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A Sound Beating

[ 0 ] March 2, 2006 |

Alex at Martini Republic take Victor Davis Hanson out to the woodshed.

I think maybe Vic should stick to Ancient Greece….

A bit more on the stabbing in the back…

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

What’s most pathetic about the Goldstein and Hanson pieces is the predicable transparency of the arguments. I am more disappointed in Goldstein than Hanson; “Victor Davis Hanson”, “transparent”, “predictable”, “asinine”, and “puerile” are more or less synonyms in my book. This is a line of attack that has been in preparation since 2002, and that we have expected for nearly as long. If this war went south, everyone knew that the damn dirty liberal hippies would be to blame, just like they were in Vietnam. That the conservative account of Vietnam bears no resemblance to the actual history of that conflict is irrelevant; blaming the critics of a war for its failure has been a remarkably successful political strategy for the right wing, and not just in the United States.

People like Buckley make this strategy a little bit more difficult to execute, because they force Goldstein and company to distinguish between good, “loyal” critics and bad, “disloyal” critics. Nevertheless, the chutzpah surrounding this effort really is astounding. In advance, they manage to have terrified Democrats from Peter Beinart to Hillary Clinton into acquiesence with a manifestly absurd war. Everyone knew this was coming, and they still expect it to work. It’s remarkable, really.

I guess the next question is whether they can actually pull it off. I’m mildly optimistic. A fair portion of America did manage to forget the creeping ineptitude of the Vietnam War in time, but I don’t see it happening as readily in this case. For one, the culture war does not loom as large now as it did in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Opposition to this war is personified not in some anonymous, doobie smoking hippie, but (at worst) in people like Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. Conservatives have done their very best to discredit Sheehan and Moore, but they can’t fundamentally transform them into something alien. Moore and Sheehan look like the rest of us; indeed, they look almost like proto-typical Americans. It will be harded to create the impression that anti-war forces are somehow alien and un-American when they very much resemble ordinary Americans.

…more from Glenn Greenwald.

Help! Help! I’m being stabbed in the back!!!!

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

Ah, Jeff Goldstein…

Goldstein is smarter than the average wingnut, and takes care to avoid many of the pitfalls normally associated with a “Stab in the Back” argument. He allows that people in a free society have every right to oppose the war. Nevertheless, he contends, the questioning of the Iraq War has objectively damaged the war effort; while people may be free to argue against the war, it is not wise for them to do so. To vocally oppose this war is not traitorous, but is to be without rectitude and oblivious to the benefits of presenting a “unifed front” in the War on Terror. Indeed, Goldstein’s critics are guilty of the following:

Face it: my critics know [that showing a united front against the terrorists would weaken the insurgency]. And so all these smarmy and utterly tranparent attempts to suggest that I am trying to “blame leftists” for a loss in Iraq is simply the manifestation of guilty consciences bursting like boils and oiling up the internet with so much pus-thickened epiphany juice.

Uh… yeah.

One wonders what precisely the role of the loyal opposition during war would be to a guy like Jeff Goldstein. He doesn’t make it completely clear, although, from what I can tell, it has something to do with being Bill Buckley rather than Juan Cole or Paul Krugman. I’ll confess that I don’t see the difference; the three above are convinced that US action in Iraq is pointless and destructive, and have used the media resources available to them to make their views known. Goldstein tries to parse the difference with this:

It is clear that the post took issue not with critiques of the particular strategies and tactics (which I note quite clearly in the piece proper), but rather with those whose hatred of the campaign and the current administration turned them into de facto propagandists for the enemy, especially insofar as they were willing to repeat lies as truths (because, as Glenn Greenwald argued) the ends justify the means.

Although, again, the difference escapes me as anything other than an effort to discredit left-wing critics while excusing right-wing critics. Jesse Taylor=De facto propagandist for the enemy; Bill Buckley, even though he makes more far reaching claims regarding the defeat of the United States=Critique of particular strategy and tactic. I suppose in the end the question for Goldstein comes down to tone; if you’re nice, respectful, and like the President, you’re a legitimate critic. If not, your guilty conscience is bursting forth like so many pus-filled boils.

The fact is that democratic governments, when they decide upon war, must account for the possibility of opposition. This is the heart of democracy; the decision to go to war is perhaps the most crucial that a democracy can make, and must, accordingly, be given the weightiest of democratic deliberation. It’s not as if opposition to war in democratic countries is something that started in 1967, although conservatives would like to think so. Vigorous anti-war movements have taken place in virtually every war that the United States has conducted since the American Revolution. Nor is the United States unusual in this; anti-war movements were common in European democracies, as well. When the war is as obviously ill-conceived, poorly executed, and poorly prepared for as the Iraq adventure, the criticism will be correspondingly harsher.

Long story short, when a democratic country engages in a manifestly stupid war in an egregiously inept fashion, you can expect to take some heat.

Goldstein also makes this claim,

The fact is, the insurgency simply cannot succeed militarily. And Iraqis have voted in spectacular numbers for an attempt at democratic governance.

Which means the only hope of the insurgency from the start has been to break our will by inflicting casualties, staging spectacular terrorist strikes (that serve the dual purpose of recruiting new insurgents and playing to our sensationalist and largely anti-war media), and fomenting a civil war between Shia and Sunni in an effort to sweep aside the prospect of democratic coalitions forming among long-warring sectarian groups.

which clearly demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what war, insurgency, and “military” mean. The insurgency can succeed militarily by steadily increasing the costs of the occupation in blood and treasure. This is how an insurgency succeeds; it is very, very rare than an insurgency will move to Mao’s phase three of operations. Typically, in an occupation situation, they don’t need to. Insurgents understand that they will ALWAYS place more value on victory than the occupier; the only question is whether they can exact sufficient costs to drive the occupation forces out. This is a military strategy, one that sometimes succeeds and sometimes does not. It is a strategy which works as well on authoritarian states as it does on democratic ones; the Soviet Union was not “militarily” defeated by the Afghan resistance in 1988, for example. Since Goldstein is obviously a really smart guy (and I mean that in all sincerity; I do respect Goldstein’s blogging) I can only assume that his obtuseness on this point is deliberate.

From the deliberately to the accidentally obtuse, let’s take a look at Victor Davis Hanson, who is manifestly not a smart guy. Hanson repeats the traditional wingnut talking points; the US is winning, the terrorist are desperate, terrorist success is a further demonstration of how desperate they are, etc. Hanson does go farther than Goldstein, and argues that, really, criticism is objectively undemocratic; if the Founding Fathers had questioned George Washington’s military strategy, there would have been no American Revolution.


VDH goes on to make clearer that the kind of second-guessing we’re seeing is akin to refighting Pearl Harbor on the road to Okinawa. VDH, it appears, has talked to the soldiers in Iraq and to the planners in Washington, and remains quite confident.

VDH should perhaps take a closer look at the books on military history that line his shelves; Admiral Husband E. Kimmel did not, in fact, lead the naval war against Japan. Why? Second guessing. Lieutenant General Walter Short didn’t lead the ground campagin. Why? Second guessing. General George B. McClellan didn’t accept Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Why? Second guessing. The history of democracy at war is repleat with examples of inept military officers and civilian officials who are sacked because of their inability to execute the war properly. This is as it should be; it is one of the reasons that democracies fight well. The other reason is that democracies choose their wars wisely, but it’s too late for that one now….

Civil War

[ 0 ] February 28, 2006 |

If this isn’t civil war, then what is it?

Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week’s bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad’s main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.

Lamest Excuse Ever

[ 0 ] February 27, 2006 |

At the end of October 1907 [...] the Kaiser- ordinarily eager to travel, especially to England- faced an English trip he dreaded… Then, on October 31, William telephoned Chancellor von Bulow to say that he had had an accident. An attack of giddiness had forced him to stretch out on a sofa; there he had fainted and rolled onto the floor. “My head hit the groud so hard that my wife was alamred by the noise and came to me, terrified,” he told Bulow.”Because of this, he continued, he could not possibly think of undertaking the exhausting trip to England; already he had wired this news to King Edward. Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought

First reaction; this would easily be among the lamest excuses I’ve ever received for missing class. Second reaction; replace “Kaiser” and “William” with “George W. Bush”, “King Edward” with “Tony Blair”, “Chancellor von Bulow” with “Secretary Rice”, and 1907 with 2007. Then see if the story makes sense.

Buck McCoy

[ 0 ] February 27, 2006 |

Looks like four. I didn’t really think very much about Dennis Weaver before I saw Duel last year, my main knowledge of him coming from his role as Sam McCloud. In Duel he played a middle class salesman taken out of his depth by a confrontation with a psychotic trucker. He begins to self-destruct as he realizes that the implicit social contract that has governed his life and, really, priviliged him within his universe has started to collapse. Weaver was perfect for the role because he exuded a kind of semi-toughness, an earthiness that makes the disintegration of his carefully managed existence deliciously uncomfortable to watch.

It’s a pity that he got stuck in a particular kind of role for the last half of his career. Nevertheless, he did good work.

What other purposes does a 2×4 serve?

[ 0 ] February 27, 2006 |

From USS Mariner:

[Mariner's manager Mike] Hargrove said. “Then, you got a little tired of it. Sometimes when a cow won’t let you milk her, you have to snap her on the head with a 2 by 4.”

Is that true?

Even if so, is it something you want to hear from your manager?

2005 Top Ten List

[ 0 ] February 27, 2006 |

Apparently 2046 was in Lexington for only a two day engagement, which I, of course, missed. In retrospect, seeing 2046 on Sunday instead of Munich would clearly have been the right choice, although in my defense Munich will be out of Lexington by the end of the week, as well.

You can call me pretty underwhelmed by the year in film. I recall having a lot less trouble filling out my top ten last year. I suppose it’s possible that the top of this year’s list is a little better than last years (although I love both Sideways and Eternal Sunshine), but I think last year had more depth.

As always, in no particular order:

The New World: Reviewed here.

Match Point:Reviewed here.

The Squid and the Whale: As Scott has pointed out, it’s just way too easy for me to see myself in the Jeff Daniels role, or perhaps more in some combination of the father and son; I certainly have gone through periods in which I was way, WAY too fond of Pink Floyd.

Capote: Capote was remarkably good, but didn’t quite catch my imagination. I felt a little bit cold when I left the theater. The movie is well done, so it might have been my mood, or some idiosyncrasy of mine that prevented me from fully engaging with it. However, I don’t hesistate to recommend it; Hoffman was outstanding.

I Walk the Line: It was a weak year. Reese Witherspoon was an outstanding June Carter and the music was great, but I found it far too formulaic for my taste.

Jarhead: I seem to have liked Jarhead a lot more than most. There’s no doubt that Sam Mendes has lost a fair bit of goodwill since American Beauty, a film that is dreadfully flawed, hopefully overrated, yet still compelling in a number of ways. Gyllenhaal was good in Jarhead, but I felt most attracted by the narrative, which captured the boredom of war as well as any picture I’ve seen, and avoided most of the war movie cliches by leaving the protagonists hanging.

A History of Violence: I liked History of Violence much more the second time I saw it. I don’t tend to care for Cronenberg all that much, although I must have seen The Fly ten or fifteen times when I was a kid. The end was weak, but the main body, and especially the first fifteen minutes (through the coffee shop scene) were excellent. Ed Harris was good in a supporting role, but I didn’t care for William Hurt.

Broken Flowers: I found this movie very depressing.

Downfall: Goddamn, this was a depressing movie. It takes some talent to show Nazis in all of the horrific awfulness, refuse to apologize for them one bit, and yet still render them human and understandable. It’s not quite right to say that the audience is intended to sympathize with Goebbels, but some empathy seems possible, which is a remarkable achievement.

Brokeback Mountain: Probably the strongest film of the year. I don’t hold to the new Sullivan-Kaus line that Brokeback really isn’t that good; it’s a very, very strong film without any serious flaws.

Notable exclusions include 2046, Nobody Knows, Memories Murder, March of the Penguins, and Grizzly Man, none of which I’ve seen.


[ 0 ] February 26, 2006 |

Following up Scott’s post on Stephen Green

Christianity was a violent religion until the Thirty Years War. That war lasted so long, and killed so many people (the population of Germany was reduced by a third), that Christendom lost its bloodlust. Freedom of conscience was born on the battlefields of central Europe. The Middle East hasn’t suffered that kind of loss; they haven’t yet had their fill of blood; they haven’t yet become disgusted with tyranny. I’d like to think that the Middle East can do what the West did, without all the suffering. But if it takes regional fratricide, then so be it.


The Seven Years War: 1.3+ million dead
The Napoleonic Wars: 2.5+ million dead
World War I: 8.9+ million dead (although you can exclude the 300000 Turks if you’d like)
World War II: 63 million dead (you can exclude about 20 million non-Western casualties if it suits you)

Now, if you want to claim that neither Germany nor Russia were Christian countries during World War II, feel free; the argument is less absurd for the Soviet Union than for Germany, as the Communists were genuinely anti-Christian while the Nazis relied heavily on a Catholic base. Of course, that gets us into trouble with Green’s other claim, that the Christian West somehow became averse to tyranny after 1648. To put it gently, the evidence would seem to problematize that assertion…

I suppose it could also be argued that, since the above wars weren’t specifically about religion, they don’t challenge Green’s argument. That would certainly be an odd contention; the Christian aversion to murder, tyranny, and slaughter was so great that it had no meaningful effect on limiting brutality, murder, tyranny, and slaughter in overwhelmingly Christian countries.

The above does not, of course, note systematic Christian brutality in the colonial world after 1648, including 10 million dead in Congo alone between 1880 and 1908.

A curious thing, this religious war in Germany between 1618 and 1648 that was so awful that it expunged tyranny, war, brutality, slaughter, and (presumably) ring-around-the-collar from the soul of the West for all of time.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Szent Istvan

[ 0 ] February 26, 2006 |

Szent Istvan was the only dreadnought battleship constructed by Hungary. Befitting her unique status, Szent Istvan was named after King Stephen I, the first Christian king of the Magyar people, who lived between 975 and 1038. Szent Istvan carried 12 12″ guns…

What’s that you say? A Hungarian battleship? Hungary has no coast? Hungary, indeed, does not even appear to be close to any coastline? Did they build the ship on a river? Did they build it with wheels? Am I pulling your leg?

All fair questions. SMS Szent Istvan was one of a class of four dreadnoughts built by Austria-Hungary shortly before World War I. The Compromise of 1867 had created a dual administrative structure in the Empire, giving the Hungarian nobility substantial control over their own lands, and making Franz Joseph both King and Emperor. As a precondition of incurring the expense, Hungary demanded that one of the ships be built in a Hungarian yard and be manned by a Hungarian crew. Hungary today has no major naval shipyard (neither does Austria, of course), but the jurisdiction of the Hungarian half of the Empire extended to Fiume, now known as Rijeka in modern Croatia.

SMS Szent Istvan carried 12 12″ guns in four triple turrets, an extremely heavy armament for a ship of her size. The guns were disposed in the modern fashion, with two superfiring turrets at either end. This meant that Szent Istvan and her sisters combined a very heavy broadside with excellent end-on fire. Szent Istvan displaced about 20000 tons and was designed for a speed of 21 knots. The dreadnoughts were very well arranged, with respectable armor for their time period. The major flaw in the design was an almost complete lack of underwater protection; combined with the top heavy armament, this made them very vulnerable to torpedos.

Sadly, the shipyard at Fiume lacked experience with a ship as large as Szent Istvan. While her Austrian sisters entered service between 1912 and early 1914, Szent Istvan was not completed until late 1915. The quality of construction wasn’t quite up to par, and Szent Istvan couldn’t make the same speed as her sisters. This was not a great handicap for most of the war. The Austro-Hungarian Navy rarely left port, instead serving as a “fleet in being” designed to tie down Allied naval forces. In practice, this meant that the French and Italian navies spent most of their time waiting for the Austro-Hungarian Navy to sortie, freeing the Royal Navy up for confrontation with the German High Seas Fleet. This made for a boring war in both theaters of operation.

In February 1918, Emperor Karl I appointed a man named Miklos Horthy Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Admiral Horthy was not the sort to let the fleet lie in harbor while there was a war on. He authorized the fleet to sortie from Pula in an effort to attack a line of mixed naval defenses known as the Otranto Barrage. Szent Istvan and her sister left Pula on June 9. Unfortunately, it turned out that the workmanship on Szent Istvan had been particularly poor, and she began to vibrate and overheat when ordered to make over 16 knots. The effort also produced an inordinate amount of smoke, which attracted a pair of Italian torpedo boats. Szent Istvan was struck by two torpedos and capsized, although most of her crew was rescued. A film crew on her sister, Tegetthoff, witnessed and recorded the destruction of the ship.

Thus ended the sole major sortie of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and Hungarian naval power more generally. Miklos Horthy returned to Hungary a war hero, and played an important role in crushing the 1919 Communist revolution. Horthy was named Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (Karl was not recalled), and ruled until 1944. He helped lead Hungary into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany but, to his credit, resisted German demands to deport Hungarian Jews. He died in Portugal in 1957.

Trivia: What was the first dreadnought battleship sunk by aircraft?

A Name Everyone Should Know…

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

Hiram R. Revels.

Goodbye, Deputy Fife

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

And farewell, Mr. Limpet.

Strangely, my clearest memory of Don Knotts is from Scooby-Doo…