Re: Reflections Upon, And After, Two Weeks At Christ Church
August 3, 2005
Re: Reflections Upon, And After, Two Weeks At Christ Church.
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Two weeks ago my wife and I returned from two weeks at Christ Church College in Oxford. I meant to write about the experience earlier than this, and about reflections it has spawned, but one can be, and I was, overwhelmed with work that awaited after our return from a nearly three week trip. In addition to the horrifying bankers’ box full of mail which always awaits one who is returning from a fairly long trip, two books had to be read, notes made on them, outlines prepared from the notes for two one-hour long TV shows dedicated to discussion of the books with their authors, and the shows had to be taped. But some breathing space has now arrived, and one therefore offers reflections.
The purpose of the trip to Oxford was to attend a program called The Oxford Experience -- and a marvelous experience it is. Just as "regular" Oxford students attend tutorials in tutors’ rooms in the College, so too a participant in The Oxford Experience takes a course taught by a tutor in his or her rooms. (Tutors who are not permanently ensconced are given rooms for the week.) Each course lasts one week, and a person can, if he or she wishes, attend for up to five weeks in order to take five courses (although the vast majority of people seem to attend for only one or at most two weeks). The tutors are, generally speaking, terrific: most of the students in The Oxford Experience spoke very highly of their tutors. (Yes, at Oxford, a septuagenarian, an octogenarian or any participant is called a student, which is amazing to a nearly 66 year old American academic like me.) My own tutors in two classes were sensational. They were knowledgeable, witty, and, in general, a delight.
One attends class for two sessions totaling about three hours in the morning (with a half hour for tea in between the two sessions. A very wide variety of courses are offered each week, including courses in wars, politics, revolutions, architecture, music, painting, English gardens, British cinema, and what not. There are courses for almost any taste or interest. Being a militarist at heart -- which will be quite a shock to those who read my postings -- I took a course in the Royal Navy in the time of Nelson during the first week and a course in The Great War the second week. My wife’s were in British Cinema in its glory days of the 1940s and ’50s and in Victorian and Edwardian homes.
The lectures in the courses were fascinating, as were the interactions between tutor and students and among students themselves. Because of the tutors and the students, the classes are, in general, so much fun that it is practically sinful. If I were forced to make one hopefully constructive suggestion, it would be that every single session of every class should have extensive interactions, as almost all sessions do. (This writer is, of course, buggy about interactions in class, since our law school regards interactive teaching, i.e., discussion teaching rather than lecturing -- as the greatest engine of learning ever invented and we nearly forbid teachers from lecturing except in rare instances.)
Americans -- Yanks -- are the largest contingent of attendees, comprising about 60 to 70 percent of them I would judge. The rest seem to come mainly from the U.K., Canada, Australia, South Africa, Holland, the Scandinavian countries and Germany. The people who attend are mainly senior citizens -- at nearly 66 I sometimes considered myself on the cusp of still being a spring chicken -- although there are lots of people in their 40s and 50s and even some younger than that. (One suspects that time and money often have much to do with who attends.) There are attendees who come for a week or two year after year, who even have come since the beginning, or near the beginning, of the program nearly 15 years ago. Lots of the attendees are very accomplished people; one does learn of this although it is almost never flaunted. (How different from Washington, D.C., a culture with which one was all too familiar for all too many years.) (I learned of one classmate’s accomplishments only because the tutor referred to her a few times, correctly, as a very senior civil servant, which, in Britain, as readers may know, is a very big deal.)
Being people of age, experience and accomplishment, the students contribute mightily to the overall experience. It is quite remarkable how quickly people bond, over the short period of a week, because of the shared experiences of being in class together, often eating together in the dining hall (eating "in hall"), attending cocktail parties, talks and other events in the college, and, sometimes, taking side trips together to see castles (e.g., Blenheim), historic homes, historic ships (e.g., Nelson’s "Victory"), etc.
One lives in a room "in college," as the English say. This was the first time since 1961-62, during my second year of law school, that I lived in only one room. It was great! I loved it. It was like being in college or law school again after decades elsewhere. One really doesn’t need the two or three thousand or more square feet that Americans have gotten so used to. One eats, as indicated, in hall, with all three meals being taken there each day. (The dining hall at Christ Church is a place that was replicated, I’m told, in order to film scenes for Harry Potter. Scenes were filmed in a large hall in Oxford’s Bodleian Library too.) Various cocktail parties, talks, and other events are held in college in places with such quintessentially English names as The Master’s Garden and the Junior Common Room. (Ya gotta love it.)
Then, too, there were the quadrangle and architecture of Christ Church itself, as well as meadows, lawns and paths leading to the Thames and the Cherwell and the paths along the rivers themselves -- I spent a couple of marvelous afternoons walking the various paths or sitting on the Thames riverbank reading a book while geese were all around and students punted on the river.
All in all, a most smashing experience.
One of the side benefits, incidentally, was that for two weeks I infrequently looked at a newspaper of any type (except when there were terror bombings in London). This was quite a change, quite a welcome one, for someone who normally reads, or at least peruses, three major papers daily. And when I came back, and returned to reading the papers religiously -- which has been a habit for over 40 years now -- there were some things which seemed to have changed, at least a little bit, at least perceptibly even if only barely so, during the interim. Maybe my impression of change is mistaken; maybe it is merely the product of hiatus. But at least the impression seems true to me.
The easiest way to explain this writer’s view of the matter could be thought immodest. So be it, despite one’s personal hatred of the immodesty which for 40 or more years has triumphed over the modesty, even humbleness, that we were taught to value in the 1950s.
For the nearly one and a half years since this blog was started, and on numerous occasions during the prior four decades since graduating from law school, this writer has expressed views that are contrary to widely accepted beliefs, views which have sometimes been greeted by complete silence that doubtless stems from the feeling that the views are inconsequential, and sometimes have been greeted with not just opposition, but outrage. Returning from England, however, one has the impression that almost overnight some of the views previously expressed in this blog have suddenly become more acceptable than they were. Very importantly, some are now being echoed by people from whom one never expected such sentiments. Far less consequentially, some are being put more strongly than ever before by other persons who did hold them previously. All this is gratifying, even if immodestly so.
Let me start with the ineptitude of George W. Bush. For over a year this blogger has railed about his lack of brains, has pointed out that he was a drunk and a serial failure in business who repeatedly had to be bailed out by Daddy’s friends or wanna-be friends, has commented antagonistically on his failure to read and his penchant for stupidly relying on one page executive summaries of documents that are scores of pages long, and has said he is the embodiment of what causes the American Dream to be a farce because he illustrates that work and smarts are meaningless while money and connections count for everything. He is, in a word, incompetent, which he repeatedly showed in spades long before he became President, not to mention with regard to the war after he became President. He is also cocky, smug, and arrogant -- he is one of those people of whom it is said that they were born on third base and think they hit a triple.
The only thing at which Bush has been any good at all is the lowlife occupation of politics, where brains are not necessary for, and can be a positive hindrance to, success. Even in politics, though, he has succeeded largely through viciousness, e.g., against Ann Richards and John McCain. It also must be said, however, that part of Bush’s success in politics is due to a very appealing, good old boy personality. Americans love such a personality, and, sometimes with justification, sometimes not, trust good old boys more than people who are smart or, like John Kerry, pretend to be. But being a good old boy does not make a fool competent, and Bush is not competent in anything but politics.
Now, these kinds of views about Bush were not popular, and were rarely if ever stated in the mainstream media. There were a few columnists -- mainly African Americans -- who would say Bush was incompetent, but that was about as far as it went. One of those columnists was Bob Herbert of The New York Times. But now Herbert seems to have put the matter even more strongly. On the day my wife and I flew to England, he said that "The incompetence at the highest levels of government in Washington have undermined the U.S. troops . . . ." (Emphasis added.) "If a Democratic administration had conducted a war this incompetently," he continued, "the Republicans in Congress would be dusting off their impeachment manuals." "[T]he troops doing the fighting," he said, "deserve to be guided by leaders in Washington who are at least minimally competent at waging war. That has not been the case . . . ." (Emphasis added.)
It is pretty obvious that Herbert is saying that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Bush are boobs when it comes to waging war -- are not even minimally competent, he says. Surprisingly, it seems that an ever smaller number of people would disagree with Herbert’s claim of ineptitude, not even those who favor the war. What one normally hears now from those who favor the war is that, whatever the mistakes we’ve made, however badly we’ve done, we have to stick it out or the situation will in various ways be far worse. The same was said for years about Viet Nam, of course, and such statements in essence translate to the following: "The people who got us into and who have run this war have effed up beyond belief, but now we’re stuck and must see the war through rather than getting out. That further disaster may continually await is of no consequence to persons of this persuasion, just as it was of no consequence to them for about a decade in Viet Nam, as we dug ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole.
But because he has long been an opponent of the war, the comments of Bob Herbert are dwarfed in importance by those of David Douglas Duncan and Eliot Cohen. David Duncan is the famous photographer. A combat Marine photographer who fought with guerrillas on Fiji and did all manner of other dangerous things too in World War II, a combat photographer again in Korea and Viet Nam, Duncan, unlike the chicken hawks who lead our government, knows what war and combat are all about. In an op-ed piece in The Times on July 25th, he blasted our invasion and leaders as follows:
. . . . An invasion that was ordered by an expertly trained but combat-innocent fighter pilot and a draft-deferred character with "other priorities" during the Vietnam War.
The point that we blithely get into wars because our leaders have no combat experience and do not know what war means, and because it is not their families and friends who do the fighting and dying, is one that has been made here repeatedly since the inception of this blog. That someone like David Duncan has now said it too, and has done so in a major publication, is a step towards (unusual) declarations of truth in the mass media.
Then there is Eliot Cohen. Let me tell you who he is. Cohen is a prominent defense intellectual. He was, and for all I know still is, a member of Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board, a civilian advisory group of hawkish intellectuals and semi-intellectuals, chaired by Richard Perle, which received much press around the time we were contemplating and starting the current Iraqi War. He also wrote, in the early 2000s, a book called Supreme Command. This work focused on four war-time leaders -- Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion -- and took the position that success in war requires a wartime leader to take a very hands-on approach to military matters, to constantly probe, question and make suggestions to the generals and admirals, and not to let them go their own way, unchallenged, in conducting the war. There was talk, when Cohen’s book came out, that George W. Bush read it. But, if my memory is correct, Cohen said, either on a TV show on which I interviewed him for one hour about his book, or at lunch with our faculty that day, that he did not know whether or not Bush had read the book. Of course, we now know that Bush takes pride in not reading. We also know now that Bush’s view of management is directly contrary to Cohen’s advice -- Bush and his supporters brag that he simply sets the policy and leaves all matters of implementation to others rather than being hands-on in the slightest. So it seems dubious that Bush read Cohen’s book. And, if he did, he certainly did not take Cohen’s advice based on the success of four great war leaders.
Let me also say that, both at lunch and on the show, Cohen seemed like a perfectly nice guy.
Anyhow, that is who Cohen is. Now let me tell you what he recently said. Cohen was interviewed for a full page in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition for July 18-24. The Post, not terribly accurately, entitled the interview Second Thoughts and subtitled it A hawk questions himself as his son goes to war. The interview had only three brief questions, each with a very long answer, and gives the impression of being one in which the questions were submitted, and the answers provided, in writing, which would only make it even more certain that Cohen meant exactly what he said.
But more important than whether Cohen answered questions orally or in writing, I would think, is that he has a son who is a Ranger and is now going to Iraq to fight. This makes Cohen the only prominent hawk I have heard of in over two years of war with a family member who has or will take the risk of combat in Iraq.
Cohen began the interview by defending the decision to fight in Iraq, presenting the usual b.s. arguments that Bush and the Bushers use. And when asked "what does the history of war have to tell us about the future of Iraq," he came up with so much b.s. about so many things that his answer fell under the old street adage of "I didn’t know they piled it that high." But it was in talking about the execution of the war, the implementation of the war, that he cut loose with criticisms unlike any that one has ever heard before from a hawk. I am going to quote him extensively because there is no other way to do justice to the depth of anger and bitterness he feels at the incompetence of our leaders in fighting the war that he espoused and (in self defense?) still espouses.
First, he said this:
But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.
Eliot you might and should have guessed all this. For, notwithstanding all the b.s. you then produced about why prior wars and insurgencies supposedly were different than this one, the fact is that history shows -- the Civil War, the Great War, World War II, Gulf War I all show -- that there is only one kind of war America is any good at fighting. It is good at fighting only massive, all out wars where its size, numbers, amazing technology and enormous industry compensate -- more than compensate -- for the incompetence which always significantly attends its efforts in war and which always attends big government. That is a lesson of history. We are always significantly incompetent at wars, as big government itself is always significantly incompetent; despite the courage of soldiers, we succeed in significant wars only when size, numbers, technology, etc., are the main determinants. (In other instances the courage of soldiers is, horribly enough, wasted.) And as a military historian you should have known all this, Eliot.
But Cohen really got rolling in the last third of the interview, when he answered the question of how he feels about the fact that "Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?" Listen to what Cohen says he feels about this:
Pride, of course -- great pride. And fear. And an occasional burning in the gut, a flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns.
It is a flicker of rage that two years into an insurgency, we still expose our troops in Humvees to the blasts of roadside bombs -- knowing that even the armored version of that humble successor to the Jeep is simply not designed for warfare along guerrilla-infested highways, while, at the same time, knowing that plenty of countries manufacture armored cars that are. [Emphasis added.] It is disbelief at a manpower system that, following its prewar routines, ships soldiers off to war for a year or 15 months, giving them two weeks of leave at the end, when our British comrades, more experienced in these matters and wiser in pacing themselves, ship troops out for half that time, and give them an extra month on top of their regular leave after an operational deployment.
It is the sick feeling that churned inside me at least 18 months ago, when a glib and upbeat Pentagon bureaucrat assured me that the opposition in Iraq consisted of "5,000 bitter-enders and criminals," even after we had killed at least that many. It flames up when hearing about the veteran who in theory has a year between Iraq rotations, but in fact, because he transferred between units after returning from one tour, will go back to Iraq half a year later, and who, because of "stop-loss orders" involuntarily extending active duty tours, will find himself in combat nine months after his enlistment runs out. And all this because after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops.
A variety of emotions wash over me as I reflect on our Iraq war: Disbelief at the length of time it took to call an insurgency by its name. Alarm at our continuing failure to promote at wartime speed the colonels and generals who have a talent for fighting it, while also failing to sweep aside those who do not. Incredulity at seeing decorations pinned on the chests and promotions on the shoulders of senior leaders -- both civilians and military -- who had the helm when things went badly wrong. Disdain for the general who thinks Job One is simply whacking the bad guys and who, ever conscious of public relations, cannot admit that American soldiers have tortured prisoners or, in panic, killed innocent civilians. Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war, and for the blithe disregard of the bungles by some who think they were right in favoring it. A desire -- barely controlled -- to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high and that I really shouldn't get exercised about them.
In his last paragraph, Cohen calls for more support for the war, and for fighting it more strongly -- he must be one of those to whom, to crib from Vitai Lampada, Viet Nam is only a name. Yet he also says this:
If we fail in Iraq -- and I don’t think we will -- it won’t be because the American people lack heart, but because leaders and institutions have failed.
* * * * *
The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth -- an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight.
What we have here is a hawk -- one can even say an unreconstructed hawk -- issuing blasts at the Bushers for their high level of incompetence in this war. That is a new development as far as I know. And while pride, belief, or perhaps both will not let him say he was wrong about whether to fight, and cause him to take the benighted position that we should fight a lot more, the reader cannot help thinking that he is reflecting a father’s agony that his son is going off to face very dangerous events. And that is exactly the agony that never has to be faced by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith and the rest of those worthless human beings (if they are human beings as one thinks of decent human beings). Not for those cowards the agony of having to worry that a son or daughter may not return or, even worse, having to subsequently face the fact of non return. For those cowards the war is fine because it is to be fought not by them or their children, but by other people and their children.
That who fights our wars -- or, more accurately, do not fight them -- is a major cause of them has, as said, been the position here since the inception of the blog. Another major cause cited here from inception is that the criminals who start and run our wars never get punished. Not Johnson, not Rush, not McNamara, not Nixon, not Kissinger, not G.W. Bush, not Cheney, not Rumsfeld, etc. It has also been explained here not once, but several times, that -- wholly aside from possible criminal violations of international law seen by experts in that field -- our leaders, specifically including Bush, are guilty of serious violations of the American statute making it a felony to commit torture abroad or to conspire to commit torture abroad. These crimes are punishable by penalties up to execution in the case of a torturer who kills someone and up to life imprisonment for one who "merely" conspires in this. The legal and factual reasons why our leaders are so unarguably guilty of such serious crimes, having previously been canvassed here in depth, will not now be repeated yet again, but I will note yet again that these inarguable factual and legal reasons have never been disputed by even the most ardent conservative.
But while they have never been disputed by any conservative, neither has any member or instrument of the mass media ever picked up on them, as far as I know. (So much for the idea, in this instance, that the mass media pick up ideas from blogs.) One really doesn’t know why the media have ignored the point. One can only suspect. And my suspicion is that the conventional media -- almost all Americans in fact -- cannot get their heads around the idea, and surely do not want to get their heads around the idea, that the President of the United States is guilty of conspiracy to commit torture. Too much gets in the way of any possibility of accepting this idea: he was doing what he thought best, he was trying to protect and defend the country, he had an intractable problem, he sits in the chair once occupied by Washington, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, Truman and Eisenhower, the idea is just too far out, etc., etc.
No, people can’t and simply won’t -- simply refuse to -- get their heads around the simple idea that the President is guilty of the crime of conspiracy to commit torture. But now, since my return from Oxford, there has been a break in the wall. And it comes, of all places, from memoranda written two years ago -- but only just now released due to Senator Lindsay Graham -- by the chief legal officers or near-chief legal officers of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force.
In early 2003 these high ranking officers expressed a number of concerns, in a series of memos, over the Administration’s intent to authorize torture. One of the concerns expressed in the various memos was the risk of "Criminal and Civil Liability of DOD Military or Civilian Personnel . . . ." It was said that "Several of the exceptional techniques" of interrogation approved by the Department of Justice "on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law," and "Applying exceptional techniques places interrogators and the chain of command at risk of criminal accusations domestically." (Emphasis added.) The idea, lying at the heart of the DOJ’s disgraceful memos, that the President can as Commander-in-Chief override domestic law and authorize torture was found doubtful: ". . . the ‘bottom line’ defense proffered by OLC [the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, which produced the disgraceful memos authorizing torture] is an exceptionally broad concept of ‘necessity.’ This defense is based upon the premise that any existing federal statutory provision . . . is unconstitutional per se, where it otherwise prohibits conduct viewed by the President, acting in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, as essential to his capacity to wage war. I question whether this theory would ultimately prevail in either the U.S. courts or in any international forum. If such a defense is not available, soldiers ordered to use otherwise illegal techniques run a substantial risk of criminal prosecution . . . ." (Emphasis added.) It was said that "There is nothing in law enforcement that would authorize the use of torture or excessive force against persons for intelligence gathering." (Emphasis added.) It was said that the armed "services party to the working group . . . all believe this technique [a technique numbered 36] constitutes torture under both domestic and international law."
There you have it. While the Department of Justice and its high ranking political hatchetmen like Jay Bybee, and the White House, with its high ranking political hatchetmen like Alberto Gonzalez, were hell bent on authorizing torture, the armed services of the United States, who have to fight our wars, were against it. (It makes one proud to be a militarist, does it not?) And one of their worries was domestic criminal liability for torturers -- liability that exists under the anti-torture act discussed previously by this blog. Such liability could exist for the "chain of command" -- which runs up to Rumsfeld and then to Bush himself, who is at the top of the chain of command.
So again, there you have it. While the press, that irresponsible group known as the mass media, refused to pick up on the fact that people at the highest levels of the Administration, including Rumsfeld and Bush, are guilty of the federal crime of conspiracy to commit torture, generals and admirals were aware, and they warned from the very beginning, of the possibility that there could be criminal liability up the chain of command for the torture we were engaging in. But do you think that, now that the concerns of generals and admirals are known, and were even reported in The Times after Senator Graham released the memos, the press will at long last pick up on the fact that Bush is guilty of the crime of conspiracy to commit torture? As is Gonzalez. As are Cheney and his staff henchmen. As are Jay Bybee and other DOJ henchmen who tried, miserably, to justify torture. I don’t think the press will pick up on this. The press remains too irresponsible, and too just plain dumb, to pick up on it. It is too incompetent and irresponsible to pick up on it even when no conservative, none (except for OLC henchmen who wrote a now vigorously renounced memo saying the President, as Commander-in-Chief, can override the law) has ever to this day denied the facts or the law showing that Bush and his colleagues are guilty of the federal crime of conspiracy to commit torture.
So what we have, owing to the recent release of memos from the armed forces, is a theoretical potential movement in opinion relating to high level responsibility for torture, but a practical likelihood of no movement due to the incompetence and "uncaringness"of the press.
I would now like to turn to a series of reflections spawned by the course at Oxford on The Great War. The course reimpressed a lesson which, as expressed in Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, had a major impact on John Kennedy: the lesson of how Europe stupidly blundered into a war that wrecked it for the better part of a century. It also reimpressed the lesson of how terrible modern war is. This was due not just to the casualty figures, as huge and gruesome as they were and as quickly as the huge numbers of dead piled up. Rather, it was also due to the fact that the tutor showed us a few portions of a brilliant, 17 hour long, 1964 BBC documentary called The Great War (which I then bought in DVD form at a BBC store in London, since European DVDs can be played on some American DVD players). Surprisingly, even shockingly, the makers of the BBC documentary had over a million feet of film to choose from -- motion pictures, after all, were invented over 20 years before World War I, I believe, by the Lumiere brothers (not by Edison) in France. (There are, indeed, motion pictures of the Spanish American war, including movies of American officers and officials who had been Confederate generals in our Civil War: Fitzhugh Lee (R.E. Lee’s nephew, I believe) and Joe Wheeler. It is nothing short of amazing to see moving pictures of Civil War generals.) And a significant number of the million feet of movie film must be of combat, because the moving pictures of modern combat in WWI are dramatic and horrifying. It is like watching the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan, except that the artillery shells exploding near infantrymen were real artillery shells, not fakes, the infantrymen were real soldiers, not actors, and the long rows of dead men, in trenches or laid out after battles, were real dead men, not actors who got up, took off their makeup and costumes, and went home.
The course and the documentary brought home once again a premier lesson of the 20th Century: that nations which are militarized, nations which seek and/or make war, are going to ultimately find disaster. That is a lesson that is all too likely to catch up with the United States. We are far and away the most militarized nation in the world put together, with annual military expenditures, depending on whom one believes, exceeding either all of the rest of the world put together or at least the top 20 other nations of the world put together. As detailed previously on this blog (as well as in books and articles by this writer), we have been in something like 15 or so wars or major military actions since 1950, including such major wars as Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf I, and Gulf II, and such military actions as the Balkans, Grenada, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya, the Dominican Republic, etc., etc. We have, indeed, compiled a record since World War II that one believes unmatched even by the British in what I think Kipling called their "savage wars of peace" during Victoria’s reign. And now we have the Administration’s doctrine of preventive war, and, when the Iraq situation looked promising (i.e., before the advent and growth of the guerrilla war into which, it is now known, Saddam deliberately lured us because he knew long before our invasion that his regular army had no chance), we had fools like George Bush and his Administration and his right wing supporters giving hints about, or actually talking about, post Iraq military action against Syria, Iran and North Korea.
The United States is a country that, like the nations of Europe in the 25 years or so before 1914, is almost surely headed ultimately for disaster unless it dramatically changes the views which have propelled leaders like Bush and so many of our other post World War II Presidents and legislators. Not forever will the rest of the world sit by and let us exercise hegemony, any more than the British were willing to see imperial Germany rise to hegemony or the imperial Germans willing to countenance permanent British hegemony throughout the world. Much of the rest of the world does not want us in their countries and will ultimately fight to get us out, as we would do if the situation were reversed, as the North Viet Namese did for about ten years and would have been willing to do for another 20 years if necessary, and as bin Laden has done and, one fears, as he or his accomplices have persuaded many other Muslims to do by blowing themselves up when they think they can take a lot of others with them. For almost 50 years America has sown the wind, as did Europe in the decades before The Great War, and, unless we change, we almost certainly will ultimately reap the whirlwind, as did Europe. That seems an unavoidable lesson of all history, and is the fate of those who, as Kipling put it, put their faith in "reeking tube and iron shard." One doesn’t imagine, though, that George W. Bush knows or understands any of this since, as he and his supporters brag, he doesn’t read. To expect him to know the lessons of history, or to know Kipling -- or to know the great, tragic, sad war poets of The Great War -- is to expect far too much I’m afraid.*