'Just World News' by Helena Cobban
Info, analysis, discussion-- to build a more just world.


March 31, 2003  

YELLOW RIBBON SHORTAGE: Yesterday, I wrote that I was going to buy some yellow ribbon and make bows to put on the peace signs in our front yard. So I got to the local craft supplies / "notions" store around 5:30 p.m., and the ribbon department was nearly totally out of yellows. The point of this, you'll remember, was to send a message of support for US troops-- while totally not ignoring the devastation being rained on Iraqi troops and civilians and without diluting at all our family's stand against the war. So all I could find was two spools of very thin (maybe 3 mm.) satin ribbon. I spooled it quickly over the thumb and little finger of my left hand to make multi-looped bows of as much volume as possible. Made four of them. Tied one to each side of each of our yard signs. They looked pretty good as I did them, though when I stepped back they looked a little wimpy. Saturday night, I bumped into my friend "jailbird" Michele at a potluck. (You remember Michele from this post; and this one. She's the person who started the idea of doing an antiwar sit-in in our local Congressman's office on March 20th.) On Saturday she was once again really upset about the war. Her daughter's boyfriend joined the Marines about six months ago. "They lied to him!" she said, again and again, shaking her head in disbelief. "They said he would just be able to learn computers! They said he would never go anywhere near the front line of any war." The young man's recruitment had been a sort of long-drawn-out seduction campaign by the recruiters, who started when he was only 16. ("Only 16! It's an outrage!") Michele and her life-partner had tried and tried to explain to him that there were other ways to learn computers. But the recruiters relentlessly maintained the seduction. He signed up shortly after his 18th birthday. Trained in California. And a few weeks ago was shipped out to Kuwait. ("They lied to him!") Michele said her daughter bursts into tears whenever she thinks about it. I can imagine that young man, and so many other young men and women like him, stranded out there now in a continually threatening "hostile enviornment", in a place where so many pro-war pundits had promised them-- promised all of us-- that the entry of US troops would be "a cakewalk". A cakewalk, by the way, is a sort of fun contest people used to engage in at county fairs here in the US; also, a jazz-era dance. What it is NOT is what those young soldiers have been sent out to endure. Yeah, Michele, they lied to all of us.

posted by helena at 3/31/2003 06:55:00 PM | link


March 30, 2003  

"PRECISION" GUIDED MISSILES? HOW'S THAT? Every time there's a war, the Pentagon assures that, "our missiles have gotten a LOT smarter since the last time." And so now, once again, we're promised that they're using the smartest missiles ever. You'd think, wouldn't you, that if a missile is so darned "smart" then it should be able to arrive at, say, a military headquarters without harming a nearby market-place? But how about this: this time round, the Pentagon has guided missiles that are so unbelievably dumb that they not only miss the intended target building-- they also miss the intended target country altogether!! And this has happened not just once but, according to high-level Pentagon briefer Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as quoted in an article in today's Washington Post, "about seven times." I'm not quite sure what "about" seven radical mis-aims means in this context. But that was the number of times, according to McChrystal, that US Tomahawks and other supposedly "smart" missiles have slammed into countries other than Iraq. At least once into each of Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey and Saudi Arabia were both so pissed off by the phenomenon that they rapidly forbade the US from even flying their Tomahawks over their national terrains. This question of much-dumber-than-promised munitions needs to be taken carefully into consideration when we listen to claims from Pentagon spokespeople about the US conducting this war "in a more surgical way than ever before", or claims that "the military is actually even exposing its own people to significant risks in order to minimize civilian casualties." We need to start with a clear understanding of the lethality of some of these munitions. The "Little Boy" atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima in 1945 had an explosive force equivalent to 10-12 kilotons of TNT. The biggest (and also, reputedly "smart") bombs that the US military is dropping over Iraq these days have an explosive force of 2 kilotons. So six of them would provide the explosive force of one Hiroshima. In Hiroshima, of course, many of the subsequent fatalities came from the after-effects of the radiation released by the bomb. But nearly all of the physical damage caused by the bomb-- the destruction, by fire, of the entire downtown area, and the incineration of the people living there-- came from the sheer force of the blast and the many fires it sparked throughout the city. In Hiroshima, too, the damage was multiplied by the US Air Force's fiendish decision to set the detonation of the bomb to occur NOT when it reached the ground, but some 600 meters up in the air. That distributed the effects of the blast much more broadly. In the case of the US's present arsenal, "air burst" of some bombs including the infamous MOAB has come back into vogue again. So we are talking about some extremely unpleasant and lethal munitions in the US arsenal. Not the kind of "tool" that you would want to give anyone to use irresponsibly. What does "responsible" mean in this context, I wonder? It's a known "fact" of statistics that if a system has a failure rate of X percent, then you can reasonably predict that if you use the system Y x 100 times, you could expect X x Y of those operations to result in failure. So if you know that the guidance system on your "smart" munition is going to fail X percent of the time, then the more missiles you fire, the greater the number of mis-aims. Gosh, this is SO elementary. But then, it's also a known fact of running any kind of complex system, that the more complex its operations become, the greater the chance of human or other error. So as your "Y" value above becomes greater within the same period of time, it ends up multiplying your failure rate by more than a factor of Y. You get my drift. These guys have fired thousands of PGMs into Iraq these past ten days. According to that same W. Post article, McChrystal said that just counting the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles alone, 675 have already been fired. (I think each one costs around $2 million, by the way. So that's $1.35 billion of "our" tax money going whoosh, right there.) And that's not mention the heavy stuff being dropped by the B-52s, and the JDAMS, and everything else. Very complex operations indeed. So it was entirely foreseeable that, in these circumstances, a non-trivial number of these very lethal munitions would end up mis-aiming. In the W. Post article, reporter Jonathan Wesiman wrote: "McChrystal told reporters there is no indication of a serious technical problem with the sea-launched cruise missiles. More than 675 have been launched since the beginning of the war, he said. The failure rate at this point is about 1 percent, and in most instances, the errant missiles did not explode. The warhead on a Tomahawk is not supposed to activate until it nears its target. One Pentagon official said that with a weapon system as sophisticated as a precision-guided cruise missile, a failure rate of 5 percent would be considered 'very good.'" I think these statements from McChrystal and the nameless Pentagon official need unpacking a little. McC accurately did the math to get figure of 1 percent. (That's the figure for the number of Tomahawks that fell on the wrong country, remember-- not just the wrong house, or the wrong city-block.) And we learn that, "in most instances" the mis-aimed missiles did not explode. He notably did not say, "in all instances." That's pretty scary. And then, this un-named guy (okay, I'm just hazarding a wild guess here as to the gender of Wesiman's Pentagon official) says that for something like the Tomahawk, even a failure rate of "5 percent" would be considered very good. How's that again? If you've launched 675 missiles as massively lethal as the Tomahawks, and as "few" of them as 5 percent, that is, 33.75 Tomahawks (or let's say "about" 38 of them) end up going to the wrong place-- the wrong country, say, or the wrong city-block, or even just the wrong building-- then that is not just "acceptable", not just "good", but "very good"?? These people are-- I've said it before-- very dangerous, and criminally insane. It's not just that they treat the rest of us like idiots when they assume we can't do the math on the consequences of very heavy, very complex bombardments with massive munitions. It's that they don't seem even to be able to imagine that the kinds of figure for "failure rates" that they talk about so glibly have actual and devastating consequences on the lives of actual human beings. So let's bring this madness to an end. Please. Let's end the bombing right now. And let's bring our soldiers home before they do any more damage to the world and to their own, already badly damaged psyches. Addendum: Bob Fisk had a story in today's Independent, datelined from the Shu'ale portion of Baghdad, in which he reported on the "at least 62" civilians who were killed by an errant missile there Friday. He reported on a key shard of metal he saw there: The missile was guided by computers and that vital shard of fuselage was computer-coded. It can be easily verified and checked by the Americans – if they choose to do so. It reads: 30003-704ASB 7492. The letter "B" is scratched and could be an "H". This is believed to be the serial number. It is followed by a further code which arms manufacturers usually refer to as the weapon's "Lot" number. It reads: MFR 96214 09. The piece of metal bearing the codings was retrieved only minutes after the missile exploded on Friday evening, by an old man whose home is only 100 yards from the 6ft crater. Even the Iraqi authorities do not know that it exists. The missile sprayed hunks of metal through the crowds – mainly women and children – and through the cheap brick walls of local homes, amputating limbs and heads. Three brothers, the eldest 21 and the youngest 12, for example, were cut down inside the living room of their brick hut on the main road opposite the market. Two doors away, two sisters were killed in an identical manner. "We have never seen anything like these wounds before," Dr Ahmed, an anaesthetist at the Al-Noor hospital told me later. "These people have been punctured by dozens of bits of metal." Can someone who reads this help to track down that "manufacturer", or any other details about the missile? (I'm thinking "ASB" may be air-to-surface ballistic?)

posted by helena at 3/30/2003 11:35:00 AM | link
 

LESSONS FROM AN EARLIER GULF WAR: When US citizens talk about a "precedent" for fighting in the Persian Gulf region, they're almost always talking about "Operation Desert Storm". In that 10-week war in early 1991, the US-led-- but also UN-authorized-- international coalition succeeded in realizing the war's central aim of reversing Iraq's occupation of all of Kuwait and re-installing the Kuwaiti Emir to his throne. What US citizens don't talk about as much-- and many members of them don't even seem to know much about this history-- are two earlier campaigns at and around the northern end of the Gulf that provide very sobering lessons about the present situation. The first of those was the British campaign into Mesopotamia, 1914 - 1918. I wrote about that on JWN, Friday night. The second was what I call the Very First Gulf War of the Modern Era , namely the war Saddam Hussein launched (with some help from the reagan administration) against neighboring Iran in 1980. That war lasted till 1988. Well, I wrote about that war , too, Friday. Some slightly rambly musings. (As I've noted on JWN previously, I sort of "use" this blog like five-finger exercizes to get the old gray cells working.) But in the course of writing that post/essay, I went back into the Christian Science Monitor electronic archive-- which blessedly stretches back to January 1980-- and picked out all the pieces I wrote back in September and October 1980 when I was covering the beginning of that war from the Iraqi side. (My then-husband was, at the same time, covering it from the Iranian side.And our two infant kids were back at home with the nanny in Beirut, where a local militia decided to place a sniper on the roof of our apartment house... It was a totally stressful time.) But back to Saddam's war plans at the time. His idea was to launch an invasion of Iran with the express aim of bringing about regime change there. Since the regime in question was the Iranian revolutionaries, he thought he could count on at least a blind eye from the world's big powers, all of whom hated Ayatollah Khomeini at the time. And how was the Iraqi campaign-- which the lackey media in Baghdad all compared to a famous battle in Islamic history called the Battle of Qadissiyeh-- supposed to achieve regime change? Why, it would sow distrust of the Ayatollahs' regime among the Iranian masses. And concurrently with the launch of the Iraqi military campaign, eager Iranian exile politician Shahpour Bakhtiar had assured the Iraqis-- from his home in so-distant Paris-- that he just "knew" that Iranians of all tribes, classes, and subdivions would almost immediately rise up against Khomeini and overthrow him... I think the war started on the night of September 22-23, 1980. My first file to the CSM from Baghdad was in the September 25 edition of the paper. (It was not particularly insightful or distinguished. More the journalistic equivalent of a postcard home: "Look! I got here!") In the paper of September 29, my reporting was becoming a bit more substantive: The air raid sirens started their ululating screech at 9:20 in the morning this Sunday. The heavy traffic that was building up along the city's wide thoroughfares and its six bridges across the twisting Tigris River was halted almost in its tracks. Civil defense units steered cars into side streets and hurried their passengers into doorways and underground shelters. Barely half an hour later the single note of the "all clear" galvanized the busy city back into life. Despite frequent such air raid warnings -- and false alarms -- spirits remain high, and enthusiasm for the war effort against Iran remains undimmed. The enthusiasm is fanned by a daily diet of motivational material supplied by the state-controlled media. Television has a round-the-clock program of military documentaries... supplemented increasingly in recent days by the national TV's own films of Iraqi infantry and tank units continually advancing into Iranian territory, mainly over reddish-brown sand dunes... By October 1, the atmosphere seemed already to have changed: Leaders of the ruling Baath Party here have changed their tactics in their confrontation with neighboring Iran. But their goal appears to be the same: the speedy downfall of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian regime. The militant statements and military aggressiveness evident here in the past week have been replaced by a new, more moderate image and a slackening of the military effort... The Iraqi armored and infantry [forces] who last week thrust 35 miles into Iranian territory northeast of here are this week standing by, with some apparently being deployed back from the combat areas. In that piece, I reported on a press conference given by Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi, which I described as clearly showing, "a sensitivity to the many other interests being damaged by the continued fighting -- most spectacularly, his [previous] promise that Iraq would try to restore, and perhaps even to increase, former levels of oil output after the fighting ends." I added that similar signs of "senisitivity" had also been shown by President Saddam Hussein in a televised midnight address to the nation: 'We have no dispute with the peoples of Iran,' President Saddam Hussein promised to a slightly bemused Iraqi audience fed hitherto on a daily TV diet of military fervor. We wish all the peoples of Iran well," the President continued... Most significantly, I reported that within hours after that, Saddam announced he was ready for a ceasfire-in-place, and would welcome a diplomatic intervention by the UN to negotiate an end to the conflict. At the time, I reported that my pro-regime contacts in Baghdad were giving the spin that this was a fiendishly clever move by Saddam to try to hoist Khomeini on the petard of his own well-known inflexibility: They seem to be banking on the Ayatollah's own amply demonstrated inflexibility to aid them in the next stage of the game. With Saddam Hussein appearing almost angelically moderate in comparison, he is hoping to line up extra diplomatic and international pressure to bear against the ayatollahs of Iran. From today's viewpoint it is hard to tell whether Saddam's request for a ceasfire was actually a ploy, or whether it was the logical consequence of a realization that may well have started to sink in for his people by then: namely, that there was not going to be any massive anti-regime uprising inside Iran. Be that as it may, what seems important to note as of today is that Khomeini did indeed prove to be inflexible. He did not accede to Saddam's request for a ceasefire-in-place. (Under international law, he was in no way obliged to do so. The Iraqi forces were, after all, still occupying great chunks of his country?) Instead, the Iranian leadership sent human waves of ill-trained young men into the front-line and hurled them against the Iraqi occupiers... It took a further eight years of devastating warfare, and the lives of around a million people both sides of the line, before that war was brought to an end. In my post yesterday, I was focusing mainly on the role the Reagan administration played, giving strategically-timed amounts of help to each of those national leaderships in an evidently successful attempt to keep the fires of conflict stoked and to keep both nations trapped in chronic warfare. And on Bombs-Away Don's particular role in all that. Today, I want to focus more on that terrible strategic miscalculation Saddam made, in september 1980, when he launched the war in the confident expectation that it would be accompanied by a mass, anti-regime uprising inside Iran. I don't think I need to belabor this particular point for you, my alert readers from all over the world... So I think I'll just end up with some other excerpts from my reporting from that war. The first was reported from Qasr e-Shirin, an Iraqi-occupied Iranian-Kurdish town northeast of Baghdad. (It also appeared in the October 1, 1980, edition of the paper. But my surmise is that I'd filed it a day earlier than the piece I cite above.) There are occasional glimpses of the remaining residents of the town, though many have fled back farther into Iranian territory. Half a dozen women wearing printed jackets over basically dark-colored robes are in deep discussion with one tank crew. The women have large (and empty) food pans in their hands. "You should have come here yesterday," says one of the Iraqi officers. "We organized a general distribution of foodstuffs here in the main square, and the townspeople formed a queue that long." He waved expansively. "You see, before the Iraqi Army came here three days ago, the town was cut off from supplies. And the Khomeini agents who were here didn't organize any help for the citizens. "Only the Iraqi Army has helped them," he summed up. "Though, of course, we are not here to stay. It was just to bring Khomeini to his senses that we came here." And then here, from a piece in the October 6 edition of the paper titled, "Across the river, world's largest oil refinery lies in smoldering ruins." This piece was cutely datelined from Siba, a place slightly southest of Basra that has the twin distinction of (1) being the reputed site of the Garden of Eden, and (2) having the un-Edenic distinction of lying right across the narrow Shatt al-Arab waterway from the huge Iranian refinery complex at Abadan. At his headquarters back about a mile from the riverside front line, the volubly friendly infantry captain considered things were "going well." We ate lunch with him there, served by khaki-clad, pistol-toting girl volunteers. "We have right on our side, so we're bound to win," the captain said, as he skillfully dodged questions about actual military dispositions. The situation, as I could ascertain it, was that the Iraqis had virtually surrounded Abadan and nearby Khorramshahr, cutting off at least one of the roads linking them with Ahvaz to the north. But the Iraqis had not yet actually penetrated into the two key riverside cities. They were prevented by the reportedly fanatical resistance of Iranian troops and irregulars defending them, as well as by a reluctance to cause excessive harm to the cities' considerable ethnic Arab populations. Well, I'm sure no-one needs to work very hard to discover the numerous parallels between the Iraqis' situation then, in their campaign against Iran, and the US leadership's situation today, in its campaign against Iraq. It is all so, so tragic, and so unnecessary. I, by the way, am going to go to a store this afternoon to buy some yellow ribbon to put on the anti-war signs in our front yard. In the US, displaying yellow ribbons signifies a concern for troops serving in dangerous places overseas. I hope that mine, as attached to my anti-war yard signs, will send a loud message to the effect of: "Support our troops! Bring them home NOW!"

posted by helena at 3/30/2003 11:11:00 AM | link


March 28, 2003  

GEOPOLITICS OF THE GULF 101: Why are so many Iranians inside and outside the regime taking evident satisfaction at the imbroglio to their west? Had it occurred to anyone in the present US administration that maybe, just maybe, there's a history there? Here's some of what AP is reporting out of Teheran today: "Hundreds of thousands of Iranians demonstrated, denouncing both 'Bush's barbarism' and 'Saddam Hussein's dictatorship'... Demonstrators pelted the British Embassy in Tehran with stones, breaking windows and shouting for the embassy to be closed... The cleric who delivered the Friday sermon that was broadcast on Iranian television, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, said: 'Will bombs and the use of force bring democracy and freedom? It definitely will not.' The worshippers responded with shouts of 'Death to America!' and 'Death to Britain!'' So okay, imagine you're an Iranian. Back in 1978 you had probably, like most Iranians, supported the revolution against the dictatorship of the Shah, though maybe you'd have shared some of the many common reservations about the Islamic theocracy that filled its place. Still, after the excesses and idiocies of the Shah's era, you were probably willing to give the revolutionaries a chance. Then in September 1980, there was a vicious military assault against your country. Saddam Hussein, your militantly secular, Arab-nationalist neighbor to the west sent a nasty expeditionary force into your country-- with the aim of sparking local anti-regime uprisings and bringing down your government. I was there, in Baghdad, at the start of the Very First Gulf War of the Modern Era, in September 1980... [For the rest of this fairly lengthy post, click here.]

posted by helena at 3/28/2003 08:20:00 PM | link
 

THE BRITS SHOULD KNOW BETTER:  The strategic geography of Mesopotamia may seem distant, perplexing, and "exotic" to many in the United States. But, with all due respect to the British military, they should have known better than to let the Bushites take them along for the promised "cakewalk" into Iraq.

The Brits should have known better.  Actually, many Brits do.  Many Brits learned in their (our) history books about the problems encountered by the expeditionary force sent into Mesopotamia by the authorities in British-ruled India.

Those who weren't "lucky" enough to read those books can find out all about it on a good-looking site called First WorldWar.com (ironic subhead-- "The war to end all wars".)  The site even has a special section on the "Mesopotamian front" that lets you click down all the major engagement from the capture of Basra in November 1914 through the capture of Tikrit three years later, and finally, the Battle of Sharqat in October-November 1918.

Basra took the Anglo-Indian force 16days to capture from the Turks.  We learn that,  "In the face of distinctly unfavourable attacking conditions - heavy rainfall and its consequent mud bath, in addition to heat mirages - the British force found progress initially difficult to come by until the use of 18-pounder artillery succeeded in scattering defenders, most of whom escaped under protection of a heat mirage, unable to be pursued by cavalry in such thick mud.

But finally the Brits made it into the city:

In taking Basra the British-led force suffered under 500 casualties and the Turks in excess of 1,000.  Crucially the British had secured and ensured a continuation of oil supplies in the Middle East: a matter of paramount importance.

[Oil supplies were a factor because of the huge refineries in the "Persian" city of Abadan, just across the Shatt al-Arab from Basra.]

After that, slowly--very slowly-- the British-Indian force plodded northward.  The battle reports covering the next 18 months speak repeatedly of problems with supply lines, terrible physical conditions, confusion about the loyalties of various tribes, etc etc.  Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, eh?

Then, in April 1916, came the First Battle of Kut al-Amara. By now, the Brits, who'd been trying to pursue an aggressive strategy of "forward defense" found their garrison of 10,000 troops in that eastern-Mesopotamian city besieged.  They brought up a 30,000-man force to try to relieve it, but in a series of engagements the Turks inflicted heavy losses. "1,200 British casualties were incurred alone on 6 April, with additional losses suffered the next day and on 9 April."

By April 22, the losses among the relieving force had reached 23,000.

"Accordingly Sir Charles Townshend [the British commander of the Kut garrison ~HC], having consulted with higher authority, surrendered unconditionally on 29 April 1916 having failed to purchase parole for his 10,000 men with a £1million offer.

"It was the greatest humiliation  to have befallen the British army in its history. For the Turks - and for  Germany - it proved a significant morale booster, and undoubtedly weakened British influence in the Middle East."

After that debacle, London seized direct command of the front from Delhi, and reorganized the battle plan.  The new front commander Sir Frederick Maude demanded and was given a decent-size force of 150,000 men, and was finally able to re-take Kut in February 1917.  As I recall it, those British POWs from inside the city who still survived at that point were taken out of the city with the departing Turks, but I may be wrong. I certainly have vague memories of stories of some terrible hardships that they suffered.

... After the recapture of Kut, the British had regained their momentum in Mesopotamia. (Which month was it that the Yanks entered the war?)  Anyway, at the end of the day, the Allies "won" that war.  Though it did prove not to be "the war to end all wars."

It was a war, however, that inspired some fine anti-war poetry and prose.  You can find a bunch of that on that website, too.

posted by helena at 3/28/2003 05:52:00 PM | link


March 27, 2003  

CSM COLUMN OUT TODAY; AL-HAYAT COLUMN YESTERDAY: Busy times we live in.  The Christian Science Monitor column was titled "Military occupations - the good, bad, and ugly", which makes me think the copy editor who composed it must have read my earlier lengthy post here by that title...

I wrote the piece Tuesday, and then had a good, productive time working with my editor on it.  I do note, though, that in the layout phase the powers-that-be in Boston sliced up some of the middle grafs into single-sentence chunks.They say they sometimes need to do that to fill white space on the page. I say that it makes me look a little, well, staccato.

Not much reaction to that yet yet.  Talking of "reaction", though, I just signed up on something called Tag-board: once I get it installed into my template here will give me (give us all, y'all and me) a way to do short comments etc.  Fun!

And then yesterday, the latest of my twice-monthly columns came out in al-Hayat, the leading pan-Arab daily out of London.  They don't have an English-language version for me to link you to.  If you read Arabic, you can read it here.

That column, I actually wrote on Wednesday of last week.  A terrible day,because everyone knew that Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam would expire that evening.  And I knew, since I write my columns for them in English and they subsequently have to translate them, that it would almost certainly not appear until after the U.S. had already launched its threatened assault against Iraq.

That piece was titled (in English), "The anti-war movement moves to the next phase".  It attempted to make a sober assessment of the state of the anti-war movement here in the USA. Maybe after a couple of days, once Al-Hayat has milked it of every penny they can in syndication re-sells, I'll put a link to it up here.

(I have this rich fantasy life in which the publications that pay me their mere pittances to produce my wonderful columns for them are then turning around and making vast amounts of money by syndicating the same texts elsewhere.  Who knows, it might even be true?)

posted by helena at 3/27/2003 06:57:00 PM | link
 

BILL SAFIRE GOES BESERK: I think that at heart of the present (and impending) imbroglio in Iraq lies not only a profound moral/ethical miscalculation-- to the effect that problems can be solved through violence-- but also a very profound political miscalculation: the one that predicted with seeming confidence that the Iraqi populace would certainly greet the arriving US troops as "liberators". It is true, and most certainly significant, that there are already signs of deep disquiet, back-biting, finger-pointing, and just general CYA from inside the Pentagon regarding many operational aspects of this war. See, for example, the quotes in Thomas Ricks' really interesting article in today's Washington Post. The piece is titled, simply and ominously enough, "War could last months, officers say." Its lead reads: "Despite the rapid advance of Army and Marine forces across Iraq over the past week, some senior U.S. military officers are now convinced that the war is likely to last months and will require considerably more combat power than is now on hand there and in Kuwait, senior defense officials said yesterday." In the body of the piece, there are numerous quotes, on background, from an un-named U.S. Army general and other un-named administration officials. Ricks also uses on-the-record quotes from retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, and retired war-planning specialist Maj. Robert Killebrew. (Interestingly, much of what Ricks writes about seems to track positively with the excerpts I cited in my post Tuesday, about the Russians' apparently impressive ability to listen in on high-level Pentagon communications... Worth watching this more, I think.) But possibly the funniest (saddest?) part of Ricks' article came near the end when, in an attempt I suppose to beef up the required "balance", he notes that, "Some Pentagon insiders and defense experts vigorously contested these pessimistic assessments." And then, the first of these folks whom he quotes is-- ta-da!!-- Newt Gingrich, the infamously ignorant and mean-spirited former Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives who is now on Richard Perle's just-plain-infamous "Defense Planning Board". (Before Gingrich two-timed his wife Marianne, she was on the payroll of an Israeli settlers' organization, as I recall.) At the heart of the present and set-to-continue strategic/operational imbroglio are issues like how fast the US ground forces should be moving forward, and how hard the US military in general should be bombarding the Iraqi cities. These are tough issues indeed for military planners to make a judgment call on. (And they also have truly heart-wrenching consequences, either way, regarding the life-chances of the combatants and civilians on the battlefield.) But we have to recognize that antecedent to the design of the present US forces' present operational plan was the essential political judgment, as articulated most clearly last week by Vice-President Cheney, to the effect that once they entered Iraq the US forces would be greeted by the vast majority of the Iraqi people "as liberators". That has not happened, and as of now it is highly unlikely that it will happen on any significant scale anywhere in the country (except, of course, in the already long-"liberated" north of the country. But that would be nothing new.) Where did that very grave political miscalculation come from? Cheney and Richard Perle are among the administration (or, administration-linked) officials who have articulated it most clearly. But behind them stands a phalanx of well-connected, extremely rightwing commentators and intellectuals who try to pass themselves off as "Middle East specialists" when the need requires. The very same people who have sponsored Iraqi opposition "leader" Ahmed Chalabi all along -- even though there has been plenty of evidence in the past that Chalabi's claims to be able to speak for and about "all Iraqis" have been grossly exaggerated. Right now, those claims have been ground firmly into the mud that is engulfing many US encampments in the lower Tigris valley. (Sorry about the metaphor confusion there.) So how are these radical rightwing ideologues dealing with the fact that the promised pro-US uprisings have nowhere taken place? First of all, apoplectically. Second of all, by engaging in wild finger-pointing and saying something to the effect that that, "Well, that just proves how repressive Saddam Hussein is, because his people are out there, right now, stomping on all the free souls who would otherwise be doing the uprising... " Actually, since I grew up in England, I have a simpler explanation. I was born in 1952, but my family and community's folk-culture was full of stories of the London Blitz. And the main story-line there was the way that, under intense bombardment from an outside power, Londoners came together despite their many class and political differences and rallied round their national leadership and their national symbols. There are many other examples of that phenomenon in the history of the 20th century. (Stalingrad has already been mentioned in connection w/ Baghdad.) It actually takes an extremely brutal and sustained bombardment of a city to cause its leaders and people to cave... Which brings me to Bill Safire, uber-cheerleader for Ahmed Chalabi (as for Ariel 'Bulldozers-Away' Sharon); and to Safire's truly remarkable and disturbing column in today's New York Times. This column is, disingenuously enough, titled "Help Iraqis Arise". In most of it, Safire puts forth his own feisty version of the argument that "the fact that Iraqis haven't risen against Saddam yet is just further proof of how repressive and heinous he is". But at the end, Safire becomes downright terrifying. He writes, "President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, meeting today, should emulate their World War II predecessors. They should pre-empt proposals for bombing halts and armistices with a ringing statement about the only way to end the war: by unconditional surrender. Change the leaflets and broadcasts. No talks about terms; no amnesties for paramilitary killers; no deals on exile for torturers. Surrender, plain and simple." Excuse me? How would we get such a surrender? Is he honestly proposing the use of the same means that forced the German and Japanese surrenders in 1945? Lest we forget, those means included the fire-bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, and numerous other cities in the two countries -- not to mention the use of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am appalled. Saddened. Horrified. If somebody has such a sick mind that he would recommend following this path today, he needs to be hauled off to DC's fine psychiatric hospital, St. Elizabeth's. Please, someone do this. For all of our sakes. [And next up on JWN: News of my column in today's CSM; and an assessment of how the Iranians are sitting by and enjoying seeing their two sworn enemies slug it out in the mud of Mesopotamia.]

posted by helena at 3/27/2003 08:53:00 AM | link


March 26, 2003  

MILITARY OCCUPATIONS, PART 3 (RE-POST): [Editorial note: I was working on my index, and this post, which was originally posted at 7:17 p.m. last Saturday, March 22, seemed not to have gotten put into either the March 16-22 archive, or the March 23-29 archive. So I'm re-posting it here in the hope that it DOES get archived this time. Plus, I am now PAYING Blogger for their 'Pro' level of service, so they better shape up! Thanks, friends from Blogger! Re-post follows.] I first met Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace activist, in a PLO office in Tunis in the mid-1980s. Uri has sure hung in there over the years! (I saw him at the Tel Aviv offices of his present organization, Gush Shalom/ the Peace Bloc , just last June.) Today, I got an email from GS, in which Uri had penned some very thought-provoking notes about the present US-Iraqi war. Among them were the two notes that follow: [I should note that I'm a little troubled by Uri's apparent recourse to group-stereotyping in the title of the first of these notes. But that's what he chose. And the content of what he writes there is really important. Plus it tracks totally with what I wrote in my recent lengthy screed on comparative military occupations. Anyway, over to Uri... ] # Beware of the Shiites. The troubles of the occupation will start after the fighting is over. Here is a personal story and its lessons: On the fourth day of the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon, I crossed the border at a lone spot near Metulla and looked for the front, which had already reached the outskirts of Sidon. I was driving my private car, accompanied only by a woman photographer. We passed a dozen Shiite villages and were received everywhere with great joy. We extracted ourselves only with great difficulty from hundreds of villagers, each one insisting that we have coffee at their home. On the previous days, they had showered the soldiers with rice. A few months later I joined an army convoy going in the opposite direction, from Sidon to Metulla. The soldiers were now wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, many were on the verge of panic. What had happened? The Shiites received the Israeli soldiers as liberators. When they realized that they had come to stay as occupiers, they started to kill them. When the Israeli troops entered Lebanon, the Shiites were a down-trodden, powerless community, held in contempt by all the others. After a year of fighting the occupiers, they became a political and military power. The Shiite Hizbullah is the only military force in the Arab world that has beaten the mighty Israeli army. Sharon is the real father of the Shiite force in Lebanon. Bush may well become the father of Shiite power in Iraq. The Shiites, 60% of the Iraqi population, have been until now down-trodden and powerless. When they will realize that the Americans intend to stay, they will start a deadly guerilla. Bush does not intend to leave Iraq, as Sharon did not intend to leave Lebanon. Then what? America will argue that Iran, the great Shiite neighbor, is behind the Shiite guerilla. In Iran there is a lot of oil. That�s the next target. # Germany. Germany is against the war. Against any war. In no other country was the anti-war outburst so authentic, emanating from the innermost feelings of the masses. And who is furious about this? Israel, the country of the Holocaust survivors. How do they dare, these damn Germans, to object to the war? A sad irony of history: all German TV stations show citizens, intellectuals and ordinary folk, who pray for peace, all Israeli TV screens show retired generals, obviously enjoying themselves, discussing with great relish how to employ giant bombs and other instruments of death. ... So folks, if you want to see more of what Uri writes, and what his organization does, go to their site. Toda and Shalom, Uri.

posted by helena at 3/26/2003 06:39:00 AM | link


March 25, 2003  

THE RUSSIANS ARE LISTENING? I guess a lot of people around the world have become used to the idea that the US government, or their friends in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, listen in on just about everyone's cellphone and other supposedly private conversations. But now, do the Russians have sophisticated listening capacity that can capture some internal US government communications as well? There's an interesting website called "War in Iraq" -- don't know how long it's been up, but not long-- that posts just-about-daily reports about the US war in Iraq, and gives some excerpts from what purport to be the texts of intra-US contacts as captured by Russia's military intel, the GRU. In an English-language post today, the site says: A particular point of concern for the US command is the huge overuse of precision-guided munitions and cruise missiles. Already the supply of heavy cruise missiles like the "Tomahawk" has been reduced by a third and, at the current rate of use, in three weeks the US will be left only with the untouchable strategic supply of these missiles. A similar situation exists with other types of precision-guided munitions. "The rate of their use is incompatible with the obtained results. We are literally dropping gold into the mud!" said Gen. Richard Mayers [sic-- HC] during a meeting in Pentagon yesterday morning. [reverse translation from Russian] The US experts already call this war a "crisis". "It was enough for the enemy to show a little resistance and some creative thinking as our technological superiority begun to quickly lose all its meaning. Our expenses are not justified by the obtained results. The enemy is using an order of magnitude cheaper weapons to reach the same goals for which we spend billions on technological whims of the defense industry!" said Gen. Stanley McCrystal during the same Pentagon meeting. [reverse translation from Russian] Since the early morning today the coalition high command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in an online conference joined by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. This meeting immediately follows an earlier meeting last night at the White House. During the night meeting with President Bush emergency actions were outlined to resolve the standstill in Iraq. The existing course of actions is viewed as "ineffective and leading to a crisis". The Secretary of State Collin Powell warned that, if the war in Iraq continues for more than a month, it might lead to unpredictable consequences in international politics. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Mayers reported on the proposed actions and corrections to the plan of the operation in Iraq. George Bush demanded that the military breaks the standstill in Iraq and within a week achieves significant military progress. A particular attention, according to Bush, should be paid to finding and eliminating the top Iraqi political and military leadership. Bush believes that Saddam Hussein and his closest aides are the cornerstone of the Iraqi defense. During today's online meeting at the coalition headquarters Gen. Franks was criticized for inefficient command of his troops and for his inability to concentrate available forces on the main tasks. According to [Russian military] intelligence Pentagon made a decision to significantly reinforce the coalition. During the next two weeks up to 50,000 troops and no less than 500 tanks will arrive to the combat area from the US military bases in Germany and Albania. By the end of April 120,000 more troops and up to 1,200 additional tanks will be sent to support the war against Iraq. A decision was made to change the way aviation is used in this war. The use of precision-guided munitions will be scaled down and these weapons will be reserved for attacking only known, confirmed targets. There will be an increase in the use of conventional high-yield aviation bombs, volume-detonation bombs and incendiary munitions. The USAF command is ordered to deliver to airbases used against Iraq a two-week supply of aviation bombs of 1-tonn caliber and higher as well as volume-detonation and incendiary bombs. This means that Washington is resorting to the "scorched earth" tactics and carpet-bombing campaign. I haven't had the time to track the performance of this site very much at all. Are they offering what they purport to offer? Can anyone else give me a lead on this? Aaah, it's been a long time since I really got into Russian-watching. Then, it was called Soviet-watching. My Russian is pretty rusty, but I could make out that a recent posting on their Russian-language mother site, Voyna v'Irake (War in Iraq) was titled, "Analysis: the tactic of David and Goliath". I think everyone recognizes that information, and disinformation, are playing a crucial part in this war. As in all wars-- but maybe more than in most other wars, this time around. The Russian military and the Pentagon both, evidently, have capabilities in this regard. But still, I think I'll try to track this site a bit, see how realistic its analyses turn out to be.

posted by helena at 3/25/2003 08:02:00 PM | link
 

CONTINUING TO ARTICULATE AN ALTERNATIVE TO WAR: Today, I wrote my column on "comparative military occupations" for the Christian Science Monitor. Once again the writing went more quickly because I'd thought most of the text through beforehand. It'll be in the paper Thursday. Meanwhile my visa-ed passport arrived back from the Tanzanian Embassy. Next task: figure out getting the Mozambique one. Plus, where to stay in Maputo, Jo'burg, and Cape Town. I love planning trips! Anyway, last night, Bill, three other U.Va. profs, and I were all on a panel discussion organized by the university's African-American studies center. About the war. Slightly last-minute organizing, so not huge turnout. But definitely bigger than what the Charlottesville Daily Progress (Daily Regress?) reported. The reporter there was correct that the panel had "most of the weight on the left side of the table." But I learned afterwards that at least one other faculty member who would have anchored the other end of the table declined to appear with the rest of us. By the way, the Prog also had a nice report on the High School walkout I wrote about here yesterday. Again, the number of participants was underestimated there. Anyway, in the course of our panel discussion, I really reached some clarity on something I'd been worrying about since the war began. Yes, we know we failed to prevent the war being launched, but what can we in the antiwar movement plausibly say right now? Well, for starters, I already knew that the argument that dissent at home "can harm our troops abroad" is a very dishonest one. It was not us who placed the troops in harm's way. That significant feat was achieved the moment the President decided to launch the war. But of course I care about the wellbeing of the US troops-- as I do for the wellbeing of everyone caught up in that hellzone of war. Now, one thing I did during the 1991 Gulf War, that later I came to think was a mistake, was to adopt the argument that, "since I know that war is brutalizing and ugly, then the best thing all round for minimizing the total amount of harm caused by the war is to hope for a rapid and decisive outcome." I heard that precise same argument being voiced last night by Jim Childress, a distinguished professor of medical ethics here at U.Va. And a version of it also by my spouse. So that reminded me of the many concerns I have had about that argument ever since I used it in 1991. Firstly, it sort of "assumes" that the US is going to win. So one ends up cheering on the effort for a rapid and decisive US victory. That felt strange enough for me to be doing when I did it back then-- yes, I actually wrote columns to that effect, not necessarily with much cheering, but making that exact argument. But at least then, the US war effort had a much stronger basis in international law. The present one doesn't, so cheering it on in any way involves supporting what I see as forces of global vigilanteism. Secondly, it means that one gets emotionally into the danger of eliding the nasty reality of the war, and one gets caught up in planning for the after-war. But I think it's important to resist those temptations In particular, it's important to continue being able to say, today, tomorrow, or any other time before the "end" of this war, that THERE IS STILL AN ALTERNATIVE TO WAR. Even today. Even any other day, whether the news from the battlefield is "good" or bad" from the US military viewpoint. And what I feel quite comfortable saying is that on any one of these days, President Bush can still call for an immediate ceasefire-in-place, and call on the United Nations to help negotiate a resolution to the imbroglio in Iraq. Why not? There is an always an alternative to violence, and I think it is up to those of us in the peace movement to be able to propose what that might be. And we are lucky, oh so lucky, that we still--even if only barely-- have an international body like the United Nations that has the international legitimacy and global networks capable of taking over such negotiations. I should imagine Kofi Annan and the leaders of the vast majority of the world's countries would be delighted to have the U.N. play such a role. (Well, okay, maybe Kofi wouldn't be "delighted", since dealing with the massive pol-mil-humanitarian mess inside the country will be a horrendously difficult task. But I imagine that he would, at least, be ready to shoulder this task; and he'd presumably see that as a course far preferable to watching the violence and destruction just continue.) Of course, I fully recognize that for Prez Bush to make such a turnround is, in the present circs, fairly unlikely. I realize that for the hawks in his administration, such a decision would represent the ultimate defeat of their world-defying strategy. But just because it's unlikely that Bush would heed our call that he stop fighting and turn the issue over to the UN for a negotiated settlement, does that mean we should not utter it, should not organize around it? Of course not! It's equally unlikely in my humble opinion that he'll heed our calls to do the right thing by the health, education, and other social programs inside this country. But does that unlikeliness prevent us from organizing around our demands for the fulfillment of urgent social needs? No, of course it doesn't... So anyway, I was glad to have that bit of clarity come to me last night. Today, though I was writing something I consider to be important (for the CSM) about the after-war, I made sure to put in at least a couple of sentences about the fact that we still, even now, don't need to just stay fatalistically on the war-wagon. And I articulated my still-valid, proposed alternative to continuing the war.

posted by helena at 3/25/2003 03:10:00 PM | link


March 24, 2003  

"THE 17-YEAR-OLD" ASSERTS HERSELF: Yesterday, she was on my case again. "Mom, why do you call me that? It's so demeaning!" I tried to explain it was related to an old joke. But that it was too complex to explain. She carried on. "Besides, in your March 1 post, you talked about the dog having a slipped disk before you said anything about the so-called 'seventeen-year-old' having a bad injury. What's up with that?" Okay, mea culpa. I'm really, really sorry. So folks let me introduce you to: Ms. Lorna Quandt! What's more, Lorna's not just any 17-year-old but a talented young woman who with a bunch of her friends from Charlottesville High School today organized a walkout by 250 students in protest against the war. Read all about it (with pictures!) on George Loper's website. George is a great community activist here in Charlottesville, VA, who has really enriched community life by using his site as a sort of public bulletin board for discussions and news of what's going on around town. The CHS students did a fabulous job of organizing their action; and they did it all on their own. And the school administration and the local police were both also quietly cooperative of the school students getting to exercise their right of free speech... Two hundred fifty students is around 25 percent of the school's student body. When the demonstrators got on the local t.v. news tonight, the ones who were interviewed were all stunningly articulate. And they really spoke from their hearts. The school should be-- probably is-- very proud of them. These are kids, of course, who-- if the war and/or the state of occupation drag on for any length of time-- may well be subject to the draft. The young men among them, that is. But I think they all already know some recently graduated high schoolers who got lured into the military by recruiters who promised them that was the way to get job training, or learn computers, or whatever. So the whole business of the war has a scary immediacy for the high schoolers that it may not have for many of us older folks. Our city only has one high school, which therefore takes in kids from nearly the whole demographic of the city's population. The University of Virginia, which is located here, has a student body that, by and large, comes from a much narrower (= higher-income, more upper-middle-class) demographic. The level of antiwar activism in the high school seems MUCH higher than that among the U.Va. students! In this country, in general, relatively fewer young people from higher-income families than from lower-income families volunteer for the armed forces-- since they have so many other options in life. So maybe the difference in activism levels we see among the young people in our city is related to the level of social/economic privilege that many U.Va. students enjoy, and to their relatively greater isolation from from knowing many people who actually serve in the military. I guess it was the new Oscar winner Mike Moore who noted, in his recent letter to President Bush, that only one serving member of the U.S. Congress has a son or daughter in the armed forces. (MM suggested, too, that Bush should maybe send his own daughters over to join the fray.)

posted by helena at 3/24/2003 08:22:00 PM | link


March 23, 2003  

BLOGGING AS FIVE-FINGER EXERCISES: For some reason, two of my sisters have both expressed a concern that my blogging "might be taking too much of my time". (All three of my sisters live on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean, in England. Sometimes I wonder how much they talk about me behind my [very distant] back, as it were. I don't spend much time speculating about it though, because-- well, you know-- I have a life.) So anyway, my general response to that is that, for me, blogging is like doing warm-up exercizes for my formal writing. (Sorry about the atlantically indeterminate spellings around here.) Case in point: my lengthy thinking-out-loud post last Friday on the subject of comparative military occupations. Today, I needed to consult w/ my editor at the CSM about the topic I would be writing a column on, for a probable spot in this Thursday's paper. "Comparative military occupations" was my main suggestion-- and the one she leaped at. (Leapt at?) Of course, cramming my main points on this into 800 words, while translating the text from blog-ese into CSM-ese, will still be quite a task. But writing the column will be a darn' sight easier because I really have done a lot of thinking-it-through while-- and since-- writing about the subject here. And now to bed. Lots going on around here that I don't have time to write about. But when I go to bed, I start thinking about-- all the poor benighted souls in the hell-zone that the warhawks have turned Iraq into; my Syrian journalist friend Ibrahim Hamidi who got arrested back in December, shortly after I talked with him in Damascus; all political prisoners everywhere-- what is "going to bed" like for them, every night? -- and the tortured souls in Palestine and Israel who seem so incapable of escaping from their ever-turning treadmill of fear and violence. So I just give blessings after blessings that I can have a great home and family in such a calm place as here. We had a wonderful Meeting for (Quaker) Worship this morning. Luminous! And we have daffodils now-- finally-- blooming around the blue peace signs in our front yard... And another blessing: my dear old friend and erstwhile colleague in the Middle East peace-and-justice movement Saad Ibrahim was acquitted last week, by the Egyptian courts, of all remaining charges against him. Hallelujah! (It's over a year now since I wrote a column in Al-Hayat that gently mocked the Egyptian government for continuing to pursue its case against him. I don't know whether that column had much good effect. Let's hope so. Last month, when my husabnd was in Cairo, he got a little bit of time to catch up with our old friend Ahmed Maher, the Egyptian Foreign Minister. AM told Bill that he often reads my Al-Hayat columns with some enjoyment-- but he thinks I'm still "ways too idealistic". That makes me so happy! I would just hate it if some event-- turning 50, say-- had caused me to lose that idealism. Actually, I'm working pretty hard on becoming a Raging Older Woman for Peace, or something.) Whoa. Didn't I say it was time for bed?

posted by helena at 3/23/2003 09:09:00 PM | link


March 22, 2003  

MILITARY OCCUPATIONS, PART 3: I first met Uri Avnery, the veteran Israeli peace activist, in a PLO office in Tunis in the mid-1980s. Uri has sure hung in there over the years! (I saw him at the Tel Aviv offices of his present organization, Gush Shalom/ the Peace Bloc, just last June.) Today, I got an email from GS, in which Uri had penned some very thought-provoking notes about the present US-Iraqi war. Among them were the two notes that follow: [I should note that I'm a little troubled by Uri's apparent recourse to group-stereotyping in the title of the first of these notes. But that's what he chose. And the content of what he writes there is really important. Plus it tracks totally with what I wrote in my recent lengthy screed on comparative military occupations. Anyway, over to Uri... ] # Beware of the Shiites. The troubles of the occupation will start after the fighting is over. Here is a personal story and its lessons: On the fourth day of the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon, I crossed the border at a lone spot near Metulla and looked for the front, which had already reached the outskirts of Sidon. I was driving my private car, accompanied only by a woman photographer. We passed a dozen Shiite villages and were received everywhere with great joy. We extracted ourselves only with great difficulty from hundreds of villagers, each one insisting that we have coffee at their home. On the previous days, they had showered the soldiers with rice. A few months later I joined an army convoy going in the opposite direction, from Sidon to Metulla. The soldiers were now wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, many were on the verge of panic. What had happened? The Shiites received the Israeli soldiers as liberators. When they realized that they had come to stay as occupiers, they started to kill them. When the Israeli troops entered Lebanon, the Shiites were a down-trodden, powerless community, held in contempt by all the others. After a year of fighting the occupiers, they became a political and military power. The Shiite Hizbullah is the only military force in the Arab world that has beaten the mighty Israeli army. Sharon is the real father of the Shiite force in Lebanon. Bush may well become the father of Shiite power in Iraq. The Shiites, 60% of the Iraqi population, have been until now down-trodden and powerless. When they will realize that the Americans intend to stay, they will start a deadly guerilla. Bush does not intend to leave Iraq, as Sharon did not intend to leave Lebanon. Then what? America will argue that Iran, the great Shiite neighbor, is behind the Shiite guerilla. In Iran there is a lot of oil. That’s the next target. # Germany. Germany is against the war. Against any war. In no other country was the anti-war outburst so authentic, emanating from the innermost feelings of the masses. And who is furious about this? Israel, the country of the Holocaust survivors. How do they dare, these damn Germans, to object to the war? A sad irony of history: all German TV stations show citizens, intellectuals and ordinary folk, who pray for peace, all Israeli TV screens show retired generals, obviously enjoying themselves, discussing with great relish how to employ giant bombs and other instruments of death. ... So folks, if you want to see more of what Uri writes, and what his organization does, go to their site. Toda and Shalom, Uri.

posted by helena at 3/22/2003 04:17:00 PM | link
 

MORE ON MICHELE AND GLADYS: So I wrote here Thursday night about the civil disobedience action that some Quakers and others here in Charlottesville undertook that afternoon. What I failed to put in was any part of the lovely statement that Michele Mattioli had prepared, that explained what they were doing. Here are some extracts: We are citizens who oppose war. Killing people is never the way to solve a problem... We love our country, which is full of generous and kind people. We support our troops by doing whatever we can to stop the war and bring them home. Killing and risking death damages these men and women, and we demand an end to the war so we can receive them back into our communities to get on with their lives... Violence only begets more violence, and there are non-violent ways to deal effectively with tyrants. The old world order in which power resided in guns and money is crimbling. Millions of people are standing up to say that true power comes from justice, love and compassion. This new power is welling up and will prevail. During the action Thursday, shortly before the police came, Michele came out of Congressman Goode's office and told the antiwar protesters arrayed outside that she had been a Montessori teacher for more than 20 years. "And I always used to tell my children, over and over and over, 'Don't hit! Don't hit! Use words!'" She got a huge cheer for that. Also, in my earlier post I mistakenly described Gladys Swift as a late-70-something. She is in fact 80. And later, she told me she was really upset that the police refused to arrest her. They put her with the one 16-year-old taking part and only gave the two of them some kind of summons to appear later for a scolding. What kind of ageism is that?? Anyway, I also didn't quite get the end of my earlier post written well. What I should have written was, that if Mr. Goode can't be persuaded to represent his constituents more effectively, why, then maybe at the next election we'll just have to look for Mr. or Ms. Very Much Better!

posted by helena at 3/22/2003 04:00:00 PM | link


March 21, 2003  

FOUND! A WORTH-READING ISRAELI BLOG: From Salam via Diane I found a good-to-read blog by an Israeli. At last! Someone who writes from the heart. She's Imshin. For some reason her blog is called "Not a Fish". Her definition of it is: "The meaningless chatter of your regular split personality Israeli mother trying to make sense of current insanity." But no, Imshin, I don't think it's meaningless at all. It gives a great flavor of what life must be like for you. I found your post about teaching your kids about their gas masks very moving and real. There's lots of other good stuff on there as well. As soon as I dare fiddle with the JWN template again I'll put a permanent link to "Not a Fish" in there. Of course, it would still be great if we could think that the Palestinians in the occupied territories had anything like the gas-masks and other civil-defense preparations and facilities that Israelis have. But still, the situation Imshin writes about is the one that, I imagine, many many Israelis are in.

posted by helena at 3/21/2003 08:14:00 PM | link
 

MORE ON OCCUPATIONS-- JAPAN AND IRAQ: What I forgot to mention in my earlier long screed on comparative occupation-ology was that there's a great article by the historian of modern Japan John Dower, in the current issue of Boston Review in which he elegantly and to my view convincingly debunks the idea that we can make a meaningful analogy between what the American occupation of Japan achieved and what we might expect the American occupation of Iraq to achieve. (In that same issue, there's also my piece on Syria and the prospect of democratization, and a good piece by Neta Crawford on pre-emption.)

posted by helena at 3/21/2003 08:01:00 PM | link
 

MILITARY OCCUPATIONS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE POSSIBLY UGLY: Okay, George Bush has set us on the path of war, and in the days ahead Iraqi people, Iraqi conscripts, the fighting members of the all-volunteer US and British armies and numerous other human groups near and far from the battlefield have, as a consequence, been put squarely in harm's way. I, of all people, don't want to elide that fact. However, soberly speaking, there is every prospect from what we know that the US military will "prevail" militarily. So it is really important to start looking at what comes next... Earlier today, I wrote an incredibly long post that surveyed various military occupations over the past 60 years, judging which seemed to have worked well, and which not... For the whole text of that post, go here. And this was my bottom line: Which leaves us as Americans where? Paying the cost of this occupation ourselves. And we can ask the Israelis how high those costs might be.

posted by helena at 3/21/2003 10:04:00 AM | link


March 20, 2003  

D-PLUS-ONE IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA: Three (or more?) local peace groups here in my hometown had loosely organized that if-and-when the Bushies should launch the war against Iraq, there would be a multi-hour string of pro-peace activities starting with a noon-hour "convergence" at the amphitheater on our downtown mall. But what a rainstorm we had!! Truly, the heavens were weeping with us here today. I had the banner for one of the organizations-- the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice-- stored in my garage. So I thought I should try to get to the amphitheater a little early. When I approached at around 11:55, there were three people huddled under an adjacent bridge. I walked down there with my friend Debra. Over the next 40 minutes, we were joined by an additional 25 or so people who ducked in under the broad bridge with us, shaking the rain off their coats and umbrellas. A couple of other folks had banners or signs. (Our CCPJ banner kept falling over in the rain. Oh well.) It was "engagingly disorganized". Or maybe, just disorganized. Someone had a bullhorn. A couple of us spoke a bit. Then, the plan was to march around the downtown and then "converge" the 1.5 miles along Main Street West to Thomas Jefferson's fabled University of Virginia, where antiwar students would be walking out of classes at 2 p.m. My gosh, the rain was biting, heavy, and cold! (Sorry to whine, but it really was.) The "engaging disorganization" continued as we trooped around downtown. My friend Amzie and I were trying to (wo-)manhandle the CCPJ banner, and we kept getting left behind... At some point, the cold and the wet became debilitating. Besides, I had another appointment at 3 p.m., with our local US Congressman, Virgil Goode. Okay, maybe Mr. Goode wasn't exactly planning personally to meet me there at his office on First Street, just off the downtown mall. But my friend Michele Mattioli was planning to go there then, and lead a prayerful, nonviolent act of civil disobedience to protest Virgil's non-responsiveness to his constituents' concerns regarding the war. Several of us from the Charlottesville Friends Meeting (Quakers) had previously discussed the possibility of civil disobedience to protest the war. I had prayed on the matter at our meeting for worship on Sunday, and then again at Quaker worship sessions Tuesday evening and last night. I still hadn't reached clearness as to whether I had a leading to participate in the c.d. But I was totally clear that I wanted to support Michele and whoever else would be doing it with her. So, shortly after 3 p.m., I arrived at Virgil Goode's office, which is a glass-fronted storefront down there on First Street. Michele was already there, along with three other Quakers, and a few folks whom I only vaguely knew. VG was not there. The place was being staffed by a pleasant female office manager whose name I regret I've forgotten. She seemed calm, though Michele indicated she thought she was a little concerned by this influx of determined-seeming constituents. Nonethless, she (the office manager) dealt with us all civilly enough, and promised to place a call through to her boss in his Washington office. Eventually there were eight or nine of us sitting around in the "seating area." Michele had prepared well. She had called the chief of police to let him know her intentions, and to reassure him that she and any co-protestors would be acting peaceably and take care not to be destructive of anything. It's probably important to note here that Charlottesville's city council voted 4-1 last month to declare the city a City of Peace, and to go on the record as opposing any US attack against Iraq that was not authorized by the UN. The police chief is, as far as we know, a faithful official of the city. The congressional district, however, is far bigger than just the city and includes large chunks of the rural Virginia from around us. That's how we have Virgil Goode as our "Representative" in the US Congress. But he has his home-district office here, inside our city. I was there as a support person. Two or three media people came by to talk as we waited. The call with VG himself materialized quite quickly. He reportedly declined an invitation to go on a speakerphone, which would have allowed a general discussion. But he did agree to speak first with Michele, and then, sequentially, with a four or five of the rest of us. Our friend Herbert (Chip) Tucker engaged him in a good Socratic discussion-- of which, of course, I heard only Chip's questions. But Chip was pressing VG on the question of whether "national sovereignty", the interest in pursuit of which VG seemed to think it was necessary for the US to go to war against Iraq, was an interest that we should suppose the Iraqis themselves also to have... Well, you can imagine that discussion. Virgil Goode gave us some 20 minutes of his time, which we appreciated. I don't think we succeeded in persuading him to move much closer to our views, but maybe we gave him some food for thought. Friendly persuasion is usually, in my experience, a process that takes some time, and some systematic investment in relationship-building; and in this case it may be true to say that none of had really succeeded in building a good relationship with Virgil beforehand. (He served his first few terms from our "Rocky Mount" district here as a Democrat. Then two elections ago he switched to being an Independent. And at the last election he ran-- and once again won-- as a Republican.) We'd ascertained from the office manager that she needed to close the office at 4:30, and that that was the time at which she'd require that we leave. Some of us would do so. For those who chose not to, the police would be called. Shortly before 4:30, we heard shouts and chants echoing down from Main Street. The now-"converged" forces of the city's antiwar protestors and the antiwar students had marched their way back to downtown. Their chants became louder. I guess they knew what was happening on First Street, and were coming down to Virgil's storefront. I honestly couldn't see how many there were-- certainly in excess of 120. Spirited, enthusiastic, and fairly loud. The rain had abated a lot. Some of us took turns going out to speak to the marchers outside. We explained-- a number of times-- the nonviolent, respectful nature of our friends' action. More press turned up. We sang "Amazing Grace" and a couple other songs. Finally the police came too, in about four squad cars and a van or two. By this time, the door to the storefront had been locked. Those who chose to do the action stayed inside; the rest of us were outside. The police stepped through the crowd and into the office. Through the glass we saw them handcuff our friends. And then, to huge cheers from those gathered outside, the civil disobeyers were led out, cuffed, in ones and twos, and were walked down to the police cars... I just now watched the 11 p.m. news on the local TV station. There we all were. The action was well explained by the reporter. And as our late-70-something friend Gladys Swift was led away, the camera lingered on the metal cuffs on her wrists as she made a simple, elegant statement about hoping to be able to save "even one life" with the action... So this is one small story from a small city here in the US "heartland". I know that every city and every locality is different. We here in Charlottesville are blessed to live in a place where our city-level leaders have done a good job of building a strong, caring community, while delivering good-quality public services to the residents and trying to look out--as much as state and national budgets allow-- for the wellbeing of our in-need neighbors. So we have a robust city culture of caring and nonviolent engagement. I guess now, our challenge is to try to persuade more of our neighbors elsewhere in central Virginia and throughout the nation that the ways of caring and nonviolence work better for everyone than the ways of mean-spiritedness, dominance, and violence. And who knows? Maybe in November 2004, we can persuade enough people that even our national government needs to be based on such values?!? We'll start right here, with Mr. Goode. And if he can't be persuaded to adopt our cause, why, then maybe we'll just have to look for Mr. Better. (p.s. Michele, Gladys, and the other civil disobeyers were taken to the magistrates' center, booked for trespass, and released on their own recognizance within less than 2 hours. No word yet on what their fines will be.)

posted by helena at 3/20/2003 07:24:00 PM | link
 

FINALLY GOT THE INDEX HERE FIXED?? I still can't figure what was wrong with the coding Blogger and I had put into the archives for the past couple of weeks, but I went into the HTML and there were some really nasty extra characters in there... I cleaned it up by hand (being a good housewife, heh-heh-heh) and now I think the index WORKS. Please, friends, tell me if you try it and it doesn't. Also, if anyone can figure how or why those extra characters got into the archives there, and how I could prevent that happening in the future-- please let me know!!! Thanks!

posted by helena at 3/20/2003 07:36:00 AM | link


March 19, 2003  

SO IT'S STARTED: The 17-year-old just broke the news to me about the bombing having started. I clicked onto CNN.com. "Mommy?" she said, hanging round my door in her bath-robe. I said, "D'you want a hug?" "No... aw, yes then." We hugged. "I mean," she said, "I feel a lot, lot worse for other people." "Yup. But you know what, I'm afraid the world we're going to be handing over to you and your lot will be a far worse world for everyone, you included. I'm really, really sorry 'bout that. Sorry we screwed up-- " "Did you feel that way, Mom? When you were my age?" "No, really I didn't. When I was your age I felt the world my Dad and his generation were handing over was pretty secure, all in all." "Mom?" "Yes?" "It's okay. You know, I think you and Dad did your best-- " "Yeah, well, we still screwed up."

posted by helena at 3/19/2003 07:08:00 PM | link


March 18, 2003  

A QUAKER SALUTE TO SOLDIERS IN NASIRIYAH: My friend Rick McCutcheon is a Canadian Quaker. In 2000-2001, he and his wife Tamara Fleming served as joint field representatives to Iraq for Quaker and Mennonite service bodies. In the March 2003 issue of The Canadian Friend, Rick has published a recollection of one particularly poignant encounter he had with an Iraqi military unit. I'll post the start of the piece here, with the permission of both Rick and The Canadian Friend: A Quaker Salute to Soldiers in Nasiriyah, by Richard McCutcheon There is a town about 375 kilometers south of Baghdad called Nasiriyah. Tamara and I came to love it while we lived in Iraq, and traveled there several times. Those familiar with the Bible may know it by its biblical name, Ur, the place where Abraham is said to have lived for about 65 years. Someday, when times are different, we have talked about going back to live in Nasiriyah -- just to live with and learn from the people there. To get acquainted, perhaps, with the works of Haboobi, the patron poet of the city, whose statue stands in the center of the round-about in the heart of the town. Nasiriyah is located on the banks of the Euphrates river. The Al-Janoob Hotel, where we stayed whenever we visited Nasiriyah, is on the road that runs along the river. When you exit the front door of the hotel, walk across the road, and pass through a small park not more than 10 meters across, you come to a paved promenade with a low wall running along the river bank. It is a short hop over the wall and down to the water's edge. It's truly a beautiful spot -- I see it in my mind's eye this very moment as I write this sitting at my desk. One morning I woke up quite early. Sleep wouldn't come to me, so I thought I might as well get up. I happen to be an avid amateur photographer. The idea -- perhaps rooted in some romantic notion of the Euphrates -- came to me to go down to the water's edge in the early pre-dawn light to take a picture of the river. I knew that this was not something that I was supposed to do -- that is, to go out on my own, especially in a southern town known for its anti-government tendencies. In retrospect, I might have got the government official who traveled with us into trouble, not to mention my wife and I. But I went ahead and got dressed, slung my old Nikon camera over my shoulder, and headed for the river... Read the rest here.

posted by helena at 3/18/2003 06:25:00 PM | link
 

THE EFFECT OF THIS WAR ON IRAN: Juan R. Cole, who's probably the best informed, sanest, and most articulate person around who writes on Iran, has given me permission to use the following assessment, penned March 17, on JWN. I should add that for his day job, Cole's a distinguished Professor of History at the University of Michigan. It seems to me that the likely scenario in Iran after an American Iraq war is ... that it will rehabilitate nativism and anti-imperialism and help restore the popularity of the hardliners. While one cannot know for sure, it is even possible that the good performance of the conservatives in Tehran's municipal elections was already in at least small part a sign of public concern about a return to U.S. hegemony. When the US was far away, Khamenei's anti-Washington rhetoric sounded increasingly old-fashioned and from another era. With GIs stomping all over Shiite Iraqi areas with large boots, occasionally shooting Shiites, and being in charge of the shrines at Najaf and Karbala, the potential for the US to give offense to Shiite Iranians is manifold. One could imagine enraged Revolutionary Guards slipping over the border to hit US troops, and an escalating series of reprisals and counter-reprisals. Iranians have been politically mobilized during the past 25 years, and cannot be expected to react to such events sanguinely. Some young people may initially welcome the idea of greater US presence in the area, but that is likely to get old fast (remember a lot of Shiites in Lebanon at first thought the idea of an Israeli invasion in 1982 was a good one). The hawks in Washington have failed to come to terms with mass political mobilization as a factor in decolonization. Their basic philosophy is that non-European peoples are easily led and easily fooled. It was the philosophy of the British Viceroys of India in the 1930s and 1940s, and of Anthony Eden and David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s and it was false. (Its falseness is even demonstrated by the hawks' recent humiliating failures in diplomacy at the UN and among world publics). Neocolonial arrangements can sometimes be made with fair success via local proxies, but whenever the veil slips too much and the hegemony becomes revealed as foreign domination, there is trouble. I don't think the American planners of post-war Iraq, who are both incredibly arrogant and incredibly ignorant of history, understand the need for a light touch. And I don't think Iran will react well to a heavy hand.

posted by helena at 3/18/2003 05:57:00 PM | link
 

BUSH CONVERTS TO KEYNESIANISM-- JUST NOT FOR DOMESTIC CONSUMPTION? Among the many unseemly and downright scandalous aspects of this war (which I need not list here), one of the most distasteful has been the spate of reports that the administration is already preparing to hand out large contracts to large U.S. firms, to engage in the "post-war reconstruction" of Iraq. In a good piece in today's NYT, Elizabeth Becker quotes unnamed administration officials as saying the administration is already offering $1.5 billion-worth of contracts to private US companies-- and just $50 million to not-for-profit US groups like Save the Children-- while bypassing the many highly experienced multilateral relief and development organizations almost completely. "Administration officials," she writes, "said it was important to give contracts to American corporations... as a way to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that the United States is a 'liberator' bringing economic prosperity and democratic institutions to their nation." How's that again? Oh, now it's clear. The Iraqis, being "simple, ignorant souls", will presumably have forgotten at that point which foreign power it was that just weeks or days previously had bombed their infrasructure to smithereens. "Relief work," Becker quotes her sources as telling her, "will begin almost as soon as the first bombs are dropped and the military is confronted with Iraqi civilians in need of food, water, medicine and shelter." Alert readers can probably guess the kinds of companies that have been invited to submit bids. Yes, there's Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown Root on the list, along with Bechtel and many others of the "usual suspects." To add perspective to her story, Becker uses some quotes from Frances Cook, a woman who was previously US Ambassador to Oman and is now a consultant to several Middle Eastern companies. Cook's been lobbying (why am I not surprised) for Middle Eastern companies to get some of the contracting action. But actually, the points she makes are fair enough. "They are already screaming in the Middle East-- you call us corrupt, look at you giving contracts to American companies and no one else," she is quoted as saying. Yes, it does all leave a very nasty taste in the mouth, doesn't it? First the Bushies get to gratuitously bomb the country to bits. And then, almost immediately, they sweep in as "liberators", asking for laurel wreaths and a welcome mat because they're handing out contracts to Halliburton to come and fix the plumbing. Elision alert! Elision alert! Did anyone hear a swish as one of the Horseman of the Apocalypse rode through there? He was in there somewhere, I swear. So yes, distasteful. But maybe there's another way to look at it? Couldn't this be the ultimate Keynesian scheme? After all, the British economic guru had famously recommended someplace that, given that government spending is such an effective stimulant for the general economy, it might well make sense for the government to hire one set of workers to dig holes in the streets, and another set to come by the next day and fill them in... Of course, the Bushies would probably rather die than admitting to being Keynesians. John Maynard Keynes-- whose theories helped inspire the New Deal and who networked personally to help bring about the creation of the World Bank-- advocated economic policies directly contrary to the Bushies' favored cure-all of tax cuts for the rich... And the administration is notably not proposing any plans to have these same companies come into US cities and regions and undertake the kinds of large-scale infrastructure-development projects that so much of the country needs... So could we see this entire war-in-Iraq thing as a big Keynesian dig-and-fill-up-the-holes project? Nah. On a horrible day like today, even cute humor doesn't work. War still stinks. It has no redeeming value whatsoever and will only cause further waves of violence to ricochet down through history. Unless, G-d help us all, we can all get a grip and step out of this paradigm of violence and counter-violence.

posted by helena at 3/18/2003 01:22:00 PM | link


March 17, 2003  

BLAMING THE FRENCH: This seems to be one of the slightly underhanded tactics that's emerged from the Trio Con Brio summit over the weekend. It was certainly a fairly strong theme in Bush speech tonight. And there's buzz from London that Blair might try to exploit the anti-French prejudice that's still strong in the UK to shore up his very shaky position. The main gist of the argument is that it's the fault of the French that the Anglo-Saxon warriors didn't get their eminently sensible, eminently flexible etc resolution through the Security Council. That if those darn' Frenchies hadn't had "the Gaul" (sorry about that) to announce their veto upfront, all those members of the putatively saleable six would have come singing along to Foggy Bottom for their respective payoffs, and the Anglo-Saxons would at least have gotten the "moral victory" of a strong-majority vote of nine members for the Blair/Bush resolution in the SC, even if the vote did not in the end prove veto-proof. I think this argument is as weak and dishonest as many of the other arguments the warhawks have come up with over recent months. First, it relies on an unproven assumption that Angola, Cameroon, Chile, etc, could all have been bought. Baloney. As I wrote before here, the French looked set to do pretty well with the three African SC members. And by all accounts, the Chileans were pretty well pissed by the news accounts of NSA SIGINT operations at the UN that raised all their engrained fears that US intelligence agencies were once again interfering in their country's democratic processes... Secondly, this argument makes it seem like it was grossly unfair of the French to have showed their hands even before the vote was taken. Well, grow up. There were two dozen or more SC draft resolutions from the Reagan era on that sought to curb some of Israel's excesses in the Occupied Territories, that the U.S. vetoed-- and in many of those cases it had announced its intention to veto very early during the negotiations. For some of those resolutions, the US 'no' vote stood quite alone, against 14 'yes' votes. So if, on something they feel very strongly about, the French-- whose veto in the UN is every bit as "legitimate" as Washington's-- should choose to use the veto, and to announce their intention to do so fairly early on-- well, that's how the game gets played in the security Council... Or it did, until recently. Plus, of course, did I mention that the US has wielded its veto far, far more frequently over the years than have the French. I've increasingly had the feeling that the whole UN process has been at best a diversion for the Bushies, while at worst they have been quite prepared to hold it hostage and threaten its viability as they've girded up for their fight-to-the-death against Saddam. Many of the Bushies and their supporters have expressed open contempt for the organization and have seemed openly gleeful that it has "proved" (to them, at least) its dysfunctionality this time, yet again. It was Maureen Dowd who in her great March 5 column in the NYT, "What Would Genghis Do?", revealed that in August 2001, the suits in the Pentagon commissioned a study of the strengths and weakness of previous stand-alone world empires... Well, if a new Anglo-Saxon "Rome" should emerge from the ashes of the ever-closer war, I know that I for one will want to line up with that feisty Gallic resistant, Asterix.

posted by helena at 3/17/2003 07:50:00 PM | link
 

A RWANDAN PROTESTS: Heck, this is one of many things I meant to post recently but forgot to. It's from Isidore Munyeshyaka, who contributes to a Rwandan-affairs group I'm in. He was responding to Ari Fleischer's invocation of the UN's failure to act to prevent genocide in Rwanda in 1994 as a stick to beat the UN 'round the head and neck with, in order to help excuse bypassing the UN on attacking Iraq. (Also invoked: Kosovo.) "Madeleine Albright who was then the US Representative at the UN lobbied the UN and urged it to treat the genocide of Tutsis as inter-ethnic massacres!" Isidore recalls, quite correctly. "While now to attack Irak, they have dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops to the Gulf in preparation of the imminent war, they [the US government of that time] voted for scaling down the contigent of the then 'toothless' UNAMIR! in Rwanda." (Actually, I think it was worse than that. I seem to recall reading in Sam Powers' excellent account of US decisionmking during those ghastly weeks of genocide that the Clinton administration was in favor of dismantling UNAMIR altogether. It was only the heroic commitment of Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander on the spot, that succeeded in keeping any elements of the force on the job at all. And those few hundred who did stay there-- in contravention of Clinton and Albright's clear policy directives-- succeeded in saving thousands of lives of threatened Rwandans.) "Bush and Blair -- or any leader of the time -- should feel ashamed," Isidore wrote, "and should never evoke Rwanda to explain their unjustified war against the people of Irak!" He ends up, unpacifically, "I wish hell and fire!" But you get the gist of his complaint, I'm sure. On March 12, Gerald Caplan, the author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, the report of an international panel that investigated the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda, published an article along exactly these same lines in the Toronto Globe & Mail. Read it here. I guess I'd gotten used to the Bushies ignoring the facts, twisting the evidence, generally misusing the tools of reason in their drive to drive us into this war. But I think this attempt to exploit the tragic history of Rwanda for their own political ends marks a new low.

posted by helena at 3/17/2003 12:41:00 PM | link


March 16, 2003  

PRE-EMPTIVE MOURNING: Someone in the peace movement-- I forget who-- called for a "week of pre-emptive mourning" this week. I'm certainly in the mood for that. I have intimate knowledge of two wars: the Lebanese civil war, and (the early months of) the "Very First Gulf War" of the modern era, that is, the one Saddam started in September 1980 when with the tacit support of the Americans he invaded Iran. Ho, did he think that one would be cakewalk! It turned out not to be: eight years and maybe a million killed between both countries before he was able to extricate Iraq from the mess. Same thing with Ariel Sharon, when he launched Israel's largescale invasion of Lebanon in 1982. I wasn't there for that one-- I had already made it to the "land of the free, and the home of the brave." But I watched aghast from my home in Boston as Sharon's forces pulverized the very neighborhoods of Beirut where until just 15 months previously my kids and I had been living. It took successive Israeli governments 18 years, and many thousands more casualties both sides of the line, before they could extricate themselves from that... So I guess you could say I developed a view of war that it's a sticky, oleaginous affair. Easier to get into than out of. Clausewitz famously said that "War is an extension of politics by other means. Many warhawks have interpreted that as somehoe providing a permission to naturalize war-- "Hey, war's not so bad! After all it's just an extension of politics by other means!" But I think they fail to get at a deeper truth embedded in Carl von C's dictum: namely, that what determines the success or failure of a "war" effort over the longer haul is not the technical military aspects on the battlefield, but the success of the politics of war termination. By that measure, of course, both those earlier campaigns soon came to be viewed as very damaging failures. But for now, all the pain, all the suffering, all the craziness that will be this war still lie ahead. Its imminence terririfes me. Tonight, at 7 p.m., I went out with my husband and daughter to place candles along the front of our property line, as part of the "Global Village" action of urging peace. That was two hours ago. I guess our candles have guttered out-- though folks living in the Rocky Mountain states should just be lighting theirs. What more could we do than what we have done to prevent this war? Evidently we could have done more, been more effective. But we weren't. Now, given that it is just about to start, we need to shift from thoughts of "preventing" the war to thoughts of "halting" the war. Yes, the expectation is that the "shooting" part of the war may be pretty short-- though there is no foretelling at all the scale of casualties that it inflicts, even if it lasts only a few days. (See my posts, here and here, on the theory of 'Shock and Awe.') But the main "shooting" part of it will by no means be the whole part of the war. After that come "mopping up" and "pacification" -- both of them phases in which casualties can be extremely high, outcomes fluid and uncertain. Then comes "peacemaking and reconstruction"-- hah! by no means a foregone conclusion. And even then, if everything seems to be going along very well inside Iraq, what you'll have is a massive US-led expeditionary force sitting there in the heart of Mesopotamia come fall, perhaps still loaded with war materiel, and a huge temptation to "turn right at Baghdad" and head on over into Iran. Or "turn left", and deal with Syria... Temptations, certainly. That's not to say the Bushies will necessarily give into them. But there have been enough rumblings from house think-tanks like AEI etc., to the effect that, "once we've dealt with Saddam, then it'll be the turn of the Iranians and Syrians", that the people who run those countries certainly have to be worried. (I saw that Syria's President Bashar al-Asad was visiting Teheran today.) And even if the Bushies don't decide immediately to turn against Iran or Syria, the presence of the huge American force inside Iraq will in itself be a major new factor in the strategic balance of that whole, strategically vital region, and therefore, of the whole world... So what am I mourning this week? I am mourning first of all, all the civilians whose lives will be lost or damaged forever as a result of this quite gratuitous war. Then, I am mourning the combatants on both sides who will perish or be disabled for life. Most Iraqi combatants are conscripts: in a sense, they deserve extra compassion because of that. The US combatants signed up as "volunteers". That is, they knowingly and voluntarily signed onto a profession in which they knew that part of the job description was to kill and to run the risk of being killed... But I have heard enough stories about young Americans who joined the military only "sorta-kinda" understanding what the military's job description was, but joining mainly to learn a trade, or to get solid benefits like health insurance that, shockingly, our country doesn't guarantee to people in civilian life. Anyway, if you die in a mass of mangled flesh or see your buddy dying that way, the "reason" you signed into the military is not terribly important any more. The shocking fact of human mortality, human vulnerability is what remains. So I mourn them all. But much, much more than that: I am sorrowful for all the many, quite unpredictable, cascade effects this war will have. The polarizations between peoples; the hatred and desire for revenge that will be kindled in so many hearts; the erosion of so many people's dreams of the possibility of a tolerant and compassionate world... It could have been so different, after 9/11, if enough Americans had taken from that terrifying episode a "lesson" of the vulnerability and interdependence of all the world's peoples, a "lesson" of the need for increased international understanding. Actually, I believe that a very good proportion of Americans took those lessons from what happened on 9/11. I believe a good proportion of them/us still want to hold to such a dream, today. I read a poll on AOL today that said that 47 percent of Americans support going to war without a new UN resolution; 13 percent are opposed to going to war at all at the prresent time; while 37 percent said they supported going to war only with a new resolution. If you add up the latter two categories-- and you see that Bush is going to launch this war without a new resolution-- then you'll see that there's an excellent base, even here in American public opinion, for continuing to build the movement to stop this war. Yes, I'm sure there'll be a little rise in support for the Prez once the shooting starts. That's the natural thing to expect. But the antiwar movement must continue to build. And as it does so-- here's the important part-- it has to become much, much more than just an antiwar movement: it has to become a movement that holds out a much better, more ethical and hopeful vision of what the world can be. Better, more ethical, more hopeful-- not just than this stunted, fearful view of human existence that the Bushies hold out to us. But better than the way the world has been until now! No more tolerating a world in which some states are allowed to have nuclear weapons and the clout that goes with them, while some states aren't. No more tolerating nuclear weapons at all! No more tolerating a world in which a hdanful of rich countries make and enforce the trade rules for everyone else. No more tolerating a world in which millions die every year from preventable causes. No more tolerating the waging of war, and the producing and stockpiling of the weapons to wage it. No more domination of the global discourse by the citizens of a few rich countries. An equal voice for all! Yes, we can dream these things-- And now, now that President Bush, the most powerful man in the world, has seemingly decided to upset the whole structure of the inter-state system we've seen in the world since 1945, I think we should formulate our response to his unilateralism and aggressivity with an approach that is just as bold as his, but on our side of the ledger. So I'm mourning this week, yes. But at the same time, I am not paralyzed by sadness. I'm energized by the possibilities that still lie ahead.

posted by helena at 3/16/2003 06:12:00 PM | link
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