Bugs Bunny vs. Kim Jong Un

bugs-hitler

Sony has canceled the release of The Interview.  Par for the course in a nation that has lost its backbone.

America has surrendered to a stupid little country with a dictator better cast for an Austin Powers film than reality, and nary a shot has been fired.  LAME!  Now, of course, it isn’t the United States Armed Forces surrendering to North Korea, but if one of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios is throwing away a $43-million investment two weeks before it is set to start paying dividends, can the rest of society really be that far off?  After all, truth is stranger than fiction, and life imitates art imitating life all the time.

I blame Obama.  Yes, yes I do.  It sounds trite, but it’s true, because Obama, if he stands for nothing else, if he has failed at nothing else, he has failed at executing his paramount duty as president: protecting this nation from foreign threat.

Sure, Obamacare is a disaster.  Our national debt is spiraling out of control.  There’s the Lois Lerner thing, the Fast and Furious thing, the amnesty thing.  The list can go on and on, with major failures by Obama and his pals in Congress, but at the very least, those things are largely internal, and Congress is equally complicit.  Protecting our homeland from foreign threat, though, really falls under the purview of the commander-in-chief.

Of course, people are flipping out because he’s recommitting troops to the Middle East to combat ISIS (as he should) without any sort of congressional oversight, so there’s that whole War Powers Act thing.  But I’m not talking about direct action; I’m talking about setting the tone of the nation.  I’m a big believer in the separation of powers and a limited executive.  But one thing the president can do without any sort of legislation or executive order is use the bully pulpit.  Teddy Roosevelt understood this when he talked about speaking softly and carrying a big stick.  Reagan understood it when he told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”  George W. Bush understood it.  Even Clinton understood it to some extent.

There’s a reason why most big guys you meet don’t go throwing their weight around.  They don’t need to.  But even more important than one’s size is how one carries oneself.  The Duchy of Grand Fenwick comes to mind, and isn’t it sadly ironic that a Peter Sellers comedy is now reality.

Obama has the bully pulpit.  So far he’s used it to tell Putin’s puppet that he’d have more flexibility after the election (indeed), drawn fake red lines in the Syrian sand, called ISIS the JV team (one instance where he should have used less hubris), and apologized to a bunch of other enemies while throwing our allies under the bus.  To his credit, he did say we should all go to the movies on Christmas.  (I could probably make a joke about the War on Christmas here, but I won’t.)

Sorry, Barry.  It’s too little, too late.  You did say you were going to fundamentally transform America.  Well, congratulations.  We’re a nation of cowards now.  A vague threat from a couple of guys sitting in their underwear in their mothers’ basements eating North Korea’s answer to the cheesy-poofs have now completely derailed a major motion picture release.  I just hope Seth Rogen and James Franco didn’t take the majority of their pay in box office percentages.  And that’s really something.

As I said, we’re cowering in fear of a kid who’d probably still be carded were he to go to The Interview if it had been released.  We’re cowering to a nation that levels threats on a regular basis and so far has managed to launch only a few missiles into the ocean miles off their intended course.  (Yeah, they killed a few South Koreans, and as tragic as that was, it really doesn’t amount to much in the way of threats.  Walking down the street in Detroit is more dangerous.)

I’m sure there was plenty of chatter from the jihadis (and the North Koreans) when Team America: World Police was released.  Same goes for Zero Dark Thirty.  Heck, there was a legitimate bomb scare outside Comedy Central after South Park did an episode making fun of Muhammad.  And probably the granddaddy of them all: during World War II, Warner Brothers turned out plenty of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons making fun of a couple of dictators that were actively killing millions of people.  When a cartoon rabbit and a cartoon waterfowl have more backbone than you do, it’s time to take a serious look behind you to see if your spine is still there.

But I guess this is par for the course (with no apologies to the Golfer-in-Chief).  We pulled out of Iraq because they wanted to play a little footsie during Status of Forces negotiations.  We threw a no-talent hack with a camcorder under the bus when we couldn’t heed warnings and common sense to protect our consulate in Benghazi.  We let Putin mow over half of Ukraine while setting eyes on the rest of Eastern Europe.  The only “threat” we seem to take seriously these days is a Canadian oil pipeline.  Maybe Sony should release a film lampooning Stephen Harper next.

 Cross posted at AmericanThinker.com.

Data Mining: Liberty vs. Security

There’s been much talk on the interwebs today about the NSA data-mining Verizon’s and other companies’ phone records. While I’m not one to call double-standard on “my own team” nor defend Obama very often, I have to jump in here. And realize, I am in good conservative company here. This morning conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager covered the topic in a positive manner and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), who has an 88 rating from the American Conservative Union and sits on the House Intelligence Committee, both agree with me.

Many people are throwing around the Franklin quote, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I bolded the words I did because many folks are also conveniently (although I suspect unintentionally in many cases) leaving those words out and they really make all the difference. Without them, the quote could be interpreted to mean any form of government is bad since any form of government necessarily puts certain restraints on complete liberty. As Madison said, “if men were angels no government would be necessary.” Of course, he added the converse that, “if angels were to govern men then no controls on government would be necessary.” But both parts of that quote are equally necessary. Like so many things in life and government, security policy requires a balance. If men were angels then we’d have no need to fingerprint. If men were angels we’d have no need for passports or any other form of ID. If men were angels we wouldn’t need surveillance at the ATM, guards at the airport, a military or even our cherished Second Amendment rights. If men were angels we’d live in Utopia, the definition of which is a place which doesn’t exist, at least not on earth.

But men aren’t angels so we do need government and the laws that it passes and enforces. We have the liberty to practice the religion we want but not to engage in child sacrifice. We have the liberty to speak freely but not to cry “fire” in a crowded theater or to threaten the life of the president. We have the liberty to keep and bear arms but try to acquire a Patriot missile and see what happens. And I’m guessing, regardless of how we interpret the Second Amendment (I, myself, believe, technically, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution restricting us from having a Patriot missile), we wouldn’t have a problem with our friendly neighborhood FBI task force looking into a neighbor that was keeping one in his back yard.

So what about data-mining? I’m not too concerned (which doesn’t mean I’m not concerned at all). First, as Rep. Rogers states, this program has already stopped at least one significant terrorist attack in the U.S. Second, the program is authorized by Congress and supervised by a court.

“But we see how well government oversight is working!” you say. Yes, there are certainly more than enough examples within just the past few months to prove that the Obama Administration is as corrupt as few we’ve seen, so I understand the hesitancy of some to support data-mining. But if we take this approach then nothing the government does (at least as long as Obama is in power) can be trusted. And if that’s the case then what’s the point? It’s not a far leap from there to a whole list of quite possible conspiracy theories (shape-shifting aliens not being one of them in this case).

Our government is powerful enough (and always has been in relation to the power of the people) that it could, theoretically, frame a private citizen for some heinous act as a way to silence its opposition.

So we should be vigilant. We shouldn’t just skip along as if data-mining is as happy as a Saturday morning cartoon specials but we also shouldn’t just dismiss it off-hand as some sinister plot to take away our freedoms. Mostly because the so-called freedoms taken away by data-mining pale in comparison to the ones we gave up long ago and haven’t complained about in decades (if we ever did).

First, data-mining isn’t the government listening in on every phone call you make and copying down the contents of the shopping list you’re reading off to your wife. In fact, data-mining has nothing to do with the content of your call. It is simply a computer algorithm searching through millions of gigabytes of meta-data seeing if there are any patterns that might point to terrorist plots or some other criminal act. Maybe you made a call a few seconds before a bomb went off and that call bounced off a tower near the site of the explosion. Seems to me that data might be pretty useful. Of course, maybe you have absolutely nothing to do with the explosion, but if it meant finding the terrorist who did so or preventing another explosion from taking place, would you really have a problem with answering a few questions? Completely innocent people are rounded up all the time when something bad happens.

When Bobby Kennedy was shot, hundreds of people were held for questioning for hours at the Ambassador Hotel; the vast majority or which, I’m sure, authorities knew, without a doubt, weren’t responsible. But better to restrict the liberty of a few hundred for a few hours in an effort to catch an assassin than let everyone go, including Sirhan Sirhan.

Stupid people threaten the life of the president all the time. Most of the time they have no intention of causing any real harm. They’re just stupid. But aren’t we all glad that the Secret Service is vigilant about investigating all those folks?

We’ve given up a lot more information than the metadata of our phone calls. The government knows how much we make and who pays us. It knows about our real estate and vehicle ownership. It knows when and where we travel when we leave the country. Any time we make a transaction of more than $10,000 or transport that sum across international boundaries the government knows that too. To me, all that seems way more invasive than the fact I made a few calls yesterday.

And that’s assuming the government actually cares. Excuse me, but most of us just aren’t that special. And if our specific phone behavior is being that closely monitored then we probably either have ties to a terrorist group or are a major contributor to the Romney Campaign (the latter of which, of course, is completely unconstitutional, an abuse of power and is, thankfully, in a similar instance, being investigated by Congress). The government does care, however, how much money we make and if we withdrew $15,000 from our bank account last week. If you want to get in a tizzy over government overreach, get in a tizzy over that.

Yes, the government is wildly inefficient, at times abusive and vindictive, but if we’ve really reached the point where, to quote Obama in a speech earlier today, “people can’t trust government, we’re going to have some problems here.”

Does that mean we should give government all of our trust? Never! I don’t care who’s in the White House. I wouldn’t trust myself. That’s why I’m a fan of limited government. But it also doesn’t mean that we should look at everything the government does (even the honesty-challenged current administration) through the lens of some sinister plot to take away all of our rights and throw those of us who “cling to our God and guns” in prison camps. As bad as things are here right now, we’re not anywhere close to being North Korea.

Personally, I’m thankful that Obama has broken his promise to close Gitmo. I’m glad he took out Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone. To not trust government to at least some extent means to not trust the military or the police, for, in the wrong hands, they can inflict a lot more harm on the average citizen than any amount of data-mining ever can. And to not trust government to some extent means the only option left is armed revolt because, really, if you can’t trust a computer algorithm running a search on phone records at the NSA, can you even trust that we have free and fair elections?

So just ask yourself, is it the data-mining you have a problem with or is it the current data-miner-in-chief? If it’s the latter then don’t throw the baby (tools used to successfully prevent terror attacks in the U.S.) out with the bath water (President Obama; and no, Martin Bashir, that comparison has nothing to do with the color of his skin). The TSA’s policy of not allowing knives and guns on airplanes fails all the time. One friend mentioned that her husband unknowingly brought a pocket knife onboard a plane four times before a TSA agent found it. Does that mean we should just throw that whole policy out? And if so, why not just allow guns or even underwear bombs?

And if it is the former, just why are you so concerned about some federal government algorithm combing over millions of phone records (which, unless you’re one of the special cases named above, won’t even be connected to you) yet you don’t seem to have a problem with Verizon, AT&T, Facebook, or Google doing the same?

In conclusion, stay always vigilant. It is good and right that this story about data-mining is in the media and being discussed at such length. But just be wary of where you go with your arguments. Focus on the facts and the specific policy. Those of us on the right didn’t appreciate it when some on the left exhibited Bush Derangement Syndrome and flipped out no matter what he did (things that Obama is currently doing today, including data-mining). Don’t develop Obama Derangement Syndrome and flip out over data-mining just because Obama is currently in charge. Nor should you flip out over it because there’s the possibility it could be used for malevolent purposes. While the IRS is actually using data it is collecting for malevolent purposes, as much as I’d love to see it go, no one is seriously entertaining its end over this.

 

Keeping it simple

“They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer- not an easy answer- but simple.”

– A Time for ChoosingOct 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States (1911-2011)

President Reagan made this particular statement in reference to the conflict in Vietnam. He knew the simple answer was to do the right thing and fight the ever-growing threat of Communist expansion in Southeast Asia (and Eastern Europe). It’s never easy to go to war, risking life and limb in defense of liberty, but once the decision is made it is quite a simple proposition, especially with right on our side not to mention a superior arsenal. This simple strategy of war is best summed up in another quote from Reagan, “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose.” Until the day the Berlin Wall fell and greater freedom was granted to millions of people living behind the Iron Curtain there were plenty of critics of this simplistic philosophy, but on November 9, 1989 Reagan was vindicated and totalitarianism was largely relegated to the ash heap of history. (Or so many thought but no, to answer Francis Fukuyama, there is never an end of history, for, as the quote erroneously attributed to Scottish Historian Alexander Tytler states,

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always vote for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.”)

And just as the strategy for winning the Cold War was one of simplicity so, too, is the strategy for addressing all other problems that we face as a society. Contrary to what ivory towered intellectuals would like us to believe, Occam’s razor (lex parsimoniae) is correct; things are black & white. It may appear that the solution lies in that grey area for it may be difficult for some to discern the answer but in all probability this difficulty arises out of an over-complication of the problem.

In general, the solution to most of the problems being addressed by public policy is to do the exact opposite: make it private policy, eliminate the government program created to “solve” it and let the private sector take over. Privatize education. Privatize health care. Privatize welfare. As Albert Einstein said, “The only justifiable purpose of political institutions is to assure the unhindered development of the individual.” In other words, the government’s only job is to protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (also known as property); to ensure equal access, not equal results. Beyond that it is up to the charity of the community to ensure that the poor and enfeebled not go hungry, for the government cannot give assistance to one citizen without first taking it from another (and skimming a fairly sizable portion off the top in the form of bureaucratic inefficiency).

To this philosophy I devote the majority of this blog. These are my rants and ramblings on public policy, politics and pop-culture. And because I am a devoted Christian I will, from time to time, weigh in on matters of faith and religion as the Spirit leads me. I may throw in the occasional post on food, travel or some other truly enjoyable pastime, for as John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail,

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”


“Deep down inside, in places you don’t talk about at parties…”

I went over to the I-90 Lid Park on Mercer Island this afternoon to watch a Seattle, nay, a national tradition; the Blue Angels. The police had, of course, shut I-90 down to traffic but opened it to pedestrians and the turnout on this hot summer’s day was great; at least a few hundred. Add the crowds on boats and in surrounding parks over the next few days and the number of people who turn out to watch this demonstration of American military might is well over a few hundred thousand.

A Seattle Times article about the I-90 Bridge closing that was posted yesterday has 34 comments with 12 “against” and 17 “for” the Blue Angels, including ones like this from “corporate welfare donor”: “How can we be burning tax payer’s jet fuel at a time like this? We are broke, we can’t afford this! Cmon Teahadists sing along!”

Or this one from “what a kerfluffle”: “Terrible – Yep, you’re into war and hate. No compassion. I hope you enjoy watching your jets fly around doing tricks for you. War and hate. Whatever gets you off…”

And this one from “qagrad”: “I can hardly wait to see the Blue Angels on my tv screen so those that are lucky enough to see the show in person are in for a special treat. To me they are the sound of freedom. If you don’t like it maybe you should move to another country!”

The “thumbs up” for pro-Blue Angels comments and the “thumbs down” for anti-Blue angels comments outnumber the opposite by more than 100.

I haven’t found any polls of Seattleites about what their opinions of the Blue Angles are but, partly based on the crowd I saw on the bridge today, the anecdotal poll from above, and the fact that the military consistently rates, by far, the most trusted and liked sector of government and, often, the most liked profession along with police and firefighters; my guess is that, even here in liberal Seattle, “deep down inside, in places we don’t talk about at parties, we want someone on that wall, we need someone on that wall” defending our freedom, to paraphrase Col. Nathan R. Jessup in the movie A Few Good Men.

It’s an interesting study in cognitive dissonance amongst a lot of anti-war liberals. A perfect example of this is the liberal bumper sticker mantra of “Support the Troops, Bring ‘em Home!” Apparently the anti-war movement finally figured out this last time around that “Baby Killer!” doesn’t do as well with focus groups so they’ve tempered their message. The fact still remains though, not only are they lying to others with the “Support our Troops” mantra, they’re also lying to themselves. If their sons chose a more innocuous profession, like baker, would they be saying “I support my child” while also actively working to make him fail at his desired work? Hardly.

This cognitive dissonance is also clear in America’s preferences at the box office. Audiences cheer when someone like Jack Bauer thinks nothing of shooting someone, sawing off his head and sticking it in a bag so he can prevent a nuclear bomb from going off. But when a couple of CIA agents want to dunk a guy’s head under water for a couple of minutes, something that our own Special Forces soldiers are routinely exposed to during training, the ACLU goes nuts. Captain America took the top spot at the box office on its opening weekend yet many of these same people, although they may not have been out on the street hanging Bush in effigy during the Iraq War, nonetheless voted against John McCain in large numbers because they opposed the “illegal war mongering agenda” of the right. Strangely enough, even though Obama has increased troop strength in Afghanistan; started another war, which, by legal standards, is much more questionable than the liberation of Iraq; a war which gained strong bi-partisan support; and has yet to shut down Guantanamo, the anti-war protesters can’t be found. In fact, just the opposite occurred with the largest military related gathering being the droves that turned out to cheer the capture of Osama bin Laden back in April.

So America, especially those of you on the left, be proud of your pride in this country and its military might. Don’t vilify and literally put on trial those who seek to protect your freedom by choosing something that, while not the most humane approach, is far from torture and is the extreme lesser of two evils when faced with stopping the potential loss of thousands if not millions of lives. Be proud of these men and women who have the guts, not only in terms of risking their own lives but also their own mental states (no one with a sound mental state takes joy in water-boarding a suspect), to make sure that you can enjoy the freedoms that you do. I know it might not be the vogue thing to talk about at your wine and cheese gatherings and you may likely gain sneers from your friends, but you know what is right, deep down inside, and maybe if you start talking about it at parties more people will come out in support, true support, of America’s military might and the freedoms that it protects. And if you’re truly not a fan, well, maybe you’ll follow through on that promise you made back in the Fall of 2004 when you vowed to move to Canada if Bush won re-election.

What Are We Supposed to Do When the System Is Broken?

This morning Laura Ingraham ran a story about Michigan abortion doctor Abraham Hodari who continues to practice despite countless instances of forced abortions and even, what one might generously label, the negligent homicides of four young girls.

And then there’s Maurice Clemmons and his cold-blooded murder of four Lakewood Police Officers yesterday.

What do these two tragic cases have in common? They represent a failure of the system. I don’t have some grand illusion that life is supposed to be fair. There are some sick folks out there and sometimes really bad things happen to really good people. It may be tragic but it’s life. The grand illusion that I do carry around is that, while life may not be fair, government should be. And by that I mean government needs to uphold and enforce laws that help to prevent tragedies like those I just mentioned.

The crimes committed by Hodari and Clemmons should never have happened. Hodari should have, at the very least, been stripped of his medical credentials long ago for forcibly aborting pregnancies. In my opinion he should be spending several years as a guest of the Michigan State Penal System. Clemmons should not have been released on a scant $150,000 bail after being charged with child rape. He, too, should, at the very least, be awaiting his rape trial in a Pierce County Jail.

But neither of them are and what are we left with? Who knows how many more young girls may be forced to go through abortions before Hodari is stopped? In the case of Clemmons I suspect justice will eventually be served and he’ll be placed behind bars without the possibility of parole but I doubt this will be the last time that innocent people must die at the hands of a felon walking free. So I ask you, what are we suppose to do?

Some may say, “Well, we still need to rely on the system. Sure it may have some kinks but it’s still the best on Earth.” Others may advocate reform at the ballot box. I’d certainly hope that whatever idiot judge that granted Clemmons bail be retired as soon as possible, but is any of this really enough?

I’ll add one more name to the list: Khalid Sheik Muhammad. What is this guy doing receiving a criminal trial? He’s already admitted to planning 9/11. Why is he not already six feet under? All the criminal trial is going to do is serve as an opportunity to plead not guilty on the grounds that either a) only 2800 people died on 9/11, not the 3000 that the government is charging him with or more likely b) everyone that died on 9/11 deserved it because they were infidels. Either way he’ll use the time to rail against the evils of the very country that is allowing him the opportunity to do so.

This can’t continue indefinitely. We can’t keep relying on “the system”. I’m not advocating blind vigilantism. As much as I can empathize with someone who takes the law into his own hands and blows away the guy that raped his daughter, it’s not right. I don’t agree with the guy that murdered abortion doctor George Tiller either. Abortion is still, unfortunately, legal and, to the best of my knowledge Dr. Tiller, while a despicable human being, wasn’t so despicable as to forcibly abort any of his patients’ pregnancies. But when “justice has been served” and the verdict is not guilty on account of the guy didn’t get read his Miranda Rights or, as in the case of Dr. Hodari, he laughs at his accusers because he believes he’s above the law (and apparently rightfully so if you go by the State of Michigan’s actions) what must be done? At what point do we concede that the government is not doing its job and feel well within our rights to take matters into our own hands.

In many states, Washington included, we have the Castle Law, which allows homeowners to shoot dead anyone that enters their house and poses a threat to their safety. And there are other instances where we, as private citizens, are completely within our rights to take lethal force against someone who is threatening us or someone around us. So, if someone who is a known killer, either because there is undisputed evidence clearly indicating that they are beyond any doubt, or because they’ve admitted to it themselves, and the government lets them go because of a technicality, do we just sit around and wait until they are in the process of committing another murder (or, in the case of Dr. Hodari, manslaughter is probably the more appropriate charge but, either way, he’s still killed someone), or, given the opportunity, do we prevent further murder by any means possible? Again, I’m not advocating blind, vigilante justice but surely there is a point at which private citizens can not rely on government. I’m not saying we’re there yet but the discussion needs to occur if people like Hodari and Clemmons are walking free and enemies of war are being afforded the same rights as common criminals.

Neville Chamberlain: History’s Scapegoat or Britain’s Savior?

Chamberlain arrives at Munich, 29 September 1938.
Chamberlain arrives at Munich, 29 September 1938. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(One of my Senior Theses.)

When many people hear the name Neville Chamberlain the first word that pops into their minds is appeasing, acquiescent or, if they are really harsh, cowardly.  Many people believe that Neville Chamberlain was at least partially responsible for World War II.  They believe that, by signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler instead of standing up to him, he gave Hitler the go ahead for world domination.  But is this true?  History often judges men and women, for better or for worse, in a much harsher way than the present ever can.  An action that, in the present, didn’t seem all that monumental can be heralded a century later as a moment that changed history.  An action that seemed like a good idea or a bad idea to the pundits of the time can be completely reversed when looked at through the lens of history.  Perhaps this is a good thing.  Perhaps the old saying, those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it, stands true and people should critically examine the actions of our predecessors.  But then again perhaps we are too harsh.  Since history is a timeline and, like all lines, only one-dimensional, we will never truly know what the present would be like had someone in the past made a different decision.  Perhaps the world would have been a better place had Neville Chamberlain refused to give in to Hitler’s demands in order to save the peace.  Then again perhaps millions more would have died at the hands of the Nazis.

In this paper I will explore the decisions Chamberlain and others of his time made and the actions they carried out, which led up to the World War II.  I will attempt to be as uncritical of these actions as can be but instead focus on a thesis that explores the past as if it were the present, not holding those in the past accountable for future events which they could not reasonably see.  At the same time, however, I will illustrate how certain decisions and actions could very well have resulted in the past, as we know it today.
World War II, as it was fought in Europe, was not so much a separate, second world war but, rather, a continuation of the first world war and this was clear even before the first shots of what is generally though of as World War II were fired.  In a speech before parliament on June 25, 1937 entitled “Spain: A Second Sarajevo?” Chamberlain alluded to the fact that the peace of Europe was perilously tied to the Spanish civil war that was happening at the time.  That conflict, fought mainly between the Spanish nationalist government and a rising force of communist rebels, attracted many foreign nationals to the fight.  Some came out of ideological reasons, having a vested interest in which side would eventually be victorious.  Countless more, however, those representatives of foreign governments including the Germans, the Italians and the British, came under the pretense of keeping the peace.  Whether or not these government forces were truly impartial or not doesn’t much matter for, in the eyes of the people directly involved in the conflict, Spain’s Communist government and the anti-communist rebels, they had taken a side.  Often times the same national force was accused by each side of taking the side of the opposing force.  Henceforth, the secret alliances, whether perceived or real, amongst national forces during the Spanish civil war were not too different from the very real secret alliances that plagued Europe at the opening of the 20th century and were uncovered in a most horrible way by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Yet still, it seems, this conflict in Spain, however much it did contribute to the war that was to follow, was not the overriding reason for it.  That reason rests much earlier in history, on November 11, 1918 in Versailles, France.  Even as that treaty was being signed, subjugating Germany to a future of poverty caused by the impossibility of paying reparations, there were some who felt it would later come back to haunt them.  Not only would the judgment of reparations turn Germany resentful of their neighbors, the redrawing of boundaries, taking more land than necessary from the German state was, perhaps, the biggest thorn in its side and one that Hitler would later use as his main rallying cry.

In a speech before the Reichstag on February 20, 1938, Hitler defended Germany’s decision to withdraw from the League of Nations and rebuked the other member nations for their actions in drafting the Treaty of Versailles which limited the defense forces of Germany and the redrawing of international borders to exclude, in Hitler’s words, 10 million Germans from the subsequent German state.
This general resentment, coupled with the rise in rearmament of most European nations following the armistice of the end of World War I, is what brought Europe to war.  Several people of the time foresaw the coming of the war, including Neville Chamberlain, and tried desperately to stave it off.

In a speech before parliament on February 21, 1938 (purely coincidental that it should follow Hitler’s speech the day before), entitled “We Must Not Continue the Vendetta,” Chamberlain’s theme was one leaning toward appeasement of Italy, not a call to war.  At the time, relations between Italy and Great Britain were being strained by each other’s involvement in the Spanish civil war.  Again, and as Chamberlain also alluded to during that speech, there may have been no good reason for relations to be strained at the time but “suspicion breeds suspicion.”  In this case, suspicion not only was aroused over actions taken by each nation in Spain but, perhaps even more so, by Italy’s conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), a colony being ruled by Great Britain at the time.  Many in Italy felt that their actions in Africa were ripe for reprisal by the Brits and acted accordingly, amassing troops in strategic areas in the colony and stirring up the masses with propaganda in the homeland.  To all within British government, however, this idea that they would strike back at the Italians was utterly preposterous.

In hopes of easing the rising feelings of resentment between the two nations Chamberlain sought to open up a dialogue with the Italians almost immediately.  However, not all within his government agreed, including Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.  This is where it becomes apparent that, even then, before the appeasement for which Chamberlain is so infamous, Chamberlain’s policies had many critics.

Although, at this time, the Brits had no qualms about what had happened in Abyssinia, they did have reason to resent the Italians for their actions in Spain and it was precisely these actions that led to the rift within Chamberlain’s cabinet, the rift for which was the occasion of the speech delivered February 21, 1938, a response to the resignation of Eden.
In January of the prior year the two nations had signed the Anglo-Italian agreement in hopes of bettering relations that had begun to sour due mostly in part to the Spanish civil war.  Amongst the stipulations of the agreement were an end to propaganda denouncing the British and, in spirit although not in letter, the cessation of Italian involvement in Spain.  The inflammatory propaganda was “scarcely dimmed for an instant” to put it in the words of Eden in his remarks to Parliament that same day, and scarcely before the ink was dry a new contingent of Italians were on their way to Spain.

Eden found these actions unacceptable and because of such thought it was unwise to resume conversations with the Italians until they had shown actions congruent with their earlier agreement.  Chamberlain, and most of his cabinet, disagreed so, hence, Eden resigned.  Perhaps history can look at the resignation of Secretary Eden as the Hitler’s first victory and the Allies’ first defeat in what would later be thought of as World War II, even if in an indirect way, for if Eden had fought for his position of resoluteness against what was a rather benign Italy, he surely would have demanded that Great Britain stand fast against the Germans.  Even if Germany hadn’t sought to take over the Sudetenland it is very plausible that Eden would have encouraged a more hard-line approach toward the Nazis.  In some sense, it is a wonder that Eden lasted as long as he did in Chamberlain’s cabinet, truly a wonder that he was even let in at all, but not because of his feelings toward Italy.  No, even from the beginning Chamberlain and Eden were doomed to be at odds. (At least in regards to foreign policy.  Personally, the two were friends.)  Before Chamberlain made the short move from the Exchequer to No. 10 Downing Street in June of 1937, Eden was still Foreign Secretary but many didn’t think he would stay on as he was, to put it in the words of The Economist, Prime Minister Baldwin’s “young man” and, perhaps more importantly, anti-Nazi (or, perhaps, anti-German as those who would not consider themselves “pro-Nazi” but still followed a path of amicable relations with Hitler’s government, might call him.). (The Economist, 2/13/37 “The Cabinet and Germany”)  No, most figured he would be replaced by someone who would not only carry out Chamberlain’s pro-German policies but someone who Germany also would be willing to do business with.  A strong statement, yes, and one reeking substantially of claims that Britain’s foreign policy (at least its German policy) could have been controlled not so much at the banks of the Thames but at those of the Spree, but one echoed by many at the time and even now.  (This, no doubt, partly related to the Royal Family’s close ties to Germany, among them allegations that Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor, had diplomatic relations with Hitler himself).

Now, in terms of Anglo-Italian relations, appeasement may not have been necessary (the Royal Navy could have easily defeated the Italian Navy) but, at least in Chamberlain’s mind, it was wise.  If one were to not figure in Germany’s role in this great game one may not be altogether sure why Chamberlain took this course of action.  When Germany’s role is considered however, Chamberlain’s actions become a bit clearer.  At the time Germany was allied with Italy, mostly due in part to their mutual fascism and loathing of the communists; and to ire Italy over something as relatively inconsequential as anti-British propaganda and tepid involvement in an already multinational Spanish civil war, would make about as much sense as shooting a man for calling you names, especially when that man has a rather strong friend standing poised to fight back.  However, looking beyond the proximate situation one could say that, by appeasing the Italians, Chamberlain emboldened Hitler and traded away tomorrow’s peace.

It never came as a surprise to anyone in Europe that Hitler had designs on lands taken from Germany after World War I but no one really knew how far he was willing to go to get these lands back.  Furthermore, this “Sudetenlust” was not entirely Hitler’s doing and had it been perhaps Great Britain would have been more apt to have come to the aid of the Czechs.  No, much of the future conquest was brought about by the inhabitants of the Sudetenland themselves and is a problem that can be referenced back to the Treaty of Versailles, specifically the redrawing of borders.  The Sudetenland was overwhelmingly populated by Germans at the time and those of that ethnicity felt they were not being fairly represented in Prague.  (Although, to be fair, it is altogether probable that much of this angst was stirred up by their brethren on the other side of the border).  At first, the Sudeten German Party, led by Henlein, requested a quasi-autonomous existence on their own, allowing them to pass certain Nazi like laws and sending a representative to the Czech government, but the Coalition Czech government felt that by meeting these requests the newly formed Republic of Czechoslovakia would be irreparably damaged.  Thus, when negotiations failed, the Sudeten Germans sought out the help of Hitler.
In a speech at Nuremburg on September 13, 1938 Hitler laid out his opinion of the situation stating that the Sudeten Germans had the right to self-determination.  This speech did much to embolden those German Czechs on the other side of the border and rioting broke out that very same night.  A state of emergency was declared in many of the Sudeten districts.  The Sudeten Germans, after failing to hear a response to Hitler’s ultimatum of self-determination from Prague, broke off all negotiations and declared that satisfying their original demands, set out in the Eight Points of Carlsbad, would no longer be enough.

With the might of the ever-growing Nazi army against them, the Czech government began to realize it would be forced to negotiate on this matter.  It was not to be them alone however and, in the end, they would not even be a party to the negotiations.  No, instead, the only representatives of any clout at the table ended up being the Brits, the Germans, the Italians and the French.

When the hostilities broke out in mid-September, Neville Chamberlain broke in.  The moment that he and much of Europe had likely been dreading since, really, the end of the First World War, was dawning.  With great haste Chamberlain flew to Berchtesgaden, Germany to meet with Hitler less than 48 hours after Hitler delivered the Nuremburg speech. (To emphasize just how sudden his desire to meet with Hitler was, it is worth pointing out that air travel in the late 1930s was still a relatively new mode of transportation and government leaders rarely partook in such travel).  At the time, the media heralded this action as courageous and saw British negotiations with Germany as a great hope for peace.  Whereas Hitler had no problem threatening his neighbor to the southeast he had quite the opposite reaction to Britain, often proclaiming how necessary not only peace but friendship between the two nations was.  Because of this sentiment, most Brits felt that Hitler would react well to their requests regarding the Sudeten matter.  Upon arrival in Germany, however, it could be said that Chamberlain’s appeasing side came out and how courageous his actions were could be easily debated.  Instead of standing up for President Benes and the Czechoslovakian government, Chamberlain, along with French President Eduard Daladier, all but sided with Hitler, pressuring Benes to come up with a plan to grant the Sudetens a level of self-government not held by any other national minority within an independent nation and turning over some land to Germany.  In return for these concessions, the Czechs would be guaranteed security from Germany, although not by Hitler and the Germans themselves but on their behalf by Chamberlain.

It didn’t take long for this agreement to be strained and Chamberlain was back on an airplane bound for Germany, twice in the following two weeks.  His third, final and most famous trip was to Munich on September 29, 1938.  Three days earlier Hitler had made an impassioned speech before thousands of Germans in the Berlin Sports Palace.  In it he demanded of President Benes that the Sudetenland be turned over to Germany by October 1.  He didn’t state the repercussions of not following his demands, which made many hopeful that he had not committed himself to military action.  Still, the speech was not warmly welcomed in London or Paris and Chamberlain and Daladier knew that their immediate response would be necessary.

On the 29th, the “Four Powers” of Great Britain, Germany, Italy and France reached what would come to be known as the “Munich Agreement.”  In it, the Czech government agreed to completely relinquish the demanded lands by October 10 and that the ultimate decision of where the new frontier was to be would be decided by an international commission made up of the same four countries plus the Czech Republic, and by plebiscite in certain areas.  The Czechs agreed to the agreement begrudgingly, knowing that it was their only option.  They faced a formidable foe in Germany and had been sold out by their allies the French and English.

Chamberlain returned to London a hero, the streets full of cheer and praise.  When he arrived at Downing Street he uttered those now famous words, “peace in our time.”  It was a bit presumptuous of him and some even say that he knew it then. (National Review, June 2, 1989, Postscript to Munich)  He did stand behind his decision made at Munich though.  Perhaps this was easy, the will of the British people, lo, most of Europe, being behind him.  The Czech people did not greet that day with excitement and adulation however.  They knew they had been the sacrificial lamb for Europe’s peace.  Many in Czechoslovakia clamored for war but, ultimately, they knew it was a hopeless undertaking and resigned themselves to what was to come (exactly what did come, the complete annexation of their nation by the Nazis, was, at that point, still only in their worst nightmares).  Even before the Munich Agreement was fully carried out, President Benes had resigned.  Most hailed his courage and looked upon his resignation with sorrow.  A man who had shown so much courage throughout the trying time had ultimately succumbed to an outcome that no man could have withstood.

Now, this paper wouldn’t be complete if the alternative view to the “appeasement” theory wasn’t put forth.  This alternative theory, raised by many scholars and even some pundits of the day, is that Chamberlain was quite alright with Hitler helping himself to Eastern Europe as part of an eventual goal of defeating the great communist menace of the Soviet Union.  Had this been the case it may have worked out for Chamberlain but for two things.  Firstly, after Hitler took over the rest of the Czech Republic (by this time Slovakia had declared her independence from the erstwhile nation), Ruthenia, an area southeast of Bohemia, bordering on Hungary and the Ukraine, was a bit of a no-man’s land and, in an act of appeasement himself, Hitler gave it to Hungary. (Technically, Hungary invaded the newly independent nation but most historians would agree that this action was only done so after being given the nod by Germany).  This “mistake” of Hitler’s signaled to Chamberlain that Hitler was not “keeping up his end of the bargain,” as it were, keeping his sphere of influence in central and Eastern Europe and, eventually using that power to defeat Russia.  Chamberlain surmised (or so the theory goes) that this action meant that Hitler was going to hold off on attacking Russia and focus instead on Western Europe.  This may or may not have been the case.  One could easily propose that Hitler was simply keeping Hungary happy for the time being so he wouldn’t have to deal with it while he invaded Poland, which, strategically, was really a better option for marching his army though on its way to conquer Russia.  But if Chamberlain and the rest of Western Europe had its doubts after the Ruthenia episode they were convinced after Hitler chose to sign a non-aggression pact with Stalin on August 23, 1939.  Two days later Great Britain signed a mutual assistance agreement with Poland stating that they would come to her aid should she be invaded by Germany or any other country for that matter (although it is pretty clear that the only country they were thinking of was Germany considering the Allies let Stalin’s army march in through the eastern half of Poland, slaughtering hundreds of thousand of Poles on their way and giving the Nazi army a warm welcome.)  A week after that Hitler invaded Poland (again under the banner of lebensraum and stolen German land).  One would think that, as was stated in the agreement, Chamberlain would rush to their aid but no, instead it took two days for the British government to declare war on Germany, Chamberlain’s government fighting it every step of the way.  Even after that declaration of war on September 3, the British response was lukewarm, leading many to call that period from September 3 until Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries the following Spring the “Phony War,” the “Strange War,”  or in Churchill’s words, the “Twilight War.”  During this period no shots were fired by the British or the French although propaganda campaigns were launched on Germany by the Royal Air Force and there was a general build up of military armament in Great Britain.

The end of the Phony War came on April 10 but not necessarily because of Germany’s new conquest to the west.  On that same day, hours earlier, Chamberlain, having sustained months of criticism for his lack of action against the Germans as they continued their conquest of neighboring countries by invading Denmark and then Norway, resigned.  The much less pacifist Winston Churchill, was made Prime Minister.  These two events were not purely coincidental.  No, instead it is probable that Hitler knew that there was a new sheriff in town, so to speak, and was scrambling to conquer as much land as possible to aid in the ever-expanding German defense before the inevitable onset of resistance came from the Allies.

The other alternative worth noting, and the only one that brings honor to Chamberlain, is rather simple.  That is that Chamberlain was fully aware of the inevitability of war with Germany but also knew that the British could never defeat the ever-increasing power of the German forces, especially their Luftwaffe or air force, which was truly the envy of much of the world for its skilled abilities.  This possibility is altogether probable for the British air forces were particularly weak during this time, numbering a mere 135 squadrons even come the beginning of 1939 (www.raf.mod.uk/history), production lagging and, most importantly, skilled pilots hard to come by.  As it was, once production was begun on Hurricane’s and Spitfires, two fighters that would ultimately prove invaluable in the Battle of Britain and beyond, delivery of a sufficient number came only a scant 10 days before the first attack.

So was Neville Chamberlain an appeaser or was he simply doing what he thought was necessary to keep the peace in Europe – a peace, however precarious, that many did not want to see come to an end, having fought such a bloody war just a generation ago?  Or was he simply buying time in order to give British air forces enough time to prepare. Or perhaps it was none of these.  Maybe Chamberlain did have a secret alliance with Hitler, hoping to use the horrible dictator’s power to combat an equally horrible dictator in the Soviet Union.  Maybe it was a combination of all three and maybe there were different motivations at different times during this brief period in history.  No matter what the motivation, the original hopes of a nation, a continent and the world at large were not met through the subsequent actions.  If it was appeasement that Chamberlain sought he wasn’t aware of the old adage “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” or that sage bit of caution from his fellow countryman, Lord Acton, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Land for men is like blood for a bear, as soon as they get a taste of it they’ll always want more and this was no truer a case than with Hitler.  If it wasn’t an attempt at appeasement but an attempt at being chess master to Hitler and Stalin’s pawns, using one to defeat the other, then that too failed and never in the course of history has it failed quite so poorly.  If one is to play that game one must make sure that his pawn is on a very short leash, to mix metaphors.  One thing is for certain, history should do better to remember this time leading up to the official beginning of World War II as a time when promises were made but not honored and the masses yearned for peace so fiercely that they were all too willing to trade a neighbor’s freedom, in this case Czechoslovakia and to some extent Poland and Scandinavia, for their own security.  If not, we will continue to be plagued by the specter that is war, be it from acts of appeasement, as many think was the case with US actions in the Middle East before the liberation of Iraq in 2003, or be it from acts of attempted “chess mastery” using one “bad guy” to defeat another “worse guy,” as it was with U.S. action in Afghanistan during their 1980s conflict against the Soviet Union.

Bibliography
Speeches
Chamberlain

“War Odds” – 25 June 1937
“Appeasement in Europe” – 21 February 1938
“England’s Defense of Her Position” – 10 March 1938
“We Value Freedom More” – 17 March 1938
“England Speaks” – 3 April 1939
“We Will Not Be Responsible for Going to War” – 24 August 1939
“Britain Must Go To War” – 1 September 1939
“No Threat Will Deter Us” – 20 September 1939
“Britain Must Go To War” – 1 November 1939

Hitler

“The German Position” – 20 February 1938
“Speech at Nuremberg” – 13 September 1938
“Berlin Sports Palace Speech” 26 September 1938
“The Position of Germany Today” – 30 January 1939
“Germany Demands Its Rights” – 1 April 1939
“Germany’s Position Today” – 28 April 1939
“Germany Could No Longer Remain Idle” – 1 September 1939
“Germany is Ready for Peace” 19 September 1939
“I Am Ready for Peace or War” 6 October 1939

Government Documents

Munich Agreement signed 30 September 1938
“White Paper on Munich Agreement” issued by Neville Chamberlain 3 October 1938

Newspapers
The Times (London)

“Dramatic British Move for Peace” 15 September 1938 p10
“Swift Developments at Berchtesgaden” 16 September 1938 p12
“Mr. Chamberlain Stays at Godesberg” 23 September 1938 p12
“Prime Minister’s View of the Crisis” 27 September 1938 p12
“Agreement Reached at Munich To-day” 30 September 1938 p12
“Declaration of Peace at Munich” 1 October 1938 p12
“Steps to a Lasting Peace” 6 October 1938 p6
“Reorganizing Defence” 11 October 1938 p14
“Czech-German Frontier” 14 October 1938 p14

Magazine Articles
Collier’s

“Come Ahead, Adolf” Martha Gellhorn 6 August 1938
“Obituary of a Democracy” Martha Gellhorn 10 December 1938

The Economist

“The Cabinet & Germany” 13 February 1937 p342-3
“The Negotiations in Prague” 9 July 1938 p54-5
“A Clear Warning” 3 September 1938 p441-2
“Hope from Despair” 17 September 1938 p529-30
“Topics of the Week” 17 September 1938 p534
“Vain Sacrifice?” 24 September 1938 p577-9
“Topics of the Week” 24 September 1938 p582-4
“Letter to the Editor” 24 September 1938 p594
“Eleventh Hour Reprieve” 1 October 1938 p1-3
“Topics of the Week” 1 October 1938 p6-7
“The Price of Peace” 8 October 1938 p53-4
“Czechoslovakia’s Losses” 8 October 1938 p55-6
“Topics of the Week” 8 October 1938 p61
“Counting the Cost” 15 October 1938 p101-2
“Topics of the Week” 29 October 1938 p213
“Topics of the Week” 5 November 1938 p259
“Topics of the Week 26 November 1938 p419
“Topics of the Week 3 December 1938 p474
“Peace and Axis” 10 December 1938 p523
“Topics of the Week” 17 December 1938 p587
“Peace or Appeasement” 24 December 1938 p645-7

National Review

“Postscript to Munich” (Interview with Lord Home, who accompanied Chamberlain to Munich in 1938), June 2, 1989

Scholarly Journals

Keith Nielson. 2003. “The Defense Requirements Subcommittee, British Strategic Foreign Policy, Neville Chamberlain and the Path to Appeasement” English Historical Review

Books

Neville Chamberlain. In Search of Peace. GP Putnam’s Sons, 1939
Ian Goodhope Colvin. The Chamberlain Cabinet. Taplinger Pub. 1971
Telford Taylor. The Price of Peace. Doubleday, 1979

Websites

www.raf.mod.uk

Abaya-bye Saudia Arabia?

English: An F-15 Eagle takes off at Prince Sul...
An F-15 Eagle takes off at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, during Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. These Aircraft are a part of the coalition forces of the 363d Air Expeditionary Wing, Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia that enforces the no-fly and no-drive zone in Southern Iraq to protect and defend against Iraqi aggression. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Sean M. Worrell) (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of the discussion is now over and tempers that ran hot last Friday have now cooled considerably. The U.S. is not likely to leave Prince Sultan Air Base and the Saudis are not likely to ask them to leave. In fact they are more likely to ask them to stay, albeit on more muted terms than before. Whether or not this latter point will come to pass is yet to be seen and discussion on it will, no doubt, continue for some time.

But why all the discord in the first place? One may speculate on the Arabs’ desire of not wanting to become so intrinsically enmeshed with the West in hopes of achieving a greater peace with its neighbors and even more so its own population, but what the whole of Anglo-Islamic animosity comes down to is an encroachment on a conservative Islamic view and, to a greater extent, Arab culture.

One of bin Laden’s key demands and the reason for his hatred toward the West is that he views the placement of U.S. and NATO troops in the birthplace of Islam as abhorrently blasphemous; how dare the “infidel” make his home so close to an area so holy. What I would have to ask Mr. Bin Laden, however, is just what constitutes the birthplace of Islam. Are the borders of said birthplace congruent with the present borders of Saudi Arabia or do they include all of the Arabian Peninsula? I would also point out that taking this view and spreading it further to encompass all religions would beg the question of whether the destruction of Buddhist statues by his ally, the Taliban, constituted an encroachment on Buddhist holy sites. But this is moot, for most of us consider bin Laden to hold a distorted view of Islam. What of the Muslims who hold a more moderate view? I think most would agree and have, as is apparent in the dismissal of this whole situation for at least the time being, that having a Western military base some 500 miles from Mecca does not constitute an attack or infringement on the lands of Islam. Furthermore, the majority of Arabs embrace the West more than shun it. The youth of Saudi Arabia revel in the new technology and access to a world-view that the internet and satellites have ushered in and large Arabic corporations have begun to consider investing in insurance, a commonplace practice for most of the world but one banned by Islamic law as an attempt to cheat God’s will.

Nonetheless, good points are made from all this disillusionment of the U.S. military machine. How far is too far and can two so varying schools of theological and societal thought coexist harmoniously even when one far outweighs the other’s local hegemony? I, for one, think so, but only if the bastions of conservative Islamic practice take a cue from their more moderate neighbors such as Egypt and Turkey, and embrace some of the more religiously benign practices of the West. Some may say that this will lead to a loss of culture but to them I would point out the increasingly present trend of youth turning their back on all religion (and here I refer not just to Islam but to religion in general) in favor of a more secular and terrestrial based need for immediate indulgence with no regard to the grand scheme of the universe.

Lastly, and most politically evident, is the controversial matter over whether or not the Saudis ever wanted the U.S. to leave or whether the “unofficial” request came from a rogue minded member of the ruling Royal family. In exploring this point further it must be pointed out that, while it was in the best interest of the U.S. to acquire a tactical position in Saudi Arabia, it wasn’t essential due to the number of military sites already in place, and that the U.S. began building the Prince Sultan Air Base in 1991 only after the Saudi government requested a U.S. presence, no doubt fearful of Saddam Hussein’s buildup of military power and invasion of Kuwait months earlier.

The Saudis may feel that the U.S. military presence south of Riyadh has over stayed its welcome but to bring the matter up now, at the height of war against nations that could be deemed allies of Saudi Arabia under different circumstances would indicate a gross misjudgment in how such actions would be perceived by not only the U.S. but her allies as well as foes.  Whatever the intentions of the Saudi government, the move would have the politically and militarily adverse effect of crossing President Bush and his “you’re either with us or against us” form of gunship diplomacy (be it right or wrong) by giving in to Osama bin Laden’s demands of ousting the “infidel” from the birthplace of Islam.

Media Bias in Islamo-Western Conflict

I saw “Black Hawk Down” on Saturday.  I think it was a fairly accurate portrayal of the confrontation in Somalia, at least as accurate as Hollywood can make something.  I know a lot of people in the audience came out “hoorahing” for America.  I love America too and I know I sided with the American and UN forces in this conflict because of the way the conflict has been portrayed both in the movie and on CNN but one thing that this Islam class has brought to the forefront of my mind is that there are two sides to every story.  Many people in America, after seeing this film, have probably just reasserted their view of Muslims as a brutal group of people who would stop at nothing to kill the enemy whether wounded or not.  I know that what was portrayed in the movie in this aspect probably wasn’t completely accurate.  I’m sure many of the Somali militiamen probably came rushing down on the downed helicopter pilots but probably not to the extent portrayed and those that did were not true Muslims.  The movie portrayed things in a very black and white aspect, a common Hollywood approach, but on reading further accounts of the situation (no doubt biased from the anti-American viewpoint) I learned that Aideed, while being far from a good guy, was not wholly to blame for the famine and war in Somalia.

I love the U.S.  I think it is one of the best countries on earth but I also know that the same things we point out as evil propaganda in other regimes are being practiced in our own media. I remember viewing American media a few years ago and seeing the Chechen rebels portrayed as just that, rebels, a force to be crushed by our old foes, the Russians.  On CNN it seemed that they were trying to breakdown the Republic even further than it had been in 1991.  The Russians were the good guys.  The Chechens were the bad guys.  But then, while I was in Paris a few months later and staying at a mosque, drinking strong Turkish tea and watching al-Jazeera, I was given a completely different viewpoint.  Firstly the conflict in Chechnya was a very important one.  It was the headline story for weeks if not months to Muslims around the world instead of being merely a footnote on CNN for a day every couple of months or so.  Secondly, and more importantly, it was portrayed as an almost mythical struggle, truly good versus evil.  This, again, was not a completely truthful account of the situation.  Instead it was biased as well, but from the opposite end of the spectrum as CNN.  No one truly knows what goes on anywhere be it Palestine, Chechnya or Somalia. Even those at the heart of the conflict, fighting literally for their lives, carry skewed impressions of what is going on.  I don’t think this will ever change.  No two people can ever hold the exact same view-point or even fully understand that of his neighbor and no one can be totally impartial in what is seemingly a conflict of little political interest to him.  We will always take sides as humans.  It is our nature. What we must do though is to at least make an attempt to listen to both sides fully and before taking action by taking up arms against one side or the other or taking up a pen and drawing out a contract for both, think long and hard about the consequences of our actions.  We may not be around for Armageddon but one thing that nearly all religions and Islam in particular teaches is that we should leave the world that God gave us better, or at the very least the same, as He gave it to us.

The end of the world is NOT coming

In the two weeks since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon I have learned of countless acts of bravery from strangers near the crash site and messages of solidarity from people around the world.  These acts have restored much of my faith in this great country as well as most of the world.  But I’ve also learned and witnessed countless acts of cowardice from not only individuals but large corporations.

The stock market has taken its biggest plunge since the Great Depression and several airlines are operating at less than 80% capacity with some flights having to take off with as little as 20 people.  Obviously many of us didn’t listen carefully enough to President Bush’s speech last Thursday.  We didn’t listen when he asked us all, every American from sea to shining sea, for our “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”

We all need to get out there and spend, spend, spend.  It’s the only way to stimulate an economy that was already showing signs of slowing before 11 September.  I heard one person’s idea of having everyone buy an air ticket to help the airlines out of their slump.  That may be a bit lofty of a plan but it’s on the right track.

It’s a good bet that if terrorist strike domestic shores again it won’t be in the same manner as they did two weeks ago.  These are not stupid people.  They take the path of least resistance in planning their attacks and with the added security in the aviation industry this is no longer the best option.  When and if terrorists strike at the heart of America it will come in a manner we are not expecting, a manner that we are unprepared for.  It is a scary thought, yes, but it is one we cannot dwell on.  More people in the US die in auto accidents each year than are killed in air disasters but we still continue to drive.

So, again, we need to get our there and heed our president’s requests to stimulate the economy.  And it can’t just be the individuals.  The big money comes from the corporations.  That means sticking firm and being resolute with the plans that were made prior to 11 September.  Companies need to lift bans on employee business travel, professional organizations need to hold conventions, and cruise lines and tour companies need to continue with the itineraries scheduled months ago.  Just because the US is gearing towards waging war on terrorism, a global battle, running away is not going to help, after all, where are we going to run?  As the attacks in Washington and New York proved we are not truly safe anywhere.  One thing that did evolve from the attacks however is the heightened security and, most importantly, the solidarity with and compassion for the US.  It is safer to travel in many places now than it has been in the past and it isn’t any more dangerous to take a cruise through the Panama Canal now than it was two months ago, nor is it much more dangerous to go on a safari in Kenya than take a road trip through Arizona.

We can do it!  We can come out of our shells and stand up to the evil.  If we don’t, after all, the terrorists have won.

Instability in the Post-Cold War World

Slobodan Milošević
Slobodan Milošević (Photo credit: a-birdie)

Today’s new world order, while relieving some apocalyptic tensions, also poses many unforeseen problems.  We no longer have to live with the threat of the superpowers waging an all out global thermonuclear war.  Even now there is wide scale bilateral nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.  But even as the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War become distant memories in the minds of the world, we must keep abreast of new and greater threats to national security and global peace.  These threats, while in some ways not as dangerous as previous wide scale nuclear annihilation at the hands of the superpowers, are still threats nonetheless and, when viewed from another angle, a great deal more deadly than those of ten or twenty years ago.

A nuclear warhead is not cheap but it is not too expensive either.  There are many terrorist organizations as well as rogue nations that could afford to buy one.  In addition, they don’t need a rocket to deploy it to its target.  There have been countless Hollywood epics in which a terrorist organization gets a nuclear weapon dirt cheap from an economically troubled former Soviet nation through its corrupt military.  They then transport the bomb in a backpack to New York City and threaten to blow up millions of people until George Clooney can save the day.  While this scenario is a bit farfetched, it is not out of the realm of possibility.  We don’t have to worry as much now as we did right after the fall of the Soviet Union but there still is a chance there are nuclear bases out there with corrupt commanders who would be willing to sell out world peace in order to line their pockets.  Even it this was not the case there are countries fully capable of building the bomb themselves.  India and Pakistan are fully capable and not far from war.  North Korea and Iraq, if they do not already have nuclear capabilities, are not far from achieving them.  These countries, Iraq especially, would not mind launching a nuclear warhead toward the West.  We must not forget China either.  They have nuclear capability and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and in the past few days alone their aggression toward NATO has increased.  On Saturday three Chinese students packed their bags and shipped out to Yugoslavia to fight side by side with the Serbian army.  Before they left, they encouraged others to follow.  I would not be surprised if more went along.  In addition, while the Chinese government did not support these men officially, they did not try to stop them either and are probably cheering secretly in Beijing.

The threat of nuclear war is still very real and even if it was not we must still worry about war in general.  There will never be a ‘perpetual peace’ and it is very doubtful that there will even ever be a suspension of hostilities.  Immanuel Kant gave six criteria for a perpetual peace.  So far, none of them has ever been achieved on a global scale.

“No conclusion of peace shall be considered valid if it was made with a secret reservation for a future war.”

There have been several peace treaties signed by Israel and Syria.  None of them has ever been kept.  Fighting continues up until today with the Syrians launching bombs toward the Golan Heights yesterday as the Jews celebrated the election of their new Prime Minister.

“No independently existing state, whether it be large of small, may be acquired by another state by inheritance, exchange, purchase or gift.  For a state…is not a possession.  It is a society of men.”

While this may be the case, the state that takes over can inflict its laws on those people who it took over.  The Basque people may consider themselves an independent state but they still have to live by the laws of the Spaniards.  In addition, the Northern Irish still have to answer to HRH Queen Elizabeth II and PM Tony Blair.

“Standing armies will be abolished all together.”

There have been armies since the beginning of time.  This is not going to happen.  Even if the states disband their armies, men will group together to defend or attack what land and values they think are theirs.  Even in a country as stable and peaceful as the U.S. we see armies, albeit small ones, blowing up federal buildings and kidnapping federal judges in small towns across the fruited plains.  Besides this, war is the most profitable business there is.

“No national debt shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the state.”

This point of Kant’s has a chance.  The U.S. is always giving money and food to poorer countries with no expectation of being paid back.  Still, we are a long way from a global economy that strong.

“No state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state.”

Vietnam.  I rest my case.

“No state at war with another shall permit such acts of hostility as would make mutual confidence impossible during a future time of peace.”

Many nations follow this point today but the fact that we still have a War Crimes Tribunal is proof that there are nations that do not play fair.

There is no way to end war.  Even if peace is achieved, there are men like Hitler, Milosevic, Pol Pot, and Saddam lurking in our future ready to take over some destitute government and enact a bloody regime.