A family history as microcosm and our national divide.

My father passed away three years ago. As a kind of prolonged Kaddish for him, I have been gathering the family history — tales that he knew, but I never asked enough about when he was alive. It’s been a labor of love, and of reflection, and I am not yet sure of the overall purpose. But it has connected me to the past in delicate ways. Certainly, ancestor-worship is, for me, a much more solid religious pillar than anything rooted in theology at this point.

Anyway, on this Memorial Day, and in that spirit, I gather the following photographs together:

Murray Lebowitz

A forestry major at N.C. State, Murray Lebowitz was my mother’s first cousin. He left college and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps a week after Pearl Harbor.  He was killed when his bomber crashed into the sea after take off from Guadalcanal on a flight to bomb Japanese positions on the New Guinea coast in April 1943.   His body, and those of his fellow crew members, was not recovered.



Henry Rosen

My uncle on my mother’s side, Henry Rosen, who flew 22 bombing missions from Italian bases over occupied Europe. After the war, he changed his name to Russell to skirt some of the anti-semitism in the fledgling electronics industry.  He spoke very little about his military service.



Dave and Leon Goldfarb

My father’s first cousins, Dave and Leon Goldfarb. Leon was a radioman on the minelayer U.S.S. Oglala which was capsized by Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor. He survived the attack, running above deck to abandon ship.



Ben SImonowsky, my father's first cousin, who joined the fight against fascism in the 1930s, campaigning against European fascism America-first isolationism as a member of the American Communist Party. At New York rallies, he was reliable and rabble-rousing public speaker against Hitler and Mussolini. When war broke out, he enlisted. After the war, he was, of course, hounded by his own government for his political beliefs.

Ben Simonowsky

Ben Simonowsky, my father’s first cousin, who joined the fight against fascism in the 1930s, campaigning as a member of the American Communisty Party against America-first isolationism. At New York rallies, he was a reliable and rabble-rousing public speaker against Hitler and Mussolini. When war broke out, he enlisted. After the war, he was, of course, hounded by his own government for his political beliefs.



Irving Ligeti

My mother’s brother, Irving Ligeti, as a U.S. Army Air Corps cadet. He was in flight school in Louisiana when the war ended, although his southern sojourn did result in his meeting a Bastrup, Louisiana girl, a prelude to one of the grandest marriages in our family history.



My father, Bernard Simon, tried to enlist after Pearl Harbor with friends, but was rejected because of his eyesight, only to be drafted in late 1942. He did not serve overseas, but as a U.S. Army master sergeant assigned to the New York Port of Embarkation he distinguished himself in one modest way in which I am very proud. During the war, the N.Y. longshoremen -- black and white -- were militarized and officers and NCOs were asked if they would have a problem working with black stevedores. Many were from the South and regardless, integration was only a whisper in 1942. My father readily volunteered to serve with black enlisted personnel.

Bernard Simon

My father, Bernard Simon, tried to enlist after Pearl Harbor with friends, but was rejected because of his eyesight, only to be drafted in late 1942. He did not serve overseas, but as a U.S. Army master sergeant assigned to the New York Port of Embarkation he distinguished himself in one modest way for which I am proud. During the war, the N.Y. longshoremen — black and white — were militarized and officers and NCOs were asked if they would have a problem working with black stevedores. Many in the ranks were from the South and regardless, integration was only a whisper in 1942. My father readily volunteered to serve with black enlisted personnel.



My father's first cousin, Shlomo Paretsky, left Slonim, Russia for Palestine in 1935. In the war against fascism, he joined the British Army and served in the Middle East theater throughout the war.

Shlomo Paretsky

My father’s first cousin, Shlomo Paretsky, left Slonim, Russia for Palestine in 1935. In the war against fascism, he joined the British Army and served in the Middle Eastern theater throughout the war.  Paretsky would lose his father, a sister, a brother-in-law, and an infant nephew — all of whom were still in Slonim with the Nazis marched in — to the Holocaust.


Lastly, I don’t have a photograph for Isadore Lebowitz, another of my mother’s cousins, but I do have the historical paperwork to prove that he, too, was ready to take up arms against totalitarianism. As my mother remembers, Isadore, orphaned in his early twenties, was under the general care of his oldest aunt in 1937 when he left a note on her kitchen table in Brooklyn. The world was afire and so was he. By the time his Aunt Hannah read the note, he was sailing across the Atlantic with the rest of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, another Jewish lefty ready to fix a bayonet and fight Hitler, Mussolini and Franco in Spain. Alas, in an overreach that would make any Jewish mother proud, Aunt Hannah rushed to a local alderman and began a strategic campaign all her own. When Isadore Lebowitz reached Rotterdam along with the rest of his comrades, he was hauled off the ship by Dutch authorities. It seems that there was a warrant in New York for his arrest from a false claim that he had stolen his aunt’s jewelry. Given the casualty rates for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain, his aunt probably saved his life, but of course, Isadore never forgave her.

As for my mother, she spent the war years at the Port of New York, in a warehouse on a pier at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, shipping military material in preparation for Operation Overlord and the invasion of France.  Privately, she whispered to my father that D-Day would be June 5, 1944.  She missed her guess by a day, but only because a storm in the English Channel required the invasion fleet to delay one day, as it turned out.

This was how America went to war once upon a time.  It was everyone, all in.  And nary an argument about rationing or shared sacrifice, never mind, say, any political imperative to cut taxes with our citizen armies in the field.

I’m not offering this as simply Memorial Day platitude.  In fact, I am not entirely sold on the-greatest-generation mantra that accompanies the departure of my father and his contemporaries from the stage of history. World War II was of their moment and they did their part, true, but it was a conflict in which the stakes were apparent, just as the ideological and moral rationales were largely transparent. We were at war and everyone knew why. Such clarity is rare in the history of human warfare. Perhaps only those American generations confronted with the task of creating a republic and, later, restoring the union and ending slavery, have been accorded a similar moment.

My oldest maternal cousin served as an artillery officer in the Vietnam era, just as another cousin, a few years younger, risked his own future and freedom to oppose the war as an active leader in Students for a Democratic Society. And after that, the photographs of men in uniform disappear from my family tree. We are, as you might guess, a left-leaning clan as a general rule, and the post-war history offers no certainty that a young life entrusted to the American military will be risked or expended on wars of necessity and high purpose.

My family is now largely a part of the America that now exists amid two ongoing overseas conflicts and feels little direct personal connection with the men and women who form the nation’s warrior class. An all-volunteer military makes possible American military interventions regardless of national consensus; absent a draft, the national opposition to an unpopular military adventure is marginal and muted. But at the same time, a volunteer military also leaves only a portion of America to experience the reality of war and sacrifice, while the rest of us disconnect.

That schism for me, personally, would be altogether complete but for the handful of U.S. Marines who I had the opportunity to meet and experience as a result of my involvement with Generation Kill. Some of these young men have continued to serve overseas in various capacities, and so, I have learned to read the headlines and watch the television with some measure of consciousness and worry. But I am being dishonest if I regard this as anything but a happenstance that resulted from an unlikely film project. By and large, the reality of wartime America lands hard among only military families. The rest of us are free to opt out.

There is something understandable in this phenomenon, but also something deeply wrong with it. And, along with a fundamental respect for all of those who have served and sacrificed for the American military regardless of the conflict, perhaps this rending in the fabric of our republic is something to consider on this day.



  • Hello David,
    Today, Delmer Berg, the last volunteer of the Lincoln Brigade died at the age of 100. Actually, Berg was wounded here during a bombing in my hometown Valencia. In Spain schools, History lesson rarely deal with the Civil War, don’t ask me why. And the fact is that there are lots of interesting stories concerning the Spanish war, I see that you have your own.
    A colleague of mine made some research about a novelist called Ralph Bates. Bates travelled to Cadiz to visit his grandfather’s grave, who had died in a shipwreck, and he decided to stay in Spain – he worked as an electrician and what not, as he wrote a couple of books: Sierra and The Olive Field. When the civil war started, he joined the Republic army, and later travelled to the US to assist with the creation of the Brigade.
    When we read the news about Berg’s death today we felt we’d missed our chance of making a documentary about the ALBA, at least one without an annoying voice-over to make up a discourse -which isn’t our cup of tea. Maybe fiction could play a role here, and I’m sure that you must have thought about it. From a Spanish point of view, a series about “our” war from a Baltimore point of view would be a must-see.

    • I want to do an ALB project so bad it takes my breath away. Have been researching one for three years now and have read and viewed everything. HBO is indifferent to the idea, however. Hard sell.

  • I felt the need to look this up again. Today. My mom said they used to have parades and soldiers would walk around in uniform. Memorial Day is a bit overlooked these days. She thinks it is because we have too many holidays. I wonder what you think. I am glad you have explored the military in your work. My Dad was a 2nd LT in the Army, and I am proud of that.

  • Thanks so much for sharing the stories of your family. I was raised in a “mixed” family – my mom was a republican and my dad was a democrat (although in the neighborhood he was known as the pinko).

    My father took me to anti-Vietnam protests and I had a poster in my room that said, “war is not healthy for children and other living things”. My mom took me to wave goodbye to my aunt as she sailed under the golden gate bridge, heading to Vietnam, to serve as a naval nurse on the US Sanctuary. They sailed up and down the coast and picked up wounded. As a little girl I spent time in the Oakland Naval hospital reading to soldiers who came home from that war broken.

    In the early 90s, before the first gulf war, perhaps motivated by the excellent recruiting film that was Top Gun, I ended up running around with a bunch of guys who were part of a fighter squadron out of Miramar and spent many evenings drinking and discussing the morality of dropping bombs from a distance. I just found a pile of letters that we wrote to each other during their loooong months in the Persian Gulf. They were dying to see action and I was actively praying that they wouldn’t.

    Now I watch my friend’s anxiety as some of their children choose to serve in the military because the job prospects are poor, or because they see it as an opportunity to do something about the terrorists who blew up the world trade center when they were 8.

    One of the things that most bothers me about war today is the disconnect you mention. The dead are reported as “troops”. For the longest time I thought they meant groups of soldiers.

    If we are going to be in a war then the cost of that war should be in our faces every single day. When I was a kid my dad and I would watch the news together and every night they would show film of black body bags on the tarmac. They would read the names of the dead.

    They did that for an unpopular war.

    For this war they do even less.

    If you went out on the street and asked the average American what the status of American presence is in Iraq, or where Afghanistan is and how many soldiers are there, I bet most of them couldn’t tell you.

    Unless someone they love is over there.

    Or they are loving someone who came back broken. That’s what I thought about on Memorial Day. As sad as it is to lose someone – watching them come home and suffer is even harder.

  • David I couldnt find the best article to make this point to you on so I hope you dont mind if this doesnt fit perfectly with the above.

    However, the comments you often make about the 15% of the people no longer needed by the economy has affected my thought process in profound ways. Any political issue that impacts on the disadvantaged I now view purely through that prism because I believe you are 100% correct, my only question of it being whether the current Tea Party version of the Republican Party has the intellectual heft to do these things on purpose or whether the outcomes are just unfortunate accidents.

    For example you explain how the drug war is just a way to move the un-needed 15% off welfare and into for profit prisons, the fact that it costs more being immaterial, no one profits of welfare, people profit off of Private Prisons. I just wonder whether a dope like Louie Gohmert has the brainpower to d o this on purpose or whether his ‘tough on crime’ views are from his point of view just a moral thing and the profit part just being an accident.

    Now though with Food Stamps in the latest agriculture bill I really think they are doing it on purpose. Every single study shows that Food Stamps as well as being just morally required in any decent society are an economic good. They create economic activity, they increase aggregate demand as they are guaranteed economic activity so cannot be saved or invested they create wealth for retailers and grocery stores. Plus by making sure kids go to school without being hungry it makes them better students so as a long term benefit in creating more able adults. Now though they want to destroy Food Stamps and leave people literally to starve, this is not only mean it is economically counter-productive and will force people either to steal or onto the Corners and therefore feed more people into the for profit prison sector. I would love this to come to a vote so we can see which Congressmen vote for it and then check their votes against the donations from Private Prison Contractors so we can see if this really is deliberate.

    The reason I emailed you (and posted this here) this is that I have a job (meaning I had 5 minutes to bang this out to you) and on top of that I am about 2% as smart as you. I would love to you write something about the food stamp bill and to see if your views in anyway incorporate some version of this analysis of the Food Stamp vote that actually makes the argument well, instead of my pathetic attempt. If you disagree wtih me, or if I am wrong, please let me know, but I developed this way of looking at this Bill because of your writing, so I hope I have not completely misuderstood what you were saying.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling (at work so not time to check for spelling/grammer mistakes I am afraid) and also for opening my eyes to this issue.

      • thanks for the reply.

        I just want to apologise for that post, not that I disagree with anything in it, but it is a rambling stream of conciousness thing written after to many lunchtime drinks. I am sorry to have bothered you all with it.

  • A little off topic but I was quite surprised to hear about your comments overseas about being against the new Corolado and Washington pot legalization laws. I understand your argument and frustration over taking the easy way out, but I’m not a fan of the mind set of some progress isn’t acceptable. To me it would be like being against the Afghanistan war ending because it draws attention to the cluster fuck our perpetual war foreign policy. In an ideal world we would end the Afghanistan war and change our blow them up until they love us drone war, but it doesn ‘t change the fact that I am still grateful that some progress (ending a 13 year war) is happening.

  • This post has reflected my own personal experience. I am the first person in my family to join the military minus some distant cousins. I come from a very conservative leaning family that supports every war that’s proposed in the sense they support the politicians and what they say. As for actually joining any service my family has never done so, my father even brags about how he avoided Vietnam. I was recently at a family gathering and the discussion of Iran came up. They all expressed support for “dealing with Iran” and that Obama needed to do something. I replied that I would prefer my wife and I to not have to be sent to another country to be in an unnecessary war. The conversation quickly died because they had all failed to understand that it’s actual people that have to go to these places. I fear we are at a time in American history where we don’t care about sending someone else to die as long as we don’t know them.

    • Sadly you are so right. I have found since my own service in Vietnam that the most loudmouthed “conservative patriots” are all of the “let’s you and and him fight, not me.” When I returned from the war opposed to it, and spoke as a Vietnam veteran at colleges in Colorado, I would frequently be heckled and harassed by members of the local YAF chapter. I could shut them up every time by asking the leader when he was going to follow his father’s example, drop out of school, volunteer for the Army, volunteer for the infantry, and volunteer to go to Vietnam since he was so supportive of the war. That was always met with dead silence.

      That unwillingness to serve, coupled with a willingness to condemn those who question the war, is the kind of hypocrisy that has made me consider most “conservatives” to be The Enemy ever since.

      By the way, David, it’s “Overlord,” Operation Overlord, not Overland. 🙂

  • David,

    I am equally troubled by our nation’s disconnect to its own wars. My father, a WWII veteran and a pacifist, has often argued for the reinstatement of the draft as a deterrent for intervention. When I was younger (not much younger, as I’m only 26 now), I bought into the arguments against the draft from the sixties. But now our volunteer army just seems like an extension of America’s harsh income disparity: a superficial symptom of a deeply rooted medical issue. In yet another circumstance–as we have done in the War on Drugs–we have allowed the impoverished to bear the brunt of our ill-begotten policies. The middle and upper classes remain insulated from the harm we’re doing to ourselves.

    Hopefully I haven’t made a muddled comparison.

    My question for you: now that crystal meth has swept through rural, white areas, do you see an end to the War on Drugs? Or will we just keep finding clever and new ways to insulate and isolate ourselves?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • ‘but as a U.S. Army master sergeant assigned to the New York Port of Embarkation he distinguished himself in one modest way for which I am proud…..My father readily volunteered to serve with black enlisted personnel.’
    David, I find this brief comment very insightful to your character. They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I believe that it rings true in this case. He must’ve been very proud of you, as well. And I for one, am very grateful that there are people like you and your father in this world.

  • great photos & stories to go along with them.

    Interesting though how self identified left leaning folks like yourself have come to accept the military industrial complex as acceptable nowadays. 10 years ago around this time you would find all sorts of protests and marches in the streets of DC & around the country opposed to our occupation of Iraq & Afghanistan. Nowadays even though we still have a presence in both countries, nothing but crickets for the so-called “left”. Ironically I see the left these days really not far removed from the neocon Republican camp.

    This day, sadly, is really all about the politicians and elite in our country. We’re programmed to sing the anthem, wave the flag, and cheer at the parade. We swell with pride at the high note, wear the ribbons, and solemnly nod our heads in approval when politicians make speeches about freedom and fallen soldiers.

    Its the politicians that want us to turn out for the parade. They want us to stand in a moment of silence. They want us to rally around the flag. They just don’t want us to think too much about it.

    Fortunately our military excursions will all end in the not to distant future for no other reason than the rest of the world will reject our currency & we won’t be able to print up the money fund the wars.

    • Reject our currency for what? Actually, the dollar is looking a lot better than a lot of the alternatives.

      And why is it you can’t manage a single post without identifying and classifying and sneering at those who don’t agree with you? “Self-dentified left-leaning folk…” Is everyone other than you deserving of a label before you’ll address an idea? Isn’t that a rather big crutch to carry into a discussion? Why does everything begin with ad hominem, Jason?

      I know that libertarians carry the one true light, but your characterization of what I think about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan — I think about them each differently, as they each have different origins and circumstances — is much more nuanced than the half-assed paragraph you construct for my imagined intellectual imprisonment. Just as what I “accept” or “understand” about the U.S. military-industrial complex, as opposed to say the actual requirement of national defense, carries more nuance than you want to convey.

      Why don’t you say what you think and make arguments for what you believe, and propose solutions to real-world problems rather than hobbling onto this small patch of internet only long enough to mischaracterize and oversimplify the opinions of others?

      • the dollar is the least ugly girl at the bar right now, but in order for US citizens to live the life we all are accustomed to it will continue to be debased & inevitably destroyed. Per the Obama Administration in a private phone call w/ a hedge fund manager re: what they plan on doing to keep the economy afloat “we’re going to kill the dollar”. A strong dollar is the last thing The Fed, Bernanke, Yellen and the rest of the doves want. You probably won’t get that from Paul Krugman or the WSJ. But then again, those folks were way ahead of the curve in calling the housing bubble, right? For a point of reference, Austrian economists and Ron Paul in particular called the bursting of the housing bubble three years prior to it happening.

        Re: the so called “ad hominem” attacks, I’m not sure where you’re getting that from? You identified yourself as left leaning and nowhere in your post did you condemn war or cast a light on just how many bodybags our government has helped to fill since 1945. All wars since WWII have been total bullshit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we don’t have much to show in the way of victories? Wouldn’t hear that from any politicians though.

        I have a real simple solution. Stop intervening in foreign lands where we have no business getting involved in other people’s affairs, cut the defense budget in half, link the dollar back to gold where politicians aren’t allowed to go to the Fed who create money out of thin air to fund the wars/war on terror, and return to a sound currency where free trade with other countries is rewarded. Create a fund with the money we save from doing that and after 5 years or so of planning, put that money towards rebuilding America’s infrastructure by millions of jobs. Like Eisenhower did in the 50’s the project would be totally funded and paid for.

        and oh yeah as a down payment for this, end the war on drugs.

        • Sorry, I’m with Krugman. And Keynes.

          The Austrians and their arguments have been rendered hollow by the actual evidence of austerity’s uselessness in southern Europe. It doesn’t work. It makes a recession into a depression if you follow that path far enough.

          Spend in the bad times, but then, yes, save in the good. The actual data is on Krugman’s side. And if you look at Roosevelt’s actions in the wake of the Great Depression, he damn near succeeded in spending the country out of banking crisis and credit lock in 1933-34. Come 1935 and he began listening to all the chicken-littles crying about the deficit spending and he pulled back on the stimulus, so that the forward motion — entirely documented — came to a wall and then regressed. If I were Obama, I’d be telling the Republicans and libertarians that job one is to revive the economy, and then, when unemployment comes down and revenues are up, to then begin to repay. Krugman’s data on the actual threat of the deficit versus the political capital being made from exaggerating that threat is convincing.

          And that Federal Reserve crock? Jesus, whenever I start to think one of the Rands actually has a legitimate point or two, the conversation devolves into a libertarian reworking of Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, except it’s a race toward an economic model that in the modern world has gone the way of barter. You want to imagine hell without currency controls and a central bank? Take a look at Europe and the vulnerability of the Euro right now. This is the modern world. Global economies are to be managed, not untethered. When it comes to the dismal science of economics, a simple answer, in which the Rands and their ilk so frequently traffic, is usually a disastrous one.

          Agree with your jobs programs though. That’s nice.

          • a brief follow up without veering too off topic. This was a well articulated piece that was linked to by Drudge yesterday. I don’t agree w/ everything the author says, but his points are valid and well researched – http://realcurrencies.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/the-dying-dollar/

            The reason for my constant monetary rants here is that I see the earth moving from underneath us. Albeit at a snails pace right now, but with indented, harmful consequences for millions of Americans. There is no denying that the quality of life for millions of my fellow countrymen has been in decline for many years now. It doesn’t have to be this way and shouldn’t given the fact that we are the worlds reserve currency. As David Stockman wrote recently in his NYT Op-Ed piece, we’re approaching “Sundown in America” – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/opinion/sunday/sundown-in-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

            For me, the pictures and stories of family members in this post tie together my narrative of where we once were, how we got to this point and where we are going. People after the Great Depression knew what the value of money was because there was so much hardship for so many for years. They relied on family & church community in tough times, not the government. We have completely ditched the notion of rugged individualism and accepted the god awful existence of collectivism.

            Our road to serfdom has been paved, now it is just a matter if we accept it or start a revolution and blow it to pieces.

            • We simply don’t agree on very much, Jason. Other than, yes, the sun is setting on the American century.

              But I see our decline to be rooted in the conservative and libertarian selfishness that seeks to uncouple liberty from responsibility. The photographs in this essay are actually people who willingly participated in one of the great and most successful social experiments in human history — one that transformed a depressed economy in which most working people had no discretionary income — into the great consumerist engine of the latter part of the 20th Century.

              It was called the New Deal. It allowed capitalism to work, but created socialistic enteprises that became the framework for the creation of the American middle class. With everything from government-backed mortgages, to medicare and social security, to jobs programs and the standardization of labor arbitration that allowed unions and capital to live in creative, wealth-generating tension. I can’t speak for everyone in the photographs, of course. But I can speak for most, and they were with Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy and Johnson, election to election.

              For you to claim them as political ancestry of some sort — that’s a kind of effrontery, is it not?

              Failure to understand that as citizens we all have fundamental responsibilities to the society and to the republic as a whole — and to only harp on the liberties that we think we are accorded — this is why I have such contempt for libertarian ideology. It builds nothing, validing selfishness and greed and exalting liberty and individualism as singular goals, while ignoring responsibility. It was in the tension between liberty and responsibility that those photographs actually exist, and it is in that tension that America did some of our greatest things. It is the loss of that tension — not the loss of liberties or undue taxes or constraints upon the selfishness and greed of individuals — that we have ceded the future.

            • Yeah, it would be a German research paper. No one in Europe is pushing harder to restore credibility to austerity as a way to dig out, save for the Randians on this side of the pond. But alas, reality runs the other way:

              “The turn to austerity after 2010, however, was so drastic, particularly in European debtor nations, that the usual cautions lose most of their force. Greece imposed spending cuts and tax increases amounting to 15 percent of GDP; Ireland and Portugal rang in with around 6 percent; and unlike the half-hearted efforts at stimulus, these cuts were sustained and indeed intensified year after year. So how did austerity actually work?

              (A graph depicting the precise effect on economic growth from austerity programs implemented on a country-by-country basis appeared here. I could not replicate it, alas).

              The answer is that the results were disastrous—just about as one would have predicted from textbook macroeconomics. Figure 2, for example, shows what happened to a selection of European nations (each represented by a diamond-shaped symbol). The horizontal axis shows austerity measures—spending cuts and tax increases—as a share of GDP, as estimated by the International Monetary Fund. The vertical axis shows the actual percentage change in real GDP. As you can see, the countries forced into severe austerity experienced very severe downturns, and the downturns were more or less proportional to the degree of austerity.”

              All of this is quoted from Krugman’s refutation of austerity as a viable macroeconomic response to recession in the New York review of books. The lengthy piece is a comprehensive and convincing assessment of the abject failure of austerity measures in Europe over the last couple years.

              I’ll take Krugman’s comprehensive account, which includes specific critiques of pro-austerity “research” in which the data was shown to be corrupted, over this German fellow. Sorry.

              There have been some attempts to explain away these results, notably at the European Commission. But the IMF, looking hard at the data, has not only concluded that austerity has had major adverse economic effects, it has issued what amounts to a mea culpa for having underestimated these adverse effects.*

              To read it in full, and measure it against your cite, just google Krugman, Austerity and NY Review of Books. He doesn’t leave a scorched stone of the Austrian house standing.

  • I find familiy histories fascinating. Very neat that you have this window to your past and where you and your family came from. In the past year I’ve been able to back almost 8 centuries and discovered I’m directly descended from a Mayflower passgenger. I’ve had to change my allegiance in Premier League soccer (how can you not root for the team named after your ancestor?) and I discovered what Border Reivers are and that my clan had a bllood feud.

    My grandfather fought in World War II in the predecessor of the USAF and was around when the atom bomb was tested in the Nevada Desert. His father joined a Polish division of the Armed Forces (believe it was Army) during WWI because it was a way to show that as an immigrant, you were serious about being an American citizen. I don’t know how this shaped their political beliefs. We all fall on different sides of the political spectrum.

    Just out of curiosity, because I find this fascinating as well: do you consider your Judiaism your reliigion, your heritage, or both? The Jewish people I know have given me all three as answers. I would think it would be just be a religion, but to others it’s obviously not. Another reason to celebrate our differences.

    • I am a Jew. Culturally and self-identifying. To the extent that Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe and the Russian steppes are an ethnicity, then I suppose I am ethnically Jewish, although that might be a subset of other ethnic or national classifications such as Russian or Hungarian or Slovak. In terms of religion, I practice it in fits and starts, mostly as a matter of communal solidarity, ancestor-worship and the feeling of connection to greater humanity. I very much doubt the existence of God, I do not petition Him or Her with prayer, and I certainly do not believe in chosen-ness or a unique covenant between any particular tribe of Bedouins and the Almighty. I am with Spinoza on that one.

      But I am a Jew. My father was a Jew, and his father, and his father. And my children will be raised Jews. And, I hope, their children.

      Everyone is somewhere. I happen to be here.

      On the other hand, my ex-wife, with whom I have a great and lasting friendship as a co-parent, has researched her family history and arrived back aboard the Mayflower as well. She married down, apparently. But then, we knew that long before she ever signed onto Ancestry.com.

    • David,

      Congratulations are in order for the WGA naming The Wire the 9th best written dhow in TV history. Must be quite an honor coming from your peers.

      • There were nine well-written shows in TV history?

        The Honeymooners and what else?


        • Not only did the WGA name “The Wire” #9 of the 101 best, “Homicide: Life on the Street’ was named #47. The only other writer with two shows on the list is David Milch for Deadwood (#32) and NYPD Blue (#36).

          “Writers write what they know,” and your commentary in this thread about your family tells us much about who taught you and how they did so, to give you the knowledge base and moral compass so evident in The Wire and Homicide.

  • It is no surprise to me that you come from a long line of Jewish men who served in the military. Activism is Judaism. Judaism is activism. I love the book Liberal Judaism by Eugene B. Borowitz so I’ll quote him here, “As an activist religion, it (Judaism) insists that belief in God will motivate us to struggle energetically for the right and carry on with undiminished determination despite the many defeats we are likely to endure.” (Very similar to the Camus quote you like.)

    There was a time when Jewish men eagerly engaged defending our country or fighting injustice. What spirit led Austin’s own Walter Cohen, one of Beth Israel’s most beloved members, to pick up and famously leave Austin in 1948 to go fight in the Arab-Israeli War? He was the only Texan in his brigade.

    What has changed for men? Borowitz would say Freud came along…and Einstein. Regarding your reflection, “That is how America went to war once upon a time,” Borowitz would attribute the ending of that era to the modern age and secularism. We are now so skilled at disbelief, we question everything. We no longer act. He writes, “If one wants to act one cannot forever be asking questions.” Of modernity he writes, “We are taught not to respond, but to do research.” We are good thinkers and good doubters. For certain we aren’t packing up our bags and joining the good fight. We are too smart for it. Or are we?

    From my vantage point there are still some really amazing men enlisting in our military. Maybe it’s because I’m from the rural South and modernity hasn’t infiltrated our ranks quite like it has in the big city. Some of our most outstanding, intelligent, capable males are still signing up voluntarily. Danny Kistler from Bellville, Texas, graduated Harvard, then enlisted in the Marines and did several tours in Iraq. Collin Lackey, also from Bellville, graduated TCU and enrolled in the Air Force. He recently had a tour in Afghanistan, I believe. Texas A&M University in College Station celebrates the military like you wouldn’t believe. There are huge numbers of cadets who graduate and go into officer positions in the armed forces every year. (You should try to get tickets to the A&M vs. Alabama game this year…if you really want to see those cadets in rare form.) The fact that the media fails to feature those fighting or cover the war very much at all…well I’ve heard your talk on the death of real journalism, so I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you.

    Borowitz says, “Some people,know they must take a stand against the filth and violence, the emptiness and despair of our times. No matter what the majority of people decide to do, those few know that they must devote themselves to increasing justice and love.” I believe someone called you, “The Angriest Man in Television.” Have you seen the bumper sticker “If you’re not appalled you haven’t been paying attention”? I like that one.

    Are you not a modern Jewish man fighting like your Jewish ancestors, just on a different battlefield?

    • I wasn’t actually thinking about much about the fact that my relations who were part of the WWII experience represented themselves as Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen. Only that they were my relations, and that my family, too, was engaged in the collective American experience of the Second World War. In that sense, I suppose, you can hardly expect the author’s relations to be Italians or Irish or whatever. It is what it is.

      As to the quality of the American warrior today, it is, to my limited experience, astonishing. The recon marines I got to know were exceptionally well-trained and thoughtful and utterly committed to a warrior’s creed. They were hardened men and technocrats, too, and capable of discerning the world with great nuance and honesty. To see a 23-year-old team leader with the authority to call in air support and make rapid judgments about the efficacy of a tactic or the morality behind a lethal order is to remember that I couldn’t make my bed properly at that age. They are extraordinary.

      And they have chosen their life’s course. The volunteer military has proven itself far superior for modern war than the drafted citizens’ army of Vietnam — to the point where no one at the Pentagon would agree to conscription even if it were offered. Moreover, even in wartime, the military has had no real problem making recruitment goals without lowering standards. There are young men who seek a military life, and families that are ensconced in the military tradition. The old saws about the military being the last resort for the economically deprived are less true, certainly, then they were in the time of conscription and college deferments.

      But this schism between America’s military and its citizenry is my point. When the whole country is not obliged to go to war, then war becomes not the last resort, but a plausible option for political leaders who can discard the unpopularity of an intervention, not to mention the destructive costs of an attritive and intractable campaign such as Iraq. The quality of our military has been, perhaps, enhanced by the severance between the nation’s military culture and the rest of the citizenry. But the manner in which the military is used has, in my opinion, suffered directly.

      And I am not alone. I opened my New York Times yesterday evening and was startled to read the following op-ed, which basically comes to the same conclusion as my small blogpost:


      That’s it precisely.

      As to Borowitz, I have not read him. But I don’t think Freud and Einstein are the root causes of middle-class and upper middle-class withdrawal from military service, particularly among liberals. No, it is something less ethereal and more stark, in my opinion. First, Korea happened, and that, while brutal and attritive, was at least wrapped in the early ideology of a frightening Cold War philosophy. But then Vietnam revealed something flawed in our Cold War construct, and something ugly in the manufacture of proxy wars with monolithic world communism. In the same way that Afghanistan revealed the same thing to the Soviets, actually. It wasn’t that anyone was shirking the good fight as you call it. No, they were shirking a bad one. And ever since Vietnam, the credibility of American government to expend American lives only as fundamental necessity, and not as mere geopolitical tactic, has been damaged in many, many eyes. Good citizens don’t begrudge a representative government asking them to kill and die for the defense of a nation, or as a bulwark against a tyranny that cannot be undermined or countered short of open warfare. We know Hitler when he’s conquering all of Europe, or a militarized Japan that is conquering half of Asia and bombing Hawaii. But Saddam was not that. And Ho Chi Minh was certainly not that. And so a good many Americans look to those military interventions and see little that calls for the same level of sacrifice that was tolerable in the Second World War.

      • > And so good many Americans look to those military interventions and see little that calls for the same level of sacrifice that was tolerable in the Second World War.

        As someone who was in college during Desert Storm, I strongly identify with this. I watched Desert Storm on CNN in my dorm, terrified that this was going to escalate and turn into a draft – all for what I saw then (and see now from a more nuanced perspective) as a war about oil. I love my country, always have, but the idea of dying for an oil company never made much sense to me.

      • I like the New York Times article you linked. The over arching theme to me is- people pay attention to the military. Everyone care, not just those making a career out of it.
        My favorite class at USC was 342g War and the American Experience. We used for a textbook A Country Made By War: from the Revolution to Vietnam, the story of America’s Rise to Power by Geoffrey Perret. I highly recommend the book. The class no longer exists at USC, which is a shame. As a comparative historical analysis of war, we studied war decision making processes, evolution of strategy and tactics, the political, economic and social effects of war and analyzed enemies. At 20, I was not particularly interested in the military, but the class largely held my interest because there was so much new information, so much I had never learned. I think every child should have the opportunity to study the evolution of war in our country. As an educator, I’d advocate having a class at the secondary level to study war and the American experience. I think that is where intervention starts. That’s how you begin to bridge this growing gap between the general population and career military.

        Have you read Goodbye to All of That by Robert Graves? It is a memoir of WWI, but he does capture well what it is like to be a soldier in the twentieth century. He approached his enlistment with great naivete. He and his cohorts didn’t analyze what they were doing. They didn’t subscribe to ideologies or politics. To them, enlistment was a chance for a grand adventure, an opportunity for heroism, seen much like going off on a weekend bird hunt, just much longer in duration and grander in scale. They in no way were prepared for what they had to face. They didn’t think in terms of sacrifice or serving their country or whether or not the enemy was deserving. It was the people at home who were the myth makers, trying to find meaning in the senseless deaths of young men, justifying or not justifying.

        • The Graves book is very good. Also, read “Paths of Glory,” the novel, and then watch the Kubrick movie. You’ll find a reprint of my intro for the novel on this website somewhere. It was published a few years ago in conjunction with the Penguin reprint.

            • “Paths of Glory” is beautifully written, but what a horribly sad story. I don’t know if I have the intestinal fortitude to watch the movie. I can only imagine what Kubrick does with it.

              • It is brilliant. And important.

                It is not so much anti-war as it is anti-authoritarian. The politics of the film are a guidepost for all of the last century certainly.

  • I can hear the criticism to my post before I even type it, but I’ll do it anyway. I think there was a time when more left-leaning people knew that despite our legitimate left flank critiques of the US sometimes there exists a more dangerous enemy than on our own Plutocrats.

    Early/mid-century Fascism was more a threat to liberal democracy than autocratic capitalism and Occidental imperialism. Many leftists like your family knew this and took up arms to fight against the militarized right in Europe. Sure, there were pacifists and apologists for Hitler (and Stalin too) among the liberal left who claimed all war was wrong no matter who the enemy. But, unlike today, the most radical and trenchant leftists seemed to get the most salient aspects of liberal democracy must first exist in order to critique. Allowing the hegemonic Catholic Right (Fascists) and cormorant and weirdly pagan Right (Nazis) to gobble up the globe was not a principled position to take. As Orwell said, “pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist”.

    I admit today’s Islamic states and terror-groups are less powerful than the Axis powers of the 30’s. However, the lack of moral clarity about just how innately sinister and dichotomous with liberal democracy Islamo-Fascism is, by ostensible radicals and leftists, is troubling. The most articulate and moral voice we had, Christopher Hitchens, is dead, and I wish some more thoughtful and decent voices would take his place among the bona fide Left.

    Yes, Bush et.al are morons and prosecuted the war on terror with the weird chimera of ineptness and cruelty, but reactionary Islamic fascists are indeed a threat to our modern progressive democracy (even with all its flaws); and all this Code Pink, Move-On, Michael Moore nonsense about how war is never the answer is bullshit. War is indeed the answer when a retrograde right wing enemy has no desire to talk to you; but only wants to kill you and stamp out all the GOOD things (e.g., women’s rights, free speech, pluralism, et.al.) about our society and KEEP all the bad shit (e.g., religious hegemony, patriarchy, autocracy, et.al.) about our current milieu. Fuck that shit… Some of us leftists are in no mood for any ersatz liberal hand wringing vis-a-vis these religious right wing wackos: war is indeed the answer depending on the question. Nuance used to be the métier of the left; but this ‘war is always wrong’ shit seems to be the new normal among a once thinking people.

    Now, please, call me a right winger and war-monger (and Islamaphobe! Lol)… I dare ya 😉

    • Not to open up the entire can of worms, but it could be argued that a national consensus against the Islamic fundamentalism that brought down the World Trade Towers was utilized effectively to route the Taliban in Afghanistan and could have been relied upon to further press the pursuit of Al Qaeda in the years after 9-11.

      Instead, that national consensus — not to mention a consensus among our allies and the unaligned throughout the world — was squandered on a war of choice in Iraq that had no credible connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda, to 9-11, to global terror or the radical Islamic fundamentalism that supports terror.

      If you want Americans as a whole to embrace a call to arms, and to recognize a legitimate threat, it helps not to be seen shooting at the wrong target. In World War II, we didn’t respond to the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito by invading Spain.

      • Perhaps I don’t understand this term “war of choice” that so many on the left and isolationist right use, but isn’t every war a “war of choice”. The isolationists of the America First movement seemed to think so. I’m Canadian, so my grasp of your history may not be as tight as yours, but it seems to me that until Pearl Harbour, I think only 13% of Americans wanted to go to war against fascism in Europe. Only 13% could see why Fascism anywhere is a threat anywhere. Only 13% of americans could see a moral reason to fight Hitler and the other axis powers. And even after Pearl Harbour, I don’t think you can fairly say that the isolationist right was on board with war.

        Personally, I think there were plenty of good reasons to go to war against Saddam, that had nothing to do with Al Qaeds or 9/11. And most certainly was a big supporter of terror against Israel through Hamas. Hell, America was still technically at war with Iraq, for that matter. But Iraq was a totalitarian state, run by a psychopathic, genocidal, crime crime family who used his power to terrorize people within and outside his borders for 30 years. I could give other reasons if you’d like. But I’ll try keep it short.

        Franco may not have been a direct threat to America but neither was Italy or Germany in many peoples thinking. I think it’s morally questionable to take the argument that if “they’re no threat to us, what do we care?” For many people in the 30’s, it seems to me, co-existing with fascism was something morally incomprehensible. Many people went to war, like my grandfather for instance, simply because it was the right thing to do. And that one form of Imperialism was far worse than the other. Nowadays, it seems like everyone’s an isolationist, from Michael Moore to David Duke to Henry Kissinger. They all seem to say the same thing. “What’s in it or us?” “Or how is our business if some leader far away is threat to his people and his neighbours?” Hence Obama’s weak policy with Syria. “Millions of refugees? 100,000 dead and counting? Not our problem.” Where is the honour in that?

        I understand yours and other peoples’ anger at the bullshit about weapons of mass destruction, etc. But I also think that while it could and probably should have been delayed, war with Iraq was inevitable. The prosecution of the war in Iraq is to me, what should be seen as criminal and also a betrayal of your American soldiers.

        Which is why I thought Generation Kill was so important and well done. But I’m also surprised to hear you boil it down to a sort Kissingerian argument about Iraq. I guess the can’s wide open now! Sorry.

        • Well thank you for comparing me with a war criminal. I see nothing that resembles Kissinger here.

          You are sounding a little like John McCain, who seemingly has never met an overseas involvement in which he felt the big-stick of American militarism was being wielded with sufficient force: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria. The list of hot spots in the Middle East alone is enough to wear down our military capabilities in a series of attritive police actions.

          Think about the treasure and lives expended on Iraq in the name of non-existent WMDs and righteous declarations about Saddam’s tyranny. Well, no WMDs and the world is full of tyrants — we can’t possibly remove all of them at the actual cost of doing so. As with anything, one must pick ones battles, and absent an ongoing and profligate genocide — which was not true in Iraq, regardless of how one holds Saddam’s despotic rule — I would pick those battles in which territorial violations have been undertaken, or those battles in which states have clearly sponsored and harbored terror groups that have attacked the United States.

          Afghanistan was a credible action, given that the paramilitary elements that killed more than 3,000 Americans were harbored there and the government had declined to extradite them to stand for that attack. Korea, under U.N. action, was a credible and moral action. Kosovo and our intervention there was a moral action, given the ongoing mass murder of civilians. Rwanda would have been a moral action by the same logic, had we given half a damn about that continent.

          But absent an actual attack on Americans, and absent a territorial violation against us or an ally — as in Kuwait — we are on a fool’s errand thinking that we can interpose and foster regime change in places were democratic practices have never prevailed, and in regions of the world where tribal rivalry and religious conflict underlie the societies.

          That’s not Kissinger, who believed that American intervention could achieve preferred outcomes regardless of the tactics used, the people murdered, or the principles betrayed. He should be on trial in Chile, found guilty for betraying our every ideal in that society, and then shipped to East Timor for a second round of war-crimes trials. What that is, I have to tell you is realism.

          We can’t win freedom for the people of these countries at the point of a gun. Only they can win their own freedom. More than that, it is only theirs to win. McCain was crying for boots on the ground in Libya, and now for more of the same in Syria, but the truth is that the tyrants fall when the people themselves are ready and willing to pay the cost to topple them. That’s what happened in the Soviet bloc. Americans didn’t liberate those countries at the point of a gun; they were toppled from within, by an inability of Russian and Eastern European despots to keep the lid on their own pot, and by their inability to compete with the economic dynamism of the West. And so, too, the Arab spring. While we might provide air support against a despot’s attack helicopters, or ship guns to partisans and hope for the best, ultimately, it is up to every people to achieve its own freedom and not wait for the U.S. Marines to hand it to them. That doesn’t work and ultimately, as in Vietnam and Iraq, it can put Americans on the ground in an untenable and attrittive situation. It was nice that Lafayette showed up with some Frenchmen when our War for Independence was being fought, but make no mistake, the French were on hand for a chance to thump the rival British, and not because the American cause was so noble that good men couldn’t bear to see it falter. As DeGaulle later explained to the Israelis, when he abandoned them for more practical French goals such as a calmer, colonial North Africa and Saudi oil: “Nations don’t have friends. THey have interests.”

          Our interest should be in fostering democracy. But we do that not at the point of the gun, but by example. And for much of our history, we have done quite poorly, choosing friendly tyrants and fighting proxy wars with the Soviets to no purpose other than worldwide brutality. We’ve built precious little democracy since World War II, in truth. And where it has happened, it has happened without American force of arms, but because democracy was already in practice (liberated Europe after the war) or because years of misrule were finally upended by the people themselves (Eastern Europe). We can’t deliver freedom to anyone. It must be won on the ground, by the people themselves.

          That’s the opposite of everything Kissinger stood for.

          • I don’t mean to compare you to Kissinger as men, I hope you realize. But I do think on the subject of when to go to where you share a similar, “only if it’s in our interest,” sort of realpolitik.

            Saddam was most certainly genocidal and a threat to his neighbours and not just Israel. They’re still digging up and searching for the mass graves of his victims. He did use chemical weapons to slaughter whole villages of Kurdish people and then had the buildings of those villages and towns removed to make it look like their homes and towns never existed. Were it not for the First Iraq war it most surely would have ended in genocide. NATO troops stopped a genocide and brought (eventually) freedom to places like Bosnia,etc, saving many Muslim lives in the process. At the point of a gun, I might add. And without the incentive of oil.

            But I’m not really advocating boots on the ground in any place at the moment, unlike McCain who I certainly agree with you in that he doesn’t seem to have clue how overstretched your forces seem to be. I do think more has to be done than what Obama’s done for Egypt, Syria, Iran, etc. Praising the Muslim Brotherhood is not the way to help people fighting for democracy in Egypt, for example.

            But I disagree that Iraqi’s could ever have won there own freedom against a dictator who was that entrenched and that psychotic, or they would have done away with him long before 30 years of horror. The kurds and Shia were both willing to fight and die for freedom back in 1991 and Bush senior promised to help and then chickened out in the end. A morally reprehensible thing to do considering the consequences of rebelling against Saddam. Hence the 12 years of no-fly zones. The only thing that prevented a Kurdish genocide. Which is why I say you were still at war with Iraq in 2003.

            But, I agree, it wasn’t completely necessary at that time. But considering things like his psychotic sons and their rape rooms, and the fact that he was never going to go quietly, it was both moral and inevitable. And I agree, no leaders ever goes to war for strictly moral reasons. And I also agree that it’s criminal to lie and abuse power to take a country to war. I’m simply saying there were moral reasons too. And they should’ve tried to make that case rather than just using the fear-mongering argument.

            In Syria, the movement was basically secular and democratic and un-armed. Had the world gotten behind them from the start, we might not have 100,000 dead and counting. The secular movements in Egypt and Iran are not getting anything near the support they deserve from either of our countries. And we in Canada, basically have a fucking neo-con for a leader!

            I believe there is something between boots on the ground and heads in the sand. And I still say war with Iraq was inevitable. And because of the nature of the regime, moral too.

            • You’re speaking in grand generalities. No boots on the ground, but something more than what we’re doing. What is something more?

              Again, Kissinger never understood — as the Cold Warriors and neocons have never understood — that freedom can’t be won for a people. They have to win it for themselves. You can inspire and encourage and you can marshal whatever international support you can for the process. But ultimately, American military might was not what won the Cold War. It was blue jeans and microwave ovens and rock ‘n’ roll and fax machines and home computers and modern media that devoured the Soviet system from within. We had the better product.

              And where we have interacted with totalitarian regimes and exposed their population to the economic power and social freedoms of our culture, we have eroded those regimes over time. Even China is slouching toward capitalism. Name the two places were communism endures in its most original states — North Korea and Cuba — and you have the two countries in which we have accepted economic embargo and social disconnect as status quo. Naturally, they endure.

              In 1956, the Hungarians rose and were put down by Stalin. In 1968, the Czechs endured the same from the Soviets. But a generation or so later and the same impulse was too strong to be restrained forever. Same in Tunisia, and Libya, and now, Syria. Sometimes it is peaceful and sudden, as in Romania or Poland, and sometimes it is attritive and brutal as in Libya and Syria. And sometimes, the transition is from one tyrant to the next, with the people betrayed and the seeds for renewed revolt being sown. But Americans are largely irrelevant to the internal process, and while we can be a factor in the outcome, the greater importance is always with those who are fighting for their own freedoms.

              You show your weakest hand when you argue that Obama could be speaking more harshly to the Muslim Brotherhood — or anyone in Egypt, for that matter — and changing what is essentially an internal process. In fact, after years of U.S. puppeteering in that country, the resentments on the Arab street are such that criticism from an American president can only enhance a political reputation. They’ve had enough of the backroom American presence in that country, and elsewhere, too. And now, Obama is obliged to encourage democracy while walking sideways from the fact that in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Central America and lots of other places, we spent the last few decades doing anything but encouraging democracy. Given how quickly we had to pivot from supporting the Egyptian dictatorship to a democratically elected, if nonetheless anti-populist government in Egypt, I’d say Obama and Hilary Clinton have done fairly well.

              Your last post has some of the fraudulence presumptions of the Cold Warriors who wailed about treason in the late 1940s, asking for the names of who in American government had “lost China” to Mao and the communists. As if it was ours to lose. As if nearly a billion Chinese weren’t ultimately responsible for their own, collective national fate, and some American maneuver, worthy but untried, could have changed the facts on the ground.

              Sometimes, it just isn’t about us. It’s someone else’s turn at destiny, and the best we can do, is lead by example and encourage and reward any embrace of our stated principles. That’s not appeasement by any means. It’s an understanding of what is possible and what is not.

              • Sorry, David. You say I’m speaking generalities and follow up with “freedom can’t be won for a people. They have to win it for themselves.?” Every situation we’re discussing is different from the other. Iraq is better off and so is the world without Saddam. And the “something more,” to answer your question is to speak up in support of people trying to get out from under dictatorship. ESPECIALLY if it was a U.S. backed dictatorship! Send some money or even weapons if things turn ugly. But Obama’s chosen the realpolitik route of what’s in it for America’s interests that Kissinger so loved. Don’t forget. Neither Nixon, nor Kissinger supported the war in Iraq. For basically the same reasons you’ve been giving.

                I do agree that soft power and diplomacy are always best. But it would never have worked in Iraq, which is why I’m not speaking in”grand generalities.” Saddam slaughtered anyone who even whispered a harsh word. You can’t get a revolution off the ground in case like that. Egypt and Tunisia didn’t have the same problems as Iraq. Syria, we’re finding out, does have manic killers for a leadership. Different situation. I’m kind of surprised that you have so little solidarity for people being slaughtered by their government. To the point where you can just say,” sorry Syria, you’re on your own, nothing we can do but watch you die because our money, soldiers are more important than your struggle.” I mean, is that your argument? That because the U.S. has fucked shit up, we should just do nothing? Where’s the honour in that?

                And I’m no neo con just because I’m questioning the idea of isolationism. The Left has become the Right in that regard. I’m no conservative because I’m advocating change both here and abroad, good sir. And I’m not talking about taking over countries, nor do I think WE can or should win or lose them, so I’m not sure why I’m being compared to either cold warriors or neo cons. You’re advocating that status quo, which a pretty conservative idea and always will be.

                • I’m not an isolationist.

                  But I know how the Cold War ended and what ended it. It wasn’t American militarism and overseas interventions. The Soviet system fell from Soviet over-extension and the costs of their military-industrial complex, and from the organic striving of Germans, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians to govern themselves. They went to the streets. The Arab Spring is the same.

                  American interventionism — when it goes beyond support for organic democratic movements — is a litany of failure that spans our history since 1945. It is a “Legacy of Ashes” to apply one specific quote from Eisenhower, and the title of a book that you might read. We thought Mossadegh too much a red, so we reinstalled the Shah, and now we have modern, theocratic Iran. Look for the singular failures in American foreign policy and you will find our over-extensions, our naive bull-in-the-china-shop assassinations and invansions. Look to real successes — such as the transformation in Burma right now, or the collapse of the Iron Curtain — and you will find the real and steady influence of market-based capitalism and representative government making itself felt. That’s what wins. We have the better product.

                  Is Iraq better without Saddam is a dishonest question on three fronts. It ignores larger and more fundamental questions:.

                  1) Would Iraq have been better without Saddam and without American intervention both? Because look around you, kiddo, the Arab world right now is pretty rife with strongmen who were once unassailable in their countries but who now lack for jobs. And it happened without full-scale American military interventions. Eygpt. Libya. Tunisia. And now, at a cost no more or less tragic or bloody than Iraq but without an American war to spark the rebellion, Assad is tottering. Who is to say that Iraq’s future without American intervention would not have tended toward the same reality? The clampdown only works for so long. And we’ve been given real lessons over the last quarter century about what actually brings the walls down, often bloodlessly, but certainly, organically, and in such a way that a people has pride and a real stake in their own revolution.

                  2) Is America better off having expended such treasure and energy and military strength in Iraq? I say no. We are weaker.

                  3) Is the geopolitical situation in the Middle East more stable now, with Iraq fractionalized and weak and riven by tribal and religious rivalries — the result of an imposed and inorganic transition, rather than the rise of a real, internal coalition to topple Saddam and achieve some measure of democratization? Absolutely not. A much more volatile and ambitious theocracy is now freed of its regional rival and indeed deeply involved in Iraqi affairs and indeed, in fomenting Islamic radicalism throughout the Middle East. We have served a much more problematic enemy than Saddam Hussein: Iran.

                  This war was a mistake. And saying, simply, hey, we got rid of Saddam is like looking at the world through a narrow pipe. Sorry.

      • Let me say first of all that David I feel very nervous about arguing with a man I consider so much smarter than myself; but, since I happen to think your rechauffe of the Iraq war is incomplete let me add the following without any malice in my heart:

        First of all, Saddam was OUR guy. I was reading Chomsky in ’94 (I believe) and I specifically remember him exposing US support (with weapons and security council resolutions) for Saddam for much of his pre-Kuwait barbarism. Now, even by Chomsky’s moral standard (that as US citizens we should work to end our OWN crimes first before lamenting the motes in our brother’s eyes) we were obligated to end this guy’s rule. He was ours, it was our moral mess to clean up.

        Next, while neither Hitchens nor myself would boast about the unlettered way the war was explained to people (e.g., lies, manichean ahistorical jingoism, more lies, et.al.) nor about how it was prosecuted (e.g., torture, war crimes, lies, incompetence, graft, et.al), it is still goddamn true that Saddam had harbored Abdul Rahman Yasin, one of the makers of the bomb that exploded at the World Trade Center the first time.

        Now, I know the US harbored Orlando Bosch, the admitted anti-Cuban terrorist. And I agree that Cuba, under the Bush Doctrine (harbor a terrorist = you are a terrorist) would have a moral and legal right to invade south beach. I’m not oblivious to the hypocrisy of the US. But Saddam was not completely disconnected from terrorism against the US. Just like the US isn’t disconnected with terrorism against Cuba. Both of these state-sanctioned terror programs are wrong. If Cuba had pressed a case for us to give up Bosch or suffer an invasion to grab him I would support it on moral grounds. It would be crazy due to the political fall out, but ethically they’d have a case.

        At any rate, I’d also like to say that your syllogism vis-a-vis Spain in WWII is interesting. Franco (in Spain) was indeed a threat and in fact if we had interceded in that conflict (Orwell and Hemingway thought it worth it) maybe a larger conflagration could have been avoided. But, I get your point: Iraq was a distraction from REAL war on terror.

        Maybe you’re right. But the record is more tenebrous and nuanced than the ersatz left ramblings (that you kind of repeated I’m afraid) would lead a neutral observer to believe.

        I’m going to quote at length from Hitchens’ Slate article because the names and details obtain:

        “As [Richard] Clarke told the Sept. 11 commission last week: ‘The Iraqi government didn’t cooperate in turning him over and gave him sanctuary, as it did give sanctuary to other terrorists.’ That’s putting it mildly, when you recall that Abu Nidal’s organization was a wing of the Baath Party, and that the late Abu Abbas of Klinghoffer fame was traveling on an Iraqi diplomatic passport. But, hold on a moment—doesn’t every smart person know that there’s no connection between Saddam Hussein and the world of terror?”

        I’ve had this argument with every member of the blow-hard left. But, David, I truly don’t think of you like I think of them. You get nuance, you get that there are no easy choices in most moral matters and that the sequela from each “fix” is likely to embarrass us all eventually. But, I just don’t think it’s accurate to continue to repeat these Michael Moore style bromides about Saddam not having anything to do with terrorism or 9/11.

        Lastly, despite the obvious failures, the Iraq war has produced a free Kurdish zone, an independent judiciary and a secular framework of pluralism unthinkable under the yoke of the Saddam crime family.

        It’s not enough maybe, to justify all the carnage and wasted men & money. But it is part of the equation and I would think of all the people in the world, you would get that both sides of the ledger need accurately articulated to make a proper calculus

        “There hasn’t been a paperbag for drugs; until now” -Major Colvin

        • Kind of grasping at straws to pluck a couple bad guys, hold them up and say that Iraq was in any way relevant to the Islamic fundamentalism that is the actual engine for the current spate of world terror. Saddam, in fact, had the opposite interests as the Islamists. His rule in Iraq was about as secular as it gets.

          If you’re reaching back for Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal, you are a generation or two removed from the reality on the ground here. You might as well attack the West Bank right now for harboring all those old Fatah guys who did all that bad stuff in the ’60s and ’70s. Or, for that matter, turn ourselves in harboring Kissinger. That fellow has the blood of many more Chileans and Timorese in his hand than any of the cats you seem so exercised about.

          Saddam was a tyrant and a thug and it is not surprising that Iraq harbored its share of thugs. But they were not the people who blew up the Cole, or the African embassies, or the World Trade towers. So for you to grab them as if they matter to this historic moment and the decision about where to expend American treasure and lives in response to global terror is just obtuse, if not disingenuous. Saddam wasn’t responsible in any way for Al Qaeda.

          You also overstate the American responsibility for Saddam. He wasn’t our man, any more than Iraq — as a nation that comes into being at the tip of Churchill’s pen — is within the scope of American influence when the Baathists seize power there. We backed Saddam cynically against the Iranians in the wake of the Tehran hostage crisis and in a war that killed many of both nations. That was vile enough, but to later decide that of all the tyrants in all the gin joints in all the world, this was the one one which to expend American treasure and lives and energy? Why? Morally, Saddam was no more repugnant than ten others, and no more despotic than twenty of our post-war allies.

          When will we get it through our heads that we have the best product in actual democracy, and that we sell that product by not intervening militarily in the affairs of other nations? When do we understand that tyrants only fall and real democracy only results when it is claimed not by U.S. Marines, but by the people of these nations themselves? That was Eastern Europe. That is the best hope for the Arab Spring. We can support reformers, and we can even arm the partisans if it comes to civil war. But John McCain and his zeal to wield the big stick across the Mideast is Nixon/Kissinger in sheep’s clothing, albeit without half the practical caution. When we go bull to chinashop, the blowback is eventually ugly and profound. For Vietnam, we got Cambodia as well. For toppling Mossadegh, we eventually got Khomeini and an Islamist, radicalized Iran. Who knows what we will ultimately confront for overstaying our anti-terror mission in Afghanistan and backing Karzai for so long? Who knows what we will have unleashed in the Middle East now that Saddam, a bulwark against Iran, is now gone and his country fractured. Iran’s influence is all the greater because of this misadventure. And Al Qaeda? They weren’t in Iraq until we went there and put boots on the ground.

          We win by demonstrating democracy and encouraging dissent, reform and engagement. As in Burma, for example. We lose when we reach for the gun. You don’t believe so? Read Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes.” We had the best product after World War II — market capitalism and representative democracy. But instead of selling that, we went to assassinations and proxy wars and ultimately, the attritive and alienating brutalities of Vietnam and Iraq. Doing all of it to death until we no more resembled a bastion of liberty than the Soviets. Amazing.

          Lastly, your choice of Spain misses the real historical watershed to prevent World War II. Spain was a civil war, and while fascism won there, tellingly, it was not a threat to anyone outside of Spain. The proof was the great lengths that Franco undertook to stay neutral in World War II, even in the early years when Hitler looked to be unstoppable. Even then, he would not mobilize, join the Axis, and take Gilbralter from the British. Spain was a self-contained defeat for democracy, and nothing beyond that. And again, notably, fascism in Spain died a natural death not by force of American arms, but at the expiration of Franco himself. Spain joined the democratic West because our product was better and did so without a shot being fired.

          No the moment to stop World War II was in 1938. It was Munich. And there, with Germany seeking the destruction of a state fundamental to the Versailles peace, the leaders of world democracy remained inert. That was the moment. Spain was a dry run militarily for the coming conflict, but politically, the fated moment of appeasement was still to come.

          Iraq was the wrong war. Against the wrong tyrant. For the wrong reasons. It achieved less than its cost, and indeed, it may have opened the entire Mediterranean Levant to Iranian hegemony for decades to come. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

          • “You start to tell the story, you think you’re the hero, and then when you get done talking…” -McNulty

            You made several good points and I’ll think about them. Again, it’s complicated. I do get the feeling though that you don’t think it’s all that complex; this surprises me. Also, the more conciliatory my tone towards you and your argument, the more strident and pugilistic you seem to get towards me and mine. Relax, I merely asking for a concession that maybe you don’t know it all (I know you know a lot! Shit, I think you’re smarter than me, but you don’t know it all, and I think you might benefit from some humility here. I’m certainly going to re-read your arguments to temper my own bravura).

            At any rate, it’s like you have no ambivalence at all about the US allowing Saddam to continue his barbaric regime unimpeded until and unless the internal population figure out how to supplant him (keep in mind the Kurds did ask for intervention). It’s like the phrase, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ means nothing to the modern left outside of domestic civil rights campaigns. Each day Saddam ruled was one more day that millions of people had to suffer. That is real shit, not some academic exercise. Those are real people suffering no matter what we choose to do, and I certainly feel ambivalence about my country starting a fucking debacle of a war (and my participation in it). My asking you to feel some moral queasiness about allowing the status quo isn’t tantamount to the ravings of John “Douche Bag” McCain. I think you believe you are arguing with someone you are not. I’m not 100% in favor of the Iraq war; I’m merely saying it had some justification and some benefits that must be measured.

            Also, in my defense (since you called me obtuse and possibly mendacious) I went to great lengths to admit that the US harbors terrorists ourselves (e.g., Orlando Bosch) and has quite a nasty record supporting tyrants (I mentioned I read Chomsky which implicitly means I know about all our crimes abroad). I think you believe you are arguing with some insular right winger. Further, I do think (as you suspected I believe) we should jail or kill ALL our formerly (and currently) propped up dictators (to the extent that we are able); and publicly disavow the dead ones. This is my whole point: Each one of our Suhartos, Pinochets, Trujillos, Somozas, Batistas, et.al. should have been taken out; not supported. And Saddam was still alive in ’03; so he had to go. But just so we are clear: I’m all for putting together a list of still-living tyrants and getting them all. And yes, I would arrest Kissinger and try him for war-crimes. The US must clean house too. Ok? (Oh, and Bush I for Iran Contra/Latin America in general, too, now that I think of it).

            Waiting for internal populations to set it right (as you suggest) might be ok if we hadn’t help set it up so that any internal dissent was likely to end up with thousands of heads on a fucking pike (I could give a full-throated and venomous speech on our role in Latin American despotism and the thwarting of left-leaning democracy, so again, don’t confuse me with some right winger). The idea that it’s ok for DECADES (e.g., Franco) to go past as your prescribed internecine battles rage between the civilian population and goddamn psychopathic caudillos and religious fanatics is anathema to me and my notion of what it means to be a Leftist. I side with your ancestors who decided it was just to take up arms against right wing nihilists and religious wack-jobs regardless of the realpolitik rationales (and yes, I took my oath at the MEPS here in Denver in ’03 so please don’t reflexively challenge me on that).

            Shit, I agree with 93% of the stuff you are saying; so I’m sorry if I was unclear. I’m merely saying that Saddam was much worse than you seem to know (I suggest you really take a look at all of Hitchens’ writing on this, as he has exposed the “Saddam is no worse than…” argument fairly well as a fatuous, even unethical thing to say); and the US has had a salient role both in shaping his assent in the 80’s and for the betrayal of the 50,000 Shia civilians on Highway 80 when we left him in power after Kuwait (I know you remember GHW Bush telling the people of Iraq to rise up only to have us abandon them to another decade of his autocratic and barbaric rule). If you think we don’t bear some moral responsibility to the extent that I do then we can just agree to disagree (but it seems odd for you to give a laundry list of the consequences for US intervention in the internal affairs from Iran to East Timor to Guatemala but then to say that in the case of Saddam… “well we didn’t really do all that much” [paraphrasing]).

            And just so we are crystal fucking clear: I’m saying it matters EVERYTIME we involve ourselves from ’53 in Guatemala (the same year in Iran) to the 80’s in Latin America and Iraq; and 99% of our meddling is morally wrong and myopic.
            But while I have evidence to buttress my claims; I’m not merely making a speech as if I’m the only one with a conscience around here. I know you have moral qualms, I know you are a moral man, and I know you want what’s good for people; maybe you could re-read my caveats and declarations about my ambivalences again and give me the benefit of the fucking doubt.

            Further, the conceit that Saddam was “as secular as it gets” is a demonstrable falsehood (and one of those liberal platitudes that gets repeated without thinking, I’m afraid, all the goddamn time). I hate to lean on a dead man so much, but Hitchens just writes so well on this that I must do just that:

            “Saddam Hussein had decked out his whole rule–which was based in any case on tribal minority of the Sunni minority–as one of piety and jihad. . . . Saddam had inscribed the words ‘Allahuh Akhbar’–‘God Is Great’–on the Iraqi flag. He had sponsored a huge international conference of holy warriors and mullahs, and maintained very warm relations with their other chief state sponsor in the region, namely the genocidal government of Sudan. He had built the largest mosque in the region, and named it the “mother of All Battles” mosque, complete with a Koran written in blood that he claimed to be his own. When launching his own genocidal campaign against the (mainly Sunni) people of Kurdistan–a campaign that involved the thoroughgoing use of chemical atrocity weapons and the murder and deportation of hundreds of thousands of people–he had called it ‘Operation Anfal,’ borrowing by this term a Koranic justification–‘The Spoils’ of sura 8–for the despoilment and destruction of nonbelievers” [God is Not Great]

            Your huffy dismissal of the fact that Abbas was traveling on a diplomatic passport of a nation state that had to be respected by the Italian authorities when they let that murderer go is kind of shocking to me. You just seem so able & willing to grasp the nuances of ethical behavior in your art that I’m half suspicious that you just don’t truly grasp the moral significance of a nation state suborning terror-hits unless it’s the US that does it. I, for one, think it is objectionable no matter which state does it (including the US or Israel) and that it means something salient when a guy like Saddam behaves like this. But, you think it’s ok that these ossified terrorists were in the Iraqi phonebook, so be it. But, it’s not “grasping at straws” for me to care about Saddam suborning terror. If we caught him at this, imagine what we didn’t catch him doing. You think the one time we caught Regan lying about Iran/Contra was the ONLY time he lied? And, again, I think the US should be held accountable for harboring Orlando Bosch regardless of how long ago he engaged in political/terrorist subversion.

            Lastly, Iraq, under the total control of the Hussein’s did commit genocide against the Kurds and did break the non-proliferation treaty by acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction. I’m going to quote from the Wikipedia account of the Anfal campaign at length to buttress my position, but this is just a tiny fraction of the evidence for WMD use and genocide by Saddam:

            “The Anfal campaign began in 1986 and lasted until 1989, and was headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid (a cousin of then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit). The Anfal campaign included the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, firing squads, and chemical warfare, which earned al-Majid the nickname of “Chemical Ali”.
            Thousands of civilians were killed during the anti-insurgent campaigns stretching from the spring of 1987 through the fall of 1988. The attacks were part of a long-standing campaign that destroyed approximately 4,500 Kurdish villages in areas of northern Iraq and displaced at least a million of the country’s estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population. Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had “disappeared” during 1988. The campaign has been characterized as genocidal in nature. It is also characterized as gendercidal, because “battle-age” men were the primary targets, according to Human Rights Watch/Middle East. According to the Iraqi prosecutors, as many as 182,000 people were killed”

            You may disagree with me, you may even be right, but don’t act like I’m stupid or lying when I say that maybe if we Leftists think people ought to have a decent life, then maybe under certain conditions it’s worth fighting for those rights. Maybe you think Saddam is a dime a dozen, maybe I do too. But even if we have to pick the first tyrant in the “gin joint” to extirpate, then we pick it; and maybe we pick another right-wing madman next and then another one and then maybe the world is not under the yoke of these bastards for another decade or two (and I already KNOW the US is more likely to murder a left-wing and democratically elected leader abroad; but that doesn’t mean we can’t tell the difference between ugly & unethical attempts on Fidel or the usurping of Mosaddegh versus the legitimate removal of Saddam; if the cops usually only arrest innocent black guys, does that mean when they go to arrest an actual criminal white guy we object?! Our brains are so big for good reason: differentiation for starters).

            But maybe you’re right; even my homie Fidel Castro (I say that unironically, I really do think Fidel is a badass) said the days of guerilla insurrection are over and that these internecine battles will be fought at the ballot box. But that presupposes certain freedom of assembly and thought which did not fucking exist in Iraq despite the vapid claims of Michael Moore or ANSWER. It’s a certain kind of puerile blasé aplomb that we westerns can exhibit when deciding other people’s future: I blithely suggest war, you with equal insouciance say, ‘let them figure it out on their own’. But in BOTH cases real people are going to die and be tortured and have their lives snuffed out. I think it’s better to act now and decisively; you think it’s better to ‘wait and see’. Fine, maybe you’re right. But don’t act like your position is the ONLY moral one. Justice delayed is justice denied… in Alabama 60 years ago or in Iraq 10 years ago (or right now in North Korea for example).

            If this is the new new-left then I guess I’m on the outs with you guys. But I still think the real left stands up for people against tyrants at home and abroad. And not every person can be reasoned with; the whole ‘rational actor’ theory of international affairs is shallow. Some people just have to be forced out by violence or the credible threat of violence. All this hippy-dippy “not a shot fired” is what’s obtuse: 4% of the world are sociopaths; they don’t care about morality or even rational consequences; but they do bleed out from a 5.56mm nato round. In the final analysis, I’m willing to be wrong; I just don’t like how fucking smug your side is about the numbers when you’re refusing to look at both sides of the ledger.

            • Well, I can’t keep up because I have work to do, but I thank you for all of that.

              A couple small points.

              First, you would do well to avoid the ad hominem, even when it is affirmation and flattery. It doesn’t matter who I am, or that you think me clever, or…

              THe argument is what it is. The man is not important to the argument. Jesus Christ himself could have failed algebra twice despite being the son of God. And Al Capone could have written a great civics text. Only the algebra final and the civics text matter, okay?

              Second, every tin horn despot in the Arab world wraps themselves in the gauzy cloud of Islam, and Saddam was no exception. But in reality, Iraq was no theocracy. Iran actually is. And they are a nation with real potential to become a regional power, especially now that we have taken their chief local antagonist off the plate. That’s just geopolitical fact. Saddam and Al Qaeda were after exactly different things. Saddam was tribal and secular in the sense that he was a military cult of personality, holding down real estate in which his tribe was a minority. He wanted nothing — nothing — to do with Islamists who were a threat to such tribal forces as the House of Saud, Saddam, the Hashemites of Jordan, the Baathists of Syria, the generals of Egypt. Al Qaeda rightly understands that these are status quo entities who have in some respects achieved some status quo with the West. Witness the absence of an all-out Arab-Israeli War in the last forty years. The tribal balkanization of the Islamic world behind various military-backed dictatorships was specifically cited by Al Qaeda as their purposed target. They wanted a return to a Caliphate and said so. When you continue to contort Saddam into an Islamist through the mere cite of his outer, public-consumption garb, you reveal just how weak the argument is. Hitchens does, too.

              I admire a lot of what Hitchen writes, and I admire him as a relentlessly independent thinker. But he was running a fever, intellectually, when it came to the war in Iraq. And I don’t think I am engaging in ad hominem when I say the pathogen that brought that fever on was — citing Hitchens own writing — what happened to his close friend and college roommate. Hitchens saw the planes hit the buildings and immediately conjured, in his own arguments, the fatwah of the mullahs against Salman Rushdie. It was all theology run amok, and the West’s wavering response to the outrage against a writer such as Rushdie was linked, definitively, in his arguments to any resistance or reluctance to engage in a military misadventure in Iraq. All of it was of a piece.

              Except, the fatwah was the work not of a secularist like Saddam. He could give a damn what anyone writes about the prophet in some London salon. But Iran is truly a theocracy. And the origins of Al Qaeda have nothing to do with Saddam and Iraq either. That movement is born in the theological hothouse of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and within the Muslim Brotherhood. And yet we shot our bolt on Saddam. Again, citing Hitchens here does you no favors. He was a brilliant and eloquent soul, but his efforts to make Saddam into an Islamist are reed-thin and just embarrassing on the facts. It isn’t so.

              As to the Kurds and that nightmare, the mistake was in misleading them into any believe that we were going to go into Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait. Urging them to rise up was a hideous misplay on our part. And when they did so, the least — and best that we could do — was the no-fly zone. But again, your belief that we can police the world to the point of every outrage or insult — Abu Abbas! The Kurds! — is impractical or naive. When real opposition to dictatorial rule emerges we can support that opposition, and we can intervene in ways short of full-scale warfare. Kosovo was well done, by and large. Libya, too. And Obama moved deftly to step away from Mubarak. But it was our sabre-rattling that brought the Kurds to a premature confrontation with Sadat, and unless we were ready to go to Baghdad in 1991 — and our Arab allies in the Gulf War would have walked away from that coalition at the idea — then we had no business instigating a rising that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

              In saying otherwise, I think you reveal some real naivete about the actual limits of American power. You think it a matter of badassery, or moral ferocity or whatever. Well, the postwar world had no better badass than Dwight Eisenhower. He held it down as an American military leader and as president, he certainly fit the bill. But when Allen Dulles and the idiots at the CIA tried to convince the Hungarians to rise in 1956, only to have them actually do so, then Eisenhower was in comparable position. We had told the Hungarians we were with them, and in spirit we were. But it was Russian tanks in the street and we were unprepared for a full military conflict with Stalin. You should read “Legacy of Ashes” and familiarize yourself with how much damage the Cold Warriors did through American overreach. It wasn’t American overextension and militarism that ended the Cold War, it was the Soviet version, and finally, with their economy stretched to the breaking point by their military-industrial complex, the center didn’t hold. Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czachoslovakia — they rose when it was time for them to rise, and freedom prevailed from populations going to the street en masse. Same thing with the Arab Spring. It. Isn’t. About. Us. At least not at the point of being the main protagonist, or antagonist. No one can have their freedom won for them. They must risk the journey and once they have demonstrated sufficient and credible resilience and determination — then and only then can outside support be proferred to any actual purpose. After all, in Vietnam, we gave billions in treasure and 50,000 American lives, but in the end, the South Vietnamese did not want to fight for their rump of a country, and Ho Chi Minh, despite the fact that the Chinese and Soviets were his patrons-by-default in the proxy war — he represented real nationalist aspiration for Indochina. We were fighting for a democratic ideal that didn’t actually exist in Saigon. And if you think about it, the same may hold true in Syria, for that matter. Go all in with the rebels and you don’t actually know what you are buying in a post-Assad world. It might be Islamist, it might be democratic. It might be a balkanized, failed state. After all, Churchill drew those lines on a map without regard to the tribal realities.

              We are going to have to leave it at that and agree to disagree. But I thank you for the substantive argument.

              • I think the man is central to any argument; I reject the notion that all that matters is the argument. Chomsky says the same shit you do about this and it’s a product of post-modern thinking. I just disagree with you both; based on my reading of brain morphology and the resulting hardware (and evolutionary psychology).

                And BTW: I’m staring at my copy of Legacy of Ashes right now (it happens to be under my copy of On America and the Civil War by Karl Marx (I wonder if you think the slaves did not “have their freedom won for them”?) I know that sounds snarky; but I mean it. Are not some people (e.g., African slaves, Jews in Nazi camps, Iraqis under Saddam, et.al.) just too oppressed to free themselves? Is it not moral and practical to ask what may we do to help them; and then set about to do it?

                I think the historical record is clear: intervention works to the extent that the cause is right. Most US intervention that failed was in the service of unjust (right-wing or cynical neo-liberal) policies (e.g., Vietnam). Why we go to war matters to outcome I think.

                But some people are just different and no matter how perfect the argument will just never agree on how to live a life. There is a lot of variation in brain morphology and concomitant philosophy. To wit: To some personal integrity matters most and to other a rational outcome is paramount. So McNulty and Marlo and Omar must prove themselves and The Greek and Prop Joe and Marla Daniels just see the big picture of survival.

                I’m clearly more like the first camp; maybe you’re more like the second. Who knows? But I think there is value in bio-diversity of thought paradigms. I truly think we need both archetypes regardless of my personal preference.

                “My name is my name!” – Marlo
                “My name is not my name” -The Greek

                • You can think the man is central to the argument, but even a superficial understanding of Aristotlean logic and rhetoric will show you to be wrong. After all, no man is correct all the time, and a fallacy of logic is what it is.

                  Marx, for example, offers critiques of unrestrained capitalism that have yet to be answered or argued away. His diagnostics are of some considerable credit. On the other head, Marxist theories of economic systems are bad medicine. A diagnostician does not a clinician make. Sometimes a man has a good argument, sometimes he does not. Sometimes, you’re the bug, sometimes the windshield, and the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day.

                  I have no interest in seriously arguing with ad hominem logic. It wastes my time. It’s worse than useless. It’s as bad as 75 percent of our government and politics in this country and on this small website, at least, we will endeavor to do better than that.

                  • I’m not exactly saying what you think I am saying. I’m saying that each man is constituently different. It’s why I listed your characters by name and placed them under a loose rubric of either “motivated by status and dignity” or “animated by utilitarian results”. This shit matters and I just thought you would get that since you so obviously constructed a world (in The Wire) that reflected it.

                    Some people (e.g., the McNultys and Omars of the world, myself included), just have to prove themselves against what they/we see as unethical and inept men and institutions. “It aint about that paper brah,” to quote Omar. Remember when Dep. Rawls said to Jimmy when they cornered him on the ersatz homeless killings; “all for the overtime Jimmy?” and McNulty said, “it wasn’t about that”. The salient part was that seen through a cynic’s eyes, through Rawls’ eyes, a man would only pull some shit like McNulty did for the remuneration. But through Jimmy’s eyes, he truly did it for the satisfaction of manipulating the ‘suits’ into doing some good for once; and then setting about to do that good. And yes, personal aggrandizement, proving he’s the smartest guy in the room is part of it too. This is what I meant when I said you can’t have some deracinated ‘argument’ sans homme moyen.

                    Our personality types are baked into the cake of what we value and how we see right and wrong. I suspect you are more of a utilitarian, more a Cedric Daniels type (since using your show’s characters is useful for me right now); a man who has a high moral code, but really just wants to get as much accomplished as is possible given the “reality” of the world. Shit, he even gets pretty far personally with that but they take it from him as soon as he gets the top spot (I analogize that with them pulling your full seasons from you… or not ever letting you do TV again which could happen at any moment heh heh).

                    But, me? I’m Omar or McNulty. I think everything is a goddamn moral crisis and crucible. I spend every day proving how superior I am to the sinister and corrupt factotums and sycophants in the world. That’s why I can see the world the way I do and sincerely believe it’s better to stick my nose in every fight. It matters cuz I’m built this way my brother. I’m just never going to be sanguine or utilitarian about all this. And frankly, while I recognize the value of people like you; if everyone was like me it would be a fucking disaster, I’m starting to think you don’t see the value in brash idealists like myself at all. 😉

                    Anyway, that’s what I mean by the man is central to the argument. Each of us value different things; different data points and evidence mean more or less based upon who were are as men. It’s why I value evidence you dismiss as irrelevant and vice versa. And this, I am not embarrassed to say, is the REAL WORLD too. Our endocrine systems, our CNS morphology and biochemistry is very different from one another and it all impacts the way we see the world. We are not each a Tabula Rasa upon which write. We come pre-programmed with emotional and cognitive biases (yes, even you Obi Wan heh heh).

                    I think some Steven Pinker, Robert Kurzban, and Robert Wright would go as far on you as my re-reading of Tim Weiner’s book (and for the record I admitted to CIA and US involvement in every nasty putsch and subversion in the last 100 years; I never once said most or even more than 2 or 3 of our deeds were benevolent; shit, most are diabolical, which is why I keep pushing for righteous action).

                    Humans are not synthetic yet; we still have a ton of wetware that influences our rational brain (Antonio Demasio writes eloquently on this and even goes so far as to say without limbic/pre-frontal cortex intervention [emotional centers of the CNS] the rational brain cannot even guide behavior correctly. That is to say, even if a person comprehends the rational choice cognitively, without corollary emotional thinking, this ‘rational’ idea or behavior will not be made manifest by the person. It’s staggering to see the chaos of a person’s life suffering from this ’emotional’ impairment. I sincerely think even a quick rechauffe of Demasio’s work (Descartes Error is the book I’m think of) might help explain just what the hell it is I’m rambling on about.

                    Anyway here’s a cheat sheet:

                    1. Me = McNulty
                    2. You = Cedric Daniels

                    See why we don’t see eye to eye? Lol… anyway, I just think being a human being still matters; and the Aristotelian ideal isn’t just impossible to achieve given our biology, but it’s not even all that desirable. I prefer the “animating contest for freedom” my homie Sam Adams mentioned. But I do see your point, if you let me be emotional about it then we gotta allow the religious with their wack epistemology in the debate too and that we can all agree is counter-productive. I was thinking that in a very narrow way we make room for the Hunter Thompsons of the world along side the ‘cool, rational observer’ [Lippmann]. I think you know what I mean here yes?

                    But if you still think my argument is shallow here I suspect nothing I add will change your mind.

                    “…the fuck did I do?” –McNulty

                    • I really have no interest in having random dialogue from a television drama used as punctuation for whatever arguments you are endeavoring to make. I am also uninterested in whatever strange correlations you wish to make between yourself, myself and fictional characters. I don’t track any of it, and it adds little to any discussion of American foreign policy or the merits or demerits of our Iraq intervention. Your assumptions about me, rooted in a television narrative, are unnerving and disconnected from who I am, and frankly, I wish to make no assumptions about you.

                      This is a forum for discussion and argument of facts. That’s all. Sorry.

                • One other point, as it goes to the substance of your last reply:

                  Yes, as I’ve said, when confronted with evidence of wholesale genocide, then it needs to be the perogative of humanity as a whole to sanction an armed intervention if multitudes can be saved. But we did nothing in Uganda. Or Cambodia. Or Rwanda. We actually tolerated, if not encouraged mass killings and assassinations in El Salvador, East Timor, Chile.

                  We interposed in Kosovo, because that was happening in Europe proper and therefore it had the eyes of the West hard upon it. But ask yourself, why Iraq? Especially when much of what we learned about Saddam’s killing fields was only discovered after the war? Why was genocide not the argument for war before the fact, as you make it now? Why the falsity of the WMDs — with the argument of possible mass killing left for the future, rather than invoked in the present — as the core of the case for war that we made to the U.N. and to the world?

                  The answer? Well, in El Salvador, in East Timor, in Chile, it was leftists who were being killed, so that’s not a problem. And Uganda, Cambodia, Rwanda? Do those places have a single oil well between them?

                  This war wasn’t about human rights. And there are many tyrants in the world. If your logic is to point at particular tyrannies and brutalities and say, de facto, send in the Marines, you will soon run out of Marines, and just about everything else. What is the threshold for intervention amid a genocidal regime? That depends on a lot of factors: Can the victims be saved by intervention? How many are there? Is the killing ongoing? Is the intervention likely to succeed? On what terms? Stalin killed more millions in his de-Kulakization and purges in the 1930s than anyone had dreamed of up to that point, but no in the West, exhausted by World War I and at a geographic remove from the Soviet Union, was even capable of threatening armed intervention in any way that Stalin would have taken seriously. On a much smaller scale, America — having shot its bolt in Vietnam, was in no position to return to the killing fields of Cambodia and intervene in that derivative nightmare just a few years later. True, the world as a whole might be mobilized, but for that, a national leadership that hasn’t first told the U.N. to go fuck itself is probably a prerequisite.

                  We are talking of the real world here. Citing the excesses of every totalitarian regime — or even the excesses of enlightened regimes at their worst moments — can’t be the trip-switch for every intervention or endless war becomes the American default. And, yes it cuts both ways. Anyone could have looked at the bodies of African-Americans hanging from Southern trees, ears and penises severed, burnt beyond recognition and said, you know what? The America of the 1930s needs a good, solid military intervention. Let’s invade for some good old-fashioned regime change.

                  Lastly, your sense that black Americans were subservient to slavery in all respects and not active and essential in their own liberation is belied by history. Never mind the regiments of black union soldiers, all volunteers, who fought to bring down to slave empire, but consider the absolutely essential black voices that leavened the abolitionist movement in the run-up to the Civil War. That moment in history had Frederick Douglass. In Vietnam, the best we could do was Diem. And in Iraq? Good lord, the people who claimed to speak on behalf of the Iraqi opposition made Diem look like Garibaldi.

                  There are moments — the European Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda — that cry out for immediate intervention regardless, once the scope of the human destruction becomes known. But if every moment of human destruction is cause for war, well then, we will be a spent force before we cross even the third or forth frontier. Once again, Iraq was the wrong war, fought at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. Demonizing Saddam and citing his victims, while true enough, does nothing to convince me otherwise.

                  • I know all about East Timor and US complicity in it. I’ve read Manufacturing Consent and a ton of other Chomsky books. I know, I know, I know!

                    This is my whole point! We are usually propping up dictators and murdering civilians and for once maybe we can do some good by killing a dictator and propping up civilians! Did it go that way in Iraq 100%? No, but neither was it at all like our evil and criminal behavior vis-a-vis Vietnam or Latin America.

                    But I don’t think every US action is axiomatically evil (and neither do you, I read your approval of our role in Kosovo). I think 95% of our behavior is cynical and evil, but there are exceptions and I think getting rid of Saddam and helping to set up democratic institutions in Iraq (including some media pluralism and an independent judiciary) is good. Perfect? No. Better than a hermetically sealed torture and rape state? “Oh indeed! – Omar

                    P.s. you mischaracterize my point on Slavery. And the Kurdish Independence movement had articulate voices arguing for intervention. I’ll cite my sources post haste… (I got shit to do too 😉 )

                    • We will leave it at the disagreement it is. I think the costs of Iraq — lives, treasure, geopolitical shifting of Iran to regional superpower — far outweigh the gains. You do not. We can go no further.

            • Do you think Iraq is better without Saddam? Are you saying the Iraq invasion was a success, if yes, how was it a success? Was there not a brutal civil war in its aftermath? Is not the current regime more influenced by Abramic fairy tales then the previous? Why was removing Saddam more important than removing the dozens of other despotic war criminals across the globe? Given the loss of life, money, U.S. creditability, and the fact that the reason for war was a fucking lie, how was it remotely wise to invade Iraq?

              • Exactly so. And given that three other non-democratic regimes have fallen in the Islamic world without American military interventions costings thousands of American lives, tens of thousands civilian lives, and untold economic treasure, is it not possible to consider the fact that perhaps a more organic form of regime change might have been possible in Iraq. What got rid of Mubarak and Khadaffi was, in effect, a tragic and public suicide in Tunisia that sparked the long-brewing resentments of the Arab Street. And now that same conflagration threatens another strongman, Assad. In light of all that has transpired, does this still seem worth the certain cost, knowing what we now know?

                • Completely off topic, but I just finished reading the Guardian story on you and Eugene Jarecki, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/25/the-wire-creator-us-drug-laws. While I agree with your statement, “The whole concept needs to be changed, the debate reframed”, and ending the devastating effects of the drug war is paramount, I find the the singular illegality of marijuana illogical, unreasonable, impractical, and in its inception racist as marijuana laws were first devised to persecute Mexicans. This is one of many nuances of drugs and their relation with the law. Some drugs are more harmful than others, some are more popular, some have lobbyists. I can understand your feelings that the CO and WA laws will only help white middle class kids, but it is a step towards common sense. In a vacuum, assuming the drug war and its effects never came to be, just in dealing with marijuana, shouldn’t it be legal? It is less harmful than alcohol, one cannot overdose on marijuana, and it can have therapeutic effects on some users. I’ll quote Bob Saget from Half Baked to sum up my point “Marijuana is not a drug. I used to suck dick for coke. Now that’s an addiction, man. You ever suck some dick for marijuana? I didn’t think so.”

                  • Obviously, we all understand the difference between marijuana and cocaine. And just as obviously, there are people of color who would benefit from a rationalization of marijuana laws. But my point isn’t one of pharmacology, but of realpolitik. The drug war was allowed to destroy black and brown America for as long as it has, at the rate it has, because it was black and brown America. And if you don’t think there is an inherent racial bias in its prosecution, you are beyond naive.

                    The system is rigged to target minorities and to provide outlets for leniency to whites. Witness the 100-to-1 sentencing differential in federal courts between crack and powder cocaine, that only recently was reduced to 17-to-1, when in fact, powdered cocaine has the same metabolic effects on the body as crack.

                    In fact, it can be argued that recent efforts to reconsider the excesses of the drug war may be linked to the fact that whites are now being caught up in the maelstrom and incarcerated for lengthy sentences. It was all fun and games when it was just niggers, spics and chinamen, but no one said anything about regular white people.

                    My argument is that once the system provides certain safety valves to diminsh the outrage over the handling of suburban white drug use, you will see a societal failure to reconsider the entire corrupted edifice of drug prohibition. And that would be a damn shame.

                    You think otherwise? Note how quickly middle-class opposition to American overseas interventions dissipated once the U.S. government did away with the draft. By siphoning white resistance to the drug war out through more lenient marijuana statutes, this nightmare can continue unabated for a long time to come. Watch and learn. It will happen.

                    • I get your argument and it is valid, But i can only half agree with some of it. I agree that the drug war targets minorities, the crack to cocaine rates is one of the greatest injustices in recent times. But I disagree that these new statutes will siphon white resistance to the drug war. Have faith in us white suburban kids (though I’m 30 so I can’t really call myself a kid) that we will embrace reason in deciding what laws we will support. That’s my major point, sorry if I was unclear. Logic, reason, and common sense should be the only foundation for laws. And I will learn but I will do more than watch. You may say I’m naive but I’m not the only one. Many more white, black, brown, and yellow “kids” who feel this way not just because we want to get high, though that’s a plus.

                    • I can’t find my latest comment, I guess it was deleted. There was one thing I forgot to mention. I disagree on how quickly middle-class opposition to American overseas interventions dissipated once the U.S. government did away with the draft. Millions of people protested the Iraq War, just because the government and the media weren’t listening to us doesn’t mean we weren’t shouting at the top of our lungs. We didn’t need the fear of a draft to look at the evidence and realize this was an unjust, immoral, unconstitutional war.

                    • Sorry my comment had seemingly disappeared then it reappeared, so I think my computer and/or internet are getting a little screwy. Sorry if I came off like an asshole but I mistakenly thought you had gone all Sarah Palin and banished anyone who disagreed with you.

              • Seamus, I think, since you asked, that my words have no effect on people.

                I stated more than once that I think the costs were probably too high for the results; but that I do think those results, however limited, are REAL. They cannot be waved off with an insouciant hand.

                It’s easy for us to minimize Saddam’s total and satanic control over Iraq, but that shit was real. Real people were treated so much more horribly than most of us in the first world can even imagine that I suspect that this is exactly why few of us CAN IMAGINE it long enough to temper our own damn flippancy about it: “yeah yeah Saddam was a bad guy alright… blah blah… but no worse than the next tyrant…”.

                Well, you are all free to say that and even mean it; but I’ve seen the videos of the summary executions and political rapes and chemical weapon burns and on and on; and it turned my stomach. I’m sorry I have to say it, but Saddam’s hero Jospeh Stalin once said that “quantity has a quality all its own”. When a man approaches the level of psychopathic killing and raping and torturing that that man did, it crosses some emergent property threshold in my mind. He had to go. And yes, I’m ready to add some names to the list. Further, I’m willing to run out of Marines to extirpate psychopaths like that; call me old fashioned, but that is what the Marines are for. I’d rather they do that than do what Smedley Butler said they usually do which is follow the flag that is itself merely following the corporations. I’m advocating for a moral foreign policy not a corporate or neo-liberal or cynical one.

                So, maybe I’m too emotional and labile and mercurial to be trusted with public policy but I think moral outrage is indispensable sometimes and as I said to David, my reading of Antonio Demasio’s book on neurobiology and the CNS, it seems that as humans we cannot even make rational decisions without an emotional corollary (neurologically speaking).

                But, I suspect only 20% of what I just said will even be understood given the tenor of this ‘debate’. It seems that no matter how many concessions I make (e.g., the US is largely only going to intervene to depose left-wing and democratically elected govts; the CIA is almost monolithically wrong and evil; the Iraq invasion was buttressed by lies, torture, and rank stupidity; John McCain is a douche bag, et.al.) nobody is listening.

                Well, I read every word you guys write; maybe you can go back and read ALL of mine. I know I’m prolix, I apologize. But I have been ambivalent about my country for over 20 years and I’m equally unsure of my own aplomb in these moral matters, but I still think in the final analysis, it is better for a moral man to DO something to help his fellow man than it is to “wait and see”. But, for the 10th time, I could be wrong. It happens.

                “Fucking fuck fuck.” – Bunk

                P.s. Yes I think the other “dozen” tyrants in the world should go. Just as I think that each serial killer in America should go to prison not just the high profile ones. But I would never say that we shouldn’t arrest Jeffery Dahmer cuz we can’t lock up the Zodiac killer yet. And locking up Dahmer is still justified even though most of law enforcement is stupidly and in racist and evil fashion mostly locking up innocent black guys. We can chew bublegum and walk at the same time (in theory; as long as George Bush isn’t the one trying it…)

                • Nothing is being waved off in a insouciant or flippant manner please tell me what I wrote that made you think so. “But, I suspect only 20% of what I just said will even be understood” Dude that’s flippant. I understand your arguments about the immoral actions committed by Saddam, but they are not enough to warrant an invasion by the U.S. With the right means and support of a real coalition of nations I would support his removal. However I do not believe the U.S. has the military power, money, resources, and will to engage in successful invasions all by itself. And once again I concede that Saddam was immoral (not satanic, I don’t know what that means, sounds like mythological bullshit) but was the civil war and the “democratic” government that followed any less immoral? One final question about your conclusion, “I would never say that we shouldn’t arrest Jeffery Dahmer cuz we can’t lock up the Zodiac killer yet.” How is that logical argument? The logistics of foreign invasions dwarfs that of domestic law enforcement, you cannot make that metaphor. It is very possible for the FBI and local authorities to go after two individuals without loading our the national debt and killing thousands of people.

                  • I over estimated. 15% tops. 😉

                    Anyway, look, I’m an atheist, so “satanic” was meant as a synonym for “double plus bad” [see: Orwell] or some such shit. I do not believe in the Devil (or God). Ok?

                    I’m sorry for being a dick; it’s kinda just the way I am. That’s no excuse though, so I’m actually sorry.

                    In my defense, I have (over and over) made it crystal fucking clear that I am ambivalent and that I could be wrong and that my opinions, while buttressed by a lot of empirical evidence and a strong theoretical framework, they are (my opinions) largely the result of my personality type (which is largely a result of my DNA). Thus, it’s innately biased and unreliable.

                    David thinks all this is gibberish and thinks my attempts at levity are “unnerving” and vapid; and thinks my more serious words are equally obtuse and without merit. I think he is just not reading me correctly, but, in the final analysis I must admit he is probably right about it all. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong, or shallow, or weird. I’d prefer to think I’m misunderstood, but I probably really am just puerile and wet-headed. It happens.

                    But of the 3 of us in this debate, I’m the only one who has even made an effort at self-critique or conceded any points. Insularity or a refusal to see the merit in my antagonist’s POV is not something you can accuse me of.

                    I am happy with at least that part of my belle lettres…

                    Lastly, even with David’s final shot he says I think the “costs to remove Saddam were worth it”…(while he, David, does not). He says this even though I’ve said over and over that I’m not sure the costs were worth it and am even willing to say that the costs “probably weren’t worth it”. But, you can re-read my words to see which one of us is correct on my actual statements.

                    What I did say was that if a man is serious, he must take a ‘fearless and searching moral inventory’ and look at the good that did come from US action (and what could come from a more decent and moral foreign policy if we dare to dream). Further, I said a man must be willing to do something; because as Howard Zinn said, ‘you can’t be neutral on a moving train’. A policy prescription of “wait and see” may be moral or it may not, but we’ll never know if we don’t ACURATELY calculate all the costs and ALL THE BENEFITS. This is why reflexive and partisan rhetoric on war and peace is not just banal but dangerous: we end up with bad results.

                    2 + X = ?. We must know the value of the X to get an answer. Dismissing the benefits as a nebulous “too little, too late” isn’t very rational or scientific. It’s just squishy, soft-headed rhetoric and I’m not ready to allow the Left to become as anti-science and irrational as the Right. I’m going to fight for an honest and self-aware Left even if it puts me on the outs with the Establishment Left. Fuck it.

                    I’m likely too macho in general and too often engaged in probative masculinity displays; more often than I am actually engaging in moral persuasion I suspect. It’s difficult for me to tell the difference between the two in real time. It all feels like righteous and moral scribbling to me; but I Could. Be. Wrong. I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Trivers lately so I’m filled with self-doubt vis-à-vis my motives and feeling some embarrassment about my capacity for self-deception. I realize none of this means anything to anyone who only cares about deracinated ‘argument’; but as a human, it means something to me. People, the blood and guts of real people, matter to me.

                    • Hey dude, sorry, I can be a stubborn asshole clinging to an argument for what seemingly is just the sake of arguing. Any war is a complex subject with “a lot ins and a lot of outs”, I’m sure we could argue the various pros and cons of “popular” wars like the Revolution and WW2. But the complexities, the intertwining histories of Europe, America, and the Middle east created a clusterfuck like no othe in Iraq. I respect your opinions and what seems to me a very honest desire to express them.

                  • Seamus thanks for being self-critical. I had to respond here as the “reply” link isn’t extant for your final post. Anyway, I appreciate your willingness to admit you don’t know it all. Shit, David was lecturing me on Aristotelian logic and the ad hominem fallacy like I was his undergrad student or some shit. Man, that guy has no capacity to read a man’s actual arguments and see if his foil has possibly TRANSCENDED that kind of thinking and has in fact moved on to a 21st century neurobiology and evolutionary psychology/cognition playing field of dialectic. Fucking hell, the guy is so sure he’s right on everything he doesn’t even feel it necessary to READ my actual words. I suspect he thinks he knows what I mean better than I do (this is how far-reaching his “know-it-all” resting-heart-rate is).

                    Jesus, all I was saying was that the human brain is incapable of pure reason, and not in some Kantian 19th century way, I mean in a 21st century Robert Kurzban, Antonio Demasio, Steven Pinker, Robert Wright, EO Wilson kind of way

                    To wit: we are RULED by our endocrine systems as much as our CNS and study after study has shown that even when we think we are making purely logical decisions we are, in fact, making emotionally engendered choices. But, fuck if you can teach that guy anything… He’d rather just accuse me of be “wrong” on the ad hominem fallacy; as if I don’t know that the individual making the argument is not relevant for the strength or weakness of the argument itself. What am I 8 years old? No shit, that’s NOT AT ALL what I was arguing. And I thought he would have got that he was not arguing with a shithead and instead was having it out with a fella who was taking the dialectic to the next level (see: 21st century bio-chemistry and morphology).

                    I even tried to use his perfectly crafted novel/TV show as a touchstone of the endemic differences in a person’s values vis-a-vis “how to live a life”. Some of us are ruled by a need for moral righteousness and status-seeking through proving how smart we are. Others are more pragmatic and just want to get shit accomplished. These two inherently dichotomous cognitive/emotional paradigms were so perfectly on display in The Wire that I just assumed David would recognize that he and I are motivated by two very different things in life and thus would never agree. But he just got EVEN MORE ANGRY that I had the temerity to use his brilliant creation in such a way at all. His umbrage seemed to take the form of assuming the show was only about social institutions and not at all about people. But, again, that is part and parcel of our disagreement. He thinks everything should be about some deracinated and pure argument and I think the wet sacks of chemistry that are human beings are just as important as this Platonic Form of argument and social policy dialectic.

                    Fuck, if William Marimow pissed him off so much that his name was attached to such a diseased character, I cringe thinking what Simon will do with my nom de guerre. And since Simon has demonstrated ZERO willingness to laugh at himself or even at me (choosing instead to be offended by everything I say no matter how whimsically or absurdly put) I am forced to say “I’m fucking kidding” here as if none of us have any social skills or emotional IQ at all. See how lame that is? Wouldn’t it be better if we could maybe laugh at ourselves just one minute a day!?

                    At any rate, I am attempting sincerity and emotional honesty if that matters at all. And I feel like you are too now… so plaudits brother. I gotta go put my head in the freezer…

                    “…I want my corners” – Avon

                    • You are in such a rush to make it about you. Or me. And the fact that you actually worry about your “nom de guerre” being invoked suggests, frankly, an inflated view of our rather minimalist relationship on this website.

                      Again, I am uninterested in the ad hominem. And I have said so repeatedly on this website.

                      We are here for one reason only, to argue or discuss the actual substance of a given issue. This issue involved, specifically — if you will return to the original post you will rediscover it, I am sure — is the growing divide between America and its volunteer military. That is all. Those who discuss the issue, whether they agree with me or not, have my attention. Those, like yourself, who want to run afield discussing who is what character in a television show, or why your brain works as it does, or why you think mine works as it does, or whatever — I have no interest.

                      I’m not offended. But I am bored. And I am showing no inclination to laugh at you or me in this context because while lots of stuff is funny, your posts, when they veered off-topic, weren’t exactly comedy gold. Sorry.

                      If you have an interest in an issue that you find here, then I am interested. If you think it is about you, you are mistaken. And if you think it is about me, you are equally mistaken. I’ve posted your last screed hoping you might reread it and reflect on how far you have drifted from what everyone else here was managing to discuss and maybe, in that moment of reflection, become a working, viable part of an actual discussion. But if all you have to offer is more of the same, what’s the point?

                      Sorry. I know why this website is here and I know what interests me in the interaction of this website. And given that I am the host, I am entitled, in some basic way, to moderate the interaction. A cursory review of the comments section will indicate that I am agreeable to being disagreed with. Indeed, that is the purpose of the site, to discuss and to argue, which I find decidedly non-personal and non-threatening. But you, my brother, are all over the map. It isn’t that we disagree, or that I am offended, as you claim. I’m just uninterested in considering your fevered, personalized deconstruction of the actual ideas into pointless and unseasoned morsels of ad hominem.

                      I don’t care how you think your brain works, or mine, or the differences in human thought, or who is like one character in The Wire and who like another. Not because it’s offensive or disagreeable, but because it is amorphous and unimportant to facts on the ground. And from the time I was a newspaperman, I learned to value facts on the ground. Your wanderings here are a departure from the actual substance of an actual discussion about the military, or Iraq, or American foreign policy. I am interested in and attentive to those things. Forgive me for not following you into a wilderness that is of interest to you only. I understand that you have other interests; you are entitled to them as far as it goes. But regrettably, I do not share those with you and they were not the subject at hand here on what is, you will have to admit, a website of my own construction and to my own purposes.


  • Thanks for sharing this Mr. Simon. The personal history is key to understanding, I think. My parents are also from this Greatest Generation and I have my issues with that term. All of what you said, plus, I think there was a glorification of the stoicism at the expense of acknowledging the real stories of war. My father was in WWII and never talked about it. Today, I am left to wonder what the stories were, and to speculate on the extent to which these untold stories shaped my life.

    I am leary of the glorification of war, the reduction of it all to “heroism” and “ultimate sacrifice,” of pithy statements like freedom isn’t free, and of relegating this holiday to posts on facebook and flags on porches. To some extent, it just becomes a way for us to pat ourselves on the backs for our patriotism while avoiding the reality of war.

    These hero narratives leave a lot of people and stories in the margins — people traumatized with nowhere to go with their “weakness” and, of course, women in general. This isn’t to detract from personal sacrifice, in fact, I think the telling and retelling of the good and the not-so-good and the downright horrible stories might be the only thing that matters.

    Thanks again!

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