Posts from December 2006

The Gift of Reading

Happy Christmas, everyone. Here’s some holiday reading, as a gift from me to you. World War I may not seem like the best topic for the season, but, well, that’s what I’ve been working on lately.

  • At Dulce Et Decorum Est today, you can read a powerful review essay by Phil Shannon, on the Soldier’s Truce of Christmas, 1914 (which I first encountered a year ago, through Kevin Carson’s blog.)

    It was the war that was supposed to be over by Christmas. It very nearly was. A spontaneous soldiers’ truce broke out along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, four months after the start of hostilities.

    Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men — British, French and German soldiers took these usually hypocritical Christmas sentiments for real and refused to fire on the enemy, exchanging instead song, food, drink and gifts with each other in the battle-churned wastes of no-man’s land between the trenches.

    Lasting until Boxing Day in some cases, the truce alarmed the military authorities who worked overtime to end the fraternisation and restart the killing.

    Stanley Weintraub’s haunting book on the Christmas Truce recounts through the letters of the soldiers the extraordinary event, routinely denigrated in orthodox military histories as an aberration of no consequence, but which was, argues Weintraub, not only a temporary respite from slaughter but an event which had the potential to topple death-dealing governments.

  • Some time ago, I put up a copy of Randolph Bourne’s most famous essay, The State, online at the Fair Use Repository. Lots of people had already posted extracts from The State online in all kinds of different forums (usually under the title War is the Health of the State). But as far as I know the Fair Use edition is the only complete online transcription. (The others usually omit Part II, Bourne’s analysis of American politics and the party system.)

    In any case, the more topical news is that I’ve just added two more of Bourne’s essays on the war — essays which, unlike The State, were published within Bourne’s own lifetime. These both come from his time writing for Seven Arts: The War and the Intellectuals is from June, 1917, and A War Diary is from September, 1917. Unfortunately what was true of the Sensible Liberals and New Republic columnists of 1917 could just as easily have been written last week.

    The results of war on the intellectual class are already apparent. Their thought becomes little more than a description and justification of what is already going on. They turn upon any rash one who continues idly to speculate. Once the war is on, the conviction spreads that individual thought is helpless, that the only way one can count is as a cog in the great wheel. There is no good holding back. We are told to dry our unnoticed and ineffective tears and plunge into the great work. Not only is everyone forced into line, but the new certitude becomes idealized. It is a noble realism which opposes itself to futile obstruction and the cowardly refusal to face facts. This realistic boast is so loud and sonorous that one wonders whether realism is always a stern and intelligent grappling with realities. May it not be sometimes a mere surrender to the actual, an abdication of the ideal through a sheer fatigue from intellectual suspense? The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground. The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.

    — Randolph Bourne, The War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12

    And:

    The penalty the realist pays for accepting war is to see disappear one by one the justifications for accepting it. He must either become a genuine Realpolitiker and brazen it through, or else he must feel sorry for his intuition and be regretful that he willed the war. But so easy is forgetting and so slow the change of events that he is more likely to ignore the collapse of his case. If he finds that his government is relinquishing the crucial moves of that strategy for which he was willing to use the technique of war, he is likely to move easily to the ground that it will all come out in the end the same anyway. He soon becomes satisfied with tacitly ratifying whatever happens, or at least straining to find the grain of unplausible hope that may be latent in the situation.

    But what then is there really to choose between the realist who accepts evil in order to manipulate it to a great end, but who somehow unaccountably finds events turn sour on him, and the Utopian pacifist who cannot stomach the evil and will have none of it? Both are helpless, both are coerced. The Utopian, however, knows that he is ineffective and that he is coerced, while the realist, evading disillusionment, moves in a twilight zone of half-hearted criticism and hoping for the best, where he does not become a tacit fatalist. The latter would be the manlier position, but then where would be his realistic philosophy of intelligence and choice? Professor Dewey has become impatient at the merely good and merely conscientious objectors to war who do not attach their conscience and intelligence to forces moving in another direction. But in wartime there are literally no valid forces moving in another direction. War determines its own end–victory, and government crushes out automatically all forces that deflect, or threaten to deflect, energy from the path of organization to that end. All governments will act in this way, the most democratic as well as the most autocratic. It is only liberal naïveté that is shocked at arbitrary coercion and suppression. Willing war means willing all the evils that are organically bound up with it. A good many people still seem to believe in a peculiar kind of democratic and antiseptic war. The pacifists opposed the war because they knew this was an illusion, and because of the myriad hurts they knew war would do the promise of democracy at home. For once the babes and sucklings seem to have been wiser than the children of light.

    — Randolph Bourne, A War Diary § 4

  • Third, I’ve also added a series of essays from 1915, which I discovered thanks to Carl Watner’s essay on nonviolent resistance in the most recent Journal of Libertarian Studies. The exchange began with Bertrand Russell’s The Ethics of War, which appeared in the January 1915 number of the International Journal of Ethics. Russell condemned the war and argued If the facts were understood, wars amongst civilized nations would case, owing to their inherent absurdity. (Meanwhile, in one of the more baffling parts of the essay, he did some utilitarian hand-waving to try to offer some rather despicable excuses for wars of colonization and the attendant ethnic cleansing. As usual, good anti-war instincts are betrayed by prejudice when utilitarian pseudo-calculations are allowed to intrude.) Ralph Barton Perry objected to Russell’s criticism, at least as applied to the ongoing war, in Non-Resistance and the Present War. Russell wrote two more articles. One of them a direct rejoinder to Perry, published as The War and Non-Resistance–A Rejoinder to Professor Perry in the IJE. The other, probably the best essay in the exchange, appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, under the title War and Non-Resistance. Of particular note is Section II, in which Russell considers how Britain might be defended from a foreign invasion with no army and no navy, using only the methods of non-violent passive resistance. Although Russell doesn’t quite realize it, the answer he offers amounts, in the end, to doing away with the central State and its organized machinery. With no levers of centralized power to take hold of, the invaders would find themselves in possession of little if anything. Anyway, it’s well worth a read.

Read, and enjoy.

May your holidays be full of light and warmth, joy in fellowship, comfort, and peace.

Bayonet-point capitalism

(Story via to the barricades 2006-12-19.)

Here is the latest from the bowels of the military-industrial complex: the United States Army is now threatening to invoke Taft-Hartley to intervene on behalf of Goodyear management against striking steelworkers. That is to say, if the Army can’t reliably get the parts for its war machines on the free market, there’s always industrial conscription to smooth out labor relations for its suppliers.

The US Army is considering measures to force striking workers back to their jobs at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Kansas in the face of a looming shortage of tyres for Humvee trucks and other military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A strike involving 17,000 members of the United Steelworkers union has crippled 16 Goodyear plants in the US and Canada since October 5.

The main issues in dispute are the company’s plans to close a unionised plant in Texas, and a proposal for workers to shoulder future increases in healthcare costs.

An army spokeswoman said on Friday that there’s not a shortage right now but there possibly will be one in the future.

According to Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House of Representatives armed services committee, the strike has cut output of Humvee tyres by about 35 per cent.

According to Mr Hunter, the army is exploring a possible injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act to force the 200 Kansas workers back to their jobs.

He proposed that they return under their current terms of employment, on the understanding that any settlement would be extended to them.

— Bernard Simon (2006-12-15), Financial Times: US Army might break Goodyear strike

As long as the bayonets stay sheathed, nearly 16,000 USW workers will remain on strike. In solidarity, you might consider making a contribution to the USW strike fund to help support striking workers while they stand up to the bosses and try to make it through a holiday without paychecks.

Nearly 16,000 Goodyear employees are facing the holidays without paychecks. These United Steelworkers (USW) members are sacrificing for all of us, fighting the fight for good jobs. Being without a paycheck any time is painful—but right before the holidays, it’s especially hard. Every penny of your contribution will go to striking Goodyear workers and their families.

Please help. Please take a moment now to make a generous donation to support the striking Goodyear workers and warm up their holidays. They deserve to know we care and we honor their fight to hold employers accountable to their workers and communities.

— Working Families: Support Goodyear Workers

In ten words or fewer (personal pronouns edition): George W. Bush on the next year of the Iraq War

George W. Bush (2006-12-20): Press conference in the White House Indian Treaty Room:

I’m inclined to believe that we need to increase in — the permanent size of both the United States Army and the United States Marines. I’ve asked Secretary Gates to determine how such an increase could take place and report back to me as quickly as possible. I know many members of Congress are interested in this issue. And I appreciate their input as we develop the specifics of the proposals. Over the coming weeks, I will not only listen to their views; we will work with them to see that this become a reality. 2006 was a difficult year for our troops and the Iraqi people. …

We enter this new year clear-eyed about the challenges in Iraq and equally clear about our purpose. Our goal remains a free and democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and is an ally in this war on terror.

I’m not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it’s going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices because the enemy is merciless and violent.

He’ll make the choices. They’ll make the sacrifices.

Further reading:

Nation Building

Incorrigible warhawks and hand-wringing sensible liberals both routinely dismiss calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq with a wave of the hand and a grumble or two about the need for constructive suggestions. If pressed on the topic they will point out that after American soldiers withdraw things may get very, very bad in Iraq. The problem with this line of argument is that while that is true that things may get very, very bad, that could only support prolonging the occupation (whether indefinitely or for the duration of some elaborately orchestrated exit strategy) if not withdrawing would somehow make things less bad. If the presence of American soldiers is usually making things actively worse — the delusion of control notwithstanding — then the appeal is simply foolish.

But maybe the hand-wringers and the mouth-foamers have a point. If American soldiers weren’t in Iraq, then who would make sure that things like this get done?

Here is video of a tank rolling up beside a group of Iraqi men sitting on the ground.

There was still some looting going on when we arrived.

And when we came across soldiers, they didn’t seem sure of their role.

The American soldiers are milling about and eventually move over to talk to the Iraqi men. One of them points to a young boy sitting with the men, and says, in English:

That child don’t need to be here. You know where the school is? O.K., that what he need to be doing, not following you.

Here are the faces of several soldiers, waiting for something to happen.

We filmed these G.I.s after they caught a group of Iraqis stealing wood.

One young soldier says,

We trying to stop them from looting, and they don’t understand, so we’ll take that car and we’ll crush it, the United States Army tankers.

Two soldiers draw their handguns and open fire on the empty car, shooting out the windows and the tires. When they finish, the tank rolls up to the front of the car and then over it, smashing the car under its treads. After it finishes, a soldier waves for it to come back, and the tank completely destroys the car as it crushes it in reverse. The horn honks briefly and a broken shell is left behind. The soldiers wave at each other and laugh. The same soldier who explained that they were going to smash the car says,

That’s what you get when you loot.

The narrator returns to say,

Later, the car’s owner told us, I’m a taxi driver. The car was my livelihood.

(Via The Disillusioned Kid 2006-12-01.)

Ending it. Stopping it. No more.

Feminists should remember that while we often don’t take ourselves very seriously, the men around us often do. I think that the way we can honor these women who were executed, for crimes that they may or may not have committed–which is to say, for political crimes–is to commit every crime for which they were executed, crimes against male supremacy, crimes against the right to rape, crimes against the male ownership of women, crimes against the male monopoly of public space and public discourse. We have to stop men from hurting women in everyday life, in ordinary life, in the home, in the bed, in the street, and in the engineering school. We have to take public power away from men whether they like it or not and no matter what they do. If we have to fight back with arms, then we have to fight back with arms. One way or another we have to disarm men. We have to be the women who stand between men and the women they want to hurt. We have to end the impunity of men, which is what they have, for hurting women in all the ways they systematically do hurt us.

–Andrea Dworkin (1990): Mass Murder in Montreal, Life and Death, 105-114.

Wear a white ribbon.

On 6 December 1989, seventeen years ago today, Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. He killed them because they were women; he went into an engineering class with a gun, ordered the men to leave, screamed I hate feminists, and then opened fire on the women. He kept shooting, always at women, as he moved through the building, killing 14 women and injuring 8 before he ended the terror by killing himself.

6 December is a day of remembrance for the women who were killed. They were:

  • Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21
  • Hélène Colgan, 23
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21
  • Maud Haviernick, 29
  • Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31
  • Maryse Leclair, 23
  • Annie St.-Arneault, 23
  • Michèle Richard, 21
  • Maryse Laganière, 25
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28; and
  • Annie Turcotte, aged 21

GT 2004-12-06: The Montreal Massacre:

The Montreal Massacre was horrifying and shocking. But we also have to remember that it’s less unusual than we all think. Yes, it’s a terrible freak event that some madman massacred women he had never even met because of his sociopathic hatred. But every day women are raped, beaten, and killed by men–and it’s usually not by strangers, but by men they know and thought they could trust. They are attacked just because they are women–because the men who assault them believe that they have the right to control women’s lives and their sexual choices, and to hurt them or force them if they don’t agree. By conservative estimates, one out of every four women is raped or beaten by an intimate partner sometime in her life. Take a moment to think about that. How much it is. What it means for the women who are attacked. What it means for all women who live in the shadow of that threat.

Today is a day to remember fourteen innocent women who died at the hands of a self-conscious gender terrorist. Like most days of remembrance, it should also be a day of action. I mean practical action.. And I mean radical action. I mean standing up and taking concrete steps toward the end to violence against women in all of its forms. Without excuses. Without exceptions. Without limits. And without apologies. Andrea Dworkin wrote I want to see this men’s movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don’t make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can’t be self-indulgent. And the same is true of every form of everyday gender terrorism: stalking, battery, confinement, rape, murder. How could we face Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Maryse Leclair, Annie St.-Arneault, Michèle Richard, Maryse Laganière, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, and Annie Turcotte, and tell them we did anything less?

Take some time to keep the 14 women who were killed in the Montreal massacre in your thoughts. Make a contribution to your local battered women’s shelter. As Jennifer Barrigar writes:

Every year I make a point of explaining that I’m pointing the finger at a sexist patriarchal misogynist society rather than individual men. This year I choose not to do that. The time for assigning blame is so far in the past (if indeed there ever was such a time), and that conversation takes us nowhere. This is the time for action, for change. Remember Parliament’s 1991 enactment of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women — the glorious moment when every single womyn in the House stood together and claimed this Day of Remembrance. Remember what we can and do accomplish — all of us — when we work together. It is time to demand change, and to act on that demand. Let’s break the cycle of violence, and let’s do it now.

Remember. Mourn. Act.