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August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
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Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Wanting War
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The Chicago Tribune editorial board, a smart group for sure, endorsed George W. Bush for president.

Near the beginning, there’s a quote from John McCain:

So it is, whether we wished it or not, that we have come to the test of our generation, to our rendezvous with destiny. […]

And that pretty much sets the tone. This is how they wrap it up:

This country’s paramount issue, though, remains the threat to its national security.

[…]

For three years, Bush has kept Americans, and their government, focused–effectively–on this nation’s security. The experience, dating from Sept. 11, 2001, has readied him for the next four years, a period that could prove as pivotal in this nation’s history as were the four years of World War II.

That demonstrated ability, and that crucible of experience, argue for the re-election of President George W. Bush. He has the steadfastness, and the strength, to execute the one mission no American generation has ever failed.

Okay, this is not an unfamiliar sentiment. It’s Bush’s whole call to arms, right? I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not th–oh wait, no, that’s Aragorn.

Yeah, see, that’s the problem: This is earth, not Middle Earth.

Can the Tribune be serious? “[A]s pivotal in this nation’s history as were the four years of World War II”?

Here’s the thing: They want to believe that. I think a lot of people do. It’s something that Chris Hedges argues very convincingly in his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, which is about–well, yeah. (P.S. I interviewed Hedges for Poynter.org.)

He says: The notion of a martial struggles ennobles us. It suffuses us with grim righteousness. It’s mythic and meaningful.

But in this case, it’s also total bullshit!

Why isn’t dealing with the Sauron of Social Security ever our rendezvous with destiny? Why can’t the struggle against global poverty be the test of our generation?

Oh, right, because those challenges don’t involve killing orcs terrorists. Seriously! We’re nuts like that!

Now I’m sure Robert Kaplan would tell me, “Hush, squeamish child of privilege. Go back to your video games and allow Achilles to do his bloody work.” And I accept the point that violence is a tool we have to use.

But to assert that that it is the primary work of our nation now–that all other challenges pale before some all-consuming war–is, I think, wishful and wrong and a little bit sick.

And I’m surprised that a group as able as the Tribune editorial board is playing along with the terror-obsessed Tolkiens who tell that tale.


Depressing addendum: Just saw this on reason.com’s Who’s Getting Your Vote? — Louis Rosseto, co-founder of WIRED, says:

Bush may be wrong about everything else, but he is right about the issue that matters most for my children

October 19, 2004 / Uncategorized

10 comments

Matt says…

Yeah, Robert Wright is seeing the LOTR parallels, too.

Evil has a reputation for resilience. And rightly so. Banishing it from Middle Earth alone took three very long Lord of the Rings movies. But equally deserving of this reputation is the concept of evil

Robin says…

Clearly we have to carry the One Nuclear Device to the Crack of Doom, where it was forged… I think that means the Crack of Doom is in North Korea.

Robin says…

More seriously… Matt writes:

I might not disagree with the Trib’s contention that terrorism is among the biggest problems we face, because it is such a destabilizing force. People see global poverty as a massive planet-sized wound that hasn’t scabbed over, but also isn’t going to bring any First World governments to their knees anytime soon.

I’ll echo a point many have made before: A nuclear attack is the only even remotely existential threat that terrorism poses. And to be fair it’s what Bush & Co. focused on in the run-up to Iraq: Uranium! Aluminum tubes! Mushroom clouuuds!

Buuut they turned out to be totally wrong.

So it seems to me like we ought to let somebody else have a crack at the task of keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. What about that doesn’t the ChiTrib get? Or are they really afraid of a conventional suicide bomber in New York City?

Peter says…

Uh oh, we’re sliding towards the classic “LOTR == WWII” argument…

Think about the Eagles! Also Peter Jackson’s attempt to make Gondor as much like European Russia as possible was pretty impressive. My favorite was John Noble playing Denethor doing an impression of Cherkasov playing Ivan the Terrible doing an impression of Stalin…

Anyways… In response to Matt, I think an important part of informing ourselves intelligently on terrorism is to drop the assumption that the terrorists want to kill us because we are so great and they hate freedom or some bull$6|t like that.

Matt says…

Oh, I agree with that wholeheartedly, Peter (the response to me part). In fact, as far as the motivations of individual terrorist actors — the suicide bombers, et al. — are concerned, I’d guess that their actions have little to do with “us,” and much more to do with themselves. After all, when you’ve grown up being taught that the greatest honor in the world is to die for Allah, that you’ll go straight to paradise and all that, then the particular end for yourself you ultimately choose depends only on what your religious leaders decide Allah wants.

Robin says…

Matthew Yglesias with some smart comments on terrorism’s relative importance.

Peter, what’s the context of the Cherkasov-as-Ivan-the-Terrible scene? What movie is that from?

Peter says…

I dunno if you want to get me into one of my classic rants, but basically Peter Jackson, like many directors before him, particularly epic battle directors, took a lot of cues from Eisenstein. The classic influence for battle scenes is Eisenstein’s anti-Nazi propaganda masterpiece Alexander Nevsky (gotta love the evil German knights with giant helmets and swastikas throwing squealing Russian babies into a giant bonfire…). Shots from Nevsky have shown up all over the place, for example: Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscoping in Wizards, the computer game Castles II, and certainly battle scenes from LotR. But in the case of Denethor’s character the style is really clearly straight from Eisenstein’s love/hate letter to Stalin, Ivan the Terrible Parts 1 and 2.

Okay, I’ll restrain myself there. Was it just me and my dork roommates (post-Matt I’m afraid) who sat around debating LotR as nuclear arms race during WWII?

Matt says…

The article Matthew Yglesias links to is quite good. The author, John Mueller, basically returns to my conclusion that the media is the root of all evil. OK, that’s an oversimplification, but the media’s (and the government’s) overhyping of the threat of terrorism goes a long way in giving terrorism its edge. As Mueller puts it: “Outside of 2001, fewer people have died in America from international terrorism than have drowned in toilets.”

It’s the reaction to terrorism that’s the biggest danger. Terrorism continues because it is a profoundly destabilizing force; it does shake up societies, achieve results. A video of one person pleading for her life into a camera will have a stronger effect than all the logic and numbers you can throw at a hysterical populace.

A truly insightful policy might be balanced more towards normalizing our response to terrorism than on attacking the source of terrorism itself. Mueller says “efforts against terrorism should be considered more like a campaign against crime than like a war … Like crime, one can at best seek to reduce its frequency and destructiveness so that people can feel reasonably–but not perfectly–safe from it.”

But it’s hard to imagine a political climate where a policy like that could even be uttered. John Kerry was bashed to bits by the GOP machine for daring to apply the language of crime to terrorism, when he said that his goal would be to reduce it to a nuisance. I’ve never heard this quote from John McCain’s book, but it gives me passing warm and fuzzy feelings about him:

Get on the damn elevator! Fly on the damn plane! Calculate the odds of being harmed by a terrorist! It’s still about as likely as being swept out to sea by a tidal wave….Suck it up, for crying out loud. You’re almost certainly going to be okay. And in the unlikely event you’re not, do you really want to spend your last days cowering behind plastic sheets and duct tape? That’s not a life worth living, is it?

Robin says…

Re: Peter’s comment

So in high school marching band (the extra-intense nerdy version) every year’s show is like a big theatrical performance based on some story or theme. Thus the choice of subject matter determines the fate of 200-odd high schoolers for an entire marching season.

And weirdly, in my junior year we almost did a show based on “Alexander Nevsky.”

We ended up doing “Alice in Wonderland” instead, I think.

Peter says…

I heard on some wretched talk radio show (no, keep reading, really!) that more books are translated between English and Greek each year than between English and Arabic. According to Wikipedia, there are 225 million native Arabic speakers in the world and 12 million Greek speakers. Maybe the “War on Terror” ™ should be putting more effort into bridging culture gaps instead of starting costly wars or developing bunker busting nukes or worrying about the mineshaft gap or whatever else the hawks have been doing with my tax dollars.

For my part, I’d be pretty curious to see the novel that is supposedly so popular in the Arab world right now about how terrible America is.

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