February 23, 2005

yes again, again

We often hear the lament “never again” repeated, but sadly, it appears that what people actually mean is “never again in the West”.

Since genocide was defined in international law after the Second World War, there have been five genocidal campaigns of which I am aware: Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia and now Sudan. And in only one of those five, Bosnia, has the West made a concerted effort stop the horror. I do not want to believe that the lack of Western intervention in the other four tragedies is rooted in racism, but reluctantly I have to conclude that there must be some subconscious racism involved.

I do believe it is subconscious because in most corners of the Western world, institutionalized racism has been largely eradicated. Certainly racism lives in the smaller hearts and smallest minds which comprise Western Civilization, but for the most part we have grown past the point were bigotry is accepted as normal within the bounds of the broader society.

But when one takes a closer look at the mass behavior of the West, I cannot exclude racism as a factor in society’s moral reckoning. Each of the five instances of genocide over the last half century were unspeakably horrible. Each of these blood drenched catastrophes implicitly demanded action by the West, but the one time we intervened in a significant way was when the victim’s faces were similar to our own.

I hope I am wrong about this, but I fear that I am not. I fear it in part because I too must search my own soul because of my own failure to speak out or act.

In a weak attempt to right old transgressions, I have taken the time to write my elected representatives to encourage action on the genocide presently taking place in Darfur. I hope you will consider taking the time as well. I admit that this action on my part is out of sync with my general proposition that the elected representatives do not care what you or I actually think. I have not changed my mind on that point, but I feel that in the face of this much death and destruction, I must say something: this blog entry and my undoubtedly futile missives to elected Federal officials are that something.

The situation in Darfur does deserve your and my attention. I have consciously chosen not to write on this subject previously because I am keenly aware that it is improbable we will act and people get more than a little bit weary of reading impassioned pleas for humanitarian causes with little hope of resolution. My attitude changed last night while watching Charlie Rose interviewing the creators of a new movie on the decline of Hitler. The phrase “never again” has pinged my brain incessantly since. You and I know that we should not have let this happen, but we have failed again.

If you want some motivation, a great starting place is Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed entitled The Secret Genocide Archive. A slight warning is in order as there are pictures there that might be disturbing to some though certainly not extreme by the standards of what is happening in Sudan. The short version is that while it is impossible to know the death toll, a plausible number would be on the order of 200,000 and rising. Unlike the merciful Christmas Tsunami, these oppressors torture and rape their victims before killing them.

Tragically, we have not even taken simple steps such as freezing assets in order to put pressure on these evil people.

I hope the attention some are attempting to bring to what is happening in Darfur makes a difference. We will never know how many lives might have been spared had the Allies acted after Kristallnacht rather than shamefully turning its head and letting events take their course. In Rwanda, scarcely even a decade ago, 800,000 people died when we remained silent. I’d rather not find out how many more African Sudanese will loose their lives if we choose to look the other way this time.

It would be nice to believe that our reason for inaction thus far is something relatively benign like ignorance and sloth. But while we deny our racism at an institutional level, it is perhaps still a diffuse element of our national policy. Witness the reaction in my corner of the West, America, to people of Arab descent in the post 9-11 era. The hostility toward Arab Americans stunned even me because Muslim fundamentalism knows no ethnic boundaries. It is hard not to be reminded that during the Second World War, here in the Land of the Free we locked up Japanese-Americans, but not those of German descent.

Racism is often cast about glibly in our culture and I do not suggest it as a contributing cause cavalierly. After all, 200,000 Muslims were killed in Bosnia so acting on a catastrophe of that magnitude which is in relatively close proximity for Europeans is understandable. While making an unqualified accusation of racism is not justified, the facts are still hard to ignore: In Africa we have had far more death and suffering, yet we do nothing.

If anyone wants to make the case for inaction, I’d love to have it explained to me.

60 Comments:

Blogger yoshitownsend said...

This might be of interest:

Dallas Peace Center Director and State Representative Lon Burnam's
bill, HB 815 "A prohibition on the investment of state funds in
private business entities doing business in Sudan," has now been
referred to Committee.

Please call or write the Chairman of the the Pensions and Investments
Committee, Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) to voice your support of
this bill to ensure that the State of Texas's investments are not used
to further the bloodshed in Sudan:
Hon. Craig Eiland
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768
512-463-0502
512-463-0149 (fax) *

Even though the US has sanctions preventing American companies from
doing business in Sudan, dozens of international corporations active
in Sudan are traded on US stock markets. Sinopec, Total, PetroChina,
ABB, Alcatel, Siemens, ONGC, Petronas, and many other firms continue
to operate in Sudan. Many play a crucial role in Sudan's oil industry,
which generates revenues that allow the Khartoum regime to to finance
its campaign of genocide. To learn more about divestment campaigns, go
to http://www.divestsudan.org/.

5:21 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

Yoshi's Sudanese Blood Stocks Link

5:23 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Yoshi,

I kind of figured you would weigh in on the subject. Thanks for the info.

5:34 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

We have a fledgling little D.A.T.A. group at school and have been trying to brainstorm about things we can do at a local level. That link I provided was the first thing someone came up with.

There will be a film viewing at UTA on Friday of Hotel Rwanda, and we'll set up an table for information about Sudan. Maybe we'll have some sample letters to hand out as well.

6:51 PM  
Blogger stilldreamn said...

Where are the outraged cries against the genocide from our American black leaders? The near silence is telling. There are some conflicts of interest here--the American black Muslims will find it difficult to condemn the actions of their spiritual brethren in the Sudan with much more than lip service. Perhaps some are concerned that focusing efforts on African blacks will take attention away from domestic racial issues. Racism is big business for both whites and blacks, and it's meat and drink for the politicians of both parties.

Racial tolerance in America is indeed a thin veneer that perhaps is too tenuous to cover the world. A concerted insistance by black leaders to act on this tragedy is necessary to propel the white majority into an effective response---out of shame, if for no higher reason.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

It seems that one needs to address actions/inactions of the US (and other countries) regarding society's civil crimes at a root level/definition. What, beyond "protecting our nation" is the US willing to risk American lives for (mainly our volunteering poor, never a shared risk in our country... another blog should be devoted to this). IMO, genocide is an obvious addition to the list we will risk lives over... but it is the base question our nation should answer once and for all. I think we should put that answer in law, and back it with military commitment. For example, we should put into law that from this day forward, the US will be a heat seeking missile monitoring genocide around the globe. We will act early, and as often as necessary to stop such inhumanity. The mission statement can be as clear as necessary. For example, "The US has no interest in being the world's police, but from this day forward, society genocide will be one of our exceptions to that rule". I think we should have a portion of the military, dedicated and trained for these types of missions. I've almost given up hope that any other nation on this planet (maybe other than the British) is willing to look past their own borders, but this would work best if the US special genocide forces were part of some special NATO type commitment. And don't get me wrong... a willingness on my part to be the world's police when it comes to genocide isn't the same thing as backing 43's attempt to democratize the middle east (that's another discussion, and one the US public should have been involved in when weighing the decision... rather than 43 lying us into war for false pretences).

It's simply unacceptable for the US to wrestle with each new occurence of society civil inhumanity as if it was the first occurence of it on the globe. We should decide... we are either "IN" or "OUT"..., and if "IN", back it with law and military commitment.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

Well, the problem with your IN or OUT black and white approach is that every situation is liable to be different. For instance, you can’t commit to an automatic military commitment in countries that have nuclear weapons. I think a more flexible approach is called for. I certainly think also that humanitarian causes are the exact causes for which we should seek participation of the global community. I have been talking of the West, but obviously there are non-Western countries that should be in on the action as well.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"Well, the problem with your IN or OUT black and white approach is that every situation is liable to be different. For instance, you can’t commit to an automatic military commitment in countries that have nuclear weapons."

Well, I think you missed my point. The "IN" or "OUT" represents a national commitment, or not, to genocide and other inhumanity when it comes up. You have to answer that basic question before you ever get to risk/result analysis. I think it's an ongoing debate in this country whether or not the military should ever be used beyond self-defense. If we, as a nation, can't even vote a resounding "yes" to that core question, you are just whistling through the "ignore anyone but ourselves" graveyard when you lobby for attention on a specific holocaust. By the time your country finishes the debate (if it even qualifies to be called that), the raping and murdering is already done. If your (our nation's) only commitment is to take these occurences on after they happen, save your breath and typing.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

I guess I’m a little naive on this point because I always have considered it a foregone conclusion that America did have a national commitment to oppose oppression throughout the world. I look at it more as a failure of leadership to apply that commitment. Take for instance how everybody jumped on the Iraqi humanitarian band-wagon when the lies over weapons of mass destruction became unsustainable. There was nothing phony from the American people in that regard.

So I guess I am puzzled at what sort of commitment you seek. I have trouble imagining what you could do formally that would actually constitute a commitment without potentially binding your hands. I certainly think we should “be committed” to fighting oppression, I just don’t see how my position of wanting to have a flexible response is at odds with the proposition.

I must also acknowledge that there is a fundamental gap between what we want to take and what we are able to take on at any one time. While it would be nice to right every wrong when and where we find it, that is simply not possible. What matters is that we try to be a positive force in the World and do as much as we can. From a self-image standpoint that is already what we are. What we need to do is make our actions rise to the level of our rhetoric-and perhaps that is your point?

11:36 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"So I guess I am puzzled at what sort of commitment you seek. I have trouble imagining what you could do formally that would actually constitute a commitment without potentially binding your hands."

I don't know why you are puzzled. I suggested military commitment to genocide with specialized forces and specialized training. I suggested some law/proclamation of the parameters of our commitment beyond self-defense. You seem to think we could take these things on "after the fact, and as they occure"... i.e. have the debate at that time. We will just have to agree to disagree. It's always the same... we talk a good game in this country but we seldom back it up with concrete action. What do you expect... half this country still thinks old age insurance is a dumb idea.

Later... time for lunch.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

I think I get what you are saying, but lets say you make a legal commitment of some kind. Setting aside the enforcement aspect of that sort of law, how could you write it where the hand of government would be free to deal with contingencies? What if weapons of mass destruction are an issue? What if the rest of the world disagrees that there is a humanitarian crisis? How do you define the crisis? What if any of a thousand things make it more complicated?

I’m not disagreeing with your intent: I am in fact calling for being more active in the world and spending our dough to make a better world. I think developing comprehensive “parameters” on a prospective basis is just not feasible. If I thought you could adequately describe potential situations, I would agree. In fact, I wrote a paper suggesting much the same thing once upon a time but in a narrower realm of action by the Federal Government.

3:33 PM  
Blogger someone else said...

Tony, I agree (as reluctantly as you) that the failure to intervene in Africa and generally to pay attention to Africa is the product of racism (I'm not exempting myself here). I put some other links up on my blog for things people can do and my own sentiments in response to the heartrending Kristoff article.

But, to play Devil's Advocate, I'm going to make an argument against heavy U.S. involvement in this effort. This issue is something I've been thinking about since I came to the conclusion that the Iraq War was wrong. It also is informed by a dispute I had with International Action Center, a fringe left group, when I supported the intervention in Kosovo and they opposed it:

The vast majority of U.S. military interventions and indeed U.S. foreign policy is geared towards a narrow American foreign policy interest to the exclusion of the worth of other people's lives. This includes actions not taken (like this one) and actions taken (like Iraq). These interventions and this imperialist and exploitative foreign policy is only tenable because there are isolated examples to point to which leaders can use to justify "the spread of freedom" rhetoric. To be more specific, Iraq could not have happened had Kosovo not laid the groundwork for a bloodless (on the American side) invasion to protect a minority from genocide or had WWII not laid the groundwork for the ideology of a just war.

The more the U.S. engages with the outside world, the more harm it does, because it is fundamentally unaccountable. Therefore, the U.S. should withdraw itself to a more isolationsist foreign policy (a la Switzerland) until it can prove itself well behaved (a la Japan). Otherwise, the short term good we do eventually leads to short term disaster later on.

There you go. Food for thought.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

I don't know why you keep concentrating and going off on a tangent with the "define everything US genocide action in law" thing. I never said that... at least I don't think so. Law is a broad topic. Law could include a funded (included as a line item in a budge ??) branch of the CIA dedicated to genocide/human atrocity surveillance. I'm sure we have this in some form, but raise the profile of it and raise the early warning flags to the public. How long did it take to hear a Senator talk about Sudan? Include dedicated genocide tactical teams in the budget. In the US commitment is spelled "Included in the budget". If we have dedicated tactical troops, maybe we would use them... early and often.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Saurav,

Well, in a broad way I agree with you but I think your conclusion goes a bit far. I believe the US should be involved in humanitarian causes in the World, I just think the effort would be more useful and productive if done under international auspices because of the accountability issues you bring up. Humanitarian aid is a far different thing than military intervention. There of course might be the need for military intervention, but the military should not run the show and in dealing with most of the military situations in the 3rd World, the overwhelming military presence of the US Army will not be necessary.

Really, the problem is not that the US is acting on the World stage, it is how it is acting. While misbehavior is indeed a result of our fundamental lack of accountability, there is no denying that we have the resources needed to address many of this issues. Far better then to seek to act reasonably rather than to simply exit the world stage. As despairing as I am at times over the direction this country is headed, I still believe it is possible (however improbable) for us to change course. An America that returned to its historical roots in foreign relations could be a very good thing for the entire World.

3:57 PM  
Blogger someone else said...

America that returned to its historical roots in foreign relations could be a very good thing for the entire World.But that's my point exactly. The historical roots of U.S. foreign relations are inherently destructive with rare exceptions. From policy towards Africa and native americans to taking Mexico's land to the Spanish American War to the continuous stream of wars between 1945 and today, the government of the United States has been killing, maiming, and controlling people throughout the world.

Here's the thesis: It's difficult to trust the institutions that have led to that type of track record; in other words, how do we separate what we want to have happening (largescale humanitarian intervention, diplomacy) from what has frequently been more likely to happen (controlling foreign governments, military interventions, militarizations of regions).

I don't act on my thesis in practice because I have to live in the real world and it's gross and imperfect and if it takes heavy U.S. involvement and after-the-fact credit-taking by Bush & Co and whatever relief is provided to Sudan is used as justification for a foreign intervention in Syria or Iran in the name of spreading freedom 5 years from now, well, that's a risk we have to be willing to take. But it's sad.

Just another point from a different line of thinking: if we didn't have to have hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq right now, you think it would be easier to deal with the crisis in the Sudan? I hate our Iraq decision more with each passing day.

-s

4:19 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

This blog site is so much more relevant than the "Wilder Blog."

I don't think anything is left over there except the occasional good-intentioned but ill-informed female saying "right on, Scott!!!" or...."Kofi Annon and his U.N. sucks and they are part of the anti-Christ's master plan for global governments and computer chips in all our hands. The Book of Revelation says so."

Someone should pull Andrew over here cause I think he's all alone in Wilder's pointless land.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

S,

I certainly understand the practical points you are making. "The US, with it's self-interest blinders on screws up more than it helps when it involves itself beyond it's borders". I think similar thinking explains why many in the US claim to be conservatives... i.e. "The government can't be trusted, so don't attempt to do public good through it". I guess it comes down to believing in "minimum harm" and accepting an inevitable status quo... or refusing to accept that, even if naive in the end. I've opted for the latter. I think we can make a distinction between Iraq interventions and no-brainers like doing everything in our power to stop mass raping and murdering. Common sense dictates we needed an honest public debate on whether forcing a middle east democracy in Iraq was the right thing to do or not. One could debate the merits of the risk/cost/reward of the Iraq war, but taking us to war over false pretenses should be impeachable. Ironic really... lying a nation into war isn't impeachable, but lying about sex in the oval office is. Anyway, back to my point. It just doesn't seem to me that much debate needed to happen before sending thousands of US troops to Sudan as soon as someone came screaming out the CIA saying "these animals are doing it again". When the US acts (and let's face it, we can hope for other countries to help, but...) there are consequences. As a US citizen I'm willing to accept whatever consequences come from keeping a population from murdering and raping each other. That's my line in the sand... something worth dying over. Of course, in this country, it's mostly other parent's kids... but that's another blog. Too me, that's an easy call. Bush's proselytizing of freedom, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily reach the same threshold of "no-brainer worth dying over". Are you willing to lose your kid, or someone's else's kid over the other country becoming a democracy? Not likely, unless there are other factors at play.

Tony, I'm with S... what original US roots are you talking about? From where I stand, we have been a fairly ruthless lot from the start. Not different from any other nation... just not much better regardless of what we tell ourselves. I'm not faulting us as much as that sounds. We were dealt some pretty harsh cards on planet earth... deciding to survive seems a reasonable decision on our part. It's the crossing of the survival line... killing Indians, slave industry, moralizing middle east infringement because of oil needs, civil war, etc. that paints a pretty ugly history. I find it hard to see too romantic of an "original intent/core" through the history... but I'm willing to hear your pitch. :)

5:03 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Yoshi,

I couldn't agree more. Andrew and Prof should come here for quality scripture-lite debate. WilderLand initial blogs are some kind of toxic merging of Christianity, Patriotism, and Conservatism. If you are in to that kind of thing... then ... :)

5:08 PM  
Blogger stilldreamn said...

"That's my line in the sand... something worth dying over. Of course, in this country, it's mostly other parent's kids... but that's another blog."

I was going to wait for that blog, but being a rather impatient sort, I thought I'd fire the first shot over somebody's bow. Our eldest son is serving in the Marine Corps, which is hugely ironic considering his Dad now considers his time in Vietnam (but not his service in the Holy Marine Corps) to be a futile waste. History pretty much agrees with him. What is history likely to say of Iraq? I daresay the same. "We tried, but the culture overwhelmed us." Specifically, the religious culture-I do NOT think that the fledgling Iraqi democracy will survive any more than the South Vietnamese government was able to resist their northern neighbors after we pulled out. How long will it take before our passion for Iraqi freedom burns out and we walk away? Iran moves in by proxy, or a new warlord takes over; the results are the same.

Do I believe in causes worth dying over? Yes, and I would agree that halting genocide is at the top of the list right along with defense of OUR constitutional freedoms. I agree with CG that it should be a national promise that while we won't interfere with another country's political system, if they commence slaughtering their people or fail to act to stop it among their own, we will take you out and the horse you rode in on whether you've got oil or not.

Anybody remember Pol Pot? We supported him. Apparently he wasn't evil enough to warrant our intervention. No WMDs there, but a million (!) or two died just the same. Should we take on the duty of policeman? Yes. And we need to pick our friends carefully.

7:27 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

A few years ago I was reading some essays by Noam Chomsky and he made some interesting references.

He spoke about Bill Clinton and Tony Blair standing up against genocide in Kosovo, making brave public speeches about the urgent need to intervene, and meanwhile simultaneously providing Turkey with increasing military aid and weapons in order to quell their Kurdish problem. Apparently the level of atrocities in Kosovo and Kurdish areas of Turkey were about equal. He was pointing out the hypocrisy.

Intervening in Sudan would probably be pretty complicated. There would have to be a long term plan, wouldn't there? I have spent a little time in Bosnia, and I remember talking with U.S. soldiers there. The impression I got was the moment peace-keepers pulled out they'd go right back to fighting again. Would we just impose the demands of the South on the North?

That might also embolden other groups and give them incentives to start a self-imposed genocide to get the U.S. to intervene and give them their autonomy.

I also read a book about Sudan and was reading about a split between the black groups. So it was kind of a triangle war. One black group vs. another, and both versus the Muslims. So we stop the Muslims and then we'd have to stop the two competing black groups. I know a lot of Christian groups like to view this conflict as one between the evil Muslims attacking the persecuted Christians, but I think it's more complicated than that.

Anyone know exactly how they got the genocide in Rwanda to stop? I suppose there are now peace-keepers there too. I think this because I was reading in a travel guide about how all the peace-keeping groups have pushed up all the prices in Kigali by increasing demand.

Just putting in my two cents, but I not really proposing any real thesis here.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

StillDreamn,

I guess you represent the "other's"... those with kids and husbands who serve in our military. I have an ongoing disagreement with our Curmudgeon host about the morality of the volunteer military. On one end you have families devastated (volunteer or not) with loss of a family member in war, lifetime injuries, and economic hardship. 99% of the rest of the public aren't asked to do a thing, other than deposit their tax break. Is your son in Iraq? If you wouldn't mind, could you tell your husband and your eldest there is a middle aged guy in Tulsa who humbly thanks them for their service.

If we choose to be the genocide police of the world, and I think we must, it seems like it would require reality based tactical planning. Yoshi is correct... it's a very complicated problem. I have never thought about the "let's fake a genocide so we can get rid of our government" angle. Yoshi... must be that mushroom enhanced thinking. :) Perhaps we have to face the hard realities that occupations can never work. For example, one's instincts and passions may be to take out the Sudan government. The reality may be that the best course of action is just to be the meanest tribe in the area... that would be the US tactical forces tribe. Our motto.. we don't occupy and take over your country, but we are happy to hunt down and kill rapist and murderers. Who knows.... maybe it really is impossible odds. Something like 800,000 died in Rwanda. Over three million have died in civil wars in the Congo over the last 5 years. What's closest to true human nature... the actions in Africa or actions in the USA? Is that what we all are harboring in the West... it's just dormant because of economic success? Can a society built around individual human rights and self-interest ever really succeed at anything requiring collective effort? Can conscience and reason win over human nature?

So many questions.... maybe Curm has the answers. :)

9:35 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

I think any kind of intervention in Sudan or anywhere else (Iraq) for that matter should be multilateral, and involve the United Nations, or maybe just a regional African coalition of nations.

It spreads out the risk between the whole lot of us that way. Unilateral military action could backfire. Sudan got nervous when there was an international force in Somalia. They thought they were next. It turned out though that we were next.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Suarav,

When I spoke of the historical roots of American foreign policy, I chose a poor turn of phrase. What I am referring to broadly is our posture from entry into the first World War up until a recent point which I will not attempt to fix. In that period I view American contributions to the World political situation as overwhelmingly positive, though I could find some substantial errors and missteps (especially in the Mideast), I think that during that period American motives and approach were commendable. It is to this historical principled leadership to which I suggest we return. Your critique to the contrary would be most welcome and I would love to hear it.

When I suggest this return to the past, it is not to suggest that all our past behavior was just fine.

Prior to the First World War, there is much of which we should be ashamed for sure. Perhaps our recent behavior does in fact hearken back to Manifest Destiny in more fundamental ways than simply practical effect. Maybe your thesis has more truth than I will admit just yet. After all, it is oft said that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But still, I hold out hope-however faint that hope has become-that America can return to a position of leadership rather than dominance. That we can become a force for good from a global perspective and not just our selfish distorted perspective. I hold this hope because underneath all my criticism, I criticize out of a deep desire to stimulate reflection on the part of the American people. I believe, perhaps naively, that Americans believe it when they that say they believe in Liberty. I believe that most of the self-styled patriots that voted for W were sincere in their desire for Iraqi freedom.

Sincerity, however, is not a substitute for sound policy. Sincerity is not a substitute for being a reasonably well informed citizen. And there is no sign that we are going to develop a capable leadership that can leverage sincere hearts to become useful citizens of the larger world.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

First, a quibble. Clinton did not simply lie about sex. He committed perjury in a Federal Court. Clearly criminal. Absolutely impeachable. The whole “he merely lied about sex” is a partisan fiction that obviously strikes a chord with many because I hear the non-sense so often.

What positive do I see in our roots? Well, that is easy really. Probably worth a short essay of some kind actually. I think the foremost thing America has given the World is an example of a successful government built on the principals of human rights from the ground up. I think it is kind of silly to not recognize the role we have played in fostering the movement to freedom around the World. This is not to say we are the sole reason for or the prime agent in that great cause, but rather just to say we have had a large and important part in it. I think too that if you look at how our actions at the end of the Second World War served to help bring peace to Western Europe and our resolute stand against communism helped to bring peace to most of the balance of Europe. Again, we are not alone in deserving credit for that-I am being asked to partially defend America. It is also easy to overlook our civil rights struggle as a positive example for the World. While we have not achieved anything like totally fairness of opportunity, we have struggled toward that goal. Again, I think warts and all we tried to set the tone-for a while at least-for a better and more egalitarian future.

I could go on, but I would rather ask the international readers of the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon what their perspective is. I think their are many example of positive American leadership in the World-particularly through the middle of the Twentieth Century. What do those of you who read from the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Mexico, Australia and elsewhere think?

11:10 AM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

So what are the options to stop the genocide in Sudan?

Military intervention? U.S. (U.N.) troops standing between one group and the other?

-This seems feasible. Put troops on the soil. Don't give them the power to shoot. Just to stand between to Janjaweed and the Darfuri people. They wouldn't even have to shoot, b/c there wouldn't (in theory) be attacks right in front of the U.S. troops. They wouldn't even need very many of the troops, since they are not really serving any purpose but peace-keeping gaurds. The Sudenese government might object less since thier purpose is not to depose their government but simply to protect its citizens.

The other option is to put media attention on any company or country that funds the Sudenese government in any way, and try to hit them in their pocketbook.

11:10 AM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

International Aid story One-fifth actually gets where it's goingHere's some interesting info. Oh how we care.... especially when there is something in it for us. People respond to incentives I guess.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

stilldreamn,

Hey, shoot all the shots over the bow you like. Most folks here can take the heat. If you never read my post on this subject, I did write about it in value of the dollar.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Tony,

"First, a quibble. Clinton did not simply lie about sex. He committed perjury in a Federal Court."

I'm not a Clinton defender, but... he lied in Federal court "about sex"... a court he would have never been in unless the GOP lynch mob hadn't gone way outside the bounds of any legitimate investigation. I'm sure you are one who believes all lies are equal in Federal court... I do not. I'm not saying there shouldn't have been consequences... just that impeachment wasn't one of them.

" Clearly criminal."

Agreed.


" Absolutely impeachable."

Insane. The Senators got it right. Maybe you don't know, but impeachments are about "us"... protecting "us"... and not about punishing a president. I could care less what type of legal punishment happened to Clinton after he was out of office... but I care a lot about deciding when, and when not to put our country through the impeachment process. Clinton lied about sex, and was near the end of his term. It should have been criminal for a GOP lynch mob to force our country through that. It wasn't even a close call on whether the offense warranted our nation going through that. The old GOP elected geezers were held up to the light, and found wanting. If this represented the "judgement abilities" of our leaders, it was obvious we are being led by imbeciles.

" The whole “he merely lied about sex” is a partisan fiction that obviously strikes a chord with many because I hear the non-sense so often."

Facts are a stubborn thing. That is indeed what he lied about.

Get a grip around "impeachments are about us"... and the logic will follow fairly easily. Also add to that equation that the nation pays dearly everytime we go through one of these things. It darn well better be a high crime against the citizens... lying about sex ANYWHERE doesn't even come close. Now I'm sure you are about to give me the "rule of law" sermon. Save your breath/typing... it was a lame defense of the GOP impeachment lynching back then... and nothing has changed.

On the topic of "our honorable past" and "some honorable role of the US promoting freedom around the world".... I recently watched a TV program where they covered our history in the US regarding the lynching of blacks. One one day in 1930, in Waco Texas, the city of Waco turned out in mass to demand the lynching of three black males that were under arrest. These guys (2 of them) were dragged to a tree and hanged. It was a lunch hour, and the entire town came out for entertainment. They have photos of the day. Men in business suits, ladies laughing, kids pointing. What the hell gives us the right to preach to others about the proper definitions of their societies. What a crock for us to proselytize freedom for others. Maybe some other country should have proselytized benevolent dictatorship to us.... maybe a dictator that made it illegal to hang a minority in the public square. I'm pretty sure our #1 export isn't freedom or democracy, but rather arrogance.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Tony,

"First, a quibble. Clinton did not simply lie about sex. He committed perjury in a Federal Court."

I'm not a Clinton defender, but... he lied in Federal court "about sex"... a court he would have never been in unless the GOP lynch mob hadn't gone way outside the bounds of any legitimate investigation. I'm sure you are one who believes all lies are equal in Federal court... I do not. I'm not saying there shouldn't have been consequences... just that impeachment wasn't one of them.

" Clearly criminal."

Agreed.


" Absolutely impeachable."

Insane. The Senators got it right. Maybe you don't know, but impeachments are about "us"... protecting "us"... and not about punishing a president. I could care less what type of legal punishment happened to Clinton after he was out of office... but I care a lot about deciding when, and when not to put our country through the impeachment process. Clinton lied about sex, and was near the end of his term. It should have been criminal for a GOP lynch mob to force our country through that. It wasn't even a close call on whether the offense warranted our nation going through that. The old GOP elected geezers were held up to the light, and found wanting. If this represented the "judgement abilities" of our leaders, it was obvious we are being led by slime.

" The whole “he merely lied about sex” is a partisan fiction that obviously strikes a chord with many because I hear the non-sense so often."

Facts are a stubborn thing. That is indeed what he lied about.

Get a grip around "impeachments are about us"... and the logic will follow fairly easily. Also add to that equation that the nation pays dearly everytime we go through one of these things. It darn well better be a high crime against the citizens... lying about sex ANYWHERE doesn't even come close. Now I'm sure you are about to give me the "rule of law" sermon. Save your breath/typing... it was a lame defense of the GOP impeachment lynching back then... and nothing has changed.

On the topic of "our honorable past" and "some honorable role of the US promoting freedom around the world".... I recently watched a TV program where they covered our history in the US regarding the lynching of blacks. One one day in 1930, in Waco Texas, the city of Waco turned out in mass to demand the lynching of three black males that were under arrest. These guys (2 of them) were dragged to a tree and hanged. It was a lunch hour, and the entire town came out for entertainment. They have photos of the day. Men in business suits, ladies laughing, kids pointing. What the hell gives us the right to preach to others about the proper definitions of their societies. What a crock for us to proselytize freedom for others. Maybe some other country should have proselytized benevolent dictatorship to us.... maybe a dictator that made it illegal to hang a minority in the public square. I'm pretty sure our #1 export isn't freedom or democracy, but rather arrogance.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

On what is true human nature. I take my answer to that question straight from the Bible: human nature is vile and base. Absent redemption through Jesus Christ, there is little hope other than to appeal to man’s self interest. This is the strength of capitalism-it turns man’s inherently contemptible acts toward the common good. So I think the US and Sudan are equally representative. The US is what you get when you have institutions to control behavior. Sudan is what you get when those institutions are inadequate. If you doubt this, look at how easily things breakdown here when we take a hit. Look at our Civil War, which in reality wasn’t all that long ago. Look at how quick we were to jail Japanese descent Americans during WWII. Look at how we have treated Arabs since 9-11. The evil nature is lurking just beneath the surface in men of all nationalities.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Yoshi,

I agree that any humanitarian intervention should be genuinely multilateral. It just makes sense on many levels. I think hitting them in the pocketbook early is a good thing as well. I have to believe that there are some targeted military options as well. Possibly decapitating the Government. Creating a safe haven and acting as the buffer you describe. Perhaps taking out specific paramilitary groups. My point is that I don’t necessarily have the answer as to what to do, but the correct answer is not “nothing”.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

Spare you the Rule of Law rant huh? Why, does it bother you that I am right and your are wrong?

The thing is, you can’t have it both ways. You can be a nation of laws except when they are inconvenient. I totally agree that the Republican witch hunt was a bad thing and should have been stopped. It does not follow that we look the other way when the Chief Enforcer of our law lies in a court. By allowing Presidents to flout the law, we just get more of the same. It is getting worse: how tame does what Nixon did look next to that which is routine today?

Facts are indeed stubborn as should be the rule of law.

1:16 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

I agree "nothing" is not the correct answer.

I am wondering why I don't see more about the situation in the media (honestly I've been out of it for the most part lately.) What exactly is being done about Sudan now in the U.S. and in the U.N.?

It is all very unclear, ambigous, and vague. Maybe someone can break it down and get to the brass tax for us all.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

"This is the strength of capitalism-it turns man’s inherently contemptible acts toward the common good."

Pawaaaa!!! Good one. Let me put a finer point on what I know you mean. Capitalism creates more GDP/Wealth (disproportionately for a few), which provides for a larger revenue source (taxes) for the common good. BUT, make no mistake about it... nothing about Capitalism or the profit motive creates common good. Capitalism creates greater individual income... Government creates common good. Common good equates to acts of collectivism... not individualism. Does increased individual income/wealth reduce common good needs? At this point, I doubt it effects what the common good list is (Social Security, Medicare, etc.)... but it seems logical it could effect funding requirements, particularly if means testing was applied.

btw... Why do you and Yoshi waste your breath on the multi-national thing? Who else in the world is chomping at the bit to help others? I know some still hold some fantasy and romantic ideas that "if we just had better leadership", others would follow. How about some other nation leading for once. You don't have to have the most money to lead.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

Man, this is over reaction day for you. If you had a pony tail, I’d tell you to loosen it.

Capitalism is what it is. It is irrefutable that it provide the greatest common good for a society. That doesn’t mean that it delivers perfect social justice by any means. I consistently state my egalitarianism in terms of limits on liaise faire and reject the collectivist gobbledy-gook of Marxism. Perfect social justice is not attainable with human beings and it will always remain a worthy goal toward which we should continually aspire.

Well, I agree with you up to a point on the multi-national front. I think the entire West is a failure on the humanitarian front. It just so happens that we Americans are so freaking wealthy that we have a disproportionate share of the moral burden. If it is moral to act on humanitarian suffering then it is no excuse that others also fail. Either it is the right thing to do or not. But if you look at the hard data, it looks like the balance of the West does not do significantly more or less than we do-we just have a self-image that we do more than what is the reality.

I guess I’m naive wanting America to be better than all the rest. I still seek the shining city on the hill. I guess deep down, I’m not yet prepared to give that up even though my brain is telling me that the rest of America has already.

4:33 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

You know, we could have some type of proxy force do the job in Sudan.

A regional U.N., the "African Union," could do the job (if it would, it could). Then the U.S. wouldn't be accused of attacking Muslims or World Police or any of that. South Africa, (plus Nigeria, and Egypt) is a fairly rich country, we could throw them a few aircraft and weapons as a reward.

I agree other nations should take an equal amount of initiative. But if they don't then we the U.S. should constantly be reminding them to. This is why I asked if anyone knows much about what the U.N. is doing about Sudan, and what the hold-ups are.

On a related note just to get people talking about Africa's problems in general, I think this is a good idea. Can't tell me that Lance Armstrong stuff didn't catch on, everyone is wearing those yellow bands now. This is a good idea. I might buy a bunch to sell at school, or at a church (but I don't go to church).

Wear the White Band and Start a new trend

6:17 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

by the way,

check out the last few posts on WilderBlog.

Kind of funny. I wonder if Scott will read it.

6:22 PM  
Blogger someone else said...

When I spoke of the historical roots of American foreign policy, I chose a poor turn of phrase. What I am referring to broadly is our posture from entry into the first World War up until a recent point which I will not attempt to fix. In that period I view American contributions to the World political situation as overwhelmingly positive, though I could find some substantial errors and missteps (especially in the Mideast), I think that during that period American motives and approach were commendable. It is to this historical principled leadership to which I suggest we return. Your critique to the contrary would be most welcome and I would love to hear it.I had written an extensive response to this, but the Internet or my network cable decided that it shouldn't be published. I'll try to rewrite an abbreviated version.

Basically, I understand that a soft version of your arguments is that the U.S. government has done more harm than good since entry into WWI. I would argue that if we actually tallied up good vs. bad, both specific and long term policywise, we would see that on foreign polcy, the U.S. government has acted in its narrow self-interests. I'm going to overstate the case somewhat to try to more fully represent the perspective I'm presenting.

William Blum's book Killing Hope gives a compelling list of instances in which the United States has interfered in the affairs of other countries (immorally in his mind) from 1952 to 2004.

Here's a partial rendering of his list (1952-1992):

Angola 1975-1980s
Brazil 1961-1964
Cambodia 1955-1973
Chile 1964-1973
Congo 1960-1964
Cuba 1959-1980s
Dominican Republic 1960-1966
East Timor 1975
El Salvador 1980-1994
Greece 1964-1974
Grenada 1979-1984
Guatemala 1953-1954
Guatemala 1962-1980s
Haiti 1986-1994
Indonesia 1957-1958
Indonesia 1965
Iran 1953
Laos 1957-1973
Nicaragua 1981-1990
Uruguay 1964-1970
Zaire 1975-1978

How many are there that we know about but go unnoticed, because they are part of everyday life (e.g. supporting Egypt's regime with massive military aid while it made terrorists out of the Muslim Brotherhood and repressed its people more generally). I will leave it to you to provide the counterlist of positive steps that the U.S. government has undertaken (which obviously exist and are important).

I would further add that the MO of the US government has been uber self-interested because the legitimacy of the nation-state system vests it with no accountability to people outside its borders. As a result, "collateral damange" has occurred in countless situations in the sins of commission listed above, but also in the sins of omission--the U.S. has used its resources to promote its own economy, militarize, export arms (thereby promoting proliferation), consumerism and essentially sat or exacerbated conditions by while billions of people languished in disermpowerment, poverty, lack of education, without access to good health, and malnourished. For example, it used its resources to promote an arms race in South Asia that costs thousands of people its lives; it also forced privatization and market fundamentalism down the throats of the rest of the world over the last 20 years.

I am not arguing that the U.S. is "evil" or that any other hegemon would have necessarily been better; my point is that my rendering above is closer to a "true" record of the United States as an international institution in its actions than an understanding that would say that the U.S. has done more good than harm.

Being 27, I'm biased towards seeing the world from eyes that start with Reagan and end with Bush (e.g. I can't really evaluate the "threat of Communism"). However, I would note that maybe this counterbalances the relentless nationalism that's propagated by the U.S. government and its institutions and many in the private sector from the day we are born to the day we die.

I obviously welcome a rebuttal:)

5:17 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Saurav,

First, enjoyed the post. The soft version of what I was saying is that from the US’s entry into WWI to some point in the recent past, our net contribution to the World has been positive. But as you partially cataloged, it is not a story of universally positive as the super-nationalists argue.

I think the distinction I am making poorly is that between the motives of our policy makers and the motives of We the People. A big part of what I am arguing is that the American people are not subjectively insincere when they trumpet Liberty and the desire to see classical liberalism spread throughout the World. My argument is that in spite of good intentions, a poor educational system and personal hedonism has blinded them to reality. As I have said, sincerity is no substitute for sound policy.

Indeed, that is the genius of the political device of Nationalism: sincerity makes unwitting accomplices of the well intentioned. It has been exploited by repressive regimes down through the eons. We are blinded by doubly here in America because in addition to the historical pattern of self-delusion regarding our own goodness or superiority, we have also to deal with our own fantastic material success which reinforces that belief. I look at my fellow Americans not so much with disdain, but with pity. In a real sense, we are victims much like is a cocaine addict. Culpable for sure as is the addict for voluntarily taking the first steps down a dangerous path.

I appreciate that you are self-critical enough to see that growing up after the threat of Communism had largely passed might color your outlook. I think that is a real possibility. Having matured in the era of the Ford and Carter administrations, when those threats were real and palpable, my outlook is probably similarly colored in other ways.

I admit freely that much of the credit I give to America that offsets the many negatives we have given the world, stems from November 9th, 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. I grew up in an era where when I laid in bed at night and heard planes overhead, I wondered if the end of Western civilization was nigh and the fall of the wall will always be a landmark event of my life. I do give America a great deal of credit for helping bring that about.

BTW, your list of bad stuff we have done on the international landscape omits two of my favorite examples of how we can be less than perfect: Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion forward (including tacit support for the Taliban almost up until 9-11) and Iraq where we supported Saddam Hussein as a regional counterbalance to the threat of Iran right up until he invaded Kuwait and threatened our well-being. Its almost enough to wax nostalgic over the foreign policy naiveté of President Carter.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

A couple of interesting links to share. The first is an ominous warning on early signs of the fallout from Shrub’s America First policy in The Washington Times. I have shared often on the dangers of driving a wedge between the US and Europe and I still harbor those concerns. I sense that Europe is more anxious than ever to divorce itself from America in the wake of ratifying our recent National stupidity by returning the idiot in the White House for another four years.

And here is another Kristof piece on Darfur.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Saurav and Tony,

Good posts. Tony, I don't think you could have said it any better than the following:

"We are blinded doubly here in America because in addition to the historical pattern of self-delusion regarding our own goodness or superiority, we have also to deal with our own fantastic material success which reinforces that belief."

I agree. I think we start out with an arrogant opinion about ourselves, and then equate our economic success with proof of some moral supremacy. We feel free to export our "supremacy" through proselytizing. I don't think it's our right to proselytize democracy, freedom or religion to other nations. Why is that our business? Seems like we would do better in this world by getting our own house in better order which would provide a better example for others to follow. Dial back the greed and intolerance at home, and export financial aid for poverty and starvation. The world is complicated, but some things seem simple to me. Our lives and future have always been dictated by how we deal with the "have nots"... both here at home and abroad. Human's aren't built in a fashion where they are able to tolerate incredible wealth of the few (nations or individuals). Everyone "want's theirs"... it's just the way we are built. You can talk "personal entitlement, responsibility, harvest, property, etc." until you are blue in the face, and it won't change the practical implications of allowing the "have not's" to fester. Dial up the heat several notches now that we live in a globalized world.

The test has always been straightforward... "How do we collectively take care of the have not's" on the planet. Non-collective means increase wealth, but fail miserably at the test.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

btw... before the usual suspects appear. I use the term "collective" within the context of capitalism... i.e. capitalism+ which includes liberal social justice policy pooled via government. 100% eat-your-own-kill laissez-unfair is never going to get us there.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

CG,

Well, I wouldn’t go as far as you and say we should not export the concepts of liberalism. I just think we shouldn’t be so eager and we should choose those reasonable opportunities wisely. Interestingly, our success stories in that area, Germany and Japan, were multi-lateral efforts and in the process of prosecuting WWII the Allies were not in a moral gray area in terms of the over all purpose to defeat fascism. Things get murkier when Manifest Destiny is your mantra.

What is more interesting is that Americans are surprised that other societies might look at the American Way of Life and not want to emulate it. While I think that most people desire Liberty, they do not necessarily seek the rest of modernity within which we think it must be packaged.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Tony,

I don't blame Europe. Can you imagine the shock Europe must have felt when it came to the conclusion "Bush 43 really IS AMERICA". It's one thing for the US public to be fooled for one term, but to ratify the first 4 year fiasco is probably beyond their comprehension. I live here, and it's beyond my comprehension. I want to distance myself from 43 along with Europe... but of course that is impossible. Europe has a real big problem however.... similar to Canada. They all get to skate on their military budgets. We spend a $1 billion a day on military. We may sell our souls for oil... but many sell their souls to the US military.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Andrew Dunlap said...

Well, I have just made the move to Plankville. The amenities are pretty nice so far. It kind of reminds me of one of those airport lounges like the admiral's club. As many are aware, lots of folks have left wilderville for here. It would have been considerate of Scott to say he was no longer going to maintain the site. So I guess I'll be hanging out here in the lounge. Hopefully, the drinks are free.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Andrew Dunlap said...

ps, hey tony how about some of that home brew you've been cooking?

12:01 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Andrew,

Welcome to my world. Its a bit scary here, but we do have a lot of entertainment value.

As to homebrew, sadly, it has been quite a while since I have brewed. I have recently acquired the parts for a new mash tun so you never know. My personal stock is down to a few bottles of five year old imperial stout that improves every time I sample it. Alas, I am of late confined to more pedestrian beers such as Avery Reverend, Redhook IPA, Samuel Smith in all its fine varieties along with a health supplement of Bass and Sam Adams.

One of the news groups I used to post to (CNN’s Allpolitics-long since defunct) had a thread called “The Rumpus Room” that took the image of a bar scene. That was some fun stuff. I have toyed with getting a generic message board. Maybe I need to think harder about that.

But this brings up the question: should I post more frequently to facilitate discussion. My dabbles in short “what do you think” posts have been successful. I can certainly do that more often if others like the concept.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

Andrew, you will find the guided tours here much better than WilderLand. Now, if we could just get Tony a radio gig. :)

btw... Bass Pale Ale is a recommended food group as far as I'm concerned. I felt like Norm on Cheers when I discovered it... "Honey, I'm home".

1:11 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

I have not been living up to my duty of discussing beer adequately. Perhaps a post on the topic is in order.

A couple of notes for beery-folk.

I recently discovered what I have come to believe is the best commercial beer I have ever had: Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute Imperial IPA. It must be had to be believed. One of the few beers I have ever tried and just sat back and gone “Wow!” Dogfish Head is out in Delaware and the only reason I got to try it was some special arrangement between them and the proprietor of my local watering hole, the Flying Saucer. But, if it is every available to you, it is a must try. I suppose I should add that this is not a beer for the faint of heart: it is 23% alcohol by volume and has hopping rates that must make the accountants weep. Still, it doesn’t come off as overdone like the California Cascade bombs that are so familiar.

On a sadder note, one of the home brewers that frequented here and with whom I had personal correspondence (he never posted a comment) died a little while back. He had been fighting cancer for a while. Kind of personally gut wrenching for me as our ages were not far apart and he left behind some youngsters. I’ll leave him anonymous because he chose not to post here for a reason no doubt, but a loss to me for sure. Those of you who are frequent posters would be surprised, perhaps, to learn there are some regular readers out there who never post. I think this is the nature of these sorts of things. I mention it so that you can have some better idea that these discussions do matter even if the circle of influence is relatively small.


CG,

A radio gig would be good...I'm told that I have just the perfect face for radio.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Common Good said...

23% alcohol by volumeI don't know if the first one would be any good, but it sounds like a lock that you would be loving it by the second. :)

3:13 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Well, if you do the arithmetic a bottle of that is more like drinking 4 or 5 more convential beers. I only drink one...the second one wouldn't be good-I'd be napping before I got half way through.

3:20 PM  
Blogger John said...

Tony-

I'm glad you have this blog. I came over from the unfortunate experiment known as the Wilderblog, per Andrew's recommendation. I hope to learn more about your homebrewing (although I'm a Jack and coke guy), as well as have some rational and thought-provoking conversations.

Anyway, thanks.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

John,

Welcome to my world! Just so you know, I'm more of a Knob Creek kind of guy when it come to Bourbon. Hope you'll forgive me.

4:56 PM  
Blogger yoshitownsend said...

Here is a link to Amazon.com.
This is a book I'm reading now. Order it used or new, it's cheap enough. And it's great for complicating the notions you have about how to fix things in poor countries.....

Elusive Quest for Growth

6:22 PM  
Blogger Andrew Dunlap said...

Actually, I'm a tee totaler. I may consume 2-3 glasses of wine per year. I have RA (rheumatoid arthritis) and consuming alchohol tends to aggravate the condition. But thank God, I'm no longer on steroids. I took them for 10+ yrs. Then I missed my dose one day and called in my prescription. The doctor wanted me to come in for a visit first and 3 or 4 days passed. I felt ok so I just took my aleve. I lost 25-30 lbs. I have now reduced my intake of aleve to a negligible dose. I have had several friends and family members praying for me for yrs. I took the postition that I had RA, but it didn't have me.
As I'm sitting here in the lounge, I do have to agree with the Plankster that there is a slight twinge of racism associated with our policy toward africa. Bush 43 and Clinton are the only presidents in the last 100 yrs to set foot on the continent. Aside from Liberia, we never had any colonial interest in the continent, but left it to the brits, the dutch the french and the germans to rape, plunder and pillage the richest soil on earth. Since we aren't in on the sweet oil deals or the diamond cartel, we pretty much igmore what's happening there. It doesn't appear that the Bush doctrine applies and while we will play lip service to Darfur, that's about it. But what's more amazing is the tepid reponse of american christians. It really exposes how shallow and hypocritical we are. Do you have latte bar in this place?

6:54 PM  
Blogger someone else said...

But still, I hold out hope-however faint that hope has become-that America can return to a position of leadership rather than dominance. That we can become a force for good from a global perspective and not just our selfish distorted perspective. I hold this hope because underneath all my criticism, I criticize out of a deep desire to stimulate reflection on the part of the American people. I believe, perhaps naively, that Americans believe it when they that say they believe in Liberty.This discussion is complicated. First, there's a distinction between evaluating the actions of the American state (read "elite")and the opinions and motives of the people live and participate economically and socially in the United States. I'm not going to engage that here just to keep it brief, but I just want to make sure that it's on the table.

Second, though, at this moment in time, there's the underlying question of the attitudes of the American people towards people abroad (and I'm using American people to mean those that the state is accountable to, in varying degrees, in setting its policy). I think looking at this is very different than evaluating the actions of the state. It's also, for me, more painful. The people who live in this country can be decent, as all people are, but they are also too willing to support state actions that are racist, narrowly tailored to the interests of the United States, controlling, and cynical. Some of the reasons they do this, imo, include: fear; being extremely ill-informed about the rest of the world and their own history; complacency; protectiveness over their assets; racism (soft or overt); a sense of disempowerment; naivete; nationalism; and selfishness. Many of these qualities are shared by other peoples, but some of them are not (particularly the extent of the inwardness, the sunny naivete, the complete and utter lack of interest in historical knowledge and other context, and, to some extent, the landgrabbing racism).

People here probably believe in "freedom" and the United States was a bulwark of civil libertarianism until the War On Terror and it may remain so. However, I think racism is as deeply ingrained in American psyche as moral optimism and fear of the Other and attachment to possessions is ingrained in human nature. When you put all this together, it's sad for me, as an American, to look back on what it has been and is today, compared to what I was told it had been and would be.

Criticism to ask people to reflect is important and, when I'm at my best, I try to do the same; otherwise, we'd all be blowing up buildings (and I'd be writing screeds in favor of greater civility). However, Tony, I don't think your criticism is an honest and deep enough recognition of the extent to which we Americans have done wrong and profited from it. Some of my bitterness comes from a sense of disillusionment about what I was led to believe about the United States, the Founding Fathers, and the very patriotic education that was imprinted on me at an early age by...well...I don't know whom. All those books on freedom and liberty and Thomas Jefferson and the Constitution that I believed in and still do in some part of me--what do they amount to when we don't meet native Americans because they're all dead or see the historical record of slavery and other forms of institutional discrimination because they are whitewashed, when the question of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not up for critical discussion in public spheres, and, most importantly, when there is a complacent and utterly self-aborbed notion that there should be vast inequality among the peoples of the world and Americans should benefit from that and the morally reprehensible notion that this reality is the result of greater worth of American lives?

I'm not advocating one world government but the fact that I feel the need to put this statement in to make sure people know that I'm not reflects the level of discourse in this country.

Why can't Americans have an honest conversation about what is and has been wrong in the world, what their responsibility might be, and (hopefully, eventually) what they might do about it? I think we too often do step 1 poorly and skip step 2 altogether (see Iraq) and move ahead to step 3 with the best and worst of intentions and a very poor plan for getting there.

My two cents.

2:06 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Yoshi,

That book looks interesting. My bookshelf of unread books unfortunately over-floweth at the moment. I am certain, however, that it is much more complex than meets the eye.


Andrew,

I love coffee so building a latte bar should not be a problem. I warn you though, quality does not come cheap and here at the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon, it is ALWAYS about quality.

You raise in my mind an interesting question: does anyone feel like we have any ongoing special obligations toward Liberia? My first reaction is yes, but I have not thought much about it.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Saurav,

I think you and I generally differ on these points more as to degree than specific points. I share your path of having grown up in a super-patriotic environment. It took many years for me to peel away the veneer and see what lies beneath. But I too still believe in the underlying values that drove the Revolution however great the gap between stated values and actual practice may have been. It is this which drives me to write here.

I view American history up until 1969 as a slow but steady progress toward conforming our actions to our ideals. In 1969 we were tearing down the walls of discrimination and taking steps to insure that equality of opportunity would be real but somewhere we got off the tracks of progress. In many ways we collectively seem locked in a mindset that we have “arrived” and little more need be done. We have dumbed down pretty much everything including our ideals and done so to the point that many people sadly believe that this is something pretty close to the ideal.

Why can’t we have an honest national conversation? I have said this many times, but let me say it again plainly: it is because of our abject self-inflicted stupidity. (I need to find a better word than “stupid” because I mean something closer to “ignorance”, but “ignorance” is a pathetic word without any emotional impact.) We have had a collapse of the educational system that has left our population without critical thinking skills. To substitute for reasoned analysis, they turn to simple minded “faith-based” notions such as Freedom and the Two-party System and thus find comfort by hiding amongst the crowds that label themselves Democrat or Republican. Rather than apply their own analysis, they trust the leadership that sport the symbolic badges with which they are most comfortable. And in the haste to simply and bring order to an inherently complex world, they reduce political discourse to sport, and for all their enthusiasm during national political contests, there is no more content behind “W in 04!” than there is in “Go Cowboys!”

As to specifics, I do think we probably disagree on the use of Atomic Bombs during the Second World War. It is indeed a shame to see people shrink from the discussion however because both sides have points that should be discussed in the nuclear age.

9:01 AM  
Blogger someone else said...

Why can’t we have an honest national conversation? I have said this many times, but let me say it again plainly: it is because of our abject self-inflicted stupidity. (I need to find a better word than “stupid” because I mean something closer to “ignorance”, but “ignorance” is a pathetic word without any emotional impact.) We have had a collapse of the educational system that has left our population without critical thinking skills.I completely agree with this statement. However, I take it a step farther, which is why I don't think we disagree simply in degree, but that there's an actual qualitative difference. The collapse of the educational system is part and parcel of an overall collapse in social responsibility, institutions, and civil society. In essence, the last fifty years have rendered American society incapable of understanding the world, and incapable of dealing with it itself.

The causes, I don't know, but I would guess that there are external ones (e.g. geopolitical threat from USSR) has well as significant internal ones (revolt against the civil rights movement, ideological purging, inability to deal with social change, a machiavellian strategy by the rightwing that comes at the worst possible time, the non-existence of a real, socially progressive left, and the breakdown of a decent center in American politics).

As a borderline gen-xer, I'm inclined to blame baby boomers, "left" and "right",--particularly the ones running things--for creating or exacerbating a cuture of self-absorption, but I suspect that I'm scapegoating and there may be a lot of history I'm ignoring that contributed to this particular trajectory of American development-- particularly the total inability of the American state to deal with issues of class.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Tony Plank said...

Saurav,

You said,

The collapse of the educational system is part and parcel of an overall collapse in social responsibility, institutions, and civil society. In essence, the last fifty years have rendered American society incapable of understanding the world, and incapable of dealing with it itself.

With that I agree as well. You can find no better example than the reaction of American Society to 9-11. My oft repeated example was the lack of condemnation of the President calling our campaign in the Middle East a “Crusade”. Now, it isn’t such a big deal that the President said it because that is what we expect of our Dim-Bulb-In-Chief. But the lack of criticism from Americans leaves one dumbfounded.

A better example is how in our national media I have not once seen a news story that discusses how fundamentally different the Islamic view of government is to the Western outlook. I shudder to think of how tiny is that percentage of Americans that understand even superficially the religious and social issue created in Arab countries by having government imposed by non-Islamic people. And I have been astounded over the past two years at the number of times I have been told how utterly idiotic it is to try and under stand the grievances of the Arab people. It is as if there were an American allergy to listening to any point of view with which you do not agree out of fear that you might somehow find yourself infected by wrong ideas.

As far as blame goes, I too have trouble fixing the blame. The roots of the problem go back much farther than fifty years I’m afraid. I often cite this book, so pardon the redundancy, but anyone wishing to get a handle on how America has come to perceive the world through its strange and skewed lenses must read Daniel Boorstin’s book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. He traces the roots of our current world view back into the 19th Century and makes a compelling case that all this has been building for a very long time. This is one of the few books that I would say are a must read in trying to understand contemporary American society. Though it is forty years old, it could have been written yesterday. It is sheer brilliance. It is also a short and quick read.

1:00 PM  

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