Monday, March 10, 2003

Quotes for our times:

The Toronto Star, Editorial, March 8, 2003:

U.S. President George Bush may insist "Saddam Hussein is not disarming. That is a fact. It cannot be denied."

But the U.N. inspectors' reports flatly contradict his view. ...

... [G]iven that Saddam is bending, is this the time for the Security Council to adopt a new resolution authorizing war by March 17 unless Saddam does the impossible and persuades his most implacable critics that he is giving "full, unconditional, immediate and active" co-operation? Hardly. However grudgingly, he is disarming. Why short-circuit success?

Francois Géré, director of the Foundation for Defense Studies in Paris, March 7, 2003:

The maneuver began, in effect, with a first logical absurdity. If WMD are found in Iraq, Saddam should be punished. But, if none are found, that proves a contrario that they are being hidden. You might as well say that Baghdad was condemned in advance.

Second absurdity: Washington's line is that Saddam must prove he's disarming cooperatively; the inspectors aren't there to discover infractions, but to verify Iraqi goodwill. Now, where and how can you find anything like that, given that there is nothing but defiance and hostility between Baghdad and Washington? By definition, cooperation can't be found. Washington demands what it knows it can't get, except by changing the regime. ...

If it wants a new resolution, the United States ought to declare its goals and not demand a blank check. Their silence demands a refusal.

Mahesh Daga, Assistant Editor, Times of India, March 9, 2003:

The moral case for the war against Iraq has hardly been made. Saddam Hussein is no saint, but he is no mad monster either. Besides, this world is only too full of bullies and despots, many of whom owe their life and existence to American blessings. Saddam too was a friend of the White House once, but somewhere along the line his ambitions ran ahead of him. As for democracy and decency, they have seldom been requirements for America's "imperial dependencies". Who can forget the Batistas, the Suhartos, the Pehlavis, the Chung Hees, not to mention the long list of military dictators in Latin America, that Washington has patronised at different times, in every part of the world? ...

Truth is, the US war has no moral purpose. Contrary to Thomas Friedman's fervent imperialist plea -- Please, Mr President, "do it right" -- the Bush people have no plans of installing a "self-sustaining, progressive, accountable" government in Baghdad. At the end of the long siege, the Iraqi people will not get a democracy, but another client regime, with an obligation to carry out Washington's strategic brief. "Armed democratisation" might be a noble aim in theory, but it has few strategic benefits in practice. A democratised Arab world is sure to be more viscerally anti-American than the pliant autocracies that currently rule in Cairo, Riyadh and elsewhere.

Martin Merzer, Knight-Rider news, January 12, 2003:

Two-thirds of the respondents [to a national poll] said they thought they had a good grasp of the issues surrounding the Iraqi crisis, but closer questioning revealed large gaps in that knowledge. For instance, half of those surveyed said one or more of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. In fact, none were.

Avedon Carol, November 16, 2002:

When I was a kid, my many Jewish elders had a short-hand phrase they'd use to explain their objections whenever some suggested legislation (censorship, for example) or discrimination against blacks or gays left them gasping in horror: "The Nazis did that." (Or sometimes just: "The Nazis....") These were people who remembered how it took place, with not too much disruption of everyday life, at first, and most people going unmolested and therefore not making much of it. Nothing to see here, just a few commies and Jews and a couple of queers, not any of us Normal people.... These were, you understand, people who would have been crushed if their son turned out to be gay or their daughter married "a Negro", but by god they knew better than to give an inch on these things. They didn't have to like pornography to know it shouldn't be illegal - they knew what censorship was about. They understood, with crystal clarity, that there are no good excuses for dismissing people's civil liberties.

William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary, August 10, 1939:

How completely isolated a world the German people live in. A glance at the newspapers yesterday and today reminds you of it. Whereas all the rest of the world considers that the peace is about to be broken by Germany, that it is Germany that is threatening to attack Poland over Danzig, here in Germany, in the world the local newspapers create, the very reverse is being maintained. (Not that it surprises me, but when you are away for a while, you forget.) What the Nazi papers are proclaming is this: that it is Poland which is disturbing the peace of Europe; Poland which is threatening Germany with armed invasion, and so forth. ...



... But the German people can't possibly believe these lies? Then you talk to them. So many do.

But so far the press limits itself to Danzig. ... Any fool knows they don't give a damn about Danzig. It's just a pretext. The Nazi position, freely admitted in party circles, is that Germany cannot afford to have a strong military power on her eastern frontier, that therefore Poland as it is today must be liquidated, not only Danzig .... Then when Hungary and Rumania and Yugoslavia have been similarly reduced (Hungary practically is already) Germany will be economically and agriculturally independent .... Germany can then turn on the West and probably beat her.

Well, so much for Godwin's law.

The problem with parallels to Nazi policy, as net wisdom long has had it, is that they drag in so many associations that the point is likely to get lost. Dubya has certainly not been implicated in genocide. Quite to the contrary, he was reportedly deeply affected by Samantha Power's superb study of recent American indifference to genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere, which I have no reason to doubt. And much as his followers themselves might want the cops to come for critics of the government, or to round up people of the wrong religion or suspect ethnicity, or to crack down on inconvenient trade unions, that all has limits, and ordinary citizens can speak in confidence that the cops won't be coming for them.

And even if you look at the history recounted by Shirer, you see huge differences between our situation and that of the Germans in the 1930s. For one thing, Hitler in the 1930s showed remarkable skill in gaining the acquiescence of other major powers of the day for his various projects -- as, for instance, when he lured Germany's major World War I enemies into coalition of the willing which backed the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Dubya, by contrast, has two veto votes currently promised for his own project in the Security Council, from France and Russia, and the possibility of a third from the Chinese.

But to point up the differences is to avoid the clear similarity, which is this: The Germans in 1939 were no dopes. They had hundreds of years of sophisticated culture, dominating classical music back almost to Bach, and some of the best technology and technologists anywhere. But smarts weren't enough to keep them from being stampeded into a disastrous war by short-sighted, overreaching leaders, particularly those who weren't shy of stretching the truth to serve their agenda -- in Dubya's case, the one set forth by the "Project for a New American Century", which was making a case for a war to displace Saddam Hussein and dominate the Persian Gulf long before the supposedly pivotal events of Sept. 11, 2001, and hinting at a whole stack of dominoes to be pushed over behind Saddam. (Nor did it help the technically sophisticated Japanese leadership from letting their own paranoia drive them through a series of initially easy victories into suicidal overreach, as I quote John Dower pointing out a bit lower down).

And Dubya's crew clearly is stretching the truth, to promote an attack on a regime which, for the past ten years, has posed no immediate threat to anybody. (Not even by sponsoring terrorism -- other governments, including some of our current allies, have been far more active in that sphere). Though, in another marked contrast to Shirer's situation, the press here is reporting at least a few of the real embarassments, as when Dubya's crew has built their case on out and out forgeries. (Though by no means all. Remember the "mobile anthrax factories"? Blix made a point of saying what they found when they followed up those American leads -- mobile food-testing labs). But with the bulk of the media following the administration line most of the time, that has relatively little impact. Indeed, as I point out above, by assertions with questionable evidence, or none, and constantly stuffing the phrases "Saddam Hussein" and "September 11th" into the same sentences, the administration had actually managed to convince half the Americans in a poll from last January that there were Iraqis involved in the 9/11 attacks, which just isn't true.

That poll also shows, as of two months ago that there wasn't a huge enthusiasm for combat. But even the duped Germans of 1939 went into combat against the Polish "threat" without much enthusiasm. Shirer again:

Berlin, August 31, 1939 (morning)

Everybody against the war. People talking openly. How can a country go into a major war with a population so dead against it? People also kicking about being kept in the dark. A German said to me alst night: "We know nothing. Why don't they tell us what's up?" ...

Later. Three Thirty A.M. -- A typical Hitler swindle was sprung this evening. At nine p.m. the German radio stopped its ordinary program and broadcast the terms of German "proposals" to Poland. I was taken aback by their reasonableness, and having to translate them for our American listeners immediately, as we were on the air, I missed the catch. This is that Hitler demanded that a Polish plenipotentiary be sent to Berlin to "discuss" them by last night, though they were only given to [British Ambassador] Henderson the night before. An official German statement (very neat) complains that the Poles would not even come to Berlin to discuss them. Obviously, they didn't have time. And why should Hitler set a time limit to a sovereign power? ...

Tonight the great armies, navies, and air forces are all mobilized. Each country is shut off from the other. We have not been able today to get through to Paris or London, or of course to Warsaw, though I did talk to Tess in Geneva. At that, no precipitate action is expected tonight. Berlin is quite normal in appearance this evening. There has been no evacuation of the women and children, not even any sandbagging of the windows. We'll have to wait through still another night, it apperas, before we know. And so to bed, almost at dawn.

Berlin, September 1, 1939:

At six a.m. Sigrid Schultz -- bless her heart -- phoned. She said. "It's happened." I was very sleepy -- my body and mind numbed, paralysed. I mumbled: "thanks, Sigrid," and tumbled out of bed.

The war is on!

Edit: Avedon Carol quote added late


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