Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dalrymple's EuroDisney

Broadcasting live from somewhere in North America . . . (suburban Atlanta, actually):

In The American Conservative, Theodore Dalrymple has an excellent review of The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, by Walter Laqueurof. As Dalrymple puts it:

"He [Laqueurof] sees Europe, once the home of a dynamic civilization that energized the rest of the world, declining into a kind of genteel theme park—if it’s lucky. The future might be grimmer than this, of course: there might be a real struggle for power once the immigrants and their descendants become numerically strong enough to take on the increasingly geriatric native population."

Once again, the "demographics as destiny" theme rises to the fore. Dalrymple has always been astute on the particular difficulties posed by large-scale Islamic immigration into Europe, as well as the slow, corrupting influence of Europe's increasingly insupportable cradle-to-grave Nanny state.

"This suggests—and Laqueur has no hesitation in so saying—that there is a problem peculiar to the integration of Muslims in Western countries, at any rate, when they are in such large numbers that they are able to make whole areas their own. Imbued with a sense of their own religious superiority, which considers a Muslim way of life better than any other, they are ill-prepared to adapt constructively to Western society.

Yet adapt they do, though not necessarily in the best way. The young men of the second generation adopt many aspects of American ghetto “culture,” which in conjunction with Islamic teaching and tradition, enables them to dominate women in a way that is to them extremely gratifying. This prevents the women (who, as Laqueur tells us, and I can confirm from personal experience, are vastly superior morally and intellectually to their menfolk) from achieving all they might in an open society. In turn, the cheap and unconstructive satisfactions of domestic dictatorship discourages Muslim men from real achievement and engagement in the wider society around them."

Dalrymple goes on to say:

"The third threat comes from the existence of the welfare state and the welfare-state mentality. A system of entitlements has been created that, however economically counterproductive, is politically difficult to dismantle: once privileges are granted, they assume the metaphysical status of immemorial and fundamental rights. The right of French train drivers to retire on full pension at the age of 50 is probably more important to them than the right of free speech—especially that of those who think that retirement at such an age is preposterous. While Europe mortgages its future to pay for such extravagances—the French public debt doubled in ten years under the supposedly conservative Chirac—other areas of the world forge an unbeatable combination of high-tech and cheap labor. The European political class, more than ever dissociated from its electorate, has hardly woken up to the challenge.

If by chance you are unfamiliar with Dalrymple's writings go here, to the archive of his work published in City Journal. A Prophetic and Violent Masterpiece, and What is Poverty, are good places to start.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Paths Crossed . . . and Crossed Again

If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”
Alphonse de Lamartine (French Poet, Writer and Statesman, 1790-1869)

Tomorrow morning, if all goes well, my wife and I will load our daughters into a taxi at 5:30 am, and we will begin the trek to Istanbul airport, and then to Paris, and then home.

For the past two summers, we've made this same journey, but this time will be different, because we won't be returning to Turkey, or so we believe, except for whatever brief visits we make in the future. In other words, we're going back home.

Like most journeys, it's one of mixed emotions. It sounds banal to say, but I'll miss living in Turkey, and miss Istanbul in particular. To continue with banalities (why not?) one of the strongest impressions I've gleaned over the past few years is that of the "small world." I don't mean in the cultural sense, much less in the spiritual sense. I'm, talking about the extent to which people actually keep bumping into old acquaintances from around the globe.

For example:

For the past twenty-five years, my friend Robert has followed a pattern of working and travelling, working and travelling, all over the world. He has lived in Atlanta, Seattle, Sacramento, several cities and towns in Arizona, as well as Botswana, New Guinea, Costa Rica, Switzerland, and now currently in New Zealand. He's bicycled across the US at least three times, as he has over much, if not most, of the world. So he's been a lot of places and met a lot of people, but even he was a bit weirded out when, while walking the crowded streets of Ho Chi Mihn City, he heard his name called, and turned to see an old friend he'd first met in Costa Rica. One of those things.

Robert and I met forty years ago, in Miss Shropshire's first-grade class at James L.Riley Elementary School. We lost track of each other a few years later, then became friends again in high school, and on into the present.

Since we've both lived in a variety of places, we have, since the 1980s, gotten together in Wyoming, where I worked summers as a college student, in Montana, where I was for about six months a unemployed bum, in Switzerland, where Robert was teaching at a boarding school, in Rome, where I had free use of an apartment, but mostly in Atlanta, where Robert was either working or killing time before of after one of his multi-year global jaunts.

As I mentioned, Robert now lives in New Zealand, but tomorrow, like me, he'll be arriving at the Atlanta airport. Totally unplanned, sheer coincidence. I knew he was considering a flight home sometime this summer, but we happened to book our arrival on the same day. It will be good to see Robert again.

Another example:

An Irish colleague of mine, who lived for a time in Saudi Arabia, ran across a fellow Irishman, and as people will do, they got to talking about where they'd grown up. It turned out they'd both come from the same smallish town in the west of Ireland. Having established that coincidence, they then got to talking about which neighborhood of the town, then which street of the neighborhood, then which address of the street they'd grown up at, on, or in.

As it happened, they eventually realized that, several years apart, they'd both lived in the same house, in fact occupying the same bedroom of this same house. And my colleague assured us (this story was told at a party) that the stranger he'd just met was not pulling his leg, as he was able to describe in considerable detail both the odd configuration of the room and the pattern of the paper that my friend and his mother had hung on the bedroom walls so many years before.

And again:

Our first year in Turkey, we lived in Ankara, and most mornings, as I waited for the campus service bus to take me to my office, I'd see the same cluster of people, with schedules similar to my own, waiting at the bus stop. Once or twice previously, I'd had occasion to speak with one member of this group, an American History professor. Though I liked him well enough, I tended to avoid conversation with him because his evident shyness made chatting uncomfortable for everyone involved.

So in the mornings, as I waited for the bus and observed my fellow bus patrons, I happened to notice that this same history professor, named Tim, seemed unusually at ease chatting with an older guy, also American, who taught in the College of Education.

On one particular morning, the older guy mentioned that he'd come to Turkey simply to avoid the boredom he'd felt after retiring from the university where he'd taught in the States.

"Where was that?" asked Tim.

The older guy answered that it was the University of Puget Sound, though he'd spent most of his career teaching at Florida State University.

"That's interesting," said Tim, "I grew up in Tallahassee."

Like the two Irishmen in the story above, they then began to discuss neighborhoods, streets, and so forth.

"How old are you?" asked the older guy.

"Forty-one," Tim answered.

"Hmm, maybe you went to school with my son," the older guy commented, to which, in reply, Tim asked, "What's your son's name?"

When the older guy answered Tim's question (and let me make clear that I am really truncating the conversation, which was now taking place on the bus), there was a moment of rather compelling silence.

"He's your son?" Tim asked.

"Yeah," the older guy said.

"He and I were best friends in middle school. I was at your house every day playing basketball. I remember you teaching us how to shoot the ball, and taking us to practice. I remember going fishing with you in the summer."

"My God," the older guy said, "You're Tim ******."

And then the recollections began in earnest. I'd never quite heard, or overheard, a conversation like this before. I wondered afterward if they hadn't, on some level, felt that they knew or were familiar with each other, even if they were not consciously aware of any such acquaintance. I kept thinking about it for days.

One last tale:

At the same party where my Irish colleague told his tale, Jimmy, another guest, told what is perhaps the strangest variation on this theme. He'd been doing some cabinetry work for Janice, a woman who lives here in Istanbul and whose husband teaches at my current university. (She and her husband both once worked at the university where I attended graduate school, but I didn't know either of them then, so that hardly counts.) Anyway, when Jimmy was finished working for the day, she offered to give him a ride home, but said they would first have to go, via taxi, to the shop where her car was being repaired. She'd drop him off on the way back.

While she paid for the work done on her car, Jimmy stood outside the garage, smoking a cigarette. As he gazed at the traffic, from across a busy street of several lanes, a man in greasy cover-alls slowly emerged. As Jimmy told it, he had the look of a long-time heavy drinker, a man ill-at-ease in some way, and he'd had to gather himself up before crossing the street.

When he got close to Jimmy, he said, in Turkish, "I know you."

Jimmy, who speaks little Turkish (like most of us), started casting around for someone to translate. About that time, Janice walked out of the shop, and again the man said, "I know you," from which point, Janice translated.

"Seven years ago," the man said, "Every morning, seven years ago, I saw you walking through Kings Cross Station. 8:30, every morning."

Jimmy was puzzled.

The man said,"You'd stand like this." He imitated Jimmy's posture. "You crossed your arms this way." The man crossed his arms just so. "I'd see you smoking a cigarette like this." He pointed to Jimmy's hand, which held a cigarette. "I know you, from London, seven years ago."

Jimmy hardly knew what to say.

The man then nodded to emphasize the certainty of his point, turned, and made his way alone back across the street.

Jimmy never did learn the man's name, nor why he'd once lived in London, nor why, in the year 2000, he'd been at Kings Cross Station everyday.

But Jimmy did acknowledge that every morning, seven years earlier, he would in fact arrive at Kings Cross Station at 8:30 in the morning, and the first thing he'd do, upon ascending the station's steps, was to light up a cigarette. And that in fact the man was right, Jimmy did fold his arms in just that way.

I hope to see my friends from Turkey again someday.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Dying Way of War

"It's a new kind of war, George. It's a new war for a new century."
--Breaker Morant*

A week ago today, my sister-in-law's stepfather was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Ralph, her step-father, explained to me years ago at a family gather that he had grown up the child of immigrants in a German neighborhood of St. Louis, where he rarely spoke English until he entered school. In his teens - in the 1930s - he both played minor league baseball and acquired a pilot's license. How, during the Depression, he had access to an airplane for training, I have no idea. Like many Americans of German ancestry, Ralph was deeply troubled by the rise of the Nazis, and felt a particular need to demonstrate that his first loyalty lay with the powers of the "free world." As a trained pilot,and while still a teenager, he volunteered first with the RAF, for which he flew bombing missions, and then later with the US Army Air Force, once America had entered the war.

Given the length of his service to both Britain and the US, I realized that he must've flown a remarkable number of missions. As you may know, the US Air Force mandated that anyone in a bomber crew would be required to fly no more than sixty some-odd missions before being guaranteed a stateside posting. This guarantee was meant to boost crew morale, and sacrificed little in the way of manpower, since (as Air Force statisticians knew) most fliers would be killed in combat long before they ever made the allotted number of missions. So, when I asked Ralph how many missions he had flown, you can imagine my reaction when he answered something along the lines of "two hundred and thirty four."

"Were you ever shot down?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, five times."

My sister-in-law later confirmed that not only had Ralph been shot down five times, but he'd also been awarded six purple hearts, and in fact upon his return to St. Louis at the war's end, he was celebrated as the most highly decorated veteran from the state of Missouri. After the war, Ralph's connection with flying was maintained through service in the Air Force Reserve, from which he eventually retired with the rank of Colonel. In the civilian world, he spent the bulk of his career working for Ralston-Purina, the pet food company, which must have offered quite a "tranquil" contrast to his wartime experiences, if you know what I mean.

In my conversation with Ralph, he did mention something particularly memorable: on more than one occasion, he had bombed towns in Germany where he knew cousins of his were living.

"Wow," I said stupidly, "that must've provoked some strange emotions." (I didn't really know what to say). But it hardly mattered.

"Oh no," Ralph replied with a beaming enthusiasm, "you never see the damage you've done from the air."

Did I mention that Ralph was of German ancestry?

Anyhow, my larger point here is that not so long ago (historically speaking) it was taken for granted that when the US found itself at war, ordinary citizens, ordinary men, actually, would risk their lives to defend their country.

I realize that ethos on which the assumption is based has its dangers, which I will deal with presently. Nevertheless, a tradition of widespread military service in time of national crisis has its virtues, not least of which is that the general populace sees itself as necessarily implicated in the nation's military commitments, and is therefore that much more likely to scrutinize military undertakings.

By way of contrast to the above ethos, I find myself compelled to make reference to Jonah Goldberg, whom you may have read at the National Review, and who - after several seasons of pom pom waving for the war in Iraq - finally faced the obvious question as to why someone so ardent in his support of Operation Iraqi Freedom hadn't gotten around to actually enlisting. Goldberg, still in his thirties, was certainly young enough, was presumably bright enough, and his invaluable insights into matters of tactical if not strategic significance could certainly have proven useful on Fallujah's mean streets.

Sensing the closing of a trap, Goldberg rather ineffectually pleaded that he had a wife and two two children upon whom military service would impose severe financial hardship. He then attempted some self-deprecating joke, the punch line of which I don't remember, though I am confident that it revealed neither wit nor insight, but only a juvenile clownishness masking a well-earned sense of shame.

If I can bang the family drum a bit more, and at the same time rub Jonah's nose a little deeper in the dirt, let me briefly cite the example of my maternal grandfather, who during World War Two abandoned a fairly comfortable position with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington D.C. in order to cold-heartedly impose financial hardship upon his own wife and two children. My grandfather's enlistment in the US Navy led him to the Pacific, where he saw considerable action, and attained to the rank of Commander. He was at the time of this impulsive folly (i.e. his enlistment) in his mid-forties, and if one were to attempt the same today one would likely be diagnosed with a mid-life crisis, prescribed Zoloft, and presented with a mountain bike. Though I never had the chance to ask him why he left a family and a desk job to go to war, I guess he believed that this was his duty. And I think that my sister-in-law's stepfather, Ralph, and my own father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and a lot of other people were, by mass indoctrination or by simple tradition, inclined to feel that way as well.

But, understandably, people don't so much these days. For one thing, our wars don't really smack of do-or-die national survival (see one of Jonah Goldberg's defenses of the war). It takes an awful lot of propagandizing to convince the comfortable American public of the gravity of whatever the current crisis is (Tonkin Gulf, Gulf War Two, World War Four, or is it Five, whatever) and then as the news reports and the soldier's angry letters (well, emails and blog posts these days) begin to filter back, those who can read are thankful they didn't totally give in to war fever. Not to the point of actually, you know, joining. And so life goes on.

Yes, I realize a well-placed nuclear device may someday make the words I've just written look more than a tad smug and complacent, and I guess I'll be guilty (if I'm still around) of not taking the current threat seriously enough, but it seems that everything we do in the Middle East only enhances the prospect of such a scenario someday becoming a reality.

One young American who did feel the call to service in the wake of 9/11, was of course Pat Tillman, the professional football player who passed up a multi-million dollar renewal contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army. He and his brother Kevin, a minor league baseball player, both made their way into the Rangers, where (oddly, I think) they served in the same unit in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of Pat Tillman's death, there was a certain amount of chatter as to whether he was a hero, or a sucker, or a hyper-aggressive jerk who'd more or less gotten what he deserved. For whatever it's worth, I believe there was something admirable in Tillman's readiness to sacrifice enormous economic gain, personal comfort, and physical safety for his country's defense, and I believe it to be not only tragic but criminal that his willingness to do so was shamelessly manipulated, exploited, and ultimately betrayed by the same Army in which he served. The Tillman brothers' enlistment was excellent PR for the military, until it turned out that Pat Tillman had soured on the war in Iraq, which he condemned as "brutal, immoral, illegal, and unjust." According to the website Weazl's Revenge, "The Tillman brothers were due for a furlough, and Kevin stated in interviews that Pat had arranged to meet with an anti-war journalist while at home." Evidently, he wished to go public with his criticisms and reservations about the Iraq invasion, though I have read that he remained more committed to the Army's mission in Afghanistan.

Before Tillman's furlough date arrived, he was killed in combat. Though the military tried to soak this incident for all the PR hero-potential it was worth, eventually it became evident that Tillman's death had actually been a case of "friendly-fire," which the government had done everything in its power to conceal from both journalists and the Tillman family. This revelation went on to serve as one of the hundreds - if not thousands - of military-related scandals associated with Iraq that erupt and disappear with such somnolent regularity that we barely notice them anymore. They're simply the background noise to our abysmal national drama.

At this sad point in our Iraq saga, some bloggers are now alluding to an assassination of Tillman by the US military in order to prevent him from going public with his condemnation of the Iraq war, and while I'm not prepared to go that far (see the previous post on my aversion to conspiracy mania) I suppose it says a lot about the state of our republic that this sort of rumor so readily has its adherents, and besides, given what we already know, can we rule out anything?

I'm not sure if I would be comfortable living in a world full of Pat Tillmans (during his regular interviews a decade ago on the Jim Rome sports radio show, his overuse -by which I mean, his use - of the word "dude" quickly tried my patience) but he was young then, and he was from "So Cal," as the saying goes, and the question hardly matters, since I long ago accepted that it is my fate, as it is our common fate, to live, not in a world of Pat Tillmans, but in a world of Jonah Goldbergs. The powers-that-be wouldn't have it any other way.

*Fans of the film (based upon a true incident) will know that its eponymous Australian hero, Breaker Morant, while being marched to his execution for the commission of war crimes during the Boer War, turns to his fellow condemned solider, and says simply, "Well Peter, this is what comes of empire building."

You may be interested in this letter, written by Pat Tillman's brother and fellow Ranger, Kevin, regarding Pat's death. It's anger and sense of betrayal ring sadly true.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Derin Devlet: The Deep State

“There is one deep state and one other state. The state that should be real is the spare one, the one that should be spare is the real one."--Suleyman Demirel, Turkish president from 1994 until 1999.

The somewhat dramatic, even ominous term, Deep State, refers to "an influential and informal anti-democratic coalition within the Turkish political system, composed of high-level elements within the Turkish military, security and intelligence services, the judicial branch, and important commanders of organized crime."

I first became interested in this Turkish phenomenon in the aftermath of journalist Hrandt Dink's assassination in December of 2006. However, that event, which I've written about earlier, is not the subject of this post. As I located various articles and information about the Turkish Deep State, it became clear to me that we need some term in English, equally dramatic, if not ominous, to describe those forces which seek to exercise their will through the mechanisms of the federal government, in an extra-legal, or at least starkly anti-democratic fashion.

That is the topic, the American Deep State, if you will, which I wish to explore in the near future.

I have been somewhat hesitant to raise this issue directly, though I certainly have done so obliquely in the past, out of my own aversion toward so-called "conspiracy theories," which, quite often seem to me to be the tortured constructions of the woefully confused, over causes and effects the complexity of which they can't begin to acknowledge, much less address. No, I don't envision a small circle of investment bankers, industrialists (do they still exist?), and conniving Jews unleashing global suffering for their own, ill-gotten gain. Nor do I plan to start linking to reports of alien spacecraft at Area 51.

But let's be clear. As several bloggers whose insights I admire are insistently pointing out, America is an ostensibly democratic nation, the majority of whose citizens are increasingly emphatic in their opposition to an amnesty for illegal immigrants, an amnesty which the nation's political leaders seem not to have the latitude, or perhaps the power, to permanently reject. The crux of the argument apparently comes down to the government's insistence on creating a new set of laws while flatly refusing to enforce the existing laws, in blatant disregard of the will of the American public. Something other than representative democracy is at work. I cite this as one example. Our attempts to maintain a sort of covert dominion over the Middle East, or at least over the resources extracted from its sands, would obviously be another.

In other words, the fact that I don't believe in alien spacecraft at Area 51 doesn't mean I don't believe in Area 51, despite decades of federal government denial. (In case you don't get the History Channel, the government was finally forced, in the 1990s, to admit to Area 51's existence as a result of lawsuits filed by former employees poisoned by the burning of toxic wastes at the site.)

My own skepticism ignorance, and uncertainty prevent me from linking various intriguing bits and pieces into some sweeping, tantalizing, but ultimately implausible theoretical whole. A healthy failing on my part, I suspect.

There is a great deal of blindness, blunder, stupidity, and willed self-deception in the actions of any institution, particularly one as cumbersome as the federal government. Nevertheless, the government does move, sometimes unswervingly though inexplicably, in certain directions, and it's only natural to wonder why.

Though I realize that the following opinions will come as no surprise to visitors of his site, we are not in Iraq because of Weapons of Mass Destruction or a War on Terror or to unleash a democracy or to inspire an Islamic reformation. We are not in Iraq so that George W. Bush can show up his Daddy or work through whatever Oedipal issues may be plaguing him. We are not in Iraq because all human beings crave freedom, or because George W. Bush believes all human beings crave freedom. A president, even a deluded and messianic president, isn't allowed to wander on a leash that long.

Iraq may be a disaster, but it isn't a simple blunder. It's more than a mistake. And yet, through some eyes, perhaps, it's no mistake at all. That's what I'm interested in exploring.

“The real rulers in Washington are invisible and exercise power from behind the scenes.”
--Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Words of War

"They made a desert and called it peace."

"Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue; a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence; confidence; and justice."
-- Spinoza

"There was never a good war or a bad peace."
--Benjamin Franklin

"I do not mean to exclude altogether the idea of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I will venture to assert, that a great and lasting war can never be supported on this principle alone. It must be aided by a prospect of interest, or some reward."
--George Washington

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
--Theodore Roosevelt

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same in any country."
-- Hermann Goering

"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth."
-- Adolf Hitler

"Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play."
-- Joseph Goebbels

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media."
-- William Colby, former Director of the CIA

"War is a malignant disease, an idiocy, a prison, and the pain it
causes is beyond telling or meaning; but war was our condition
and our history, the place we had to live in."
--Martha Gelhorn

"War is a catalogue of blunders."
-- Sir Winston Churchill

"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."
--Sir Winston Churchill

"Regardless of whether we say so publicly, we will go to war, because Saddam sits at the center of a region with more than 60 percent of all the world's oil reserves."
--Anthony H. Cordesman, Senior Analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

“I don’t think the neocons really give a shit what happened in Iraq and the aftermath. I don’t think they thought it would be this bad. But they said: Look if it works out, let’s say we get Chalabi in, he’s our boy, great. We don’t and maybe there is some half-ass government out there, maybe a strong man emerges, it fractures, and there’s basically a loose federation and there’s really a Kurdish state. Who cares? There’s some bloodshed and it’s messy. Who cares? I mean, we’ve taken out Saddam. We’ve asserted our strength in the Middle East. We’re changing the dynamic. We’re off the peace process as the centerpiece and we’re not putting pressure on Israel.”
--Retired General Anthony Zinni

I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda. … [T]he Pentagon's military leaders … with few exceptions, acted timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction. … It is time for senior military leaders to discard caution in expressing their views and ensure that the President hears them clearly. And that we won't be fooled again.
--Retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, former operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff

"We've got the basic strategy right. . . . Our objective is victory, and that's the road we're walking down. . . . It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter, in the sense that we have to continue to do what we think is right, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're not running for office; we're doing what we think is right."
--Vice President Dick Cheney

War is not nice."
--Barbara Bush

"When I take action, I'm not going to fire a 2 million dollar missile at a 10 dollar empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to be decisive."
-- George W. Bush