Monday, September 26, 2005

Four shopping days till Serenity:
Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.
I expect it to make me reasonably happy, and hope it will make me supremely so.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Norm has shared a poem by Hans Magnus Enzensberger about Marx. Here's one by Enzensberger about the decade of my birth:


Well now, as concerns the seventies
I can express myself with brevity.
Directory assistance was always busy.
The miraculous multiplication of loaves
was restricted to Düsseldorf and vicinity.
The dread news came over the ticker tape,
was taken cognizance of and duly filed.

Unresisting, by and large,
they swallowed themselves,
the seventies,
without guarantee for latecomers,
Turkish guest workers and the unemployed.
That anyone should think of them with leniency
would be asking too much.

It's quoted by John Simon in his introduction to Enzensberger's Critical Essays, just after Simon said this:

But as much as I deplore the other omissions, the absence of Enzensberger from Anglo-American awareness seems to me particularly unfortunate.

The reason is plain enough. In fact, it is plainness itself. For Enzensberger knows how to deal with complicated ideas and fine discriminations in a style that, though anything but inelegant, is nevertheless stunningly straightforward and plain. We live in an age--need I remind you of this melancholy truth?--when plain statement in any field, but particularly in the critical, cultural, or political essay, is extremely hard to come by. For this, the French and their Anglo-American emulators are especially to blame. Not so Enzensberger. He may have begun as an adherent of Marxism, but by now even that -ism--at least in its doctrinaire form--has been left behind. With the more modish and obscurantist ones he never had any truck. The only -ism that persists in his work is humanism. There are no hobby horses; only horse sense.

More personally:

I cannot stand the lock-step among everyone in my particular world. They all do the same thing, without variation. It gets so boring. There is something in me that particularly wants it registered that I am not one of them.

No Comment

Tom Wolfe:

Note my definition of “intellectual” here is what you often find in this city: not people of intellectual attainment but more like car salesmen, who take in shipments of ideas and sell them on.


Among American writers, with few exceptions, you don’t say anything patriotic and you don’t say anything generally good about the country.

Jean François Revel:

One could even say that the American artistic and literary culture has a tendency toward “provincialization.” Because of the dominating position of the English language fewer and fewer of even cultured Americans read works in foreign languages. Even when American academics or critics open up to a foreign school of thought, they do so at times out of fashionable conformism rather than based on original judgment.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

False Memory Syndrome: Soros on Post-war Japan

A few days ago I confronted the notion that, after soundly defeating Germany and Japan in WWII, the US then "treated them generously...and they responded positively" with Walter Russell Mead's overview of the postwar situation in Germany. But what about Japan?

Here's how that occupation looked to one of the occupied:

The harsh treatment of civilians in Manchuria had its counterpart in Japan under U.S. occupation forces. Surrender avoided the mass violence and slaughter of an invasion; American forces landed and occupied Japan peacefully. The violence came later, however, in the assaults, robberies, and general mayhem committed by American troops against civilians. The Higashikuni cabinet succeeded the Suzuki cabinet on August 17 as a caretaker administration to carry out the surrender. The following day, Tanaka Naraichi, director of the police bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, ordered all police chiefs to “establish sexual comfort facilities” for the occupation army. Brothel operators were summoned to the Metropolitan Police Bureau in Tokyo and provided with ¥100 million in government funds. A special comfort association, known in English as the Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA), was established. Announcements appealed for “employees”: “Women of the New Japan. Comfort stations for the occupation forces are being established as one of the national emergency measures for the postwar period. Your positive cooperation is requested.” Japanese women were offered up as human sacrifices to the American GIs. The objective was to propitiate the victors with sex and save the “good women” from unwonted advances. In this way, the government of Japan “positively cooperated: with the Occupation. The authorities had thought nothing of violating human rights during the war; they lost the war but not that attitude. The only difference was that now they were pimping for the occupation army. War or peace, women were victimized by the state.

Not content with official pleasure quarters, U.S. soldiers frequently accosted Japanese women on the street or sexually assaulted them. Lives ruined, many committed suicide or became common street prostitutes. The truism that women suffer most in war carried over to the postwar years. Japanese women shared the same fate that befell foreign women in the areas occupied by the imperial military forces. Mixed-blood children abandoned by their Japanese mothers and GI fathers were another legacy of the war. The obverse was the many mixed-blood children in the occupied areas fathered by Japanese military men. In the Philippines, where fierce hatred of Japan persisted long after the war, mixed-blood children were desperate outcasts.

U.S. troops committed the other crimes that marked the Japanese army’s reign, including robbery and murder. Victims rarely recovered their property or received any compensation. Families of murder victims got little satisfaction from occupation authorities. Among the miscarriages of justice in the aftermath of the war was the treatment by Allied courts of the B and C class war criminals. The executed prisoners included many who had no chance to defend themselves properly and many cases of mistaken identity where the wrong man was put to death. The executions were more expedient revenge than careful justice.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty ended the occupation and restored Japan’s sovereignty. Not complete sovereignty, however. Okinawa and the Bonin Islands were kept under U.S. military control. The residents of the latter had been forced to leave during the war. Still forbidden to return to their homes after 1952, they eked out a meager living any way they could. Okinawa had been a bloody battlefield and the prefecture had borne some of the worst fighting of the conflict. The Japanese government never bothered to consult the Okinawans when it concluded the peace treaty; the prefecture and its residents were turned over to the U.S. military government on the islands.

Once again, officials in Tokyo sacrificed the interests of Okinawans. The prefecture was donated to America as a front-line base in the aggressive strategy directed against the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam. Okinawa men and women were victimized by the criminal behavior of American servicemen. Murder, robbery, and rape were commonplace. The U.S. military government itself became one of the biggest robbers as land was expropriated for bases and facilities. Denied self-government, Okinawan could not protect themselves. Their status and treatment resembled those of the oppressed peoples of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Saburo Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1931-1945, pp. 236-8.

Arte at war?

John Rosenthal has posted recently on how America is portrayed by Arte, a publicly-financed Franco-German channel I used to watch back when I lived in Belgium and had cable. I really liked their programming, which included films by some of my favorite filmmakers, like Chris Marker and Abbas Kiarostami. I haven't watched Arte since before 9/11, so I can't speak directly to his claim:
Those Americans inclined to react to every apparent expression of French rage at America by posing the proverbial and doleful question “Why do they hate us?” might consider Arte and then realize that perhaps “they” don’t know us. The problem with Arte in this connection is not that there is a lack of material on American society and politics in its programming, but rather that there is a wildly excessive offering of such material, almost all of it, however, being selected and spun in such a way as to caste the US in the most negative imaginable light and some of it consisting of outright disinformation.

(That's from his original post on Arte; a follow-up is here.)

But even if this is the case overall, it would seem that there have been, nevertheless, some noteworthy exceptions. Here are a couple of extracts from discussion threads at Davids Medienkritik (both comments are from Karl B.). The first is from February 10, 2004 (11:03 PM):
There is hope.

I just spent the last 2.5 hours watching a program on Arte (French/German cable) called Amerika, Europa und der Krieg (America, Europe and the war). The show was divided into three portions. First, America's perspective on the war was shown. More than balanced, the show attempted to allow the European viewers to crawl into the skins of Americans at ground zero and presented only the American perspective. The neoconservative view was presented forcefully by Monsieur Perle himself as well as a wonderfully articulate French military man who castigated his own country's stance towards America and Iraq. The second portion of the show focused on America's technological advances in things military and compared them with Europe's and posed such questions as "if America were to abandon us, would we be able to defend ourselves?" The third part of the program was a discussion round with three beneficiaries of war: one Kurd, one Bosnian, and one Afghan. Each one explained how much better their country was as a result of a war. The French moderator ended with the question to his European viewers whether perhaps in some instances war is justified.

After I get done here I'm writing a thank you note to Arte. This is typical for my experience in Europe. After Gulf War I there was also a long period of reflection over whether, in spite of all the loud cries to the contrary in the media, the war had been justified. Those debates were critical for preparing Germany psychologically for the Kosovo intervention. And again, Europe was behind the curve on Iraq II. If this show and some of the other articles that are appearing (e.g. Pascal Bruckner) are any indication, Europe is trying again to catch up. You have to give Arte a great deal of credit for running that show.

The second is from April 14, 2004 (8:37 AM):

Not really on topic, but there was a great Themenabend on Arte last night. Part of it (discussion forum) is scheduled to be repeated this afternoon, according to Arte's website. I missed the first part of the multi-part show last night, but what I saw was about as lucid a description of the psychotic mentality so widespread in Europe that fosters belief in all sorts of conspiracy theories. Pascal Bruckner was given ample opportunity to explain his perceptions. The show did a great job of pointing out the similarity between extreme right and extreme left in Europe and the link between anti-semitism and anti-Americanism.

There was a journalist from Der Spiegel (?Latschner?) who, in spite of his repeated swipes at Bush, cogently explained the delusions of his countrymen, many of whom never recovered from the shock of the fall of the wall and collapse of communism. As he put it, rather than attempt to adapt their world view to the changed circumstances, many simply took the same world view and joined the ranks of the extreme right, spewing out the same conspiracy theories as before. This is the second such Themenabend that I've seen on Arte, and both were superb. The show was self-critical of the press and the way it lends credibility to extreme conspiracy theories by failing to distinguish between news and entertainment.

The only weakness was on the discussion panel. The journalists did not explore the issue of how their obvious dislike ("hatred" might even work) for Bush and the unbalanced coverage that it produced feeds the psychotic conspiracy believers. The French moderator even took a few jabs at Le nouvel Obs and L'Express for engaging in "infotainment" by giving uncritical coverage to conspiracy theorists. Too bad they did not take the same jabs at the likes of Der Spiegel and Der Stern for their contribution to anti-Americanism in Germany.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

False Memory Syndrome: Soros on Post-war Germany

I stopped being a regular reader of Davids Medienkritik when it became partisanly pro-Bush. That's not what I'm into. The situation in Germany resembles the situation in Belgium, which I know all too well at first hand. If we are to avoid another century of war, we would do well to gain a clear picture of things. The fantasy ideology of the Europeans is, in no small measure, grounded in the systematic misprepresentations of reality propagated by the opinion-forming establishment. And the deconstruction of this fantasy ideology is an urgent need. But I think the turn taken at Davids Medienkritik a few months back undermines its effectiveness.

I still check it though, from time to time, and I usually find something that is illuminating in one way or another. Recently there was an exchange between Medienkritik's Ray D. and George Soros which caught my eye. Look at what Soros thinks about how the US treated post-war Germany:

The analogy with Post-war Germany and Japan is a false one. We didn't attack them in order to introduce democracy. They attacked us and were soundly defeated. We then treated them generously [The Marshall Plan] - not the way we treated Germany after the First World War - and they responded positively.

Now consider Walter Russell Mead's description of that historical situation, in the context of a discussion of Carter's policies:

According to Carter, “Our country has been the strongest and most effective when morality and a commitment to freedom and democracy have been most clearly emphasized in our foreign policy.” To be great, we must first be good. It seemed not to trouble Carter that the other nations in the hemisphere were unable to recall any such epochs of morality and generosity in American history. Perhaps they were simply uninformed.

In his memoirs, Carter himself cites the Truman administration as an example of a time when “morality and a commitment to freedom and democracy” were clearly evident in American policy. He singles out the Marshall Plan and the decision not to punish Germany and Japan as classic instances of American generosity. Without wishing to detract in any way from the achievements of the Marshall Plan, we must still conclude that only in the most superficial sense could it be presented as a disinterested policy – or even one that consciously sought to embody “morality” in Carter’s sense. Immediately following the war – a war in which the terror bombing of cities caused unparalleled violence against purely civilian targets – both Germany and Japan were punished – and punished severely. American occupation troops in Germany were issued orders to remind the people that they were there as “conquerors, not liberators.” In much of Germany rations under American occupation fell to eight hundred calories per day, and the inhabitants were forbidden to travel or use the mails. As epidemics spread among the weakened population, even hardened observers who had seen the effects of Nazi brutality in Dachau and Bergen-Belsen were shocked by conditions in Germany a year after the war.

As for generosity, American aid was used systematically to control the economic and political policies of former Allies and enemies alike. The British were shocked, and their economy sank into a crisis, when Lend-Lease was abruptly canceled in August 1945. When the Netherlands refused to follow American dictates on decolonization in Indonesia, its Marshall Plan aid was suddenly suspended.

What underlay American policy in postwar Europe was not a sudden attack of agape – pure Christian love – but two practical considerations. First, economic opinion was unanimous that American prosperity depended in the long run on a prosperous Europe. The end of every war since the start of the Industrial Revolution had seen serious depressions – and in 1945 memories of the 1930s were still sharp. Second, the balance of power in Europe required a shift in American policy. Germany was no longer the strongest land power in Eurasia; that distinction now belonged to the Soviet Union. The consequences of this shift led the United States to take a number of actions, some of which would pass muster by a board of moral accountants, some of which would not.

Germany was permitted to revive and rearm. This is normally considered to have been a moral step, particularly by the Germans. On the other side of the ledger, the United States gave shelter and employment to war criminals and, with their aid, constructed an intelligence network to operate in formerly German-occupied Eastern Europe. No one considers this moral, except for the Nazis, but the policy was in every way the logical extension and inseparable companion of the “generosity” toward defeated Germany that has won so much praise. When the United States determined that its own interests required a strong Germany rather than a good one, denazification was consciously subordinated to the task of reconstruction.

As for granting Marshall Plan aid to former Allies and to Italy, balance-of-power factors entered into that decision as well. The nightmare of American planners in the troubled postwar years was the prospect of Communist Party power in Italy and France. In both countries Communist participation in government was indispensable in the immediate aftermath of the war. How to ease these parties out of power and develop a stable political consensus that would exclude them was the constant preoccupation of American diplomats. In the short run, the CIA covertly funded the Christian Democrats in Italy. Marshall Plan aid was to help turn back the red tide by restoring prosperity in the slightly longer run. It worked, but in both Italy and France the “benevolent” aspect of American policy went hand in hand with a less admirable side: political figures tainted by associating with Mussolini and the collaborationist Vichy regime in France found their paths back to public life considerably smoothed by the invisible influence of the United States. This policy also made room for active fascists and Hitler sympathizers like Franco in the grand coalition against the new land power in Eurasia.

Meanwhile, American influence was exerted to drive its wartime Allies out of their empires in order to extend the American sphere. American aid to Britain was explicitly tied to Britain’s willingness to dismantle the system of imperial preferences that had held together the British Empire. American intervention in Iran helped the American oil companies strengthen their power in the Middle East vis-à-vis their British rivals, and America forced the British to abandon the Suez Canal in 1956 when the Federal Reserve Bank mounted an attack on the British pound. Americans scoffed at the claims of British and French governments that in opposing national liberation movements they were defending Western interests against communism, yet when America intervened in the Third World, as in Guatemala, in 1954, and Iran, it insisted that its motives were purely idealistic. Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium were and are unconvinced.

If there is one thing that proponents and opponents of the Vietnam adventure have agreed on, it is that the war was the logical extension of American foreign policy since World War II. The NATO experience was the model for CENTO and SEATO, the collective security organizations that brought the United States into Asian politics. The balance-of-power logic was the same in both cases, as was the willingness to make common cause with former enemies and unsavory elements to ward off what was believed to be the chief threat. Nixon’s Vietnam and Truman’s Korea were not so very far apart.

But if secrecy, cynicism, and balance-of-power politics prevailed during the Truman administration, can the golden age of American democracy that Carter evokes in his book be found earlier in the past? The Sioux, the Cherokee, the Apache, and the Ibo think not. From Lenin to Kissinger, twentieth-century statesmen have praised the sophisticated Realpolitik of the founding fathers.

Mortal Spendor: The American Empire in Transition, pp. 97-99.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Broken link

So, the last widow of a Civil War veteran just died. Her husband was a Johnny Reb. The last wife of a Yankee vet died just last year.

I remember when I was a child back in the 80's reading about the man who was then the oldest person living. He'd been born a slave, and emancipated at the age of four. I remember thinking how strange that was, that I was sharing my time with someone from so foreign a time as that.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Tasty Treats

Last year we had the book. And now the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld has been set to music. NPR has four tracks you can listen to for free, including this one:
The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

3 of 9 or 3 of 16?

Today a 100-year-old man told me that we interrupted his listening to the third yesterday when we called him. Beethoven's third, of course.


There's a short in my car stereo which causes it to turn itself off when there's a bump in the road (and sometimes for no reason at all). Today on the radio (but originally on April 27, 2001) Kojo Nnamdi said to Spalding Gray, "so, have you overcome your fear of drowing?" And then, just at that instant, the sound went black. By the time I got the stereo back on a caller who had once worked with him was asking him about fatherhood.

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