Posts Tagged ‘War’


Death Wins All Wars front coverOur new book, Death Wins All Wars: Resisting the Draft in the 1960s, a Memoir, by Daniel Holland, recently received a nice review in the Winona Daily News. The reviewer states, “It’s worth your money. It’s worth your time. It might even change your life.” (Needless to say, we agree.)

Watch for further reviews of this very well written book.

 


Simone Weil

“The great error of nearly all studies of war, an error into which all socialists have fallen, has been to consider war an episode in foreign politics when it is especially an act of internal politics, and the most atrocious act of all.

“Since the directing apparatus has no other way of fighting the enemy than by sending its own soldiers, under compulsion, to their deaths — the war of one state against another state resolves itself into a war of the state and its military apparatus against its own people”

–Simone Weil, Politics (1945)


For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is a slightly revised and expanded post from January 2015.

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities, and the wholesale pandering of the Trump administration to its deranged theofascist base, this post seems especially relevant now. Indeed, who today can’t be wondering, “Which is worse, Christianity or Islam?”

Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands, both current and historic:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners “paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations.

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran, and not one word against it in either book.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

So, which is worse in regard to slavery, Christianity or Islam?

Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some current Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and MILF — this is for real: the acronym stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people across the globe in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to frighten and intimidate — terrorize — abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for religiously motivated (Catholic vs. Protestant)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands. Islam “wins” here.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse. Islam “wins” again.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.

 


WAR, n. A political tactic guaranteed to raise an incumbent president’s approval rating by 30%, and a tactic especially useful in October in even-numbered years.

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— from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded), the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. (The link goes to 50 sample definitions and illustrations.)

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover


 

Henry C. Wright, abolitionist

“For, as wolves and tigers gorge themselves with flesh and lick their gory chops, so do nations gorge themselves with human victims, not in detail, but in masses, by wholesale.”

–Henry C. Wright, letter to fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, March 30, 1844


American War by Omar El Akkad front cover(American War, by Omar El Akkad. Knopf, 2017, $26.95, 333 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

In recent decades, dystopian novels have become nearly synonymous with science fiction. It´s easy enough to see why: climate change seems to be accelerating, some areas (e.g., the American Southwest, where I live) are already feeling severe effects from it, and the results worldwide in coming years promise to be catastrophic; we’re on the brink of a new dark age under the iron fist of religious totalitarians and their political co-conspirators; we’re well into a period of mass extinction; there’s runaway population growth actively encouraged by some of the “great” religions; modern weapons of mass destruction are far beyond “nightmarish”; technological advances are far outstripping social advances; and sadism and stupidity are running neck and neck as national hallmarks.

Given such conditions and such bleak prospects, it’s easy to see why dystopianism is the far-from-new normal in science fiction.

So, having heard next to nothing about American War, I was expecting a fairly standard take on the horrors to come, especially the ecological horrors. But  American War, which describes the “second civil war” (2074 – 2095), is a far from standard tale.

El Akkad deliberately (I’d bet the farm on this) sabotages the plausibility of his dystopia.

The first hint is the map in the front of the book showing the breakaway “Free Southern States” (FSS) of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as opposed to the rest of the U.S., with the Southwest mostly part of the “Mexican Protectorate.”

My reaction to the map was, “What the hell? Three poor, backwards states standing against the rest of the country? Holding on for 21 years?”

Very shortly into the text, El Akkad makes it very plain that he’s not projecting possible future developments in the United States, but is up to something quite different.

The reason for the FSS rebellion is the prohibition of use of petroleum products as fuels. Again, what the hell? None of the three states are significant oil producers; we’re rapidly approaching peak oil production; most new production in North America (shale, tar sands) is much more expensive than pumping from the old, rapidly depleting oil fields; and the cost of renewables is falling like a rock. This almost certainly means that oil will go up in price and will be rapidly displaced by cheaper renewables. The underlying premise is barely plausible now and will become increasingly implausible as time passes; it will make no sense at all six decades from now. So, El Akkad deliberately chose an extremely improbable background premise.

Then there’s a glaring–and I mean glaring–absence in the social structure of the FSS: racism. Racism disappearing from the American South in a mere sixty years, and during a time of upheaval and economic desperation? What the hell?! Who, if they thought about it, could possibly buy this?

So, just what is Akkad up to?

The first clue is the title of the book, “American War.” That seems a bit ambiguous, and why isn’t there even a vague reference to the “second civil war”? (It would be quite easy to add such a reference in a subtitle.)

The second clue is provided by the book description on the inside of the dust jacket:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Fair enough, but the final sentence of the second paragraph on the inside flap reads, “It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its devastating weapons upon itself.”

Close, but not right.

Above all, American War is about the present. (Tellingly, there’s no mention of any technology whatsoever beyond what’s currently available.)

American War is not about the effects of developing technologies; it’s not about an even remotely plausible future in the U.S.

It’s about the psychological effects of the type of war the United States has been waging sporadically for decades, and nonstop for the last 15 years, in the Near East, Middle East and Northern and Eastern Africa. It’s about what happens to people who are torn from their homes, are forced into miserable refugee camps, are under constant deadly and random threat from above, and are kidnapped, imprisoned without charge, and brutally tortured.

Shortly into the narrative, El Akkad reveals that the U.S. unmanned drones are solar powered, can stay aloft indefinitely, rained down destruction during the entire two-decades-plus of the war, and are uncontrolled, because Southern “terrorists” destroyed the “server farms” controlling the drones. This is beyond ridiculous on several counts, and again points to the very high likelihood that El Akkad deliberately made his background — in this particular, the drones — implausible.

Why would he do that? (Such apparent sloppiness is in stark contrast with Akkad’s adroitly drawn and developed characters and his skillful rendering of both action sequences and physical background.)

The point is that the drones are simply there as a constant threat, maiming and killing the innocent, seemingly at random. The point is the constant, year-in-year-out state of fear and anger suffered by those under threat.

The same holds for all of the other horrors El Akkad describes, and their woeful, ever worsening effects on the personalities, outlooks, and consequent actions of his characters, especially Sarat.

This story could be set in virtually any combat zone in any Muslim country. El Akkad set it in the U.S., using American characters, disguising it as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi dystopian tale, simply so that American readers will be able to relate to it on an emotional level.

There’s little point in saying more, except that if you want to understand the psychological roots of the hate and terrorism engendered by America’s foreign wars, American War is a good place to start.

This book is a masterpiece.

Very highly recommended.

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover

 

 

 

 

“God Wants Peace”

Posted: November 12, 2016 in Humor, Quotations, Religion
Tags: , , ,

“The religious papers are rather interesting reading just now. It appears that God wants peace in Britain. God wants peace in the United States. God wants peace in the Balkan States. God wants peace in France. God wants peace all over the world, but Hitler won’t let him have it.”

The Freethinker (1942), quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations


John-Flynn

“The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine, and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilize savage and senile and paranoidal peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells or metal mines.”

–John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching


“Among the casualties of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages. A peace will equally leave the warrior and the relater of wars destitute of employment; and I know not whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers accustomed to lie.”

–Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets

Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations


Alexander Berkman

“War paralyzes your courage and deadens the spirit of true manhood. It degrades and stupefies with the sense that you are not responsible, that ’tis not yours to think and reason why, but to do and die,’ like the hundred thousand others doomed like yourself. War means blind obedience, unthinking stupidity, brutish callousness, wanton destruction, and irresponsible murder.”

–Alexander Berkman, What Is Communist Anarchism?


H.L. Mencken“Is a young man bound to serve his country in war? In addition to his legal duty there is perhaps also a moral duty, but it is very obscure. What is called his country is only its government and that government consists merely of professional politicians, a parasitical and anti-social class of men. They never sacrifice themselves for their country. They make all wars, but very few of them ever die in one. If it is the duty of a young man to serve his country under all circumstances then it is equally the duty of an enemy young man to serve his. Thus we come to a moral contradiction and absurdity so obvious that even clergymen and editorial writers sometimes notice it.”

–H.L. Mencken, Minority Report


Alexander Berkman“The man who can face vilification and disgrace, who can stand up against the popular current, even against his friends and his country when he knows he is right, who can defy those in authority over him, who can take punishment and prison and remain steadfast–that is a man of courage. The follow whom you taunt as a ‘slacker’ because he refuses to turn murderer–he needs courage. But do you need much courage just to obey orders, to do as you are told and to fall in line with thousands of others to the tune of general approval and ‘The Star Spangled Banner’?”

Alexander Berkman, What Is Anarchism?

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Yesterday's Men

“What has slum discomfort to do with organized murder?”

“Everything.” [Dunbar] held a piece of abominable bacon on his fork and said, “The authorities think as you probably think, that the psychology of the soldier pivots on a terrorist instinct. The army knows better.” He put the bacon in his mouth while his eyes mocked Corrigan’s revulsion.

“What does it pivot on?”

“Degradation … From the moment of enlistment, personal degradation began in simple separation from his womenfolk and the conventions of civilization. You’ll never have seen a group of young males forced to live together, all strangers and all released from the restraints of women and family and friends. The skin peels back from their minds; cultural safety is dissolved; they’re out of the burrow with no way back. The sense of territoriality, of the group, is destroyed, each must assert himself or go under–and both things happen. Braggart alliances assert themselves in aggression and numbers,the weak take on passive protective color. The male animal thrashes about in proof of his maleness, in noisy language and physical provocation and aimless quarrelling. Sexual repression exhibits its brassy stridency or goes silently underground to break out in squalls of violence and stupidity. The observers says, so that’s what they’re really like, but it isn’t so; it’s what they’re like under disorienting conditions. As simply as that, men in the mass are laid open to manipulation, and manipulation is what the army supplies. It’s called discipline–twenty-four hours a day discipline, remorseless and nakedly oppressive, with even the so-called off-duty time supervised and open to cancellation without warning or explanation. That’s where the degradation grips. The army takes away the tetherstones and signposts of normal life, turns a man into a creature of confusion and then imposes its own version of order upon him. Civilized man is born to order; disordered, he takes to discipline like a saint to to salvation. He hates it but he clings to it, lost without it.

“In the name of holy discipline he become a machine. He lives on food fit for scavengers because he’ll eat it or starve; he lives cold and sodden because he’s taught it’s no hardship to a proud soldier; he crawls on his guts in mud, takes pride in senseless ceremonial drills, jumps at the command of brainless nits, takes public cursing from foul-mouthed instructors; works till he’s ready to drop and then carries on working–why? Because from the moment the barrier drops between him and his culture he becomes less than a man and knows it and has no self-respect other than as the thing he is told to be. That there may be killing at the end of the road, or being killed, is neither here nor there; obedience and discipline alone can carry him through to the blessed goal of discharge. That’s the soldier, the final product of a deliberate process of degradation: a Pavlovian dog. He can be shocked out of it–he sometimes is when the killing starts–but in general he behaves as a faithful hound. The joke–if there is a joke–is that the masters are as response-conditioned as the dogs. It’s a vicious circle of command and react. Only a powerful mind can remain his own man in the army.”

Corrigan pushed his mess tin away, his stomach sickened by grease as surely as his mind by [Dunbar’s] explanation. He ate the bread; it was stale. “A calculated process of debasement.”

“In the strictest sense, no. It evolved across millennia of warfare, refining itself with use and habit. … They often called it, Making A Man Of Him.”

George Turner, Yesterday’s Men

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Thanks to Zeke Teflon, author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, for this quote. Zeke is currently re-reading nearly all of the late Australian science fiction writer (and World War II vet) George Turner’s sci-fi novels, and we’ll post Zeke’s analysis and review of Turner’s works later this month.

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“The age for military service has arrived, and every young man has to submit to the arbitrary orders of some rascal or ignoramus; he must believe that nobility and greatness consist in renouncing his own will and becoming the tool of another’s will, in slashing and in getting himself slashed, in suffering from hunger, thirst, rain, and cold; in being mutilated without knowing why and without any other reward than a glass of brandy on the day of battle and the promise of something impalpable and fictitious–immortality after death, and glory given or refused by the pen of some journalist in his warm room.

“A gun is fired. He falls wounded, his comrades finish him off by trampling over him. He is buried half alive and then he may enjoy immortality. He for whom he had given his happiness, his sufferings, and his very life, never knew him. And years later someone comes to collect his whitened bones, out of which they make paint and English blacking for cleaning his general’s boots.”

–Alphonse Kerr

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Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations.

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