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War! Uh! Huh! What Is It Good For?

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Well, it’s about that time–midterms, I mean–for a little bitching, and so I’m going to bitch.

I got a paper this week than included the sentence, “Americans should be taught to know about world wars one, two and three.”

This was in a paper about what it means to be “educated,” in which I gave them the chance to outline what they themselves thought  people should know.  Forget all the things we talk about here, forget the decades-long argument about the nature of a university education, forget it all.  They could just outline what they thought was necessary to know and tell me whether or not they thought the knew it.

On one level, of course, the statement I quoted above is prescient–not because there is going to be a world war three, but because “knowing about” it, about the possibilities for it and the ways it can be avoided, probably is something everybody should know.

Which brings me to one of the things Sowell discusses in his book, and something that has intrigued me now for years.

Why are some people completely incapable of accepting the idea that people who say they intend to go to war and wipe everybody else off the earth probably mean they intend to go to war and wipe everybody else off the earth?

Sowell has been talking about the lead up to the second world war and the hystircal insistence on the part of the educated public opinion of the time that Hitler was only rearming the Rhineland because…well, because he was head of a nation that should be the equal of all other nations, and besides, he was afraid of France, and…

And Hitler kept telling everybody, quite plainly and without much in the way of subterfuge, that what he intended to do was rearm until he felt himself capable of winning a war, and then launching that war with an aim to take over most of the nations of Europe, especially France.

What is it, exactly, that makes so many people find it difficult to take people like this at their word?

The present day circumstance that I kept getting into arguments about is Iran, and once again I see the same thing:  the man keeps telling us what he wants, he keeps saying that he wants to wipe Israel off the map and that, in the future, Europe will have “to Islam.”  He is not being subtle about this and he is not being coy.

So why do so few people believe him?

And no, it’s not enough to say that the people who don’t believe him hate their own society, because even if they do, I’m pretty sure they aren’t interested in living with the reality of an Islamic victory in Europe.  They have to intention “to Islam.” 

And in spite of all the gobbledygook about “multiculturalism,” I don’t find these people to be particularly “multicultural.”  That is, their pronouncements on war and peace, international relations, or even the moral validity of the welfare state are not couched in relativistic terms. 

In almost every other area of disagreement between the modern day American “conservatives” and the modern day American “progressives” (we’re not saying liberal anymore–although why anybody who actually knew anything about the progressive movement would want to call herself a progressive is beyond me), the issues at hand are largely matters of options.

That is, if the progressives have control of the local public schools and you don’t like it, you can send your kids to private schools or homeschool.  If the conservatives have that control and you don’t like it, the same.

It’s annoying, and sometimes infuriating, to be forced to pay taxes to support bad public art, or to watch the local branch of the state university put on a production of The Vaginia Monologues or Corpus Christi, but in the end there are ways to counter such things, and a right to protest, and the supreme right to simply not pay attention. 

It’s annoying that in spite of everything you’ve supported for years on end, the local Christian school just insists on presenting Creationism as fact, or going to church, or any of the rest of it–but they’re not making you do it, and you can walk away from it if you want.

Okay, I’m pretty much saying here that the intensity of our culture wars have a lot in common with the intensity of faculty meetings–they are as virulent as they are at least in part because there’s very little at stake.  It’s a big country.  As long as nobody is making laws that stop me from pursuing happiness–would Jefferson be really mad at me if I called that following my bliss?–anyway, as long as I have the opt out, and I usually do, intracultural issues of this kind are open to flexible and varied solutions.

What Iran is threatening is not open to flexible or varied solutions.  In countries under Islamic religious rule, it’s not a matter of the gay couples living in San Francisco while the straight white Christian live in Little Rock.  Shari’a demands that people found practicing homosexual sex be put to death, that women not only be veiled but restricted from vast areas of education and endeavor, that free speech is to be defined as “the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari’ah”

In case you think I’m making that up, it comes from the Cairo Declaration on Human RIghts in Islam.  You can find the entire document here:


which is the University of Minnesota site. 

But in case you haven’t noticed, that defines free speech as your freedom to speak in favor of what Islam already believes to be true, with no right to speak against it.

It’s very much like the definition of individual rights adopted by the Catholic Church in the Counterreformation.  Since “error has no rights,” you had the right to the freedom to join the Catholic Church and to speak in defense of her, but not the right to join other religions or speak against the Church, since those things were “errors,” and “error has no rights.”

At any rate, these things are not negligible.  It is not a matter of being uotraged that Sarah Palin’s book is making more money than yours.

One would think that people who are so passionate about their own rights when faced with blue laws or antiabortion protestors would be at least as outraged by the declaration of somebody like Ahmadinejad that he intends to build a nuclear missle program and make the world Islam. 

And lately he’s been showing everybody on the planet what he’s got, so that it isn’t as if he’s keeping it all a secret.

Of course, Hitler kept trying to show the world what he had, and journalists in France and England didn’t report it, because they were afraid it would lead to war.  So there’s that.

But then, just to get incoherent here and off the track of linear thought, some of what is going on in Europe lately is a little startling. 

There are neighborhoods in London where non-Islamic women feel compelled to wear a hajib when they go out because without one they are harrassed on the street and in danger of assault–and the police basically tell them, well, that’s what you have to do, they can’t protect you.

There are neighborhoods in Amsterdam where gay couples cannot go without fear of being assaulted, and situations in Sweden where the law looks the other way at honor killings because to do otherwise would be to impose cultural imperialism on immigrants.

It’s almost as if the real issue is not the proclaimed rights themselves, but the need to push back against opponents who seem to be weak and fall back from opponents who appear to be strong. 

I don’t know if that’s making any sense, either. 

Let’s just say that the more I look at this situation, the less I understand it.  I believe in the near-absolute freedom of speech, in the near-absolute right to the free practice of religion, in the separation of Church and State, in half a dozen things like that, and when I feel them threatened I fight like hell. 

“Multiculturalism” doesn’t cut it with me–I don’t think societies that execute people for being homosexual are just “different cultures.”  I think they’re wrong, period.  And although I am not in favor of invading them to get them to do it my way, I am in favor of making damned sure they can’t force me to do it theirs.

This seems to me to be a fairly consistent position.  And maybe it’s just my lack of imagination that means I find it impossible to understand how you go from “human rights are everything” to whatever is going on right no in regards to the reality of what Iran is presenting, or the reality to what those no-go zones in European cities are presenting. 

But here I am, and it’s Sunday, and I think I may listen to some opera, or maybe to Swan Lake.

I think the next thing I read is going to be off my stack of Agatha Christie novels.

Written by janeh

February 28th, 2010 at 7:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'War! Uh! Huh! What Is It Good For?'

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  1. “It’s almost as if the real issue is not the proclaimed rights themselves, but the need to push back against opponents who seem to be weak and fall back from opponents who appear to be strong.”

    That may have caught the essence of it. It’s why I push back when when churches go through the whole “shalom” or “peace and justice” business. It invariably translates into cringing submission to open enemies or your nation, religion or culture, but lawsuits, boycots and pickets against people who agree with you 90%.

    I thought it was very interesting that when “liberal” became toxic after the 1960’s, liberals settled on “progressive” as the new brand name. They don’t as a body, seem to feel any moral repugnance over the activities of the previous “progressives.”

    I suspect part of the problem is that standing up to military threats means maintaining a respectable level of armament and may mean war. And the necessary virtues of armed forces aren’t the virtues congenial to “progressives.” Actually taking the hill means more than position papers and discussion groups, and the relibility and firepower of a tank matters more than that it was union-made by a minority-owned contractor. And of course the money that builds B-17s or Predators can’t be funneled to community organizers or spent on college “orientation.”

    In the abstract, most “progressives” know that force is sometimes an option. Calling in the government with armed police to enforce a “non-discrimination” law is not pacifism. But when the consequences of estimating the threat correctly are distateful, it’s not surprising that people clap their hands over their ears and sing loudly.

    They might be called “deniers.”


    28 Feb 10 at 8:03 am

  2. Coincidentally, I just happen to be halfway through Raymond Ibrahim’s “The Al Qaeda Reader”. This consists of a direct translation from the Arabic of the writings of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

    Nobody should be in any doubt that both gentlemen are firm and unwavering in their aim to destroy western civilization as we know it and to pursue what they see as every Muslims obligation under the Koran to subjugate infidels wherever they find them.

    Despite the evident futility, western academics and politicians still believe that they should negotiate with these people. Sheer insanity.


    28 Feb 10 at 8:33 am

  3. >>that free speech is to be defined as “the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari’ah”

    Sounds like Herbert Marcuse and “repressive tolerance” that was popular in the 1960s.

    I know of some posters in RAM who insist that the US can not afford defense spending. I’ve been thinking of a post asking how well the health and welfare systems worked in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium and Norway between 1940 and 1945. To me, defense is the primary responsibility of government and all else is secondary.

    Yes, I do believe that if Iran gets nuclear weapons they will try to wipe out Israel. I’m not sure they can force Europe to adopt Sharia law but they can certainly make life uncomfortable.


    28 Feb 10 at 1:49 pm

  4. Why wouldn’t it be hard for people to take those folks at their word? It’s a difficult mindset to grasp for people who don’t feel that way. Most people don’t understand that some people want to beat them up and take their stuff, either. And when you take it to the world-wide level, it’s very difficult to grasp.

    Besides, at least in the US, we grow up learning not to take anyone at their word–who tells the truth? Parents? Teachers? Doctors? Salespeople? Politicians?



    28 Feb 10 at 5:07 pm

  5. >>Most people don’t understand that some people want to beat them up and take their stuff

    It goes deeper than that. Most people don’t think “I want X and I’ll kill millions of people in order to get it.”

    But its also true that most people don’t want to be the head of their government. And most heads of government do not lead theocracies. So what most people think does not help us understand the exceptions.


    28 Feb 10 at 6:02 pm

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