High Tech War is Still War: A Review
March 28, 2015
This review is from: Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Hardcover)
I have wondered why Americans are or seem to be unaware of just how militaristic a nation we have become, even as we are encouraged to celebrate those who, as the saying has it, "serve to keep us free." Our warriors appear everywhere but, strangely, they are not seen as "warriors." Rather, they are seen almost as "civil servants," whom we are expected to "thank for [their] service." In the midst of so much warfare, this is quite an interesting state of affairs.
Andrew Cockburn's "Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins" can help explain this phenomenon. The shape of warfare, or at least the shape of warfare as described by the current establishment, has changed. It is or it no longer seems to be about "guts and glory," and it can even seem to be almost "bloodless." The "warrior" almost disappears from our wars as the way we wage war becomes more and more "technological." Where we once had soldiers fighting in units and as units, we now have "special forces" conducting "raids" in the dead of night, not taking on enemy forces organized as units but rather finding and killing "high value targets," as the jargon has it. Sometimes and increasingly, we don't even need to confront these "targets" directly, as we can or think we can take them out with drones so our "killers" are thousands of miles away from those being killed. It is hard, in these circumstances, to think of these people as either "soldiers" or "killers."
The great plus of Cockburn's book is that it reminds us that this is all more illusion than reality. That is, beneath the appearance of "precision war-making," the existence of allegedly "smart bombs," as well as the existence of the "all-seeing eye in the sky," war remains pretty much what it has always been: The obscene use of deadly force to impose one nation's will on others deemed to be "enemies." Why obscene? Not because wars are always unjust, because they aren't always unjust. Rather, obscene because wars always result in the slaughter of those who we label "civilians" but who should be labeled "innocent human beings." Why obscene? Because killing other human beings always leads to "dis-eased souls," even or perhaps especially when the killing is made to seem like a video game. Why obscene? Because what is called "victory" is always tainted by the sins of those celebrating victory, because victory in war is always accompanied by, even made possible by defiling that which makes us human.
Cockburn's final paragraph captures the obscenity as well as can be done: "As David Deptula promised that 'with a more intense campaign' victory would come quickly, enemy leaders switched off their cell phones and faded from view. Pentagon officials demanded more spending. Wall Street analysts hailed the prospect of 'sure-bet paydays' for drone builders and other weapons makers. The system rolled on autonomously - one big robot mowing the grass, forever."
Friday, March 13, 2015
Rescue or Hijacking? Mahoney on Solzhenitsyn
March 13, 2015
The Other Solzhenitsyn: Telling the Truth about a Misunderstood Writer and Thinker, Daniel J. Mahoney’s latest tome on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn poses a question: Is it a rescue or a hijacking? First, because this question above might seem unduly harsh, let me say upfront and emphatically, that this is a book, as is usually the case with Mahoney’s books, well worth reading. While it is a bit irritating in its rather endless praise of “everything Solzhenitsyn,” Mahoney writes so as to help us understand and appreciate his hero, Solzhenitsyn. And he makes it clear that those who would detract or diminish Solzhenitsyn can only do so by ignoring or distorting his work.
But the question remains: How is it best to understand that work and its author? Is “Mahoney’s Solzhenitsyn” an accurate portrayal of the man and his work? In one way, Mahoney’s portrayal is accurate, viz., when he labels Solzhenitsyn a “great man.” Few, even among his detractors, would doubt or challenge such a description. At one point, Mahoney characterizes Solzhenitsyn “as a writer, historian, philosopher, and moral witness,”  which might seem to be a bit much. But it is better than those “caricatures” by the “professional Solzhenitsyn bashers” Mahoney so rightly takes to task.
It is, however, Solzhenitsyn’s greatness that makes it possible to question whether he was the “moderate” Mahoney wants to make him out to be. For Mahoney, Solzhenitsyn chose “the middle way” and he was not, e.g., the radical nationalist some of his detractors make him out to be. Solzhenitsyn’s path went down the middle, between an “idolatrous nationalism and an apolitical, ‘excessive Orthodoxy’.” And his “resort to spirited rhetoric in dealing with . . .contentious issues” – the Ukraine and Russian Jews, for example – should not be taken to undercut “the fundamental moderation of his principles and of his political and historical judgments.” 
Although this is satisfying to some moderates, like Mahoney, who sees the essence of statesmanship as moderation, is it persuasive with regard to Solzhenitsyn or even in general with regard to statesmanship? As I would put the question about Solzhenitsyn to give it point: Would those in charge of our vast prison system, what might be called our “American gulag,” although not in a way meant to equate it with the Soviet gulag, want its inmates reading Solzhenitsyn? After all, he argued for the redemptive value of violence when one is in “a cage,” and seems, like Thomas Jefferson or Richard Wright, to think that rebellion is healthy, especially for the souls of those in cages, the “inmates,” those either in or out of prison.
This is just to suggest that there is something about Solzhenitsyn’s work that seems subversive. That is, his work is “radical” in the sense of going to the roots of our situation, thereby exposing “the Lie” and subverting the established order. He often called this order “the Progressive Doctrine” and, hence, necessarily included even “the West” in it. In a note Solzhenitsyn wrote to himself, dated June 28, 1979, he records his realization that his “mission” now included “the West” which was “Added to my enemies, the Soviets, [because of] the hostility of the pseudo-educated public of both East and West, as well as, one must say it – even more powerful circles.” [p. 14]
And why expect anything else from Solzhenitsyn, given his history, his intellect, and his spirit? Such men, “great men,” as Mahoney correctly calls Solzhenitsyn, disdain “the middle path.” And it is those who “live on the edge,” and not those who live in “the middle,” who see most clearly. It is from “the edge of town,” from outside the cave, that “the Lie” is visible. And this is true everywhere. Hence, Solzhenitsyn gives thanks for his imprisonment in the gulag, which was of course “on the edge of town,” for allowing him to see more clearly, to see “the Lie.”
This is why those most invested in the status quo – e.g., the graduates of Harvard University – reacted and react so intensely to Solzhenitsyn. They sensed and sense that he threatens them, their social standing, and their bona fides. It should not surprise anyone that, say, the New York Times in its obituary distorted Solzhenitsyn’s work when he died. It was to be expected. It is how entrenched moderates react to radicals, everywhere, unless of course they are domesticating them via their “interpretations.” But the cost of such domestication is high as it robs us of a light that penetrates our dilemmas most deeply and illuminates our situation most clearly. This, it seems to me, is what Solzhenitsyn claimed to do and, in fact, what he did. And as far as Solzhenitsyn giving witness, I cannot think of a better way to express that witness than to say, as someone once did, that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Ah Yes: Holy Warriors Attacked Boston
March 7, 2015
I cannot help but read the story below and smile to myself at how the prosecutors in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial are constructing a narrative, as is said these days, that paints the defendant as a “holy warrior” who was (a) waging war on Boston and (b) hoping thereby to qualify for “paradise” by dying a martyr, a religious martyr. Of course, what passes unnoticed by most who read of this strategy is that it plays into the hands of those who are labeled “Islamic extremists,” giving them a status they don’t deserve, if the protests of other Muslims are taken into account. But what is noticed even less often than that is that this strategy reflects the fact that many in the United States want to make the “war on terror” into an religious war, a holy war, as it were, and actually facilitates that characterization.
The point is: We cannot characterize people like Tsarnaev as “holy warriors” without at the same time making these attacks part of a religious war, which means that these allegedly “holy warriors” are making war on “our” religion(s) and we are obligated to respond appropriately, i.e., in defense of “our” religions. That is what happens, when the enemy is labeled “holy warriors;” we too become “holy warriors, willy nilly, because we become obligated to defend “our” religion(s) against these infidels. To fight the “unholy” who claim to be “holy,” we need to come to the defense of true or genuine holiness and, hence, we too become “holy warriors,” even if we disguise our warriors as “prosecutors” or “judges.”
It has been argued by some that while it would seem that our officials and we ourselves don’t mix religion and politics, this is in fact misleading. We like to say and to think that we practice, to different degrees to be sure, “the separation of church and state” and, therefore, we see ourselves as not mixing religion and politics. However, it is not clear that this is in fact the case, that we have by means of the alleged separation of church and state resolved satisfactorily what has been called by some the “theological/political problem” as we still seem to need to see ourselves as engaged in “holy wars” against “holy warriors,” carrying the banners of our religion(s) in front of us as we engage in yet another crusade against the infidels.
To the extent that this is the case, just to that extent will it be less than surprising that we will, as a people and as a government, engage in persecutions. And even if these persecutions are disguised as prosecutions, the rule of law and its corollary, “due process of law,” will fall by the wayside, as seems to be evident in the Tsarnaev trial. Perhaps this is no big deal. On the other hand, perhaps it is. And the prosecutors/persecutors in the Tsarnaev trial might, in their zeal to convict and condemn Tsarnaev, have opened, once again, a Pandora’s box it will be hard to close.