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August 30, 2005

Comments

The whole problem is that there are lots of in-between things that if you define the terms as opposites seem to involve explanation with a heavy dose of justification.

If I understand hilzoy correctly she uses "explanation" for statements which make no moral judgement, favourable or otherwise. For example, this is explanation: prohibition created an opportunity for gangsters, which they expoited. Nobody should mistake that for a justification of gangsterism, or as a condemnation for that matter.

What's involved is not a binary distinction between explanation and justification. A better way to think of it is that there are statements which involve value judgements and statements which don't. In economics, a distinction is made between positive economics and normative economics. Abolishing tariffs promotes trade belongs to the former whereas abolishing tariffs promotes welfare belongs to the latter. The distinction is really quite clear.

In principle we should be able to make a similarly sharp distinction in discussions about politics, including war. Surely the "in-between things" are always normative statements? If you are saying that normative statements come in all shades from approval through condemnation then I agree. But hilzoy is still right to insist that explanation is something quite different from justification.

I apologise for being pedantic here, Sebastian, but your post suggests that you think hilzoy is actually missing some nuance, as opposed to being more indulgent to liberals than you would like (that's a given). I'm pretty sure she isn't missing anything.

Sebastian: if I had to guess, I'd say that the different responses to your statement and mine was partly due to the fact that you attributed this view to liberals while I did not. I really think that the tendency in question affects people on both sides, though in different ways. For instance, that those liberals who are subject to it would be more likely not to take seriously the actions of individuals from non-Euro/US cultures, while conservatives would be more likely not to take seriously the actions of their governments, if right-wing, or to say, as -- was it Westmoreland? -- did in Hearts and Minds, that the Vietnamese don't feel death the way we do, where (to me) the relevant part of that wasn't just how callous it was, but how unlikely it was that he would have made such a ludicrous statement about any group of people he thought of as "us" without a lot of proof.

"What's involved is not a binary distinction between explanation and justification. A better way to think of it is that there are statements which involve value judgements and statements which don't."

Ok, lets look at a simple statement that is almost always interpreted (and I think correctly) as justification though it is one the face strictly explanation.

"The reason the rapist chose her was because she wore a short skirt".

Any problem labeling that as having annoying justification overtones? Why or why not? Do you agree that such a statement is almost always treated as if it had justification overtones?

"For instance, that those liberals who are subject to it would be more likely not to take seriously the actions of individuals from non-Euro/US cultures, while conservatives would be more likely not to take seriously the actions of their governments, if right-wing, or to say, as -- was it Westmoreland?"

Sure, but that is in direct response to your suggestion that many conservatives think: "that liberals despise America and think that America is responsible for all the world's evils; and that we think that no one from another culture is ever responsible for anything." I say that pairing the two is incorrect. The first is sometimes held by the extreme left but conservatives aren't really worried about that one so much, while the second is too strongly worded, but correctly identifies a tendency that actually exists. The fact that conservatives tend to trust the government too much on foreign policy is also a stereotype with large heapings of truth in it. They may be symmetric reflexes, but they aren't the same thing. And even if they are, my statement isn't wrong--as you you illustrate much later in the thread. Nevertheless heaping piles of scorn were thrown about regarding a perfectly obvious statement.

And my statement could hardly have been more qualified. A tendency isn't an inevitability. One of the whole points of having civilization is resisting your tendencies.

Sebastian: actually, I think that more or less all versions of 'treating explanations as justifications' depend on assessments of the speaker's intentions/motivations, and that one is no exception. Said in a class on criminal psychology, I think it would be fine (if true).

The problem is that it's usually said in contexts that raise the suspicion that the speaker thinks that it's women's job not to provoke rapists.

I mean: it might be true to say: the insurgents picked X up and beheaded him because he was wearing American/Western clothes. In certain contexts -- those that in any way suggested that it was X's fault for wearing those clothes, for instance -- that would enrage people. In others -- say, a class for special operations people on how not to get beheaded -- it would be clear why someone said it, and so this rage would not arise.

Seb: about your latest: I tend to see the impulse not to hold people from other cultures to the same standards as a part of a broader thing, which I really think is not ideologically specific: the tendency to think that there are some people who are, well, people, and whom we treat as ordinary people, and others who are exotic beings normally found only in National Geographic, who have all sorts of colorful customs, but who aren't, somehow, us. Thus the Westmoreland comment: "they" have their odd little Vietnamese ways, etc. I do not think he would have accepted a statement like that nearly as readily about any American (or European.) Thus also the idiotic person I met who lambasted Israel but said that it was hard to condemn the Phalangists in Lebanon since "these feuds go back for generations" (a comment he would not have accepted about Israelis.)

"I know this isn't hilzoy or katherine's fault, but I would like to point out that this is the second time on this thread alone where one of the liberal members has said something (which ought to be uncontroversial)that would get me slammed for hours."

I hope everyone has noticed that I don't exactly give Sebastian an easy time when I think he's wrong, small or large. Having said that, I think Sebastian is entirely right here.

I'm in a restaurant with my 10 year old. He's playing with his peas, sending a couple bouncing a few inches from his plate. I reprimand him. He says, "Look at what that kid two tables over is doing -- flinging mashed potatoes at his mom. That's way worse." "I don't care what other children do." "Why do you hate me?"

Sometimes it's really that simple.

Something I should have put in my last comment: I think one of the major general problems at work in the sort of thing Sebastian complains about is something I alluded to earlier, and will now expand more generally to call the "Cardboard Substitute Theory."

It seems to me that an awful lot of online debate breaks down into people interpreting, or projecting, or preferring to have Found One to to vent on, other people as representing The Dumbest Face Of Those Idiots I oppose.

Thus, an unthinking extremist and angry right-winger will arrive at a web-discussion, see someone take a mild liberal view, and immediately begin ranting at that person as if s/he were some rolled-up-in-one amalgam of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, and Ted Rall. And an an unthinking extremist and angry left-winger will arrive at a web-discussion, see someone take a mild conservative/libertarian view, and immediately begin ranting at that person as if s/he were some rolled-up-in-one amalgam of Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, Donald Rumsfeld, "Reverend" Fred Phelps, and Pat Buchanan.

It's people treating each other as cardboard stand-ins for all that pisses them off.

It's less than useful.

I didn't mean to imply that I'm immune from what I described, by the way, if it seemed like I did.

"The reason the rapist chose her was because she wore a short skirt".

Context matters. If this is from a campus police officer lecturing first year college students in a dorm session on personal security, describing an incident, I'd say it's fine.

If it's from a juror explaining a judgment of acquittal, I'm ready to scream.

We're all familiar with the phenomenon where only certain people can say certain things. the woman 2 doors down can tell the woman 7 doors down that the outfit she wore today compliments her figure. She can use fairly explicit language doing so. I can say, at most, "Gee, is that a new suit?" [I'm older, married, and their superior in my organization's heirarchy].

"The problem is that it's usually said in contexts that raise the suspicion that the speaker thinks that it's women's job not to provoke rapists."

Ok, I think that is a useful distinction. One thing I note about your examples is that the times when it would be ok to say "She was raped because she was wearing a short skirt" and "He was beheaded because he wore Western clothers" are really very limited.

So that brings us to the foreign policy question. When Hamas blows up a bus, we are almost always treated to explanations of the short skirt variety in op-eds. I can think of almost no situation where an op-ed writer could get away with the short shirt explanation and not have it be seen as a justification.

... or to say, as -- was it Westmoreland? -- did in Hearts and Minds, that the Vietnamese don't feel death the way we do, where (to me) the relevant part of that wasn't just how callous it was, but how unlikely it was that he would have made such a ludicrous statement about any group of people he thought of as "us" without a lot of proof.
Am I missing something, or isn't it logically impossible for him to say of any group that he thought of as "us" that "they don't [X] the way we do"?

GF, it's safe to say we all share your online experience. It's funny, though, that this is so much more rarely encountered in person.

The sort of flip side of this is the special sensitivities we all bring with us. I'd guess that SH is no more pleased with 'Republicans are homophobes' than I am with 'Democrats are traitors.' One gets used enough to seeing this kind of thing, even from people who ought to know better. Sure, I can name a bunch of Republicans who've made statements that seem mighty homophobic, and I suppose some Democrats can be identified who've engaged in treason, but the generalization is offensive enough, in such a personal way, that no one would expect SH (or should expect me) to put up with it.

I don't think of myself as particularly homophobic, and I am sure SH doesn't think of himself, in any sense, as a traitor. Nonetheless, I would guess that he would react very differently to a generalized charge of treason and I to a charge of homophobia than either of us do to the other charge. I would think that this is because the charge doesn't play to the archetypes.

Gary Farber--

First take the general and average attitude towards death among us, then rigidify the extension of "the way we feel death".

I.e., there's a way most of us feel death, and referring to *that* way, I can coherently say, "some of us don't feel death *that* way."

When Hamas blows up a bus, we are almost always treated to explanations of the short skirt variety in op-eds.

I'm not reading the same newspapers you are. What I find are explanations -- the bus was blown up as part of a campaign to derail X peace iniative -- but never 'this peace iniative is so bad that nearly any action which could derail it is justified.'

Hamas is blowing up busses as a means to communicate. With us, and not really with the passengers. It is useful to figure out what the message is. The rapist isn't trying to communicate to you, me, or anyone other than the victim (and then, like riders in the bus, only in the most impersonal and generalized way).

Gary-

You're missing something. Someone could say, e.g., that the British have a different attitude toward the risk to individuals from terrorism than we do, because of their experience with IRA bombings (not saying this, just making up an example). Someone making a claim like that would need to have an argument about different experiences, etc., because the British are people just like us, and if they think differently there would have to be a reason for it. But it's still possible to make and support a claim that they will generally react differently than Americans.

On the other hand, for a group of people who the speaker considers as fundamentally not 'us' (such as, apparently, Westmoreland and the Vietnamese), people will make vast claims about differences without support.

Sebastian: I'm somewhat echoing CharleyCarp, but: the very limited contexts in which it's (clearly) OK to say the short skirt and beheading things are: (a) classes in abnormal psych, where it's obvious that you are trying to explain without justifying, and (b) cases in which you're trying to help people figure out how not to get raped/blown up, and where the context (training for special ops soldiers, etc.) makes it clear that blame is not the issue.

I think that part of what makes things get tangled up here is that I assume that we all want not to get hit by al Qaeda again. If I were talking to Osama bin Laden -- well, I'd phone in an air strike, but suppose God had made it impossible for me to do anything other than talk to him, I would try to get him to see why what he is doing is unbelievably, horribly wrong. But I'm not talking to him, nor does he (I hope) read this blog, nor is he the primary audience for op-eds. We are. And so if, by writing the blog/writing an op ed/living my life I am to do anything to prevent our getting hit again, it will pretty much have to involve our conduct, not his.

But then, because of Gary's cardboard cut-out thing, it gets taken as blaming. Now: before the reaction to the reaction to 9/11, I would just not have considered this possibility. I mean: it had not occurred to me that anyone would think I was a traitor, or thought we should just say "ooh, poor Osama, didn't you get enough love as a child?", or whatever. I mean, I don't, in normal conversation, go out of my way to make sure that no one thinks I'm a counterfeiter or a bank robber, since it has never crossed my mind that I need to. Likewise with treason. That's also worth bearing in mind, I think.

One last thing: I'm sure that you are, by now, sick and tired of people assuming that you're a homophobe, or (of they know your sexual orientation) consumed with self-hatred. One reason people screech when you say things that even make it sound as though you think that liberals are just into appeasement is that we are exactly that tired of our cardboard cut-out, let alone the treason thing, which I swear makes patient peacable me want to strangle people. (The reason I didn't ban TtWD for his Duranty crack was, truth be told, that I was too angry to think of it.) It's hard being consistently accused of something you think is not just "not me", but actually dishonorable, and it gets the best of all of us sometimes.

The other point I would make about Westmoreland's comment -- or about generalizations in general -- is that I view them differently when made 'against interest.'

I had a case -- in St. Louis -- nearly a decade ago where we argued that the court system of Kuwait was inferior to the system in the US. Not to excuse our own conduct in some way, but to get the US judge to prefer his court as the venue for the case to Kuwait (where the same dispute was also pending). That our client was a Kuwait company (and the opponent a St. Louis company) made a difference in the credibility of this proposition, I'm sure.

What iced it, though, was when the Kuwaiti justice ministry started proceedings against our expert for the statements in his affidavit. I'm not sure that part got into the published opinion, but it sure got the judge's attention . . .


(So, it it true that the court system in Kuwait is inferior? On average, sure. I've got a case right now, though, in a certain peninsular state that should be returned to Spain for a refund, and it's not all that terrific.)

"Hamas is blowing up busses as a means to communicate. With us, and not really with the passengers. It is useful to figure out what the message is."

It's a perfectly clear message; they're neither shy about it nor reluctant to discuss it in press interviews, press statements, in public speeches, nor on posters.

It's "we shall liberate all of Palestine, from river to sea."

Now, mind, this is not the message of either Fatah or the PA, and it's certainly not the message of all Palestinians, and I don't think it's likely the serious message, at least when push comes to shove, of the majority of Palestinians.

But of Hamas: that's neither obscure nor a mystery. They're quite on the public record with it.

I would like to withdraw my previous label and grandly replace it with "Cardboard Cut-out Syndrome."

Isn't there at least some question (and I say this explicitly in an seeking explanations rather than a justifying vein) that Hamas's explicit adoption of that position is a negotiating tactic rather than a minimum with which they will be satisfied? I don't think that it's always safe to rely on a organization's public statements as an authoritative statement of its actual positions.

Agreed, Gary. I didn't mean to imply that I found the general message difficult. There may also be particularized things within this one message -- why this day, and not another -- but even those are not difficult to ascertain.

I can't say I've ever read an editorial in a main stream publication that posits that 'liberation of all of Palestine, from river to sea' justifies violence. I guess I've read that efforts to try to divert, defang, or defeat this agenda are ineffectual. But never that the agenda is justified.

I would ask where such things can be read, but am not sufficiently interested to read them to justify doing so.

"Isn't there at least some question (and I say this explicitly in an seeking explanations rather than a justifying vein) that Hamas's explicit adoption of that position is a negotiating tactic rather than a minimum with which they will be satisfied?"

It depends upon how finely you want to parse it.

At the first level: no. They are who they are because they are the Islamic fundamentalist alternative, and the entire nature of their policy towards Israel/Palestine is religious, which is entirely unlike that of Fatah and the former PLO, which were always secular/Marxist in nature. So on religious grounds, they can never surrender the holy land of Jerusalem. Never.

Now, what could, theoretically, take place is a "hudna," which is an Islamic truce. However, a hudna only has precedent of lasting as long as ten years, and in its original usage, as I understand it, the purpose was to gain an advantage over the enemy too strong to overcome immediately; in the original precedent, the followers of Mohammed then slaughtered those they'd made the hudna with.

So the precedent isn't so great, there.

But, if you're an optimist, you can imagine that maybe in modern times, a future Hamas could keep renewing a hudna, out of practicality, every ten years, until such time as a better accomodation is reached.

But I tend to think, myself, that sooner or later, Abbas, or his successor, is going to have to have an Altalena moment with Hamas, or Hamas will wind up sweeping the PA out of power or taking it over.

Of course not. But the bolded clause seems likely not to be true in any significant way. If we even went so far as to completely destroy Israel, and hand it over to the Palestinian's in toto, it wouldn't change the fact that the Arab world is horrifically corrupt, that Islam is stifling its women, that the Arab world is almost a century behind developmentally, doesn't seem likely to catch up soon, and many of the people there feel like they are entitled to live in a full-blown Islamist culture which simultaneously should be technologically successful. And that isn't even mentioning the fact that the tempting allure of US culture would still be tempting and alluring to those who don't want to be Islamist--and that you won't be able to shut it out without turning off all the TVs and radios.
Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | August 30, 2005

What was your context for this statement? It certainly sounds like your blaming a whole civilization for the actions of a minority.

It sounds like they get raped because their stupid sluts, and that’s what happens to stupid sluts, men will put them in their place, until they act properly.

But I gave you the benefit of the doubt, and used the voice of a Colonial Spaniard, instead of the voice of a backwoods hick…although both are saying the same thing.

NeoDude--

I find it hard to make sense out of your last comment.

What in Mr. Holsclaw's paragraph corresponds to "they get raped"? And what corresponds to "they are stupid sluts"? And what to "they act properly"?

I just have trouble seeing how your comment corresponds to anything in his.

Gary- It seems to me that this: "It seems to me that an awful lot of online debate breaks down into people interpreting, or projecting, or preferring to have Found One to to vent on, other people as representing The Dumbest Face Of Those Idiots I oppose."

Is something the Bush White House, and the right wing noise machine do on every news channel at all times. Then again I don't watch that stuff anymore, maybe it has changed.

The only way I can explain this is as parent.

Another metaphor:

If I have family members getting shot at, my first response is to protect and defend-as hard as I can. However, If I find out that those violent acts are a result of my family member’s involvement with gang activity…I may get a little hostile toward my family member…all of a sudden he has not made our family an innocent victim of gang violence, but instead s/he has brought his family into the middle of gang activity…And his or her claim “Why do you always blame us first?’ Is not going to cut it.

Many on the Right have been in denial of the activity many of our fellow Americans are involved with across the globe, and because of this the whole family suffers.

I don't know if anyone has read what I posted in the most recent open thread, by the way, but it's become clear in the last few hours that the devastation of Katrina is vastly worse than thought earlier in the day. Check the news.

it wouldn't change the fact that the Arab world is horrifically corrupt, that Islam is stifling its women, that the Arab world is almost a century behind developmentally, doesn't seem likely to catch up soon, and many of the people there feel like they are entitled to live in a full-blown Islamist culture which simultaneously should be technologically successful. And that isn't even mentioning the fact that the tempting allure of US culture would still be tempting and alluring to those who don't want to be Islamist--and that you won't be able to shut it out without turning off all the TVs and radios.

I do not see any reason in that statement that justifies acting immoral toward Middle Easterners.

It seems this statement is providing a reason, for Sebastian, to justify immoral acts toward them.

It seems this statement is providing a reason, for Sebastian, to justify immoral acts against them.

NeoDude--

Thanks--I think I understand what you mean now.

You take that entire paragraph from Mr. Holsclaw as equivalent to statements like "they are sluts" or "they are not acting properly", and then you take other aspects of Mr. Holsclaw's foreign policy stance, not expressed here, (e.g. his support of the Iraq war?) as equivalent to "they get raped".

And your point is that he justifies his foreign policy stance by reference to his complaints about their culture.

If I understand you now, then it seems to me quite plausible that Mr. Holsclaw does indeed take his complaints about Islamic culture as providing some justification for his foreign policy stance.

But whether that is a *bad* thing or not will depend entirely on whether the foreign policy really is immoral or not, and whether the complaints about the culture are well-founded or not. Won't it?

I mean, suppose I say "Sam killed three people while robbing a liquor store. That's why he's locked up now." It is true that I have alleged his previous actions as a justification for his present incarceration. And so to that extent there is a parallel between the *structure* of my statement and the structure of a statement like "she got raped because she wore the wrong clothes".

But surely there is a huge difference in the *content* of these respective justifications, and in the morality of the actions described. It is immoral to rape people; it is not immoral to incarcerate the guilty. People ought to be free to wear what they like; people are not free to rob liquor stores and commit murders.

That's why the statement about the murderer, and the statement about the rape, are both *justifications*, but one of them is morally repugnant, whereas the other is not. It is morally repugnant to justify rape as a response to blameless activity; it is not morally repugnant to justify incarceration as a response to murder.

So I think if you want to criticize Mr. Holsclaw, you will need to do more than simply showing a broad *structural* parallel between his statements and the statements of someone who justifies rape. You will have to get down to cases, and show
1) that the features of the culture he complains about are blameless in the way that wearing clothes is blameless; and
2) that the policies he advocates are intrinsically immoral, in the way that rape is intrinsically immoral.

That's the direction in which you should take your next round of comments, to my mind.

Thanks for helping me understand your position.

"It seems this statement is providing a reason, for Sebastian, to justify immoral acts against them."

Nope. The only thing it is a justification for is the idea that throwing the Jews to the wolves isn't going to solve the West's Islamist problem.

regarding cardboard cut-out syndrome, i present the following quotes from a self-proclaimed conservative:

"I definitely think that many liberals tend toward exusing other cultures from responsibility, though I think this impulse was stronger in the 1980s and 1990s than it is now."

and

"[Conservatives] worry that liberals always want to try appeasement . . . And liberals pretty much play into those fears."

and

"liberals don't typically make a big deal to make the difference between justification and explanation very clear so those who are justifying can easily hide out with those who are explaining--we can't tell them apart."

and

"I think the difference in liberal treatment of McVeigh's crazed explanations and those of Islamists might shed some light on the issue."

gee, OVER-GENERALIZE MUCH?

since you've been commenting more than usual about how hard you get pounded, SH, re-read your own material and you might, just might, understand why liberals on this blog aren't willing to give you much slack.

here's a hint -- this liberal finds your gross and inaccurate overgeneralizations insulting.

CCoS, indeed.


Now they are wolves? Do you believe those wolves crave the tails of the Jews?

What reason/justification, do we have to create a space where we allowed rape, torture, death, disease to rule?
If morality is so important, why is Sebastian so willing to support an action that allows for the most immoral behavior on earth?

These are horrible acts we have unleashed in Iraq…we are responsible…what did the Iraqis do to deserve this? We didn’t even treat Eastern Europe, like this…we didn’t use the horrors of the Soviet Union to justify a depraved invasion and occupation of those countries.

(*Ducking in*)

Is this most recent Francis the same as or different from the Francis, Rail-Gun Brother of Reasoned Discourse?

same. just decided to shorten the handle.

"I definitely think that many liberals tend toward exusing other cultures from responsibility, though I think this impulse was stronger in the 1980s and 1990s than it is now."

I believe this is the comment that is close enough to hilzoy's that I'm not going to comment further.

"[Conservatives] worry that liberals always want to try appeasement . . . And liberals pretty much play into those fears."

I am talking about stereotypes that conservatives have (descriptive) and the fact that post-Vietnam liberals have tended not to avoid the stereotype (only slightly less descriptive). You may not like it, but it is a simple fact that Democrats are not as well trusted on foreign policy. I believe it is because of the association with Vietnam protestors, left-wing Communist defenders, Carter doing practically anything, Dukakis (I really shouldn't need to say more), and well Clinton. A major reason that Kerry was selected was that his military service was thought to immunize him from the quite common belief that Democrats are wimps at foreign policy. Do I believe that they all are? No. Do I believe that they tend to have that reputation? Well, duh! Do I believe that Democrats don't work very hard to dispel that reputation. Absolutely. It is like Republicans and race. If you want to talk about race and you are a Republican, you had better be very sure that you repeatedly stress your distance from racists or there is no chance you are going to be taken seriously--and even then the stereotype about Republicans and race is hard to overcome. That is a descriptive fact. Do I think Democrats work very hard against their stereotype? Unfortunately, no they generally do not? Do I think they work very hard to distance themselves from reflexive appeasers? No I think they do not. Do I think any of that is particularly controversial? Not if you have been paying attention.


"liberals don't typically make a big deal to make the difference between justification and explanation very clear so those who are justifying can easily hide out with those who are explaining--we can't tell them apart."

See the above, and think about Republicans trying to talk about race and distancing themselves from racists. Republicans have done so far better than Democrats have from the ugly left. If you don't think Republicans have done a good job vis-a-vis racists, you are correct. If you think Democrats have done so with Carter, you might want to reanalyze the analogy.

Once again, I'm not saying that all Democrats ARE IN FACT reflexive appeasers, I am saying that those who are not do not successfully stress the differences between the 'peacenik' side of the party and themselves. Just like Republicans and racists--only more so.

"I think the difference in liberal treatment of McVeigh's crazed explanations and those of Islamists might shed some light on the issue."

On this I will admit I was wrong. Apparently the difference has shed essentially no light on the problem.

NeoDude: explain what you mean clearly, instead of saying things like: "What reason/justification, do we have to create a space where we allowed rape, torture, death, disease to rule?
If morality is so important, why is Sebastian so willing to support an action that allows for the most immoral behavior on earth?" -- which are both inflammatory and (to me) literally incomprehensible. (I mean, I have no idea at all what you're talking about.)

Francis: I think Seb's statements 2 and 3 were describing stereotypes, not engaging in them. Moreover, we presumably know each other well enough to be able to assume that we're arguing in good faith.

"(I mean, I have no idea at all what you're talking about.)"

I took him to mean that by invading Iraq, we allowed all these dreadful things to take place, and since Sebastian supported the invasion, why is Sebastian such a terrible person as to want all these horrible things? More or less.

It's not all that far off from Jes's use of "intended" and "designed" to mean "every result thereof," but not quite.

There is no country now about which there is as little information as there was about the PRC then.

Possibly Burma; possibly parts of Indonesia; possibly chunks of Africa; but yeah, close enough as makes no difference.

Gary: I was wondering about that, but I thought that coming after the wolves/Jews comment, I thought it ought to have something to do with I/P.

Been an interesting set of threads, despite the heat on offer. Taking myself as a prototypical liberal (which may or may not be a great liberty), there is an aspect to this explanation/justification thing that I think has been missed (though I may just be flattering myself) I know that I really do want to know why people do things. This stands in opposition to comments by others (some of them liberal) that they don't really care why OBL does what he does. But I figure that if a chain of events can be determined (or at least posited) that lead to him being him, because it is possible that a similar chain of events might lead to a new OBL. And, by extension, we would be stupid not to take steps to break that chain, which I think some 'conservatives' (note the scare quotes there) might view as 'appeasement'.

Part of this might be the tension between the great man theory of history versus history as a process. I think that if history as a process is a staple of the left, and the great man theory is the ground for much thinking on the right, it is unavoidable that this sort of conflict is going to surface.

To move it to perhaps less contentious ground, I'm wondering if anyone has read Haruki Murakami's Underground, which is his non-fiction book about the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin attack. The first part is transcripts of interviews with the victims, the second part, interviews with AUM members. The second part might be taken to be the liberal 'explanation as justification' syndrome, but to me, that is what makes it powerful. From the Guardian review

The Aum attack, meanwhile, eventually seems to Murakami to pose a challenge that is explicitly novelistic. Shoko Asahara, the cult leader, must have been a "master storyteller" in order to seduce so many intelligent individuals to his seemingly crazed version of Buddhism. In Murakami's view, the worst response to the massacre would be to view it as an aberration, a one-off evil perpetrated by spaced-out psychos. For his imaginative sympathy extends to the cult members, interviewed in the latter third of Underground, as well as to its victims.

Through Murakami's sensitive yet relentless questioning, it emerges that the people who joined Aum felt just as adrift in the world as Murakami's own characters do. One hyper-rational member describes his youthful frustration: "I couldn't find a single person who wanted to talk about the things that I cared about." But when he met Asahara, "It was like he saw the real me at a glance."

[snip]

So before we dismiss the Aum cult as "utter nonsense", Murakami argues in Underground, we'd better make sure we have a narrative that is "potent" enough to chase it away. "It's something I'm going to have to deal with much more seriously from here on," he writes. As a statement of intent from a man who must already rank among the world's greatest living novelists, this is nothing less than thrilling.

In other reviews (in generally more conservative publications), the reviewers are struck more by Japanese features noted by Murakami (lack of panic, poor crisis management), and this seems to reflect the dichotomy that Seb notes. However, this interview, done with Murakami while he was in the process of finishing up the interviews of the AUM members, can be taken as supporting the Guradian's take.

Did you interview cult members?

I'm doing it right now. I'm feeling very sorry for them. Those people are young, mostly in their 20s. They're very serious people, idealistic. They were thinking so seriously about the world and value systems. I was born in 1949 and I was in the university in the late '60s, a time of revolution and counterculture. We used to be idealistic, our generation, but it's gone. And the bubble economy came. Those young people are kind of the same, idealistic, and they are not able to belong to the system. Nobody accepts them, and that's why they went to the cult. They were saying that money doesn't mean anything to them. They want something more precious, a more valuable thing. A spiritual thing. It's not a bad idea. It's not wrong. But nobody can offer them what they want, only cult people can do that. They don't have a checking system, to decide what is right and what is wrong. We haven't given them those judging systems. I suppose that we authors have a responsibility for that. If I give you the right story, that story will give you a judging system, to tell what is wrong and what is right. To me, a story means to put your feet in someone else's shoes. There are so many kinds of shoes, and when you put your feet in them you look at the world through other people's eyes. You learn something about the world through good stories, serious stories. But those people weren't given good stories. When Asahara, the Aum guru, gave them his story, they were so tied up by the power of his story. Asahara, he's got some kind of power that's turned to evil, but it's a powerful story he gave them. I feel sorry about that. What I'm saying is that we should have given them the good story.

Interesting for me is the fact that part one was translated by Alfred Brinbaum and part two was translated by Phillip Gabriel. I wish I were sensitive enough (and had the time) to sit down with the Japanese version and compare the two translators, especially after this discussion of Murakami translators.

Apologies, here is a link to the Guardian article

"Gary: I was wondering about that, but I thought that coming after the wolves/Jews comment, I thought it ought to have something to do with I/P."

Nonetheless, it seemed to be a complete non-sequitur, although I imagine NeoDude has a connection in mind.

"...for the most immoral behavior on earth?"

I really don't think, incidentally, that any immoral behavior in Iraq, by anyone, compares to, say, acts under Pol Pot, or Mao Tse-Tung, or Hitler, or Stalin, or Idi Amin, or Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Empire (as it was then), or a number of other places. For the record.

lj: that's really interesting. -- I have also always been interested in trying to understand what makes people do really horrible things. (The first article I ever published was on a line of thought prompted by Stanley Milgram's experiments on obedience, and that's no accident. At all.) I suspect, in my case, the part of it that isn't just morbid curiosity has to do with knowing, as a kid, a bunch of people (Jews) who had fled Germany ahead of the Nazis. It was impossible to talk to them without getting the sense that the Nazis were both the most horrible people imaginable, and also, somehow, their compatriots in a country they had loved; that not just people with horns but (for instance) their neighbors or classmates, who had always seemed to be OK before, had turned on them; and, generally, that Germany was full of real people who had really gone on to do the most evil things imaginable, or to sit by and watch those things be done. And it seemed very important to me to understand how that could be, not least so that I could avoid becoming such a person myself.

"I think that if history as a process is a staple of the left, and the great man theory is the ground for much thinking on the right...."

Unsurprisingly, I believe history clearly shows that both are true, and there's no conflict. There are historical process that are, if not immutable, extremely powerful and sometimes dominant, but nonetheless, history is also replete with instances of single people or small numbers of people making a crucial difference in hugely important events which set other trends and events and ideas in motion.

Denying either the influence of individuals or the power of trends and processes (urbanization, suburbanization, industrialization, whatever) would be to deny reality, in my view, which isn't to say that this doesn't happen.

Once again, I'm not saying that all Democrats ARE IN FACT reflexive appeasers, I am saying that those who are not do not successfully stress the differences between the 'peacenik' side of the party and themselves. Just like Republicans and racists--only more so.

I'll assume you didn't mean to imply that being [perceived to be] a 'peacenik' is as bad or worse than being [perceived to be] a racist.

In any case, there's a logical problem with this comparison. If you can demonstrate even one instance of racist behaviour/rhetoric on my part, then I am a racist. Period. Saying something like, "but I still think it's okay for black people to use the same drinking fountains" won't excuse me.

On the other hand, being a "reflexive appeaser" is a much more universal condition. You'd have to show that I not only opposed the wars in say, Iraq and Afghanistan, but also every other war, ever. And if I merely point out conditions A, B and C under which I would support a war, I'd be off the hook.

Thus, while I could plausibly be labelled a racist after a single post on say, affirmative action, the burden of proof for labelling me a 'peacenik' is much, much higher. I agree that Democrats need to do a better job of countering the Republican weak-on-defense labeling, but in a sane world they wouldn't need to do much.

hilzoy
I suppose that my epiphany was related, but in the inverse sense, in that my father's office was transferred from DC to Bay St. Louis when I was in junior high school. I remember thinking that I had been assigned to the end of the earth, especially after my parents, being unable to find a house in Slidell, Louisana, ended up moving to Picayune, Mississippi and was shocked to find that people were generally the same there as elsewhere, which has generally led me to the notion that we all have the unfortunate capacity for doing horrible things and it is thinking that we are somehow immune to it is where the problem starts.

Denying either the influence of individuals or the power of trends and processes (urbanization, suburbanization, industrialization, whatever) would be to deny reality, in my view, which isn't to say that this doesn't happen.

Of course, which is why I attributed the views to different sides of the political spectrum rather than realis and irrealis. The problem is that even if you arrive at the same place, the fact that there are two different roads to get there creates two different narratives for each event.

Sorry, still trying to get back in the hang of commenting. That last statement is gary's, no hilzoy's

"I'll assume you didn't mean to imply that being [perceived to be] a 'peacenik' is as bad or worse than being [perceived to be] a racist."

No, I'm implying that the stereotypical linkage between Democrat and peacenik is at least as strong if not much stronger than the linkage between Republican and racist. So when foreign policy issues come to the fore, Democrats have to work really hard and very publically to overcome it--which they typically do not bother to do in any but the most superficial of ways. This probably happens because they think: "I'm not a peacenik, everyone knows that". In thinking that, they are almost certainly wrong.

"Thus, while I could plausibly be labelled a racist after a single post on say, affirmative action, the burden of proof for labelling me a 'peacenik' is much, much higher."

I don't think so. With the racist charge you only need one charge of behaviour which the common person would think is racist. With the peacenik charge you only need to oppose one war that the common person thinks is justified.

To advocate a war, that includes a violent invasion and then a violent occupation, would have to be based on a sturdy moral foundation. And then there are the plans, a draft, raising taxes---to get it done right.

Not preparing for the inevitable responsibilities of an occupier is immoral negligence. On the run up to the war, there was more time spent on PR and little, if any, on the after-math. Since so many pro-war types insisted on the WW2 comparisons, one would think they would have noticed that the administration was NOT obsessively planning, like the United States did for the Great War.

This war was done on the fly...that's immoral.

About the tail remark:

There used to be stories, concerning crypto-Jews in Portugal and Spain,…they had tails. On top of being God killers, they had horns and tails.

They were also accused of leeching off of Christian civilization…they were incapable of assimilation and spread revolutionary and anti-Christian ideologies through the underbelly of proper European culture.

With the peacenik charge you only need to oppose one war that the common person thinks is justified.

No: one would need to oppose a war that not only "the common person", whatever the heck that means, thinks is justified but to which legitimate opposition cannot be fathomed.

With the racist charge you only need one charge of behaviour which the common person would think is racist. With the peacenik charge you only need to oppose one war that the common person thinks is justified.

Then the Iraq war certainly doesn't count, since at best only just over half of the American "common persons" were ever in favor of it, and public opinion worldwide and in other "coalition" countries was overwhelmingly against it.

In any case, this is wrong. The opinion of the common person doesn't count, the facts do. Often the "common person" is not in full possession of the facts.

If I write a post arguing that, say, miscegenation is bad, the common person would probably think of that as racist. But what if my opinion is based on some difficult to understand, not widely publicized, but scientifically sound study showing somehow that miscegenation, is, in fact, bad?

I'm with Anarch. I have supported wars that a significant number of people opposed (Gulf 1), and opposed wars that significant numbers of people supported (Iraq, and I forget which of the mini-war-feel-good exercises of the 80s, whose details blur in my memory.) How many such people it would take for the 'common man' to be involved, and whether either of these qualify, I don't know, but I think I might, by Seb's criteria, qualify as both a peacenik and a warmonger at once.

"In any case, this is wrong. The opinion of the common person doesn't count, the facts do. Often the "common person" is not in full possession of the facts."

We are talking about stereotypical understandings, correct? If so, the opinion of the common man counts quite a bit.

"How many such people it would take for the 'common man' to be involved, and whether either of these qualify, I don't know, but I think I might, by Seb's criteria, qualify as both a peacenik and a warmonger at once."

We all know that stereotypes are not perfectly rational constructs, so this is not surprising at all.

Grrr. War. Pass the steak tartare.

We are talking about stereotypical understandings, correct? If so, the opinion of the common man counts quite a bit.

No, I was referring to the definition of racist/peacenik.

We are talking about stereotypical understandings, correct?

We are?

Grrr. War. Pass the steak tartare.

"Hello, hilzoy! I’m Genghis Khan. You’ll go where I go, defile what I defile, eat who I eat!"

As a latecomer to this thread (over 140 comments and still a-risin' so far) I'm reluctant to go back and comment on the one sub-thread on which I have a modicum of expertise, i.e., Pol Pot's Cambodia and its fall. But I cannot resist making a couple of points:

1) There are indeed certain parallels between Vietnam's 1978 invasion of Cambodia (deposing the Khmer Rouge) and our current invasion of Iraq. There is also one major difference. Cambodia was attacking VN. Iraq was not attacking us. Thus, aside from the general benefits of getting rid of a nasty piece of work (in both cases), from a Vietnamese security perspective the invasion was _necessary_. For the US, it was optional. (See also the ousting of Idi Amin from Uganda, by Kenya, IIRC.)

2) Someone upstream tried to argue that Reagan never actually supported Pol Pot (in exile). That dog won't hunt. [Now that I'm living in the South, I'm trying to get the hang of "Southron" idioms, but I don't think I've quite got it yet.] Aside from the question of who got what relief aid in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnamese invasion, admittedly complex, the US - along with ASEAN and the PRC - systematically, over the next *decade*:

(a) supported the retention of the UN seat for Cambodia by Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea [and its successor governments in exile] so as to keep *out* of the UN, and thus ineligible for most kinds of UN aid, the de facto government in Phnom Penh, with its Vietnamese backing;

(b) with the same partners supported (an open secret) the various Cambodian "refugee" camps and armies just over the border in Thailand, from which they made regular forays into the People's Republic of Kampuchea and thus tied down Vietnamese troops.

Neither of these policies, sustained throughout the Reagan years, had any plausible connection at all with helping Cambodia or its people. OTOH, I doubt very much whether the US or ASEAN (or even the PRC) wanted the Pol Pot-led resistance to succeed and actually take over again. What they (we!) wanted - and what they (we!) got - was to "bleed" PRK, and thus Vietnam, basically to punish the latter for their temerity in beating us, and for aligning with the Soviet Union.

As realpolitik, it achieved a certain kind of success, weakening Vietnam by increasing suffering in Cambodia. As a representation of our (= Reagan's) supposed commitment to freedom, it was the rankest kind of hypocrisy.

"Since so many pro-war types insisted on the WW2 comparisons, one would think they would have noticed that the administration was NOT obsessively planning, like the United States did for the Great War."

Uh, "The Great War" was World War I.

Anarch: when I was little, my grandmother gave me what had been her sons' collection of Landmark history books. I adored them. My absolute favorite was Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde, which I had more or less memorized by the time I encountered the steak tartare. So if you were Genghis Khan, I would have to work very hard not to follow you anywhere. (My post-childhood reading on Genghis would help.)

Did you know that in Turkey, Genghis ( or Cengiz, as I think they spell it) is still a common name? I got laid up with really, really bad gastroenteritis, and I had this incredibly high fever, and the doctor came in and said: "Hello, I am Dr. Genghis", and I thought: I am hallucinating.

(One more unrelated story, then off to bed. Background: my Dad's mother had a knack for befriending all sorts of writers and artists who lived in LA. My cousin, whom she brought up, was watching Frankenstein when she was a kid, and in the middle of it, the phone rang, and she picked it up, and a voice said, in a thick accent: 'Hello, this is Igor.', and my cousin screamed and hung up the phone in terror. Then the phone rang again, and my grandmother picked it up, and after a bit came in and asked my cousin: did you pick up the phone just now? No, said my cousin, who was still spooked. 'How odd', said my grandmother; 'my friend Stravinski says he called a few minutes ago, and someone just picked up the telephone and screamed.)

"...and opposed wars that significant numbers of people supported (Iraq, and I forget which of the mini-war-feel-good exercises of the 80s, whose details blur in my memory.)"

Grenada? Panama?

"No, I was referring to the definition of racist/peacenik."

I know it is going to sound strange for me to invoke post-modernism, but focusing on the platonic ideal of definitions of 'peacenik' or 'racist' misses the whole point of how stereotypes operate in real life. For example, despite the fact that I was raised with so little race-conciousness that I was unable to comprehend why people thought it was odd that I had a Japanese 'grandmother' and that my black elementary school friends were being teased about something which was obvious just a normal variation on skin tone, I can regularly be accused of 'racism' because I oppose affirmative action. In a purely logical world that wouldn't make sense. In a purely logical world Democrats could oppose or support certain wars without having to worry about an overall appearance of being wimpy. We don't live in that world. I have to fight tooth and nail against the racist charge every time I mention affirmative action. I am white and Republican. There are certian stereotypes about those categories which do not apply to me, but which I have to be prepared to fight. That is the world of how people actually think.

Democrats can't present foreign policy as in a matter of fact way. If they want to be taken seriously they have to overcome the association with peaceniks. Hilzoy's comment about appearing to be a peacnik or warmonger depending on the war is trying to look at stereotypes as if they were purely logical. They aren't. A Democrat who wants to speak and be heard on foreign policy has to overcome the decades of wimpy foreign policy stereotype. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

This is not a criticism of Democrats. I desperately wish the current dynamic in the country offered two parties with high levels of public trust on foreign policy rather than zero such parties. But the public loss of trust for Republicans is in the competence area. The public lack of trust for Democrats is on the aims area. If you competently aim at the wrong target, you aren't ever going to hit the right one. So if your aims are seen to be wrong, you aren't going to be trusted. Democrats are seen as having alarmingly passive aim tendencies. It isn't fair, but if Democrats want to be heard on foreign policy, they have to overcome that stereotype. Pretending that it will just go away doesn't work.

one would need to oppose a war that not only "the common person", whatever the heck that means, thinks is justified but to which legitimate opposition cannot be fathomed.

Yes, but this is a very high bar indeed, since I think even opinions based in good faith on incorrect or inadequate information have to be considered legitimate. For example, evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear program was thin at best before the war. Opposition based on the considerd opinion that they simply didn't have one would have been perfectly legitimate -- even if those accusations had actually later turned out to be true.

Sebastian: Note the end of my initial comment up thread: "I agree that Democrats need to do a better job of countering the Republican weak-on-defense labeling, but in a sane world they wouldn't need to do much."

I'm well aware that we're ultimately discussing mass opinion. My point was only that, logically, it should be much much harder for a given common person to conclude someone is a 'peacenik' than a racist. Naturally, public opinion is formed by vast numbers of such common people. Not all of them make full use of their logical faculties, and to that extent Democrats clearly have a problem.

Actually, to be fair, if everyone started using all of their logical faculties both parties would be in some trouble...

A Democrat who wants to speak and be heard on foreign policy has to overcome the decades of wimpy foreign policy stereotype. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. This is not a criticism of Democrats.

No, it's a criticism of Republicans. Although probably an unintentional one.

"No, it's a criticism of Republicans. Although probably an unintentional one."

No, if anything it is a criticism of human nature.

Hey Gary, if you're still here,
1967 war:
Richman has this:


Meanwhile, Nasser told the Egyptian press that he was "not in a position to go to war."(109) Israeli military leaders believed him. General Rabin said later, "I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it."(110) Ben-Gurion himself said he "doubt[ed] very much whether Nasser wanted to go to war."(111)

It is in that context that the following events must be inter-preted. On May 21 Nasser mobilized his reserves. On May 22, with the UN forces gone and under the taunting of Syria and Israel, Nasser blocked--verbally not physically-- the Strait of Tiran, which leads from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Israeli port city of Elath.(112) The strait's importance to the Israelis was more symbolic than practical; no Israeli flag ship had used it in nearly two years, although Iranian oil was shipped to Israel through it.(113) Nevertheless, the closure was a worrisome precedent for the Israelis.

Despite a blizzard of diplomatic activity in and outside the United Nations, tensions rose over the next days, until, on June 5, Israel attacked Egypt--thereby launching what came to be known as the Six-Day War. (The Israeli government told the UN Truce Supervision Organization that its planes had intercepted Egyptian planes--a patent falsehood.)


Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_day_war for more context.

Again, a close call, but nothing like what you're saying here: a few days for the Arab coalition to attack first. That's just not true.

On the 1948 war, what does it have to do with the post-war arrangements? I am not arguing that the Arab League rules were humanitarians (and we don't even know - maybe the west bank population would've chosen to be a part of Jordan); I am only arguing that they had a fair case to intervene militarily, certainly a better case than, say, Europeans (not to mention Americans) in Kosovo.

Quarter-million refugees, massacres (Deir Yassin was located outside of the 1948 Israeli borders, btw), destabilization of the whole region - and all this created by a group of white Europeans and at the highest point of the world-wide anti-colonial struggle.

I mean, it seems hard to deny that they had a case, unless you choose to completely ignore their side of the story, which is what happens in the West, unfortunately.

No, if anything it is a criticism of human nature.

Well, now wait a minute. These perceptions don't arise sponaneously from the common man's study of perceptions. There's folks with megaphones and incentive to misrepresent, and they're out there misrepresenting to the best of their abilities.

I suppose a certain amount of assholery could be considered 'human nature,' but it shouldn't be tolerated, much less celebrated. You might explain that they are trying to win, but the fact that it works doesn't justify it.

"study of events" I meant to write.

CharleyCarp--

"You might explain that they are trying to win, but the fact that it works doesn't justify it."

And with that we're back on topic! I love ring composition.

Another late (and uninvited) entrant to this thread. It seems to me that that invoking Republicans and racism when discussing Democrats and foreign policy does some useful work, but falls short of providing any real answers. Whereas racism is a binary situation, where its absence is good and its presence bad, the middle is the only sensible place to be with respect to warfare. How do you clearly, rhetorically, claim your place in the middle when you're being considered an extremist?

Repudiating racism means playing away from it and toward its absence - vouching for tolerance, kinship with the whole of humanity, and lots of other warm sentiments. You can work toward this by listening to jazz music, reading Toni Morrison, going on Oprah (back in the day), promoting non-whites, kissing hispanic babies, visiting black churches, or saying "I celebrate the diversity of America". Do all these things and you might be criticised for political crassness, but certainly no-one would claim that they are anything other than good things.

Repudiating the tag of peace-nik - well, there's something equally (to put it mildly) bad at the other end of the scale, no? "I celebrate our history of warfare" would sound strange from any lips. Talking up all the countries we could be bombing, being seen with books on "Warfare as Statecraft", listening to Wagner - these are things which could be classified as bizarre, or worse. I admit this is partly a consequence of my examples, but could we have some clearer examples of how democrats could, and fail to, transmit a non-peacenik persona, without simultaneously risking coming across as bloodhungry? It seems to me that the burden of Republicans is an easier one to shed than that for Democrats - because racism should not be accepted in a modern society, whereas in fact reluctance to go to war is just a shade on a continuum where there are no easy solutions.

Sebastian's original puzzle: why has there been so much effort in explaining the actions of Arab terrorists since 9/11, when there was so little effort to explain McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombing?

My approach is to try to extend the set of examples that we're looking at. Consider the USS Cole attack - that didn't inspire much explanation. What about the failed WTC bombing of the early 90s? Not much explanation there, either. What about the school shootings (e.g. Columbine)? There was a lot of explanation there - violent video games, classmates picking on the shooters, the shooters living in a town that manufactured weapons of war, the actions of gun manufacturers, etc.

What's the difference between those that received lots of explanation and those that did not? The key difference that I see is that the unexplained attacks were generally seen as isolated incidents, while the heaviliy explained attacks were part of a larger struggle. There was a wave of school shootings, people felt like more such shootings were coming, and people felt like we needed to do something about the shootings (like tougher school security, lower availability of guns, more counseling for troubled students, etc.). If there is an ongoing struggle, then there are obvious reasons for wanting to understand why the bad guys are doing what they're doing - how can you stop them if you don't even know where they're coming from? This is especially true if we aren't dealing with a fixed set of bad guys, but rather with a larger disaffected population off of which the bad guys are drawing "recruits". Why are so many kids becoming school shooters? Why are so many Muslims becoming terrorists? Oklahoma City always seemed more like a senseless, isolated incident, and the USS Cole and the early 90s WTC attack didn't seem like parts of an ongoing struggle, so they didn't spark the same kind of concern about the attackers' reasons. Attacks by the Unabomber or some other individual serial killer draw a different kind of search for understanding, generally something of a psychological analysis or "why is this guy so crazy?" But since 9/11, and in the wake of Columbine, many people thought we had to figure out what went wrong and then act to correct the problems.

It's also worth noting that explanations of bin Laden and the terrorists on his side are coming from all sides. The right is more apt to say "they hate us for our freedoms" or "they thought we were a paper tiger because we failed to respond to the USS Cole, etc.", but these explanations only intend to imply that our response should be perseverence and toughness. The left's explanations have different implications for what we should do, and to much of the right these implications are obviously wrong, which is one reason why the right rejects these explanations and the people making them.

Well, so much for my attempt to reform and stay on the original topic. Tangents keep popping up all over the place.

Hilzoy, (cough, cough), if you're going to drag in Chomsky as a whipping boy, as your coughs may reveal you gotta expect people who like him most of the time to come to his partial defense. It's true he was late in recognizing the full extent of Pol Pot's genocide, but he always recognized that the Khmer Rouge were, in his words, guilty of substantial and gruesome atrocities. The very first thing by Chomsky that I ever read was his chapter on Cambodia in "The Political Economy of Human Rights" and I was skimming it in a book store, curious to see what this horrific defender of Pol Pot would say about him. He was calling him a mass murderer on the first page. This belongs in your other thread, but this was also a political epiphany for me--you can't trust what the mob mentality of mainstream opinion says about a person's views, especially if that person stands outside the mainstream and says very bad things about it (virtually all of them true). Chomsky thought in 1979 that the scale of killing in East Timor and Cambodia were the same (but in his view a much higher percentage in the case of East Timor), which meant somewhere in the 100,000 range and his main point was to point out the sheer hypocrisy of the press, which talked a great deal about Cambodia and said very little about Timor, when in the latter case we were actually supplying the murderers with weapons.

I still think Chomsky was a bit of an idiot about Cambodia and one or two other things. He acknowledged the possibility that the genocide charge was true, but clearly didn't believe it when he wrote PEHR, as shown by the fact that he condemned the invasion by Vietnam as an act of aggression. He obviously thought that the scale of killing you'd get with an invasion would be greater than the 100,000 or so that his East Timor = Cambodia equation would suggest. I've never once seen a Chomsky critic make this point, in part because they'd have to acknowledge that Chomsky all along admitted that Pol Pot was a mass murderer, and that he compared it to East Timor and that he was being principled (if misguided) in condemning the Vietnamese invasion.
That would mess up the storyline. A year later as the evidence came out he'd changed his mind, acknowledging that Pol Pot had committed genocide. Slow, probably due to ideological bias, sort of like the way it took the Abu Ghraib photos to get some people to admit the US was involved in torture. Anyway, by that time the US government was supporting the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia and as Chomsky has pointed out ever since, the contradiction he saw in the East Timor and Cambodia example had been resolved--the US had come to support the mass murderers in both cases.

Chomsky initially underestimated the scale of Pol Pot's killing and I think it's fair to criticize him for that, but what I object to is the way his name is constantly linked to the issue in this way when

A) the legitimate criticism he was making (the Western support of killing in East Timor vs. handwringing about Cambodia) is always ignored in this context

B) and anyway, if we're going to talk about support for Pol Pot in the West, we should be talking about Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, not Chomsky.

The moral of the story--if you're going to make a big mistake, always make it with the hive mind, not in opposition to it.

To Gary,

Regarding using Saddam's killings to justify the invasion, Human Rights Watch demolished that argument. You don't start a war to stop mass murder that went on years earlier. Also, of course, the bulk of Saddam's killing was done when he was a US ally, so if the idea is to bring the criminal to justice then if we're serious we should be examining whether US administration officials should be brought up on charges of supporting a genocidal killer, in this and other cases. Not to mention charges for crimes committed directly by American officials, both current and previous. It's weird that Rumsfeld is one of the people involved in overthrowing the man whose hand he shook in the 80's.

On the 5000 figure, obviously Saddam killed far more than that. But it's interesting that as of last year (when I think that Guardian article came out), Blair and the US government were talking about 300,000 bodies in mass graves and it turns out that of the 50 or so (out of less than 300) mass graves examined at that point, only 5000 had been recovered. And one article quoted a worker as saying that the locals tended to greatly exaggerate the number of bodies that would be found in a given location. Yet people still report the initial claim, including Aaron Glantz, leftwing "Democracy Now" reporter, who credulously states it in his recently published book on Iraq. I don't doubt that Saddam killed very large numbers of Iraqis, far, far more than 5000, but it's a little annoying when mistakes like this (not to mention outright lies) pop up.

Uh, "The Great War" was World War I.

Posted by: Gary Farber | August 31, 2005

I didn't want to use "WW2" twice, in a sentence...but a Freaked Up anyway.


I've noticed that many folks are afraid to label pro-war extremist -- "Pro-War Extremist!" is that a posting violation? What if it catches on in MSM, would that be ok, then?

"It seems to me that the burden of Republicans is an easier one to shed than that for Democrats - because racism should not be accepted in a modern society, whereas in fact reluctance to go to war is just a shade on a continuum where there are no easy solutions."

Sure. It is one of those life isn't fair moments. Like the idea that you can quit drugs through abstinence with social support but losing lots of weight through dieting can be difficult because you can't just not eat. It sucks, but it is true.

Sebastian,

So when did you become a pro-war extremist?

Or to use even more similar alternatives, it's easy not to become a heroin addict because you just have to not take heroin, but hard to manage diabetes because you have to administer insulin, just not too little or too much. Its a day-in,day-out consideration.

To stay in that analogy, there is no "Just say No!" available to Democrats, as theirs is a diabetes-type problem. So how should they be proving that their treatment schedule is better equipped to deal with the demands, other than, say, argue that that's how they do it? It seems silly for them to act more hawkish than they think is actually right, just as you shouldn't overadminister insulin to prove you'd never do something so stupid as to underadminister insulin. What, apart from having a foreign policy and discussing it in grown-up terms, should the Democrats be doing?

Apologies for over-egging my metaphorical pudding...

"I admit this is partly a consequence of my examples, but could we have some clearer examples of how democrats could, and fail to, transmit a non-peacenik persona, without simultaneously risking coming across as bloodhungry?"

Like this.

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