In the summer of 2008, I wrote a short story that was intended to be a comment on what I thought was a coming depression, where overvalued assets would ruin the wealthy and force all those paper millionaires into destitution. I got some positive feedback from a literary agent, who thought I could turn it into a novel, so I spent the summer researching and plotting out a whole novel that was going to be a prophetic cautionary tale about excess and over-leveraging… and then Bear Stearns collapsed. As the economy actually began to falter, and later, as the Madoff affair unraveled, I decided that the effect was ruined and I should abandon the book, which now seemed like it would come off as a reaction rather than a prescription.
Anyway, since I’ve been a bit blocked when it comes to writing lately, why not drag out an old and moldy chestnut? Enjoy this three-year old morsel while I work on a real post about the economy. And, if you like it, let me know and maybe I’ll release (and maybe rewrite) the next pages…
The Revenge of Icarus
“Since Tragedy is an imitation of persons who are above the common level, the example of good portrait painters should be followed. They, while reproducing the distinctive form of the original, make a likeness which is true to life and yet more beautiful. So too the poet, in representing men who are irascible or indolent, or have other defects of character, should preserve the type and yet ennoble it. In this way Achilles is portrayed by Agathon and Homer.”
Chapter One: Zeus
It was a Tuesday when the Gods descended from Mount Olympus, having talked to their accountant and finally concluded that the whole affair had simply become too expensive.
Christianity had long ago killed off the tribute business. Zeus, to his eternal chagrin, had personally sworn to the other eleven that tribute from mortals would be a never-ending spigot, but what was once a mighty
stream of gold, incense and amazing barbecue all the time had slowed to a trickle of credit card solicitations and coupons for two-for-one haircuts. They didn’t even get fan mail any more, not even from
He remembered the first time a girl he was trying to screw asked him to sign an autograph for her grandmother. “She totally, like, used to worship you and stuff,” she had said.
Back in the halcyon days, Zeus was constantly telling anyone who would listen, Olympus was truly a paradise of unimaginable delights. Las Vegas? Tijuana? Xanadu? Olympus put them all to shame, he would groan, usually while drunk.
Ambrosia on tap–they even had the toilets and showers running ambrosia for a few weeks once, just to do it, but it started to solidify in the pipes and they had to get Hephaestus–that ugly bastard–to fix it. And that
son-of-a-bitch proceeded to bring it up at literally once a week for the next millennium.
There were slaves, of course, to attend to your every need. And not those flea-bitten prisoners of war or twelve-year-old virgins you find nowadays, but real go-getters–accountants and gourmet chefs and Lit.
grad students–the real creme de la creme. And forget about pay-per-view. If you wanted to see a boxing match (or, more likely, olive-oil wrestling), you literally clapped your hands and all of a sudden there’s a two-bout fight in the middle of the courtyard. You even got to fix the odds if you felt like picking up some extra cash that day.
There was a constant revenue stream from the temples back then, and Zeus wasn’t shy about explaining that most of the money came from temple prostitution. Thankfully the gods had thought to invest a little bit of that money, the interest from which was now their main source of income. What was literally a spare change dish near the dawn of Greek civilization had, through compound interest, provided adequately for the Twelve for the past few hundred years. But what with the cost of olive oil and horsewhips and computers and everything else these days, cost-cutting had become commonplace on the Mount. Slaves’ largely unskilled labor was fine for wicker baskets and such, but they made shitty knock-offs when it came to modern luxuries such as designer clutches and private jets.
The first things to go were production values for public appearances, which in retrospect might have hurt them the most in the long run. When you show up at someone’s house demanding they sell their teenage son and/or daughter to you in sexual slavery until the end of time, you’d better show up as something really impressive, like a bull or a shower of gold. If you’re in body paint, it’s real gold leaf. You’ve got
imported silk kimonos and linen tablecloths and edible flower arrangements and ham sandwiches and a cask of upmarket grappa on a wagon in case they give you a rough time. And, if there is any trucking
involved whatsoever, naturally you have to use Teamsters.
In his new life, Zeus resolved, at least his conquests wouldn’t be expecting him to do any of the fancy stuff like turn into a Minotaur or pay child support. He would just be an anonymous aging playboy, on permanent retirement. Maybe I’ll go to the south of France, he thought, or South Beach. Trade the gold leaf for some bronzer.
“Nowadays I can barely afford a gold lame Speedo,” he said out loud. One of the movers turned around because he thought Zeus was talking to him, smashing face-first into another mover carrying a one-armed statue of Hera in an embarrassing pose that the avant-garde sculptor Galen had given Zeus as a birthday present. Hera’s remaining arm snapped clean off and skidded across the marble floor, neatly clipping Zeus in the shin.
“Aagh! Dammit!” he thundered.
“Oh Jesus Christ, I’m so sorry Mister Ze–” said one of the movers, as Zeus turned him into a toad.
“You want a piece of this?” he huffed at the other mover, whose former colleague was now jumping on his face. The mover screamed, so Zeus turned him into a toad, too. It was kind of a knee-jerk reaction,
but he went with it because when you turn toads like that back into people… let’s just say it’s better to let them stay toads. And just as he thought that, they seemed to calm down and stop jumping and ribbiting and just sat there on the broken statue in a daze.
“Stavros?” inquired one of the workers from around the corner, “Stavros? Other Stavros?”
Just how many of these bothersome idiots were there, Zeus wondered. When a fourth worker came in the opposite doorway, he gasped at the broken statue; but Zeus assumed that he was gasping at the fact that his two friends had been turned into toads, so he turned the young man into an alligator.
Alligators eat toads, right? Zeus thought.
This whole thing was really becoming bothersome, so he walked out onto the balcony, to enjoy the view from the above the mountain for what he thought would be one last time. As he looked out onto Greece and the Mediterranean, he remembered the first time he had seen this view, when he moved into the place all those eons ago. A young and relatively naive prince from some tiny island in the Mediterranean, he had worked his way up to Thunder God in the Levantine circuit, under the name “El” (his first agent told him, “keep it simple, stupid!”). The Levantines were OK, but they weren’t as wealthy as the Assyrians or the Egyptians, who had their own thing going.
So he moved to the Greek mainland, made a big show of banishing his “father” Cronus to Tartarus (later New Jersey), and took over what was then a rather small and motley crew of local charlatans in a largely fragmented market. Zeus saw the opportunity in that. He was an entrepreneurial sort by nature, and the thought that he could lead the Greeks to being a real regional player. He had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and now… was he leaving success behind or was success leaving him?
“No, I’m a survivor,” Zeus said out loud, again. “I’ve always been able to roll with the punches.”
Like when he took that buyout offer from the Romans. It was just too much money to pass up, and not only did it pay out in spades, it made him a worldwide household name–except that it was the funny name those
slick Italians called him, “Eee-yoo-pit-er.” Sure, it sounded a little fruity, but everybody got weird new names and the dough kept pouring in.
Oh, those Romans, with their money and orgies and vomitoria. Those guys knew how to party. It was like a ridiculous fad that no one knew how to stop–all of a sudden his neighbors on Olympus were running around in tunics with their little horse-drawn mopeds and drinking cappuccinos. But hey, they kept building new temples and private apartments in Rome, and you were constantly meeting girls from every corner of the globe. It was a fairly happening scene in its day, Zeus thought proudly.
Zeus watched some workers take apart the gazebo and realized he had spent so much time agonizing over having to pack all this stuff that he had forgotten to find a new place to live.
He decided to call his son Stavros, the God of Time-Shares and Vacation Rental Properties (Greece and Albania).
I’ve decided to resurrect my dear old blog, now a rambunctious and neglected eight-year old–today! On May 6th in 2003, I decided to start a blog instead of sending my friends links to stuff via Instant Messenger.
Back, then, I had to carry these posts uphill both ways; I built my own blog software and CMS, and lovingly tended to it for years, writing my own features, plugins, editors, themes, search engines, and so on. Then, at some point not long after I switched hosting servers, I broke the software and lost the ability to post through my precious software I’d spent years making. And honestly, I didn’t feel like fixing it.
I had started to submit work (largely unsuccessfully) to magazines and so forth, and eventually stopped writing for a bit. Then I worked on massive exposes of shadow conspiracies bent on world domination, but struggled to a) find the right news hook and b) trim down my fantastic account of killer robots feasting on the flesh of terrified hordes to less than 3500 words.
So, this blog will be filled with shorter posts from now on. I’ve got a custom WordPress install and I’m nearly done cleaning out the archives of nasty bits of leftover formatting (if you find an incomplete or funny-looking post, leave a comment). I’ll be adding cool new features by the by.
Lots more to come!
It’s Casual Asides’ 5th anniversary. Consider (with the new word count feature at the bottom of each post) that at this point, I’ve written about 260-odd posts and hundreds of thousands of words, enough to fill a decent sized book. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
I pause here to consider that although I like to complain that nobody reads this blog, I have gotten the following things out of it (at least, in part):
- A lot of blank stares
- A Koufax Nomination for Best Writing
- Internet-only friends
- Internet-only enemies
- A job
- A girlfriend
- Several free books to review, which I never get to
- A radio appearance on Sirius
- An embarrassingly small amount of actual visitors over five years, but at least in the six-digit range.
Draggin’ The Line II
Just to remind you of my predictions from last week and their current status (error margins tabulated by delegate count):
................. Popular Vote ..... Net Gained ... Error
.............. Clinton ... Obama ... Delegates .... Margin
Guam .......... 50% ...... 50% ..... 0 (wash) ..... 0%
Indiana ....... 50% ...... 50% ..... 0 (wash) ..... 1%
N. Carolina ... 46% ...... 54% ..... +9 Obama ..... 2%
W. Virginia ... 53% ...... 47% ..... +4 Clinton
Kentucky ...... 51% ...... 49% ..... +1 Clinton
Oregon ........ 47% ...... 53% ..... +2 Obama
Montana ....... 46% ...... 54% ..... 0 (wash)
S. Dakota ..... 48% ...... 52% ..... +1 Obama
Puerto Rico ... 60% ...... 40% ..... +11 Clinton
I’m doing OK so far. Now, it should be clearer to everyone that Hillary’s uphill battle to gain the nomination has become demonstrably steeper. As Republican strategist Alex Castellanos just said on CNN, Hillary has run a Republican-style campaign against Barack Obama, and it’s time for her to throw in the towel.
There are now more superdelegates in play than pledged (elected) delegated at stake in the upcoming contests. However, Hillary’s going to win Kentucky and West Virginia (and Obama will win Oregon) unless soething changes in the next week. And here’s what it should be:
Obama’s Gas Plan: Green and Transparent
President Bush himself said that this country is addicted to oil. All McCain and Clinton is offer our the promise of a cheap fix. That’s why this pandering is so destructive—if the government is going to help you, we’ve got to help you get clean.
I support a windfall profit tax on record oil profits. I support the elimination of $18 billion in subsidies to the oil companies. All Hillary Clinton wants to do is launder the money through a three-month tax holiday that will leave the price of oil higher and the roads in dangerous condition. I support a windfall tax, but nothaving that money go right back to the oil companies.
Now, there are a lot of people who are suffering with the price of gas climbind steadily towards four dollars a gallon. Especially working people who depend on their cars for a living. Long distance truckers. Pizza delivery people. Firefighters. We need to do something to help the people who are caught in this crunch, but we’re not going to do it in a way that keeps you dependent on more cheap gas.
I propose the money from any oil company tax and reduction of subsidies should go towards a government-issued coupon to replace your gas engine with a hybrid, electric, hydrogen, or biodiesel engine. This money should be retributed to those who are suffering the most from our oil national addiction. Any new cars with reduced gas usage should also be given this credit, of course.
Now, in recent days, I’ve been examining another part of the kind of challenge we face today connected to our disastrous environmental and energy policies. I’m talking about food prices. Food prices are being driven up by two things—the price of gas, and the price of corn which is being added to gasoline in the form of ethanol. I support ethanol. But we simply cannot continue to use food as a fuel additive. It doesn’t make sense. We are getting close to a real breakthrough with other sources of ethanol which will be much more productive than using corn. So I propose we mandate that no human food be used for ethanol production. There is still plenty of demand for corn from people, and we have better ways of helping the small farmers build a sustainable crop than giving fat checks to giant agribusiness.
The cost of using fossil fuels doesn’t just hit us at the pump. In West Virginia, coal companies are levelling mountains—literally erasing them from the landscape—in search of cheap coal they extract at tremendou environmental cost and fewer jobs for coal miners. On the one hand, we have enough coal in America to last 150 years; on the other, the burnign of coal is one of the leading sources of carbon in the atmosphere.
In Washington, they look at a problem like this and they see it as an opportunity to play people against one another; coal mining families against environmentalists, Democrats against Republicans, blue collar against white collar. They try to find the angles, look for a way to pander to people by offering short-term solutions. But when your short term solution counteracts your long-term goals, you have a problem.
We understand that what we have here is an opportunity to bring people together. We need to use American ingenuity and the power of the government to make sure that we use the resources we have responsibly and in a way that helps American families no matter who they are. We need a coal industry, but we also need the figure out how to neutralize the greenhouse gases coal produces. There are many exciting technologies Americans are working on, from turning emissions into baking soda, or feeding algae, or using it for natural gas exloration, that we can develop and ensure a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment.
Dear readers, exciting things are happening. Here’s a quick review of the past few months.
That Book I’m Always Talking About
For the last two years, I’ve been writing a non-fiction book—it’s what I’m doing when I’m not posting here. When people ask me what the book is about, I usualy say something like, “it’s about killer robots and globalization.” While this is true in some sense, the book is actually about a lot more than just those things, but when you work on something for two years (or longer) the ability to faithfully summarize it kind of falls away.
This book, entitled Why Can’t Money Grow On Trees?, is about the open-source movement, the global economy, and the connection between, for example, Adam Smith, Jean-Pierre Proudhon, Howard Scott, and the Unabomber. It is subtitled “A Practical Guide to Building Your Own Utopia.”
Now, because the book is about open source and contains a lengthy section about how lethal intellectual property rights can be, I decided to make the book into a wiki. This way, you can actually watch me write the thing in real time (at this stage it is a lengthy proposal and not too much more) in a format meant for your computer monitor, unlike the 50+ page PDF file I have been sending people.
If you are confused about all this, just go visit whycant.org and you will probably become slightly more or less clear about what I’m trying to say.
Catch me on Sirius Satellite Radio’s Indie Talk March 13th at 5pm EST
I’ve had this blog for almost five years now, and sometimes I wonder if anyone is even listening anymore. But occasionally, I will get some random confirmation that I have, in some small way, had an impact in the media universe. Sometimes, I’ll get questions from college students asking me to elucidate a point they’re writing a paper on; sometimes publishers offer to send me advance copies of suitably “progressive” books to review. Sadly, I no longer get hate mail, which I used to enjoy immensely.
But I found something even more fun than hate mail—free media ops! Sirius, which just launched their new “Indie Talk” channel, asked me to come down to “The Blog Bunker” this Thursday and chat about politics for half-an-hour, after which I will spend the rest of the week trying to figure out how I can leverage this appearance into one on the O’Reilly Factor.
But D. J., I hear you cry, “I don’t have Sirius Satellite Radio!” Don’t worry. You can sign up for a free 3-day Internet radio trial on their web site. It’ll be just like when the whole family used to gather around their gigantic vacuum-tube powered radio cabinet after dinner to listen to Fibber McGee & Molly or Suspense!, only without the family, or the radio.
Free Xenu! Shirts!
The other way I found out that people actually do read this blog is that someone ordered a “Free Xenu” T-shirt from my lonely and neglected T-shirt shop. So I actually had to make one, and now that I spent all the revenue on the first shirt, I implore you, dear readers, to buy one, too.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Xenu is the deposed alien overlord who is currently being held in intergalactic superjail by the Church of Scientology, according to court documents. As far as I can tell, Xenu is being held without bail or formal charges, with no method of redress or habeas corpus. I don’t even think there was a trial. If any of you give a damn about civil rights, I implore you to wear this shirt so that the CoS knows you will no longer abide by their illegal detainment of what, for all we know, is just a sweet, harmless, 75 million year-old man.
It’s Her Party, She’ll Cry If She Wants To
I’m less of a Barack Obama supporter than an ABC voter—anybody but Hillary. What’s my beef with Hillary, you ask?
Is it that she’s a carpetbagger? I do resent the fact that my state is apparently so welcoming we’ll let anybody in the President’s family who wants to run for the White House represent us. Tempting, but not sufficient.
Is it because she’s a hawk? Her stance on Iran is basically the same as McCain’s, which is that they would really rather prefer to go to war Iran than not. Both of them have been agitating for this for years, although Hillary’s anti-Iran record is long and storied and includes her potential running mate, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. As a matter of fact, Hillary’s foreign policy is remarkably similar to McCain’s in many respects. That’s getting closer to why I can’t stand her, but there’s more.
Perhaps it’s Hillary’s right-wing pandering like her clearly unconstitutional throw-flag-burners-in-Federal prison law, which was fortunately rejected; perhaps its her authoritarian top-down style, presaged by her Wellesely senior thesis dismissing the whole idea of bottom-up community organizing.
Yes, these were all fine reasons to dislike Hillary, and I have made full use of them in the past. But what burns me about Hillary the most right now is her gargantuan sense of entitlement, a thing so huge it was pretty much her platform—before that young upstart upstaged her “get-out-of-my-way” campaign style with—you guessed it—bottom up grassroots organizing.
Barack Obama may be well-spoken (somebody check Lexis-Nexis to see if Hillary’s camp has ever slipped up and said it in those terms), but he clearly hasn’t suffered enough to win the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Medal for overcoming adversity. As Aristotle said in Poetics, tragedy works best when the sufferers fall from privilege and fortune, and Hillary’s story is characterized by the most fortunate of circumstances.
As I’ve said before (maybe not in these exact words), when you challenge white people’s privilege, watch the fuck out. Hillary’s whiteness isn’t her sole privilege, but it’s clearly working to her advantage. For example—let’s look at Ohio, the “firewall” which helped Clinton turn her campaign around:
Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International— respected polling firms — surveyed 1,612 Democratic primary voters in 40 precincts across Ohio on Tuesday. Among other things, the pollsters asked if the race of the candidate was important to them. Twenty percent of those surveyed said yes, and three out of five of those voters said they cast ballots for Clinton.
As a pundit once said on CNN a while ago, this is the first time identity politics-based attacks have been trained on the identity groups themselves as opposed to, shall we say, hegemonic power. And it’s threatening to rend the Democratic party.
It is in this light that we must examine the comments of Geraldine Ferraro, Clinton supporter and former VP candidate:
When the subject turned to Obama, Clinton’s rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Ferraro’s comments took on a decidedly bitter edge. “I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama’s campaign – to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against,” she said. “For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It’s been a very sexist media. Some just don’t like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign.
“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” she continued. “And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” Ferraro does not buy the notion of Obama as the great reconciler.
How refreshingly reprehensible! It always strikes me, whenever this meme is floated, that the name “Carol Moseley-Braun” seldom crosses the lips of these Clinton supporters. Moseley-Braun, whose Senate seat was won by Obama when she stepped down, ran for president in 2004, the second black woman to do so after my old Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
While Moseley-Braun did receive a modicum of support from NOW and some other feminist groups, I guess it wasn’t too important, because seldom did you see a Gloria Steinem-penned op-ed calling women gender traitors if they didn’t support a female candidate based purely on chauvinism.
The forgotten campaign of Moseley-Braun, who dropped out just before the Iowa caucuses, is an embarrassment to the Clinton campaign, and that’s why she never talks about it.
When I meet people who hand me that ‘if Barack was a woman line,” I always counter with, “If Barack Obama was a woman, he’d be Carol Moseley-Braun. And do you know who she was married to?” I ask.
“No…” they say.
“Who the fuck cares?” I reply. (Of course, the answer is “Mr. Braun.” They are now divorced, and she founded Ambassador Organics) And that’s really the crux of the issue—the only reason Barack Obama is black is because the laws in this country won’t let him marry Bill Clinton. Hillary’s only doing this well because she is now the most corrupt woman in America. Don’t think for a minute that her experience as intern to a few Senate subcommittees was what propelled her to the Senate seat of a state she in which had never resided. It was because she was so inside the Democratic machine, she was married to the president, and so the DLC told all other Dem Senate contenders to get out of her way.
And yet, if this is anyone’s party, it’s Hillary’s party. She is the most invested in the machine, the backroom deals, the money-fueled corruption, the chickenhawk foreign policy. Not only does the Democratic party owe her the nomination, but the audacity of Obama’s candidacy is inappropriately inopportune. That’s why she’s intent on destroying the party.
Take a look at CNN’s delegate counter. After one of the dirtiest primary challenege the party has seen in decades, she managed to work her way up to ‘spoiler’ in the delegate count, but there is no way she will be able to catch up with her opponent without a significant helping hand from the superdelegates. But now, neither will Obama, unless the party spends even more of their war chest redoing the Michigan and Florida primaries.
Is it because, as she has implied on the campaign trail, she’d rather have McCain in office than Obama? The scorched earth, kitchen sink approach Hillary has adopted constitutes a pyrrhic victory, but what does she care? It’s this supreme arrogance, the way she offers Obama a VP slot shen she’s trailing in delegates, the way she pretends that sleeping in the White House is a qualification for being commander-in-chief, the indignance at being challenged for what she seems to believe is some kind of birthright—that’s why I’m an anybody but Clinton voter. Because a victory for Clinton has become, through her machinations and speechifying, a victory for corruption and against hope.
More on this in a few days.
I missed the anti-war rally last weekend. I’d call it a peace rally, but nobody’s really for ‘peace’ anymore; the majority of the country still thinks the war in Afghanistan was justified, and they’re even receptive to bombing Iran. Even the majority of the country who is now against the Iraq war isn’t really against it for the right reasons (as I see them), but because the terrorists are on track to kill up to 4,000 American soldiers by years’ end.
I used to be a big believer in rallies. I remember marching against Newt Gingrich and the “Contract on America” when I was 14. But as I got older and continued my study of politics, I realized that mass protests weren’t as effective as people used to think they were. Sure, if we had a responsive democratic government, there might be an impact, but unfortunately, we Americans live in the worst democracy money can buy.
If you believe in the war, and are able-bodied, the only moral course is to volunteer. At the same time, the only moral course of action for any soldier asked to kill or help kill is desertion. I know these sound like opposing concepts, but see if you can keep them both in your head at the same time while I explain.
Who is responsible for war? Everybody has their favorite culprit—Mel Gibson and his family blames me and mine, conservatives blame foreigners, liberals blame conservatives, charismatic Christians blame the Devil, and so forth.
The War in Iraq, which happened while the whole world was watching, gets pinned on all kinds of people. It’s a terrible chicken-and-egg problem—it’s deceptively easy to blame George W. Bush, because he was nominally in charge of the war. But those who live to delve a bit deeper have unearthed a treasure trove of culprits, from Dick Cheney to Curveball to the Project for a New American Century to Hillary Clinton to Bill Clinton.
There are all kinds of interesting philosophical questions about where the buck stops, because in this case, it isn’t necessarily what you did that caused (or helped cause) the war, but who you were and when you did it. When Hilary and Edwards falsely tied Saddam to Al-Qaeda, it was forgivable in the eyes of the protestors, but when Bush and Cheney did it, it’s totally unforgivable. When Bill Clinton bombed Iraq, it was prudent; when Bush bombs Iraq, it’s genocide, never mind that roughly equal numbers of Iraqi civilians were killed under both presidents. Conversely, when Barack Obama says he was against the war from the beginning, it gets discounted because he wasn’t really in a position to do anything about it as a state senator. And no one will ever really be taken to task for continuing to fund the war even though defunding it is the only way to stop the war legally.
Usually, when it comes to morality, the distinctions are a bit clearer; if you commit act X, you are responsible for its consequences. So, in the end, who is ultimately responsible for war?
The truth is so simple, it hurts. War is the fault of the soldiers. Soldiers on both sides. I figured this out using the “but-for” test, which I learned in a class on the Philosophy of Law; if it hadn’t been for a certain action, the result would never have happened. In the causal chain of events, the but-for test helps you figure out the last moment something (usually an injury of some kind) could have been averted.
As I’ve said before, war is a game cowards play with other people’s lives. Today wars are giant abstract board games, from the view of the commanders. The modern military keeps abstracting commanders further and further from he troops they command, reducing them to marks on a chalkboard or dots on a computer screen; and the politicians who engineer war are even more insulated from the reality of war.
But at the most basic level, war is impossible without soldiers. If there were no combatants, politicians would be revealed for what they are—loudmouthed invalids who would rather see you die in uniform than live up to the ideal of the public trust. Without soldiers, Bush can say anything he wants and have no less capacity to kill people with a word than the next citizen. Without soldiers, elites on both sides are can scream at each other all they want without piling up corpses.
It’s true that war didn’t always work this way; back when organized violence was more of a cottage industry, leaders used to actually lead their troops into battle. I’m reminded of the Genesis song “One for the Vine” which starts:
Fifty thousand men were sent to do the will of one.
His claim was phrased quite simply, though he never voiced it loud,
I am he, the chosen one.
In his name they could slaughter, for his name they could die.
Though many there were believed in him, still more were sure he lied,
But they’ll fight the battle on.
Often people will accuse one another of situational ethics, which means that they view the morality of an act based on its context rather than on principle. War is the ultimate case of situational ethics;murder is wrong unless someone in a uniform tells you to do it. And because the state is telling you to kill, it won’t hold you responsible for that killing—they’ll probably give you a medal for killing enough people. On the other hand, if you get captured by another state, all bets are off and you may be held accountable for the deaths you caused in any number of ways, from being held as a POW to being summarily executed.
As a pacifist and a conscientious objector, I refuse to make a distinction between the battlefield and civilian life, for the simple reason that there is no place on earth exclusively reserved for war. Even if you’re in uniform, you’re still waking through someone else’s town or field or community.
The crux of war is the act of killing. Anyone who demands death but doesn’t do the killing themselves is at best a pansy and at worst a deserter. Call me an AWOL wallflower, but that is the uncompromised truth. This is why, for example, the machismo surrounding 9/11 drives me crazy. Susan Faludi, whose recent book examined the impact of 9/11 on gender in America, The Terror Dream, notes how a search for father-figures and manly men like firefighters and soliders created a new wave of misogynistic backlash against the recent cultural gains of feminism. It always mystified me how an ineffectual preppy like GW Bush was suddenly revered as a strong, manly leader—Laura Bush has literally killed more people than her husband if you look at the world in terms of proximal causes. If the President doesn’t lead the charge up San Juan Hill anymore, what’s the difference if they’re macho or not?
As I’ve mentioned before, putting a woman in charge doesn’t cause peace—just ask Maggie Thatcher or Golda Meir. And neither do apparently limp-wristed men; I have it on good authority that Vladimir Putin, who is killing people left and right, was beaten up and teased by the people he was assigned to intimidate as a KGB agent. Napoleon was short and had gynecomastia. Richard the Lion-Hearted was rumored to be homosexual.
I don’t bring up these examples or characterizations to be sexist or homophobic—on the contrary, I mention these things because this ridiculous fiction that projecting strength will bring about peace (or war) is killing people. Elites play at war because they can, no matter what they look like.
You can’t be a puppet-master without puppets. I can rail about how person X should be killed, but unless I have influence over someone with the means to do so, it doesn’t matter. In the perverse logic of war, killing someone in cold blood based on what they’re wearing isn’t just acceptable, it’s demanded.
I’ve mentioned before that my cause is averting civilian deaths; people with guns can shoot each other in the head for all I care. I know that sounds flip—and most of the people serving in the world’s armed and irregular forces are my generation, in some cases even my former schoolmates. And while that makes it hard to blame the soldiers, it doesn’t lessen their fault. It’s the simplest categorical imperative—if everyone refused to kill, there’d be no way to force them, and no war.
The complement to the willingness to kill for your country is the willingness to die for it (if all you want to do is kill, you’re just a garden—variety sociopath). And so, there will never be peace until the last person willing to die for their country is killed.
We’re constantly admonished to “support the troops,” who in turn are in uniform because they’re “protecting our freedom.” Neither statement makes sense. If you were really supporting the troops, you’d be one; if getting into uniform had anything to do with protecting freedom, you wouldn’t be compelled to kill. Killing Iraqis only makes us less safe, and machismo is hardly a requirement for war-mongering.
To blame the war on the gum-flappers, the elites for whom war is a game, dishonors both the soldier who does the actual dirty work and the conscientious objector for whom killing is abhorrent. At the moment of death, all that truly matters is whose finger was literally on the trigger.
Politicians don’t kill people, guns don’t kill people. Killers kill people. Let the buck stop there and the chips fall where they may.