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Two and a half wars

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday a North Korean nuclear test would be a very provocative act and the United States would have to assess its options should it be carried out.

Rice’s warning, at a news conference in Cairo, reflected widespread concern within the Bush administration. She stressed, however, that a North Korean test was an issue for the neighborhood and not just for the United States.

It would be a very provocative act, she said. Still, she said, they have not yet done it.

Rice did not elaborate on the options she said the United States would consider if North Korea followed through on it threat.

— Ann Gearan, Forbes.com (2006-10-03): U.S.: N. Korea Nuclear Test Unacceptable

Now, I reject, root and branch, the whole terror-empire geopolitics that are so proudly endorsed by both the ruling Right and the Cold War liberals who dominate the Loyal Opposition. But suppose that you take those ideas on their own terms for a second. The strategic question that Rice’s blustering raises is this. Even granting the legitimacy of the enterprise, given the way the United States is hopelessly mired in ever-worsening civil wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention whatever the endgame for the increasingly bellicose diplomatic confrontation with Iran may be, just what options does the United States realistically have left at this point?

Everything has limits, even global superpowers. The War Party, especially in its more bellicose factions, fantasizes that the United States has the muscle, resources, know-how, and will to sustain itself as the head of a geopolitical power structure which amounts to world empire in everything but name; and it is precisely these people who are most fond of passing themselves off as hard-nosed policy realists against the saccharine dreams of hippies, pacifist zealots, moonbats, the terminally clueless, and countless other denizens of whatever La-La Land they imagine you have to be from to possibly have doubts about the latest march to war. But they are wrong, dead wrong, and their pose is growing more evidently absurd every day. Unfortunately, we, not they, will be forced to deal with the human consequences of the colossal disasters they are pulling us into.

One man’s reductio

Here’s widely-published, reportedly libertarian columnist Walter Williams on the need for political will in the War on Terror:

Does the United States have the power to eliminate terrorists and the states that support them? In terms of capacity, as opposed to will, the answer is a clear yes.

Think about it. Currently, the U.S. has an arsenal of 18 Ohio class submarines. Just one submarine is loaded with 24 Trident nuclear missiles. Each Trident missile has eight nuclear warheads capable of being independently targeted. That means the U.S. alone has the capacity to wipe out Iran, Syria or any other state that supports terrorist groups or engages in terrorism — without risking the life of a single soldier.

Terrorist supporters know we have this capacity, but because of worldwide public opinion, which often appears to be on their side, coupled with our weak will, we’ll never use it. Today’s Americans are vastly different from those of my generation who fought the life-and-death struggle of World War II. Any attempt to annihilate our Middle East enemies would create all sorts of handwringing about the innocent lives lost, so-called collateral damage.

Such an argument would have fallen on deaf ears during World War II when we firebombed cities in Germany and Japan. The loss of lives through saturation bombing far exceeded those lost through the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

— Walter E. Williams (2006-08-23): Will The West [sic] Defend Itself?

I’d like to thank Mr. Williams for helping to illustrate an important point about logical inference.

Two of the most important rules of inference are the modus ponendo ponens (p !!!@@e2;2020;2019; q. p. ∴ q) and the modus tollendo tollens (p !!!@@e2;2020;2019; q. ~q. ∴ ~p). Something that people often don’t realize is how the very same reasoning could be used to set up either a modus ponens or a modus tollens in the last step. Here’s an example drawn from real life. Walter Williams argues:

  1. If there were something wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of military victory today, there would have been something wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. (lemma)
  2. There was nothing wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. (premise)
  3. Therefore, there must be nothing wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of victory today. Q.E.D. (M.T. 1, 2)

But someone or another just might use the same line of inferences that Williams drew in order to establish a different conclusion:

  1. If there were something wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of military victory today, there would have been something wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. (lemma)
  2. There is something wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of military victory today. (premise)
  3. Therefore, there must be something wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. You dick. (M.P. 1, 2)

For some people’s argumentative purposes the Allied war effort in World War II is not so much just as the paradigm for justice itself; like the meter stick in Paris, it doesn’t even make sense to say that it is just, because the possibility that it even might have been less than just is simply unintelligible. Those who have a less reverent view of the single most destructive total war in the history of the entire world may not share the same premises. And thus may draw quite a different conclusion. I’m just sayin’.

I’d like to thank the War Party for offering yet another opportunity for an important lesson on informal logic.

Update 2006-09-02: Commenter Adam B. pointed out that the full Latin name for modus tollens is the modus tollendo tollens, not modus ponendo tollens as I’d originally written. This has been fixed in the text.

Further reading:

Over My Shoulder #28: on women in Iran and the Islamic Revolution, from Azar Nafisi’s The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of, in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother Guard Your Eyes

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the opening essay of My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes, a collection of essays by Iranian writers, artists, and intellectuals. The essay is The Stuff Dreams are Made Of, by Azar Nafisi (known to you, perhaps, as the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran). Here she talks about women’s struggle in Iran, before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution, including some things that even well-meaning folks in the United States (let alone the bellowing blowhard brigade) tend to forget:

In the fall of 1979, I was teaching Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby in spacious classrooms on the second floor of the University of Tehran, without actually realizing the extraordinary irony of our situation: in the yard below, Islamist and leftist students were shouting Death to America, and a few streets away, the U.S. embassy was under siege by a group of students claiming to follow the path of the imam. Their imam was Khomeini, and he had waged a war on behalf of Islam against the heathen West and its myriad internal agents. This was not purely a religious war. The fundamentalism he preached was based on the radicla Western ideologies of communism and fascism as much as it was on religion. Nor were his targets merely political; with the support of leftist radicals he led a bloody crusade against Western imperialism: women’s and minorities’ rights, cultural and individual freedoms. This time, I realized, I had lost my connection to that other home, the America I had learned about in Henry James, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty.

In Tehran, the first step the new regime took before implementing a new constitution was to repeal the Family Protection Law which, since 1967, had helped women work outside the home and provided them with substantial rights in their marriage. In its place, the traditional Islamic law, the Sharia, would apply. In one swoop the new rulers had set Iran back nearly a century. Under the new system, the age of marital consent for girls was altered from eighteen to nine. Polygamy was made legal as well as temporary marriages, in which one man could marry as many women as he desired by contract, renting them from five minutes to ninety-nine years. What they named adultery and prostitution became punishable by stoning.

Ayatollah Khomeini justified these actions by claiming that he was in fact restoring women’s dignity and rescuing them from the degrading and diabolical ideas that had been thrust upon them by Western imperialists and their agents, who had conspired for decades to destroy Iranian culture and traditions.

In formulating this claim, the Islamic regime not only robbed the Iranian people of their rights, it robbed them of their history. For the true story of modernization in Iran is no that of an outside force imposing alien ideas or–as some opponents of the Islamic regime contend–that of a benevolent shah bestowing rights upon his citizens. From the middle of the nineteenth century, Iran had begun a process of self-questioning and transformation that shook the foundations of both political and religious despotism. In this movement for change, many sectors of the population–intellectuals, minorities, clerics, ordinary people, and enlightened women–actively participated, leading to what is known as the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the effective implementation of a new constitution based on the Belgian model. Women’s courageous struggles for their rights in Iran became the most obvious manifestation of this transformation. Morgan Shuster, an American who had lived in Iran, even stated in his 1912 book, The Strangling of Persia: The Persian women since 1907 had become almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say the most radical, in the world. That this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference. It is the fact.

By 1979, at the time of the revolution, women were active in all areas of life in Iran. The number of girls attending schools was on the rise. The number of female candidates for universities had increased sevenfold during the first half of the 1970s. Women were encouraged to participate in areas previously closed to them through a quota system that offered preferential treatment to eligible girls. Women were scholars, police officers, judges, pilots, and engineers–present in every field except the clergy. In 1978, 333 out of 1,660 candidates for local councils were women. Twenty-two were elected to the Parliament, two to the Senate. There was one female Cabinet minister, three sub-Cabinet undersecretaries (including the second-highest ranking officials in both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Industries), one governor, one ambassador, and five mayors.

After the demise of the shah, many women, in denouncing the previous regime, did so demanding more rights, not less. They were advanced enough to seek a more democratic form of governance with rights to political participation. From the very start, when Islamists attempted to impose their laws against women, there were massive demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands of women pouring into the streets of Tehran protesting against the new laws. When Khomeini announced the imposition of the veil, there were protests in wihch women took to the streets with the slogans: Freedom is neither Eastern nor Western; it is global and Down with the reactionaries! Tyranny in any form is condemned! Soon the protests spread, leading to a memorable demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice, in which an eight-point manifesto was issued. Among other things, the manifesto called for gender equality in all domains of public and private life as well as for the guarantee of fundamental freedoms for both men and women. It also demanded that the decision over women’s clothing, which is determined by custom and the exigencies of geographical location, be left to women.

Women were attacked by the Islamic vigilantes with knives and scissors, and acid was thrown in their faces. Yet they did not surrender, and it was the regime that retreated for a short while. Later, of course, it made the veil mandatory, first in workplaces, then in shops, and finally in the entire public sphere. In order to implement its new laws, the regime devised special vice squads, called the Blood of God, which patrolled the streets of Tehran and other cities on the lookout for any citizen guilty of moral offense. The guards could raid shopping malls, various public spaces, and even private homes in search of music or videos, alcoholic drinks, sexually mixed parties, and unveiled or improperly veiled women.

The mandatory veil was an attempt to force social uniformity through an assault on individual and religious freedoms, not an act of respect for traditions and culture. By imposing one interpretation of religion upon all its citizens, the Islamic regime deprived them of the freedom to worship their God in the manner they deemed appropriate. Many women who wore the veil, like my own grandmother, had done so because of their religious beliefs; many who had chosen not to wear the veil but considered themselves Muslims, like my mother, were now branded as infidels. The veil no longer represented religion but the state: not only were atheists, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, and people of other faiths deprived of their rights, so were the Muslims, who now viewed the veil more as a political symbol than a religious expression of faith. Other freedoms were gradually curtailed: the assault on freedom of htep ress was accompanied by censorship of books–including the works of some of the most popular classical and modern Iranian poets and writers–a ban on dancing, female singers, most genres of music, films, and other artistic forms, and systematic attacks against the intellectuals and academics who protested the new means of oppression.

In a Russian adaptation of Hamlet distributed in Iran, Ophelia was cut out from most of her scenes; in Sir Laurence Olivier’s Othello, Desdemona was censored from the greater part of the film and Othello’s suicide was also deleted because, the censors reasoned, suicide would depress and demoralize the masses. Apparently, the masses in Iran were quite a strange lot, since they might be far more demoralized by witnessing the death of an imaginary character onscreen than being themselves flogged and stoned to death …. Female students were reprimanded in schools for laughing out loud or running on school grounds, wearing colored shoelaces or friendship bracelets; in the cartoon Popeye, Olive Oyl was edited out of nearly every scene because the relationship between the two characters was illicit.

The result was that ordinary Iranian citizens, both men and women, inevitably began to feel the presence and intervention of the state in their most private daily affairs. The state did not merely punish criminals who threatened the lives and safety of the populace; it was there to control the people, to flog and jail them for wearing nail polish, Reebok shoes, or lipstick; it was there to watch over young girls and boys appearing in public. In short, what was attacked and confiscated were the individual and civil rights of the Iranian people.

–Azar Nafisi, The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of, in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices (2006; ISBN 0807004634), pp. 2–6.

Over My Shoulder #14: Robin Morgan (1981), Blood Types: An Anatomy of Kin

You know the rules; here’s the quote. This one has been delayed from Friday to Saturday by the government attacks on women at a International Women’s Day commemoration in Tehran. So in commemoration of those women, and of what they put their bodies on the line for, here’s something on the theme of feminist internationalism, women, and governments. This is bus reading, collected in Robin Morgan’s The Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches 1968–1992 (ISBN 0-393-03427-5): specifically, Blood Types: An Anatomy of Kin a meditative discussion on family, identity, sex, and race, written in 1981.

Mary Daly’s turn-the-concept-inside-out phrase, The Sisterhood of Man seems not only a hope but a dynamic actuality–since it’s grounded not in abstract notions of cooperation but in survival need, not in static posture but in active gesture, not in vague sentiments of similarity but in concrete experience shared to an astonishing degree, despite cultural, historical, linguistic, and other barriers. Labor contractions feel the same everywhere. So does rape and battery. I don’t necessarily always agree with many feminists that women have access to some mysteriously inherent biological nexus, but I do believe that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was onto something when she signed letters, Thine in the bonds of oppressed womanhood (italics mine). Let us hope–and act to ensure–that as women break those bonds of oppression, the process of freeing the majority of humanity will so transform human consciousness that women will not use our freedom to be isolatedly individuated as men have done. In the meanwhile, the bonds do exist; let’s use them creatively.

Not that the mechanistic universe inhabited by the family of Man takes notice of this quarky interrelationship between the hardly visible subparticles that merely serve to keep Man and his [sic] family alive. No, such particles are unimportant, fantastical, charming perhaps (as quarks or the fair sex tend to be). But they are to be taken no more seriously than fairytales.

Yet if Hans Christian Andersen characters so diverse as the Little Mermaid, the Robber Girl, the Snow Queen, and the Little Match Girl had convened a meeting to discuss ways of bettering their condition, one could imagine that the world press would cover that as a big story. When something even more extraordinary, because more real, happened in Andersen’s own city for three weeks during July 1980, it barely made the news.

Approximately ten thousand women from all over the planet began arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, even before the formal opening on July 14 of the United Nations Mid-Decade World Conference for women. The conference was to become a great, sprawling, rollicking, sometimes quarrelsome, highly emotional, unashamedly idealistic, unabashedly pragmatic, visionary family reunion. In 1975, the U.N. had voted to pay some attention to the female more-than-half of the human population for one year–International Women’s Year–but extended the time to a decade after the indignant outcry of women who had been living, literally, in the International Men’s Year for approximately ten millennia of patriarchy. Still, here we were, in the middle of our decade, in Copenhagen. We came in saris and caftans, in blue jeans and chadors, in African geles, pants-suits, and dresses. We were women with different priorities, ideologies, political analyses, cultural backgrounds, and styles of communication. The few reports that made it into the U.S. press emphasized those differences, thereby overlooking the big story–that these women forged new and strong connections.

There were two overlapping meetings in Copenhagen. One was the official U.N. conference–which many feminists accurately had prophesied would be more a meeting of governments than of women. Its delegates were chosen by governments of U.N. member states to psittaceously repeat national priorities–as defined by men.

The official conference reflected the government orientation: many delegations were headed by men and many more were led by safe women whose governments were certain wouldn’t make waves. This is not to say that there weren’t some real feminists tuckd away even in the formal delegations, trying gallantly to influence their respective bureaucracies towards more human concern with actions that really could better women’s lives. But the talents of these sisters within were frequently ignored or abused by their own delegations for political reasons.

A case in point was the U.S. delegation, which availed itself greedily of all the brilliant and unique expertise of Koryne Horbal (then U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), and of all the groundwork she had done on the conference for the preceding two years–including being the architect of CEDAW, the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women–but denied her press visibility and most simple courtesies because she had been critical of the Carter administration and its official policies on women. But Horbal wasn’t the only feminist within. There were New Zealand’s member of Parliament, the dynamic twenty-eight-year-old Marilyn Waring, and good-humored Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, former prime minister of Portugal, and clever Elizabeth Reid of Australia–all of them feminists skilled in the labyrinthian ways of national and international politics, but with priority commitment to populist means of working for women–who still managed to be effective inside and outside the structures of their governments.

The other conference, semiofficially under U.N. aegis, was the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Forum. It was to the Forum that ordinary folks came, having raised the travel fare via their local women’s organizations, feminist alternative media, or women’s religious, health, and community groups. Panels, workshops, kaffeeklatsches, cultural events, and informal sessions abounded.

Statements emerged and petitions were eagerly signed: supporting the prostitutes in S?@c3;a3;o Palo, Brazil, who that very week, in an attempt to organize for their human rights, were being jailed, tortured, and, in one case, accidentally executed; supporting Arab and African women organizing against the practice of female genital mutilation; supporting U.S. women recently stunned by the 1980 Supreme Court decision permitting federal and state denial of funds for medical aid to poor women who need safe, legal abortions–thus denying the basic human right of reproductive freedom; supporting South African women trying to keep families together under the maniacal system of apartheid; supporting newly exiled feminist writers and activists from the U.S.S.R.; supporting women refugees from Afghanistan, Campuchea [Cambodia], Palestine, Cuba, and elsewhere.

Protocol aside, the excitement among women at both conference sites was electric. If, for instance, you came from Senegal with a specific concern about rural development, you would focus on workshops about that, and exchange experiences and how-to’s with women from Peru, India–and Montana. After one health panel, a Chinese gynecologist continued talking animatedly with her scientific colleague from the Soviet Union–Sino-Soviet saber-rattling forgotten or transcended.

Comparisons developed in workshops on banking and credit between European and U.S. economists and the influential market women of Africa. The list of planned meetings about Women’s Studies ran to three pages, yet additional workshops on the subject were created spontaneously. Meanwhile, at the International Women’s Art Festival, there was a sharing of films, plays, poetry readings, concerts, mime shows, exhibits of painting and sculpture and batik and weaving, the interchanging of art techniques and of survival techniques. Exchange subscriptions were pledged between feminist magazines in New Delhi and Boston and Tokyo, Maryland and Sri Lanka and Australia. And everywhere the conversations and laughter of recognition and newfound friendships spilled over into the sidewalks of Copenhagen, often until dawn.

We ate, snacked, munched–and traded diets–like neighbor women, or family. A well-equipped Argentinian supplied a shy Korean with a tampon in an emergency. A Canadian went into labor a week earlier than she’d expected, and kept laughing hilariously between the contractions, as she was barraged with loving advice on how to breathe, where to rub, how to sit (or stand or squat), and even what to sing–in a chorus of five languages, while waiting for the prompt Danish ambulance. North American women from diverse ethnic ancestries talked intimately with women who still lived in the cities, towns, and villages from which their own grandmothers had emigrated to the New World. We slept little, stopped caring about washing our hair, sat on the floor, and felt at home with one another.

Certainly, there were problems. Simultaneous translation facilities, present everywhere at the official conference, were rarely available at the grass-roots forum. This exacerbated certain sore spots, like the much-ballyhooed Palestinian-Israeli conflict, since many Arab women present spoke Arabic or French but not English–the dominant language at the forum. That conflict–played out by male leadership at both the official conference and the forum, using women as pawns in the game–was disheartening, but not as bad as many of us had feared.

The widely reported walkout of Arab women during Madam Jihan Sadat’s speech at the conference was actually a group of perhaps twenty women tiptoeing quietly to the exit. This took place in a huge room packed with delegates who–during all the speeches–were sitting, standing, and walking about to lobby loudly as if on the floor of the U.S. Congress (no one actually listens to the speeches; they’re for the recrd).

Meanwhile, back at the forum, there was our own invaluable former U.S. congresswoman Bella Abzug (officially unrecognized by the Carter-appointed delegation but recognized and greeted with love by women from all over the world). Bella, working on coalition building, was shuttling between Israelis and Arabs. At that time, Iran was still holding the fifty-two U.S. hostages, but Bella accomplished the major miracle of getting a pledge from the Iranian women that if U.S. mothers would demonstrate in Washington for the shah’s ill-gotten millions to be returned to the Iranian people (for the fight against women’s illiteracy and children’s malnutrition), then the Iranian women would march simultaneously in Teheran for the hostages to be returned home to their mothers. Bella’s sensitivity and cheerful, persistent nudging on this issue caused one Iranian woman to throw up her hands, shrug, and laugh to me, What is with this Bella honey person? She’s wonderful. She’s impossible. She’s just like my mother.

The conference, the forum, and the arts festival finally came to an end. Most of the official resolutions were predictably bland by the time they were presented, much less voted on. Most of the governments will act on them sparingly, if at all. Consequently, those women who went naively trusting that the formal U.N. procedures would be drastically altered by such a conference were bitterly disappointed. But those of us who went with no such illusions, and who put not our trust in patriarchs, were elated. Because what did not end at the closing sessions isthat incredible networking–the echoes of all those conversations, the exchanged addresses–and what that will continue to accomplish.

— Robin Morgan (1981): Blood Types: An Anatomy of Kin, reprinted in The Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches 1968–1992, pp. 115–120.

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