In times like these I drop the usual shtick and revert to my normal mode of thinking as a third rate academic. Like many bloggers I see this space as an extension of the alter-ego. My blog is a place where my mean-spiritedness can have a home. It is a place where I can laugh at even the most tragic events. If tragedy + time = comedy, then my blog is a place to reduce the time needed to laugh to absolute zero.
As both of my readers know, I have been pretty pissed over the media's total attention to the Abu Ghraib while other stories languish and rot for lack of attention. I think yesterday's Cox & Forkum
cartoon is worth much more than the thousand words I've already used on the subject.
Today my wrath and outrage has been rekindled to a point that I do not believe I have felt since 9/11. This morning, doing my pre-work mode surfing, I began coming to links of the actual video of Nick Berg being beheaded. Misha's warning
was not heeded by me:
FAIR WARNING: This'll make you sick, it'll make you angry and it'll make you want to rip the living guts out of anybody as much as mentioning "restraint", which is exactly why it's needed, now more than ever.
I did not realize just how right he was until I actually clicked the link and saw the videos (UPDATE: Misha's links to the video are now dead, but INDC
is just as outraged--read the post, too-- and his links work. Again, don't watch the video if you don't want to completely lose it). This morning I am outraged.
King of shtick, the Commissar
, has been so despondent lately that his Russian accent has long since fallen by the wayside. This morning he waxed philosophical (if I didn't know his real profession I would say he's a closet academic) and posited the problem of our reaction to this video, and indeed the entire war in Iraq, in the following manner
Within America, within the warbloggers, indeed within each of our hearts, is a war between our inner Thomas Jefferson and our inner Phil Sheridan. We want to bring stability, peace, a pluralistic society, and democracy to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. We self-interestedly want to pursue those noble goals. At the same time, we are angry about 9/11, terrorists who blow up buses of Israeli kids, serial video decapitators, etc. There is a very powerful Old Testament desire, "Lord, smite my enemies."
I think he's right. The Dale Gribble in me wants to bring peace to Iraq. To remake that society into one of tolerance. The Rusty Shackleford in me wants to kill them all, let God sort them out.
After 9/11, I dropped my usual split personalities and reverted to being the scholar that I am (third-rate scholar, mind you). I was a teaching assistant at the time, at a well known university, with shared offices with other graduate students. In the desk drawer happened to be a copy of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations
. I had read Huntington's article, of the same name, and had stored it in the vast expanse of wasted readings in the back of my mind. But on 9/11, it suddenly clicked that the article I had read was somehow relevant to the images I was seeing on TV. I suppose it was just serendipity that the book happened to be the only one sitting in my desk, left there by a TA who had obtained a free copy while using it to teach some undergraduate course in International Relations, but I took it for a sign and began reading it only hours after the attacks began. Armed with a theoretical framework to put the day's events into perspective I now saw the world through new lenses. My gut reaction to the events, what the Commissar would likely call my inner "Sheridan," now had the force of reasoned theory to back it up. I had become a true believer.
For those of you who are affiliated with a religious denomination that prosltyzes, you know that the new convert is always the most zealous. But as Jesus warned in his parable of the sower, some new converts stay firm in the faith but others have no roots and wither and die. Charles, over at LGF recently said
I thought September 11 was a big enough shock to the American public that we wouldn’t dare go back to sleep. Unfortunately, I no longer believe that...
Some believe it is enough to see shocking footage to keep the faithful strong. I do not. A scream or a shout from a minister may wake you up, but it will not keep you in the faith the other six days of the week. Only a deeper rooted awareness of what is going on will do that. Let this video serve as a call to wake up, but we need more to keep us on our toes after the initial feeling subsides and becomes just another faded memory. Go read Huntington. Please.
So, this morning I was doing some grading, as I ought to be doing right now, and opened up a file on my computer. For my class on Western Political Theory I had assigned a number of original readings, including Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. For a while now I have been bitching and moaning about the press's irresponsibility in a time of war. In fact, the Bull
(hey Bull, where are you??) and I had some pretty heated discussions via e-mail over that very subject. But as I was looking through my files I began to think that there had to be something that would frame my feeling that the press is being irresponsible in a more coherent manner. Indeed, Diogenes
has the same general feeling as I do but both of our arguments lack a kind of coherent structure to them. All of this was sort of in the back of my mind when I came upon this passage from Hobbes' Leviathan
Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.
I think Hobbes has helped me frame what is going on in this country. Many do not understand that we are at war. Even if the actual battles are far away, the state of war exists. It is here. It is now. The state of war is the medium in which all of our lives are lived. We are the fish, it is the water. All of our actions must be constructed with this in mind. We cannot escape the state of war by somehow denying we are in it. Can the fish suddenly sprout lungs and breathe simply because it does not recognize that his environment is water, not air?
The media does not understand that we are in a state of war. The Commissar
The 'war' in Iraq is a campaign, a battle, a part of the larger war.
That larger war, comrade, is all around us. The media does not understand this concept. They think there is a war 'over there' but not here. That somehow Iraq is separate from the larger war, which is all around us. This is why they believe it is ok to publish pictures of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, because the 'war' is over there. Here, there is peace. But as Hobbes rightly observes the "nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary
It may seem like an unimportant and abstract distinction. What does it matter whether or not a 'state of war' exists everywhere or only in Iraq? But distinctions, even when they are only made by assumption, are absolutely critical to the way we think. The distinction between war and peace is very crucial, because moral actions depend on context. If the context is peace, then moral beings are compelled by conscience to behave in one way. If the context is war, then the same moral being must act in another way. The same is true of the press.
A free-press cannot be maintained in a state of war. Even from a Lockean perspective we cannot understand our liberties as anything but ordered. The inconveniences of living without order makes man:
willing to quit this condition which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers; and it is not without reason that he seeks out and is willing to join in society with others who are already united, or have a mind to unite for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name- property. (Second Treatise IX:123)
A close reading of Locke reveals that his love of property is a means to an end--property is necessary for the maintaining of life. Life is the first and foremeost right ordained by Nature. Although I love the right to speak and cherish the liberty of the press, such liberty is meaningless without life. All of my rights and liberties are secondary to the need to protect my life. Governments are not founded to protect speech, rather, governments are instituted to protect life. Free speech is an instrumental value--or it is a means to an end. We want freedom of speech and press because these things are necessary to a functioning democracy. However, a functioning democracy is secondary to some amount of order so that neighbors do not settle disputes on their own--a state of War according to Hobbes and an inconvenient state of Nature according to Locke. When the secondary value of free speech conflicts with the primary value of protecting life, the secondary must be discarded. We ought not discard such things lightly, but sometimes they must be sacrificed. We do not let the body die to save the limb.
In a state of war, people die. In a state of peace, it is tacitly understood that you can say anything so long as your words are not a "clear and present danger" (See Schenck v. United States
, 1919). Holmes' maxim seems to me a simple attempt at putting to words what we all kind of know deep down: only sticks and stones may break your bones, but words sometimes do hurt you. You cannot say something that will incite someone to kill me. In a state of peace, people aren't normally incited to murder. In fact, yelling fire in a crowded theater rarely yields a riot. However, change the context and the result changes. In a state of war since some amount of anarchy is already present and there is an understanding that it is o.k. to kill, then the likelihood for words to lead to death is greatly multiplied. Loose lips in times of peace are meaningless. In war, loose lips sink ships.
Did CBS's decision to air the photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib cause
the brutal murder of Nick Berg? No. Of course not. Al Qaida rarely needs an excuse to commit an atrocity. Did such images contribute
to his death? Probably not. He was a dead man walking from the moment he was captured. However, such images do reinforce the preexisting notion in the Muslim world that the US is just another oppressive power. As such, these images mean that fence-sitters are more likely to join the opposition. Those not actually engaged in fighting will be less inclined to cooperate with us. Having a population less inclined to cooperate with us means terrorists will have an easier climate in which to operate. They will no longer have to fear their neighbor turning them in to Coalition forces. They can operate with near impunity. Chaos continues. People die. This all in one small field of one battle in the larger War on Terror.
For the larger war the images are even worse. They reinforce what the traitors Said and Chomsky have been saying for years: America is bad, mmm-kay. They ensure that hostility towards us will find increasing justification. As moral beings, people tend to want to do good. I know, we all are sinful and all that, but that tells us little more than that men are selfish. Even the selfish man tries to find some justification for his actions. He is entitled to the money, everybody else does it, it's not as bad as some other worse thing, etc. The point is that we all need to feel that what we are doing is right. Hence, the murderers and terrorists tell themselves stories that make their actions justifiable. The US is bad. So bad that they need to be stopped. So bad, that killing an American, even a civilian, is justified. So bad, that beheading him is the only way to let the Americans know that we mean business. America is a virus, and viruses need to be killed. Our media's hyper-self-criticism is fodder for the fire. By making our minor flaws out to be something horrific, we give our enemies the moral justification they need to sleep at night after a day of mass-murder.
The images also remind us that propaganda works. The military had already begun investigating the abuses long before the images were available. But it was seeing
the images, not the abuse that made so many furious. In a similar fashion, I had known that Nick Berg was beheaded and it pissed me off. But it was only when I saw
the images that I went Mad Max. Without the images the reality does not exist in the same way. When the media chose to run pictures of our abuse, they gave the enemy something else to throw in our faces. The great Satan is just as bad as Saddam Hussein---see, they are here to humiliate you---see, take up arms against the great Satan!! More of our men are sure to die. There will be more Nick Bergs because of this. Some of them would have died, with or without the images, but others' lives would have been spared. Some would have escaped, as did Thomas Hamil, because killing a hostage isn't always the priority. But if the US is a country of unreasonable barbarians, then there is no use in keeping hostages alive. Kill them all!
As long as we are in a state of war, the media must act in ways consistent with winning and bringing back a state of peace. If they cannot do it themselves, they must be forcibly censored. Many of you may not know this, but during WWII the government had an actual censorship board. All broadcast and print media were censored for content that could hinder speedy victory. All pro-Japanese and pro-German publications were shut down. Leaders of the German-American Bund were rounded up and locked away. All of the nation's propaganda might were aimed at winning the war. Pearl Harbor woke our population up, but a concerted effort at keeping our citizens ever aware of the war kept us awake. The event gave us the emotional will to begin the war, but it was propaganda that gave us the stomach to see it through to the end. The free-press gave way to the more immediate need of protecting lives.
For those of you who know my true identity, much of this may seem shocking. I am a civil libertarian, and if my state would allow it I would be a registered Libertarian. The main objection to regulating the press is the notion that somehow we will devolve into a state of fascism. In truth, it is the kind of 9/10 rhetoric I would have also used. But it is just rhetoric and nothing else. Worse, it is a slippery slope argument that has no real basis in historical fact. As much as I love Nozick and Locke, epistemologically I must agree with Burke: societies and people do not spring forth from some imagined state of nature where rights exist, but are molded by culture and tradition. The civil libertarian argument has much merit, but all arguements must be made in some context and with reference to actual social conditions. The context of the here and now is war; and the social condition of our nation is that of a people generally dedicated to limited government. We are a country and a people molded after Cincinnatus
, not Caesar. To think that content censorship would continue after we have defeated the threat of Islamofascism is to overlook WWI and WWII. In both cases we had direct censorship. In both cases the censorship eventually ended.
I, therefore, using the vast resources and power of my minion (singular) on the internet, call on the US Congress to immediately set a National Board of Review to censor any media content that could hinder the War on Terror. I call on Congress to immediately close all sessions to the public that scrutinize actions of our soldiers overseas. I call on Congress to immediately shut down any media outlets that give moral support to our enemies. I call on Congress to impose immediate sanctions to any country which morally support our enemies. I call on Congress to authorize the immediate seizure of assets of Countries that knowingly allow terrorist to use their internet and other forms of domestic infrastructure to further the goals of worldwide jihad and terrorism.
In sum, I call on Congress to recognize that the War on Terror must be handled as TOTAL WAR. All of the Nation's resources and will must be turned to that aim. From time to time events shock our conscience and reawaken us to the fact that our enemies want us dead. Between these times there must be a concerted effort by the entire nation to constantly remind us that war is a fact. We do not fight war for its own sake, but to restore the state of peace. When we have won, then let us quibble about the merits of prancing prisoners around in underwear. Let us not focus on the mote in our own eye when the beam in our enemy's is strapped with TNT and he is eager to kill us.
proves even feeble minds think alike...but will Andrew Sullivan still vote Kerry?