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August 17, 2010

Comments

Ingenious! And I love the historical recap.

But I don't buy it.

What do you say to those of us who aren't traumatized? The ones who have no problem with teh gays or teh Muslims -- who didn't worry all that much about Commies back in the day -- who even now aren't all that worried about the threat of terrorism: what do you say to us? Did we not live through the same events?

Nah. I think the real explanatory bit is early in the piece: "because we are just simple plains apes and inclined to believe whatever we are told, we do believe it." People have found that fear sells almost as well as sex, and they're selling it, and way way too many of us are buying it ... because we really are just simple plains apes.

I don't fear the Muslims or the gays, but I did fear incipient corporate fascism under Bush. How justified is that? I tend to think it's more justified than fearing Muslims or gays, but was it a reasonable fear in the continuing presence of democratic institutions, a functioning opposition party, a free press, and in the absence of a propelling economic catastrophe? The conditions under which fascism emerged weren't much like those that exist in America today.

I clearly think that my own outlook is more rational and less fear-driven than right-wingers, but I'm not ready to say that I survived the 20th century intact.

It's odd. I recall seeing the film of the Trinity test at a fairly young age. It made a strong impression.

Later, as an adult, flying between New York and California, seeing Manhattan from the air, my mind turned to thoughts of the destruction a nuclear detonation would cause -- how big would the crater be, how many people are there right now?

Did this make me jump at shadows? I don't think so. I have some sympathy as you write for those who do, but really we haven't experienced this kind of trauma. In Japan and throughout Europe people really have had the direct experience of this trauma but mainly not here in the United States.

The threats we face are real, but it seems to me our reaction has mostly been excessive.

The world is run by people and still mostly inhabited by people who are seriously traumatized from the last century, which genuinely was a horrific time unequaled in human history.

I don't think there is any real evidence for this. Take, for example, the Iraq war. Lots of people thought that was an awesome idea. In large part because they were scared. Of imaginary non-existent threats. But if they were really traumatized by the events of the 20th century, they would have understood that wars are often based on lies, rarely go as planned, and often lead to way more deaths than anyone expected at the outset.

Alternatively, surely people in Europe were deeply traumatized by the events of the 20th century, no? And yet European nations (except the UK) thought the war was nuts while America loved it. All these countries witnessed the horrors of the 20th century, so that by itself can't explain the discrepancy. Maybe the relevant difference is that European societies got a front row seat to the carnage in a way that Americans didn't.

Ultimately, I think your theory is bunk because trauma usually leads to empathy. And I don't see tons of empathy in modern American politics. We only consider the horrors of war while wallowing in terror and never when imagining how the other might experience war. I think cynical operators use the emotional rush associated with 20th century horrors to motivate the rubes, but that's very different than saying those horrors caused people to behave in a certain way.

Maybe it was the possibility that fear was sexy.

I'm American but grew up in Australia with an American father and an Australian mother. Radio programs back then were often about how the U.S. was trying to be the world's policeman, and I can remember my dad poo-pooing it all with balderdash and horsefeathers. But without claiming that I was politically astute, I found myself in agreement with them. And when my brother, who was living in Australia at the time but thanks to the fact he had dual citizenship got a draft notice from Uncle Sam to report to San Francisco for a draft physical at the height of the Vietnam War, went with anger and bitterness over the stupidity of it all while Dad carped on the sidelines about how when Uncle Sam calls, you go...well, I remember all this and failed to see the point of it.

Without simplifying things, I think this is irrefutable proof that we really are an empire, and one thing all empires have in common is that they craft overarching narratives about themselves that people feel compelled to believe in. And when people believe what ends up as their own bullshit, well, it's too late. The only thing one is left to do is to stop believing, stop buying into the notion that any and every price possible is justified to pay for our freedom with.

Perhaps George Orwell really was right. He thought the 20th century was the age where equality became technically possible. We were so eager to see it happen we resorted to force to ensure that it did. If it wasn't the Soviet Union with its own version of concentration camps and ideologically-stamped misery, then it was the U.S. with its more subtle means of television and advertising and ad man-as-iconic-model of persuasion that convinced you you could run a war and a Great Society at the same time.

In lieu of a better model, we're experiencing the hangover of the 20th century, with the party still trying to be carried on by those who don't want it to stop.

Is this "kerbillion" a technical term?

@Turbulence--
There is a difference between living through actual horror and living in continuous fear. The Europeans knew just how bad war was but also knew they had survived it, the ones that didn't survive having no opion. In contrast, from the 1950's through the 1970s, Americans lived under continous threat of "strategic" nuclear war.

It's no coincidence that Dr Strangelove was an American movie, not Japanese:
Japan suffered an actual minor nuclear war, with "only" 200,000 or so deaths. The US lived under the threat of a nuclear war, whose "theorists" argued that 20,000,000 deaths was "survivable," and where school children were taught to "duck and cover" with cheerful jingles. To top it off, anti-nuke protestors were dismissed as com-symp traitors(!)

Ronald Raygun got a lot of things wrong--especially in his first term--but he made a genuine contribution to World Stability (if not World Peace) with START I.

The twentieth century kicks off with the wizard invention of the concentration camp by the British in South Africa

Rounding up the natives at gunpoint and herding them off their land into unhealthy confinement? Certainly nothing of the kind ever happened in the nineteenth century!

Also, concentration camps: actually invented during the Spanish-American War. Used in Cuba in 1896. Called reconcentrados.

There's a brief period of glorious economic euphoria and excitement in the rest of the world

No.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that the Civil war featured concentration camps, too. The Indian wars, too. They go back a long ways.

No more horror? Check out this holocaust:
http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/second-congo-war/

Or just do a web search for the "Second Congo War".

Much bigger than Darfur.
-----

And the Muslims will be the most dangerous, as long as we keep on drowning them in oil money.

And the Muslims will be the most dangerous, as long as we keep on drowning them in oil money.

American Christians started a war for no reason that exterminated a million people. When "Muslims" manage to rack up a death toll that impressive, you let me know and I'll start worrying. It shouldn't be too long now: only 329 more 9/11s to go!

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that the Civil war featured concentration camps, too. The Indian wars, too."

No, it's generally accepted that the concentration camp was invented during the Boer War. Every Boer man, woman, and child was rounded up and put behind barbed wire. That's different from the other terrible things inflicted on the Native Americans.

the last century, which genuinely was a horrific time unequaled in human history.

14th Century: Little Ice Age, the Black Death, the Hundred Years War, continued turf wars between Europe and the Turks.

Also, two Popes.

And of course the previous two centuries were kind of sucky if you weren't a Mongol.

20th C was unique in the sheer effectiveness of the technology we applied to wreaking havoc, I will grant you that.

But I think hard, scary times were, and are, nothing new.

21st C - make some popcorn and get a good seat, because we're going to have the decline of cheap oil, large scale changes in agriculture due to climate changes, and struggles over access to water.

Maybe also increasing proliferation of nukes. Yay!

Our grandkids are gonna need a Valium drip.

Well, in some parts of the US paved roads are currently turned back to gravel roads because there is no money for maintenance. Also streetlights are turned off for some of the night (and not all are switched on in the first place) in order to save money on the electric bill.
---
The concentration camp issue has been a long debate for decades. What made the Boer camps new was that it was 'white' civilians locked up for a purpose (i.e. blackmailing their fighting male relatives). The starvation and epidemics were not original intent. It was a moral step up from not a tool for the usual genocide (as the Germans next door practiced on the native Herero and Nama). Nothing to be proud of for sure but not comparable to what we today think of when we talk about 'true' concentration camps. Treating them the same actually does the Nazis' work for them because they used the British camps as justification. Compare the discussion who was the first to use poison gas or dropped bombs on civilians from airplanes, it's basically the same. French sneezing powder served as justification for German chlorine for example.

No, it's generally accepted that the concentration camp was invented during the Boer War.

Generally accepted by people who don't know history or speak Spanish. Seriously, google "reconcentrado policy", Scott.

Every Boer man, woman, and child was rounded up and put behind barbed wire. That's different from the other terrible things inflicted on the Native Americans.

Quite right. The US government never rounded up entire Indian tribes and put them behind barbed wire.

...Well, OK, they did a bit.
http://www.arlindo-correia.com/120403.html

American Christians started a war for no reason that exterminated a million people. When "Muslims" manage to rack up a death toll that impressive, you let me know and I'll start worrying.

Not to back up Freddy's ludicrous remark, but:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_Bangladesh_atrocities

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_Civil_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somali_Civil_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darfur_conflict

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran-Iraq_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Pakistan_Wars

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algerian_Civil_War

Ajay, would you like me to bring up WWII? WWI? The American Civil War? Vietnam? As I recall, Christian nations played a significant role in all those conflicts.

Now, I assume that Freddie was focused on conflicts of relatively recent origin, especially as his statement was focused on prospective actions, so I don't think looking back farther than the last decade or so is helpful, but if you'd like to muddy the waters by greatly expanding the scope of the discussion, I won't stand in your way.

Now, children, if you see a flash of light in the distance, that means detonation has occurred.

Look away from the light, and get low under your desks if you want to get home in time for supper.

I'd think of my mother standing at the kitchen window on Long Island melting as the first shock hit from Manhattan where my Dad had just been vaporized in the Chrysler Building.

In the school hallway after, I'd try to catch a glimpse of my younger brother to make sure he, at least, was O.K.

I went through Civil Defense Training as a child. If you want to see horrific war reduced to droning banality, watch the old documentaries on civil defense from the 1950s.

Clean the radioactive dust off the cans before opening.

O.K., I'll keep that in mind.

I had screaming nightmares for years afterwards. For years, what looked like a gorgeous sunset to others was some big city to the West obliterated to ash.

Are we sure it didn't happen?

Turb, I'm not trying to claim that any one religious group is particularly murderous or particularly benign (that would be you and, in the opposite direction, Freddy), and I actually said that I didn't want to back up Freddy's ludicrous remark. Just trying to point out that "started a war for no reason that killed a million people" is a description that applies to quite a few countries in living memory, and some of them are Muslim countries.

trauma usually leads to empathy.

Usually? Huh? Occasionally, maybe, under some particular circumstances, but usually? Not my experience at all.

Whatever doesn't kill me makes me more embittered and resentful.

I think Jacob's point (which most of the commenters have drifted away from) is that the trauma of our upbringing warped the world view of a lot of us who grew up in the mid to late 20th century. Which, of course, it did -- as their upbringing molds the worldview of everybody.

Arguing about who did what when is a bit pointless, unless you go on to show how those on the receiving end had their subsequent views and actions colored.

P.S. Jacob, how could you have left out the great new feature of combat in WW I -- poison gas?

Existential war has been the defining mark of human history from the dawn of time. There have been winners and losers. Sometimes the losers absorb the winners, sometimes the losers cease to exist as a recognizable people. Many wars and battles are simply events, horrific transactions with no apparent impact on the ebb and flow of history. Others, Thermopylae, Marathon, Tours, Hastings, Gettysburg, changed the course of history.

We haven't seen the last of war, including general war. Whether we've seen the last of general war in which we survive as an independent nation is a different question.

The 20th century was unique, but not for any of the reasons JD cites. The last half of the 20th century saw the end of general war for three generations. It was a period of armed peace, when the balance of power, plus the overshadow of a general nuclear exchange, deterred all but war by proxy. In terms of body count, socialist ideologies produced higher body counts in the Soviet Union and the PRC during times of peace than did even the Nazis in 6 years of war. Compared to the communists, the "Christian Nations" are pikers. Rank amateurs.

It was also the period of time in which the movement beginning with the Renaissance and Reformation accelerated in a way never before imagined in human history. A movement which has freed up the likes of us to have conversations like this, using a medium that could not have been imagined even in the early years of my lifetime.

It is evidence of the highest levels of narcissism to believe that we are somehow more victimized, more traumatized than earlier peoples and earlier times.

"It was also the period of time in which the movement beginning with the Renaissance and Reformation accelerated in a way never before imagined in human history. A movement which has freed up the likes of us to have conversations like this, using a medium that could not have been imagined even in the early years of my lifetime."

Us?

Speak for yourself.

According to this logic, the Jews should feel greatful for the Holocaust...it produced Israel.

i think kent got it in one.

i was born in 1970, and i don't feel any of the paranoia or fears you describe.

but, while i was reading this, i was thinking you were going to swing this piece into something i've been thinking about:

1. we're easily scared and outraged. it takes almost nothing to make someone worry.
2. despite the negative connotations of the words, we actually enjoy being scared and outraged. it gives us a purpose, a focus, and an invigorating rush of adrenalin.
3. we enjoy sharing that rush with other people.
4. and so we invent things to be afraid of, to be angry about, when there's no real threat.

that's why scandalous chain email works. because we enjoy the rush of being outraged at our enemies, and we enjoy being scared of what we build them up to be, we're willing to forgive logical and factual errors. we already know our enemies are bad, and we know we'll get a little rush of adrenaline when we discover they've gone and committed some new atrocity. and then we share it with other people because everybody loves the excitement of hating on their enemies.

McKT: The last half of the 20th century saw the end of general war for three generations.

Well, that actually was part of the point I was making, perhaps not so clearly (or you might have gotten bored before you got to it).

In the developed world we spent the first half of the 20th century building up to a crescendo of terrible things, and we spent the second half in fear of more of the same terrible things or worse, but in actual fact no more of the really terrible things came along (for us, anyway).

In fact, the latter half of the century was exactly what you say: an exceptional period of peace, prosperity, increase in knowledge, and development in justice.

Narcissism - well, I don't doubt that people in previous centuries had their own trauma. But those people are all dead. The damaged goods from the 20th century are running every country on the planet.

--

Turbulence (much earlier) said trauma produces empathy, but - not to stretch the analogy too far - actual PTSD doesn't. It produces exaggerated flinch reactions, hypervigilance, and extreme avoidance of the feared event. In the case of the Iraq war, the triggers reached for were exactly those I'm talking about - "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Usually? Huh? Occasionally, maybe, under some particular circumstances, but usually? Not my experience at all.

You might be right. I might be distracted by anecdote. If Dick Cheney can favor reasonable treatment for LGBT when his daughter comes out and Duke Cunningham can favor prison reform after he goes to prison and Grover Norquist can favor reasonable treatment of Arabs after marrying one, then I have hope for humanity. I mean, consider the alternative: do you really think that Dick Cheney is more empathic than the average human being? Does it really seem plausible that the average person in Cheney's shoes would disown their daughter but Cheney acted differently because he is such an empathic pinnacle of human decency? Can you blame me for wanting to believe that the average person is at least as decent as Dick Cheney?

Turb, I'm not trying to claim that any one religious group is particularly murderous or particularly benign (that would be you and, in the opposite direction, Freddy)

Please quote where I made this claim.

and I actually said that I didn't want to back up Freddy's ludicrous remark.

Yes, you did say that. But regardless of what you want, your comment never the less served to give some cover to the bigot. Surely I don't need to explain how sometimes actions have unintended consequences that are the opposite of intentions?

cleek: we already know our enemies are bad, and we know we'll get a little rush of adrenaline when we discover they've gone and committed some new atrocity. and then we share it with other people because everybody loves the excitement of hating on their enemies.

That too, and then there are entire industries on both sides of the aisle with lots of people who are paid well to be outraged about something every single day.

My interest in any given outrage falls off rapidly as a function of distance and likelihood that it will ever affect me. If Texas wants to teach that Phyllis Schafly created the world in 7 days and Chuck Norris won the Vietnam War riding on the back of a dinosaur, that's on them.

The point is this: we're all profoundly damaged goods, us twentieth century relics.

I guess I'm not seeing how that makes us unique, historically speaking.

If Texas wants to teach that Phyllis Schafly created the world in 7 days and Chuck Norris won the Vietnam War riding on the back of a dinosaur, that's on them.

A brief aside (I hope) because it's OT, but:

I'm with you on this in principle.

In practice, it means it's really hard to find science textbooks that don't feature Chuck Norris astride Dino.

Born in 1952, I'm with Thullen.

My folks' friend built and stocked a fallout shelter; we were given a tour. I remember the inchoate fear during the Cuban missile crisis, trying to understand what was wrong with my parents that they had to talk in low tones in the kitchen so the kids wouldn't hear. I remember CONELRAD civil defense radio alert tests, multi-megaton thermonuclear atmospheric tests, public service TV spots about how to deal with fallout. Kruschev with the shoe, and "we will bury you."

Before Cleek was ten years old, some newspaper story in the late 70's temporarily convinced me that the Chinese were going to blunder us all into a nuclear exchange. Nightmares for a week.

Cleek, you're just young enough to have missed all that. Seems remote now; another world.

Turb, that would be: "American Christians started a war for no reason that exterminated a million people. When "Muslims" manage to rack up a death toll that impressive, you let me know and I'll start worrying."

SOD--"it" is the last half of the 20th century. The Holocaust was and is the single most defining, long term effect of WWII (after the victory by the Democratic West), followed very closely by the atom bomb. It informs much of the world in which we live in today, and it informed much of how the second half of the 20th century evolved. I pick the Holocaust over the Bomb because we've moved past, for the most part, MAD and the threat of a general nuclear exchange, but the Holocaust remains with us and will for decades, even centuries, to come.

JD--I question your 'damaged goods' premise. Every generation has pretty much been damaged goods, informed by the wars and threats of war that have been the consistent, unrelenting driving force in human history.

Public service

I'll just leave these here, from Slacktivist:

IndigNation
On Offendedness

Also, the effects of an entire industry (advertising) that has made its job to sell us stuff by manipulating our emtotions, and entertain us the same way (look at the plethora of cop shows. Now how many have somebody murdered every week, versus the crimes real cops have to deal with most often?). And some of the best ways to manipulate us into buying stuff are by using primate emotions, most often fear and lust. Very rarely does somebody try and sell cars, or shampoo, or plastic crap from China with hope, or joy, or anything like that. Probably because most things that are sold can't actually provide those emotions, certainly not on a sustained basis.

What do you say to those of us who aren't traumatized? The ones who have no problem with teh gays or teh Muslims -- who didn't worry all that much about Commies back in the day -- who even now aren't all that worried about the threat of terrorism: what do you say to us? Did we not live through the same events?

No, you didn't. Moreover, you probably haven't taken the time to comprehend that, living in the West, you were pretty much isolated from the worst the world could do, so long as the peace held between the major powers. The peace didn't hold because of progressive pacifist influence. Cold War kids remember that threat hanging over our heads. Of course, it never materialized and passed into history in the late 80's. In the context of history, it wasn't much.

Younger people only read about--if they even do that--what others actually experienced in ways that, in all likelihood, American and Europeans will not experience again for a long, long time, if ever. Every continental European and Asian country except Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and India experienced occupation by invading armies in WWII. Americans, particularly those born in the 70's or later, can barely comprehend, if they comprehend at all, what that meant.

Asia, the Middle East and Africa still retain the potential for continent-wide spasm. The fallout, real and figurative, will be very much a part of our lives too, best wishes to the contrary notwithstanding.

Via Nate's link:

a fascinating and far-ranging survey of the many groups of that time who regarded Barry Goldwater as a communist sympathizer.

Yah-freaking-hoo!! Now that, boys and girls, takes some doing. Tea-party folks can only aspire.

In college, I was required to sing with the choir for one year. The choir went on a tour of conservative churches in rural PA. We stayed with folks who attended the churches.

I remember sitting with one family I stayed with, eating red-white-and-blue ice cream, and listening to the dad talk quite sincerely about the threat of fluoride in the water.

This was about 1975.

They were lovely, generous, sincere people, beautiful kids, very nice home.

But they were afraid of their tap water.

Aha! It was all a plot to create the bottled water industry!

If Texas wants to teach that Phyllis Schafly created the world in 7 days and Chuck Norris won the Vietnam War riding on the back of a dinosaur, that's on them.

Off-topic, but speaking of . . .

"For God's sake!"

The three-word exclamation is a piece of dialogue from Game Theory, a short play written by Peter Sagal, perhaps better known as host of NPR's news quiz show, Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!

Last month, Sagal learned that his play, about a confrontation at an executive boot camp, would be included in a test given to students in Texas schools. But a problem arose when the state wanted to edit out "for God's sake" and Sagal objected.

. . . Sagal wrote a post on his blog last week about how test maker Pearson Education wanted to include his play as part of an end-of-course English III assessment for Texas schools.

"For ten years to come, high school students taking this exam would read my play, and then have to answer questions about it. Neat," Sagal wrote.

His excitement turned to confusion when the company told him that the phrase "for God's sake" needed to be cut from the play because it could be deemed offensive by officials at the Texas Education Agency.


"In terms of body count, socialist ideologies produced higher body counts in the Soviet Union and the PRC during times of peace than did even the Nazis in 6 years of war."

Highly debatable, actually.

link

" Compared to the communists, the "Christian Nations" are pikers. Rank amateurs."

If you mean Hitler vs. Stalin, again, debateable. If you mean Stalin vs. King Leopold, debatable. If you mean Stalin vs. Queen Victoria, again debatable. Not that the Queen herself was at fault, but I'm using her as a symbol for what the British Empire did in the 19th Century. "Late Victorian Holocausts" shows that famines under the British, due to their fanatical adherence to laissez faire, were comparable to or worse than Stalin's.

This is a pet peeve of mine--imperialism just doesn't get the "credit" it deserves for massively high body counts.


One reason why it's debatable who was the greater killer (Leopold vs. Stalin or Hitler vs. Stalin etc) is that the estimates for Leopold and Stalin are all over the map, but the bigger ones are the ones usually cited. Here's a story from the NYT last year which is relevant--it's about a Ukrainian historian who says the evidence shows that Stalin's famine in the Ukraine was deliberate genocide, not "merely" the result of insane economic policies (as was the case with Mao's Great Leap Forward or various Indian famines under the British). But he also thinks the death toll was 3.5 million, not the ten million some claim.

link

Well, Spain occupied itself, sparing Hitler the trouble.

The author Walker Percy was insightful on the body count, beginning in the trenches during World War II, and the human condition in the 20th Century.

He also had some things to say about the American South, the Confederacy, and its place in late 20th Century politics.

The South has let him down.

I would never compare my "trauma" during the 1950s to the extravagant pageantry of human slaughter during the 20th century or any other time in history.

But I had an imagination.

However, I detect, especially in the run-up to the Iraq debacle and now with the Cordoba controversy, a nostalgia for the slaughterhouse (and the Confederacy) by those in that Party who have never served in combat but who demagogue the nationalistic juices and innocent American exceptionalism, not the Iwo Jima variety, but the Heinz 57 variety starring John Wayne.

I like John Wayne the actor (Red River, The Quiet Man, etc, not the execrable "Green Berets" or "The Alamo" ) but he successfully avoided combat during World War II by every trick in the book.

Which I guess is why the bathrobed patriots at Redshite stroke their erections over his pronouncements on film rather than lugging their fat as*es anywhere near combat.

That some of them might have served and loved it and fondle it is testimony to ... what? Well, it's not what our fathers and grandfathers who survived World War II held inside as testimony but would not divulge, until perhaps very late in their lives.

Saul Bellow attributed the slaughter of the 20th century to human boredom. Percy, too, in a more complicated and eloquent way.

I'm convinced 9/11 was the perfect stemming of boredom for the American consumer and his and her entertainment demagogues. It vivified on TV from a distance, and very neatly (those towers collapsing on themselves, the ash not touching Wasilla), the savage demagogic instincts.

I'm convinced too that Gingrich, Death Palin and ilk hope the Islamic community center is built.

It will allow them to tell us from time to time, for years, and right on the eve of votes to eliminate taxes and defund Social Security and Medicare, to look over there, yes there, in the basement of the mosque, there is an enemy building the bomb that will kill us all.


This is a pet peeve of mine--imperialism just doesn't get the "credit" it deserves for massively high body counts.


Hmmm...this communism/imperialism dichotomy seems odd. Communists can't be imperialists?

Hopefully this doesn't lead to a volley of commentary about real communism, or the difference between communism and socialism, but I fear it will.

For the sake of anecdota, I was born in '68. I have distinct memories of recurring dreams during jr high and high school involving going outside during school fire drills and looking up to see nuclear-tipped ICBMs flying over on their way to their nearby targets. (Obviously, I couldn't see them in detail to know what they were, but I knew what they were, since they were in my dreams.)

I had a dream once wherein I was drowsily watching flies buzz heavily against the classroom windows during algebra class and suddenly outside dozens and then hundreds of paratroopers wearing red jumpsuits landed and began invading my school, pushing vice-principals up against the wall, who probably deserved it, being part of the education conspiracy.

Then my buddies and me and a few of the cutest girls in school piled into our pick-up trucks carrying cans of Spam and Spaghetti-'Os and headed for the woods to mount an insurrection against the invading hordes, and then ....


..... wait a second .. that was the movie "Red Dawn"....

.... subtitled "Erick Erickson's Wet Dream".

"Hmmm...this communism/imperialism dichotomy seems odd. Communists can't be imperialists?"

I thought of that after posting. Of course communists can be imperialists, but my point was that Western imperialism gets off lightly in these bodycount discussions (in American discussions, that is).

Anyway, when counting bodies inflicted by communists I think you'd find that most of them are inflicted by the communist government on its own citizens.

I recently watched a good bit of Red Dawn, which was inexplicably playing on a premium cable channel. Pure comic gold that film is. It was fun at the midnight movies when I was 15. It's hilarious now.

"Hopefully this doesn't lead to a volley of commentary about real communism, or the difference between communism and socialism, but I fear it will."

I'm not sure why it would. There aren't too many people at ObiWi (if any) pining for "real communism"--though I recently read a NYT story about Christians choosing to live in the same building in a sort of commune (something I used to daydream about doing) and of course there's the attempt at "real communism" in the book of Acts.

And the socialist label can be attached to anything from Sweden to Stalin, I guess. What's there to argue about? (I'll wait and see.)

"when counting bodies inflicted by communists "

Note to myself. Read before posting.

Anyway, when counting bodies inflicted by communists I think you'd find that most of them are inflicted by the communist government on its own citizens.

I don't think you'll get much argument over that, but am unsure as to why that distinction is an important one.

Of course communists can be imperialists, but my point was that Western imperialism gets off lightly in these bodycount discussions (in American discussions, that is).

Why not call it capitalism?

"I don't think you'll get much argument over that, but am unsure as to why that distinction is an important one."

Sigh. I complained (see McKT above) that Americans talk about the tens of millions killed by communism and rarely seem to know about the comparable number killed by Western non-communist Christian countries. McT specifically said that Christian countries are pikers compared to the commies. Well, not they're not. Late 19th century Christian countries are comparable to 20th century communist dictatorships in the number of people they killed.

You saw that I contrasted communism with imperialism and pointed out that communists can be imperialists. Not relevant to my point, but it's true, so I acknowledged it and then pointed out that most of the deaths that communist governments inflicted were on their own people--that is, the imperialist aspect was a second order effect if you're counting up the deaths they inflicted. All of this is irrelevant to my point, which was that commies and Western imperialists are both responsible for tens of millions of deaths.

"Why not call it capitalism?"

I don't object--I'd call it actually existing capitalism, as opposed to the theoretical perfect kind which never infringes on anyone's rights, but then we'd be getting into volleys of discussion about real vs. not real capitalism. I wouldn't mind watching, but will stay on the sidelines if it happens.

Late 19th century Christian countries are comparable to 20th century communist dictatorships in the number of people they killed.

Three things: one, I think this is factually incorrect by several orders of magnitude, though I will freely admit error if shown authoritative documentation. Two, I was confining my remarks the 20th century. Three, I checked out the likely source on Victorian Agricultural Holocaust. Highly tendentious, extremely ideological polemics from an avowed Marxist. An avowed Marxist who ignores the Soviet centrally planned famine and down plays the Great Leap Forward.

As background, there were huge famines in India, China and Brazil in late 19th century brought on by the el nino weather cycles. Food couldn't be grown. It wasn't central planning or gov't policy that caused the food not to grow, it was the weather. But, for ideologues who like to diss capitalism, it is murder by Adam Smith.

As background, there were huge famines in India, China and Brazil in late 19th century brought on by the el nino weather cycles. Food couldn't be grown.

Or imported?

Ireland was still producing meat and grain all through the potato famine, and exporting lots of it to England. That was because the English had money to pay for it and Irish peasants didn't. That's not the fault of the weather; it's the fault of Irish landlords and British policymakers who decided that lowering rents or giving away food would create generations of dependency, or moral hazard, or some darn thing. But I guess pointing that out makes me the ideologue.

But I guess pointing that out makes me the ideologue.

No, it just means you are changing the subject. The potato famine is a different animal with different issues. It can be spun to suit ideology as can pretty much anything of that nature.

But just so there is no doubt here, whether it's an el nino cycle-induced drought or a plant disease, the root cause was nature, not man.

In the case of the communists, it was government policy which drove the food shortages. Nature's only role was to be itself.

I'm curious, why are Marxists always referred to as "avowed"?

I'm kind of an Adam Smith secret sympathizer, especially the bits in the Wealth of Nations where he strays from his avowedness.

I've never understood why avowed Wealth of Nations fans become furtive and evasive when questioned by Congressional committees about their undercover feeling towards The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

What are they hiding?

McKT: Are you saying the practice of allowing absentee landlords to control vast tracts of Irish farmland and to remit all of the revenue to England was not government policy?

Do you mean to say that the English Crown appointed commissions to reform land-use
policy in Ireland thinking they were doing weather modification and fungus control?

I'm curious, why are Marxists always referred to as "avowed"?

Because some come out and admit what they are, others deny it but substantively, there is no difference.

I'm kind of an Adam Smith secret sympathizer, especially the bits in the Wealth of Nations where he strays from his avowedness.

I've never understood why avowed Wealth of Nations fans become furtive and evasive when questioned by Congressional committees about their undercover feeling towards The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

What are they hiding?

I don't know.

McKT: Are you saying the practice of allowing absentee landlords to control vast tracts of Irish farmland and to remit all of the revenue to England was not government policy?

No, I am saying that the precipitating cause of the Irish Potato Famine was not gov't policy, but the plant disease, the blight itself.

Do you mean to say that the English Crown appointed commissions to reform land-use
policy in Ireland thinking they were doing weather modification and fungus control?

No, I meant to distinguish between famine induced by natural causes that may be exacerbated gov't policy and famine induced by gov't policy, as in the Soviet Union and the PRC.

Amartya Sen largely agrees with Mike Davis on the Indian famines, though with a note of disagreement on the romanticizing of pre-British Indian villages.

link

The dismissal of Mike Davis because he's a Marxist is ignorant and silly. Amartya Sen is not a Marxist and not anti-market--he's one of those absurd people that thinks that when millions die unnecessarily because of a fanatical adherence to laissez faire, the government responsible has done something wrong.

As for communist famines, often they are quite similar--death due to fanatical adherence to an economic ideology. That happened with Mao.

Incidentally, there's also Leopold II, with around ten million deaths to his credit. Your "several orders of magnitude" comment is nonsense.

"But just so there is no doubt here, whether it's an el nino cycle-induced drought or a plant disease, the root cause was nature, not man."

That's wrong too. That's something Sen has emphasized--in most famines, the cause of death is lack of income, not a lack of food. That sounds paradoxical, but there's usually enough food around to feed everyone if it could be distributed.

Incidentally, there's also Leopold II, with around ten million deaths to his credit. Your "several orders of magnitude" comment is nonsense.

That is one man, not "Christian Nations". What he did was, in many ways, worse than anything Stalin or Mao did. Leopold II was a criminal, exploiting and murdering for personal profit. Your initial comments implied that national policy among "Christian Nations", i.e. the capitalist west, produced the same level of horror as did the Soviet Union and the PRC. Actually, what you have are examples of weather-induced famine, disease-induced famine and an outlier outlaw. The outlier is no more reflective of western values in the late 19th century than Stalin is of Sweden's quasi-socialism. As for nature-induced famine, what you have are books written more than a century after the fact that say--big surprise--if they had done things differently after disaster struck, it wouldn't have been as bad. Which is not the same as saying, What they did caused the deaths of millions who would have lived if they had just been left alone.

No, it just means you are changing the subject.

OK, fine. I didn't realize you and I were playing by Cordoba Project rules. So I will apologize for suggesting that the people with power are more responsible for how things happen than the people without power, because that suggestion might make someone somewhere feel bad. My very very bad.

Now, would it be too much trouble for you to respond to the suggestion that there is in fact enough food in the world to feed everyone; that we've had that much food at least since the nineteenth century, and the transportation capacity to deliver it to them; and that the failure to deliver it is in many cases based on starving peoples' inability to pay the market price for it, which you might reasonably sum up as "capitalism"? Prove me wrong if you can. I look forward to it.

I just typed a long response and touched the mouse the wrong way and the response vanished. Here is version 2--

First, here's a quote from page 280 of "King Leopold's Ghost"--

"In France's equatorial African territories, where the region's history is best documented, the amount of rubber bearing land was far less than what Leopold controlled, but the rape was just as brutal. Almost all exploitable land was divided among concession companies. Forced labor, hostages, slave chains, starving porters, burned villages, paramilitary company sentries and the chicotte (a type of whip) were the order of the day. Thousands of refugees who had fled across the Congo River to escape Leopold's regime eventually fled back to escape the French. The population loss in the rubber rich equatorial rain forest owned by France is estimated, just as in Leopold's Congo, at roughly 50 percent".

Sounds more like what happens when a profit motive gets out of hand, not a pattern of behavior that can be blamed on one psychopath. And when you look at the current drug trade or the tobacco industry, obviously there are many people who are willing to make money by selling addictive products that cause tens of millions of deaths over the long haul. I'm not equating that to what Leopold did, but it still shows how much suffering even modern people are willing to help inflict if it will turn a profit.

Then there were the Germans--they wiped out the majority of the Herero and the Nama and according to Thomas Pakenham's book "The Scramble for Africa", in German East Africa they did similar things, wiping out half to three quarters of certain tribes that got a little too rebellious. Of course the numbers are smaller--tens of thousands in Namibia and hundreds of thousands in east Africa, but I think the percentages say something about the mindset.

Then there were the French in the conquest of Algeria, though that's the early 19th century--you can find their attitudes described at the wikipedia link for the conquest of Algeria. Then there was the US behavior towards its own Native American population--the numbers are small in absolute numbers, but the percentage killed off is high. And in the Philippines, though I think dr ngo wrote here some years back that the increased mortality wasn't mainly from direct killing but more indirect things like famine (but if he reads this he can correct me).

There's an attitude here that's pretty close to genocidal or actually is genocidal.

As for the British in India, you obviously didn't read the Sen link I provided or you just ignored what he said, because you know so much more than he does about famines, apparently. You really ought to read how the British officials acted during those famines--Davis didn't make that up. Millions could have been saved if they had wished to do so--there was enough food present to save them. You dismiss this as weather-related only because you have some ideological need to do so, not because the facts are on your side.

My father would have been 92 today. He was born in a tiny agricultural village on Crete which lived, in 1918, pretty much as it had lived for many centuries. He was one of 6 children, only 4 of which lived into their teens. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Greece and the subsequent civil war, then settled into the determinedly middle-class life of a small merchant in the big city (population 15,000), which life, at the time, did not feature refrigirators, let alone washing machines or television. He immigrated to the US at age 48, with his family, by ship. He was 54 when he first drove a car. He was 58 when he first flew in an airplane. He was 72 when he first opened a checking account. (Passbook savings and cash were his "financial instruments" until then.) He never experienced the internet, but he did enjoy at least one aspect of modern technology: in his last few years he had Greek TV to watch, via satellite. He died in 2003, just days after the start of the Iraq invasion.

My father, I mean to say, experienced the 20th century, good and bad, more intensely than most people. I can't really say whether he was "traumatized" in the sense Jacob means.

My father lived through almost the entire century; I lived through almost the entire second half of it. Curiously, I'd say I feel more "traumatized" -- if a sense of foreboding counts as trauma.

Since about the turn of the millenium, by which I mean before 9/11, I have had the uneasy feeling of going over the top in a roller coaster: a feeling that it's great up here, but there's no way except down; a feeling that we are living at a local maximum. At least local.

People have muttered forever that the world is going downhill, and usually they have been wrong. But not always. The Roman Empire did decline and fall, let us remember. My ennui (malaise? some other fancy French word?) consists of a feeling that things have to get worse because they can't get much better.

In 1998, I took a trip to Greece with my father. We visited a cousin of his, in a village much like his own. She lived in a house which looked from the outside exactly like the quaint whitewashed houses you see in particularly charming postcards. She had a problem, however, that I was able to help her with. She did not know how to work the remote control. For her air conditioner. Even in a sleepy little village on Crete, 20th-century technology and 20th-century trade had reached the point where summer heat (a defining feature of Mediterranean life) had been tamed, by remote control no less. Crete, in summer, is a lovely place with blue skies and an atmosphere that's equal parts salty breeze and the delicious aroma of dessicated wild herbs. Crete in summer, with air conditioning, is next door to paradise. It's hard to imagine how things can get better, in the 21st century, than they were at the end of the 20th. Ergo, it's hard to imagine that they won't get worse.

Even in the ordinary, humdrum life I lead in the Boston suburbs, I have the same feeling. I have my worries and my troubles like anybody else, but living at the tail end of the 20th century feels like an improbable bit of good luck. Something that's too good to last.

Oh, well, a little foreboding never hurt anybody, I suppose. Grin and bear it, I advise myself. Most likely, I will be comfortably dead before the next world war happens, or the oil runs out, or global warming turns Boston into Venice, or some other cosmic inconvenience comes up. That thought provides some comfort.

--TP

And, McT, if you're willing to look, here's part of a review of a different book which touches on "Late Victorian Holocausts". The reviewer is Simon Schama, an historian who is not particularly left-leaning in his history of the French revolution.

link

Getting back to the original topic, Post-20th Century Stress Disorder, I don't think it's trauma that got the US into this situation, I think it's lack of war-induced stress in this country during WW II.

We didn't get invaded, didn't lose all that many people (about 1/3 of a percent of our 1939 population--sucks if some of them were your relatives, of course, but compared to the 14% in the USSR, it wasn't too bad), and came out of the war on top of the world.

So we tend to think of wars as things that work out pretty well, at least for us. And when 2003 rolls around, why not try our hands at being the Greaterest Generation? Following the noble traditions of our ancestors, etc, etc.

Throw in the fact that with a volunteer army, our leadership is virtually immune from losing their loved ones, we're going to keep doing this until somebody manages to kick our asses (I have no idea who or how) or until we go broke (coming soon to an economy near you!).

To Tony P:

Having grown up in two different countries under relative personal peace (the U.S. and Australia), I too, despite the tenor of one of my long previous posts (about my brother's draft situation at the height of Nam what with dual citizenship and all), feel basically lucky to have been born and lived in the time I have had.

But lately, though it may be due to my age (like your dad when he emigrated, I'm 48 now too), I have felt much more uneasy, and I've been casting around as to why. It may be the fact that risk has been spread around more, to where the vicissitudes of the market now determine a lot more of people's fates than what it used to (the Great Depression notwithstanding), and this may have caused a latent sense of unease given that the kind of intrusion terrorism visits on individuals may be a parallel; in one day, perhaps one moment, your life is changed irreversibly and what comes after is not what you expected before that life-altering moment - whether it's your economic means going up in smoke in what feels like a short time, or a terrorist attack where your misfortune had been being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is not saying that the market is terrorism - no. It is saying that at a time when the mechanisms of peace and wealth seem to be in place for people more than ever, there are deep anomalies within those mechanisms that negate what they can affirmatively do and that once unleashed, they do not respect anyone. What I find disturbing is that the stewards of these mechanisms seem more cavalier than ever given the stakes involved - the fact that our government has been found to be involved with torture, which perhaps is a form of micro-terrorism in itself, and that our economy has been helmed by risk-takers comfortable with entraining other people's ruin.

What might feel like Jacob's zeitgeist-PTSD may be the realization that our unprecedented wealth and possibilities of peace-making aren't as fail-safe as we had thought.

"Getting back to the original topic, Post-20th Century Stress Disorder,"

The quarrel I'm having with McT actually is part of the topic--nostalgia for the age of Western (especially British) imperialism was part of the argument for invading Iraq and remaking the Middle East in our own image. Whitewashing the history of what happened in those glorious days of the White Man's Burden is a major part of that nostalgia. It is understood by some (by Hannah Arendt among others) that what the Nazis did to Europe was in part bringing home the behavior that had been used overseas. I used to read "Commentary" and "The New Republic" and this notion that the 20th century was a barbaric murderous descent from the peaceful glory days of the preceding century was quite common and it makes perfect sense if you don't take into account what Europeans were up to overseas. Look at JD's last paragraph in the original post.

I mean, even leaving out what Europeans were doing on their own account, there's also the Taiping rebellion in China, in which 20 million died--horrific in scale even by 20th century standards and given the smaller population of China, arguably worse than Mao's reign and comparable to what the Nazis did to the Soviet Union. That didn't stress out Europeans, of course, but it's European ethnocentrism to talk about the 20th century as some uniquely horrific period unless we specifically acknowledge that we're only talking about Europeans and their descendants and how they feel about history (which in fairness to Jacob was his subject). Every period is unique and most if not all are horrific. And again, I think the blinders we wear about the 19th century do have real consequences in how we evaluate proposals to invade countries today, especially if we see ourselves as doing it for their own good. Look at how cavalier McT is in dismissing the British responsibility for millions of deaths. This blindness and our lack of PTSD about the 19th century combined with the 20th century (and its convenient list of Bad Guys who were Not Us) gives us the mentality people had in 2003. That's where you get the mentality scamp dog refers to here--

"And when 2003 rolls around, why not try our hands at being the Greaterest Generation? Following the noble traditions of our ancestors, etc, etc."

A side note--in the history of 20th century Protestant theology we're usually told that 19th century liberal Protestantism was optimistic about progress and human nature. Then WWI happened and Karl Barth wrote "A Letter to the Romans" and Protestants rediscovered the fact that man was sinful. Perhaps so, but all that optimism followed by disillusionment came about in part because what happened in Africa and India and other places apparently made no impression back in Europe or among optimistic liberal Protestants.

"given the smaller population of China"

at that time, I mean. I see some other poorly worded portions, but won't rewrite what apparently others see as tangential to the topic (I disagree, obviously).

McKinney: Apologies for the intemperate tone of my last response. (Helpful hint: red wine angries up the blood.)

There is a difference between "I killed them" and "I knew they were dying and I could have saved them, but I didn't see the profit in it, so screw 'em." I just don't think it's morally significant.

We tend to lose sight of scale. The Spanish flu killed more people than the Black Death but until recently we were far more relaxed about the flu but went into panic when a handful of plague cases occurred in India/Pakistan and were brought to Europe.
Julius Caesar's glorious war in Gaul killed 1/3 of the population and enslaved another 1/3. Contemporary historians estimated the population pre-Caesar to be 3-4 millions. That body count is impressive even by today's standards. Personally I think the greatest (Western) meanies lived in the Middle Ages (crusades in as well as outside Europe) and the Renaissance (witches replacing heretics). I could even name some examples of attempts to preempt Hitler by trying to industrialize murder e.g. the Witch Oven of Neisse (Silesia, not that far from Auschwitz) that allowed to burn 67 witches at the same time with a minimum of fuel consumption. It got obviously built in expectation of a constant high or even grwoing demand.

"The English, by and large, being a crass and indolent race, were not as keen on burning women as other countries in Europe. In Germany the bonfires were built and burned with regular Teutonic thoroughness. Even the pious Scots, locked throughout history in a long-drawn-out battle with their arch-enemies the Scots, managed a few burnings to while away the long winter evenings. But the English never seemed to have the heart for it."

--Neil Gaiman and/or Terry Pratchett

He was born in a tiny agricultural village on Crete

OT: I honeymooned in Rethymnon, Tony P. Other than a day cruise to Santorini and the last night in Heraklion before the flight out, we stayed the full two weeks right there, just like the Let's Go! guide said we would. 1996, it was. Top of the world.

I'm curious, why are Marxists always referred to as "avowed"?

Same reason why political events are always "carefully" choreographed: writers are occasionally lazy about such things.

I'm curious, why are Marxists always referred to as "avowed"?

It's a well-known fact in Northern Ireland that Catholics are always "devout". Protestants, on the other hand, are "staunch".

Hogan and DJ--my remarks were confined to 20th century activities. I see distinctions between comparing 19th century responses to natural catastrophes by gov't and 20th century gov't-created catastrophe's. Also, I am not a student of 19th century European colonial depredations, but I should at least get a handle on this. Problem is, I spend way more time--pleasantly, I might add--here than I should given my workload. Of more immediate concern is that my workload has caught up with me in spades and I have to devote the next 3 days to digging out. I would like to continue this chat, but can't start back up until Saturday or even Sunday. If that is ok, let me know. Or, we can pick this up on a later thread.

And, Hogan, no offense taken. What red, BTW? Maybe we should schedule an exchange when we are both having drink? Maybe an entire thread someday?

OT2: hairshirt, wow!
Rethymnon is in fact the "big city" where my father settled and where I was born. My uncle still had a store in the old part of town in 1996. Revising and extending my previous remarks: Crete, in the summer, on your honeymoon must be paradise. You lucky dog.

--TP

Wow, indeed. I wonder if you were born in the hospital where I took my wife when she got a nasty sore throat and fever (and got free care as a tourist).

Another funny honeymoon-in-Rethymnon conincidence was meeting a couple of German kids, purely by chance in a bar (the Lemon Tree), who had been transfer students at a Friends school outside of Philadelphia and attended with (and knew) my wife's cousins. It's not so much that we were all there, but that we actually met and spoke enough to find the connection in a fairly remote and distant corner of the world.

So Tony P. was born in one of my favorite places on Earth. Cool.

What red, BTW?

Corvo, from Sicily. My favorite reds are from Piedmont, but the Corvo is an affordable everyday wine. (Maybe a little hearty for August.)

And yes, if we get an open thread this weekend, maybe we can drink and chat. I'll lay in some Orvieto.

"Problem is, I spend way more time--pleasantly, I might add--here than I should given my workload"

I know what that is like. Even when I have a lot of free time on my hands, I could still use it more productively than going online.

"I see distinctions between comparing 19th century responses to natural catastrophes by gov't and 20th century gov't-created catastrophe's."

The thread is dying (and probably should die), but you keep missing the point--in nearly all famines, death is caused mainly by policy choices, not by a lack of food. In market economies the price of food goes out of reach for the poorest and so they die unless the government steps in. There's enough food present, the poorest can't afford it. It sounds weird to me, but that's what Sen has studied much of his professional life and that's what happened in India repeatedly (the latest instance in 1943).

As for the omission/commission distinction, Stalin may have used famine as a weapon, but Mao's famine was bad economic policy (insane economic policy, actually). And the same is true of the various British famines--insane economic policy. You keep saying natural catastrophe, but the point is, once again, that there was enough food to save millions and there was a choice made not to do it. And you should read about the details--this was cruel fanaticism at work, not much different from what you'd find in communist countries though the ideology was different.

McKT: I am not a student of 19th century European colonial depredations, but I should at least get a handle on this.

I think my original pointer to Hobsbawm came from someone here, but he has a series covering the last couple of hundred years that is well worth reading if you haven't already, in particular The Age of Empire 1875-1914 covers the period you're talking about, although you probably want to read The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 as well. Very accessible, and unsentimental in a way I think you'd appreciate.

Hogan, the English hanged their witches (as did their descendants in the Americas). Pratchett is well aware of that of course (and Good Omens is a divine book). Burning was reserved for others ;-)

"We live in, in the west, in a world incomparably better than the one our grandparents grew up in, with far less absolute poverty."

A late 19th-century Anglo could have comforted and congratulated himself in almost EXACTLY the same terms. He could have looked back at the madness of the Napoleonic Wars (and he would have largely overlooked much of the pillaging and slaughter in Russia and Spain in almost the same way we ignore the butchery of the Eastern Front in WWII).

He could claim that his children or grandchildren, in the coming new century full of promise, in which the world will be so much more closely bound together, would be freed from the incubi of old superstitions and passions.

What happened, then? Read the first half of your post!

By the way, a number of comments here deplore nuclear proliferation. That should not be our main fear. It will be incomparably worse if any of the schemes for ballistic missile defense should prove effective in countering them, for then a country enjoying such defense could employ its armed forces, including its nuclear arsenal, with impunity!

Indeed people here seem to be oblivious of what I am quite certain will prove to have been the very worst thing that happened in the 20th century: that the titanic struggle among world powers had a winner.

I think it was The Age of Empire, oddly enough, which contained an example of exactly the Eurocentrism I object to. (Oddly enough because Hobsbawm is a Marxist, but maybe that's not so odd.) In it Hobsbawm contrasted the relative innocence of the 19th century with its comparatively low death tolls with the 20th century age of megadeaths. Except that the 19th century was also the age of megadeaths. I don't have the Age of Empires handy, but I think he references atrocities in the Congo and some others in Brazil. But even when Hobsbawm wrote he should have known that atrocities in the Congo amounted to millions of deaths, though I believe he's right about the much smaller scale of atrocities in Brazil (there weren't that many Native Americans to kill).

And I won't go into the Indian famines again. Plus the twenty million deaths in the Chinese civil war.

Here's a recently published book about the Brazilian rubber atrocities I just mentioned. Roger Casement, who helped expose the Brazilian atrocities, also played a role in exposing the (similar but much larger scale) Congo atrocities. He's an interesting character--wikipedia has a big article about him. (Aside from early human rights activist, he was also homosexual, accused of "sexual tourism" with the natives by some, defended by others and ultimately hung for conspiring with the Germans in WWI to start an Irish uprising.)

link

"Only" 30,000 deaths, apparently. You can also google Brazilian rubber atrocities

One thing I liked about Hobsbawm's work--his definition of the 19th and 20th Century and I fell unconsciously into using it just now. For him the 20th century begins with WWI--that's the beginning of the modern era. The rubber atrocities I just mentioned (and to some degree the Congo atrocities) occurred in the early 20th century, but in Hobsbawm's version of the 19th.

Roland, while I may have failed to communicate it, my intent was to describe the pop history of the 20th century as seen by the Western world, with parentheticals on those massacres that went unnoticed in the West.

They were unknown, as far as I can tell, for the same reasons that the 19th century horrors didn't really penetrate: the lack of cameras and especially movie/video cameras, and the difficulty in getting independent reporting out of remote places. Which is why I think the most promising development for peace and justice in the 21st century is the ubiquitous camera/video phone and the availability of uncensored data channels via encryption and satellite. Not in a techno-glibertarian way that I think it will automatically and immediately put a stop to terrible things happening to people, but because I think in the absence of photographic/video documentation there is almost no hope for anything to get better. Photographic evidence is necessary but not sufficient.

Jacob,

I hope you're right about the beneficent potential of distributed video. But just a few months ago, when the "Collateral Murder" was published by Wikileaks, I encountered about as many people who found it amusing as were genuinely indignant. The majority, of course, were merely jaded and resigned (as if to say, "the government covered up the killing of innocents, oh well, of course they do stuff like that, so what else is new?")

The problem with our times is not really a lack of awareness. The problem is that the people who support wars really don't mind the idea of other people getting killed, and even when the killing gets excessively cruel, they have no shortage of ways to rationalize it to themselves (and there will be plenty of experts to offer more and more such ways!)

Think of it in quasi-economic terms. It was easy for Americans to rationalize the conquest of Iraq, because even if their decision led to horrible negative consequences, those consequences were almost wholly externalized. If the war turned out to be a rotten idea, so what? That just means more Iraqis get killed. Oh well...they're just backward Arabs anyway. Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs!

On top of this, never forget that in many places and times, real violent killings can be a ritual, a spectacle, or even mass entertainment. Not to everyone's taste, perhaps. Many Romans disliked going to the Colosseum, which was cold comfort for the provincial religious extremists who were being fed alive to wild animals, and died under the jeers of the sophisticated urban crowd.

No, it won't just be the yobbos who relish the kill videos and helmet camera footage. It will become culture, with its own sorts of sophistication for the connaisseur.

Do you imagine it will be long before some of the mercanaery contractors start taking twitter requests for specific styles of kill, to render in real time for their delighted fans?

Jacob, awareness and communication are not, repeat not, going to effect any kind of moral transformation in our time.

The only cure for the disease of unchecked power of some humans over others, is to make sure that as many people as possible possess the actual physical means of effective deterrence.

Only in that way can the "marketplace" of power-political decisions properly and fully internalize the negative consequences of aggression.

If the nazis had installed cameras in the gas chambers, clips of it would be all over the net, some of them accompanied by 'funny' music. They would be cult not just with anti-semites. "Terror porn" has a wide audience, the ultimate in 'reality TV'. We are a jaded society and thus have no actual right to look down on people in the past.
Btw, public executions stopped mainly because the 'sensitive' elites were disgusted by the masses considering the events as a high form of entertainment. The crowds also tended to get out of hand (esp., if the 'performance' was not up to standards). From then on executions were to be 'dignified' events that only selected upright male citizens were allowed to attend. At least in Germany that decision was highly unpopular with the masses.
For details*: Richard Evans; Rituals Of Retribution: Capital Punishment In Germany 1600–1987, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

*very detailed details. The book is 1000+ pages

The Nazis did in fact take a lot of photos of the camps, and those photos were part of the evidence against them after the war. Similarly at Abu Ghraib, where the photos were taken as entertainment but became evidence. So I don't think photography is a prophylactic that always works in advance, but that it helps in bringing about justice and in not forgetting.

What justice there was, came after the Germans lost their bid to control Europe.

How much justice has been done for Abu Ghraib? And who on earth would be able to impose such justice?

When is the USA going to lose its bid to dominate whole regions of the world?

For that is when the justice might get done.

Until then, photos and clips of torture are not only entertainment, they are also intimidation and boasting--symbols of impunity, and proof that no one should ever try to "mess with the best."

I don't think that many in the White House or Pentagon were much perturbed by Abu Ghraib. Leaked material can be a more convincing form of marketing than any official advertising campaign.

Roland may have a point here about the new, 21st consumer entertainment consciousness that has perverted the video world.

Evidence? No, baby, this is a pilot!

It's not too much of a leap from today's reality show humiliations -- firings, kicks in the nuts, spider eating, young adults dissing each other over high-end weekend condo gatherings, Breitbartian heavily-edited racist filth gotcha video of swarthy people saying things they didn't say, to imagine the narcissistic, sadistic scum who want to run the show employing a bevy of fascist FOX blondes and Gary Busey, a former Simpson juror, and some newly discovered radio talk-show gauleiter to host ...

... the Midnight Torture Hour ... tonight ladies and gentleman, brought to you by the same people who brought you the candidacy of Linda McMahon .. why.. it's Linda herself .. we feature American water-boarding techniques from around the world!

Hey, we're bored, we're numb. Bam a little sadistic cayenne pepper on the perennial war juke and see what happens to the ratings.

It's the next new thing, kids.

George Carlin predicted this sort of thing could happen.


Photography alone is not strong enough a drug anymore. Btw, Goebbels planned to use films from the ghettos (and some selected KZs) in anti-Jewish propaganda ("Look at these filthy people!") but most of it went straight to the closed archives because he feared that the opposite effect would occur ("those poor mistreated people"). He did not realize what mickeymousing the clips could have achieved (and youtube was not yet advanced far enough).
It's risky and requires skill to demonize people by showing them in horrible situations you have engineered yourself but there are enough 'success' stories to 'justify' it.
Yes, I am a cynic, why do you ask?

One example not for puplic but internal use was employed at the Auschwitz ramp. Mothers with little children knew that they would be sent to the gas chamber immediately, so some tried to get rid of their babies (and be it just by declaring that they were somebody else's). But they had no chance against the efficient bureaucracy. These women were singled out as 'typical Jewish deadbeat mums' that deserved to die in the first place for their heartlessness. This could be used to tar all Jews in order to desensitize new guards in the death camps. Many military forces use similar methods to instill hatred for the enemy in their recruits (the US definitely not being an exception there).

italics begone!

Italics begone, I said!

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