Sunday, October 29, 2023

Mass Murder


Mass Murder

Peter Schultz


Question: Where does the capacity for "mass murder" originate? Mass murders are as common as war in human history. What’s called “the Holocaust” was just one of many mass murder “events.” It was anything but unique. Mass murder is even respectable and supported by respectable people, people deemed to be “decent.” For example, take the extermination of the indigenous peoples of “the New World” following its “discovery” by Europeans. Not only was this holocaust respectable, it was deemed a demonstration of European superiority, just as was the attempted extermination of indigenous people in the United States. Or take the Brits savagery in Kenya and other places, which were deemed demonstrations of the moral and political superiority of the British Empire and of the British people.


So where does the capacity for mass murder originate? In those people who are convinced that they are morally and politically superior. Trace mass murder back to its roots and you’ll find the morally and politically virtuous, respectable people, decent people.


I believe this is what Machiavelli meant when he pointed out how far it is from how human beings say they live, virtuously and decently, to how they actually live, unjustly, even savagely. The savages succeed and Machiavelli didn’t mean by “savages” primitive people. He meant the civilized people, and especially those civilized people who achieved greatness. The key to Hannibal’s greatness was his “inhuman cruelty.” The Israelis are demonstrating the truth in Machiavelli’s teaching. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Respectables: Why are They Dangerous

The Respectables: Why are They Dangerous

Peter Schultz


            The respectables are tied to the prevailing order because it’s that order that defines “respectability” and confers that honor on some. To receive this label, this honor, one must hold firmly to the idea that the existing order, the status quo, is honorable. That is, the order itself must not be questioned; while failures may be occur, those events must be thought of as mistakes, not as the consequences stemming from the flaws, the shortcomings of the existing order and its principles.  


            So, something like 9/11 cannot be seen as the result of the prevailing order and its principles. The blame must be placed on the perpetrators and on mistakes made by those charged with dealing with those perpetrators. The “dots weren’t connected.” Hence, in the aftermath of events like 9/11, the goal becomes strengthening the prevailing order, not reforming it. If bureaucratic agencies failed, they must be strengthened, not changed or replaced by other kinds of institutions. If the CIA failed, strengthen it; don’t replace it or, as JFK said he wanted to do after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, break it into a thousand pieces.


            And all of this will be supported by the respectables, just as supporting all of this will become the test of one’s respectability. No support, no respectability. The powerful may have been fooled, hoodwinked, but they and their principles weren’t fatally flawed. So, what’s needed? What’s respectable? Reinforce the prevailing order and its principles, via renewed patriotism, for example. Reinforcement but not reform. Wave flags, wage wars, but don’t, under any circumstances, think critically about the prevailing order and its principles.

Thursday, October 26, 2023


 I don't think I have ever posted this before. But forgive me if I have. I have two memories. One, was being in a limo in Metuchen, NJ, on Flag Day, June 14, 1967, when my brother, Charlie, was being buried. We were driving on Main St. on the way to Hillside Cemetery when I saw a man entering a store there, not seeing us. And I thought: "Doesn't he know what's happening? Doesn't he know Charlie is dead and about to be buried?' He was not at fault. I knew it but couldn't understand it. Two, I was in a car on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in a funeral procession for the father of a friend of mine, David. As we drove to the cemetery, people who were in cars traveling in the other direction, all stopped and got out of their cars and stood while we passed, taking off their hats if they wore any. It was a remarkable display of humanity, of shared humanity. And I have never forgotten and never will forget it. Honoring our "dead" keeps them alive, at least for a little while. 

Memorial Day

May 25, 1998

by Peter Schultz

Thank you and I am honored to be here and to be able to speak. I would like to take just a few minutes to tell you what this place means to me.

First, it's a place to remember. My brother Charlie is remembered here. He grew up in Metuchen, graduated from Metuchen High School in 1962 and Muhlenburg College in 1966. After college, Charlie enlisted in the Marine Corps, went to OCS at Quantico, Virginia and was commissioned a 2d Lt. He was assigned to Vietnam, where he arrived on May 4, 1967. On June 3, he was killed in a night battle near Chu Lai.

Charlie did not have to go into the Marine Corps. He had been accepted to graduate school and had he chosen to do that he would have been granted a deferment and could have avoided the service altogether. But he thought his country needed him. He was a devoted follower of John Kennedy, who told us "to ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Charlie answered that question by joining the Marines.

A few days after his death we received a letter from his commanding officer. It read in part:

My dear Mr. and Mrs. Schultz: The untimely death of your son, on 3 June at Quang Tin Province is a
source of sorrow to me and to his fellow Marines. Charles was assigned as Platoon Commander First Platoon of Company F. At the time of his death, Charles was taking part in Operation Union II, a search and destroy mission. While crossing a rice paddy in search of the Viet Cong, Charles' platoon came under heavy fire from the Viet Cong. Charles was critically wounded in the first burst of fire. He
immediately received the best medical attention but failed to respond. Charles' cheerful disposition, pleasant personality and devotion to duty won for him respect from all who knew him. Although I realize that words can do little to console you, I do hope the knowledge that your son is keenly missed and that we share your sorrow will in some measure alleviate the suffering caused by your great loss.
Signed, M.C. Jackson, Lt. Colonel, USMC

Such a letter to receive. Devastating. But, I think too, such a letter to write. I do not know Col. Jackson but I detect from his letter that he is a good man who understood quite well what his letter would mean. And writing this letter and others was part of his job. It must have been torture.

This confirms what for me is a truth - this thing we call war is obscene. I do not mean that the Vietnam War in particular was obscene. And I do not mean that wars cannot be just or that they aren't necessary. But even when necessary and just, still war is obscene.

And because they are, when they are over we, all of us, must heal. And this is the second thing this place means to me - it is a healing place.

This park is beautiful in form and intention. The trees, the flowers, and markers, especially the markers, the simple markers. They are all beautiful. And the markers explain the park's intention - that we never forget those who gave, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "the last, full measure of devotion."

But more important than the park for me are the people who have made it. There are many and I would like to recognize three, Betsy Schwartz, Suzanne Nann and Bob Nann. I first came to the park to watch a play Betsy has written entitled "Memorial Park." If you haven't seen it or read it, you should. It is a beautiful play. And Suzanne Nann I have not known for very long. But since we met she has welcomed me, welcomed me home, and made me feel like I am a part of this park.

And especially Bob Nann. Bob and I go way back. We go back to Little League baseball and to Metuchen High School where we were classmates. After graduating, we both went to college and then Bob ended up in Vietnam. He was stationed at Chu Lai and he saw the battle in which Charlie died.

For that reason Bob is important to me. But for another reason as well. I'll explain it this way.
The men in Vietnam had a word for what they did most of the time, "humping." The "grunts" in Nam
humped, day after day, night after night. It was tedious, it was hot, it was cold, it was wet, and it was dry. Worst of all, it was dangerous. And all they had for comfort was comradeship.

I've done my share of humping. No, not in Vietnam, although I tried. After I graduated college, I enlisted in the Army reserve. Then I went active duty and asked to be sent to Vietnam but they wouldn't do it. As my wife and friend, Kathi, said recently: "Thank God some one had more sense than you did." Indeed.

But figuratively I have been humping in Vietnam. It is not dangerous but it is hard, it is hell, and too often it is lonely. For a long time l felt alone.

But then I came here; I came home, and found Bob Nann. And since then I feel as if we have been walking, humping, together trying to heal from the pain of Vietnam. So, Bob, thank you. Thank you for remembering and honoring my brother, Charlie. And thank you for being there, for walking with me and sharing my pain and grief. I lost my brother in Vietnam and I will always miss him. But I have found another brother here. Thank you, Bob Nann, for helping me to heal.


Memorial Day 1998

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Last updated 6/12/00 by Jim Halpin.


Monday, October 23, 2023

What's the Matter With Kansas?


What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Peter Schultz


            Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? reflects Frank’s failure to understand politics, what it is, and what it means to humans.


            Politics creates conflicts because it’s about determining right and wrong, the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, fair and unfair. When people vote, e.g., they vote for what they think is right, just, beautiful, and/or fair. They are not voting as their interests, economic or social, dictate, which is how people like Frank want them to vote in order to minimize conflict, to guarantee progress.


            To be sure, if Kansans voted their interests, there would be less conflict than when they vote their politics. Economic disagreements are less divisive then, say, class conflicts because the latter involve issues of justice. Which is why those who emphasize class are accused of advocating class warfare. Interests are negotiable in ways different conceptions of justice, e.g., are not. The latter often lead to violence, racial or religious, e.g., whereas the former, not so much.


            The problem is: Politics is destiny. Politics defines us; our politics demonstrates who we are, e.g., “Americans,” “Palestinians,” “Ukrainians,” “Russians,” or “Jews.” Politics is authoritative; it is determinative of the most important things, like right, justice, the beautiful, or the fair. Hence, for many, “America [is] the beautiful.”


            To think that there is something the matter with Kansas because many Kansans vote against their interests reveals there is something the matter, but it’s with Thomas Frank because he doesn’t understand politics or humans. Politics is ineradicable; it’s permanent. And it will always trump economics, science, or more broadly even progress.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Rejoicing in War


Rejoicing in War

Peter Schultz


            “Many Northerners…rejoiced that the United States could prove its power in war. War showed that the American nation had strength equal or superior to all others.” [The Destructive War, 155]


            But the rejoicing was about more than the United States’ power: it was also and more importantly about the United States’ virtue, a virtue that constituted the United States’ greatness. Northerners were rejoicing in the war because the war established and proved the greatness of the United States, proved its magnanimity.


            This is why human beings rejoice in war. For example, in the US, post-9/11: Bush, with his megaphone at “Ground Zero,” was anticipating, rejoicing in the coming worldwide war on terror that he would proudly and self-righteously proclaim. And, of course, the people cheered. They too were rejoicing in anticipation of that war because it would establish and demonstrate America’s greatness. It is in the shedding of blood that nations and people demonstrate their virtue, their magnanimity, their greatness.  


            Nathanial P. Banks, former governor of Massachusetts, claimed during the Civil War: “It [the nation] has been sanctified by the sacrifice of the best blood of the people and that sacrifice has made it a nation, indissoluble and eternal.” [ibid. 150] Shedding blood, yours or others, giving it or taking it, is sanctifying, sanctifies the nation, confirming its greatness. And so, the sanctified nation must be honored by its members. God blessed America. Defying America is beyond treason; it is defying God; it is sacrilegious or unholy. And, of course, Lincoln, at Gettysburg, said the blood that was shed there sanctified that ground and would give the nation “a new birth of freedom.” Like other births, this one was accompanied by bloodshed.


            Rejoicing in war underlines the ambiguity of moral virtue, of the quest for and attainment of political greatness. Those pursuing moral virtue and those pursuing political greatness embrace war, willingly, even eagerly. Perhaps this is why Plato said that “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Sunday, October 8, 2023

William Colby and the CIA's Moral and Intellectual Virtues


William Colby and the CIA’s Moral and Intellectual Virtues

Peter Schultz


            In his “maiden speech” as DCI for the CIA, William Colby had this to say: “in the intelligence profession we will be required to show moral and intellectual courage.” [Shadow Warrior, 370]


            Would that be the moral and intellectual courage that was required in the Phoenix assassination and torture program in Vietnam, in Chile, in Indonesia, in Cuba, in Panama, in Iraq?


            If so, then it is fair to ask what is moral and intellectual courage? Does it include murdering and torturing human beings? It does. So, murdering and torturing are transformed, magically as it were, into moral and intellectual virtues – and such acts are accepted, even praiseworthy aspects of “the intelligence profession.”


            How does this happen? Via a belief in a “divinely decreed destiny,” which the CIA was serving. To believe in such a destiny it helps to believe, e.g., that God has blessed America. And where are people who believe in such a destiny most likely to be found, in prisons or at Harvard, Yale, and other elite institutions? Don’t those attending such elite institutions have a vested interest, so to speak, in believing in such destinies? “We are at elite institutions, so we are the elite; we are the chosen ones. That’s our destiny.”


Whether it’s called a divine or a natural destiny, these people take themselves to be superior beings, virtuous beings, serving humanity as its benefactors. And those Americans who believe that America is destined for greatness, either destined by God or by its exceptional virtues, share this belief in their own superiority, a superiority that justifies inhuman cruelties such as aggressive war, assassinations, and torture.  


            In any case, the actions of these elites, even if inhumanly cruel, are justified, even praiseworthy. They are especially praiseworthy when they are committed by those in “the intelligence profession,” apparently a profession like the medical profession, with one small difference: CIA professionals don’t take an oath to do no harm. In fact, for the CIA, doing harm becomes, magically, the profession’s virtue. Murder and torture, for intelligence professionals, are virtues and are guarantees of respectability.  


            So it goes.

Serendipity and the Respectables


Serendipity and the Respectables

Peter Schultz


            The respectables tend to believe in a divinely decreed destiny because that gives meaning, in the form of divine approval, to their respectability. Hence, the respectables are often snobbish.


            Inculcating a belief in divinely decreed destinies is socially and politically useful insofar as such a belief facilitates social and political success or greatness. It justifies the cruelty that is required to achieve greatness, to achieve and demonstrate superiority or dominance, another attribute of respectability. It is through rule, through dominance, that superiority, greatness, or virtue is achieved and demonstrated. It is most useful if such dominance is thought to be divinely decreed; it is useful to think that God blessed or blesses America. America’s dominance is best mythologized as a divinely decreed destiny.


            But wait. Fate or destiny: Is it divinely decreed or is it serendipitous? Are events decreed or should we say of them, “so it goes?” In Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut introduces Billy Pilgrim, who is trying to understand the Dresden firebombing, to aliens who accept events as they unfold, don’t try to control or change them, because that is “the way the moment was constructed.” So, perhaps, however strange it might seem, fate or destiny is not divinely decreed; it is serendipitous. “So it goes.”

Friday, October 6, 2023

Thoughts on Royster's The Destructive War


Thoughts on Royster

P. Schultz


            Why is greatness more appealing than goodness? Because greatness confirms that one has a divinely decreed destiny, confirms that one is “sanctified,” as Stonewall Jackson thought he was.


            By attributing victories to God, Jackson was confirming both his and the Confederacy’s divinely decreed destiny. This confirmation required domination and domination confirmed divine approval. Isn’t this the heart of “American exceptionalism?” This is shared by most Americans, but most strongly by the most patriotic, most dedicated Americans, just as it was shared by both Jackson and Sherman, and by people in the north and in the south. It was shared even in the presence of slavery and savagery. In fact, it was required because it was the only way to redeem those phenomena.


            This was also true of the Civil War itself. Unless it represented a divinely decreed destiny, the war was just inhuman in its death and destruction. And insofar as it was seen as part of the unfolding of such a destiny, then its death and destruction were justified. “His [Jackson’s] aggressiveness embodied his confidence that, when the destruction to which he committed himself stopped at last, his cause would prove to have been God’s.” [69] Did not Lincoln justify the war in the same way? Read his second inaugural.


            This is the veil that Machiavelli lifted, by asserting, e.g., that Hannibal’s greatness – and it was greatness – was due to his inhuman cruelty. When the belief in a divinely decreed destiny is seen for what it is, a myth, then greatness can be seen for what it actually is, inhuman cruelty. And when that veil is lifted, no wars will be seen as “heroic wars.” There are wars, of course, but there are no heroic wars. Interestingly, though, lifting this veil could make the world a more peaceful place because there would be no “holy wars.” Wars, yes; holy wars, no. And no wars of annihilation or purification.


            Why was the movie Mash banned in Israel? Because it presented war as an obscenity in which the dedicated appear as fools and the ironic appear as wise. Israel, because Jews claim to be “the chosen people,’ cannot tolerate the idea that war is obscene, that it is not divinely decreed. Because insofar as war is not divinely decreed, so too it becomes doubtful that the Jews’ claim to be a divinely decreed people also becomes doubtful. Similarly, if God didn’t bless America, then its wars are not divinely decreed. They are obscenities, maybe just or necessary, but still obscenities.

Politics: Some Really Weird Shit


Politics: Some Really Weird Shit

Peter Schultz


            On February 20, 1973, Richard Nixon sent the following note to William Colby as American POWs returned from Vietnam: “As I saw our POWs come off the plane at Clark Field, I was never so proud to be an American. This would not have been possible had it not been for those – like you – who served America with such dedication.”


            Perhaps if more Americans had served America with less dedication and more dissent there wouldn’t have been POWs at all. But take note: Nixon, by celebrating the return of the POWs, is celebrating the war and the Americans who dedicated themselves to it. It’s like a magic show. According to Nixon, the debacle in Vietnam is something to be celebrated. Even in defeat, America and her dedicated, virtuous citizens are to be celebrated. That’s some weird shit.


            And another moral fable appeared, one in which of course the Americans are the “good guys,” especially those who were dedicated to the war. So, Nixon celebrates the POWs, despite the fact that they represented the failure of the US war in Vietnam. Despite the fact that Communists had defeated the America, Nixon “was never so proud to be an American.”  Why would, how could a person feel pride in such a situation? This is some weird shit.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Nixon, Watergate, and Conspiratorial Politics


Nixon, Watergate, and Conspiratorial Politics

Peter Schultz


            Nixon’s apparent passivity seemed remarkable as Watergate events unfolded. For example, Nixon didn’t ask John Mitchell about whether or not he was aware of, even responsible for the burglary. When Nixon explained why, he said: “If he [Nixon] asked and Mitchell said, ‘Yes, I did it. Then what do we say?’” [202, Silent Coup]


            This alerts us to something interesting about the behavior of politicians who believe that politics is all about power, getting it and keeping it. Nixon didn’t confront Mitchell because the result might be a loss of power. “Then what do we say?” On the other hand, in not asking Mitchell about the burglary, Nixon could claim, were Mitchell held responsible, that he, Nixon, didn’t know anything about the burglary. Not asking Mitchell was, therefore, Nixon’s best strategy insofar as he was seeking to protect his power. Even if his gambit failed, Nixon would be no worse off than if he had asked Mitchell and was discovered to have kept Mitchell’s answer secret.


            In other words, when politics is all about power, cover-ups are the best strategy, even if they don’t always work. If your goal is to protect your power, not justice, e.g., you might as well cover up because even if the cover up doesn’t work, you’re no worse off than if you told the truth to begin with. It’s the best available strategy because (1) your cover up might succeed and (2) because even if it doesn’t, it might mitigate the damage to your power. When politics is all about power, honesty is not the best policy. In fact, dishonesty is.


            So, Nixon being non-confrontational, avoiding confrontations in order to cover up events wasn’t a personality trait, although it might seem like one. It wasn’t even the result of paranoia. Covering up is the best political strategy available if politics is all about power, getting it and keeping it. It’s why institutions would rather pay off abusers than prosecute them. The payoffs protect the institutions’ power. Prosecutions might get justice, but they don’t fortify institutions or their elites.


            Hence, as Machiavelli so clearly indicated, conspiracies are the stuff of politics because being conspiratorial is the best available strategy if you are all about power. It’s your best bet for getting and keeping power. Persuasion, seeking consent or power honestly, is a two-way street, so to speak. Those you’re appealing to might or might not respond favorably. But if you seek power conspiratorially, you are in charge via your manipulations. If successful, then you rule. And if you are unsuccessful, you can deny your involvement and do so plausibly. This is what the CIA, et. al., call “plausible deniability.”  And it is, of course, the essence of power politics.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

American Politics: The Pursuit of Empire


American Politics: The Pursuit of Empire

Peter Schultz


            American politics revolves around two ideas: First, it revolves around the idea that, as Thomas Paine and Ronald Reagan said, the world can be begun again. New modes and orders, “new world orders,” not only can be imagined but they can be implemented. Second, it revolves around the idea that power, centralized, pervasive power is the key to creating the new modes and orders it imagines. This power needs to be essentially bureaucratic, with technological and military powers playing huge roles in the necessary bureaucratic arrangements.


            New modes and orders have been embraced by Americans from at least 1789 when a new constitution was implemented. The defense of that Constitution, made plain in the Federalist Papers, involved relying on “a new science of politics,” which included a new vocabulary such as “the presidency,” “checks and balances,” “the separation of powers,” a “Supreme Court,” a “federal district,” “judicial review,” “the freedom of speech,” and “states’ rights,” to name a few. Originally, the new modes and orders included racial slavery and “interactions” with indigenous peoples, the latter to be subsumed into the new empire to be created.


            The new modes and orders were expansionary, eventually even to the point of that expansion was manifestly deemed the nation’s destiny. In fact, early on, it was commonly thought that the United States would encompass the entire Western Hemisphere, south as well as north, Canada as well as Mexico and beyond. The new science of politics underlying the new American Constitution fed American hubris, culminating in a desire for becoming a great empire. That desire, that passion is perhaps the strongest desire, the strongest passion characterizing American politics and the elites overseeing the regime. Rarely have American politicians challenged this desire, this passion for empire. In fact, I cannot think of one today who does. Not only Donald Trump, but the Democrats as well, want American greatness to be evidenced by its global military and economic predominance, labeled “full spectrum dominance,” these days. That dominance will include outer space as well. This is, easily, America’s most powerful “ideal.” Hence, respectable and respected people think that idealistically America should rule the world by means of centralized and pervasive technological and military power.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lobbyists, Oligarchy, and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Lobbyists, Oligarchy, and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Peter Schultz


            I am reading an informative book, American Oligarchy: The Permanent Political Class, by Ron Formisano. He makes a powerful case that money is key to the American oligarchy, to maintaining it and getting it to function for the wealthy. “Lobbyists together with the interests they represent are now the Fourth Estate.” [65] This seems to be quite sensible, even self-evident. But more may be said.


            Perform in your mind a thought experiment. Remove all the lobbyists et. al., and the money they would spend and ask whether the policies of the government change? Formisano implies, without much argument, that the answer would be “Yes.” But there is room for doubt.


            As Formisano notes: “The ‘gift economy’ is ‘so sophisticated that even people inside it feel it is a culture of goodwill and not the auctioning off of the public welfare.’” [62] And if it’s not the auctioning off of the public welfare, then it is obviously the prevailing conception of the public welfare that’s the problem. What’s needed, therefore, is a different conception of the public welfare.


            The lobbyists, et. al., are merely reflections of a particular conception of the public welfare. Lobbyists or even money are not “the dogs;” rather, they are “the dog’s tail.” The “dog” is the glorification of wealth, which reflects the glorification of power as the heart of political life. Once you embrace power, concentrated, pervasive power as the key, the essence of political life, wealth will be pursued to the detriment of other phenomena, such as community, equality, justice, and even peace, because wealth is power. If wars generate wealth, wars will be waged – even if they aren’t winnable. It’s that simple.


            Of course, lobbyists and the wealthy have too much power. But lobbyists and the wealthy aren’t at the root of our problems. Rather, the root is power. As Lawrence Lessig says, our politicians are “decent,” “good people working in a corrupt system…. The enemy is well dressed.” Read: the enemy is respectable. Exactly, because it is the decent and the good who embrace power, and those who acquire power are respectable.  


            As a result, in the trio the good, the bad, and the ugly the differences between these types disappear when the good allow themselves to be seduced by the desire for power. Political life, built on and around power, will be good, bad, and ugly all at once. Political power can never transcend the good, the bad, and the ugly. Political power needs leavening, say, by beauty, if it’s to be humane.


[Consult here, e.g., Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the novels of Jane Austen.]