly legitimate use of national power. All others have some level of quandary. World War 2 is the touchstone people like to use because the things Hitler did, and the atrocities Japan committed are so easy to look back on and say, “They should have been stopped.”

Which is true. It doesn’t, however, mean, that we have right to use our might, which is the core of his argument. There are far better ways to make things better for oppressed groups... making the people who are in charge hate you... making them want to kill you isn’t likely to get the improved conditions for women (which, as I recall wasn’t the point to invading Afghanistan, and [as I recall] I don’t recall a whole lot of “liberals” opposed to the invasion. What they complained about was the piss-poor level of resolution, topped off with the idiocy of invading Iraq without a good case for it).
Pixel Stained

The festering aftermath

In my last post I said we hadn’t put our own house in order in relation to how we deal with our internal problems relating to minorities. Our, soon to be ex, president is moving into a neighborhood which mandated racism until recently. And it’s not the first time the Bushes have lived in such a place. They used to live in Highland Park (where Dick Cheney presently maintains a residence) hasn’t been exactly welcoming. It needed a lawsuit in 1981 to get the restrictive covenants forbidding sale to blacks cancelled. A black couple who purchased a house in Highland Park in 2003 are believed to be the first black homeowners in the city. According to a June 2003 Newsweek web article, the local paper ran a story about the couple on the front page, with the lead "Guess who's coming to dinner? and staying for a while?" The article also referred to the female of the couple as "girl". (Sundown Town Database).

We’ve got a huge problem with “white power” folks. Dave Neiwert points to the use of the Army by racists to get practice in military tactics. That’s disturbing because training is what separates an army from a mob. Training, Tactics and Procedures (TTP) are what separate one Army from another. No, I don’t think having a bunch of people who were in the army in a neo-nazi groups is going to make them able to kick the Army’s butt; hell that’s not going to make them able to kick the butt of a unit like mine (MI, National Guard), because there are other aspects of being in an army, not least is the sense that one has a large group of comrades backing one up, even when there are only a few of you nearby. The other is an expectation of casualties. It’s hard to explain, but petty militias like the Mountain Men may have dreamed of some noble, Alamo like, last stand of the principled, but to actually do it, that’s a different thing altogether. I’m not saying skinheads can’t pull something like that off, but I don’t think it will have the “rally the masses into spontaneously bringing about, ‘the day of the rope’.”

But... shit like this scares me.

In the first days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, even before Blackwater USA cuckolded its way into the city openly advertising for the $70 million in post-Katrina contracts that it would eventually get, a paranoid vigilante group in Algiers Point began collecting guns to defend their proudly white enclave against black looters (no word, yet, on where they suddenly acquired all these firearms).

According to the homemade militia members interviewed at great length by Thompson, there was at least one fatality (at least three, according to one area doctor and the official death toll in Algiers Point during that period puts the number at four. There was no flooding in Algiers Point.) during the first week when the New Orleans Police Department was completely absent and anarchy reigned supreme.


Gretna got a lot of (well deserved) grief for refusing to let people come (or even pass through) as they were fleeing the disaster which was New Orleans. This, well this has been ignored. Welcome back to Pottersville paints an awful picture, but unless you follow up it only looks bad, not appalling.

If you read The Nation it’s a lot uglier.

Janak, beer in hand, [was] gloating about hunting humans. Surrounded by a crowd of sunburned white Algiers Point locals at a barbeque held not long after the hurricane, he smiles and tells the camera, "It was great! It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it." A native of Chicago, Janak also boasts of becoming a true Southerner, saying, "I am no longer a Yankee. I earned my wings." A white woman standing next to him adds, "He understands the N-word now." In this neighborhood, she continues, "we take care of our own."

That’s scary. Janak is a “true Southerner”. What did that? Shooting people because they were black.

Combine that with things from later in the piece, ... Some of the gunmen prowling Algiers Point were out to wage a race war, says one woman whose uncle and two cousins joined the cause. A former New Orleanian, this source spoke to me anonymously because she fears her relatives could be prosecuted for their crimes. "My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy.

"They didn't want any of the 'ghetto niggers' coming over" from the east side of the river, she says, adding that her relatives viewed African-Americans who wandered into Algiers Point as "fair game." One of her cousins, a young man in his 20s, sent an e-mail to her and several other family members describing his adventures with the militia. He had attached a photo in which he posed next to an African-American man who'd been fatally shot. The tone of the e-mail, she says, was "gleeful"--her cousin was happy that ‘they were shooting niggers’,”
and the prospect of people who got training in the army, and think shooting, “brown people,” is a noble calling, and I become a little less sanguine.

The Right, with it’s mantra that all undocumented workers are criminals, and the idea that the present problems are the fault of inner-city residents getting credit they didn’t deserve (which ties into the “welfare queen in a Cadillac” meme of yesteryear. The song don’t change, just the verses), and one might not be faulted for fearing lynchings or other forms of pogrom.

Bias crimes against Hispanics are up. The real numbers out of Algiers Point might be as high as 25 (the coroner didn’t perform autopsies on all the bodies. Given the situation, the lack of ready medical care and the way in which things weren’t tracked down afterwards, I find the official number of 3 suspiciously low... then again, the official tally of dead from Katrina is suspiciously low).

For years the idea that the “coastal elites” and “urban intellectuals” have been oppressing the, “real Americans” of the heartland has been being tossed about. It’s the politics of envy. It’s no small part of “The trouble with Kansas”. It’s polarising, and it’s corrosive of polity.

A democracy requires a certain sense of homogeneity. I can accept losing a political battle; so long as I don’t believe the people on the other side are out to get me. Once that understanding starts to fail, the social contract is in jeopardy. The right wing is working to exploit that, and they are sowing the wind. If the neo-nazis and the racists get away with this sort of thing it will grow. Silence = assent. Assenting to this sort of thing is to condone murder, to allow the balkanization of the United States.

I don’t think we will ever see a civil war as we had before. There isn’t enough regional cohesion to make it happen. No, if we fail it will be as Lebanon failed, as Yugoslavia failed. As it Iraq is likely to fail. Ethnic strife, combined with religious fervor will cause social disintegration. Which would be a disaster. The interior needs the coasts. The things they have/can make need markets.

The coasts need the interior (and even on scale... California is several, distinct, regions. The Central and Imperial valleys are really different from the San Fernando and Silicon valleys).

Letting this sort of murderous division go unnoticed; unacknowledged, unpunished is to add a few more nails to the coffin. This sort of thing needs the cleansing power of sunlight.