Posts tagged September 11

Damn the facts—full speed ahead!

As far as I can tell, Jamie Kirchick, assistant editor for The New Republic,[*] has devoted most of his young professional life to becoming exactly the sort of bright boy at the The New Republic whom Randolph Bourne had in mind when he wrote The War and the Intellectuals, and who, decades later, would make the best and the brightest into a bitter national joke. In any case, here’s something from his latest, a TNR blog post on Barack Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his recent speech on race:

Finally, what concerns me most about the Wright controversy isn’t the Pastor’s racist statements or even his unhinged views of Israel. I don’t think Obama agrees with any of that nonsense. What concerns me is the sort of comment that Wright made about Harry Truman’s ending World War II, that We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. This smacks of the Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky/Nation magazine wing of the American left that Democrats serious about this country’s security (and winning in November) should not want within 100 miles of the next administration.

— James Kirchick, The Plank (2008-03-21): Thoughts on a Speech

Let’s set aside, for the moment, Rev. Wright’s confusion about personal pronouns. I didn’t bomb Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and I don’t think that he did, either. But that’s apparently not what Kirchick has a problem with. What he has a problem with is what such statements about the U.S. government smack of.

But, Mr. Kirchick, no matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the United States Army bombed Hiroshima?

No matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the United States Army bombed Nagasaki?

No matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed somewhere around 210,000 civilian men, women and children — about 70 times the number of civilians killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

As far as I can tell, nothing that has provoked Jamie Kirchick’s outrage here is actually, you know, false. Perhaps he thinks that these are facts which it is rude to mention in public. But if being taken for serious about this country’s security (which is TNR-speak for this government’s wars) requires not mentioning them—that is, if being taken for serious requires silence or dissembling about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of a shared vision of American power, then it is well worth asking just who the hell these assholes are who we’re supposed to prove our seriousness to. And what their notion of seriousness really amounts to. And why anyone should think she has to prove a damned thing to them.

(Via David Gordon, via Lew Rockwell 2008-03-23.)

* You may remember Kirchick from an earlier piece he published in TNR during the late unpleasantness.

Further reading:

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.

A Remembrance for Hiroshima

photo: Doves flew over Hiroshima during the memorial ceremony today

Amongst the Living

photo: The ruins of Hiroshima and the World Trade Center in New York

In Memory of the Dead

At 8:15am a solitary bell rang in Hiroshima. Doves were released and the names of some 4,977 people were placed underneath an arch-shaped memorial. Today’s memorial ceremony marked the 57th anniversary of the atomic holocaust in Hiroshima, in which over 220,000 people were killed by the firestorm, shockwave, radiation poisoning, cancers, and various other illnesses.

It’s become more or less a commonplace on the Left to recognize that Hiroshima was an atrocity, a crime against humanity inflicted upon innocent people by the US government. And while there remains a great deal of resistence among the media elites to understanding the horror of Hiroshima in the same terms as the horror of Auschwitz or the Killing Fields or September 11, it is far from an unspoken truth.

So let me merely say: Let us pause for a moment to remember those who died today. And let us celebrate those who live on and who work for a more peaceful, loving world.

Corporate Elites Meet & Greet, New York Times Makes Shit Up

For the most part, the New York Times’ story on the World Economic Forum beginning its proceedings in New York is just a gooey report on the men who had the air of money and power hobnobbing inside the Waldorf-Astoria, … like the start of summer camp. Now I really wonder if this sort of fluff reporting on a serious conference of the global economic and political elite is necessary. But, more to the point, the Times has decided to creatively reinvent history:

That has not prevented critics from painting the Forum in the darkest colors. The World Economic Forum will celebrate war in Afghanistan and the Middle East, attacks on civil liberties, and corporate tax cuts, proclaimed a group called A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) in its call for demonstrations which will get under way in earnest with marches on Saturday.

At the New York W.E.F. summit, the world’s richest C.E.O.s will collaborate with the world’s most powerful politicians to set the global economic agenda, declared another group, Students for Global Justice.

Whether the protests reach the violence of last year’s meeting in Davos remains to be seen. Some of the opposition groups acknowledge that a clash with New York’s finest in the aftermath of Sept. 11 would not sit well with the public.

Now, it’s a bit irresponsible to spending only two dismissive paragraphs on the fact that there are, in fact, people who have serious problems with what goes at the WEF, while spending the rest of the front-page story gushing about how elite and idealistic it all is (for more responsible coverage, I suggest the Times’ recent in-depth article on anarchism, buried in the New York Region section). What concerns me a bit more, however, is that they are simply making shit up when they say that the protests at Davos last year had any violence to be reached.

In reality, last year’s protests in Davos featured 250 activists staging a peaceful march. In 2000, the worst violence was a few windows being broken at a McDonald’s. In 2001, the worst violence was snowballs being tossed at police barricades.

Well, I should take that back. There was violence at the 2001 protest. See, the Davos local authorities decided to ban any exercise of the right to peaceful public assembly, so protestors were met by over 1,000 Swiss security agents armed with batons and tear gas guns. The demonstrators’ peaceful march was turned back with police barricades and water cannons. But this isn’t exactly the sort of violence that the Times story was claiming had happened.

This is, unfortunately, part of a general press smear campaign against the globalization movement, which has invented protestor violence out of thin air in protests in Seattle, DC, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia… at all of these there was plenty of police violence against demonstrators but the virtually none initiated by protestors. In Seattle and DC, heavy tear gas bombardments were used; in Los Angeles I watched mounted cops stage dragoon attacks with batons on protestors who had done nothing other than run away from rampaging peace officers. And yet the New York Daily News compared protestors to the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and threatened them, You have a right to free speech, but try to disrupt this town, and you’ll get your anti-globalization butts kicked. Capish?

Sidebar: I’ve noticed that they’ve been awfully cagey about just how many women are at the invite-only WEF meeting; one article lumped in women amidst everyone else in the overwhelming minority at the WEF (third world leaders, human rights activists, union leaders, etc.). The Times’ editorial column said it was some 3,000 Davos Men, and a sprinkling of Davos Women. For all their apologia, it’s really hard to shade just how reactionary in constitution their Good Ol’ Boys meeting is.

For further reading