SELECT A MONTH:
I just noticed that they put up my contribution on Images Against War. Unfortunately, they didn’t print my little statement so, I guess, nobody will ever get what the photo is about. The photo shows the window of a deserted coffee shop near “Ground Zero” in downtown Manhattan in December 2001. It’s cross-processed, hence the weird colours. I picked the photo as a sad reminder that those people who lost their lives in the “Twin Towers” are now only remembered for one purpose: To justify war, and thus more destruction.
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You can fake lots of things so why not fake taking photos with a Lomo? The obvious answer - true for many things you can fake - is: Because it’s no fun. But that’s a different story. (link thru thingsmagazine.net)
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I rarely link to music even though it is very important for me. I listen to music a lot. Lately, I have been mainly listening to two German groups, To Rococo Rot and Tarwater. Their labels have a few songs you download for free - the songs go very well with looking at that contemporary German photography I linked to over the past few days.
To Rococo Rot: From Dream To Daylight, Telema, Mit Dir In Der Gegend
Tarwater: All Of The Ants Left Paris, Tarwater vs. Rechenzentrum - Treptow
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“Everyone who values optical/mechanical perfection and robustness will love the LEICA MP. By means of the use of high-grade materials and complex fabrication processes, the MP is designed for extreme longevity. The MP is independent of batteries and all its operating elements are made of metal, so that it withstands heavy duty use under extreme conditions.” (link)
If I still had the money I’d buy me one right away.
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Mike Perkowitz went on a tripto Japan and took lots of photos. Certainly interesting to look at, even though I personally find the presentation a bit messy.
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“I was the political counselor at the US Embassy in Athens then, 45 years old, running a section of some eight people. My mission was to advise the US ambassador on how best we could, as President Bush’s personal representatives in Greece, promote and defend US interests. As the war became inescapable, so, too, became my catastrophic conviction that I could either represent the president or defend US interests, but I could no longer do both.” (full story)
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I tried to find photos by the Bechers but I wasn’t too successful. Here are some of their water towers, above you can see some of the frame-work houses. The Goethe Institute has a nice bio and some notes on their work: “Founders of a new German school of Sachlichkeit , or objectivity, the uncompromising way they have catalogued the twilight of the industrial era has been seen by many as a homage to, or a glorification of, western industriality. Perhaps. Looking a little further, one can begin to see inconsistencies and slippage in a parody of a catalogue of the real.” (at the very bottom of that page, there are three links to photos)
PS: It’s quite interesting that the word “objectivity” isn’t a completely exact translation of the German word “Sachlichkeit”. Maybe I’m too anal about it (you might think) but in being that I am actually following that kind of concept to a certain extent. Of course, I can’t come up with a better translation. Maybe you can understand it like this: When you meet a German you’ll note that they are almost a tad too deadpan about things. I’ve noticed that non-Germans think Germans simply have no sense of humour but that’s just a simplifying misconception. I remember I once made a somewhat absurd joke in front of my advisor in grad school - a Brit - and he thought I was being serious. He just couldn’t imagine a German would say something like that, with a deadpan expression, and joke at the same time.
There’s a lot of Sachlichkeit in many Germans. You state things the way they are and that’s it. Of course, it’s somewhat absurd if a German tries to explain something like that - how could you ever make sense talking about yourself? - but maybe you got an idea of what this is all about.
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Following up on an earlier entry about Thomas Ruff, here is an interesting article from artnet.com about Thomas Ruff with more details about his work and background in general. I think the author’s reference to German painter Gerhard Richter is very important.
Thomas Ruff is teaching at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and you can look at his students’ portfolios here. And there are more examples from Ruff’s “Nudes” series” here and here (note: the latter link sometimes is a bit flaky).
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These days, August Sander is my favourite photographer. He’s most well-known for his portraits which I find nothing but amazing. They’re even more amazing when you consider that when he started doing them this particular style of portaiture - something we take for granted now - was pretty much despised. People didn’t want to see their real faces, they wanted idealized portraits, and photographers spent a lot of time retouching their work. In the end, Sander ran into trouble when the Nazis came to power. His portraits simply didn’t agree with what the Nazis thought of the Germans, and, of course, they didn’t want to see gypsies or other “Untermenschen” portrayed.
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“It’s rather amusing that we are exactly halfway in scale between an atom and a star in that it would take as many human bodies to make up the mass of the sun as there are atoms in each of us.”
Unlike yours truly, Sir Martin Rees is a well-known and very smart astronomer. This article about him is a very interesting read.
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I don’t think Robert Fisk is very popular in the US, at least not in those circles which currently hold the power and which just launched, as we all witnessed, war on Iraq. Robert Fisk has been dealing with the Middle East for a long time and he went to Iraq to cover the invasion. In a sense, I’ve always thought that Robert Fisk was a little bit of an old-school journalist because he uses to get very upset when he notices injustice - regardless of who is responsible for it. Contrast that with those people, especially on US television, who now are claiming to be jorunalists! Anyway, here is a long interview with Robert Fisk, done by Amy Goodman. A recommended read or, if you want, listen (there is a link to Democracy Now! where they have streaming audio).
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A nice page with lots of photos. Not even close to being really there I guess.
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A huge gallery of photos with plenty of rarely seen ones.
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The US Transportation Security Administration has just published guidelines about what to do with film on an airport. Excerpts:
You should remove all film from your checked baggage and place it in your carry-on baggage. The X-ray machine that screens your carry-on baggage at the passenger security checkpoint will not affect undeveloped film under ASA/ISO 800.
If the same role of film is exposed to X-ray inspections more than 5 times before it is developed, however, damage may occur. Protect your film by requesting a hand-inspection for your film if it has already passed through the carry-on baggage screening equipment (X-ray) more than 5 times. […]
At the passenger security checkpoint, you should remove the following types of film from your carry-on baggage and ask for a hand inspection:
Film with an ASA/ISO 800 or higher
Highly sensitive X-ray or scientific films
Film of any speed which is subjected to X-ray surveillance more than 5 times (the effect of X-ray screening is cumulative)
Film that is or will be underexposed
Film that you intend to “push process”
Large format film
Motion picture film
Professional grade film
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An American expert in Islamic art tries to measure the cultural devastation caused by the Baghdad museum looting.
By Karen Croft
April 17, 2003 - Linda Komaroff is curator of Islamic art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she put together the current show, “The Legacy of Genghis Khan,” in collaboration with Stefano Carboni of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That show, which opened April 13 and runs through July 27, focuses on the cultural effects of the Mongol invasion and the fall of Baghdad in 1258. Salon spoke with Komaroff by phone about the cultural, historical and aesthetic significance of the recent looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.
What was your first thought when you heard of the museum looting in Baghdad this past week?
I thought it was devastating. The Baghdad museum collection included Islamic art, but it’s known for its antiquities.
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Ernst Haas was one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century. Well-known for his colour photography, he also did a lot of b/w work. Make sure you spend some time on the website, it’s a real feast for the eye.
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Amazing how they can protect oil fields but not cultural treasures of one of the cradles of civilization
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Various people have claimed that the beginning of the Iraq War marked a defeat for the peace movement. And now that the war seems to be over even more people will claim that what’s going on in Iraq is a defeat of the peace movement. Neither of these claims is true.
First of all, a movement for peace and justice cannot be defeated. It is a fairly simple historical fact that peace and justice will prevail eventually. It might take some time, maybe a long time. But once the genie is out of the bottle there’s no way to put it back. Likewise, in a fairly similar way, often a movement for peace and justice cannot really win. The struggle for peace and justice is pretty much an open-ended struggle. Throughout history and on most continents peace has always meant the absence of war. It’s more realistic to treat it as such. There will never be a paradise on Earth where wars are impossible and where there is eternal justice. One needs to be realistic about this. Striving for peace means to be aware of all chances for violence. Likewise, striving for justice means to be aware of all those people who want to restrict justice.
But shouldn’t the peace movement at least be happy about the end of war in Iraq? Let’s assume that there really is an end to and let’s assume there will be no Afghanistanization of Iraq with a puppet government installed and with wide-spread misery and no progress outside of the capitol. Yes, the peace movement should be happy about an end of war in Iraq. It means ordinary Iraqis will not have to worry about being turned into heaps of charred flesh called collatoral damage. Iraqi conscripts will not have to worry about being killed and the same goes for foreign troops in Iraq. Everybody should be happy about this. Everybody should also be happy about the fact that Saddam Hussein is not in charge any longer - regardless of what happened to him.
All that, of course, doesn’t change the simple fact that the war did not change any of the arguments against it. It was an illegal war, to a shockingly large extent based on fabrications. Until now, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. We will probably never know whether there were any because, as Russia already indicated, even if some might turn up over the next few weeks there will always be people who claim they were planted there by foreign troops. The US and Britain simply don’t have neither the moral authority nor the credibility to convince anybody they found something - in particular since they really have to find something to persuade the world there was a reason for the war.
But maybe they’ll just stop talking about those weapons and focus on how good it is that Saddam Hussein is gone. How could we disagree with that? The thing is, though, that even though we all agree that he’s gone is good, that doesn’t mean we support the means. Before the war, the peace movement said many times that it deplored Saddam Hussein. So the fact that he is gone doesn’t really change anything because the means were and still are illegal. And they brought death to thousands of innocent people and even more destruction to an already ruined country. On top of that, the US, once one of the democratic role models in the world, is now widely regarded as a bully who only cares about its own interests. Relations between Russia and the US, both if which could destroy the entire planet, have cooled of to pretty low levels. What kind of achievement is that? Do those so-called neo-cons in Washington really think they can be proud of what they did?
There are more achievements to watch: Who will be installed as ruler in Iraq? Will there be democratic elections? Or will the country end up like Kuwait, which has been under military law for over a decade now? Will the people of Iraq finally be able to sell their oil to re-build the once developed country? Or will foreign (American and British) companies take over and create neo-colonial circumstances? Will the US contribute ro re-building Iraq or just forget about allocating funds for it (like in Afghanistan)? Will Israel be able to continually violate all the UN resolutions which were supposed to help Palestinians? And will it be unaccountable for its huge arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? How come those are not a threat for world peace? What about the appaling human-rights violations in Israel’s occupied territories? What about North Koreas weapons?
There are many many more such questions, more than before the war, and the sheer fact that many of these questions are questions which potentially could lead to another war makes them all important for the peace movement. The world has not become any safer after the Iraq war - quite on the contrary. Today, President Bush already “warned” Syria, Iran, and North Korea about weapons of mass destruction. Isn’t it a pretty safe assumption - giving Bush’s track record - that in a few months time there’ll be a lot of talk of waging war on one of those countries to overthrow a dictator (the US public wil be made believe that dictator was responsible for 9/11) and to destroy those dangerous weapons? There’s an election coming up in 2004, and the US economy isn’t doing too well…
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The U.S. Betrays Its Core Values
by Günter Grass
BEHLENDORF, Germany — A war long sought and planned for is now underway. All deliberations and warnings of the United Nations notwithstanding, an overpowering military apparatus has attacked preemptively in violation of international law. No objections were heeded. The Security Council was disdained and scorned as irrelevant. As the bombs fall and the battle for Baghdad continues, the law of might prevails.
And based on this injustice, the mighty have the power to buy and reward those who might be willing and to disdain and even punish the unwilling. The words of the current American president — “Those not with us are against us” — weighs on current events with the resonance of barbaric times. It is hardly surprising that the rhetoric of the aggressor increasingly resembles that of his enemy. Religious fundamentalism leads both sides to abuse what belongs to all religions, taking the notion of “God” hostage in accordance with their own fanatical understanding. Even the passionate warnings of the pope, who knows from experience how lasting and devastating the disasters wrought by the mentality and actions of Christian crusaders have been, were unsuccessful.
Disturbed and powerless, but also filled with anger, we are witnessing the moral decline of the world’s only superpower, burdened by the knowledge that only one consequence of this organized madness is certain: Motivation for more terrorism is being provided, for more violence and counter-violence. Is this really the United States of America, the country we fondly remember for any number of reasons? The generous benefactor of the Marshall Plan? The forbearing instructor in the lessons of democracy? The candid self-critic? The country that once made use of the teachings of the European Enlightenment to throw off its colonial masters and to provide itself with an exemplary constitution? Is this the country that made freedom of speech an incontrovertible human right?
It is not just foreigners who cringe as this ideal pales to the point where it is now a caricature of itself. There are many Americans who love their country too, people who are horrified by the betrayal of their founding values and by the hubris of those holding the reins of power. I stand with them. By their side, I declare myself pro-American. I protest with them against the brutalities brought about by the injustice of the mighty, against all restrictions of the freedom of expression, against information control reminiscent of the practices of totalitarian states and against the cynical equations that make the death of thousands of women and children acceptable so long as economic and political interests are protected.
No, it is not anti-Americanism that is damaging the image of the United States; nor do the dictator Saddam Hussein and his extensively disarmed country endanger the most powerful country in the world. It is President Bush and his government that are diminishing democratic values, bringing sure disaster to their own country, ignoring the United Nations, and that are now terrifying the world with a war in violation of international law.
We Germans often are asked if we are proud of our country. To answer this question has always been a burden. There were reasons for our doubts. But now I can say that the rejection of this preemptive war on the part of a majority in my country has made me proud of Germany. After having been largely responsible for two world wars and their criminal consequences, we seem to have made a difficult step. We seem to have learned from history.
The Federal Republic of Germany has been a sovereign country since 1990. Our government made use of this sovereignty by having the courage to object to those allied in this cause, the courage to protect Germany from a step back to a kind of adolescent behavior. I thank Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, for their fortitude in spite of all the attacks and accusations, from abroad and from within.
Many people find themselves in a state of despair these days, and with good reason. Yet we must not let our voices, our no to war and yes to peace, be silenced. What has happened? The stone that we pushed to the peak is once again at the foot of the mountain. But we must push it back up, even with the knowledge that we can expect it to roll back down again.
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“Many years ago, at Bletchley Park near Oxford where the German security code ?Enigma? was deciphered during the second world war, an elderly English gentleman at a security policy conference asked me where I hailed from. ‘Cologne’, I said. ‘Oh, I bombed it,’ he answered.
“Trying to change the conversation, I ventured that I was born in the little East German town of Kî’œhen. ‘Oh, I bombed that too,’ he said. I remember those bombs very well. What did he expect me to say? ‘Thank you for liberating me from Hitler’? I will never forget my mother?s fear-stricken face during those moments in the basement of our house, as the sounds of explosions moved closer and closer. We survived: others did not.
“The bombing of Germany shortened the war. What it did not do was to shift the German people?s allegiance away from Hitler. No doubt he was privately cursed for the prevailing misery, but the immediate blame for the bombings was not transferred to the Nazis until the war was definitively over. The same psychological pattern is becoming evident amongst the bombed citizens of Baghdad and Basra, although they clearly do not identify with Saddam Hussein?s regime as closely as the Germans did with Hitler?s.”
(by Michael Naumann, continued here)
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War itself is venal, dirty, confusing and perhaps the most potent narcotic invented by humankind. Modern industrial warfare means that most of those who are killed never see their attackers. There is nothing glorious or gallant about it. If we saw what wounds did to bodies, how killing is far more like butchering an animal than the clean and neat Hollywood deaths on the screen, it would turn our stomachs. If we saw how war turns young people into intoxicated killers, how it gives soldiers a license to destroy not only things but other human beings, and if we saw the perverse thrill such destruction brings, we would be horrified and frightened. If we understood that combat is often a constant battle with a consuming fear we have perhaps never known, a battle that we often lose, we would find the abstract words of war—glory, honor and patriotism—not only hollow but obscene. If we saw the deep psychological scars of slaughter, the way it maims and stunts those who participate in war for the rest of their lives, we would keep our children away. Indeed, it would be hard to wage war.
For war, when we confront it truthfully, exposes the darkness within all of us. This darkness shatters the illusions many of us hold not only about the human race but about ourselves. Few of us confront our own capacity for evil, but this is especially true in wartime. And even those who engage in combat are afterward given cups from the River Lethe to forget. And with each swallow they imbibe the myth of war. For the myth makes war palatable. It gives war a logic and sanctity it does not possess. It saves us from peering into the darkest recesses of our own hearts. And this is why we like it. It is why we clamor for myth. The myth is enjoyable, and the press, as is true in every nation that goes to war, is only too happy to oblige. They dish it up and we ask for more.
War as myth begins with blind patriotism, which is always thinly veiled self- glorification. We exalt ourselves, our goodness, our decency, our humanity, and in that self-exaltation we denigrate the other. The flip side of nationalism is racism—look at the jokes we tell about the French. It feels great. War as myth allows us to suspend judgment and personal morality for the contagion of the crowd. War means we do not face death alone. We face it as a group. And death is easier to bear because of this. We jettison all the moral precepts we have about the murder of innocent civilians, including children, and dismiss atrocities of war as the regrettable cost of battle. As I write this article, hundreds of thousands of innocent people, including children and the elderly, are trapped inside the city of Basra in southern Iraq—a city I know well—without clean drinking water. Many will die. But we seem, because we imbibe the myth of war, unconcerned with the suffering of others.
Yet, at the same time, we hold up our own victims. These crowds of silent dead—our soldiers who made “the supreme sacrifice” and our innocents who were killed in the crimes against humanity that took place on 9/11—are trotted out to sanctify the cause and our employment of indiscriminate violence. To question the cause is to defile the dead. Our dead count. Their dead do not. We endow our victims, like our cause, with righteousness. And this righteousness gives us the moral justification to commit murder. It is an old story. […]
The coverage of war by the press has one consistent and pernicious theme— the worship of our weapons and our military might. Retired officers, breathless reporters, somber news anchors, can barely hold back their excitement, which is perverse and—frankly, to those who do not delight in watching us obliterate other human beings—disgusting. We are folding in on ourselves, losing touch with the outside world, shredding our own humanity and turning war into entertainment and a way to empower ourselves as a nation and individuals. And none of us are untainted. It is the dirty thrill people used to get from watching a public execution. We are hangmen. And the excitement we feel is in direct proportion to the rage and anger we generate around the globe. We will pay for every bomb we drop on Iraq.
(“The Press and The Myths of War” by Chris Hedges, full text here)
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The Reason Why
by GEORGE MCGOVERN
[from the April 21, 2003 issue of The Nation]
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“The Charge of the Light Brigade”
(in the Crimean War)
Thanks to the most crudely partisan decision in the history of the Supreme Court, the nation has been given a President of painfully limited wisdom and compassion and lacking any sense of the nation’s true greatness. Appearing to enjoy his role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces above all other functions of his office, and unchecked by a seemingly timid Congress, a compliant Supreme Court, a largely subservient press and a corrupt corporate plutocracy, George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule.
He treads carelessly on the Bill of Rights, the United Nations and international law while creating a costly but largely useless new federal bureaucracy loosely called “Homeland Security.” Meanwhile, such fundamental building blocks of national security as full employment and a strong labor movement are of no concern. The nearly $1.5 trillion tax giveaway, largely for the further enrichment of those already rich, will have to be made up by cutting government services and shifting a larger share of the tax burden to workers and the elderly. This President and his advisers know well how to get us involved in imperial crusades abroad while pillaging the ordinary American at home. The same families who are exploited by a rich man’s government find their sons and daughters being called to war, as they were in Vietnam—but not the sons of the rich and well connected. (Let me note that the son of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson is now on duty in the Persian Gulf. He did not use his obvious political connections to avoid military service, nor did his father seek exemptions for his son. That goes well with me, with my fellow South Dakotans and with every fair-minded American.)
The invasion of Iraq and other costly wars now being planned in secret are fattening the ever-growing military-industrial complex of which President Eisenhower warned in his great farewell address. War profits are booming, as is the case in all wars. While young Americans die, profits go up. But our economy is not booming, and our stock market is not booming. Our wages and incomes are not booming. While waging a war against Iraq, the Bush Administration is waging another war against the well-being of America.
Following the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the entire world was united in sympathy and support for America. But thanks to the arrogant unilateralism, the bullying and the clumsy, unimaginative diplomacy of Washington, Bush converted a world of support into a world united against us, with the exception of Tony Blair and one or two others. My fellow South Dakotan, Tom Daschle, the US Senate Democratic leader, has well described the collapse of American diplomacy during the Bush Administration. For this he has been savaged by the Bush propaganda machine. For their part, the House of Representatives has censured the French by changing the name of french fries on the house dining room menu to freedom fries. Does this mean our almost sacred Statue of Liberty—a gift from France—will now have to be demolished? And will we have to give up the French kiss? What a cruel blow to romance.
During his presidential campaign Bush cried, “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” As one critic put it, “He’s got that right. He’s united the entire world against him.” In his brusque, go-it-alone approach to Congress, the UN and countless nations big and small, Bush seemed to be saying, “Go with us if you will, but we’re going to war with a small desert kingdom that has done us no harm, whether you like it or not.” This is a good line for the macho business. But it flies in the face of Jefferson’s phrase, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” As I have watched America’s moral and political standing in the world fade as the globe’s inhabitants view the senseless and immoral bombing of ancient, historic Baghdad, I think often of another Jefferson observation during an earlier bad time in the nation’s history: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
The President frequently confides to individuals and friendly audiences that he is guided by God’s hand. But if God guided him into an invasion of Iraq, He sent a different message to the Pope, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the mainline Protestant National Council of Churches and many distinguished rabbis—all of whom believe the invasion and bombardment of Iraq is against God’s will. In all due respect, I suspect that Karl Rove, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—and other sideline warriors—are the gods (or goddesses) reaching the ear of our President.
As a World War II bomber pilot, I was always troubled by the title of a then-popular book, God Is My Co-pilot. My co-pilot was Bill Rounds of Wichita, Kansas, who was anything but godly, but he was a skillful pilot, and he helped me bring our B-24 Liberator through thirty-five combat missions over the most heavily defended targets in Europe. I give thanks to God for our survival, but somehow I could never quite picture God sitting at the controls of a bomber or squinting through a bombsight deciding which of his creatures should survive and which should die. It did not simplify matters theologically when Sam Adams, my navigator—and easily the godliest man on my ten-member crew—was killed in action early in the war. He was planning to become a clergyman at war’s end.
Of course, my dear mother went to her grave believing that her prayers brought her son safely home. Maybe they did. But how could I explain that to the mother of my close friend, Eddie Kendall, who prayed with equal fervor for her son’s safe return? Eddie was torn in half by a blast of shrapnel during the Battle of the Bulge—dead at age 19, during the opening days of the battle—the best baseball player and pheasant hunter I knew.
I most certainly do not see God at work in the slaughter and destruction now unfolding in Iraq or in the war plans now being developed for additional American invasions of other lands. The hand of the Devil? Perhaps. But how can I suggest that a fellow Methodist with a good Methodist wife is getting guidance from the Devil? I don’t want to get too self-righteous about all of this. After all, I have passed the 80 mark, so I don’t want to set the bar of acceptable behavior too high lest I fail to meet the standard for a passing grade on Judgment Day. I’ve already got a long list of strikes against me. So President Bush, forgive me if I’ve been too tough on you. But I must tell you, Mr. President, you are the greatest threat to American troops. Only you can put our young people in harm’s way in a needless war. Only you can weaken America’s good name and influence in world affairs.
We hear much talk these days, as we did during the Vietnam War, of “supporting our troops.” Like most Americans, I have always supported our troops, and I have always believed we had the best fighting forces in the world—with the possible exception of the Vietnamese, who were fortified by their hunger for national independence, whereas we placed our troops in the impossible position of opposing an independent Vietnam, albeit a Communist one. But I believed then as I do now that the best way to support our troops is to avoid sending them on mistaken military campaigns that needlessly endanger their lives and limbs. That is what went on in Vietnam for nearly thirty years—first as we financed the French in their failing effort to regain control of their colonial empire in Southeast Asia, 1946- 54, and then for the next twenty years as we sought unsuccessfully to stop the Vietnamese independence struggle led by Ho Chi Minh and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap- -two great men whom we should have accepted as the legitimate leaders of Vietnam at the end of World War II. I should add that Ho and his men were our allies against the Japanese in World War II. Some of my fellow pilots who were shot down by Japanese gunners over Vietnam were brought safely back to American lines by Ho’s guerrilla forces.
During the long years of my opposition to that war, including a presidential campaign dedicated to ending the American involvement, I said in a moment of disgust: “I’m sick and tired of old men dreaming up wars in which young men do the dying.” That terrible American blunder, in which 58,000 of our bravest young men died, and many times that number were crippled physically or psychologically, also cost the lives of some 2 million Vietnamese as well as a similar number of Cambodians and Laotians, in addition to laying waste most of Indochina—its villages, fields, trees and waterways; its schools, churches, markets and hospitals.
I had thought after that horrible tragedy—sold to the American people by our policy-makers as a mission of freedom and mercy—that we never again would carry out a needless, ill-conceived invasion of another country that had done us no harm and posed no threat to our security. I was wrong in that assumption.
The President and his team, building on the trauma of 9/11, have falsely linked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to that tragedy and then falsely built him up as a deadly threat to America and to world peace. These falsehoods are rejected by the UN and nearly all of the world’s people. We will, of course, win the war with Iraq. But what of the question raised in the Bible that both George Bush and I read: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul,” or the soul of his nation?
It has been argued that the Iraqi leader is hiding a few weapons of mass destruction, which we and eight other countries have long held. But can it be assumed that he would insure his incineration by attacking the United States? Can it be assumed that if we are to save ourselves we must strike Iraq before Iraq strikes us? This same reasoning was frequently employed during the half-century of cold war by hotheads recommending that we atomize the Soviet Union and China before they atomize us. Courtesy of The New Yorker, we are reminded of Tolstoy’s observation: “What an immense mass of evil must result…from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating what may happen.” Or again, consider the words of Lord Stanmore, who concluded after the suicidal charge of the Light Brigade that it was “undertaken to resist an attack that was never threatened and probably never contemplated.” The symphony of falsehood orchestrated by the Bush team has been de-vised to defeat an Iraqi onslaught that “was never threatened and probably never comtemplated.”
I’m grateful to The Nation, as I was to Harper’s, for giving me opportunities to write about these matters. Major newspapers, especially the Washington Post, haven’t been nearly as receptive.
The destruction of Baghdad has a special poignancy for many of us. In my fourth-grade geography class under a superb teacher, Miss Wagner, I was first introduced to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the palm trees and dates, the kayaks plying the rivers, camel caravans and desert oases, the Arabian Nights, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (my first movie), the ancient city of Baghdad, Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent. This was the first class in elementary school that fired my imagination. Those wondrous images have stayed with me for more than seventy years. And it now troubles me to hear of America’s bombs, missiles and military machines ravishing the cradle of civilization.
But in God’s good time, perhaps this most ancient of civilizations can be redeemed. My prayer is that most of our soldiers and most of the long-suffering people of Iraq will survive this war after it has joined the historical march of folly that is man’s inhumanity to man.
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Washington comes up with something new: “The Bush administration has devised a strategy to declare victory in Iraq even if Saddam Hussein or key lieutenants remain at large and fighting continues in parts of the country, officials said yesterday. The concept of a ‘rolling’ victory contemplates a time — not yet determined — when U.S. forces control significant territory and have eliminated a critical mass of Iraqi resistance. U.S. military commanders would establish a base of operations, perhaps outside Baghdad, and assert that a new era has begun. Even then, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers would remain to help maintain order and provide humanitarian assistance.” (link)
So first it’s all about WMDs and then - as those WMDs just won’t show up - it’s all about liberating Iraqis and then - as those happy Iraqis won’t show up - it’s evil Saddam Hussein who, we were told just a few days ago, was even worse than Hitler and now - as Saddam Hussein just won’t show up - it could be over even if Saddam Hussein was still running around. I wonder what’s next.
PS: I’m glad they found Baghdad. At least something they promised was there! Phew!
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I admit I never read USA Today which supposedly is a newspaper. One of the first things I learned when I came to the US was that you refer to it as “McPaper”. However, today, I came across an article from USA Today which is so absurd and ridiculous that I have to give excerpts here:
Strain of Iraq war showing on Bush, those who know him say He’s said to be ‘burdened,’ tense, angry at media, second-guessers
By Judy Keen
WASHINGTON — The public face of President Bush at war is composed and controlled. On TV and in newspaper photos, he is sturdy and assured, usually surrounded by military personnel. But those choreographed glimpses of Bush’s commander-in-chief persona don’t tell the whole story. Behind the scenes, aides and friends say, the president’s role is more complicated and his style more emotional.
People who know Bush well say the strain of war is palpable. He rarely jokes with staffers these days and occasionally startles them with sarcastic putdowns. He’s being hard on himself; he gave up sweets just before the war began. He’s frustrated when armchair generals or members of his own team express doubts about U.S. military strategy. […]
Friends say the conflict is consuming Bush’s days and weighing heavily on him. ”He’s got that steely-eyed look, but he is burdened,” says a friend who has spent time with the president since the war began. ”You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I worry about him.”
Bush is juggling a lot more than projecting the image of a confident commander in chief. He’s a prosecutor who quizzes military officials about their backup plans when things go awry on the battlefield. He’s a critic who sees himself as the aggrieved victim of the news media and second-guessers. He’s a cheerleader who encourages others not to lose faith in the war plan. He’s a supervisor who manages the competing views and egos of top advisers.
The president reads newspapers first thing in the morning, flipping through some of them while he’s still in the White House residence instead of waiting for clippings assembled by aides. Through the day, he regularly watches war coverage on the nearest TV, which is in the private dining room next to the Oval Office. He knows when heavy bombardments of Baghdad are scheduled and sometimes tunes in to see them. […]
News coverage of the war often irritates him. He’s infuriated by reporters and retired generals who publicly question the tactics of the war plan. Bush let senior Pentagon officials know that he was peeved when Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the Army’s senior ground commander in Iraq, said last week that guerrilla fighting, Iraqi resistance and sandstorms have made a longer war more likely. But Bush has told aides that he wants to hear all the news from the front — good and bad. [..]
Bush believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time, says Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a close friend who talks with Bush every day. His history degree from Yale makes him mindful of the importance of the moment. He knows he’s making ”history-changing decisions,” Evans says. But Bush doesn’t keep a diary or other personal record of the events that will form his legacy. Aides take notes, but there’s no stenographer in most meetings, nor are they videotaped or recorded.
It’s widely assumed that one reason Bush wants to rid the world of Saddam Hussein is to complete the mission his father, former president George Bush, began in 1991. The senior Bush led a coalition to eject Iraqi troops that had invaded Kuwait, but knowing that the U.N.- backed alliance was formed solely to liberate the country, he decided against going on to Baghdad to remove Saddam from power. People who know both men say this war isn’t about vengeance. ”It’s not personal,” one Bush aide says.
Rather, the president’s passion is motivated by his loathing for Saddam’s brutality, aides say. He talks often about his revulsion for Saddam’s use of torture, rape and executions. He is convinced that the Iraqi leader is literally insane and would gladly give terrorists weapons to use to launch another attack on the United States.
The thought of another assault on the United States horrifies Bush. Aides say he believes history and heaven will judge him by his ability to prevent one. […]
In the first days of the conflict, the president’s aides said he was leaving the details of war planning to his generals. Then, fearing that he might seem too uninvolved, they began describing him as interested in all the specifics.
That’s how the White House message has shifted, but the bottom line is that Bush is an active manager and defender of the war plan. He and Rumsfeld spread out maps of the war zone in their meetings. Bush wants to know where U.S. troops are, where they’re headed, what weapons are being used and how the enemy is faring. He rebukes and then bucks up aides who question the tactics, pace or human costs of the war. […]
Bush is not an expert on military tactics, but he’s getting an education from Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was an Air Force combat pilot in Vietnam.
In briefings, Rumsfeld says, Bush ”will frequently say ‘Excuse me’ and then bore in on something: ‘What about this? What about that? If this occurs, what would be the approach you take?’ … In probing, he also pushes, pushes people to think about things that he does not know whether or not they have thought through.”
Rumsfeld says Bush was equally involved in the planning before the first missiles fell on Baghdad. Because he knew what was coming, Rumsfeld says, the president was prepared for complications, mistakes and losses. ”There is nothing that has surprised him that I know of,” Rumsfeld says. […]
On March 17, before he delivered a 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam, Bush summoned congressional leaders to the White House. They expected a detailed briefing, but the president told them he was notifying them only because he was legally required to do so and then left the room. They were taken aback, and some were annoyed. […]
Bush copes with anxiety as he always has. He prays and exercises. Evans says his friend has a placid acceptance of challenges that comes from his Christian faith.
”He knows that we’re all here to serve a calling greater than self,” Evans says. ”That’s what he’s committed his life to do. He understands that he is the one person in the country, in this case really the one person in the world, who has a responsibility to protect and defend freedom.” […]
Bush has imposed an almost military discipline on himself. Even though he’s as lean as he was in college, he decided just before the war that he was unhappy with his running times, which were slowing from his preferred pace of 7.5 minutes or less per mile.
So Bush gave up his one indulgence: sweets. It worked; he’s losing weight and improving his time.
When Bush doesn’t find time to run three or four miles a day, he still works out. He uses an elliptical trainer, lifts weights and stretches. Exercising regularly, he says, gives him time to think, improves his energy and helps him sleep.
He also carves out time for family and friends. He still goes to bed by 10 p.m. and has asked his wife, Laura, to stay close to home. His daughter Barbara and his college friend Roland Betts, a New York business executive, also were with him at Camp David the first weekend of the war. He talks several times a week with his father and mother. He still tells a joke or teases an aide occasionally.
The president’s friends and family fret about him, but advisers say the pressure doesn’t seem to be getting to him. ”He’s not one of those people who blows with the wind,” Rumsfeld says. ”He has a very good inner gyroscope, a stabilizer that keeps him centered.”
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Today, I read that in a book called “The War Over Iraq” Bill Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan ask “Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?”
The answer, of course, is very simple. The Soviet Union also had “sound principles and high ideals”, in fact very high ideals. But there was a lot wrong with Soviet dominance and even those high ideals didn’t turn out to be that high. Just ask those East Europeans. Or people in Afghanistan. The very simple answer to Messieurs Kristol and Kaplan’s question is that your “sound principles and high ideals” may not be that sound and high in other peoples’ eyes. That’s what’s wrong with dominance in the name of principles and ideals.
Contrary to what Messieurs Kristol and Kaplan think there is no exclusive ownership of sound principles and high ideals. Like all other human notions, principles and ideals are relative. Which is widely known because otherwise, we’d all be living in an anarchistic society, right? If everybody had the same principles and ideals we wouldn’t need any laws preventing people from stealing and killing and raping and pillaging.
And that brings us right to the core of the problem with the Iraq war. Because it does violate international laws and norms - laws and norms literally constructed because of the suffering and death of millions of people during two World Wars - the Iraq war is pretty much the equivalent of lynching. There is a reason why lynching is not tolerated in democratic societies and these very same reasons apply to this war.
Of course, we all know that the law isn’t always ideal. How could it be? It’s made by humans. But in most democratic societies people like to improve their laws instead of abolishing them (It is tempting to make an exception for Mr Ashcroft here because otherwise one would have to stretch the meaning of the word “improve” quite a lot).
And that, I think, is the strongest point to make against this war - apart from the fact that thousands of people are being killed: The war abolishes the law and goes back to the stage of killing and pillaging and I’m not only talking about the literal sense here (as bad as that may be for all those unfortunate Iraqis and “Coalition” soldiers).
Note to Messiers Kristol and Kaplan, and especially to Mr Blair and people at The Economist who like to sound as if they have permanently occupied what they consider to be the moral high ground: There’s something seriously wrong with your principles and ideals if they result in the death of thousands of people, even if most of them are foreigners. Just think about it. It’s not that hard to figure out.
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“These images are my journal. They reflect my everyday life, thoughts, events and moments. Living in the United States at this time is an incredible experience, I believe it is like living in Rome at the peak of the Roman Empire, it holds the world power and technology of our days. I come from a very different country and culture, Brazil, I had a model in my mind of what USA would be like from what I’ve seen on TV and magazines and previous short visits. But the everyday life revealed to me another place and I started to see and notice things I was not expecting. Under the shiny surface there’s homelessness, ignorance, insane people on the streets, hypocrisy, a certain coldness and strong individualism in people in general. Opportunities as well as freedom have attracted an incredible amount of people that seek a decent life quality.”
from Rafael Dabul’s statement on his fascinating photo essay Limit Horizon
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Arundhati Roy about the Iraq War
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“So it was that on a warm, hazy day in central Iraq, the fog of war descended on Bravo Company.”
(Washington Post report on how 10 civilians died in Iraq)
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