Some hide themselves, and some are hidden; some are forgotten, and some forget themselves

July’s issue of The American Conservative features a piece by Sydney Schanberg arguing that American prisoners of war were left over in Vietnam after direct US involvement in the war there ended in the early 1970s.  Several other pieces pick up on Schanberg’s claims, drawing various dire conclusions about the nature of the political leadership in the USA.   

In October 2008, The Nation ran an article in which Schanberg made this same case.  I noted that article here, remarking that I had never given that idea much credence, but that I was impressed by what Schanberg wrote.  Amid the pro-Schanberg pieces in this issue of The American Conservative is a short article by Gareth Porter titled “The evidence doesn’t stack up.”  Unlike the readers who wrote The Nation to protest the appearance of Schanberg’s piece there , Porter does not list his credentials as a scholar of the US military involvement in Vietnam.  Also unlike them, he does not declare himself to be displeased that the topic is being discussed.  Most profoundly unlike them, he looks at Schanberg’s evidence and judges it on its merits.  Indeed, the only way in which Porter resembles the outraged letter writers of The Nation is that he finds Schanberg’s case entirely unconvincing.  Porter argues that the document to which Schanberg has attached the greatest weight is almost certainly a forgery, and in any case doesn’t say what Schanberg claims it says.   Porter goes on to find many other faults with Schanberg’s argument. 

Something that is, I think, quite well-founded appears in Andrew Bacevich’s contribution to the discussion:

Like slavery or the Holocaust, Vietnam is part of the past not yet fully consigned to the past.

The practice of publicly displaying the POW/MIA flag testifies to this fact. On the one hand, it represents a lingering communal acknowledgment of loss and more broadly of massive national failure. On the other, it sustains the pretense—utterly illusory—that a proper accounting, not only of the missing but of the entire Vietnam experience, is still forthcoming. “You deserve to be brought home,” the flag implicitly states, “And we deserve to know why you were sent in the first place.”

Yet to undertake a serious accounting would find Americans facing a plethora of discomfiting truths, not only about the knaves and fools who concocted the Vietnam War but about the American way of life and the premises on which it is based. Tell the whole truth about Vietnam and you crack open a door that few Americans wish to peer behind. To do so is to come face-to-face with troubling questions about the meaning of freedom and democracy as actually practiced in the United States.

Few Americans are willing to confront such questions, the answers to which could oblige us to revise the way we live. So we salve our consciences by flying flags, sustaining the pretense that we care when what we desperately want to do is to forget as much as possible.

In the same issue, Paul Gottfried finds it odd that many Americans who stand on the political Right are so fond of calling their opponents “fascists” and of claiming that fascism was a left-wing movement.  Gottfried is himself very, very conservative in his politics.  Much as he might like to disassociate himself and his fellow Rightists from the taint of fascism, Gottfried also has a scholarly reputation and a lifetime of intellectual integrity, both of which he would like to preserve.  Gottfried lists a number of facts which, he says, make it impossible for a serious person of any disposition to see fascism as anything other than a phenomenon of the extreme Right, and ridicules those who disregard these facts.    

If the idea of fascism as a leftist movement is so ludicrous, why does it have so much support among American right-wingers?  Gottfried gives four possible reasons.  First, Leftists who keep their cool when they are accused of being Communists or utopians tend to sputter and look silly when they hear themselves being called fascists.  While this might be fun for conmservatives who are frustrated to meet opponents who don’t take their ideas seriously, Gottfried says that “only a cultural illiterate could believe that interwar fascists were intent on pursuing a massive welfare state centered on the achievement of social equality, with special protection for racial minorities, feminists, alternative lifestyles, and whatever else the latter-day Left is about.”    

Second, some American right-wingers in the 1930s “had a very limited understanding of the European Right or the European Left” and so “made the unwarranted leap from thinking that all forms of economic planning were unacceptable to believing that all were virtually identical.”  Thus they came to believe that the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, the Five-Year Plans of Stalin, and the corporatism of Mussolini were three names for the same thing.  Those thinkers started a tradition that is still alive and well in some circles in today’s USA. 

Third, the use of “fascism” as an all-purpose term of abuse represents an appeal to the argumentum ad Hitlerem, in which any resemblance between one’s opponent and Adolf Hitler, no matter how superficial or strained, is treated as if it released one from the obligation to answer that opponent’s claims.  Fourth, by attempting to brand what Gottfried calls “the latter-day Left” as fascist, the latter-day Right can pretend to be more different than it in fact is from its opposition.  

I can think of a fifth possible reason.  American economic analyst Lawrence Dennis became notorious in the 1930s and 1940s for a series of books in which he argued that market-driven capitalism was doomed, and that representative democracy would go down with it.  The economic system of the future, Dennis decided, was one in which capitalists retained nominal ownership and day-to-day control of the means of production, but government coordinated their activities.  The political system that would go along with this corporatist economy might be dressed up to look like a democracy, but would in fact be dominated by an elite that would remain in power regardless of the outcome of any elections that might be held.  To keep the public in support of this system and to keep the money supply from contracting, the elite would likely encourage an attitude of militant nationalism and a warlike foreign policy.  This system Dennis called fascism. 

 Dennis consistently said that when fascism came to America, it would not be called by that name.  Rather, it would be marketed as a new form of democracy, as the very antidote to fascism.  He predicted that he himself would be among the first dissidents prosecuted once the USA had become fascist.  Indeed, in 1944 Dennis was put on trial for sedition.  The prosecution collapsed, and Dennis wrote a book about it

In his 1969 book Operational Thinking for Survival, Dennis reviewed the arguments he had made in the 1930s and early 1940s.  He concluded that his predictions had been substantially correct.  Avoiding the word “fascism,” he wrote that our current political and economic system “is one that has no generally accepted name.” 

So, perhaps the reason Left and Right are so eager to fling the word “fascism” at each other is that each is haunted by the fear that it is powerless to keep the country from becoming fascist.  For all that Rightists might long to restore the Old Republic and Leftists might long to create a new system “centered on the achievement of social equality, with special protection for racial minorities, feminists, alternative lifestyles,” each looks on helplessly as events make a mockery of these ambitions.  Whatever success each side might have in its attempts to promote its vision of freedom, the movement towards fascism goes on relentlessly.

A place for everyone

Laws against prostitution are usually supported by people who want to help women break free of men who are coercing them into that line of work.  When one asks why it is that such laws usually include criminal penalties for the very women they are supposed to help, the answer is often that only when police and prosecutors have such penalties to use as threats can they be sure that women will turn against their exploiters. 

In practice, those laws often seem to have the opposite effect.  Arrested, a woman needs money to make bail.  If she is under the influence of a pimp, she will likely call him or an associate of his.  Labeled a criminal, she will find it no easier than it was before the police picked her up to find other employment.  So, the law which may have been advertised as a way of helping her find a way out of prostitution may in its actual operation push her deeper into it.  The law marks prostitution as her place and acts to keep her in that place.

What reminded me of this was a column by Katha Pollitt in the 14 June 2010 issue of The Nation.  Pollitt does not mention prostitution, but mentions a set of proposed laws that seem to be designed to work the same way: bills pending before the French and Belgian parliaments that would prohibit Muslim women from wearing headscarves, face veils, or other garb traditional to women of their persuasion.  Like laws against prostitution, these bills are marketed as means to pry women loose from men who are coercing them into a demeaning way of life.  Also like those laws, the bills include penalties against the women themselves.  Pollitt expresses the fear that men who are in fact coercing women who live with them into covering up more than they would like would respond to a ban by keeping them from going out at all; surely this fear is well-founded.  Moreover, whether a woman wears the veil freely or under compulsion, the threat that if she does go out the police will arrest and search her, then take the men of her family into custody and threaten her with criminal sanctions unless she gives information against them will hardly convince her that France is her home and the Franks are her ancestors.  Quite the contrary, I should think; with such a threat looming in the background, even a woman who would not have been likely to cover up otherwise might feel herself a traitor to the only community that really wants her unless she does put on traditional Muslim attire. 

In the same issue, a number of experts argue that the direction education policy has been taking in the USA in the last 20 years has been gravely counterproductive.  I only wanted to note one of these, by Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University’s education school.  Darling-Hammond looks at the country-by-country league tables for average student achievement in various subjects, pointing out that American students were not performing especially well in 1989 and that their average performance has been declining ever since.  In some subjects, the decline has been steady, in others catastrophically rapid.  Meanwhile, American schools have become more thoroughly segregated by race, the number of subjects offered has shrunk, and the prison population is booming.  Darling-Hammond not only points out these evils; she also  gives examples of countries where the same years have seen movement in the opposite direction.  While the current system tends to lock students into whatever social position they inherited from their parents, Darling-Hammond argues that it is still possible for public education to open doors for social mobility.

Movement from one social status to another often comes in tandem with physical movement from one place to another.  A review of a couple of books about African American history, under the title “Movement and Rootedness,” discusses ways in which the theme of migration has reshaped thinking about that subject in recent years.  It includes a quote from scholar Ira Berlin: “The history of the United States rests upon movement, and then embrace of place.”  The new scholarship on which the review focuses finds ways in which African Americans managed to embrace some places that would strike most of us as quite unembraceable.  While the integrationist story that has been the academic orthodoxy since the 1960s tends to reduce African American history to the relationship between African Americans and whites, so that relationships among African Americans are pushed into the shadows, the new scholars want to find out what sort of communities African Americans built for themselves even during the grimmest days of slavery and Jim Crow.

Designed to fail

Jeffrey Reiman

The June 2010 issue of the ultra-conservative Chronicles magazine contains this paragraph, in a column by Philip Jenkins:

The concept of “designed to fail” was formulated back in 1979 in an influential study by leftist scholar Jeffrey Reiman entitled The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison.  Following Marxist theory, Reiman argued that the goal of the criminal-justice system was not to suppress crime but to promote and sustain acceptable levels of social misbehavior, with the aim of enhancing the power and resources of official agencies.  Crime, in short, is useful, even essential, for the preservation of state power.  Reiman was not postulating a conspiracy theory but exploring the dynamics of agencies charged with tasks that were literally impossible.  Yet rather than being discredited or disheartened by their failures, agencies stood to benefit mightily from them and actively sought out still more absurdly quioxotic challenges.  They were in a no-lose situation. 

This description reminds me of an idea I’ve sometimes tried to express.  In a representative democracy, political power is in the hands of the electorate, yet the electorate consists almost entirely of people who are in no position to know what the state is doing.  If the government undertakes a program meant to discourage certain crimes, the most the majority will now about this program is that it represents a campaign to fight crime.  Even if this program is an absolute success in rational terms, and entirely eliminates the crimes it was aimed at discouraging, the public will observe that other crimes still go unchecked.  The electorate, therefore, will count the program as a failure.  

Because of these disparate perceptions, advocates of increased state power find themselves in a position to appeal simultaneously to political insiders and to the public at large.  Insiders may respond to the fact that the program succeeded in its actual goals, and support future programs to pursue other goals.  The public at large will focus on the program’s imagined failures, and demand a more aggressive program to make good on promises that they suppose the first program to have made.  As a result, the degree of police authority and other sorts of bureaucratic domination tends to ratchet ever upward as a representative democracy develops.  When this idea first popped into my head a while back, I thought of labeling it “the authoritarian spiral.”  I was disappointed to find that political scientist Ian Loader had already coined the phrase “authoritarian spiral,” with another meaning, a few years before.  So I started calling it “the authoritarian ratchet effect,” which is admit not at all catchy.   

To prevent this ratchet effect from transforming a representative democracy into a despotism, I call for a revival of direct democracy.  People who are actively involved in drafting, approving, and carrying out particular laws are likelier to have an idea what can reasonably be expected of those laws than are people whose only involvement in that process is the right to cast one vote out of 100,000,000.

Forgiveness again

One of our favorite bloggers, fotb Maggie Jochild, has posted a terrific essay which she was kind enough to say resulted from thinking spurred by a post I put up a couple of days ago.  My post was a fumbling attempt to say something useful about what it might be like to forgive someone who has hurt you in ways you still don’t fully understand.  Maggie’s essay, titled “Forgiveness as a Radical Way of Life,” addresses that same question with real learning and with powerful examples drawn from her own experience.

The Atlantic, June 2010

Several interesting pieces this time:

How the private sector could build railways again, and save neighborhood life in the USA in the process

Mark Bowden explains the Conficker worm and the threat it may represent to computers on and off the internet. 

A piece on the revival of some centuries-old recipes for mixed drinks at fashionable bars in London.  The “shrub” sounds alarming, but might be delicious. 

There are lots of witchcraft trials in the Central African Republic; here‘s an attempt to see the bright side of that state of affairs.

Benjamin Schwarz isn’t impressed with the “New Urbanism,” and tries to dismiss the reading of Jane Jacobs’ works that has inspired many in that movement. 

Michael Kinsley adds a column to the already enormous amount of coverage given to the political movement known as the “teabaggers.”   This paragraph contributes something of value to the discussion:

“I like what they’re saying. It’s common sense,” a random man-in-the-crowd told a Los Angeles Times reporter at a big Tea Party rally. Then he added, “They’ve got to focus on issues like keeping jobs here and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.” These, of course, are projects that can be conducted only by Big Government. If the Tea Party Patriots ever developed a coherent platform or agenda, they would lose half their supporters.

I suspect Kinsley is right and “Big Government” is needed to keep jobs in the USA and lower the cost of prescription drugs, but the big government we actually have doesn’t seem to be geared to accomplishing either of these goals.  Quite the contrary, in fact. 

James Parker tries to find something interesting to say about pop star Lady Gaga.  I don’t think he succeeds, but I do think that it’s a waste that someone who is not a drag queen has monopolized the name “Lady Gaga.”

What is forgiveness? What is not forgiveness?

A friend said that she’d been having nightmares.  She knew why.  It was the birthday of a man who had been important to her.  He treated her brutally, viciously.  Years after their last encounter, years after his death, she is still finding more ways that his abuse has hurt her.  Each discovery of another complication hits her like a fresh injury.  It’s as if he is still attacking her.  She asked what forgiveness would look like in a situation like hers.  What would it mean, exactly, for her to forgive him?

I didn’t get to know her until after this man was dead.  I don’t know the first thing about their relationship.  So the only answer I could possibly offer to her question would be a purely abstract one.  Since I have no background in psychology, that abstract answer would not be grounded in science.  I don’t want to babble, but maybe I can come up with something helpful to say.   

Often when we think of forgiveness, we think of a single event, a single act that resolves a conflict once and for all.  That clearly isn’t possible for someone in the situation  my friend finds herself in.  She never knows when she will find another wound.  So whatever forgiveness is for her, it can’t be a single act.  It has to be an ongoing process.    

In the course of the conversation, a famous line from Hannah More came up: “Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”  If an abstract discussion of the nature of forgiveness would be helpful, perhaps we could use that line as a test.  In the first place, More (or the character in her play) seems to be saying that forgiveness benefits the forgiver.  That makes sense of my friend’s interest in the idea of forgiving the man who hurt her.  He’s dead, after all; what she does won’t affect him one way or the other. 

Second, to qualify as forgiveness my friend would have to save herself  “the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”   The story of a once-for-all act of forgiveness can end with this savings.  An ongoing process in which a person copes with one loss after another sounds like it would be a very demanding thing to keep going.  Could it also be “the economy of the heart” in More’s sense?            

I wondered what else one could say, again at the abstract level available to those of us who weren’t there and don’t know what happened between my friend and the man who wronged her.  My near-total ignorance of psychological science keeps me from forming an intelligent opinion about the theories of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, but it doesn’t keep me from thinking of her terminology, no more than my ignorance of what happened to my friend keeps me from trying to come up with something helpful to say to her about it. 

You may or may not remember Kübler-Ross’ name, but I suspect you’ve heard of one of her ideas.  In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Kübler-Ross analyzed the process of grieving into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.   

“Acceptance” was Kübler-Ross’ term for the period when a person facing an irreversible loss has dissolved all the aggressions and fantasies that have driven his or her first reactions to the loss.  This is a quiet period in which the person comes to terms with the new reality and prepares to make the most of it.  This would seem to fit Hannah More’s description of forgiveness. 

It strikes me that three of the other stages might be mistaken for forgiveness.  Denial, bargaining, and depression might all leave a person calm while someone who has done him or her wrong goes unpunished.  But they do not meet Hannah More’s test.  While they may not involve anger or hatred, they do restrict the person’s emotional and cognitive life.  If a person tries to stay in one of those stages longer than necessary, it will not represent the economy of the heart, but a vast and ever-growing expense. 

Kübler-Ross did not regard the first four stages as disposable; one cannot go directly to acceptance of a major loss.  There are inner battles everyone who suffers an irreversible loss must fight.  Those battles may not always come according to the plan of campaign the five stages of grief model lays out, but to believe that one can simply come to peace with an irreversible loss without going through such battles is to engage in magical thinking.  

If we identify forgiveness as a function of acceptance, then we can see that injunctions to forgive can get in the way of growth towards forgiveness.  A person who believes that s/he must grant forgiveness immediately might try to stay in denial rather than deal with anger, or might turn his or her aggression inward and plunge ever deeper into depression. 

So, if my friend has to go through the whole grieving process every time she finds another wound, her “ongoing process” of forgiveness is going to be a way of life.

Steve Sailer contradicts himself

Is it gone forever?

Regular readers of this blog know that I often read Steve Sailer’s site, and that I disagree more or less violently with everything I find there.   One of the things that interests me about Sailer are the many ways in which he contradicts himself.  Indeed, a person with nothing better to do could follow Sailer’s output and publish a daily feature called “Steve Sailer Contradicts Himself.”  Usually he’s fairly subtle about his self-contradictions; in this old post, I gave one of my favorite examples. 

Recently, Sailer contradicted himself far more obviously than usual.  On Monday, he mocked the US media for spending time covering Rand Paul’s views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Dr Paul is the Republican nominee for US Senate from Kentucky, and the son of Congressman Ron Paul (no word yet on how he is related to 1990s TV personality RuPaul.)  Sailer’s summary of this coverage is as follows: “assuming the country got into a giant time machine and went a half century back into the past — would Senate candidate’s Rand Paul’s position on laws on the public accommodations portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act be a good thing or not.”

The very same post includes a newspaper article quoting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explaining some recent cases about the use of civil service tests in hiring and promoting municipal firefighters.  The Supreme Court handed down rulings in these cases that appear to contradict each other.  In the second of these rulings, Scalia wrote for a unanimous Court that the problem was at the heart of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and that it can be solved only if Congress revises that law. 

So, the USA may not have to get “into a giant time machine” and travel back to the early 1960s in order for a potential US Senator’s views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act to be relevant.  All nine justices of the Supreme Court just demanded that Congress reopen the law; if Rand Paul is a member of the upper house when that reopening takes place, it is quite likely that he would be in a position to change it, perhaps substantially.

Tag, you’re Hitler

The 7 June 2010 issue of The Nation includes a review of some book about Ayn Rand. 

The part of the review that I wanted to note came about halfway in, where the reviewer, Corey Robin, quotes some remarks from Hitler and Goebbels that sound eerily like things Rand and the heroes of her novels habitually said.  Applying the Führerprinzip to the world of economics, Hitler in 1933 told an audience of business leaders:

Everything positive, good and valuable that has been achieved in the world in the field of economics or culture is solely attributable to the importance of personality…. All the worldly goods we possess we owe to the struggle of the select few.

Robin has an easy time finding examples of Rand saying very similar things.  Robin goes on:

If the first half of Hitler’s economic views celebrates the romantic genius of the individual industrialist, the second spells out the inegalitarian implications of the first. Once we recognize “the outstanding achievements of individuals,” Hitler says in Düsseldorf, we must conclude that “people are not of equal value or of equal importance.” Private property “can be morally and ethically justified only if [we] admit that men’s achievements are different.” An understanding of nature fosters a respect for the heroic individual, which fosters an appreciation of inequality in its most vicious guise. “The creative and decomposing forces in a people always fight against one another.”

Again, Robin can open Rand’s works almost at random and find passages that are almost identical to these translations. 

Robin attributes these similarities to the common influence of Nietzsche on Rand and the Nazis.  Certainly Rand did study Nietzsche’s works; and certainly there were periods when the Nazis tried to use Nietzsche’s name.  But I think that there is a simpler explanation. 

The Nazi party existed for about 25 years.  It ruled Germany for half that period.  During those years, Hitler, Goebbels, and the other Nazi princes made speeches and issued other public statements numerous enough to fill a library.  That Robin can rummage through those countless pages and find a few remarks that sound eerily reminiscent of the works of Ayn Rand tells us nothing about Rand and next to nothing about the Nazis. 

As a critique of Rand’s ideas, Robin’s argumentum ad Hitlerem is ludicrously unfair.  As a way of playing a game with Rand and her acolytes, however, it can be justified by the old maxim “turnabout is fair play.”  In 1963, Rand gave a speech titled “The Fascist New Frontier.”  In this speech, she claimed that the strongest influence on the ideology of the administration of President John F. Kennedy was not Marx or Keynes or Harold Laski, as the president’s right-wing critics sometimes claimed, but that the Kennedy administration was a fascist group.  To support this claim, she juxtaposed snippets of President Kennedy’s public statements with snippets of similar-sounding statements from Hitler, Goebbels, Mussolini, etc.  So, if President Kennedy or his spokesmen said that ideological labels were of little importance, or that personal sacrifice was the index of patriotism, or that strong leadership is essential for national greatness, she would track down some remark from some Nazi or Fascist making the same point.  That the Nazis and Fascists did not invent these ideas, that they have been commonplaces of political discussion for centuries and may very possibly be true, did not seem to her to matter very much.  In Rand’s view of history, Naziism was simply an unfolding of ideas that were already fully developed in the philosophies of thinkers like Kant and Plato.  So, the fact that an idea was familiar long before the end of the First World War doesn’t excuse it from being a symptom of Fascist orr Nazi ideology.   

Robin’s invocation of Nietzsche may suggest a similar theory of history, but the rest of the piece shows a different view.  Robin praises Aristotle at length:

Unlike Kant, the emblematic modern who claimed that the rightness of our deeds is determined solely by reason, unsullied by need, desire or interest, Aristotle rooted his ethics in human nature, in the habits and practices, the dispositions and tendencies, that make us happy and enable our flourishing. And where Kant believed that morality consists of austere rules, imposing unconditional duties upon us and requiring our most strenuous sacrifice, Aristotle located the ethical life in the virtues. These are qualities or states, somewhere between reason and emotion but combining elements of both, that carry and convey us, by the gentlest and subtlest of means, to the outer hills of good conduct. Once there, we are inspired and equipped to scale these lower heights, whence we move onto the higher reaches. A person who acts virtuously develops a nature that wants and is able to act virtuously and that finds happiness in virtue. That coincidence of thought and feeling, reason and desire, is achieved over a lifetime of virtuous deeds. Virtue, in other words, is less a codex of rules, which must be observed in the face of the self’s most violent opposition, than it is the food and fiber, the grease and gasoline, of a properly functioning soul.

So Robin praises Aristotle precisely for his sense of change and development, his attempt to explain how the same action or idea can have different significance in different circumstances.  Robin thus jettisons the idea that gives Rand an excuse for her method of using quotations from historical villains to play “gotcha” with her adversaries.  The comments Robin quotes may drip with menace when we reflect on their source; spoken by another person in another setting, the same words might be rather anodyne, or even true.  For example, the claim that “Private property ‘can be morally and ethically justified only if [we] admit that men’s achievements are different'” would seem to be eminently defensible, even if words to that effect once appeared in a speech delivered by history’s least defensible man.

The Wrong Man?

I continue my attempt to catch up on “Periodicals Notes” with this bit about the May issue of The Atlantic

The most widely discussed article in the issue was David Freed’s “The Wrong Man,” about Dr. Steven J. Hatfill.  When several envelopes containing anthrax were sent to American politicians and journalists in the fall of 2001, the FBI investigated Dr Hatfill.  The article makes it clear why; the anthrax in the envelopes came from Hatfill’s place of employment, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.  Hatfill was in Britain when one of the letters was mailed from Britain; he was in Florida when another letter was mailed from Florida.  Most intriguingly, though Hatfill is an American he served in the Rhodesian army defending white minority rule in that African country in the 1970s.  The unit in which Hatfill served, the Selous Scouts, operated in the area where a major anthrax outbreak killed more than 10,000 members of the tribes that most fiercely opposed white rule.  Freed points out that “a majority of the soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill’s unit, were black”; he does not pause to acknowledge that a black citizen of Rhodesia might have had a different motivation for joining the Rhodesian army than would an American.  Freed also says that “many well-respected scientists” concluded that the outbreak had an innocent explanation; this conclusion becomes a bit dubious when we see that a member of the Selous Scouts had been in the US Army’s elite Green Berets shortly before the outbreak and would wind up working at the Army’s chief bioweapons facility some years later.  Freed asserts Hatfill’s innocence throughout the article, but succeeds in showing why the FBI originally suspected him and why some might suspect that the investigation may have been short-circuited to cover up high-level misdeeds in which he was involved.

Elsewhere in the issue, Jon Zobenica recommends two books as anitdotes to the myth that American soldiers were models of chivalry during World War Two, Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow and Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed.  Leckie and Sledge both served in the Pacific as Marines, and neither man’s memoir gives an inch to romanticism or propaganda.  These two books formed much of the basis for a recent TV drama about the war in the Pacific.  Some commentators have praised the show for its gritty realism; having read the books, though, Zobenica can report that the producers sanitized the characters based on Sledge and Leckie in ways that the men never sanitized their own records.

Funny Times, June 2010

They haven’t posted the cover for this month’s Funny Times online yet, so I’ve put up this Keith Knight cartoon with a link to the magazine’s homepage. 

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” quotes Emile Capouya on the high school teacher’s mission: “A high school teacher, after all, is a person deputized by the rest of us to explain to the young what sort of world they are living in, and to defend, if possible, the part their elders are playing in it.”  That’s one of many reasons I rejoice in not being a high school teacher. 

Matt Bors wonders what people really mean when they say “teach the controversy.” 

Zippy the Pinhead wishes he could to travel back in time to the year 1885.  He changes his mind when a disembodied head with a neatly waxed mustache announces that in that year, “schoolchildren were routinely flogged, pigs ran loose in th’ streets, and heroin was sold over the counter as ‘cough medicine.'”  In related news, I now wish I could travel back in time to 1885.   

Click on the image to the left to see a genuinely funny installment of This Modern World from April.   

Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown calls on the state of Virginia to “Let Confederate History Month be the festival of self-loathing it should be.”  I hold no brief for the Confederate States of America or for Virginia’s official commemoration of it, but I’m decidedly against all festivals of self-loathing.  For one thing, self-loathing usually seems to be a form of narcissism.  That same cartoon shows how that is.  Dangle depicts a bunch of yahoos waving Confederate flags and exclaiming “We used to own human slaves.”  Well, they didn’t, did they.  Perhaps their great-great-great-grandparents owned human slaves, but a great-great-great-grandparent is after all a very distant relative.  Beating yourself up over the misdeeds of someone so remote is merely a way of keeping attention focused on oneself rather than others.  If your ancestors created a system that continues to privilege you and to do injustice to groups of which you are not a member, staging a festival of self-loathing may be the very worst thing you can do.  Your privilege puts you in the spotlight, your self-loathing just keeps you there.

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