Sunday, July 30, 2023

Oppenheimer: The Movie

Oppenheimer, The Movie

Peter Schultz


            Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer got it right, when at the end of the movie, Oppenheimer says to Einstein that they had, indeed, destroyed the world with the creation of atomic weapons and the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it wasn’t the weapons that destroyed the world; it was the attacks on an already defeated Japan that did the trick. That is, Truman and the United States, by using the weapons as they did, had started World War III, a war that would be waged in Korea, in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), in Nicaragua, in Cuba, in Africa, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Kosovo, in Chile, in Syria, in Libya, in Ukraine, even in the United States (9/11). That war goes on today, as evidenced by the humongous United States “defense budgets,” approved by “both” political parties, with no end in sight. Technology doesn’t control our fate; politics does.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Myths of American Restraint


The Myths of American Restraint

Peter Schultz


            There’s a story that’s told by nearly everyone that after the US defeat in Vietnam, moral prohibitions controlled US policy, despite the objections of the neo-cons and others. For example, Valentine, who is as clear-sighted as anyone else, wrote: “The same thing [that had happened in Germany after its defeat in WW I] happened in America after the…. attacks of 9/11. Symbolically, 9/11 wiped the slate clean. All moral prohibitions on the rabid right were lifted, and all the rage they had cultivated during the degenerate Clinton years was unleashed, under the aegis of counterterrorism….” [285] And again: “…. when the Twin Towers came crashing down…. all the moral and psychological prohibitions on the Ultra conservatives were lifted forever….” [293]


            One aspect of this story which is problematic is the assumption that morality consists only of prohibitions, of “don’ts” and not of “do’s.” But morality or moral virtue motivates, legitimates, and facilitates actions, at least as much as it restrains, or prohibits actions. When you read about the people who sought out careers in, say, the CIA, it is obvious that it was their conceptions of the demands of moral virtue, on themselves as well as on the nation, that led them to embrace those careers. So, while most think as Valentine does in the quotes above, it is possible and even necessary to ask how did America’s generally accepted ideas of moral virtue contribute to the responses to the attacks of 9/11. As Valentine puts so well: “Bush embarked on his Holy Crusade against Islam, but directed it at Afghanistan and Iraq, not at Saudi Arabia, where his family’s business partners…. come from.” [293] Bush’s moral virtue, heavily influenced by his Christianity and his capitalism, was clearly evident in his responses to the 9/11 attacks.


            In fact, it is also necessary to ask: How did those generally accepted ideas of moral virtue contribute to attacks themselves? It is all-too-commonly assumed that it was US restraint or “the degenerate Clinton” that led to those attacks. If only Clinton had been more aggressive, more morally virtuous, those attacks would not have happened. But if in fact it was precisely American aggressiveness – for example, in contributing to the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan or the arming of Saddam Hussein in Iraq against Iran – that led to the attacks, then this is, as is often said, “a horse of a different color.” And insofar as American aggressiveness facilitated those attacks, made them more likely than they would have otherwise been, then the fact that the US “double-downed” on aggressiveness after the attacks seems, well, delusional. Having responded aggressively to events prior to the 9/11 attacks, thereby contributing to those attacks, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to double-down on aggressiveness after the attacks. But then as Bush’s “Holy Crusade” illustrated, aggressiveness is part and parcel of America’s conception of moral virtue, having its roots in Christianity and capitalism. America’s problem isn’t moral restraint; its problem is its conception of moral virtue.



Wednesday, July 26, 2023

More on Moral Virtue


More on Moral Virtue

Peter Schultz


A bit more from Valentine’s book, The CIA as Organized Crime: “One senses that the abuse they [the CIA in Vietnam and elsewhere] …. heaped on their victims …. forever warped their souls.” (254)

             Which is to say: their moral virtue warped their souls. Now there’s a phenomenon not often commented upon.

             “They no longer need[ed] to psych themselves up to dehumanize their imaginary enemies; it [was] second nature to them.”

              Their moral virtue allows for, recommends, is identical with “inhuman cruelty.” Which is what Machiavelli argued made for Hannibal’s greatness. Another phenomenon not often commented upon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

CIA Officers As Congressmen


CIA Officers As Congressmen

Peter Schultz


            In his book, The CIA as Organized Crime, Douglas Valentine has a chapter entitled, “The Spook Who Became a Congressman: Why CIA Officers Cannot be Allowed to Hold Public Office.” Valentine’s reasoning is simple: CIA officers “can’t be trusted to tell the truth about anything.” [240] Nevertheless, the American people don’t seem to agree as they were willing to elect Robert Simmons to Congress in 2000. And it is worthwhile to ask why.


            Valentine attributes Simmons’s victory to manipulation of the truth by Simmons and the media, especially some newspapers. And while there was manipulation in these ways, there is more to the story than that.


            It is worthwhile to ask how are public officials and public service understood that someone like Rob Simmons may make a valid claim that he deserves to be elected to such a position. Because public office is understood as a moral undertaking, those who seek to gain them or occupy them are understood as morally virtuous. Hence, no one can legitimately question the moral virtue of those who serve in public office when undertaking their official duties. And this is what happened when Simmons was accused of committing war crimes while a CIA officer in Vietnam. Simmons called the charges a “smear tactic" that impugned “any veteran, anybody who served his country in war.” [237] Serving your country in time of war is about the most morally virtuous action one can undertake. It is a service that is treated as above and beyond any other duty.


            So, as a result of the controversy that erupted, Simmons opponent was “rocked by the outpouring of sympathy for Simmons" and he fired two campaign workers for “inciting two…college students to plan…a rally against Simmons.” [238] And the local newspaper, the New London Day, called the charges “a dirty trick,” while, not surprisingly, “refusing to delve into the substance of the charges.” [238]


            So, what was happening? What did the outpouring of sympathy for Simmons demonstrate? It demonstrated that not only was Simmons's moral virtue being challenged, but so was that of the electorate. The sympathy shown to Simmons “soothed many Americans,” because their sympathy and votes demonstrated that they are, like Simmons, morally virtuous. Their sympathy and their votes helped “absolve them of complicity in the crimes” Simmons may have committed, so there was no need to look into "the substance of the charges." It was as if those crimes disappeared given the conviction that Simmons, like all soldiers, was morally virtuous. Apparently, moral virtue has something like a magical character, a chameleon-like character, such that moral virtue and crime go together quite well.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Moral Virtue and Political Virtue


Moral Virtue and Political Virtue

Peter Schultz


            It is very commonly thought that there are at least two kinds of virtue, moral and political virtue, and it is also commonly thought that the morally virtuous are superior to the politically virtuous. This comes across quite vividly in a book entitled Black Ops: The Life of a Shadow Warrior, by Ric Prado, who at one time was the CIA’s Counterterrorist Chief of Operations, now retired. According to Prado, operations officers like himself – and others – are characterized by moral virtue, whereas American politicians in Washington, D.C. resemble “a tank of political piranhas” who are quite willing to squelch the careers of the likes of Joe Fernandez in response to alleged scandals like Iran-Contra.


            But what if the morally virtuous are not only not superior to the politically virtuous, but also facilitate or even create destructive and deadly programs, helping to turn the human situation into a slaughterhouse? After all, moral virtue is basically about dominance; that is, about dominating one’s passions and about dominating those people who are vicious, people like communists or Islamic fundamentalists, people George Bush et. al., like to call “evil.” And because moral virtue is about dominance, it inevitably leads to death and destruction, or to repression and imperialism for the sake of redeeming or purifying the human condition.


            The political virtues, on the other hand, are about justice, accommodation, consent, and consensus. Understood politically, human life is characterized by several different and contending groups, each with different agendas. There are, for example, democrats, oligarchs, aristocrats, and monarchists. Each of these groups puts forward political claims that are valid, that form some part of what is known as justice. Democrats honor equality, whereas oligarchs honor the wealthy few, while aristocrats honor “the best few,” and monarchists honor “the one best.” Because each of these groups put forward valid claims, it is necessary and virtuous to seek to accommodate them, to reach some kind of consensus among them in order to ensure their consent. The political virtues, unlike the moral virtues, don’t aim at dominance but rather at accommodation, consensus, consent, even reaching at the best of times community; that is, a society characterized by affection.


            Politics then may serve to ameliorate the human condition and especially the human condition understood and governed moralistically. Perhaps this is why Aristotle’s sequel to his Ethics is his Politics. But while this reminds us that politics and the political virtues serve as correctives to the violent human condition that results from the agenda of the morally virtuous, it is also the case, at least as it comes across in Aristotle’s Politics, that while politics is a corrective it is not transformational. Political philosophy is then that activity that reminds us that politics and political activity should be taken with the utmost seriousness, while also reminding us of the limits of politics and political life. One way Aristotle expressed this thought was to argue that the good man and the good citizen are, for all practical circumstances, never the same. This is not to say that good citizenship isn’t good; it is. But it is to say that good citizenship should be confused with human goodness. Thus, those who, like MLK, Jr. or Gandhi, move toward embracing and promoting human goodness should not be surprised when their patriotism is questioned. Nor should we be surprised if they are assassinated or crucified.


            Blaise Pascal argued that the political works of Plato and Aristotle should be read, not as if they were serious political works, but rather read ironically, because Plato and Aristotle thought of political reforms as trying to bring order into a madhouse or loony bin. But perhaps a better or more accurate characterization of the human condition is that of a slaughterhouse, not a madhouse or loony bin. And if that characterization is the better one, and if that slaughterhouse is the result of the morally virtuous seeking redemption, social purification, or transformation, then it seems that even while recognizing there is no final solution to human troubles and violence, it would behoove us to take politics – and even or especially the politics of Plato and Aristotle – seriously.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Morality, Savagery, and Politics


Morality, Savagery, and Politics

Peter Schultz


            As I have noted previously in posts here, it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that it is moral virtue that allows or encourages human beings to engage in violence, destruction, and mayhem. Hence, people who think of themselves as morally virtuous, people like William Colby and Ric Prado, are attracted to agencies like the CIA. They are convinced that they are virtuous and that it is the virtuous who will redeem or rectify the world.


            As far as their virtue goes, just read Ric Prado’s description of Joe Fernandez, who was “a legend within the Agency.” Body and soul, Fernandez was “the quintessential CIA man.” He was a “tough…Cold Warrior of red-Spaniard blood and temperament;” “a shadow warrior with matching rugged good looks,” with a “cigarette elegantly poised in his hand,” while “scribbling” with a Mont Blac pen. He had “a killer smile” and eyes that “could pierce through bullshit like a laser.” [pp. 146-47] Obviously, Joe Fernandez and other quintessential CIA men are paragons of virtue.


            It is not clear from Prado’s account whether Fernandez acquired his virtues prior to or a result of being a CIA man. Prado presents himself as acquiring his virtues as a result of becoming a CIA man, under the tutelage of other paragons of virtue like Joe Fernandez, Dewey Clarridge, Allen Dulles, and Richard Helms. He, too, became a quintessential CIA man, body and soul, a morally virtuous American whose virtues were not compromised by the violence, the killings, the duplicity he took part in and oversaw. He was nothing like the “political piranhas” who populated Washington, D.C., which was “an ugly, despicable scene” who destroyed the careers of the likes of Joe Fernandez over the Iran-Contra scandal.


            It is clear: Black operators, shadow warriors like Prado and other CIA men and women are justified in their violence and duplicity because they are morally virtuous. Going to “the dark side,” as Vice President Cheney put it, isn’t dark at all. Rather, while it’s hidden from view, it is illuminated by morality, by the morality of its operators and its operations. This morality not only justifies the consequent violence and duplicity; it facilitates it, encourages it, creates it. Moral virtue leads humans into savagery, as has happened more than once in human history.


            Which is why politics becomes necessary, why political virtues need to be cultivated. Political virtues like justice, freedom, and equality may be used to tame the fanaticism that is fed by the impulses of the morally virtuous. Political life is characterized by different and contending agendas, none of which is beyond controversy. Democrats have valid political claims, as do oligarchs, as do aristocrats, as do monarchists. In the political world, these contending claims need adjudication. There is no one best way that’s applicable everywhere and always. In the political world, the morally virtuous are replaced or displaced by democrats, oligarchs, aristocrats, and monarchists. The claims of the morally virtuous are displaced by the political claims of the contending contestants.


            This is why Prado characterizes Washington, D.C. as a “tank of political piranhas.” Political beings, i.e., humans, aren’t primarily motivated by morality and, so, they aren’t led to indulge their impulses to dominant. Rather, they are led to embrace accommodations, compromise, even perhaps at times understanding of their rivals or enemies. Politically, human beings seek consent, whereas morally, human beings seek domination. The political impulse and the moral impulse point in very different directions, one toward consent, the other toward domination, one toward peace, the other toward war. 



            Prado, et. al., see moral issues, not political issues. Hence, domination constitutes victory, while accommodation constitutes defeat. Domination conveys honor, while accommodation conveys dishonor. The morally virtuous are honorable, while the politically virtuous are dishonorable, are accommodationists, are “appeasers.” To seek peace rather than victory is dishonorable, unworthy of “’quintessential CIA men,” men of rugged good looks who elegantly smoke cigarettes while scribbling with expensive pens and cutting through all the political bullshit.


            To label the CIA a “criminal conspiracy,” as Valentine does, obscures the underlying issue. The CIA doesn’t appeal to criminals; it appeals to moralists, to those who seek socially acceptable ways of satisfying their impulses for domination. Criminals break laws, whereas moralists undermine them. Criminals accept their punishments as losses, but as legitimate losses, while moralists see their punishments as betrayals or even as treason. Those moralists who are “cashiered” should be given awards, should be honored. Conspiratorial criminals are far less dangerous than conspiratorial moralists. Malcolm Little did not pose the danger posed by Malcolm X.


[Note: Pascal argued that Plato and Aristotle wrote about politics ironically and should be read that way, as humor, because for them political reforms were attempts to bring order into a madhouse. That could be, but Pascal might have underestimated the need for taking political reforms seriously given the human condition when humans are committed to being moral beings, which might be better characterized as a slaughterhouse than as a madhouse.] 



Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Blindness of American Elites


The Blindness of American Elites

Peter Schultz


            For all their reputed intelligence, American elites seem to be blinded by rather simplistic, moralistic views of those I will call “ordinary people.” Allegedly, according to American elites, ordinary people are “good,” are “decent,” even though they are often beset by ambitious manipulators, and they distrust government because they misunderstand it. This makes for a rather interesting view of politics, viz., that the basic political conflict is between tradition-bound ordinary people and modernizing elites, leading to what are called our “culture wars.” By this view, while they are moral, decent, of good, ordinary people aren’t political.


            But, in fact, ordinary people don’t distrust government and its elites because they misunderstand it. Rather, they distrust government and its elites because of the inequities they perceive the government and its elites have created, e.g., the inequitable distribution of wealth throughout society or that some people, for one reason or another, are said to deserve “favored status” ala’ “affirmative action” of one kind or another.


            By depriving ordinary people of any political concerns, such as concerns for dignity, self-government, or justice, American elites fail to understand why, so often, their plans, their programs are deemed unacceptable by ordinary people. Because ordinary people are concerned with justice, e.g., or consent of the governed, elitist policies that don’t address these concerns are irrelevant, and are often rejected. Whereas elites like to say that the basic conflict is between tradition-bound populations and modernizers, it isn’t. The basic conflict is between politically sensitive populations, those, e.g., seeking justice and self-government, and those elites seeking to maintain and fortify their power, their prominence, and their privileged status.


            That these elites want and act on behalf of “progress” doesn’t address the political concerns, the desires of ordinary people for dignity, self-government, and justice. For example, providing more schools, however beneficial, doesn’t address or even recognize the issues of who will control those schools and their curricula. And claiming that particular curricula are to be determined by experts who are “woke” also ignores the issue of control, of who will govern these institutions and what ends they will serve. Providing more prisons doesn’t address or even recognize the issues of who should be incarcerated in them or who will profit from them. Nor does building more prisons address or even recognize the question of what mass incarceration does to our communities and our families. More Is not always better even when it comes to wealth, security, or individual liberties. And whether it is better or not are political questions.  


            Elites and their commitment to “progress” leads them to consider such political concerns and questions to be irrelevant. They just want ordinary people to get “on board,” so to speak, to endorse their policies. Of course, ordinary people are right to resist such efforts insofar as the elites’ commitment to progress merely disguises what is in fact a political agenda, an agenda that inevitably benefits the few at the expense of the many. As even Aristotle knew so long ago, the most common, the most basic political and human conflict is between what he called “democrats” and “oligarchs.” The ordinary people know this because they feel it and its consequences.

Friday, July 14, 2023

More on Moral Virtue and Politics


More on Moral Virtue and Politics

Peter Schultz


            In his book, Deadly Paradigms, D. Michael Shafer points out in his assessment of US policies in Vietnam that US elites were “focused on Diem.” [254] By implication, Diem [and his brother, Ngo] was the problem; i.e., “Diem’s personal idiosyncrasies” were the problem. In brief, Diem lacked the necessary moral virtue, as he was attached to “paternalism and … to premodern forms of government.” So, it was because of his personal failings, his lack of moral virtue, that Diem could not offer the kind of leadership needed. If Diem, or someone, had possessed the necessary moral virtue – like the kind possessed by the Americans – then US elites “saw no fundamental limits to leadership capacity.”


            This is, essentially, a moralistic mindset. That is, US elites decided that Diem didn’t possess or couldn’t demonstrate the necessary moral virtue; Diem could not, “did not reform his government.” [254] US elites dismissed the thought that it was the oligarchic character of the Vietnamese political order, an order created by and for French colonial elites, that made it impossible for Diem to reform the government, regardless of his lack of moral virtue. As one villager put it: If Diem were to “protect the villagers’ interests,” he would have had to “hurt the interests of some very influential men.” If he had pleased “these men,” he would have had to “harm the villagers’ interests.” The problem wasn’t a moral problem; it was a political problem, viz., the existence of oligarchic political order, one created to serve the interests of very influential men.


            Time and again, US elites made the same mistake, thinking that they were confronting moral issues when they were confronting political issues. Even in 1961, US elites thought in moralistic terms, e.g., thinking that “a generous infusion of American personnel” – that is, an infusion of the virtuous Americans – “to all levels of the Vietnamese government and Army [would] instill them with the right kind of winning spirit….” [250] And, hence, the “optimism” that characterized US elites in their assessments of the situation in Vietnam. They were convinced that because they were virtuous, “a vigorous American effort [could] provide the South Vietnamese government and Army with the elan and style needed to win.” [251, added]


            Such moralizing leads to the idea that leadership is the all-important political variable and that those leaders are distinguished by their moral virtues, which bring real political reforms in their wake. Interestingly, the embrace of a politics of leadership is the result of moralizing politics. So, for example, after the attacks of 9/11, President Bush presented himself as a man of moral, Christian virtues, whom, he claimed once, God had chosen to lead the United States because of the 9/11 attacks. And his war on terror was not directed at bin Laden, but at evil. And the American people rallied wholeheartedly to his cause – at least for a little while – just as they had rallied to Ronald Reagan’s claim that the Vietnam War was “a noble undertaking” fought by morally virtuous Americans against an “evil empire.”

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Thoughts on Valentine's CIA


Thoughts on Valentine’s CIA

Peter Schultz


            In his book, The CIA as Organized Crime, Douglas Valentine writes of the United States’ “predatory impulse to dominate” as the root of the Phoenix program, as well as the CIA/DEA connection in Latin America, as well as elsewhere. “Phoenix is both the methodological and programmatic way these repressed impulses to dominate gradually emerge.”


            But, contrary to Valentine’s characterization of them, these impulses are not repressed, and they did not “gradually emerge.” Rather, they were embraced by the like of William Colby and other CIA agents and embraced openly without guilt. Why? Because “the impulse to dominate” is the crux of moral virtue and the psychology of the morally virtuous. Hence, what Valentine is actually describing is the pursuit of moral virtue playing itself out, both with regard to individuals like Colby and with regard to US policies like Phoenix.


            Earlier in his book, Valentine quoted someone, a CIA officer, who characterized CIA types as being persons who sought “socially acceptable ways to express their criminal tendencies.” But this is not so. CIA types, like Colby, use their positions and power to express their moralistic tendencies, to express or demonstrate their moral virtue by imposing it on others.


            Moral virtue is about domination, satisfying or gratifying one’s impulses to dominate oneself and others. This is what politics is also about and what makes it dangerous: gratifying the impulses to dominate. [Modernity: these impulses were to be disguised, even perhaps transformed, into government; that is, into offices with defined and therefore limited powers, thereby creating bureaucratic institutions which would be safe because the impulse to dominate would be controlled. One may wonder to what extent this project has proved to be successful.]


            This means, among other things, that savagery isn’t the problem. Rather, morality is the problem because it leads to savagery and justifies it. Where is savagery more at home, in primitive, tribal societies or in civilized societies? Are tribal societies as moralistic as civilized societies? Aren’t civilized societies proud of the fact that they are moralism, whereas tribal societies are proud of their spiritualization? And doesn’t moralism lie at the heart of civilization, while spiritualism lies at the heart of tribalism?


            Morality or moralism has almost nothing to do with spiritualism, as may be illustrated by the history of Catholicism, which when it became moralistic and sought to dominate others in the Holy Roman Empire lost its spirituality. Morality is about dominating, yourself and others. Spirituality is about “growth,” not dominating or “ordering” oneself or one’s soul, which is what Socrates meant when he told the Athenians at his trial that they should be about “making your soul the best possible.”


            Moreover, Valentine keeps saying that the United States’ foreign policies, their wars especially, seek to destabilize governments. “Corruption is the best way of destabilizing a country.” But the United States’ goal isn’t destabilization, it’s stabilization via co-optation via hegemony. Think Karp, who was well aware that corruption underlay and bottomed the US oligarchy. Hence, the oligarchs practice a corrupt politics and act as if there is no alternative because “the system is broken” and can’t be fixed! At one point, Valentine seems to see as much too when he writes of “social engineering based on institutional racism.” Exactly! Racism stabilizes, keeps the oligarchs in power, just as corruption stabilizes, keeps the oligarchs in power. What Hillary Clinton sought in her coup in Honduras in 2009, what Nixon and Kissinger sought in their Chilean coup, what the US sought in Iran in the 1950s coup there, and what the US seeks in Ukraine today is not destabilization but stabilization. US policies are best described as social engineering based on corruption, including savagery.


            What if Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Machiavelli were aware of the problematic character of morality and of “civilization?” What if their use of irony was a reflection of their exposing the inhumanity that underlay what were considered – and are still considered – the pinnacles of human civilizations, Athens, Sparta, and Rome? Socrates despised Pericles, as did Thucydides. Some have argued that in the Republic, Socrates and Thrasymachus became “friends” – at least Socrates silences Thrasymachus – perhaps because both see what was taken to be “the glory of Athens” for what it actually was.


            And what if it is in the works of American dissenters that the same clear-sightedness occurs? If so, it would make sense to study seriously the Anti-Federalists as well as the Federalists, black political thought, feminist political thought, and political radicals generally.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The CIA and the Morally Virtuous


The CIA and the Morally Virtuous

Peter Schultz


            William Colby thought of himself as a morally virtuous man. And he was in many ways. But why was he attracted to the CIA and willing to devote his life thereto? Beyond patriotism, what might have been his motivations?


            How do the morally virtuous see the world? They see it as a series of battles that they must wage to become morally virtuous, to become courageous, to become sexually disciplined, to become temperate, etc. And, of course, how does the world appear to organizations like the CIA? As involving a series of battles, both overt and covert, that must be fought to make the world civilized, to make it peaceful, make it profitable, to ameliorate the human condition. To the morally virtuous, the way the CIA understands the world makes perfect sense. The personal and the political align.


            There is a further attraction the CIA holds for the morally virtuous, viz., that they get to display their moral virtue, to demonstrate that they are in fact morally virtuous, and to demonstrate it in ways that will be praised, be honored by their fellow countrymen. And displaying one’s moral virtue plays a significant role in the psychology of the morally virtuous because it is through displaying their virtues that they are rewarded for the battles they have waged to become morally virtuous. Keeping one’s moral virtue hidden makes about as much sense as keeping a candle hidden under a basket. And, of course, it isn’t at all psychologically satisfying. “I am good” is so much more satisfying when someone says, “Yes, you are good.”


            In this regard, it is a rather interesting, although not often remarked upon phenomenon that many of our CIA officials, especially those who are the top officials, are prominent, well-known, and appear to be not much opposed to such notoriety. In fact, they often seem to seek such notoriety, which might be thought strange for officers who are reputed to be “keeper of secrets.” Apparently, their prominence and their power are not to be kept secret. How many people don’t recognize the names Howard Hunt, George W.B. Bush, Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, William Colby, William J. Casey, George Tenet, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, or even James McCord or G. Gordon Liddy? But then this makes sense insofar as such notoriety, which usually involves considerable praise and honoring, may be seen as rewards for all those battles these people waged, allegedly on our behalf, which required repeated sacrifices.


            Which leaves me with a question: In the final analysis, where does moral virtue lead?  

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Comments on the Euthyphro


Comments on the Euthyphro

Peter Schultz


            “Socrates encounters Euthyphro outside the court of Athens. Socrates has been called to court on charges of impiety by Meletus, and Euthyphro has come to prosecute his own father for having unintentionally killed a murderous hired hand. Socrates flatters Euthyphro, suggesting that Euthyphro must be a great expert in religious matters if he is willing to prosecute his own father on so questionable a charge. Euthyphro concurs that he does indeed know all there is to be known about what is holy.”


            One way to understand the Euthyphro is to say it raises the question: What is piety? That is, is piety imitating the gods or obeying the gods?


            But there is another way as well, as raising the question whether virtue leads human beings into doing impious things? Euthyphro obviously considers himself a virtuous man and, hence, he has decided that he needs to prosecute his father for having killed a homicidal slave, at least inadvertently. Euthyphro’s conviction that he is a virtuous man is what makes it possible for him to prosecute his father for the killing of the slave. Socrates challenges Euthyphro’s actions, calling into question Euthyphro’s justifications for his actions, and at the end of the dialogue Euthyphro is less than happy with Socrates, given Socrates’s questioning and criticisms.


            By challenging Euthyphro’s actions, Socrates is also challenging his virtue. Is Euthyphro behaving virtuously, as he believes he is doing? But by challenging Euthyphro’s virtue, Socrates may also be said to be challenging virtue generally. That is, Socrates confrontation with Euthyphro gives rise to the question: Does virtue as conventionally understood lead human beings into committing impious deeds?


            It is not uncommon for those who are thought of as virtuous and who think of themselves as virtuous to be led into committing impious or inhuman deeds. History provides many illustrations of this phenomenon, where otherwise decent people commit indecent, even inhuman deeds. This was true in Kenya, for example, where otherwise decent British people committed some of the most beastly deeds imaginable. It was true in the Belgian Congo as well, and it was true in Vietnam where Americans, decent Americans like William Colby, committed and justified acts that can only be described as inhuman.


            Insofar as this is the case, then it needs to be asked: What is virtue? That is, what is the status of virtue as it is conventionally understood? Is it anything more than a fa├žade, a false front as it were, behind which lies a much darker reality? And insofar as this so, how is it possible to prevent human beings, decent and morally virtuous human beings, from committing obscene and inhuman acts? Because obviously, if this is so, then moral virtue alone is not enough to prevent such obscenities, such inhumanity. Or are we stuck with telling our children, as Kurt Vonnegut put it in Slaughterhouse Five, don’t participate in massacres or mass murder?

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The Problem of Virtue


The Problem of Virtue

Peter Schultz


            I have been grappling with virtue, primarily as a problem. I was getting confused or so it seemed. Then I asked myself, regarding William Colby and his career with the CIA and especially with regard to Vietnam: What led William Colby to think that he could “save” or “civilize” Vietnam, improve it, ameliorate life there, bringing to it the good things that modernity promised? Well, he thought that because he thought of himself as virtuous; that is, he was educated in a way the Vietnamese weren’t, he was well brought up, he was intelligent in an enlightened way, he was compassionate, he was a family man, he was liberal, and he was religious. So, he was convinced that he could successfully intervene in Vietnam and elsewhere in the world via the CIA, thereby improving Vietnam and the world via his interventions. That was his conviction and remained his conviction despite the debacle of US involvement in Vietnam.


            But he was wrong because he didn’t understand what virtue is or what it isn’t, and that it’s not enough. He hadn’t thought through his conception of, his possession of virtue and, therefore, he was unaware of its “limitations,” of its character. As a result, he was led into savagery via, e.g., the Phoenix program, which he mistook for necessity. His virtue(s) blinded him to the fact that he had choices, choices that would have allowed him to reject the savagery he embraced as necessity in Vietnam and elsewhere.


            To recognize these choices, however, required that Colby leave “the cave” and ascend toward the light. That is, Colby would have had to “philosophize,” or question and transcend the world view he took for granted and in which his conception of virtue was embedded.


            Of course, his official position with the CIA and his commitment to the US agenda in Vietnam did not allow him to do that. His official position and his commitments required that he resist those choices that were available to him, had he been able to see them. And to see them, he would have had to see his virtues for what they were, conventions created by society because they seemed useful. Colby was, therefore, blinded by his virtue and his blindness proved deadly, tragically deadly, for the US but especially for the Vietnamese.

Monday, July 3, 2023

US Savagery Described as Virtue


US Savagery Described as Virtue

Peter Schultz


            Here are some passages from the book Shadow Warrior, by Randell P. Woods, a biography of William Colby, long time official of the CIA, describing the Phoenix program and Colby’s justification of it. It was, of course, as assassination program which killed thousands of Vietnamese, not all of whom were communists, which Woods makes clear. Nonetheless, Woods presents the program and Colby as virtuous.  


            “Bill Colby was out of the CIA (ostensibly) and back in Vietnam as second in command of the largest and most successful counterinsurgency/pacification program in American history.” [245]


            “Separately, the counterterror squads [which were of course terror squads] now named Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs)…would roam the countryside gathering information of the Viet Cong cadres and either turning or killing them….In some regions, the PRUs acted as effective – if brutal – adversaries of the Viet Cong; in others, they operated as the enforcement arm of corrupt province chiefs.” [251]


            “In Vietnam, as elsewhere, the CIA operated in a legal and moral world of its own making. The only controls were internal….By its own definition, the CIA operated outside of boxes, whether political, bureaucratic, legal, or moral; the only operations and schemes Bill Colby ever rejected were the ones he considered counter-productive of long-range policy goals. Like the soldier priests who came to Southeast Asia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and embraced the world with all its flaws to win it for Christianity, Colby was willing to employ virtually any means to achieve the end of containing and then defeating the forces of international communism. His pragmatism, coupled with his political liberalism, impelled him to advocate openings to the left to create a vital non-communist center.” [251, emphasis added]


            Savagery described as “pragmatism,” and identified with Christianity and, implicitly, with the will of God as understood by Christians. The question recurs: What is virtue? Is it in fact, as Machiavelli put it regarding Hannibal, “inhuman cruelty?” Did this question escape the notice of the likes of Plato, Aristotle, or Thucydides?