War: October 2003 Archives

Bloggy posts something about the progress of freedom in Iraq.

Virtually all nations, with the interesting and almost unique exception of ourselves, have had to deal with invading armies, but, whether initially successful or even when the conqueror seems to have prevailed, eventually what is alien is repelled or removed.

In the meantime, what a catalog of crimes and what incredible waste, has described those wars and those occupations!

How can we not see the folly of our own imperial ventures around the world, especially the latest, most dramatic example unfolding in Iraq today? Is it because we have no history ourselves and because we do not know that of the rest of the world?

Turning the corner now in this post, as eventually we will in the Middle East as well, we can imagine the ultimate defeat of the bully.

It helps if we can believe in the power of art, since it can aid our understanding and endurance of the pain. I also believe that it can aid in destroying the evil itself.

Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner have collaborated on a children's picture book and a new theatrical production based on Hans Krasa's extraordinary opera "Brundibar" performed in the 1940's by children in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The story is about good triumphing over evil, represented by Brundibar, a fearsome organ grinder. In an early version of the book, Brundibar looked like Hitler. Now he is less specific, but in spirit, "he has to be Hitler," Mr. Sendak said, adding: "One of the most astonishing things is that the Nazis let that opera go on. I think that even they felt that a dramatic work had to have a villain."

In the book two small children in Prague try to get milk for their sick mother, traveling streets full of Sendak figures: a baker who is a double for Oliver Hardy, a goat that looks like Zlateh (in the I. B. Singer story).

Eventually the children find the money to buy milk and rescue their mother, and Brundibar is driven from the city because "the wicked never win." Mr. Kushner said recently, "It's the story of a bully defeated by collective action." But the villain has the last word: "Though I go, I won't go far . . . I'll be back."

Sendak thinks the children who performed Krasa's opera knew what was going on. "As human creatures, we're never as alert and as sensitive as we are when we are children. We can't allow ourselves to be."

I believe the artist is an important exception in his broad generalization, and that the burden of alertness and sensitivity in an adult can often be unbearable.

Last night I wrote that I was scared after hearing that the Secretary of War is going around saying that we're losing the "war on terrorism". Why? It just can't be good news if it's coming from him. I can't expect that he's saying this stuff in order to admit that the whole thing was misconceived in the first place, or because he's about to resign in favor of a replacement which the world might actually survive.

No, I've come to expect the worst from this administration, and I'm still usually unpleasantly surprised. I think Runmmy's current ruminations are all about preparing us all for something really big.

Things aren't going well? The problem is obviously the liberals and the Constitution huggers, those who just aren't taking this war seriously enough. We still have too many freedoms. In fact the world still has too much independence.

Remember that these guys don't expect to ever leave, so this administration would be more than comfortable with a solution which would be some combination of really scary secret police, an elite security staff and perhaps a federal army command, all of them loyal directly to the White House.

Sound familiar? Well, it doesn't have to so redolent of another time and place, but similar dispositions find similar solutions. The necessity for all of this would of course become perfectly clear after the next terrorist event, scheduled or otherwise. We'll hardly notice the imposition of martial law when it comes.

There, I've just outlined the worst-case scenario but I really would like to be pleasantly surprised this time.

If we actually do survive this regime, I hope we will finally be a people without illusions - of blessedness, grandeur, superiority, sanctity, whatever. Enlightenment. Let's go for enlightenment instead of the other stuff.


These are thoughts of another war, and the state terrorism practiced by all combatants.

Germans are finally coming out of their bunkers only decades after the firestorms of World War II.

Jörg Friedrich is the author of a new book, Brandstätten (Fire Sites), composed largely of photographs depicting grisly evidence of the civilian casualties which resulted from the allied bombing of Germany's cities during the second world war. Friedrich himself has now become part of a storm of words, nowhere more than in Germany itself. From The Guardian account:

"The bombing left an entire generation traumatised. But it was never discussed. There are Germans whose first recollections are of being hidden by their mothers. They remember cellars and burning human remains," Friedrich told the Guardian in an interview in Berlin last week.

"It is only now that they are coming to terms with what happened."

Around 600,000 German civilians died during the allies' wartime raids on Germany, including 76,000 German children, Friedrich says. In July 1943, during a single night in Hamburg, 45,000 people perished in a vast firestorm.

But in the immediate post-war period, the German victims of British bombing were scarcely mentioned, being overshadowed by the far greater evil of the Holocaust.

Friedrich believes that most Germans refused to discuss what had happened because they regarded the British destruction of their cities as a sort of retribution for the crimes of the Nazi era.

The author maintains that the allied bombings, which incidently almost totally destroyed the fabric of 160 medieval cities, was a war crime, in particular the bombs dropped on the militarily insignificant civilian centers of a shattered Germany in the last few months of the war.

Reaction to Brandstätten has been critical. A reviewer for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, even suggested that it should be thrown in the bin, and a cultural magazine program on German public television dismissed it as a "provocation" that sought to "compare the air war with the Holocaust", a reference which is as much an obstacle for free thought in Germany as it is in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The author had originally planned to produce a book which would include images of the horrors visited by Nazi Germany upon civilians in Poland, The Netherlands Britain and elsewhere. For the images he ultimately used in the book Friedrich combed the dusty archives of cities and towns all over Germany, but the larger scale of the project was blocked by the British. The BBC site reports:

. . . he says the British Public Records Office would not release the kind of horrific images that he found of German victims.

"There were 15,000 deaths in southern British cities between September and December 1940. But you won't see any photos of them," he says.

"The Germans admired the endurance of the Londoners in the Tube stations. But this is the heroic story. If you look at the image of the suffocated grandmother cradling her grandchild in a [German] bunker, there is no heroism."

Keeping pictures like that, and the ones in the book, under wraps may be regarded as a sign of sensitivity - maintaining the dignity of the victims. But could it also produce a censored, sanitised version of history?

"Goebbels forbade these photos of our victims from the German papers," says Mr Friedrich. "In a way, we've obeyed his orders until this day."

Over the Channel too. Odd that Britain still will not permit the release of images of its civilian dead 60 years after the horrors they suffered. A prohibition which might originally have been represented as part of a nation's campaign to maintain a beleagured people's war-time morale just doesn't seem to be defensible today.

Not much has changed. We see no images of Iraqi war dead today, and may never see them. In fact, we don't even see images of our own dead - or even images of the injured. War is kept very clean for those who aren't there.

The Leo Baeck Institute and the Goethe Institute will be presenting a panel discussion on this subject here in New York next Wednesday, October 29, titled "German Civilians as Victims? The Evolution of a Perception".

Participants will include Dr. Frank Bojahr, The Institute for Contemporary History, University of Hamburg; Atina Grossmann, professor of history, Cooper Union; Dr. Volker Hage, journalist for Der Spiegel (Hamburg); and Andreas Huyssen, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Columbia University. The moderator will be Dr. Frank Mecklenberg, the director of research and chief archivist at the Leo Baeck Institute.

Their announcement includes the following information: The panel discussion is to be preceded by a screening of "The War of the Century-Firestorm" (Der Jahrhundertkrieg-Feuersturm). 2002. Produced by Guido Knopp. Written and directed by Peter Hartl and Annette Tewes. [52 min. In English and German with English subtitles. Courtesy ZDF] The film features historical footage from WWII as well as interviews with German civilians who experienced the massive bombing of such cities as Hamburg, Dresden, Cologne, and Berlin, and with American and British bomber pilots recalling the bombardments.

The film will begin at 6, and the discussion at 7. The location is the Goethe Institute, at 1014 Fifth Avenue, between 82nd and 83rd Streets.

For reservations and information we are asked to call (212) 439-8700.

I'm definitely going to be there. If you plan to go also, please let me know.

[the story and the texts quoted are from The Guardian and BBC News, where images from the book can be found, including that above, of Dresden in 1945]

I'm scared. What's he up to?

I'm afraid I might know the answer, but I don't want to talk about that tonight.


[but surely more than two]

At first I just wanted to post something about the latest horrors being visited upon Palestinians caught between the lines (the Green Line and the new Apartheid Wall line), but I didn't know where to begin - or end - such a story.

In the meantime I had found my way to the site of The Electronic Intifada, and I there I found my story. I suppose it's a cop-out in a way, because it avoids describing individual suffering in order to talk about how all the bad stuff might end. But maybe that's a good thing.

An articulate argument remarkable for its absence of rancor, blame or fury, advanced by Ali Abunimah, founder of the EI, outlines the case for the "one state" solution to the sufferings of Israelis and Palestinians alike. The article appeared on their website last week.

Abunimah begins by observing, ". . . it is inescapable now that what already exists is in effect one state: Israel, in which half the population -- the Palestinians -- have second-class rights or no rights at all, not even citizenship." While he apparently writes as a Palestinian, and directs his words primarily to Palestinans, I wasn't aware of any parochialism while I was reading. The words are for everyone, especially since the entire world is horribly impacted by this, yes, fundamentally parochial conflict. Remarkably, in the end the "one state" argument is also even more practical than idealistic.

It is the moment, therefore, for us to declare the era of partition over and commit to a moral, just and realisable vision in which Israelis and Palestinians build a future as partners in a single state which guarantees freedom, equality and cultural self-determination to all its citizens. Refusing to make this choice now means effectively agreeing to the endless bloodshed and extremism offered by Israel's political-military establishment and Hamas.

. . . .

The burden to persuade Israelis lies largely with Palestinians, who while demanding equal rights and an end to the Jewish Israeli monopoly on power, must hold out a future in which the two communities express their identities as equals rooted by right and history in the same land.

This is undoubtedly an unfair burden, but it is a fact that oppressed groups must often show their oppressors a way out of the tunnel they have dug. This was true in South Africa, where even in the darkest days of apartheid, the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela offered white South Africans a future of reconciliation, not revenge. As in South Africa, a truth and reconciliation process can help both peoples overcome the pain of the past even as they build a just future together.

Israeli and Palestinian supporters of a one-state solution must build a new movement. This partnership must work to translate the vast international sympathy for the Palestinian cause into active support for the transformation -- with international assistance and guarantees -- of Israel and the Occupied Territories into a democracy for all its inhabitants. It must be a movement that builds political and moral power through non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, and mobilizes the widest possible base. Only through such a movement, I am convinced, shall we create peace in our lifetimes.

Not part of the essay, but built on a truth understood by jews and arabs throughout the region, is the argument from demographics. The Palestinians will win the population race in the end, and an Israeli state defined by religion or race and controlled by a minority will have burdens which make today's look like small nuisances.

But it doesn't have to ahppen that way. The whole world could be an early winner if the "one state" approach described by Ali Abunimah were not absolute anathema for men with small minds and big clubs.

The particulars of the latest news from Israel/Palestine, especially as they might describe what is happening to Palestinians innocent of violence, are both too complex and too horrible to outline here, but they remain virtually unreported in the U.S. In the past I have used this space to give voices to dear and trusted friends who were in the Middle East, but it cannot really substitute for what is missing from the American media.

For that we all have to do our own searches. In addition to the website which produced the text I excerpted above, my friend and Middle East peace veteran Steve suggested several others when I asked where someone who was interested might get general summaries. I have listed them all below. Not surprisingly, and appropriately, they are not always of one voice.

The Electronic Intifada
Gush Shalom
Stop the Wall

UPDATE: For more on the few English-language websites which cover Palestinian issues specifically, go to this USC journalism site.

[image from The Electronic Intifada]

I haven't seen this anywhere else yet, so it must be an April fool's joke. But, wait, this is October!

These people are definitely going to get us all killed!

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are defending a new deputy undersecretary of defense "who has reportedly cast the war on terror" in religious terms.

Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, whose promotion and appointment was confirmed by the Senate in June, has said publicly that he sees the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, Boykin said Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan."

. . . .

Discussing a U.S. Army battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia in 1993, Boykin told one audience, "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol."

Mine's bigger than yours? He really said that?

Hey, this just in, spotted here at one in the morning. The NYTimes has the story in Friday's editions. It's there that we finally learn how Bush became president.

In another speech, General Boykin said God had selected George W. Bush as president. "Why is this man in the White House?" he asked. "The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? And I tell you this morning that he's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
The Times tells us that he was he was wearing his military uniform and was speaking at religious functions each time he is reported to have delivered the messages now being reported.

I guess they're no longer trying to hide the nature of the regime, but we can't expect that to help turn off many Americans.

UPDATE Thanks to Cursor today, we're now reminded that back in April The Nation had already reported on the nature of Boykin's magnificent obsession, but his appointment was still easily approved by Congress in June.]

Orchard Street market on Sunday

Did Dick Cheney's secret energy policy task force meetings discuss an Iraq war? Former NJ governor James J. Florio suggests the possibility. Sure would help explain why the administration continues to fight so hard to keep the meeting records from the public.

It is hard to imagine that the subject of Iraq and oil did not come up. Any specific discussion that just happened to preview our subsequent course of action in Iraq would be problematic for the president. What did he know and when did he know it? Pre-emptive war for reasons hidden from the public would be a historic first — and a dangerous precedent.

CORRECTION (October 2, 2003): My friend James W reminds me, "Costa Rica has not had an Army since 1948. (That reason alone puts Costa Rica high on my Good List.)"

Meanwhile, in other news [there's always other news], "US CUTS AID TO ALLIES WHO WON'T EXEMPT US FROM WAR CRIMES..." has been the headline story all day long on Common Dreams.

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration today cut over $89 million in military aid to 32 friendly countries because they refused to exempt U.S. citizens and soldiers from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court (ICC)--the world's first permanent tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Among the countries whose aid was cut were a number of new democracies in Central and East Europe--some of which have contributed troops to bolster the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq--as well as Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, South Africa, and several other Latin American and African countries.

Strictly speaking, this isn't quite news, since I'm sure we had already heard some time ago that they were going to do this.

Nevertheless, it now provides evidence that it's not only bribery and blackmail but clearly also payback schemes which steer what passes for U.S. foreign policy these days. They must love us out there by now!

But of course we should know that's not the point, right?

This page is an archive of entries in the War category from October 2003.

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