Monday, May 23, 2005

Dadmanly: You Don't Support Us

Dadmanly: You Don't Support Us

I'm asking the following question not to cause trouble, but because I think it needs to be asked.

One of my site's regular [conservative] visitors pointed me to your excellent "You Don't Support Us" post on your blog. It was poignant and very well written and I intend to recommend it to all of my readers.

My question related to this post, then is simply this:

Do you think that US military interrogators in Guantanamo did indeed play toilet tricks with the Koran - or do you think that the Newsweek reporters fabricated the story?

For the record, I don't view dumping the Koran in the toilet as terribly severe treatment of detainees as far as the list of possibilities go. In fact, I feel that the practice of "waterboarding," which is apparently allowed by US law as an interrogation measure is infinitely more obscene and immoral. If I could swap banning waterboarding for giving interrogators the ability to put the Koran in the toilet, I would.

In all of the anger and hurt on display from The Bush Administration to rightwing blogs about the Newsweek story, I've seen a lot of hair-splitting over which official did or didn't claim to read which allegation in which report - and a lot of moral equivalence rhetoric reminding us how bad the terrorists are - but I've seen nobody address the event behind the allegation itself. I've seen accusations that "liberals" want so badly for the story to be true, which is asinine...

What do you think?

Dadmanly Responds:

Thanks for the kind introduction to and recommendation of the post. Our readers should be aware, that while the Liberal Avenger and I intentionally won't delve into each other's postings to raise disputes (see our ground rules), both of us I think try to make ourselves aware of differing points of view. (Liberal Avenger, I suspect, more than I.)

If we lay aside for a moment any consideration of the truth or accuracy of the story as reported (or if it falls into the category of "fake but accurate"), I want to address the story as written by Newsweek. For it is in this sense I hold them particularly culpable.

I will acknowledge that the section of Newsweek in which this item appeared (Periscope I believe) is somewhat akin to Fox's Grapevine or other features in which a snippet of an idea is briefly mentioned. As such, the heated discussions it has are no doubt somewhat overwhelm the "indiscretion" itself, if I may call it that. That being said, I think Newsweek is held rightly accountable for running with a very thinly sourced story.

I am reminded of the scenes in All the President's Men (I think it was), where Woodward and Bernstein spend untold hours trying to get confirmation of a lead they've been given by an anonymous source. That's classic journalism, at least it was. That's what I understood when I studied journalism, heck, it's what I learned working as an intelligence analyst, confirmation. And that's what Newsweek didn't do, it's what CBS didn't do with the faked Guard memos.

I would think that any editor worth his salt would be on the lookout to block unfounded stories that try to pounce on rumors and planted info and hearsay, in the hopes of getting that next big sexy scoop. That used to be their job. And I think this is an area where the media (by and large) let's their own prejudices color or taint what information they receive. It fits the template they carry around, it fits what they think, so they go with it.

Newsweek was perfectly right to fully retract their story, because that particular story based on their sources was completely unsubstantiated. At that point, you digress from the point at hand if you then make the argument, "yes, but it still could be true." And yes, it might, but that doesn't make this story, this time, any less wrong. Journalism is reduced to fiction if the "essential truth" of something is held in as high regard as the actual truth. So that's my sum and total on Newsweek's violation of journalistic ethics.

I don't think Newsweek "fabricated" the story out of whole cloth, no. There have been numerous accusations and several accounts similar, but, and this is highly significant in my view, many of these accounts appear to derive from Detainees intentionally using their Korans to stuff up toilets. So much for a devout reverence for their Holy Book.

I have seen many accounts recently, and I believe there are books out that emphasize that Al Qaeda and other Jihadists are instructed to make these kinds of allegations and turn the "legal systems of the infidels" against us. This obvious desire and motivation to propagandize should be self-evident, and prompt a supposedly skeptical press to be very wary of any such claims. So far, that has not been the case, and goes a long way to explain the deep suspicion and resentment on the part of military members towards a "neutral press," that seems to bend over backwards to make sure the voice of the opposition (in this case, terrorists and enemy combatants) is heard, no matter how extreme or false. (More on what I consider a gross distortion of the purpose the Fourth Estate in a response to the previous post.)

You may call the focus on the accuracy of this particular story hair-splitting, but I think too much gets published taken as fact and certainty, when in fact it is more supposition, assumption, or deduction.

As one of our commenters pointed out, if the press had reported on Abu Ghraib and other accusations of Detainees in our facilities, noted the ongoing investigations, prosecutions, an opportunity to fully respond, capturing the full context of the security environment, how these individuals were captured, what they were doing, in other words, reported objectively, no reasonable person would find fault. But our New Journalism has long ago traded the hard slow slog of getting the full story into some modern day equivalent of "yellow journalism," where a quick-hit tabloid approach sells and sells well, and that's what they go for.

Okay, having said all that and all that, the really juicy part you want to know. Where there's smoke, is there also fire?

Yes and no. Individual interrogators and guards certainly behaved badly, some violated military standards, others also violated the Geneva Convention or other similar army policies and regulations. Importantly, allegations have and are being investigated, charges brought, convictions won. In some cases, such as at Abu Ghraib, senior leadership (to include leaders 6 levels above the actual illegal acts) has been convicted of poor leadership and negligence in not doing enough to ensure that their prisoners weren't treated humanely or in accordance with procedures, laws, and conventions.

Although we have a detention facility within our area of operation, to which I have Soldiers assigned, I don't have any first hand information about incidents of the type described in Newsweek, the NY Times, and other publications. I do know that the Army has responded aggressively to any perceived abuses and deprivation of prisoners, and Interrogators complain that many of their best tools (sleep deprivation, long interviews, and other non-physical forms of prisoner handling) are ruled off limits of late.
Many of the alleged incidents are exaggerated or exploited by prisoners, or have even been generated by them as a means of dynamically and actively resisting interrogation.

And there are still Soldiers today who think we would achieve more success if we were harsher and more bad-a**. For an Iraq so used to violence, extreme punishment, and terror as they were under Saddam, this is no doubt true. Iraqis do not fear us as they feared Saddam and his police or military.

We were out at a range today with some of our Interrogators, and we got into a discussion about these issues. They are very frank in saying, in the first days of Afghanistan (right after 9/11), and the initial battles in Iraq, tempers and emotions ran very high. There were Soldiers and units that sometimes used excessive force, or treated prisoners more roughly than they would today. We deal with some part-time insurgents (there are such people) whose reluctance to turn themselves in may in part be due to experiences early on that made them expect a rougher and harsher treatment. Still probably not torture in any classic sense, but definitely hard and without respect. And probably not widespread or very common, but out there.

They also express some frustration with what they view as ambivalence or at least a lack of clarity expressed in guidance and directives (or the lack thereof) early on by senior military officials.

I believe a lot of this confusion directly relates to the very unusual nature of our detentions in Guantanamo, of those hostile to the United States who are nevertheless not prisoners of war in any sense recognized by the much misunderstood Geneva Convention. They do not wear uniforms, they do not strive to prevent civilian casualties (in fact they seek them), they violate known and accepted laws of war. They have no state they fight for, there is no one to whom to go to accept their surrender. They are more like spies and saboteurs than Soldiers. They neither accept nor give quarter, nor do they acknowledge Sanctuary, rather they violate it willfully. Terrorists by any definition previously known to civilized countries would be executed on the spot as unlawful combatants. And yet, we hold them prisoner in a limbo state.

But here's a bottom line. Let's say that at times, Korans weren't treated by military personnel with as much reverence or respect as devout Muslims would wish. What would be the point of reporting that? To highlight how culturally insensitive Soldiers can be? (Ask any women in a bar about Combat Soldiers out on the town, now they can tell you stories.) Or that the military is hostile towards Muslims and Islam in general? Which is more likely to be true most often? Can you really distinguish? How perfect would one expect a military to be?

Many of us on the right, and many in the Military, may bristle at accusations like this, but it’s as much because of how the accusations are made, who's making them, and why we believe they are reported so extensively. And we fail to see the value and purpose of these reports, if not to weaken our war effort, or at least diminish its support at home. And we find that disloyal, potentially dangerous, and very disrespectful of the many lives – U.S., Coalition and Iraqi – that have been sacrificed to bring democracy to Iraq.

Doing More Damage Than Good

Doing More Damage Than Good

Conservative commenter John Cole (not liberal commenter Juan Cole!) has written a controversial article called "Doing More Damage than Good" in which he argues that conservatives are doing everyone a great disservice by viciously attacking any news organization that reports anything negative or controversial about the military. Here's an excerpt:
Everyone repeat after me:

Reporting on abuses that have been committed by our troops, in our name, is not anti-military. While I am not arrogant enough to attempt to divine the motives of every journalist who reports on such abuses, Hugh [Hewitt] appears to be up to the challenge. I find his attack on the reporting of the outrageous abuses detailed at length in the NY Times to be both disturbing and disingenuous.

Apparently in the myopic worldview of Mr. Hewitt, reading and reporting the just-released documents the Army itself created is both 'anti-military' and 're-hashing' an old story. Let's not focus on the fact that few, if any, have been punished for these transgressions. Let's not focus on credible reports that these incidents continue to occur. Instead, if Hewitt is to have his way, we should all focus on the 'anti-military' stance of the media.
Please read Cole's article - it is enlightening.

We have a problem in our society and it stems from the fact that there are those who would enthusiastically crush any criticism of the military.

The military - one of the largest organizations in the world, probably the most powerful organization in the world, the recipient of an incomprehensible amount of our tax revenue and for many, the primary "face" on our foreign policy - is beyond reproach. This is enforced socially by a very active and very vocal, very powerful large group of conservatives who spring into action anytime something unsavory is said about the US military. They are, essentially, Thought Police who by protecting the military for scrutiny and criticism create an environment in which the military is unaccountable to the American taxpayer and is less able to identify and solve its problems.

I'm not here to lay a trip on the military. Even as a pacifist, I have a great deal of respect for the US military and particularly for the men and women who have made the military their career. I know that the vast majority of people in the service are honorable and good and act professionally and selflessly in ways that most of those of us on the outside can never truly appreciate.

That being said, no organization is infallible. Every organization has their share of bad people as well. The military differs from a bank in this respect, however, in that servicemen and women represent the people of the United States and by virtue of the realities of war, at times wield a great deal of (oftentimes deadly) power over others.

Without dwelling on details, I, along with hundreds of millions of other people around the world from all political persuasions have been deeply disturbed by various US military scandals that have been reported over the past year - detainee abuse being just one of them.

Yet Hugh Hewitt and thousands like him would prefer to see those stories go unreported. The rightwing blogosphere engages in intense career-ending campaigns against those who would dare suggest that the military may have problems (see Eason Jordan). Kevin Sites received death threats after having happened to film the battlefield execution of a wounded prisoner in a mosque in Fallujah (an act, by the way, I didn't have a problem with, given the circumstances).

The US military is accountable to the American people. If and when there are problems in the military, they should be identified, explored and corrected.

The actions and rhetoric of Hugh Hewitt and many very vocal conservatives, in the blogosphere in particular, appear to be either asserting that soldiers are incapable of acting unprofessionally or that the military should be exempt from scrutiny and criticism.

What is your reaction to the Cole article? What level of accountability to do you think that the military should have to the American people?

Rightwing commentators often use the phrase "aid and comfort to the enemy" with respect to the press coverage of our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since this is part of the Constitutional definition of "treason", is this acceptable rhetoric

Dadmanly Responds:

John Cole uses the example of what he considers critical excess to make a valid point -- media should provide oversight and report abuses by our military -- but that doesn't in any way diminish the equal validity of the position he so strongly opposes on the part of his erstwhile conservative colleagues.

You cannot convince me that, by and large, the press doesn't harbor a deep cynicism about the military, and the rightful exercise of American military power. I believe this to be an aging holdover from Vietnam and the Watergate era. (The cynicism, not the people who hold these views.) If you don't see that or recognize that, there's nothing I can say or point to that will change your mind. What I would point to as cynicism or hypercriticism, you might call healthy skepticism.

It's kind of like how African Americans can be subjected to very subtle forms of prejudice or mistrust to which most of us are totally oblivious. Those of us in the military know it all too well.

When Abu Ghraib happened, it was like the O.J. Simpson case. Story after story, day after day, news about news about news about news, any excuse at all to run the photos, always the photos, over and over again the photos. Editors chose to make those decisions, one because of sales, but more importantly, it might "finally turn" the American people against this war and against their military. You will hardly find a Soldier serving today who doesn't know this in their core. And no amount of self serving, excuse making, "we're just looking for the truth" justifications will change that.

Contrast this treatment of these horrific pictures that would surely turn Muslim anger to a heated fervor against us, versus films and photos of the utter carnage of 9/11, that disappeared totally from public view within weeks (if not days) of 9/11, because editors felt that these stories might "inflame Americans," or cause them to rise in a heated fervor against Muslims. (This is especially odd in that Americans rarely and not at all recently have any tendency towards public violence, while such responses are a staple of Middle Eastern societies.)

Note the hypocrisy of these two contrasting editorial decisions. Note that every major American media outlet made the same set of decisions in both cases.

Coincidentally, both sets of editorial decisions happened in the run up to a Presidential Campaign, and oddly enough, both decisions were viewed to benefit the challenger against the incumbent. And yet, this doesn't strike anyone on the left as somewhat self-serving or duplicitous?

Abu Ghraib hurt the U.S. Military and our mission terribly. And to this day, many on the left still believe deeply in their heart of hearts that these abuses were, if not directed, knowingly tolerated by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and every General Officer in between these gentlemen and the depraved scum who carried out these abuses.

Yet you won't find a Soldier who isn't very glad there are Soldiers involved going to jail for hard labor with long sentences, and that there are superior officers having their careers terminated. So report and prosecute away.

Anyone who could seriously make the argument that the "good news" of our military and diplomatic efforts are receiving an over-abundance of reporting is deluded, or blind, or more precisely, hallucinating. (You see these things, but they're not really there.) To then point to Blogs as the source for all that good news just underscores that the good news is on the Blogs because it sure as heck doesn't make the Times. (Or CBS.)

Career ending attacks? Eason Jordan didn't just report that "the military had problems." He accused the U.S. Military of targeting (intentionally killing) innocent civilians. As the head of a major news division, he took the opportunity before a foreign audience in slandering the U.S. Military with these untruths, and then lying about what he said. (No tape or transcript has ever been made available to refute what has been reported that he said, that he denies.) I would think stockholders and owners of reputable media outlets wouldn't be too enthused by heads of those organizations making outrageous claims not backed up by fact.

Perhaps you allude to Dan Rather too? The gentleman who made a ruinous situation worse for CBS by attacking his critics and assuring the American people that the source of his reporting was unimpeachable? Who's producer, no doubt with his full support, bit fully into a fraudulent story, perhaps planted by political operatives, but surely abetted by a known anti-Bush crank?

The military should be and surely is fully accountable to the American people. The U.S. Military is probably one of the MOST responsive organizations in the world in terms of accountability. We even have our own legal system that exists outside of and in addition to criminal courts, and we can be punished by both.

I've mentioned before that, when deficiencies or problems are noted at all levels of command, almost immediately we see corrective actions, training, preventative measures.

The American people should and can be very proud of their military, notwithstanding and in spite of the infrequent abuse of power or transgression. And proud, too, that moreso than any other institution, public or private, tries to right whatever wrong takes place within our organization.

If the press handled its own transgressions with as much humility and earnestness, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Moral Frameworks and Where They Come From

As you and I have discussed previously, I have grave concerns that America is losing the necessary underpinnings for an ethical and moral public life. As a born again Christian, my faith provides base, the needle, even "magnetic north" for my "moral compass." Having said that, I've acknowledged that I believe there are people of deep moral and ethical convictions who are not religious or do not believe in God.

But I am curious. As a man who stands very firm on deeply held moral principles (foremost perhaps as a pacifist), where do your moral landmarks come from? How are your moral judgements grounded?

Before I either add more aspects of that question -- or even let you answer it (only one of us can blog at a time after all) -- a short digression by way of giving you my answer that explains it for me and my faith.

I would say I am blessed with a strict need to rationally think through, process, and integrate everything. (Others would say this is a burden.) I was an atheist up until 1987 or so. When sinking into a deep discontent and despair over an unwanted separation and ultimate divorce, I followed the example of my ex and got involved in 12 step groups. I discovered behaviors and patterns of thinking best explained by being a child of dysfunction. (The specifics are not important.)

I relied on the concept of an unspecified Higher Power to help me heal myself enough to start asking the big questions. That led to an agnosticism, and eventually to deism, and then to the Bible, and then to an acceptance of Jesus as both Son of God and my personal savior.

The real sticking point was achieving deism. As a highly rational and scientific minded person, I wasn't comfortable taking anybody's word for anything to do with God. So I conducted a thought experiment one January day, walking along frozen canals and abandoned settlements along the Mohawk River.

Fast forward, in the end, I concluded that I firmly believed in absolute good and absolute evil, and I could identify behaviors and events that were conclusively in one category or another. I further believed that I knew in my heart and mind that these "truths" would be true whether I accepted them or not, they were not relative or adaptable. To me, that had to argue for a consciousness of some kind, a God who was responsible for establishing a priori, good and evil. That may not mean the same for someone else, but for me, that was pretty convincing.

I know that you are not a moral relativist. I believe you hold a passionate dedication to some pretty basic moral truths, based on some of your previous responses.

But for you, if you've thought about it, where does morality come from? Why do we care to do right? Why should we do right?

How do we know what's right, upon what do we base it on? Are there moral truths that are knowable, and how can we prove them, or what can we use as evidence?

Because it has seemed to me that if you do not accept the possibility of some kind of creative consciousness or God, what one is left with is a strictly utilitarian argument, what is good for self, or family, or tribe, or nation, or survival of the species, and that no appeal outside of utility (usefulness of behavior or sets of behavior) would be logical.

LiberalAvenger's Response #1:

This is an excellent question and I am very glad that you asked it. It will be interesting and informative for me, too, to explore the whys and wherefores of my belief system.

It is also directly related to an issue that has at times infuriated me. There exists in our society at present a significant number of people who believe to their core that absent religion (and in particular, Christianity) in one's life, one is incapable of adhering to a moral code. This is insulting and asinine.

[continued response...]

I've spent a great deal of time overseas traveling or living in a dozen different countries. The one strong, persistent impression I've carried with me through these experiences is that there are definitely some constants to human nature. Regardless of our race, creed, color or national origin, for the most part, we humans all love our children, respect our elders, enjoy sex, fall in love, enjoy a good meal, etc.

This leads me to conclude that some universal moral truths do in fact exist in the human race. They are most certainly not strictly adhered to by all people at all times, but they are an intrinsic part of the force that guides humanity as a whole. I don't think one needs a governmental or spiritual law to understand that killing others is "wrong." Additionally, after having been thrust into an environment where the law (both governmental and spiritual) allows or even encourages killing (a religious war might be an example), there are unquestionably people who are conflicted about the act.

Religious doctrine across the board largely reflects these moral truths as well with very few exceptions. A Tibetan Buddhist can relate to the 10 Commandments while a Christian or Jew can relate back to The Eightfold Path.

Our societies and cultures, grown slowly over the course of hundreds or thousands of years, naturally reflect these truths as identified by religion in their laws, customs and social mores which, in turn, reinforce the values within us all.

[End Part #1 of LiberalAvenger's response. More to follow...]

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Drugs in the Military in Iraq

I've seen variations on this question appear different places on the internet several times over the past 2 years, but I've never seen a response.

Recreational and hard drug use exists everywhere in the world. In the United States, young people - military age people - are using crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy at an ever increasing rate. Crystal methamphetamine abuse is particularly problematic with young people in rural America - a demographic from which the military draws a disproportionate number of its recruits.

I have written about my own drug use. When I was in college in California, a high school friend was in the Navy and stationed nearby in Vallejo. He was a crystal methamphetamine user as were many of his Navy friends that I met. Once he was assigned to a ship and moved to Norfolk, Virginia, he and his fellow sailors' methamphetamine use continued, even when they were away on ships for months at a time. Methamphetamine use amongst young servicemen struck me as fairly normal at the time. I realize that my perception doesn't mean that this was necessarily so.

We have 140,000 troops in Iraq, 40% of whom are from the National Guard and Reserves. Thousands of tons of supplies are flown in daily from military bases around the world and those supplies are disseminated throughout Iraq. Drugs like crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy are relatively easy to manufacture, are popular, are profitable and don't take up a great deal of space (as opposed to bales of marijuana, for example). Methamphetamine, at least, is also addictive.

What sort of drug use exists within the military in Iraq? What is coming in? How is it getting in? Who is using it? What is it being used for? Is it a problem? How does the military deal with it?

Dadmanly responds:

I am in a position whereby I would need to enforce the Army's zero tolerance policy towards drugs (and here, alcohol as well). We have had no such incidents in the 200+ soldiers in our unit. We had a couple of incidents prior to mobilization, but none since. I would argue that once on active duty, our checks and safeguards (and potential punishments) are a pretty effective deterrent. There's pretty good evidence that the few positives we had could have been intentional attempts to get out of deployment.

I may be naive to think it would be pretty difficult to get anything in here. The security threat is high, thereby screening procedures include canine units, open container searches, and other techology based procedures.

Given what my soldiers have seen as the consequences for drug use, I think they would be pretty reluctant to get caught. (And anyone who knew or found out would talk about it, and eventually someone not your friend would find out.

But our parent unti is quite large, and I have no doubt that some enterprising souls could and perhaps have found a way. But I will say I have heard of no cases, nor is it discussed. What is discussed, at every opportunity, is Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response (SAPR) training, which I taught to my soldiers during mobilization training, and we've gone through another round here in Iraq.

This is in response to publicized problems with unreported or underreported assaults within the military. That's how the military responds to identified problems, they identify action items (which often have a training and retraining component) and conduct training. If drugs was even on the radar screen, we'd be going to mandatory training classes. And its just not happening.

Not in response to chronic problems, but as a standard feature of active duty live fior more than a decade or two (I remember having these in the 80's), the Army conducts regular, unit level random unrinalysis. Programs are designed to be implemented randomly, without notice, throughout the year in such a way that the soldiers never now if their turn is due until right before they are screened.

And neither we nor our parent unit to my knowledge have had anyone piss hot. Not here. Not now. Maybe its because it could really get you killed here.

LiberalAvenger response:

Very informative answer, Dadmanly. Thank you!

George F. Will Puts on the Brakes

It's not just me and my fellow secularists... Conservative commentator George F. Will is concerned about the pendulum swinging towards theocracy, too.

I do not believe in God, and not for a lack of exposure to faith. My mother was raised as a nominal Catholic and my father is a lapsed Congregationalist. I went to Sunday School and to church on Easter and at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. My grandmother, my love for whom was immeasurable, was first and foremost a Christian and will forever be fondly remembered as such.

My wife is a woman of faith, albeit a different faith. She is from a Buddhist country and spent time as a Buddhist "nun" in a temple in the mountains after she finished college. Her uncle is monk who holds a high position in the monk hierarchy - I think of his position as being like that of a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. My wife's grandmother is a nun and my mother-in-law wakes up every morning at around 4:00AM to cook for the monks in the monastery nearby and walks a mile in the dark with her wicker basket full of food to bring to them. My brother-in-law escaped a dangerous drug habit by entering the priesthood and we were so proud of him. He just left the monastery to return to secular life after 9 years. Someday I'll show you a photo of the cute little house for visiting monks that I paid to have built in a mango grove at the monastery my mother-in-law brings food to. My teen-aged daughter, having spent much of her life in the old country with her mother, has been raised Buddhist by her mother and considers herself to be a Buddhist.

While choosing not to participate in acts or beliefs of faith, I have a profound sense of its importance to those who do choose to participate - and I respect that. I find faith and many of its physical accoutrements to be quite beautiful at times. Like most people who have traveled a great deal my memories of places are filled with visits to churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples, monasteries and ashrams.

Where tax money, public service and government here at home are involved, however, faith makes me very uncomfortable. Why is that?

Perhaps it stems from the fact that when one faith is asserted, there is an implicit message that it is the one true faith. Christians AND Muslims AND Jews AND Hindus AND Buddhists can't all have the monopoly on the one true faith.

I live in a blue town in a blue county in very blue Massachusetts. A few months ago we were at a performance at my daughter's public school. My daughter was singing in the school chorus. My wife and I sat in the audience as the kids filed onto stage. My daughter is small so she was in the front row.

The principal of the school started the performance by leading everyone in a prayer - a Christian prayer. The theme of the prayer wasn't a problem for me - it was actually a prayer that our fighting men and women overseas would return home safely. It was the prayer itself - a Christian prayer at a public school lead by a civil servant for a mixed faith audience.

Serious question: If you were in the audience watching your child and the principal came out and opened the concert with a Hindu prayer for Ganesh the elephant god, what would you think?

Next question: As Americans we are free to worship as we please in our homes and our churches/temples/mosques/synagogues. Nobody is challenging this. Again I live in the bluest of towns in the bluest of states and there are a dozen different flavors of Christian churches up the street for me to choose from, as well as a synagogue, mosque and Buddhist temple close by. If the basic rights to worship freely in home and at church are not in jeopardy, what more is it that conservative Christians are looking for from the state?

Final question: What is your reaction to the George F. Will article?

[Note from LiberalAvenger... I lost part of my original question in a mishap here. It has been my intent to try to rewrite it, but this hasn't happened yet. Since Dadmanly has already graciously responded, I am posting this with my question as is and Dadmanly's full response. Thanks.]

Dadmanly Responds:

I read and was somewhat troubled by George Will's piece. I believe he himself exaggerates the import of some of the events he uses to support his assertions. I do think there is some element of truth, in noting a fair amount of exaggeration and posturing on the part of "aggrieved believers." But I think that is true for both sides of these debates of religion and public expression; both sides are using the "outliers," the extremes to paint a picture of the whole that I think distorts for effect.

There is almost no real argument here, unless we argue the exceptions to the rule. Most Christians in most settings are not remotely persecuted -- for true persection, try being a Christian in a Muslim country or a dissident in Cuba or China -- and likewise, most people of other faiths or atheists are not remotely persecuted or suffer any of the "oppression" of the majority. If given a majority Christian population in any particular setting, that public expressions might more often include those particular to the majority should be of no surprise and little consequence.

I have no inherant right to never or seldom be exposed to public utterances of religious expression that is contrary to my own. I have no inalienable right to never suffer offense, or never hear or see things I disagree with, no matter how strongly I disagree or am discomfitted. Believe me, Believers are living this every day in the continual degradation and lowering common denominators for public expression in conversation, media, television and other popular entertainments. To say we can "turn it off," "walk away," "ignore it," is to underestimate the prevasiveness and intensity of the onslaught.

I have been asked several times some version of, "imagine you are in the audience, and a public official (of X faith) makes a public expression of (X religious practice). My answer is of course, I would be somewhat uncomfortable, depending on the context. And that's a pretty big dependence.

Do public officials work for the people they represent 24 by 7? Only 9-5? Weekends too? If their official duties bring them to public events, but without official sanction (think sporting events or public celebrations), are they then freed from the constraint against public expression?

I do not disagree at all with the idea that public officials ought not to use their positions to at all promote a particular faith. I do however think it facile to suggest they somehowhave to "turn off" their spiritual or religious sensibilities as they might inform moral or ethical decision-making. (And no, I don't think I hjave anything to fear by the Jewish believer who allows his or her faith to inform his moral judgement in public decision-making, likewise the Muslim, or Buddhist, etc. Most faiths do not significantly impact or stress political activism, so I think it's mostly a non-issue.

Frankly, I think the lack of a moral or ethical framework, and moral relativity in both unfaithful believers, misguided adherants, or non-believers is potentially more dangerous to our society, and why I think a lot of this discusssion is a distraction. Money has way too much influence in politics, the employees and managers of some businesses behave unethically and irresponsibly, some industries take too little responsibility for their products and their after-effects, and in many walks of life individuals are way to self-oriented and self-absorbed and refuse to be accountable for their behavior and the condition of the thought, image, and behavior world they help create.

I would object to Will's passing shot at the buzzer of his article:
But Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."

I think the notion that Republicans are using a Religious litmus test on appointees is stretching the point in two ways.

I do think Republicans are actively seeking judges who square up with the notion of articulated and enumerated rights, constitutional constructivists who want to drag the courts back away from judicial activism. I would not all that a religious litmus test. I would call it a test for a form of jurisprudence, and in that it emphasizes the rule of law as balanced by the constitution, and not some new construct of implied or derived rights, seems to be a legitimate grounding for judicial appointments.

In contrast, I believe Democrats are quite openly blocking or rejecting appointments specifically on the basis of a religious test. Jurists who are devout in their faith can't be trusted to perform their public trust impartially nor base their decisions in law versus their "beliefs." And yet it would be hard not to notice that ever since the Warren Court, many Supreme Court decisions have been decided in just such a way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Genie Out of the Bottle

What's a pacifist's answer to Nuclear proliferation?

Sure, I know the U.S. is often held exclusively responsible for letting that genie out of the bottle. (Or, opening the Pandora of all Pandora's boxes?)

I would argue that German scientists working for Hitler were certainly feverishly at work, before and during WWII, God only knows what would have happened if Einstein had fallen into the hands of the Nazis. And in the aftermath of WWII, the efforts of the Russians and Chinese to acquire the Bomb certainly strategically altered forever our nuclear destiny, and forced our hand in many respects from a strategic planning perspective. And yet, Nuclear Brinksmanship and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) arguably kept the two superpowers from fighting anything other than proxy wars with conventional arms.

More and more nations joined the Nuclear Club, and now emerge the threats of non-state actors with Nuclear Weapons, with the potential to detonate a dirty bomb or even a nuclear explosion as an act of terrorism. Regardless of how we got here, what's the proper response?

And as a side note, were the Rosenbergs guilty of treason, or if they did commit the acts attributed to them, was their act patriotic? Is an act of that kind a potentially acceptable Pacifist response?

LiberalAvenger response #1:

Nuclear weapons are bad and I wish that they had never been invented.

They were invented, however, and we must accept that. There is no need to point figures at who/when/why was responsible. The bomb was a product of a very dark time and indeed, we can be thankful that the United States secured the first working versions ahead of Hitler or Stalin. I also believe that the use of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the best decision at the time given the circumstances and mankind's general naivité as to the full implications of the existence and use of the bomb.

The very idea of a nuclear bomb is absurd. That human beings would create something so poisonously destructive runs counter to any enlightened sensibilities. We've heard factoids that the world's existing nuclear arsenal is capable of killing every living creature on the face of the earth several times over or turning the entire surface of the earth into glass from the heat. Whether or not these precise statements are indeed "the truth," the destructive potential of nuclear weapons is mind-boggling and evil.

Yes, evil.

Conventional devices that exist to kill people or destroy property and infrastructure are evil. Devices to kill and destroy indiscriminately on a massive scale are even more so.

As you've pointed out, Pandora's box is open. Tragically, we cannot undo this.

In light of the fact that these devices exist, the general strategy of non-proliferation makes sense. It is, in fact, our only hope to save ourselves from armageddon.

That being said, the Bush Administration has failed us on the non-proliferation front. Distracted from the world stage by the Iraq folly, we have allowed North Korea to acquire between 6 and 8 nuclear devices and Iran to move their own program further along. This is inexcusable. Furthermore, the Bush Administration has squandered American credibility internationally with the Iraq misadventure which will make it all the more difficult to keep North Korea and Iran in check.

Thank you, GW Bush and friends for making the world all the more unsafe while we become the mockery of the diplomatic world by engaging in a war of choice in Iraq.

Furthermore, Bush Administration insistence in moving ahead with battlefield and bunker-busting nuclear weapons is unconscionable and adds to our general lack of credibility while undermining the worldwide non-proliferation effort. It is the height of arrogance and is inexcusable.

Update from LiberalAvenger:

I forgot to answer the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg question.

I am under the impression that Julius Rosenberg was guilty. Treason is a crime. He should have been imprisoned. I do not believe in capital punishment and find the fact that he was executed to be barbaric. Civilized societies should not be executing human beings.

I do not think it is clear whether or not Ethel Rosenberg was guilty. Regardless, she should not have been executed.

Additional update from LiberalAvenger:

This article by Robert S. McNamara in Foreign Policy is excellent and relevant.

Dadmanly responds:

I think this sounds partisan. (But that's okay, I expect us to be, even if we're trying to be civil.)

I hear this argument a lot, that Iraq is a distraction from greater dangers, and I don't think it's sincere. Or better, it's a handy argument used almost "marriage of convenience-like," usually by people who would be equally aghast at any of our probable responses to whatever strawman alternative danger they set up.

I worked many years in Intelligence. Within military and civilian intelligence, defense, and diplomatic establishments are thousands and thousands of analysts, each with their own assigned targets and areas of interest. What's on the budget is gargantuan; what's black ops (invisible) is even larger. The idea that some portion of our military or intelligence or diplomatioc corps being focused on Iraq, would have any consequential (negative) impact on analysis or casework elsewhere is naive. There's plenty of capability and focus to go around. We even have time to be attentive to non-immediate threats and not-yet-but-potential threats. Just as there are plenty of resources devoted to the hunt for OBL.

North Korea and Iran are bad examples for the point in any case; both countries were aggressively developing nuclear weapons capability throughout the Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton years, and U.S. Foreign Policy (and U.N. Security Council responses) were completely unsuccessful at preventing their eventual transition to nuclear statehood.

And what response now would you propose? What response in 2000 or 2001 or 2002 or 2003 would you have supported? If you don't like or can't support a(n) (relatively easy) overthrow of Saddam in Iraq, how would it be possible for you to support anything that would have succceeded in Iran or North Korea? If you mention anything to do with arms control, or U.N. Weapons Inspectors or Agencies, you really can't be serious. If there is one thing that should be accepted as fact on all sides by now, is that WMD wannabees and U.N. sanctioned regimes can very easily game (and make a total mockery of) whatever system the U.N. puts in place.

American standing in elite world opinion has been low for a long time, Iraq is merely the latest of talking points for a continuous stream of anti-Americanism with 9/11 only a very brief respite. This, in stark contrast to the overwhelming popularity of American culture, ideas, innovation, and technology.

But we are in fact, very credible. The leaders of countries all over the world are quite sure that, under the current administration, if we promise (or threaten) something, we will follow through. The fact that this was quite the opposite just 5 years ago, and how Islamic Terrorists were convinced we would not defend ourselves, speaks volumes about the value of saying what you're going to do and doing what you said you were going to do. That is true credibility. I think what you really mean is popularity. We are unpopular, but I would argue there is more evidence for this being the result of jealousy and envy and resentment over our power and influence. Much of the world would be very happy indeed if we were to suffer grave harm financially and militarily. If that's the cost of us gaining credibility as you mean it -- which I think we will never earn in any real sense -- than I would say the cost is too high.

Our national interest must always be national first, and international only when it is in our interest.

The Cold War, 15 years Later

How do anti-War activists and liberals view the Cold War, 15 years after it ostensibly ended? Was it worth fighting? What are the lessons we should have learned, or yet may learn from the struggles of the superpowers?

What is the view now of the Soviet Union, what kind of a threat did it really pose, and was there any validity in perceiving regional geopolitics as so many "dominoes," the fall of which might threaten (Western) democracy?

I can deeply respect true pacifists -- even as I am glad that there are rough men ready to fight on their behalf, that they might sleep peacably in their beds -- but I know that even the most ardent make certain exceptions for certain grave threats. I believe you have stated that you consider our struggle against Nazism and Fascism in WWII to be morally justified (or words perhaps close to that in effect).

Would you extend that same consideration to struggles against the USSR? Against Stalin specifically, if he might be the exception?

Were we right to fight the Cold War, and did we win?

LiberalAvenger's response #1:

We were indeed right to fight The Cold War against Stalin and the Soviet Union. We also unquestionably won.

That being said, there are still numerous aspects of our end of the Cold War that merit criticism. Some of our excesses during the Cold War marked low points in the great American experiment.

You ask specifically about the "domino effect." Containment of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe was a good thing and the right thing. The Soviets would have undoubtedly liked to have expanded their reach across Western Europe. Whether or not this was ever practical or if they would actually have done this are difficult questions. What isn't in question is that our Cold War presence in Western Europe acting as a deterrent to them helped keep westward expansion on their part impractical.

Fear of the "domino effect" in Southeast Asia and Central America caused us to make egregious mistakes.

The deaths of 58,000 Americans and 2+ million Vietnamese will forever be remembered as a shameful waste of human lives. After 10 years in the region and these horrific losses we still lost the Vietnam war, and more importantly, the domino effect did not cause the rest of Asia to collapse along with Vietnam.

I won't belabor the legal and ethical issues surrounding Iran-Contra, another sad episode in the Cold War, however the behavior of many in the government at that time puts the indignation and outrage expressed by Republicans over Bill Clinton's blowjob and the UN Oil-for-Food scandal in perspective.

McCarthyism was another American excess of the Cold War that should be a reminder to all of us that being on the right side of a great war doesn't justify the actions taken in every battle.

On the critical side of the ledger, I find it somewhat amusing that Ronald Reagan is unconditionally lauded as having "won" the Cold War when the coup de grace that finally took the Soviet Union out was its own internal bankruptcy, a side-effect of the conflict that was unrecognized, not part of the American strategy and came as a complete surprise to Reagan and the CIA when it came about. There is no question that Reagan played a major role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and our winning of the Cold War. Attributing the demise of the Soviet economy to his genius is overreaching and reeks of idolatry.

On the positive side, the Cold War strengthened American Democracy and fueled a passionate effort to spread American Democracy and capitalism abroad, a movement which, in spite of some flaws, paid dividends in ultimately improving the lives of billions of people.

The Cold War played roles of primary importance in the prosperity and freedom found in the democracies of Western Europe, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, etc.

[To be continued...]

Dadmanly Interjection #1

While I would agree that bankrupting the USSR was not a central feature of Cold War planning, as an Intelligence Analyst involved in efforts against them, I would state categorically that many of us by the mid 80's fully expected the USSR to collapse under the financial burden of the arms race, particularly the Strategic Defense Initiative. Many prominent Sovietologists stated so at the time, I recall discussions in Foreign Affairs. Whether that system would have been practicaly within any near or far term, is debatable, but I believe the evidence is clear that the Soviets were very worried about it and our capabilities to make it happen.

As with many related issues, Reagan's legacy is hugely benefitted by the political tradition he inherited as a staunch anti-communist. Up until the fall of the Soviet Union, many of his prominent political opponents, and the majority of left leaning writers and thinkers, were dramatically opposed to any hardline opposition to Communism and Socialism. Realpolitik and detante were the rage, and Reagan was seen as an unsophisticated, cowboy simpleton (I wonder if that won't always be the complaint against a strong and assertive foreign policy). Up until the liberation of Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR, that is.

This was never envisioned by Reagan's opponents. (Although you would never know that listening to them now.) There is thus a great deal of revisionist history going on about the fall of the USSR. There were vehement debates about Reagan's Foreign Policy, and these are remarkably similar to those used against Bush and his policies. (I remember, I hated Reagan at the time.)

[To be continued...]

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Draft-avoidance, Clinton, Bush and Cheney

In your response to my Homosexuality and the Service post, you wrote the following:
Especially given his draft-avoidance via college deferrment, Clinton was in very low regard throughout the military.
I was aware that draft-avoidance was a bone of contention for many anti-Clinton folks.

Both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. Bush's non-Vietnam experience is well known. Cheney reportedly enjoyed five deferrments during which he also attended college.

I should point out that as a pacifist, I don't have a fundamental problem with draft-avoidance. If I was George H.W. Bush, I would have pulled strings to get my son into the National Guard, too. If I was Cheney, I would have tried to stay in college and get multiple deferrments for as long as possible.

My father, married and just out of college faced the draft in 1965. Instead of being drafted into the army he chose to enlist in the Air Force instead. He and my mother moved to Texas while my father went to OCS and then pilot training (F-4 fighter) at Lanark AFB. My mother lived off-base in a motel with a group of other Air Force wives.

In the end, three-quarters of the way through pilot training, my father got a kidney stone and was hospitalized on base. Once the stone had passed, he returned to his barracks from the hospital to find a note instructing him to report to his CO. He did so, and was medically discharged on the spot. The Air Force wanted no responsibility over him as the kidney stone apparently revealed some sort of congenital kidney deficiency. (Fortunately for him, the kidney deficiency didn't bother him again until he was over 60 years old!)

There were all sorts of circumstances that kept young men out of Vietnam proper.

Do Bush and Cheney's draft-avoidance methods place them in low regard with you or with the military in general? Do their experiences differ from those of Bill Clinton in your eyes? Why?

Dadmanly Responds:

There are big differences between the way soldiers today view Vietnam and the way most of that generation did at the time. Soldiers today are pretty matter of fact about such things. Running away to Canada was cowardly, and showed no sense of personal responsibility for one's country. National Guard service was a choice, but a perfectly valid one.

Mnay National Guard units deployed to Vietnam, obviously some didn't. Being drafted was a real good way of ending up in Vietnam, volunteering for service gave you some options. Very few veterans today think there's anything wrong with that, the modern volunteer Army is ALL about what you can get in your enlistment (or re-enlistment) contract.

Some conservatives during and since the war might disparage Guard service as a way of avoiding Vietnam, but I think that's not too common an attitude. I hear my father-in-law describe what he and his buddies did in WW II and Korea, and most men who might be soldiers have always played the angles or tried to find the best service or the best duty or the best deal. Vietnam was no different.

For the guys who did go to Vietnam, especially those drafted, many resented that others got out of going or found easier duty. But that's a far cry from how they felt about deserters, draft dodgers, and conscientious objectors. College deferrments? Likewise, soldiers of the time certainly thought of that as the college boys gaming the system to get out of the fight. There was a fair amount of class and socio-economic fault lines in Vietnam and those who served, but that had to do with opportunity and how those might be more difficult to come by for some than for others.

Clinton got a bad rap with soldiers because of his avoidance of the draft on a college deferrment, and subsequent decisions that made soldiers feel that as Commander in Chief he was at least ambivalent about them, and at worse antagonistic. Don't ask, don't tell, what was seen as military adventurism (this was before 9/11), perceived use of the military for public relations, and the Monica Lewinsky reminiscent Berets -- all of these diminished Clinton's standing.

By the way, Gore suffered from the perception of his service as well, much like Kerry. Gore did a short stint as a Army Press reporter if I understand it, so he could get combat time, patches, etc., before Senator Gore pulled him back home post-haste. Kerry's 4 months in the combat zone, possible self-recommending himself for awards, then abandoning his crew, and of course his Winter Soldier escapade. (He reminds me of Annie's hippie boyfriend in Forrest Gump, who hits Annie when mad, but then blames it on that "damned Johnson.")

Most of us didn't really know Cheney, but he had served as a Defense Secretary and had the link to Reagan and Bush 41, so he kind of got a free pass. You might remember Dan Quaile was a Guardsman who avoided Vietnam, but he was almost a complete unknown and pretty lightweight, and I don't think it was even on the radar. And Bush 41 was the most unlikely of war heroes, although a Fighter Pilot in WWII, he had more of the career bureaucrat air about him from all his CIA and Washington insider time, so he didn't benefit as much as he could have from his war record.

George W. Bush? He was trained as a Pilot. His unit could have been called up, some were, and many of those who proceeded him did. He volunteered at one point to go, but there is some evidence that his father's influence could have caused him to lose or miss the opportunity. By the time he was fully trained, the model he flew was less in need than it had been.

But I don't think any of that really matters to 90% of GIs. They like him because he so clearly likes the military. He treats military people great and with deep respect. And he's learned enough about what makes them tick that he doesn't come off sounding like someone who only knows what to say because someone wrote down the words for him. He's a natural, and soldiers hate phony more than anything.

And he came away from 9/11 wanting to kick some butt. He believes deeply in this purpose, in the crucial need to win, the danger of our adversaries and the dangerous consequences if we lose. He risked his future and his legacy on some bold foreign policy decisions that may still go south. But if we succeed, and the Middle East continues its shift away from Terror and Oppression and towards democracy, his gamble will be remembered as the stunning U.S. Foreign Policy achievement of the century.

And soldiers want to win, they're fed up with being used as tokens on some Diplomatic gameboard. They know their lives are worth more than that. If they're going to risk their lives for something, they want it to be grand and big and important and something that changes the world for the better. And if they can kick some terrorist or dictator butt in the process, well that just counts as icing on the cake.

responds again:

I'm disappointed by your response here.

Partisanship aside, as a grown man and as a soldier, do you really believe that Kerry recommended himself for his awards? This has never been proven.

You appear to be attributing the best of intentions to the Republicans you speak of and the worst of intentions to the Democrats across the board.


responds again:

At first I was puzzled by your disappointment, but I think you make your point clearer in the comments. I do think otherwise sensible people on the left and right (whether Democrat, Republican, or unaffiliated) do tend to hound the political opposition to their graves. I've read a lot about of criticism about Ronald Reagan that would fir that category, but surely Republicans and conservatives can be rightly accused as well.

I think a big difference is that many of the battles that underlie the animosity are STILL actively being fought. The accurate legacy of Vietnam (did we lose, or win but withdraw?), the Cold War (were the Soviets or even Communism worth fighting), Socialism and/or Welfare Reform. And as far as Kerry, Clinton, and Gore, these individuals or their close associates (how's that for a euphemism, "I was once Bill's close associate") are still out there, if not in direct opposition as a candidate or potential candidate, than a political surrogate to a slugfest.

As a veteran, there is a big difference in the ways variuous candidates and politicians used (and exploited) their service. And yes, given several ket sets of facts, I believe John Kerry largely invented and certainly exaggerated his service records multiple times, for one set of purposes in the 70's and for a different set of purposes in the 80'0 and 90's and onwards. There are many other pieces of circumstantial evidence that I won't belabor that lead me to suspect there are numerous documents in Kerry's military record that contradict much of his public statements of his service.

No doubt, I am far more skeptical of the official version of his service than Bush's. But I will say that I have no doubt that all three -- Bush, Gore and Kerry, along with countless others -- no doubt gained considerable advantage due to their station and political connections. I still maintain, however, that Bush gained advantage from his military record but rarely stressed it; Kerry based his entire campaign on it.

One last point. Military men and women have a very keen eye for fair weather friends. Bush had the great advantage of having biological and philosophical antecedants with rock solid military credentials: Ronald Reagan and Bush 41. Kerry had no such advantage, in Clinton, Gore, and Kennedy (Ted).

I'll admit to being partisan, but it would be hard not to stray with a question posed as this one is. To paraphrase "Oh Brother Where Art Thou," to ask such a loaded question without a partisan response would "whet the appetite without beddin' her back down."

I guess that's the best I can do for this one.

Question from LiberalAvenger:

What were Ronald Reagan's rock solid military credentials?

Dadmanly responds:

I never would have guessed this term "credentials," would have so many shades of meaning. If this debate has taught me anything, it is that people have many different senses of what it means to be credentialed.

I meant that Ronald Reagan was given great credit by the military, not that he was some big military hero. He was extremely popular with soldiers, much like Bush 43.

As to his actual military service, quoting from a CNN biography:
During World War II, Reagan's poor eyesight kept him from combat, and he was assigned to make military training films. He was discharged as a Army captain in 1945, but not, he later said, before developing a disdain for the inefficiency of the military's bureaucracy.

I think I figured out why Presidents like Bush 43 and Reagan were so popular with the troops, and why others like Clinton and Carter (and even to an extent Bush 41, believe it or not).

Military members believe strongly in the mission of and purpose for the U.S. Armed Forces. They tend to be conservative, and they share none of the reluctance to use the military to support or fulfill U.S. National Security objectives as long as those objectives are sound. They also tend towards the macho, and strong figures like Reagan or Bush, while otherwise polarizing and divisive, were and are nothing if not powerly and assertive. I need not describe some of the frequent stereotypical comments about others for you to surmise correctly what those might have sounded like.

Reagan was a staunch anti-communist. As a cold warrior in the 80's, I can vouch that the prevalent feeling in the U.S. Military was likewise anit-communist, especially those of us in the know about Soviet and Communist activities, and in tune with what was a very strong "heartland" animosity towards the communists. Ascribe its source where you may, but also consider it one of the earliest precursor to the "Red State - Blue State" divide. (Only then, the point of divide was antipathy towards the "red" menace.)

I fault Reagan for mnay of the failings foreign policy wise as his next two successors. Much was left unattended to. But there is no question that standing up (with strength) to the Soviets and pushing against their interests was rather (though not universally) popular with the military. (As I stated, I hated him at the time, but have I think a wiser awareness now.)

It may seem counterintuitive for someone not in service, but soldiers don't restrict themselves to narrow personal interest. Once you are the type of person who is willing to serve, with all that that entails, you are likely to be quite ready to place the national interest above your own. Sure, there are grumblings from some about "we have no f'ing business being here," but that's the exception, and within military culture, that kind of negativity and resistance is frowned upon.

Reagan and Bush 43 conveyed a strong sense of valuing the military and being willing to use it without fear or hesitation, and showing deep conviction that doing so was the right thing to do for America (whether or not it was or they had to follow through, placing their soldiers boots where their mouth was). This then dovetails with my observation about (macho) military perceptions of strength and strong leadership.

Not to be partisan -- I don't mean it that way -- Republicans of late have done better with image and perception in this regard than Democrats. Not that that's all it is, its fueled and supported by real issues and real decisions and stances. But I am often impressed by how much nonverbal communication goes on that all of us underestimate. Military men and women are trained to be obedient, and respond in an instant to the commands and directives of those in authority over us. I think that's why we're so attuned to some that fit that communications model, and tune out or can't hear or respect those who don't communicate strongly in that way.

We know strong leaders, and we respect strong and forceful leadership. Any amount of indecisiveness, uncertainty, or even "nuance" could get us killed. Hence all the stories, mostly apocryphal, about fragging during Viet Nam. Soldiers grouse about poor leadership and uncertain or flawed leadership more thna any other single thing, and some will translate those complaints into mental "lists" of who the first one to get it will be. Those comments go away when leadership is strong, decisive, but fair and always mindful of the cost of decisions upon soldiers.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Homosexuality and the Service

When the Clintons first moved into the White House I was working at a small software company in California. One of my colleagues had joined the team immediately following a stint in the Army.

If you recall, one of the first issues Bill Clinton took up in his presidency was to attempt to force a rule change in the military to allow gays. He failed to get the reform he sought while his efforts ended up producing the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that exists today.

At the time, I remember asking my ex-Army friend and colleague his take on the issue.

"Hey - what's your take on the issue of gays in the military?"

I'll never forget his answer:
"I don't know what the big deal is - they're already there!"

I always thought that that was a pretty damn grounded answer.

What do you think is the state of affairs for gays in the American military deployed in Iraq? Is "don't ask, don't tell" the strict rule? Does this comprehensively prohibit openly gay men and women from serving? Or is the situation more relaxed - instead of "don't ask, don't tell," have another set of de facto rules come into play?

How do you feel about the issue itself - as a soldier, a parent, a conservative and a born-again Christian?

I'm looking forward to your response and to comments from our guests.

Dadmanly's Response:

Most military I've worked with or known wish that Clinton had left the whole thing alone. Yes, there have always been gays in the military, but the timing of his change in policy days after his inauguration smacked of political payback and something he thought he could weather early and have it forgotten by the re-election campaign. Especially given his draft-avoidance via college deferrment, Clinton was in very low regard throughout the military. (That and making us wear berets.)

But that's just background.

Like many lifestyle and behavior related rules in the military, how this one gets handled depends on the command and how much of an issue it becomes.

There are no openly gay members of the military unless they were motivated to make that kind of statement beforehand. Once they "come out," the military will follow through although generally with a good conduct discharge. Generally speaking, no one in the military really wants undue or unfavorable attention. Often, the orientation may be known, but it's not dealt with or talked about, unless someone wants to get even over something else. And the gays who do serve in the military really don't want the kind of attention that fighting this battle would bring. They want to serve their country with honor, that's why they joined.

Of all the situations I am familiar with, in all but one, gay soldiers were not punished in any way or discriminated against (that I could tell) even though their commanders and fellow soldiers had to know or strongly suspect that they were gay. But then again, they held up their end of the don't ask don't tell. In the one instance in which this wasn't the case, a senior NCO in a training environment was involved with some of his students (same sex). This got him busted and drummed out, but this happened to instructors for heterosexual encounters with students as well.

There are many good reasons for the military to enforce certain standards of professional relationships, and sexual relationships between soldiers inevitably create problems: in good order, discipline, and morale. When relationships cross the line or involve supervisory relationships, the military has good reason to discourage them.

The military had to deal with the integration of women into non-combat roles, and now even that distinction is greatly blurred in a non-linear battlefield or in low intensity conflict. Anyone can suddenly find themselves under fire. There are many aspects of men and women sharing the battlespace that have caused a lot of problems. That doesn't mean there aren't advantages, but it hasn't been all good. Bringing in the additional problem of same sex relationship just expands the pool of problematic relationships.

The military is probably more conservative on this issue than average. Forget the brass, I don't think your average soldier would be very happy about fellow soldiers who were openly gay. I think any thought that you can "legislate" such a major change in attitude is naive and hopelessly counterproductive. To what end? And I don't think the military is the place to experiment, there's too much at stake.

The military is the most racially and gender integrated and non-discriminatory organization in the world. It sets a very high example for other organizations and businesses that don't even come close. But asking it to navigate the politically correct extreme of openly gay relationships in the barracks, that's just asking a little too much.

The military demands so much of its soldiers, to put their lives on the line, to risk everything, to deprive themselves, to sacrifice, and the rock bottom single most valuable piece of the whole enterprise is the trust between soldiers. And the fact is, most soldiers don't care what way the wind blows for the guy they sleep next to, fight next to, celebrate survival or mourn a loss with. As long as they can trust each other.

Personally, I really appreciate a remark I heard attributed to President Bush. When confronted by an aggressive reporter who asked him about his views on gays and what he thought of them, he answered, "We're all sinners here, buddy."

I know and have met people who I believe for whatever reason, were born with a physiological disposition to be gay. I have also met and known others who I believe for whatever reason made a set of decisions that led to them being gay. I don't understand that, and I think any kind of sexual immorality, premarital sex (any kind) is a sin. A very common one, but God in His word advises us against a lot of different behaviors for our own good. And this is one of them.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of those who profess to be gay report being sexually abused. (It's something like 93% I believe, although I can't point to an authoritative source.) I don't think that's an accident. I know that many first time homosexual experiences are either predatory, involve sexual abuse, or sex between an adult and a minor child, or between minor children where one has been sexually abused by an adult. I likewise don't think that's an accident either. I think peer pressure can be tremendous, and low self esteem, matched with hormones and a hostile environment can be very confusing to a young person. Figuring out your sexuality and making your way through the post modern, post sexual revolution cultural morass we find ourselves in only makes matters more difficult for young people.

I also happen to believe that marriage between a man and a woman is a gift from God, and one that helpfully is designed to give children the best possible environment for a healthy growing up, and ensure that human life will be sustained in a healthy and positive way from generation to generation. Now that's not possible for everyone, things happen, death and divorce and children born out of wedlock, and people have to do the best they can, and sometimes make the best of a less than ideal situation. But I don't think you help in the long run when you create situations that are less than ideal if there are other choices. And for me, my primary concern is for children.

Adults will do what they will do. And yes, I'd prefer people keep private matters private. As a leader, I really don't want to have to get involved with or have to deal with the public consequences of the fallout of relationships of any kind. This goes for affairs and sexual relationships of any kind outside of marriage, or for marriage problems when they erupt into or effect the workplace. I'm not naive, but I expect my soldiers to be professional and honest and disciplined in keeping their private lives to themselves and off the job. Of course, when they have personal problems, I'll get involved, and get them any help that's available or appropriate.

We won't ask, if you won't tell. It's not a perfect solution, but in the world we find ourselves in, with the unusual environment of the military, I think it's the best we can do.


Thank you for your thoughtful response.


One of our commenters challenged my suggestion of a statistic I thought I had seen somewhere, that 93% of gays were sexually abused, and thought it absurd. I can't find whatever reference I may have seen, so I wanted to say so. I could find no mention of the 93% statistic.

But what I did suggests to me the number might actually be close to that. From studies, I am finding support for 40-50% of homosexual males reporting sexual abuse, and I think the dynamics documented by researchers strongly suggests that figure may be underreported.

Anecdotally, I have been involved with 12 step and other couseling groups for 15 years. In these and contacts in other walks of life, childhood sexual abuse is very prevalent among people who are gay. Of course, many may feel that their initial homosexual experiences as minor children with adults doesn't constitute sexual abuse, but as a parent, I certainly consider it so.

While I found nothing conclusive, the research suggests that sexual abuse and early sexualization of children by same gender perpetrators has very damaging consequences for sexual and emotional development, with many lasting effects, among others, commonly a high degree of confusion about gender issues and sexual orientation. Those who deny any correlation merely make the statement that gays do not chose to be gay, they are born gay (and apparently espcially vulnerable to sexual abuse), and there is no causal connection, and that's that. I would suggest that itself is a position unsupported by evidence.


My results from Google (really, you folks can try this too, if you want to challenge someone else's data). A sample only. Do a google search on "sexual abuse" and homosexual and you'll find what I found.

1. Via Family Research Council:

The Archives of Sexual Behavior reports: "One of the most salient findings of this study is that 46 percent of homosexual men and 22 percent of homosexual women reported having been molested by a person of the same gender. This contrasts to only 7 percent of heterosexual men and 1 percent of heterosexual women reporting having been molested by a person of the same gender." Marie, E. Tomeo, et al., "Comparative Data of Childhood and Adolescence Molestation in Heterosexual and Homosexual Persons," Archives of Sexual Behavior 30 (2001): 539.

A study of 279 homosexual/bisexual men with AIDS and control patients discussed in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported: "More than half of both case and control patients reported a sexual act with a male by age 16 years, approximately 20 percent by age 10 years." Harry W. Haverkos, et al., "The Initiation of Male Homosexual Behavior," The Journal of the American Medical Association 262 (July 28, 1989): 501.

Noted child sex abuse expert David Finkelhor found that "boys victimized by older men were over four times more likely to be currently engaged in homosexual activity than were non-victims. The finding applied to nearly half the boys who had had such an experience. . . . Further, the adolescents themselves often linked their homosexuality to their sexual victimization experiences." Bill Watkins and Arnon Bentovim, "The Sexual Abuse of Male Children and Adolescents: A Review of Current Research," Journal of Child Psychiatry 33 (1992); in Byrgen Finkelman, Sexual Abuse (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995), p. 316.

2. Sexual Abuse in a Sexualized Culture Part 2: The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Males
, By Kathy A. Goodrich, CSW-R:

Sexual Orientation: Sixty-four percent (64%) of male survivors in the 1988 study by Dimock had masculine identity confusion. They doubted their masculinity, called themselves "wimp" and "gay", and struggled emotionally with their inability to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Several researchers have found higher rates of sexual abuse among homosexual than heterosexual populations, or higher rates of homosexual orientation among those who report childhood sexual abuse than among the general population (Mendel, p. 117).

Johnson and Shrier's 1985 and 1987 studies of adolescents in an outpatient medical clinic indicate that homosexual identification is seven times greater and bisexual identification six times greater for victimized males than for a comparison group of non-abused adolescent boys.

In their second study in 1987, the above researchers compared the 11 adolescents molested by females with the 14 adolescents abused by males and found that the sexual orientation effect was specific to the male-molested group. Approximately one-half of those abused by males identified themselves as homosexual and often linked their homosexuality to sexual victimization (Mendel, 118). An earlier 1982 study (C.G. Simari and D. Baskin, "Incestuous Experiences Within Homosexual Populations: A Preliminary Study", Archives of Sexual Behavior, 11, 329-344) found that incest was reported by 46% of male homosexuals, with about two-thirds (64%) of this involving the extended family and one third (36%) involving the nuclear family. The most frequent perpetrators of incest were male first cousins (60%) and brothers (32%). Simari and Baskin state that 96% of their study participants indicated "they identified themselves as actively homosexual before the occurrence" of the abuse incidents. This leaves us to speculate regarding how, if these self-reports are accurate, some of the perceptions and behaviors of the sexually wounded may contribute to vulnerability that is taken advantage of by sexual predators.

3. Sexual Abuse: A Major Cause Of Homosexuality?

The following books, with page numbers, refer to the fact that many many homosexuals were sexually abused when young:

Teen Prostitution by Joan J. Johnson (NY & Chicago: Franklin Watts Publishers, 1992), p. 53.

Female Perversions by Dr. Louise J. Kaplan (NY: Doubleday, 1991), p. 437.

Invisible Lives by Martha Barron Barrett (NY: William Morrow & Co., 1989), p. 140.

Incest and Sexuality by therapists Wendy Maltz and Beverly Holman (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1987), p. 72.

The Secret Trauma by Prof. Diane E.H. Russell (NY: Basic Books, Inc., 1986), p. 199.

The Broken Taboo: Sex in the Family by B. and R. Justice (quoted in the book Incest: a family pattern by Jean Renvoize [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982], p. 127).

The following books refer to the fact that many young victims of sexual abuse later experience confusion over their sexual identities:

The Consumer's Guide to Psychotherapy by Drs. Jack Engler and Daniel Goleman (NY: Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 1992), p. 414.

Desires in Conflict by Joe Dallas (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991), p. 187.
Betrayal of Innocence by Dr. Susan Forward and Craig Buck (NY: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 96.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Ground Rules for Comments

I am certain that there are no circumstances under which I will cease being liberal and I am certain that Dadmanly feels similarly about his conservatism. With that in mind, I'm not concerned with anything he said or will say in the future on his own very conservative blog to his own very conservative audience. Likewise, he's not going to look at my very liberal blog for reasons to get upset with me.

We hope that visitors to the Debate Space blog will do the same. There has already been one comment from a visitor here about something I posted on my own blog - that is against the rules and unacceptable.

We hope that we can keep ourselves from descending into the same old cauldron of anger and name calling - here at Debate Space, at least. Thanks.

Town/Gown Interaction

OK, "town/gown" is silly, but you'll see what I mean in a moment.

There is a great deal of noise at the moment about claims made in a New York Times article by a conscientious objector about the mistreatment of Iraqis by US forces.

I'm not going to put you on the spot regarding this. There is already enough sound and fury in the air about the story - there is no need for us to rehash any of it here.

What I would like to hear from you is for you to talk about a positive experience you have had in Iraq with Iraqis - outside the Green Zone or whatever base, building, office or camp in which you live and work.

We have already discussed that Baghdad isn't Saigon - for better or for worse American soldiers aren't living amongst the Iraqis.

That being said, you are living in Iraq and presumably must find yourself interacting with the locals at times. I'd like to hear about one of these times. Do you have any stories to share?

Dadmanly Responds:

Town/Gown would make a certain sense to some of our soldiers, who refer to Iraqi men who walk around in "man dresses." As you suggest, I won't consume blogtime with a rehash of the Consciencious Objector story, although I can't resist making two points.

I read in one of the accounts about the story, that a soldier claimed his fellow soldiers were hitting Iraqis with soda bottles from convoy vehicles. This is probably apocryphal on several counts. We drive fast through towns, and the intent is NOT to get anyone in a fighting mood. On convoys, we drive on wide highways, avoid city streets,and their are Iraqi Police at major intersections, especially in cities. It would be a strong and accurate arm, and unusual closeness to Iraqis, that would allow a soldier to accomplish that feat. Also, we don't have any soda bottles here. All our sodas some in cans, and the water in plastic bottles, gatorade in plastic, milk, juice, etc., in juice boxes. No bottles, except for NA Beer, and if that had been what the soldiers were throwing, this objector would have known and called it a beer bottle, not a soda bottle.

Soldiers do throw things at Iraqis. Early in our stay here, several soldiers were concerned that there was no intermediate step they could take between waving Iraqi vehicles away from convoys and firing warning or real deal rounds. Iraqis are terrible drivers, and road courtesy non-existent. They drive on any side of the road they want, weave in and out, go off the road, over the median, etc. Convoy gunners have a VERY difficult time distinguishing between a possible Vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) and just your average Iraqi lunatic driver. So our guys now carry stones. When a car comes up quickly, tries to pass or get between vehicles, or won't yield right of way, they chuck one of these stones. Sometimes the result is a broken headlight or taillight, sometimes a cracked windshield or a dented roof (which just adds to all the other blemishes these cars have, many of them Caprices). But usually, the guy moves away. And stays in one piece.

Back to your actual question. I have met very few Iraqis, some of my soldiers have met somewhat more. The ones I deal with are a group of young workers who do odd jobs for us on the base. They are young, seem positive, but they take some chances working for the Americans, and they spend a lot of time hustling Chinese made pirated movies (also on sale at our on post Bazaar), knock off Rolexes for $20. I try to discourage too much closeness with them, one they could be put in danger, and two, when we leave any economy we create on base leaves with us. These Locally Employed Persons (LEP) need to keep an eye out for more permanent employment. (Also, I got to know a lot of the "near base" economy dynamics in Germany, and it always has the whiff of desperation and dependence (and disdain, on both sides).

There are other, highly visible Iraqis who clearly run contacts between Contracts and Iraqis, Military and Contracts, and are so comfortable in their business enterprises that clearly they know the right people outside (or pay them enough) that they are not in danger. Modern Iraq has a 40 year history of corruption at every level of society to an extent that would cripple any industrially advanced nation. But they don't need to be taught about opportunity, they'res plenty of entreprenuers to go around. Too many.

When we first got here, we heard about the former sculptor of Saddam, who gratefully created a terrific statue of a soldier of the first unit here, helping an Iraqi schoolgirl. We also heard about the tailor who was killed and his stylist wife who lost her arms (or vice versa) after being ambushed after work one day. (Our hair got long at first with no barber.) But as time went on, some soldiers would shell out money for some service or product, only to be told that their money (and the vendor were gone, with the Iraqi killed on his way home. I heard enough of these stories (and watched the money add up), that I believe at least some of these accounts were designed to prevent retribution against theft and generate soldier sympathy. (My Lieutenant says I am conspiracy minded.)

We are located in the heart of Sunni territory, and our Iraqi foreman says they don't like us outside the gate. There's a Civil Affairs detachment that organizes donations to the local schools, and we have several soldiers who work with Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA) as trainers and advisors. They describe locals as wary, but fascinated with these Americans, about our ethnic and racial differences, rank and social equality (versus their very stratified culture). My former clerk, who is over 6 feet tall, described his first meeting with his IA students, and they swarmed around him, like eager schoolkids meeting a sports hero.

My guys out at a remote site deal with sheepherders, but I think they are mostly Kurds. They get pretty cocky, they know they are not targetted, and they compete to get their sheep as close as possible to the wire (getting at fresher grass) without causing the guards to tap off a few brrrrat brrrrat bursts to shoo them away.

All in all, I am not much of a first person source on the Iraqis.

Followup Questions from LiberalAvenger:

Thank you for your response. It makes me

I don't know how close you are to a town... Could you leave the gate from your base and walk alone into the nearest town, stop at a shop to buy something, maybe sit and have coffee somewhere? Perhaps some kabobs... Could you do this in uniform? Could you do it in civilian clothes? Do the men you are responsible for do this?

Can this be done in Baghdad? In Basra? In the Kurdish region in the north?

I remember seeing a story a year or more ago about an American soldier in Iraq who met an Iraqi woman. They fell in love and were hastily married. My recollection is that his "tour" ended and he was rotated back home and she was waiting for her visa to join him in the States at the time.

Have you heard of this happening other times? What would the legal/social ramifications of this?

Thanks again.

Dadmanly's Response:

Most of us ca't leave the FOB alone, and most wouldn't want to. Special Forces, infantry soldiers, scouts, Military Police, Civil Affairs, some Counter Intel, some high level Officers, and those soldiers training the Iraqi Army or Police are the only soldiers who can venture out in the way you describe. And even they tend to use convoys and routine security precautions (Body Armor, Armored Humvees, plenty of firepower).

Civilian contractors and other governmental civilians can and do depending on the region or area. This is possible in the Shia South, in the Kurdish North, and I believe there is some opportunity in Baghdad. In Sunni areas, this would not be advisable even if we could. Hit and run small arms fire, an occasional RPG, IEDs, and the like make such attempts too risky for most people.

Whereas in other overseas posts, most soldiers stay on post because they are more comfortable with their own culture, in Iraq they do so because that's the order handed down.

There are opportunities for the soldiers mentioned above to meet Iraqi women, and if they say patrol a specific area or town (as was the case wiht the soldier you mention), such a relationship could form however unlikely. But it would be foolish, dangerous, and possibly endanger your fellow soldiers, and you would likely be punished for starting such a relationship. Culturally, you could spark a tribal war or trigger a vendetta with such carelessness. Not good.

Compared to any prior conflict, soldiers in today's military are held to a far higher behavioral and ethical standard. (Some of our old timers even mutter that they've taken away any possible outlet or tension reliever there used to be. No booze, no gambling, no sex, no adult material.) This is not a trivial concern, and the fact that our military is voluntary and does as well as it does with the constraints is a testament to the quality of our service members.