Backtalk, January 24, 2005

W and Dostoevsky

Is Justin aware of this tidbit (from “Laura Bush: Why Liberals Shouldn’t Like Her“)?

“More than one commentator has noted with approval and some surprise that Laura Bush’s favorite scene in literature is the ‘Grand Inquisitor’ portion of The Brothers Karamazov, and the playwright Tony Kushner used this remarkable tidbit as the basis for an entire play. (In it, a syrupy, conflicted Laura Bush reads Dostoevsky to dead Iraqi children and defends her husband’s policies to an angel standing nearby.)”

Perhaps Laura read her husband a bedtime story?

~ Lennart Reus


Interesting column. Although you did not mention it, there is a book by James Billington of the same title (Fire in the Minds of Men) that chronicles the revolutionary program started in 1776. The book has been reprinted (originally published in 1980). Personally, I am totally disgusted with the Republican Party and its leadership, and echo Charley Reese’s statement that “George Bush drove me out of the Republican Party” (Charley made that statement in reference to Bush the elder).

Actually, today’s Republican Party is quite close in ideology to its 1860 forebear (which was a reincarnation of the Whig party). Instead of invading the South, Bush has elected to invade the world. How appropriate that the USS Abraham Lincoln has been stationed in the Persian Gulf!

The only thing worse than a liberal, spendthrift, oppressive Democrat is a neoconservative, spendthrift, oppressive Republican.

~ Bob Bingham

The mediocre men who have occupied the White House down through the years have used their inaugurations and the highest-sounding rhetoric to try to worm their way into the history books. Talk is cheap. As Alan Bock points out in his column, “What Chance for Reality?,” reality has a way of biting back. By invading Iraq and trying to put the world on notice that America is the sole hyperpower and will use its power whenever and wherever it likes, W has inadvertently revealed that America is actually weaker than anyone thought – a relative backwater country like Iraq can tie down the mightiest military force in the world and endlessly frustrate its commanders.

If the true subtext of W’s speech is that we will pay any price to democratize the world through force of arms, then the U.S. will have to reinstate the draft and militarize to an extent only seen in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II. Even W’s neocon advisors must realize what that will mean for public support. Will W’s fellow Republicans allow him to pursue his dreams of God-approved conquest at the possible expense of the party? I think it’s far more likely that the true subtext is that we are willing to pay any price to finance homegrown rebels and send commandos, assassins, and spies into various countries to subvert bad governments. Look how well it’s worked in Haiti and Ukraine.

~ Brian Schuck

Amid President Bush’s “fiery” rhetoric during his inauguration speech, another George’s words came to mind:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
– George Washington

~ Mark Seiler

The Threat of Peace

Dr. HaCohen,

Your comment that Israel “may not insist upon [the Palestinian refugee’s] conversion to Judaism in return” for forgetting him, even if meant tongue in cheek, exposes a complete disregard for historical fact and an ignorance of Judaism. Jews have never insisted that anyone convert to Judaism – in fact, Judaism is considered to be a burden that the Jew is obligated to carry, to set an example for the rest of the world. When a Jew does not live up to the standards set in the Torah, he is not meeting this obligation. But he never imposes this obligation on others.

Compare this to Islam, which has historically tried repeatedly to force people of other beliefs to their own with the threat of death. Even in our own time, radical Islamists want to create a world caliphate and destroy anyone who does not live according to their standards, a thought completely reprehensible to Jews. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Arabs can live freely and openly, and be elected to the government. Can you imagine a Jew having an elected position within the Palestinian Authority? Jewish teachings have always included sincere respect for other religions.

~ Brian B.

Ran HaCohen replies:

As you correctly note, my comment was indeed meant tongue in cheek: no one truly demands that any Palestinian convert to Judaism; but Israel does behave as if it expects Palestinians to covert to Zionism and donate their land to the Zionist colonial project.

As with everything in history, never say never. Indeed, Judaism seldom encouraged (let alone forced) conversion of Gentiles; as an often threatened (or merely tolerated) minority, it would have been dangerous to do so. When Jews formed a strong majority, however, they sometimes did force other peoples to convert: the best known example is the forced conversion to Judaism of the Edomites under John Hyrcanus, in the 2nd century B.C. (see “The Hasmonean Dynasty: 129 – 40 B.C.“).

To say that “Jewish teachings have always included sincere respect for other religions” is a totally baseless generalization. Though some Jewish teachings do include some respect for other religions, other Jewish teachings are full of derogatory remarks toward non-Jews, from the Pessach Hagadah (“Pour your fury upon the Gentiles…”) to sayings like “the best of Gentiles – kill him.” Like so many other religions and nations, Judaism has many faces, some of them racist, intolerant, and aggressive, some of them tolerant and peaceful. One should not conceal the ugly aspects of Judaism – see the horrible, murderous racism of religious Israeli settlers nowadays, with Halachic verdicts that allow stealing from or even killing non-Jews; rather, one should fight them and promote the good aspects, which are part and parcel of Judaism as well.

A Matter of Conscience

Dear Sgt. Benderman,

I admire you for your courage in refusing to return to Iraq. You have come to the same conclusions that I have, only mine came through my experience as a combat infantryman with the First Cavalry Division during World War II. I feel that in the context of the times there was no other way to deal with Nazi aggression and Japanese imperialism. We were attacked by the Japanese, so I don’t know how else we could have responded except in the way we did. So I have no regrets in the role I played in that war.

But beginning with Korea and every war the U.S. has participated in since World War II, I have adamantly disagreed with them all. I started protesting in my small way against America attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. I participated in several of the antiwar demonstrations, such as those in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., before Bush unleashed the war against Iraq. During all of those demonstrations I wore my WWII uniform, which gave a little more weight to my protest….

God bless you for your courage.

~ Philip S. Miller, Telluride, CO

I share Sgt. Benderman’s feelings exactly. I was involved in the Korean fiasco and I began to question why I was asked to kill other human beings when they had families and hoped for a life in the future. He, not unlike I, was asked to fight not for the U.S. but for a United Nations issue.

Secondly, the U.S. has probably better than a quarter of a million other troops in Germany, Korea, Japan, and elsewhere that should be involved rather than just occupying a position where there is no threat to anyone. Why are they not involved and, in reality, why are they in those other countries in the first place?

All that a discerner has to do … is to read George Washington’s farewell address to know and understand that we should not be in any other country with stationed troops! Period!

~ Donald Fleming

How Do They Get Away With It?

I‘m trying to get my head around the belief differences between conservatives, who appear to dominate Washington at this time, and liberals, which at this point appears to be a curse word for the Republicans.

My limited understanding is that most, if not all, of our societal breakthroughs occurred because of or at the behest of governing liberals. For example, the Roosevelt administration brought us Social Security, while desegregation occurred during the Kennedy/Johnson administrations.

What are the basic differences between the two belief systems? What, if anything, that benefited the American people occurred during Nixon’s or Reagan’s or the Bushes’ administrations?

~ Corky Scott

Paul Craig Roberts replies:

Nixon achieved a breakthrough with communist China, calming animosities. Reagan got rid of stagflation, which was killing the U.S. economy, and partnered with Gorbachev to reduce Cold War hostilities, with the subsequent collapse of Soviet communism. In my opinion, the old fault line between liberals and conservatives was the liberals’ belief that government could be trusted with power that the private sector could not be trusted with, because government would use power to do good, whereas power would only serve greed in the private sector. Conservatives were much less trustful of government. The old conservatives are gone. The new ones have given government more power than even liberals intended.

Addressing the Persuadable Middle

Dear Mike Ferner:

“Addressing the Persuadable Middle” is a terrific piece. We have to assume the best about the motivations and values of the troops and of all the people whom we are trying to win to active opposition to the war.

We live in the most intensively propagandized society in history, in which people are constantly being told that all they know from their own experience and best instincts to be true is false, and all that they know to be false is true. When we speak to people about the true nature of this criminal war, we are not so much revealing to people what they did not know as we are confirming in people their best instincts and saying, “You were right all along. Hold onto what you believe.” We are legitimizing their common sense and their best values.

I especially like your concluding lines, “This leads to the larger question of whether the peace movement can ethically construct a message – and deliver it at appropriate times – that is not about how we feel about the war, but how soldiers and our neighbors in the persuadable middle feel about it. It’s high time we undertook this discussion.”

If we reach out in a respectful way to soldiers and neighbors in the “persuadable middle,” I think we will be amazed to find how much they already know and how much we can learn from each other.

Thanks for a great article.

~ Dave Stratman, Editor, New Democracy,

Does Wilson’s Fate Await Bush?


You are generally right on, but commit one major error in stating that Israel is democratic. How can a state that is avowedly Jewish and dedicated to remaining so be democratic? It can’t. It is, instead, one of those hated “theocracies” (if being Jewish is based on religion), or “racist states” (if based on ethnicity). The only difference is that in our pro-Israeli culture, one can’t describe it as such – not even you, it would seem.

~ Bob Meiser

The Scapegoat

I have served in the defense of my country my entire adult life; 20 years in uniform as an Air Force and DoD intelligence analyst, and another 22 as a DOD civilian, developing intelligence training for the U.S. Army. I have always believed the military dictum that a soldier is obligated to disobey an unlawful order, but I have never had to do that. So I don’t know what it is to stand naked before the wrath of the organization to which I belong on a matter of principle. The military men and women who have forced themselves (and they certainly had to have forced themselves) into the courageous role of “whistleblower” are the true heroes of Abu Ghraib and the “Iraq adventure.” They are the ones who believed in their Army, its military values, and its Code of Conduct. That the command structure of the Army has determined, mainly as a result of embarrassment and damage control, that Specialist Graner should serve 10 years in prison is a heartening thing for an old soldier like myself. But I remember something the father of my first wife, a German woman, told me. He had been captured by the Americans in World War II and sent to a POW camp in Colorado. According to him, the American guards who ran that camp routinely ran the prisoners out onto snow-covered fields, sprayed them down with water hoses, and enjoyed [watching] them as they “cavorted” in the freezing weather.

I have a philosophy about this “syndrome.” No commander in the field will give up his best and most loyal and effective troops to the menial job of guarding prisoners. That’s a principle that has obtained throughout military history. No. You pick out your worst soldiers. The malcontents. The unintelligent. The slow ones. The least reliable. The potential cowards. Those with venereal diseases. Those who can’t shoot straight. The ones who you feel couldn’t possibly take command of a squad, much less a platoon, should battlefield attrition require it. In essence, the losers who somehow made it through the recruitment psychologists and basic training. These are the ones you assign to the duty of guarding prisoners.

It’s the same with intelligence people. Today’s battlefield evolves quickly and along unpredictable lines, and the intelligence folks a commander wants around him are the guys who can get inside the enemy’s head, the guys who can answer up when he asks, “Where is he? What’s he trying to do?” When they can’t do that, they get replaced. And where do they go then? Well, back there to assist in the interrogation process.

So Abu Ghraib was run by the “dolts” of the Army just like any POW facility throughout military history. And old Charley Graner, the sadistic prison guard who got famous for being himself at Abu Ghraib, gets 10 years. You’re right – maybe it should have been 20 or 30. Well, it’s a good thing for Graner that he didn’t have any pot on him. Otherwise, he’d be doing 50 to life.

~ Bob Francaviglia, Bisbee, Arizona

US Foreign Policy: Question All Assumptions

“U.S. hegemony has deep roots in American history. That statement would be true if one inserts the words ‘post-World War II’ before the words ‘American history.’ For most of U.S. history, the United States did not seek hegemony over other countries and pursued a policy of deliberate independence from most overseas disputes.”

Leaving aside the Spanish-American War, the statement above is only accurate to the degree that it relies on the phrase “overseas” disputes. As a citizen of a “non-overseas” country that was invaded repeatedly by the U.S. in the period during which you claim it “did not seek hegemony over other countries,” I find this claim to be a bit misinformed.

Many of us Canadians learn about Polk’s “54-40 or fight” 1844 campaign slogan when we study history in school, [a slogan that led] to his electoral victory, his inauguration speech threatening war with Canada/Britain, and subsequent occupation up to the 49th parallel. We also learn about the war of 1812 (including who won). Even Theodore Roosevelt sent troops to the disputed Alaska/Yukon border once the discovery of gold made it important, in a version of what is now commonly called “gunboat diplomacy.” And, Canadian history students learn about the words “manifest destiny” originally penned by NY Morning News writer John L. O’Sullivan in “The True Title,” and paraphrased thereafter by many of your politicians:

“We still have a better title than any that can ever be constructed out of all these antiquated materials of old black-letter international law. Away, away with all these cobweb tissues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, continuity, etc. … And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us….”

and who wrote, previously:

“Texas, we repeat, is secure; and so now … who’s the next customer? Shall it be California or Canada?”

The U.S. has always had its neocons, and has never been isolationist nor internationally benign. It is time to stop treating Bush, Rumsfeld, and the gang like some kind of new phenomenon in the American political ethos. Indeed, it can be said that Canadian patriotism and identity, even our “conservative variety,” owes its peculiar (to average Americans) features to our stand against the Bushes and Rumsfelds of days gone by. In similar fashion, the collaboration of our various neocons and neoliberals is the source of many of our collective national regrets.

That Bush “loved a recent book that argues that U.S. hegemony has deep roots in American history” is a frightening prospect indeed for us Canadians. If he appreciates the notion in general, could a revival of “manifest destiny” be far behind? …

~ M. Kahn, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada

Taiwan – The Fifty-First State?

Dear Mr. Raimondo,

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the article you posted on July 27, 2001, entitled “Taiwan – The Fifty-first State?”

I appreciated very much as you said, “Let Taiwan petition Congress for admission to the Union.”

Join the Union. That is exactly what I want to do someday!

I started the Formosa Statehood Movement in 1994, about 145 years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry had sent his proposal to the U.S. President, asking him to annex Taiwan and make Taiwan a U.S. territory.

I have been following Perry’s dream persistently. To me, making the Pacific Ocean the inner sea of the United States, with Taiwan as its westernmost frontier, is our manifest destiny.

Late last year, a poll conducted in Taiwan showed 15% of the Taiwanese favored my statehood plan, while 41% and 24% were for independence and the political association with China, respectively.

Both the island’s independence movement and “unification movement” have struggled for more than half a century.

There are quite a few civic groups, most of which are inspired by me, to promote the statehood cause in Taiwan. Some were organized in America by white Americans or Taiwanese-Americans and operated independently.

Though the resources available for us are extremely limited, our support base keeps growing. I hope we can start the debate on the Formosa statehood issue in the mainstream U.S. societies and media in the near future.

~ David C. Chou, founder of the Formosa statehood movement

Humvees Aren’t the Problem


On the international arms market there are roughly 50 armored cars/recon/fighting vehicles purposely built to withstand small arms, land mines, and other explosive devices. Humvees were never intended to take the place of the above armored personnel carriers. The military is guilty of employing the wrong vehicle for urban patrolling.

If we don’t have sufficient numbers of the needed APCs, we can BUY them on the international arms market. Russia makes excellent fighting/armored combat vehicles of the kind and in the numbers needed.

~ Neil R. Huff

‘Iraq the Model’ – or the Bad Example?

Like the NY Times piece on the Fadhil brother’s “Iraq The Model” blog, Justin Raimondo’s blog entry only skims the surface of what is going on.

Iraq the Model was sponsored by – and raised money for – a U.S. charity called Spirit of America (SoA). SoA was set up by a group called Cyber Century Forum (CCF), a think tank that includes only three members and is dedicated to spreading U.S. influence. One member is Diana Lady Dougan, who is also on the board of Qualcomm, which just happens to have won the contract to supply Iraq’s CDMA mobile phone network (despite protests that nobody wants CDMA, and after a very unfair bidding process).

Interestingly, CCF also holds $100,000 in stock in Schlumberger LTD and Transocean Sedco oil companies. It would be very interesting to know who supplied these stocks and why.

My take on it is that the Iraq brothers MAY have been originally just pro-U.S. Iraqis happy to be liberated, but were soon tapped by the CIA or Wolfowitz’s neocons and have since been hooked into the Bush-Iraq moneymaking machine. For example, when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the Fadhil brothers totally ignored it for days, preferring to discuss the design of the new Iraqi flag.

I have a lot more details on my blog at

~ “Gandhi”

Gory Photos

Just a quick note to let you know that I strongly disagree with gory photos being posted on the home page of your magazine. I read your articles daily, am strongly opposed to the war (as I am sure all of your readers are), and find the photos disturbing and distracting. The pro-war people are the ones who need to see these photos, not us. In fact, I find the articles disturbing enough. …

~ Charles Foster

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