Posts tagged Chemical weapons

Two Sonnets for Memorial Day

(To Jessie Pope,[1] etc.)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge
Till on the haunting fires we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or in lime.—
Dim, through misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,
To children ardent for some distant glory

–Wilfred Owen (Oct. 1917).

The poet, Wilfred Owen began work on this poem in October 1917 while on leave in England. This is his best known poem. He never completed it for publication, because a year later he was dead. On November 4, 1918 he was killed on the front in a meaningless battle for the Sambre–Oise Canal seven days before the warring governments finalized the Armistice.

  1. [1]Jesse Pope was an Leicester poet who wrote light verse before the Great War and then during the War published a series of patriotic poems in the Daily Mail urging young men to enlist and celebrating patriotic sacrifice, using verse like the following: Who’s for the Game, the biggest that’s played / The red crashing game of a fight? Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid / And who thinks he’d rather sit tight? . . . / Who knows it won’t be a picnic–not much– / Yet eagerly shoulders a gun? / Who would much rather come back with a crutch / Than lie low and be out of the fun?
  2. [2]A line from the imperial poet Horace’s Odes. In English, Sweet it is and becoming to die patriotically [= for the patria]. In 1913, shortly before the outbreak of the War, the line was carved into a wall at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Hoppe and Churchill: On the Justice of Strange Bedfellows

Ward Churchill and Hans-Hermann Hoppe might not enjoy coffee together very much. I can clearly see the meeting ending in blows. But they do have some things in common, sure: both are radical critics of the State and the social status quo; both are tenured professors at state Universities in the West; and both have recently found themselves in administrative hot water for making controversial public statements.

Churchill’s case, so far, has been more widely reported. Thanks to the heroic efforts of a student journalist using Google, the Know-Nothing blowhard brigade finally discovered that Ward Churchill wrote an essay called Some People Push Back–which has been distributed on the Internet since 2001, and was expanded into a book-length treatment in 2003–in which he described the September 11 attacks as chickens coming home to roost, pointed out that the plane flown into the Pentagon was striking a military target, and that As to those in the World Trade Center … Well, really. Let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. You’re hearing about all this now because Churchill, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was scheduled to speak on a panel at Hamilton College in New York on The Limits of Dissent (because God is an ironist, I guess), and after a journalist at the student newspaper dug up Churchill’s essay and wrote a story on it, the Right-wing commentariat saw something they’ve been salivating over for a long time: a perfect opportunity to sink their teeth, hard, into the (allegedly Left-dominated) world of academia. So they deployed a predictable combination of media hue-and-cry and outright threats of violence, and managed to mau-mau Hamilton into cancelling the panel. Now, in hopes of a second victory for silence, they are pushing for University of Colorado at Boulder to follow it up by firing Churchill from his (tenured) professorship. The University’s Chancellor has so far agreed to bring a thorough examination of Churchill’s opinions before the Holy Inquisition:

And Colorado’s DiStefano, after an angry grilling from the university’s Board of Regents — an elected body dominated by conservatives — reversed himself and announced a 30-day investigation of all of Churchill’s lectures and publications. This is the first step, the chancellor said, in the legal process required to fire a tenured professor.

Meanwhile, there have been Web site calls for the resignation of Stewart for allowing Churchill to be invited in the first place.

— Washington Post 2005-02-05

Just a few days later, in Las Vegas, because–again–God is an ironist, anarcho-capitalist economics Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe found himself brought before a disciplinary hearing by the administration at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Hoppe had a formal complaint filed against him by a student for his comments in a lecture on the economic concept of time preference, in which he decided to illustrate the concept by examples, and claimed that homosexuals, as a group, tend to have higher time preferences than heterosexuals–that is to say, that homos tend to prefer immediate gratification over deferred rewards more strongly than straights. He went on to insinuate that the emphasis on short-run effects over long-run equilibria in J.M. Keynes’s economic theories might be explained by Lord Keynes’s fondness for gay liasons. In response to the student’s complaint, UNLV is demanding Hoppe accept a letter of reprimand and a dock in pay in response to a formal complaint filed by a student in one of his economics classes; Hoppe is striking back with a letter-writing campaign and legal assistance from the ACLU.

The anarcho-capitalists who are coming out for Hoppe and the lefty anarchists who are coming out for Churchill might not want very much to do with each other. But both camps are right to point out that both of these cases represent dangerous threats to academic freedom. (Note: threats to academic freedom, not freedom of speech. The two are importantly different concepts, although both are valuable.) Unfortunately, both camps have also developed a maddening tendency to smother the point about academic freedom (or open debate more broadly) in a bunch of rally-’round-the-black-flag nonsense.

Hoppe and Churchill should not be punished by academic Inquisitors for the contents of their arguments. Academic freedom is absolutely vital to the functioning of a University (as a place of education rather than an indoctrination camp), and it’s absolutely vital to maintain a climate of vigorous, open debate in our culture. But it’s important to note that the reasons for protecting academic freedom apply to bad arguments as well as to good ones: defending Hoppe’s and Churchill’s freedom to make arguments without fear of professional reprisals doesn’t require defending the arguments they make. And that’s a good thing, because Ward Churchill is a dick, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a homophobic bigot. Their arguments shouldn’t be defended, because those arguments are indefensible.

It ought to be transparent why Hoppe’s claims are offensive–and I’m frankly tired of seeing libertarians play innocent on the matter. Hoppe’s latest comments are only the latest in a long record, and I’m frankly baffled that Ilana Mercer or anyone else would take seriously the notion that describing the comments as only a generalization about how homos usually prefer immediate gratification more strongly than breeders is supposed to make it less offensive. Does anyone think that Hoppe’s left-field ad hominem argument–insinuations that poofery might explain errors in Lord Keynes’s economic thought that Hoppe finds particularly grave–is really a vital teaching tool? Or that it doesn’t make his other comments on homosexuality and gratification seem just a little, well, bigoted?

Churchill’s essay, for its part, is a farrago of confusions, logical fallacies, and flat-out lies. Most of the nits aren’t worth picking here; what is worth pointing out is that the central theme of the essay depends entirely on the claim that when America–that is, the American government–goes on a rampage around the world, we are acting like bullies, and so we have no grounds for complaint when we are ruthlessly slaughtered by people [who] push back. The problem here is that the people picked out by the we changes with every use: the people who did the rampaging and bullying are the government and its agents; the people who are complaining are, I guess, ordinary Americans; the people who were ruthlessly slaughtered were a couple of thousand workers, the overwhelming majority of them neither involved with the military nor holding any foreign policy position in the U.S. government, who happened to commit the terrible crime of going to work one Tuesday. But the people are not the government, and they are not owned by the government. They are mostly–we’re anarchists here, remember?–the victims of the government. We didn’t attack Iraq; we rarely if ever have meaningful control over the war-policy machine that has wrought so much misery in the Muslim world. The crimes of the United States government do not license crimes against civilians who happen to be in the United States; any more than the crimes of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein license crimes against civilians who happen to be in Afghanistan, Iraq, or whatever other part of the Muslim world the Leviathan is planning to stomp through next.

Churchill’s critics have repeatedly been accused of misunderstanding his arguments and taking his words out of context. Now, I have read the whole essay through several times, but you never know. So perhaps one of Churchill’s defenders could explain to me exactly what the proper, contextual understanding of this is:

In sum one can discern a certain optimism — it might even be call humanitarianism — imbedded in the thinking of those who presided over the very limited actions conducted on September 11.

Their logic seems to have devolved upon the notion that the American people have condoned what has been/is being done in their name — indeed, are to a significant extent actively complicit in it — mainly because they have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

Or, while we’re at it, this:

And when they do, when they launch these airstrikes abroad — or may a little later; it will be at a time conforming to the “terrorists”‘ own schedule, and at a place of their choosing — the next more intensive dose of medicine administered here at home.

Of what will it consist this time? Anthrax? Mustard gas? Sarin? A tactical nuclear device?

That, too, is their choice to make.

During the HUAC era, many people in the U.S. were drummed out and blacklisted from teaching because they were genuinely associated with Stalinist parties in the United States. That was wrong; but you shouldn’t have to act like Stalinists were anything other than dupes or bloody-minded opportunists to make the case that the blacklisting and the anti-Communist witch hunts were wrong. The case for their academic freedom shouldn’t have been contingent on their having the right beliefs. And the same is true for both Churchill and Hoppe: the fact that they are wrong does not mean that they should be fired.

I’ll be writing a letter on behalf of both of them; defending both Churchill and Hoppe from the administrative goon squad is important. But we shouldn’t let a siege mentality dull critical thought. The reason Churchill and Hoppe are in hot water is that they made controversial statements which are rationally indefensible and deeply offensive. The problem is the administrative response to the controversy, not the controversy itself; the way to respond to terrible arguments, among rational adults, is with other arguments, not with politically-driven intimidation.

Let’s begin.

The Very Possibility

In the wake of being shown, once again, definitively, by his own people, that his only legal justification for war against Iraq turned out to be a bunch of hooey, George W. Bush responded today by showing that he has difficulty with understanding modalities:

Bush shot back a few hours later at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. Bush quoted Kerry, who wondered aloud in a speech two years ago whether Saddam Hussein might invade allies in the region or let the weapons of mass destruction he was suspected of possessing slide off to one group or another in a region where weapons are the currency or the trade.

Now today, my opponent tries to say I made up reasons to go to war, Bush told cheering supporters at an outdoor rally. Just who’s the one trying to mislead the American people?

You are, dummy.

John Kerry’s faults are many–and that’s especially true on assault on Iraq. But speculating about a dangerous possibility is different from asserting that it is actually so. Thus, Kerry favored inspections to determine whether or not this possibility was the case–backed by the threat of military force. That was a stupid-ass position, but not nearly as stupid-ass a position as the one held by Mr. Bush–who proclaimed as fact, in front of God and everybody, that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed biological and chemical weapons, was in the process of developing nuclear weapons, and posed a grave and gathering threat to the people of the United States, and so decided to force an end to inspections for no reason whatsoever (other than the time-table of his war planners).

Kerry damn well should have known better from the start. So much the worse for him, but in light of new evidence he’s admitted that he made a mistake about Iraq. Bush, on the other hand, intends to show us how resolute a Commander-in-Chief he is by insisting that it just doesn’t matter whether or not he told a bunch of lies, and that America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison.

Safer from what?

It’s Official

Just in case you were wondering, it’s official. George W. Bush looked us in the eye and he told us a bunch of damned lies. Colin Powell stood up in front of the United Nations and told a bunch of damned lies. Dick Cheney has told lie after lie in front of everyone.

Charles Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons investigator in Iraq, told Congress today that Saddam Hussein destroyed his stocks of chemical and biological weapons and agents in 1991 and 1992 and that his nuclear weapons program had decayed to almost nothing by 2003.

Duelfer, a former U.N. inspector and the personal representative of the CIA director, said the former Iraqi dictator had intentions to restart his program, but after weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, Hussein instead focused his attention on ending the sanctions imposed by Western governments following his incursion into Kuwait and the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

— Washington Post 2004/10/06: Iraqi Arms Threat Was Waning, Inspector Says

Thanks to the lie, more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been murdered, and more than 1,000 American soldiers have been sent to their deaths in order to conquer a foreign country that posed no threat whatsoever to people in the United States. Messrs. Bush and Cheney have responded by saying, Well, it’s the thought that counts:

The White House has responded that the Iraqi leader had an intent to restart his programs, some of which he could do quickly, and that he was working on developing prohibited missiles that, if armed with chemical or biological agents, would threaten the region.

— Washington Post 2004/10/06: Iraqi Arms Threat Was Waning, Inspector Says

So Saddam Hussein didn’t pose a threat, but hey, he thought that maybe some day he might want to start working towards pose a threat… to somebody or another in the region.

Mr. Bush also likes to point out that the intelligence he had before the war looked like a good reason for invading at the time. Now, that’s a damned lie, but set that aside for the moment. Suppose you did make such a monstrous mistake and killed so many people over something that turned out not to be true, after all? Would you have a good laugh about it at press events? Would you keep on stumping for re-election on your choice to invade a country over claims that turned out to be completely false?

What kind of man can look at the more than 11,000 deaths, with more casualties coming in every goddamned day, find out that the reasons he gave to justify the war were completely specious, and then just say Oops, my bad?

What you mean “We”?

Here are the facts as we know them.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, and several other senior government officials in the U.S. and U.K. told us that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. They told us that they were actively trying to find nuclear weapons. They told us that they had connections with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and that therefore Iraq posed an imminent threat to the security of the United States. Therefore pre-emptive war was necessary, and nothing short of regime change would do.

photo: Dick Cheney

They lied. When Ambassador Joe Wilson told them that their evidence for claiming that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear weapons was a forgery, they kept citing that completely spurious, forged evidence in public statements. When the U.S. intelligence apparatus was not giving the answers that they needed to justify their policy, they didn’t change the policy; they set up a new intelligence office to give them the answers they wanted [The Guardian]. Intelligence was cherry-picked and sexed-up and those who offered qualified or dissenting views were marginalized and went completely unmentioned in public statements [The Observer]. They had a goal, they looked for evidence to support that goal, and when they did not find good evidence they repeated evidence that they were informed repeatedly ahead of time was questionable or completely spurious evidence. And it turns out that what they claimed on nearly every point was false.

photo: Donald Rumsfeld

Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Iraq had no connections with al-Qaeda.

Iraq was not any threat to the United States whatsoever.

Or, to put it another way: they are a bunch of big fat fucking liars and as a result some 600 British and American troops, and somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 Iraqi civilians are dead.

photo: George W. Bush

The administration’s line now is that in spite of all of this, it was really no-one’s fault that the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom went off to war on a lie. We got it all wrong, the story goes, but from the evidence that we had in front of us, it looked pretty reasonable to us at the time. To which the obvious response is: What you mean we, paleface? As Scott Ritter points out, IHT: Not everyone got it wrong on Iraq’s weapons [IHT].

In case you have forgotten, there were lots of people—gosh, maybe even a whole movement of people—who said that Iraq posed no imminent threat.

We showed that the administration’s case for war was based on shaky evidence, leaky-bucket arguments, politicized manipulation of data, and constantly shifting rationalizations.

We argued that there was no good reason at all to believe that there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

We also said, by the way, that the assault on Iraq would kill thousands of civilians and that it would result in a nasty, rudderless, destructive, costly, and hopeless occupation.

I am all for careful examination of the data on the table. But when the data on the table is this clear there are certain sorts of politically expedient mincing—much loved by blowhard teevee experts and newspaper columnists—that common decency demands we put to one side.

We didn’t get it wrong, Messrs. Bush and Blair and Cheney and Rumsfeld. You did. The facts are: the anti-war movment was right, and you were wrong. We told the truth, and you lied. But because you had the guns and the tanks and the bombs to do it, you unleashed this dirty war anyway. There’s no way to fudge that or qualify that or get around that, and the blood of the dead and maimed is on your hands. There is no we about it. There’s some moral clarity for you; stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

For further reading: