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Michael Ubaldi, October 6, 2006.
An apocryphal letter, from someone claiming to be independent, embedded photographer-journalist Michael Yon, was sent to and received by several bloggers, including Australian Richard Fernandez. Last Sunday, Fernandez, mindful of no affirmation to be found on Yon's website (none has appeared in almost a week), reproduced the letter's contents on condition, that being the removal of the name of a military officer accused of — censorship. Censorship? Between scrutiny and discussion with his readers, Fernandez concluded that the letter indicts a single man for obstructing Yon's return passage to either major theater, Iraq or Afghanistan, despite the author declaiming "certainty that the United States military is censoring." That was the substance of the charge. As to the nature of it, Wretchard argued for a sensible medium between military security and public transparency, writing "At some sufficiently general level everyone needs to know the truth."
From this distance, with the information available, there is no need to verify the authenticity of the letter; but the military's forthrightness can be briefly examined. Suppose the letter were from Yon and LTC So-and-So really was misplacing the necessary paperwork for Yon's embedment with a regularity that defied coincidence. How does that compare with our cumulative understanding of the war, soldiers and the media? I have written at length at least twice about the inversion of expectations planted in American culture over thirty years ago. Then, reporters told you what had been hidden; today, Central Command tells what reporters won't to anyone who is listening. "They Saw Potemkin" showed how the broader left's idée fixe of military duplicity has led to a selective and spurious narrative to support belief, not fact; "Demolishing Potemkin" explored the circumvention of a monolithic press made possible by independent journalism, one such party being Michael Yon.
His hand isn't one the brass wants to bite. So: the accusation. Is So-and-So one of many? Are we talking blackout? Deployment cycles provide a large number of veterans who, upon returning home, would be able to contrast the television screen with their indelible memories of service. Newspapers and network agencies would leap at and tug at a thread of conspiracy. But what comes from soldiers most, anecdotally and statistically, is a reprimand of journalists for broadcasting to Americans a front that is unrecognizable from the one the soldiers left.
On principle, the military has reasons for limiting private reporting and controlling information — to preclude warped coverage or, worse, compromising disclosures. Since the "Potemkin" series professional journalism has not been exonerated, instead facing the particular embarrassment of proofing falsehoods of Hezbollah terrorists earlier this year. Baghdadi Omar Fadhil recently wrote "The magnitude of pressure and misinformation the people here are subject to from the media is a factor that cannot be ignored. Since April 2003 and till now virtually all the media kept describing the US presence as a force of occupation even when the legal status of the forces ceased to be so long time ago. For over three years, the media kept focusing on the mistakes and shortcomings of the US military and US administration in what I can only describe as force-feeding hatred to the Iraqi people." Only two years ago a survey revealed the power of aspersion: Iraqi respondents showed no love for American forces, yet only one in four could speak from personal experience.
The gold standard for power over postwar reconstruction media was comfortably set by Douglas MacArthur in his capacity as Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in occupied Japan. The temporary ban on Kabuki plays and the deportation of uncooperative Western journalists tell much of MacArthur's practices. Takemae Eiji, however, in his historical account Inside GHQ, questioned writer Eto Jun's deprecation of occupation years as "a closed linguistic space." "For all its obvious internal inconsistencies, flaws and abuses," answered Eiji, "American censorship was designed to eliminate the infinitely more repressive [militarist] Old Order, allowing a new ethos to take root in its place. ...After all, it was the unstinting cooperation of Japan's reactionary wartime media with militarism that had made some kind of post-defeat censorship inevitable to begin with."
Japan is Japan and Iraq is Iraq but we know that nothing administered to occupied Japan prevented the country's revivification; to the contrary. And the extent of foreign, fascist influence in Iraqi matters, specifically that which leaves people dead, must owe something to coalition lenience. You can't think authorities in the Pentagon and the military, discoursing in hindsight, don't wonder about this.
Michael Ubaldi, October 5, 2006.
Early this morning John Podhoretz questioned not only the practicality of forbearing hate of a murderer but, too, the propriety thereof. He quoted Rod Dreher: "Could you stand over the body of a dead child and tell the young not to hate her killer? I could not. Please God," wrote Dreher, one known for effusion, "make me into the sort of man who could."
Podhoretz went on to consider, speaking as a Jew, that "anger can be as righteous as forgiveness." The second isn't counteractive of the first, but vital to it. Without forgiveness anger is not righteous; instead, it is hate. Anger is indignation at an action, the rightful demand for just and commensurate punishment, and a deference of anything else to divine judgment. Hate is the desire to consume and destroy, not just corporally but totally, far in excess of due recompense and mortal authority — and in the same dominative spirit as a usurper or murderer. Reading Iraqi expatriate Zeyad's accounting of the enemy's murder of doctors and scientists, an attempted cautery of Iraq's lettered alongside daily strikes at diligent laborers and proprietors, is enough to stir an incendiary rage. Yet — to what end? If the crime is condemned and the convict's liberty abrogated, what more can be pronounced?
When Christ rebuked Israelites for casting ultimate verdicts, while it was their place to but acknowledge wrong and try according to laws of men, He was restating Jehovah's exclusive claim to vengeance. Hate contributes nothing to what is right. It is followed purely in the service of self.
Michael Ubaldi, October 3, 2006.
Blogger Patterico has published two of five segments from an interview with an American formerly stationed at the naval installation at Guantanamo Bay. Tomorrow we are to learn what the correspondent knows about terrorist detainees' mental comportment; today we can read his opinion based on observation. "Stashiu" — the name assumed by the soldier for the sake of his public revelations — spoke to the incarcerated men daily. What are they like? asked Patterico. "Stashiu" advised him to "Think Ted Bundy." This would exclude West Coast debutants who become the fellow travelers of totalitarian militiamen: the convicted and executed mass-murderer Bundy was an epitomic psychopath, mathematically lethal but neither rational nor redeemable. Next, the correspondent characterized the motivations of the detained as individually varied but collectively unshakeable. "There are truly some evil people out there," we are told he said.
Military historian Mary Habeck was quoted by William F. Buckley in his last article for September. Mr. Buckley invited those who would begrudge George Bush interrogatory means to read Habeck's book Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror. Habeck has concluded, it seems, that exegetical inspiration — Islamic, though not necessarily strictly Koranic — cardinally guides the many works of terrorist and authoritarian violence by men who call themselves Muslims. Mr. Buckley's article questions the justification of opposing the review and refinement of standards governing what is done with those over whom "Stashiu" watched, but by extension he is telling us all about Habeck.
I will read the book before commenting on the subject at length but think it reasonable to examine a pair of the several excerpts Mr. Buckley provides. In one, Habeck refers to Sheik Abdullah Azzam as "the principal modern theorist of militant Islam," yet as Azzam was an engineer of modern terrorism, one is compelled to approach Azzam like one would a custodian of the National Reich Church. Habeck also writes that "the most widely respected Islamic authorities" support Islamic domination through the rule of force. Respected — empowered — by who? If Habeck believes that Islamist fascism is a perversion of proper Islam, isn't the religion itself made incidental? And, to Mr. Buckley's point, "it is...wrong to assume that every jihadist is heretical to his faith," wouldn't the distorted nature of that ethos bring with it a circular argument, e.g., Stalin was but an adherent of Stalinism? Until it can be suspended outside of totalism or madness, both of which are, historically, appropriative, the circumstantial place of Islam can't be dismissed.
Michael Ubaldi, October 2, 2006.
Ad hominem may as well be Latin for "I choose to forfeit the debate on account of disrespect," for in practice it is the choice, conscious or careless, to sidestep an opposing argument and instead attack the character of its advocate. The worst offense of this kind is establishing intelligence as a condition for agreement.
John Derbyshire of National Review quotes a friend of his on interlocution: "I don't find myself in long conversations with people whose IQs are [between 100 and 119], let alone any lower. In software development projects us smarter team members end up having rapid fire complex conversations and at the end explain the conclusions to the lesser minds." This supports the observation of another friend, which is that communication between high intelligence and low intelligence "quickly becomes," as it is more pronounced, "impossible." Isn't that a tidy theory? And it is a theory. Tests conducted during my childhood suggest that I am within the 99th IQ percentile. A bachelor's degree was sufficient for my work and I do not intend to return to university study — yet after half a decade living among the medial, I can't recall a communication failure caused solely or even primarily by a difference in intelligence.
Now, I concede the fact that we can't befriend everybody. Education and avocation attract and repel people, there are things which can be shared only between those who have like minds, and obviously someone with a robust intellect will be capable of learning concepts more quickly and in greater number than someone with less than that. But imputing an interpersonal divide to the perceived inferiority of another presumes a surpassing importance of one's own work and interests — a conceit which is, fitting nicely with Derbyshire's subsequent brief on "zones of commitment," the prepossession of academics.
Michael Ubaldi, September 26, 2006.
Should we be comforted or surprised by the realization that the election of Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister of Japan — and the fulfilment of Junichiro Koizumi's pledge to retire from the executive post after the passage of promised reforms — happened so quietly that neither event secured a major headline? Well — we might think about the high relative value that the corporate press assigns to drama or contention. The Liberal Democratic Party, factious as it can be on some things, forms Tokyo's perpetual Diet majority; and the prime ambition of Koizumi's former chief cabinet secretary wasn't a secret, nor was Abe's accession seriously contested or doubted. Using that scale, "Prime Minister Abe" is ho-hum.
For Abe and the Japanese, however, matters need settling that are, LDP solidarity aside, portentous. The Diet — and the balance of the Japanese public — believes Japan deserves a standing army without having to resort to constitutional acrobatism. There are alliances to consider, domestic priorities to order, market policies to rectify, all for a country whose demure governments have for sixty years belied its colossal potential. Maybe it's best Abe knows for a fact that all eyes are not on him.
Michael Ubaldi, September 25, 2006.
On the right there is a branch of demography especial to the calculation of the futility of everything. Western civilization's wane is much easier to assert when data shows a half-century of cultural, economic and procreative stagnation, and such has inspired predictions that are often judged according to their dreariness.
Some forecasters are more serious than others, like Theodore Dalrymple and Mark Steyn. The two have raised to erudition the task of rousing the free world from complacency — but even they are pretty well inclined to chart a vector from Point A, a few decades of the modern era in which historical trends saw sharp reverses; to Point B, doom. A central factor is the shrinking average birthrate of the democratic world as observed until, it seems, just recently: Michael Barone of US News & World Report announced that the United States is fecund again. Barone, a sanguine skeptic, took care to qualify apperception: "The lesson of the past is that America keeps changing and growing, often in ways we fail to anticipate."
It doesn't convince to assume population growth to be the only variable not accounted for or, too, that this country, despite capitalistic and libertarian advantages, is the only one capable of restitution. Not that Dalrymple and Steyn don't recognize that the world changes: Steyn himself rebukes European statists for "think[ing] of the present as a kind of a permanent state." But Barone's observation illustrates an open society's corrective strengths that the demography branch overlooks. We are left with the irony of members of a generation that seized iconoclasm as a birthright coming close to saying that just what can be seen is all there is.
Michael Ubaldi, September 21, 2006.
Celts, the first peoples in Britain? That is what is stated in a Scotsman report on a recently completed study. John Derbyshire disagrees and so do I. It sounds like the journalist got it wrong. The first humans on the British Isles were Iberians, the Britons, who were displaced and absorbed by Celts about 2,500 years ago.
Derbyshire notes the "waves of invaders" infused into the country's population and indeed, England's history is rich. Buttressed by the anthropological work of men like Carleton Coon, we know the ethnic heritage of the Isles to be sedimented. That fact makes for a wonderful reductio ad absurdum counter to the occasional appeal for American Indian land reparations.
Here's how it goes: First, the Germans shall return the throne to the Normans; the Normans shall give England back to the Anglo-Saxons, who shall give it back to the Danes, who shall give it back to the Anglo-Saxons, who shall split and share it for a while with the Danes before giving it to the Danes, who shall give it back to the Anglo-Saxons so the Saxons can enjoy it a bit for themselves, at which point they shall give it back to the Romans, who shall give it back to the Celts, who shall give it back to the Iberians, who shall leave the place for God and the beasts.
Michael Ubaldi, September 19, 2006.
Listening to a foreign policy speech of George Bush's, when in general agreement with him, leaves one encouraged but not without a sense of anticlimax. If what the man talks about is patent, when is it more of a tautology than a reminder?
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly today, the president avowed that a) electoral democracy is the only acceptable form of government, and that the claim has both moral and evidentiary standing; that b) many countries have denied inalienable rights to citizens, but not so uniformly as the Near East; and c) what come of said privations are often violent political or cultural movements, today manifested as, for one, Islamist fascism. Bush identified three national actors: Iran, for its terrorist machinations; Syria, for the same; and the Sudan, for a domestic brand of religious counterfeit instructing genocide. Enemies of freedom, Bush warned, would be combated. The president might even have confronted a popular saying and explained how the only "opportunity" five years ago that he "squandered" was the United States' indefinite residence in national victimhood.
OK, we knew all of that. Keep in mind, it was a United Nations audience to which the president spoke, the common language at Turtle Bay a euphemistic dialect of English. George Bush actually used it just twice, once about Israel and its neighbors and again to praise the military pledges of Paris and Rome — otherwise he referenced it to refute it. Several paragraphs into such a castigation comes the thought, How can they keep quiet while he tells them what they really are? Those who heard the radio broadcast wouldn't have been able to see the delegates knit their brows, shuffle their feet, and fold their arms.
Michael Ubaldi, September 18, 2006.
Andrew McCarthy, whose rhetorical trend against Islam I have written about several times, most recently three weeks ago, this morning confirmed my observation — that he reached a point where it was "impossible" for him to be doing much else than imputing Near East fascism to Koranic observance — with two contributions to National Review's Corner. The instance of Pope Benedict XVI's use, for a public address, of a 14th-Century Constantinopolitan denigration of Mohammed's teachings, has brought about what press and comment portray as an international Islamic riot. The depth of wounded religious dignity we don't know, and that countries heavily populated by the faithful are also dictatorships doesn't help us — free expression itself is a breach of etiquette over there, piety and opportunity a corporate policy. Radical implantations, London to Baghdad, transmit the same.
Events of the past few days were sufficient for McCarthy to offer three verses from the Koran as a whole statement, its implication that from the Koran comes violence; a statement which McCarthy affirmed when colleague Andrew Stuttaford asked for a clarification and moderation. "There's plenty of rough stuff in the Bible," wrote Stuttaford, and he was correct. One Koranic excerpt is an instruction to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each an ambush." It is a favorite, but it has Biblical parallels.
In Deuteronomy Jehovah exhorted the Israelites to build a kingdom through military conquest. "When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you," said the Lord, adding "in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes." When Joshua inherited leadership from Moses, God led him and brought about the obliteration of Jericho. God's messages were to Moses and Joshua for a specific and ancient divine purpose, as an example of God's will for His people. They were not license to expropriate but Pope Urban II used them as such anyway. Alexius Comnenus petitioned Urban for help with southerly Seljuk Turks; Urban, in his demented exegesis as transcribed by Robert the Monk, decided that the land of milk and honey was his, too, and commenced the First Crusade.
Turn back to Benedict who, drawing from the same holy book, responded to the question of "spreading the faith through violence" with animadversion. What moved him — heresy or reason? What is interposed between papacies nine hundred years apart, or more to the point, what is it Christianity has contended with that Islam really hasn't, yet? Review contributor Clifford May repeated McCarthy's error, conflating sacred text with its misappropriation by authoritarians. He quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini celebrating rule by force. He doubts there is any "wiggle room" in Khomeini's remarks — wait a moment, when was Khomeini infallible but in the opinion of people whose opinions we reject?
Islam, a practical target, is the wrong one. By the end of the Cold War a paralogism was on the West's escutcheon: because all communism was evil, all evil was communism. If we run from a religion, judging nations by their Islamic denomination — ignoring the greater relevancy of dictatorship, of cultures of fear and domination — we will deliver ourselves out of the presence of one tyranny yet into another's, again.
Michael Ubaldi, September 12, 2006.
Popular Mechanics began expostulating on distorted revisions of the September 11th attacks with an article printed in early 2005. This past summer the magazine formalized its rejection of conspiracist accounts by publishing a book on the subject. Blogger Glenn Reynolds heralded the release of Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand up to the Facts with an August interview of the book's editors, and today directs attention to an opinion piece written by Popular Mechanics' editor-in-chief.
My personal encounters with conspiracists have been mercifully few, especially since the peddlers were otherwise well-intentioned and intelligent — if distant — acquaintances. That thematic consistency trumps coherence suggests pathology, as does a similarity in behavior. The conspiracists start with adumbration and in response to or anticipation of a challenge, swiftly distance themselves from claims. Just, you know, repeating what they heard. Arguments with some basis in fact I will confront as politely as I can. Depreciating the lives and deaths of thousands of people — one delusive favorite, the denial of the existence of Flight 77 — is intolerable. Unfortunately, the prerequisite for becoming a conspiracy theorist is either a willful evasion of logic or an incapacity for its use. It was Popular Mechanics' first piece that I forwarded to a conspiracist — the magazine has done good work, but for those who revel in anti-American fancy one may as well explain to a dog why it can't understand English.