Are we going to occupy Iran and Syria, too?
I got a letter the other day from a faculty member at the University of Maryland's overseas division in Europe. UM is the primary university providing classes for U.S. service members abroad.
Here it is: "The reason that I am writing today is to inform you of something rather unsettling. Last weekend, we had a Europe-wide faculty meeting at our headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. At that meeting, we were told that the U of MD military education contracts will be expanding soon to Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, and other locations in the Middle East and Africa. This comes as no surprise.
"What is startling is that the U.S. military has also asked us to prepare a bid for educational programs in IRAN and SYRIA (and, oddly enough, France -- where we have had no presence since NATO was expelled in 1967 -- probably a function of the new conservative government there). We will be bidding on an education contract to these locations at the end of November.
"This is a truly ominous development. The U of MD overseas program follows the military around the world -- thus clearly the contingencies for an occupation of several Middle Eastern countries is not only being contemplated, but actually set up."
Could someone with an expense account from a major media corporation still interested in journalism please look into this?
Newsweek has tapped Markos Moulitsas as a contributor for the magazine's 2008 election coverage. Good for them. Time, on the other hand, remains dominated by liberal-haters and McCarthyites -- and excluding Samantha Power who writes only on foreign policy -- has no liberals at all, save the former anal sex specialist, Ms. Cox, and that's only online. Vote accordingly, everyone.
I feel I should say something about Norman Mailer, but I don't have much to say. He was a kind of a hero of mine because of his fearlessness. He was also a real old-fashioned gentleman, which I admired and enjoyed on the occasions when we spoke and/or drank. There were not that many of these, but I will cherish them. Norman was, to use a cliché that rings remarkably true, one of a kind; a prophet, undoubtedly, though often not an accurate one.
Ever read "The White Negro"? It's here. Fearless...
(Things not to think about ever again, if possible: Norman once invited Norman Podhoretz to an orgy...)
It's no exaggeration to suggest that Brian Williams' 34-minute interview with Rudy Giuliani last week represented a primer on how not to conduct a serious, lengthy interview with a presidential hopeful, as Williams ignored virtually every obvious question regarding Giuliani's campaign to date. Indeed, Williams appeared more intent on befriending Giuliani than questioning him seriously. Read more here.
Victor Davis Hanson, regardless of what you write, my men and I are NOT mercenaries.
By LTC Bob Bateman:
This is the final installment of this series here on Altercation. At the end, I suppose, it is appropriate to explain the genesis. Why, after all, did this series debunking the twisted version of history put forward by Victor Davis Hanson suddenly appear? What prompted a heretofore moderate and mild-mannered historian to such efforts? The answer is mundane.
A few weeks ago, during the course of some research I am doing for my boss relating to honor, cultures, and war, I picked up Hanson's Carnage and Culture. I admit that I was leery from the outset. Among many professional historians, the book has a horrid reputation (and Hanson's personal reputation as the thinnest-skinned writer out there only exacerbates this evaluation). Indeed, Carnage and Culture is one of the few works of history to ever prompt an entire book written in rebuttal almost immediately. So I opened Hanson's signature work with some trepidation. I read it as a historian does.
Hmmmm, I need to explain that.
I cannot speak for other academic disciplines, but historians are strange in the way that we read serious non-fiction. Before her own grad school experience, my wife used to literally laugh out loud at me whenever I opened a new book and began my curious progression. This is because my process is so, well, non-linear. I read the acknowledgements first, then skip to the back to scan the endnotes. After that, I return my attention to the front to read the introduction, and then flip to the back again to read the conclusion. Only at that point do I start with "Chapter One." This is how historians read the work of other historians. So it was, in this case, that I very early stumbled upon these lines about the present day written by Victor Davis Hanson:
Mercenary armies in America and Europe are the norm. They are not necessarily entirely professional militaries, but outlets for the disaffected of society who seek economic opportunity alone in serving, with the realization that those of a far different social class will determine where, when, and how they will fight and die. (Page 449)
This, as you may have now surmised, got my dander up.
Calling me names is one thing. But calling the men with whom I have served for the past 18 years "mercenary," and claiming that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who manned the walls through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century are "the disaffected of society" pisses me off. You cannot seriously write a book in which you say that the service members who stood tours in the Sinai Desert, fought and died in Mogadishu, gave up years of their lives living in tents in the Balkans or aboard ships drilling holes in the Adriatic, Pacific, Atlantic, etc., did so solely to "seek economic opportunity" and not expect people to look closely to see what other sort of tripe you are pushing. So, annoyed, I wrote to Eric and asked if he would mind lending me some space. He agreed, and here we are.
Hanson's polemic position in Carnage and Culture, it turns out, is really more about his personal pining for a myth of his own creation. He seeks an idyllic pastoral past, rather like Lake Wobegon, and like that place, largely exists only in the fantasies of its creator. In Hanson's vision, even a name can evoke the image of the stalwart yeoman, which of course stands in contrast to the slacker youth of today. In discussing the future (circa mid-2001, when this book came out), Hanson even manages to cast aspersions on our present day soldiers, the ones who have joined since 2001. This is what Hanson wrote about them (Note: Here Hanson is referring to a few of the naval aviators who fought and died at Midway in June 1942.):
Even their names seem almost caricatures of an earlier stalwart American manhood -- Max Leslie, Lem Massey, Wade McClusky, Jack Waldron -- doomed fighters who were not all young eighteen-year-old conscripts, but often married with children, enthusiastic rather than merely willing to fly their decrepit planes into a fiery end above the Japanese fleet, in a few seconds to orphan their families if need be to defend all that they held dear. One wonders if an America of suburban, video-playing Nicoles, Ashleys and Jasons shall ever see their like again." (Page 351)
He wrote both of these passages without, apparently, noting the complete illogical contradiction contained within his own words within this single book. Those men he lauds, the naval aviators, did not join at the outset of the war. They were long-serving officers. They were men who had joined the peacetime military voluntarily, during the height of the Great Depression in the mid-1930s. In other words, by Hanson's logic and words, they were just as mercenary as the "Nicoles, Ashleys and Jasons" who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan these past six years...
Because this is my wrap-up essay, I must apologize for the disjointed nature of some of the material I am bringing up now. We have already noted how, when writing about his own period of specialization, the Classicist Victor Davis Hanson is both sloppy and inconsistent. (Mixing up, for example, the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens, who died at Adrianople in 378 AD, with Emperor Valerian, who was captured by the Sassanids in 260 AD. This is akin to confusing the current conflict we are in with the Spanish-American war because, you know, they're pretty close in time.) But mistakes like these do not really annoy me as much as another problem, the lack of documentation in Carnage and Culture.
Bear with me for a moment, because I do have strong sentiments about this topic. Carnage and Culture has not a single footnote. In a few places, when Hanson uses a large block quote, he cites the source, but that is all. None of his alleged "facts" are supported with endnotes. None of his interpretations of events are attached to footnotes which would allow other historians to examine his basis.
Remember, for a moment, the strange way that I (and other historians) go about reading a book. We start with the acknowledgements because that is where you learn who this author respects. Then we immediately move to the endnotes to give us a sense of what sources the author is using. Are they primary sources? Secondary? Is the author aware of the current scholarship on the topic, or has his research been confined? Did he do archival work or research in the sources of the relevant languages? In short, we want to get a quick sense of his scholarship. Later, while reading the main body of the text, we will flip forward and backwards from the text to the notes to check on the author's veracity. Has he documented his sources for his statements of historical fact, or does it appear that he is just making it up as he goes along?
Indeed, I am not the only one to do this. Here is an opinion about the importance of documentation with which I completely agree. In this case, the reviewer is talking about the "popular, mass market" book by Tom Ricks entitled Fiasco. But, obviously, the passion this reviewer has for rigorous documentation in history comes through clearly:
History is not the impressionistic art of autobiography, memoir, or essay, but is to be offered as an account of what happened with sources that provide the means of checking the historian's veracity. Once journalists decide that they are no longer writing dispatches of the moment but real histories in the midst of a controversial and hotly debated war -- and are intending to hype their work as a best-selling exposé -- then they become historians and so are obligated to inform the reader, and posterity itself, where and from whom they obtained their primary evidence.
This being Altercation, you already knew who had to have written that blistering commentary about the importance of documentation in best-selling works of historical import, don't you? Victor. Davis. Hanson. (Policy Review, 23 December 2006) Once again, apparently without a trace of irony.
Last week, I also expounded upon the similarities twixt Mr. Howard Zinn and Mr. Hanson. Now, I should note that unlike Mr. Hanson, Howard Zinn came to his opinions about war through direct personal experience in the Second World War. Moreover, Zinn's experiences were the result of choice. Because he had a job working in the defense industry, Zinn was exempted from the draft. Yet, during the height of World War II, when thousands upon thousands of airmen were being shot from the skies over occupied Europe, Zinn volunteered for the Army Air Corps. He was accepted, trained, and then deployed to England as a bombardier. (In WWII era aircraft, this is the officer who pulled the trigger that dropped the bombs.) He manned a .50 caliber machinegun in combat over Germany, braved flak and enemy fighters, and looked through a Norden bombsite and dropped bombs in combat. More than 25,000 of his peers died in the air over Europe doing much the same thing during the course of his war.
Hanson, who turned 18 two years before the end of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, apparently had better things to do at a time when America was at war and desperately needed smart young men in the ranks. Hanson's own idea of "civic militarism," which he espouses in his book, was, apparently, not one he felt compelled to exhibit in any sort of personal manner. He felt it sufficient to wait for the State to compel him with the draft, should it choose to do so, rather than volunteer for military service, as had Zinn.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is probably a crucial difference. On the one hand, there is a man who fought in war, Zinn, and he has a problem with war, but not the warriors. On the other side is a man, Hanson, who decided not to fight in his generation's war and has no apparent problems with war, but does refer to those of us in the U.S. Army (and the other services) as "mercenary" and describes our motivations as being that solely of people, "who seek economic opportunity alone in serving."
Move along folks, move along. There's no hypocrisy to see here. Move along.
Marty Peretz, 10/17/06:
Iraq has never been a kind place, though Baghdad was for nearly two millennia a truly cosmopolitan city. Until 1949, the Jews were a plurality in Baghdad. It was mostly there that the Babylonian Talmud was created some 1700 years ago. Now, the Jews are gone (mostly to Israel). And the Chaldeans and Assyrians, mostly murdered or, as Pat Moynihan once observed, living in Chicago. Aside from some 800,000 Christians, what is left are the Muslims, slaughtering each other day after day, divided by what occurred in what was not yet Iraq thirteen centuries before our time. An example of "the one Arab people," split asunder, not by nation because there aren't any, but by sect and sectarian hatred.
Posted by M. Duss
Pixar Short Films Collection -- Volume 1
These movies, bundled for Blu-ray Disc release along with Pixar's Cars on November 6, represent some more recent efforts at transforming animated films. Ratatouille, starring Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Brad Garrett, Brian Dennehy, and Janeane Garofalo, is about a French rat named Remy determined to make it as a Parisian chef. It was directed by Brad Bird, who won an Academy Award for The Incredibles. If you haven't seen it already, you're being silly. It's wonderful. As for the DVD extras, Altercation reviewer Eve Rose Alterman explains, " 'Your Friend the Rat' actually tells you history in a funny way," and is therefore highly recommended. As for the deleted scenes, "sometimes they can be hard to understand because they are in black and white and are chopped."
The Short Films Collection goes behind the scenes at Pixar, talking with the studio's chief creative officer, along with familiar faces from Pixar films like Cars, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles. Reviewer Eve Rose Alterman says, "They are very entertaining and some of them could be great movies; I don't understand some of them because they're so weird. It's like, it was in the middle of a scene and didn't get to finish."
Hannah Montana: Life's What You Make It
This DVD compilation stars child actress Miley Cyrus (daughter of Billy Ray) as the wildly popular character Miley Stewart, who, after school, becomes Hannah Montana, a glamorous international pop superstar. Life's What You Make It finds Montana starting high school and battling normal insecurities of that age. The Disney Channel show is the highest-rated cable program for kids ever, and the DVD has plenty of bonus features, including interviews and a new music video. More information on the DVD can be found here.
Eve Rose Alterman says there are three episodes here, though one is a double episode. "That one has no point. It is like a staller episode. 'I am Hannah, Hear Me Croak' is a good one because something very exciting happens and it pulls you in. The last one is a great one, because it specializes in emotions and lets you know how they feel."
 None of this means I agree with Zinn by the way. I am intransigent on that, and I still feel that A People's History of the United States is a horrid work, as history. (As polemics, that book may pass muster, but it is sold as history, and I still disagree with the techniques both Zinn and Hanson use to confuse the two.)
Name: Bill Dauphin
Hometown: Vernon, CT
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Charlie, for saying this:
"But enough, please, with the Ron Paul bulls**t? The man is a kook."
I've had it up to my blowhole with liberals who fall in love with candidates like Paul just because they agree on one issue (Iraq) and the guy seems like some sort of maverick. In fact, he DISagrees with liberals on every other issue, including the fundamental understanding of government as a legitimate enterprise.
I guess it's an occupational hazard for liberals to be attracted to mavericks and kooks ... but let's try to keep track of which direction the kookiness leans, shall we?
And don't even get me started about the Democrats I heard recently calling in to an NPR show to say how much Fred Thompson appeals to them, because of his alleged "steady, intellectual" approach. WTF???!!!
Hometown: Portland, OR
Great column, Eric. Racial bigotry and discrimination is one of the most corrosive and sorrowful issues in our nation. Like the genocide and continuing collective punishment of the original native population, we believe, in some nationally unaccountable way, that if we turn toward this abuse, we will wither as a people. We review the "I Have a Dream" speech each year as if that dream had been achieved. The Bush legacy is the polar opposite.
Hometown: Los Angeles
I teach high school English at a largely African-American school here in Los Angeles. Your remarkable essay just became required reading for all of my seniors. Thank you.