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October 12, 2004

Comments

Now this is a great post. I got to the list and promptly scampered away to make my own, and it came out:
Gandhi
Martin Luther King
Socrates
George Eliot
Georgia O'Keeffe
and Mbaye Diagne

Hmm. I knew from the outset that I was, broadly speaking, with Brad DeLong and not Henry Farrell. Not that I don't appreciate, as DeLong does, the point about how the ancient Greeks would have seen it, but I do not regard 'seeking retribution for affronts regardless of their consequence' as glorious, and never will. And in general, the thought that one should divorce what one admires from what one tries to be, when what one admires is the life and not just e.g. skill at basketball, is one I just don't like at all. It leads people both to shoot too low with their own lives and to admire the wrong people.

But now that I look at my actual list, I think that what my various heroes have in common is a willingness to imagine things being completely different; not being bound at all by the various circumstances in which they found themselves, but thinking up something quite new. In each case, what they came up with was really wonderful, and also deeply humane. Also, personal courage, a kind of unflinchingness, actually, in achieving what they did. Mine are also much less concerned with the creation of institutions than Brad DeLong's; more interested in figuring out new ways to live and to think.

This is very interesting.

I quite like your list (but who is James Conolly? I googled, and found an archeologist, which somehow didn't seem right.)

One of the leaders of the Easter Rising, the takeover of the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916.

(My interest in Conolly was sparked largely by a fictional portrayal by Roddy Doyle, which is always more than a bit dangerous as a basis for forming opinions on historical figures. What else I've read jibes with Doyle's account, but I haven't found much.)

I have a problem with the way the cross-blog argument has been framed. MY wants to evaluate the film on its alleged artistic merits as divorced from any questions about Che's later political life. When you make a film about Che's earlier life and set him up as a hero, you are intentionally making a political statement. You didn't choose to make a motorcycle story about some fictional character. You didn't choose to tell all of Che's story. You didn't choose to make a fictional romance. You chose to make a story about Che.

What was the artistic reason for doing this?

The defenders of the movie all act as if this choice is a non-political choice.

It isn't.

Even if you define it as an "artistic choice" it would be a choice with a message. That politcal message can be criticized.

I suspect the reasons behind that choice are not dealt with explicitly, because to identify the reasoning behind the choice would expose the fact that this isn't just a random hero movie, but rather an intentional defense of a very bad Communist figure.

I suppose the question is, what is heroic about Che that could not also be ascribed to Hitler?

I suppose the question is, what is heroic about Che that could not also be ascribed to Hitler?

His followers got to write the history, perhaps?

I was asked a few years ago to play this parlor game, and here's the names I came up with then (the restrictions then were "20th century heroes"):

Martin Luther King
Daniel Ellsberg
Aung San Suu Kyi
Alan Turing
Edith Cavell
Mohandas Gandhi
Fannie Lou Hamer
George and Helen Seldes
Mary Harris Jones
Mary Walker

I suppose the question is, what is heroic about Che that could not also be ascribed to Hitler?

It depends what one means by 'heroic', which is something the post deals with. Che Guevara looked more heroic than Adolf Hitler, which, these days, is an entirely valid thing to say.

I think the discussion of ancient Greek heroes being tied up in honour and tragedy is taking it a little far. A hero was someone who did something superhuman, overcame a great obstacle, achieved a great prize, usually involving the defeat of a great enemy. The tragedy thing is just that good stories tend to work well with tragedy in them. Nobility in the face of adversity isn't quite the point. It's just achieving great things - one's frame of mind doesn't come into it.

What we do today is freely swap around 'hero' and 'role-model'. Achilles is certainly not much of a role-model, but is no less a hero for it.

Applying this confusion to Guevara and Hitler, I would say that neither are really role-models, because those who idolize Guevara know little about what he actually did, and hardly anyone, thankfully, idolizes Hitler. They both achieved a great deal, but the ancient Greeks wouldn't have seen Hitler as a hero because he didn't personally fight in the Second World War. He achieved things by proxy. Guevara achieved more by personal involvement and is closer to the ancient Greek model.

Sebastian, I think it important to point out that MY is not starting ab ovo but that his comment is in medias res;^>. He is responding to a Berman's review, so it is a bit of a mistake to claim that Matt is starting this, though you must know this as you are commenting on his thread. His second post on the matter is quite sensible, one would think.

I would also note that the argument you are making is the argument of political correctness, which I find quite ironic, though I don't recall anything specific you've written on the subject, so I may be treating you unfairly.

As for Hitler, the great project of mankind that awaits us is to understand how a person like Hitler, or Stalin, or Pol Pot, or any of the other sadly more mundane serial killers that appear in our midst from time to time can come from strictly human origins. Unless you believe these types were possessed by some malevolent spirit, it become important to 'humanize' them in some manner, if only to realize that they spring from the same place as we do.

But I would rather talk about the Iliad. Or rather quote it. This is from Christopher Logue's War Music (different from the excerpt I posted to CrookedTimber) which might be quite appropriate for this thread.

Ever since men began in time, time and
Time again they met in parliaments,
Where, in due turn, letting the next man speak
With mouthfuls of soft air they tried to stop
Themselves from ravening their talking throats
Hoping enunciated airs would fall
With versimilitude in different minds,
And bring some concord to those minds; soft air
Between the hatred dying animals
Monotonously bear towards themselves;
Only soft air to underwrite the in-
Built violence of being, to meld it to
Something more civil, rarer than true forgiveness
No work was lovelier in history;
And nothing failed so often: knowing this
The army came to hear Achilles say:
"Pax, Agememnon." And Agamemnon's: "Pax."

I was going on to write:

To be a hero first of all means to accomplish something admirable. Heroes are subjective, but also heroes are created by creating the story of their lives. You can certainly tell the story of Che Guevara as the story of a hero: he overthrew Fulgencio Batista, whom no story could make into a hero. I prefer not to, though I'm a socialist, because I don't regard well people who see belligerant make-no-compromises kill-or-die as heroic.

Heroes take risks, and know that the risks they take may cause them trouble and danger. (Anyone else read Neville Shute's No Highway, where the hero is a middle-aged obscure scientist whose heroic act - undoubtedly saving many lives - is to pull a lever, knowing it may cost him his job and will bring on him ridicule and contempt, but he does it anyway because it's the right thing to do? That's my kind of hero.)

But also I see the quality of heroism as best expressed by courage against the odds. I think this is something close to what Edward's talking about. Che Guevara took risks, but he was - if he was a hero - a hero with an army, which doesn't look so heroic to me.

I also forgot to add this tidbit about how Americans view heroes (at least in film) Neil Jordan relates what Stanley Kubrick told him when he read the script for Michael Collins, which is that you have to tell him that he dies at the start or Americans will think that he goes on to become President of Ireland and will be disappointed. I'm not sure how exactly that enters into filming Motorcycle Diaries (which will not get to Japan for a long long time, I imagine) but I have to think it does.

"I suppose the question is, what is heroic about Che that could not also be ascribed to Hitler?"

Liberals--and I'm not sure only liberals--believe that Che was responding to a real injustice and Hitler wasn't.

Did anyone else have the concept of "tragic hero" drummed into them by high schoool English teachers? The idea of a tragedy as not just a play with a sad ending or where everyone ends up dead, but as a play about a man with noble qualities who is corrupted or ruined by some fatal flaw? The tragic hero may well be evil by the end of the play--Macbeth is an obvious example--but doesn't start out that way.

It was taught in an annoying, reductionist way in my English classes ("Match the following heroes to their tragic flaws: 1. Hamlet 2. Macbeth 3. Othello 4. Oedipus a. ambition b. jealousy c. anger d. indecision.") But I think there's something there.

So the argument would be that Che qualifies as a tragic hero because he started out as noble and ended up a monster, while Hitler was a monster from the start.

There are a few problems with this, though. First, I've no idea whether he actually started out as noble at all. Second, even if it's accurate, it's not much defense of the movie--as I understand it's not about the corruption and downfall of Che Guevera at all.

As to whether Che is the admirable kind of hero: of course he isn't, but his crimes are both lesser and lesser known than Hitler's, and he died while he was young and good looking--and he was executed by a government, he wasn't running a government at the time. So it's easier for college students ignorant of history to fool themselves into thinking he's admirable.

As for Matt Yglesias, I don't think he's saying Berman shouldn't write about Che's crimes. I think he's saying that if you don't even address the movie's aesthetic quality, you're not writing a movie review. But I think the movie's historical/political/etc. quality matter in deciding to see it and a reviewer should mention it; I didn't see the Passion partly for those reasons. Anyway, I don't see why every article about a movie has to be a review--it's not like he can't look up what Ebert said on imdb.

(in between Jury Duty sessions) Wish I had time to read through all of this...it looks great on brief scanning...hopefully I'll get back to it later...

Heroes (in no particular order):

Rosa Parks
Quentin Crisp
Malcolm X
Robert Kennedy
Tony Kushner
My father
Phillip Guston

If there's a thread, it's a sense of being oneself, standing up for one's self and others, especially when real courage is required to do so and when others needed it most.

Sebastian, I think it important to point out that MY is not starting ab ovo but that his comment is in medias res;^>. He is responding to a Berman's review, so it is a bit of a mistake to claim that Matt is starting this, though you must know this as you are commenting on his thread.

But Berman's 'review' wasn't a review. It was a cultural comment and clearly defined as such.

"So the argument would be that Che qualifies as a tragic hero because he started out as noble and ended up a monster, while Hitler was a monster from the start."

I don't buy this. Hitler wasn't a monster from the moment of his birth. By all accounts he wasn't particularly monsterous in his early life.

Both he and Che were monsterous later.

"Liberals--and I'm not sure only liberals--believe that Che was responding to a real injustice and Hitler wasn't."

I'm going to respond to this with something I wrote on DeLong's comments regarding the sentiment: "Sebastian, the reason people on the left can still admire communists, while people on the right cannot admire fascists (or worse, Nazis), is that communism, for all its faults, at least got one thing right - capitalist economic systems come at a horrible cost."

I responded:

The problem with this analysis is that it shows a horrific inattention to history. Capitalist economic systems don't come at a horrible cost compared to the communist alternative. Advocating communism is like advocating cutting off your left leg with a dull knife so you don't notice the pain from the stubbed toe on your right foot.

That isn't heroic. That is insane. The fact that some on the left still want to rehabilitate the repuatations of villians like Lenin and Che only shows that they either do not accept how awful Communism was, or they do not understand why it cannot work.

Please note, katherine, that I am not accusing you of trying to rehabilitate them, I am accusing the filmmaker of trying to rehabilitate Che.

So the argument would be that Che qualifies as a tragic hero because he started out as noble and ended up a monster, while Hitler was a monster from the start.

There is something of an argument to be made that Mao is something of a tragic hero, too, on the understanding that the depravity to which he fell precludes him from any laurels.

Part of the problem, I think -- especially for Americans -- is that we have this iconography of the Peaceful Revolution, one in which the existing order can be overthrown by an almost genteel use of force. [Specifically the American War of Independence, which has to be the most banal war of independence since Cyrus threw off the Medean yoke.*] Most revolutionary movements, however, are incapable of that kind of gentility; the existing order's claws are buried too deep, and their fortresses entrenched too soundly, to allow that kind of change.

This doesn't excuse them their barbarity, mind, but it helps put them into context. It also helps explain why a movement as explicitly utopian as Communism was so brutal in its revolutions**: a large part of that was the "necessary violence" inherent in the overthrow of the existing systems, coupled with the anger of either anti-colonialism (most of SE Asia & the subcontinent) or anti-feudalism (China, most of Central & South America). Once you've corrected for that***, I don't find the Communist revolutionaries (en masse) to be all that out of line with revolutionaries in general (en masse) and -- provided you're just looking at that one particular slice -- I don't really have a problem with Che or Mao being regarded as heroes.

Given that they both lived many decades after their shining moment of heroism, however -- and given that their living meant that many other people died -- I'd say that any attempt to talk about their heroism without mentioning what they subsequently "accomplished" is disingenuous at best, and chilling at worst.

* I know our Founding Fathers were great men and that those who fought for independence suffered greatly. Compared to most revolutionary schisms, however, it was nothing, in large part because of our unique political, demographic and geographic circumstances.

** Though it does not explain the brutality of its governance.

*** And the general increase in technology levels that made it possible to kill people faster than ever before. I shudder to think what, say, the European religious schisms of the 4th or 13th centuries would have been like if everyone involved had had explosives and machine guns...

I think the point it that, while most us would now agree that Communism (why is it always capitalized by the way, unlike "capitalism" or "fascism"? )was much worse than the alternative in almost every case*, it wasn't always clear that that would be true. It was once quite possible for good, sensible people with social consciences who read the news to be Communist. Especially before the Russian Revolution, and also during the years before the awful truth about the U.S.S.R. became clear & before Molotov-Ribbentrop--the Communists were the first people to be involved in violent opposition to fascism, and one of my husband's (Jewish) grandparents was briefly Communist as a young man (though he always believed in democracy & the Constitution; I don't know if that in itself downgrades you to socialist or Marxist or whatever--I'm not up on the terminology.) Orwell fought for the Communists in the Spanish Civil War. I.F. Stone was still hoping for "some fusion of Marx and Jefferson" when he wrote his last book. Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxembourg--I can't come up with comparably sympathetic figures who ever thought fascism was a good idea.

And then in other countries it got mixed up in legitimate anti-imperialism. The ANC and Steve Biko were, if not communist, seriously socialist.

It once seemed plausible that the Cuban revolution would leave people better off, in a way it was never plausible that Nazi Germany would leave people better off. Now, since Che was one of the people who made sure it didn't leave people better off I don't think he really gets off the hook, but it is conceivable to me that for a brief period in his life he was actually trying to work for the liberation of mankind in a way that Hitler never was. I take no position on whether this was actually true, and things it is a huge mistake to make a movie that portrays him as a hero and a martyr. On the other hand, I see this as cheap sentimentality and ignorance of history rather than any longing for Stalinism or serious attempt to whitewash it....I find it unfortunate but not threatening. (This is assuming reviewers' description of the movie is accurate).

*"almost" only because e.g. Renamo was worse than Frelimo in Mozambique.

"Though it does not explain the brutality of its governance."

That is a mighty big asterick. Doesn't the horrible nature of their goals have an impact on our evaluation of their alleged heroic nature?

I suspect it does when talking about Hitler, so why not when talking about Lenin and Che?

Doesn't the horrible nature of their goals have an impact on our evaluation of their alleged heroic nature?I suspect it does when talking about Hitler, so why not when talking about Lenin and Che?

The Nazi goal was (looked at through the most rose-colored spectacles imaginable) to achieve total "Aryan" dominance of Europe by conquest and enforcement of "racial purity". One cannot feel any sympathy whatsoever towards this goal - it wouldn't have been a good thing even if it could have been achieved by less than total war.

The goal of Communism was, again looking at it through rather rose-colored spectacles, to create a society in which all property is collectively owned and labor is organized for the common advantage of all members. It may be - certainly in all societies in which it has been tried, from the early Christian church to China in 1948, it is so recorded - that it is not possible for such a society to be created without killing those who resist it. But it is not intrinsically an evil goal: or, if you think it is evil to collectivize property and organize labor, it is certainly not as evil as the Nazi goal.

I think this is the point Katherine is trying to make, too.

Not evil enough to avoid fawning biopics of monsters? I disagree.

But it is not intrinsically an evil goal

Aside from the killing part, maybe not as evil as what the Nazis had in mind. Once you add in the killing, though, the good intentions kind of get all bloodstained.

Disclaimer: this is not a Che=Hitler argument. Just noting that in general, good intentions don't count for squat (with me, at least) when you're willing to slaughter millions noncombatants to achieve said intentions.

Once you add in the killing, though, the good intentions kind of get all bloodstained.

I absolutely agree.

But there is a difference between a noble goal that turns out not to be achievable without major bloodshed, and a goal intrinsically evil in itself.

Christianity, after all, has caused how many mass killings and torturings and bloodshed over the past couple of thousand years? But that's no reason to give up on Christianity; neither, in my opinion, are the evil actions of Stalin a reason to give up on socialism. Nazism, however, was an intrinsically evil creed to begin with.

Just noting that in general, good intentions don't count for squat (with me, at least) when you're willing to slaughter millions noncombatants to achieve said intentions.

*looks meaningfully at Iraq*

Really?


When you make a film about Che's earlier life and set him up as a hero, you are intentionally making a political statement. You didn't choose to make a motorcycle story about some fictional character. You didn't choose to tell all of Che's story. You didn't choose to make a fictional romance. You chose to make a story about Che.

[...]

I suppose the question is, what is heroic about Che that could not also be ascribed to Hitler?

Two things: First, what's your impression of the movie Max?

Second, I think you could pretty easily make a case that up until the end of WWI, Hitler *was* heroic. By all accounts he served admirably.

But there is a difference between a noble goal that turns out not to be achievable without major bloodshed, and a goal intrinsically evil in itself.

Really?

*looks meaningfully at Iraq*

Evidently not. Even if you're good at equating deliberate and accidental, and in numbers separated by four orders of magnitude.

neither, in my opinion, are the evil actions of Stalin a reason to give up on socialism.

Oh, we could so threadjack, here. But let's not; it's been done.

Should have known better than to drop in here on my break, should know better than to post, but ... can't resist.

I'd be interested to hear from Katherine what actions or responsibilities for actions specifically lead you to characterize Che Guevara as "monstrous".

And I can barely stomach Mark Kleiman, prewar advocate of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, blandly interpreting Auden's poem as aimed at revolutionary hero worhip rather than at warmakers in general.

"Not evil enough to avoid fawning biopics of monsters? I disagree."

Hm. Warning. . likely wandering and somewhat inscrutable musing to follow.

This thought highlights (and Sebastian, I don't mean to target you. Just a trigger) one of the tendencies of conservatives that I find most disconcerting, and one of the reasons that, despite my essential economic conservativism, I can't comfortably call myself conservative.

There is no doubt among reasonable and educated minds that communism as state-mandated economic and social policy doesn't work. It just doesn't, no matter how nice it sounds. And beyond not working, the conflict between ideal and reality inevitably gets a lot of people killed.

But it is possible to simultaneously recognize this and also recognize the fact that Che Guevara was a very interesting figure. That he certainly never thought of himself as a monster, though the inevitable outcome of his policies might be, unbeknownst to him, monstrous. I would, therefore, argue that he, and nearly everyone we call 'evil', isn't so much evil as deluded. And further that he was only empowered by delusion. If someone wants to wander in the wilderness espousing the wonders of state control of the means of production, it's basically harmless, unless there's fertile ground for their ideas. And therefore the real way to defeat this sort of thing is reason and engagement, not dehumanizing rhetoric and an artificially binary worldview.

And the problem with dehumanizing rhetoric and the binary philosophy of the good vs the evil is that it's inaccurate. It, like communism, is an overly simplistic notion about how the world works, and it, like communism, inevitably leads to unnecessary slaughter when reality bumps into the ideal. And it turns tragic figures into martyrs. Are any of the poverty-stricken aggrieved of South America going to be convinced by a relatively comfortable American capitalist calling Che a monster? No, it's going to strengthen their resolve. It's going to clarify enemies and friends, good and evil.

Liberals do this, too, of course -- use righteousness and dualism as a form of therapy, or a form of validation -- avoiding or discounting the effects it has on minds and on relationships, but I see it more among conservatives.

And it's quite pervasive. I expect (though I don't hope) that even this comment will get read by a number of people who fundamentally believe that my problem is that I don't hate evil enough. That if I and everyone like me just hated terrorists and communism more sincerely, we'd be in better shape. That the fact that I don't nurture hatred of evil from the time I put my first leg in my pants in the morning undercuts our security and happiness. This betrays, I think, a profound misunderstanding about what sort of ideas and actions actually solve problems, and actually lead to happiness and security. And it encourages a sort of self-imposed ignorance born of moral essentialism. . the idea that reading the Unabomber Manifesto or watching a hagiography of Che taints you with evil essence, rather than more fully understand how one gets from there to here -- and in time learn to prevent it, rather than just label it.

End meandering.

From the Wikipedia entry:

"In 1959, Che Guevara was appointed commander of the La Cabana Fortress prison. During his term as commander of the fortress from 1959-1963, he oversaw the executions of hundreds of political prisoners and regime opponents (estimates range from 500 to 1700). Many individuals imprisoned at La Cabana, such as poet and human rights activist Armando Valladares, allege that Guevara took particular and personal interest in the interrogation, torture, and execution of some prisoners."

I wouldn't claim to be any kind of expert on this, but I have seen charges to this effect in lots of places and I have never seen them rebutted. They seem entirely consistent with his writing:

"The galvanizing of the national spirit, the preparation for harder tasks, for resisting even more violent repressions. Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.

We must carry the war into every corner the enemy happens to carry it: to his home, to his centers of entertainment; a total war. It is necessary to prevent him from having a moment of peace, a quiet moment outside his barracks or even inside; we must attack him wherever he may be; make him feel like a cornered beast wherever he may move. Then his moral fiber shall begin to decline. He will even become more beastly, but we shall notice how the signs of decadence begin to appear."

I confess, I'd hoped for less about the Yankees that Guevera wanted to wage total war on and more about the Yankees that the Red Sox will hopefully beat tonight.

So... baseball. As you're probably aware, it's not the most popular sport around the rest of the world. So, tell me, who are the top teams? Are Red Sox any good?

"That he certainly never thought of himself as a monster, though the inevitable outcome of his policies might be, unbeknownst to him, monstrous. I would, therefore, argue that he, and nearly everyone we call 'evil', isn't so much evil as deluded. And further that he was only empowered by delusion."

Sure, and the same is true of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot. One of the key problems is that the idea of Communism is so strong that it inspires such people to become such monsters. Which is precisely why I am not thrilled with movies like this. They are part of an attempt to rehabilitate the ideas of communism. And those ideas, yes the ideas, are bad.

"And it turns tragic figures into martyrs. Are any of the poverty-stricken aggrieved of South America going to be convinced by a relatively comfortable American capitalist calling Che a monster?"

We haven't even started to talk about poverty stricken aggrieveds of South America yet. So far we have been talking about how lots of relatively comfortable Americans seem to think Che is a hero.

Slartibartfast: Evidently not. Even if you're good at equating deliberate and accidental

Deliberate/accidental? Once a government decides to invade, conquer, and occupy a foreign country, it has decided that large numbers of civilians in that country shall die. (To that one can add the use of cluster bombs on urban areas, which have been accepted as a civilian-killing weapon since 1995.)

and in numbers separated by four orders of magnitude.

That, I'll grant you. But at what point between a plan you know will kill noncombatants by thousands and deciding to kill a million noncombatants does it become monstrous? Seriously, where do you (or where does Sebastian) draw the line? In any case, Sebastian's claim that good intentions do not justify the slaughter of noncombatants is not easily reconciled with his statement (at October 12, 2004 12:30 PM) in the Words Fail Me thread that I'd love to see Kerry take up this cause. I wouldn't be as scared of him if he were saying things like: "We need to be crushing those who fight in Fallujah. That can't be accomplished - as has been shown - without the slaughter of noncombatants. You can't attack a city without killing those who live there, noncombatants and combatants alike. So, plainly, the significant part of Sebastian's statement: "Just noting that in general, good intentions don't count for squat (with me, at least) when you're willing to slaughter millions noncombatants to achieve said intentions" is the millions - being willing to slaughter thousands of noncombatants is perfectly okay. Where, then, is the line drawn?

The line is drawn somewhere at near-term acheivable goals. Attempts at Communism (even at the time of Che) already had a multi-decade history of not only failure, but near genocidal levels of failure. The same is not true of US military policies even if you include Vietnam. And it is certainly not true that the US has an unbroken history of failure in such endeavours.

One of the key problems is that the idea of Communism is so strong that it inspires such people to become such monsters.

Caution: You could say that of religions (which Marx would not like to hear, but hey, he's dead, what's he going to do, throw library index cards at me?). And I'm a staunch Catholic; I'm not just dismissing stuff.

The Red Sox are quite good, thanks to Theo Epstein's embrace of science over the cold, dead hand of baseball mythology. But, as in all Sox-Yankees series, Babe Ruth is batting cleanup for the Bombers. Tough hill to climb.

Meanwhile, Cards/Astros is a fantastic series.

And no, sports 'heroes' almost never deserve that description. Robinson and Clemente are notable counter-examples. It's telling that to be accounted a sports 'hero' you have to be incredibly talented and accomplished at your sport, no matter how good a human being you are.

As for Hitler, the great project of mankind that awaits us is to understand how a person like Hitler, or Stalin, or Pol Pot, or any of the other sadly more mundane serial killers that appear in our midst from time to time can come from strictly human origins.

Aw heck, let's just take the bull by the horns. Take away the niche and the species disappears. Leave the niche and it will get filled.

Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and mundane serial killers ranging from leaders of sovereign nations to Jeffery Dahmer, are all human beings. Hitler was an exceptional orator, clever political strategist, and had unusual insight into the popular culture of his milieu, but in different circumstances he would just have been a guy you might find charming at first but whom you would eventually find excuses to avoid.

And the problem doesn't go away even if you subscribe to the "great man" theory of history. People have been saying "never again" since the dawn of time, and every few generations somebody learns why all over again. If the circumstances are right for totalitarianism you can safely bet that someone will show up to play the role of genocidal "non-human" madman for future historians.

Safer and wiser to prevent the circumstances to the extent possible, that's what I say... Lapses notwithstanding we do seem to be getting slightly better at that as time marches on.

Sebastian: The line is drawn somewhere at near-term acheivable goals

Thanks: that's a fairer answer than I expected.

And perfectly true, too, in the sense of what feels monstrous and what doesn't. Because the invasion of Iraq was in pursuit of what was plainly not a near-term achievable goal (or at least, not a good one) it looked - and looks - monstrous to me. Whereas if you accept the Bush line (even though Bush's short-term acheivable goals for invading Iraq kept changing as the old goals became obviously unachievable) the Iraq war looks less monstrous - or not monstrous at all.

Thanks, again, for the answer.

"We haven't even started to talk about poverty stricken aggrieveds of South America yet. So far we have been talking about how lots of relatively comfortable Americans seem to think Che is a hero."

Ah, even easier example, in the sense that they can be more easily dissuaded. The movie is probably (I haven't seen it yet) an inappropriate and whitewashed hagiography, but would we be having this conversation if it hadn't come out? I predict that if it does trigger a national conversation there will be fewer yuppies in Che shirts, not more.

Maybe they can replace them with Cho shirts, which I think are hilarious.

Here is who you should root for:
Red Sox over Yankees.
St. Louis Cardinals over Houston Astros.

The second is because my grandfather's a Cardinals fan, and I root against Houston on account of Roger Clemens, being from Houston, and inventing artificial turf.

As for the first: I think the Red Sox could really do it this time, but I thought that last year too.

Here are some random facts:
1. This is one of the oldest and most intense, but also the most lopsided, rivalries in sports.
2. "The curse of the bambino" was invented by a Boston sportswriter in the 1980s. The general sense of being cursed was not.
3. Only recently, with the invention of the Wild Card, have the teams started facing each other in the playoffs as well as 18 times or so during the regular season.
4. One of the Red Sox owners, confusing Star Wars and the Cold War, calls the Yankees "the evil empire" and says "I like to think of myself as princess Leia."
5. The Red Sox won the regular season series, which is the first time that's happened in a while.
6. They met in this series last year. In game 3, there was a bench clearing brawl which ended when the Yankees 80 years old or so bench coach charged at the Red Sox' best pitcher, who hurled him to the ground. Also during that game, two Yankee players--one relief pitcher and one outfielder who climbed over the bullpen wall--assaulted a member of the Red Sox ground crew. They claim self defense, but the guy ended up with a footprint on his back....all of this may sound a little tame by football hooligan standards but it was something to see.
7. The series went seven gripping games before the Red Sox lost in heartbreaking fashion.
8. During the off season, the Red Sox almost had a deal with baseball's best paid (and arguably best) player, Alex Rodriguez, that fell through at the last minute. The Yankees got him instead. In general they have a reputation as a bunch of hired guns--the Red Sox have the second highest payroll in baseball, but it's $60 million+ less than the Yankees.
9. There was another brawl in July.
10. The Red Sox are baseball's most hirsute team and refer to themselves as "a bunch of idiots". George Steinbrenner does not hold with facial hair.

As for this: "They are part of an attempt to rehabilitate the ideas of communism".

I actually doubt this is true. Maybe Guevera has followers in Latin America, but in the U.S. he only has fans.

Ah, radish hits the nub.

You don't do good by protecting against Hitlers. You do good by protecting against the mindset that makes fertile soil for Hitlers. If the soil is there, you can't kill people fast enough to keep someone from growing into it. What's the mindset? Fear. Apocalyptic societal threat. Dehumanization. Ethnic and religious galvanization.

It's no mystery why Islamic radicals constantly bait their followers with threats from the Jews. Jews are their external apocolyptic threat. . the one that will keep them afraid and sacrificial.

The Jews are just about to wipe out Muslims, and the terrorists are just about to wipe us out. It's what keeps the machine rolling.

Yeah, but Katherine... you're an Arsenal fan. Who's going to trust you?

me & Osama.

wasn't Arsenal really bad for a while?

Well they're unbeaten for 48 games, which is a record over here. They've been close to the top for a couple of decades, always in the running; after Manchester United's run in most of the 1990s ended, Arsenal took over.

"Well they're unbeaten for 48 games"

I know that.
Who's your team?

Don't have one. Supported Everton in the 1980s, more or less to have someone to support, then lost interest. My brothers are Liverpool and Tottenham men respectively. The latter therefore loathes Arsenal with a passion (North London rivals, for the uninitiated).

Katherine wrote: "I think the Red Sox could really do it this time, but I thought that last year too."

Speaking as someone who grew up in Boston: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! They try to make you think that every year. Every year it looks even more possible later than the year before, so that every year you find yourself thinking: admittedly, every year that I can remember I have had this same thought, but this year is really different. Hpw this is logically possible I don't know, but somehow they pull it off. And now they've ensnared you, and otherwise reasonable person. They are probably reading this thread and cackling even as we speak.

This is the guy who made up the eminently annoying Curse of the Bambino shtick, but it's a decent article.

"In American sports, it has evolved into the ultimate irresistible matchup, this century-old battle between American League baseball teams from Boston and New York. Borrowing the best elements and emotions from Achilles-Hector, Kennedy-Nixon, Russell-Chamberlain, Leno-Letterman, and Red States-Blue States, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has shot past all traditional sports boundaries."

ahem. Though I'm not so sure about the rest of that list. Much as I identify the Yankees with the G.O.P., these teams are both from the bluest of blue states; Cheney was booed at Yankee stadium a few months back. And what does Leno Letterman have to do with anything?

Sorry; the memory of any number of times when I've thought the Red Sox might pull it off was so painful that I didn't proofread.

The only cure is to swear off sports entirely, and to regard any temptation to root for any team, ever, as the equivalent of crack cocaine to a recovering addict.

sorry

I'm not a Red Sox fan, I'm just in their coalition of the willing. My first allegiance is to the Mets.

Ah, I just had a look on the BBC and have a bit of a better idea what's going on in baseball now.

Ah, the Mets = Shea Stadium = The Beatles
ergo Good.

"I actually doubt this is true. Maybe Guevera has followers in Latin America, but in the U.S. he only has fans."

I think that is just as dangerous. I'm not worried about the small number of direct followers, I'm worried about the people who buy into the ideas by the seductive story. Much as we may hate to admit it, as many people are persuaded by a good story as are persuaded by logic. (And that is probably too generous. Very likely more are persuaded by a good story.)

I think that is just as dangerous.

Oho! I better seize this opportunity to agree with Sebastian before it gets away! ;-)

I agree that the story is as dangerous as logic and probably more so. I'm saying that this story is not leading them to buy into Guevera's ideas, just to buy posters.

Morning all,
Well, I was attracted to all of this because the heaps of Iliad talk, but it seems to have split into a 60/40 mix of Communism evil? Yes or no and Sports (though, as was noted, the Red Sox have a tragic hero quality to them. The Yankess on the other hand, well, I think the Snopes in Faulkner)

So that was my sports comment, except to note that one way to wean yourself from a sports addiction is to move overseas, which is sort of like a Betty Ford clinic for sports junkies. Japanese baseball as methadone.

As for all the water under the bridge on Communisim, I would just note the parallel in the way Anarchism has been made into a movement beyond the pale that no one should ever ever take seriously. While I have never been a communist (so my name obviously can't be on that paper you are waving up there), I am not prepared to simply total up number of bodies to determine which is more deserving of condemnation. It is also important to note that Fascism erected a state mechanism to kill people, using the very structures that supposedly 'civilized' us, while Stalin used mass murder to prop up a personality cult that was passed off as responding to precepts of communism rather than as an actual outgrowth of communism, I think. Sebastien is right, we are more often persuaded by a good story than logic, which is why I bring up the case of Anarchism.

Yankees win game 1!

snicker.

regarding anarchism (which is, i guess, the ultimate withering-away of the communist state), try Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

personally, while i think that most people are mostly good (even . . . ah, don't go there, even in jest), most people are mostly lazy. anarchists would steal each other's food, then starve.

speaking of goofy ideas, all the libertarians were supposed to move to new hampshire, weren't they? anyone know how that's going?

Francis

p.s. I lived in France briefly in the 1980s. While the communist party was dying out, it still polled about 10% or so (i think -- those brain cells got pretty pickled). The people i met who voted communist tended to be fishermen, tradesmen, and other people who felt they were getting screwed by the system.

Capitalism virtually by definition means that a large group of people are working hard for very little money. The neat thing about this country has been (a) people's willingness to buy into the system because they thought that their kids would have a better shot and (b) society's willingness to pay for some kind of fair retirement for those people who really can't be expected to save for their retirement.

We need to preserve of these ideas. And while i kinda resent my [wealthy] dad getting soc. sec. checks, i'm cautious about abandoning a welfare system that has worked pretty well, and prevented the formation of political parties which essentially seek to destroy the current economic system.

cheers
[it's late; i'm tired. if this is babble, oops.]

fdl,
I really don't know if anarchists would steal your food or anything like that, maybe they might, but my point is the way anarchism was a (somewhat) coherent movement but has been so completely discredited that it is probably known only as part of a title of a Sex Pistols song.

I really don't know what I want to happen. But I do want people to at least have some understanding of the history and I think that reflexive criticism because a film talks about Che Guevera's early life but fails to make a list of all of communism's failures is moving down the same path. (though I understand that some may think that whitewashing is worse than forgetting)

Enjoy your Yankee victory while you can (though I would love to see Matsui get a ring)

Anarchism almost by definition can't be a 'coherent movement'. Probably the best explication of it comes in the comic book "V is for Vendetta"--if the government is too corrupt you might as well just finish it off and not worry about the consequences. (Here we return to the idea that stories are more convincing than logic).

Back to Che, there is little or nothing interesting about his early life that couldn't be said about thousands of other people who were not directly involved in trying to get a win for one of the most murderous ideologies in the 20th century. So choosing to highlight him is a statement.

And we haven't been talking about what the statement might be. My sneaking suspicion is that we aren't talking about it because it is really ugly.

"speaking of goofy ideas, all the libertarians were supposed to move to new hampshire, weren't they?"

All of us? That'd take a state bigger than New Hampshire, I daresay. Maybe West Virginia.

You're probably looking for the Free State Project

"Back to Che, there is little or nothing interesting about his early life that couldn't be said about..."

Actually, he rode a motorcycle entirely across South America, which is kind of cool. I'd watch that over the next Bruckheimer pile of garbage.

JeSurgisLac, I've often heard early Christian monasteries explicitly referred to as an example of Communism-like systems' potential for *working*. Is that not true?

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