Armistice Day

by John Quiggin on November 11, 2008

It’s 90 years today since the Armistice that brought a temporary halt to fighting on the Western Front of the Great War. The War had already brought forth the horrors of Bolshevism and fighting in Russia continued well beyond the Armistice. Within a few years, Fascism and Nazism were also on the march. Full-scale war resumed in the 1930s, first in Spain, Abyssinia and the Far East and then throughout the world. The War brought nothing but evil, and its evil has persisted through almost a century since it began.

Even today, the echoes of the catastrophe can be heard in the futile, squalid and bloody war between Georgia and Russia. A pair of authoritarian strongmen, rehearsing the bloodstained lines of irredentist and imperialist rhetoric in a last fight over the remnants of the Russian Empire that did so much to create the War, have brought death, destruction and misery to hundreds of thousands of people who just wanted to live in peace. And, sad to say, there are plenty in the West and East who have been happy to repeat the rhetoric of 1914, with tripe about “gallant little Georgia” being matched by claims of a plot to deny Russia its rightful place in the sun. This time, though, the mass of ordinary people seem less willing to send their children to die for such bad causes.

On this Armistice Day, let us remember all those who have died as a result of the crimes of the rulers of the world, and do our best to save more form dying.

{ 158 comments }

1

Lex 11.11.08 at 11:45 am

Sorry, mate, that platitudinous tripe isn’t going to save anyone from anything. Ooh, let’s all stand together and stick flowers in the barrels of the nasty men’s guns. If you’ve got an actual practical idea for helping the world avoid what look to me like inevitable future conflicts over both resources and ideologies, do please explain what it is. Otherwise blither like this is just self-regarding codswallop, disrespectful to the very people you claim to be sticking up for.

2

A. Y. Mous 11.11.08 at 12:05 pm

I say a 111 post thread. What say you? I’m game!

Let’s just pretend that we are all each one of us, one of the “…hundreds of thousands of people who just wanted to live in peace…” and say sorry and love you to each other.

I Am Sorry. I Love You.

3

John Quiggin 11.11.08 at 12:23 pm

For a start, I guess, we could learn the lesson that the those who prate about “inevitable conflicts over resources and ideologies” commonly end up dead along with all the rest in the wars they start, or cheer on. Countries that fight wars over resources invariably impoverish themselves, and ideologies that promote war and violence destroy the groups and ideals they claim to protect.

Even those who are fooled by the standard patriotic stories about the glory of war aren’t as disconnected from reality as the supposed hardheads who spout the “realist” attitude embodied in the comments of Lex and Mous.

4

Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 12:45 pm

If you’ve got an actual practical idea for helping the world avoid what look to me like inevitable future conflicts over both resources and ideologies,

I’d argue that a good place to start is with pointing out that the only thing inevitable about war is that war is inevitably a negative-sum game. That, and this:

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on
a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of
it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people
don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in
Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the
country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to
drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist
dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no
voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.
That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,
and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

5

DC 11.11.08 at 12:50 pm

I think remembering the futility of the slaughter does in fact represent “an actual practical idea” to avoid war. By no means sufficient naturally, but it would help. One could question whether the offical culture of remembrance day glorifies the sacrifice rather than lamenting it as pointless, but that’s another thing.

6

J Thomas 11.11.08 at 12:54 pm

John, it’s a tragedy-of-the-commons sort of thing. Even if you’re smart enough not to start a war over resources, very likely somebody stupider will start a war with you.

Consider the US role in WWII, for example. We were peacefully minding our own business, lending arms to britain and sinking german submarines, when we noticed that japan didn’t have enough steel or oil and would collapse if we cut off their supplies. So we cut off their supplies. They knew that without a strong military they would be absorbed into somebody else’s empire and lose all choice, which was why they had to build their own empire in the first place. So they decided their best chance was to attack us and hope that we would cave in and go back to selling them vital military supplies.

See, it all makes sense when you think it out.

The central problem here is more basic than war. It’s that we have to coerce people into doing what we want. It’s inevitable that this will happen, because if we’re the strongest and we choose not to coerce people then the next strongest will inevitably coerce the rest. But each time we try to force somebody else to do what we want, there’s the chance they will refuse and then we must use violence. The alternative is that others will see that we’re a softy who can be disobeyed without consequences, and then nobody will be our ally and it will keep getting worse until we have to fight people who think we’ll cave in if they try to coerce us.

Having a central world government that’s easily able and willing to coerce everybody might possibly reduce the violence, or maybe not. Would that be worth the consequences?

To get out of this trap we’d need a whole new way of thinking, a way of thinking that’s so compelling and insidious that most people choose to follow it even without being forced to. A way of thinking that somehow handles the throwbacks who want to coerce people, without coercing them in return.

I can vaguely sort of imagine such a thing, but I don’t have the details straight. Christianity had part of it, but not the whole thing.

7

Lex 11.11.08 at 12:56 pm

Wow, you actually get worse. Listen, you silly sod: war is evil, war is crap, war shouldn’t happen. On that I agree with you completely. I just think that you’re a sanctimonious wanker who hasn’t got the first clue about how to turn that sentiment into action. History tells us that so far nobody else has figured it out either [I see your Gandhi, and I raise you the Partition Riots], and for the record, I certainly have no idea [aside from the obvious “why can’t we all get along?”], but I don’t go around parading my virtue as if I did.

So come on, clever-clogs, let’s have your comprehensive ten-point plan for everlasting world peace, with a timetable for implementation and monitoring. Or shut up and stop pretending that all those millions died for a simple mistake that could have been sorted out if only they’d all listened to you.

8

Richard J 11.11.08 at 12:58 pm

Consider the US role in WWII, for example. We were peacefully minding our own business, lending arms to britain and sinking german submarines, when we noticed that japan didn’t have enough steel or oil and would collapse if we cut off their supplies

I think you’re missing out the ‘to stop them killing millions of Chinese in a brutal unprovoked war of aggression’ bit here.

9

A. Y. Mous 11.11.08 at 1:03 pm

JQ spoke of me! JQ spoke of me! On CT! I have arrived! Well and truly!

John, I am not defending war. Nor violence. Just that I am not averse to admitting that uptil not very long a time ago, war and violence was valid if it pursues a legitimate agenda. Even today, a good number of people subscribe to it. Now, what constitutes an agenda and who legitimises it is the content of this long and fiesty thread.

All of the European powers have practically been born, bred, fed and had become powers _only_ because they had fought wars over resources. They most certainly have not “invariably impoverished themselves”. That is an outright lie.

A good lot of churches across religions that promoted war and violence have most certainly not destroyed the groups and ideals they claimed to protect. They are alive and well with a wealth of economic and political spoils of those wars and acts of violence. That point of yours is also not true.

But then again, those were centuries ago, right? No. Even today, wars over resources can be successful, if you subscribe to the theory that violence over control of resources is a valid socio-poltical mechanism. That you do not consider it so tells us you are good man by a good number of standards. Good on you. But don’t say that “hundreds of thousands just want peace.” They don’t. No many do, in fact. By saying a 100 years ago the bulk of the world wanted peace, you are denying the emotions of the many multitudes that took to arms because they wanted revenge. Or food. And that is singularly disrespectful.

Yes, today, there are more ways of achiveing resource control and ideological dominance with less bloodshed, but push comes to shove, food and altar wins over love and brotherhood.

Ideology is not dead. Yet. Much as you ivory tower dwellers would like it to be.

10

John Quiggin 11.11.08 at 1:22 pm

Well, Lex, as I thought was clear from the post, the first step in the plan is to call out those who are making stupid excuses for one side or the other in particular wars right now. The second step is to point out that the standard reasons typically advanced to suggest that war is inevitable are silly, much more so than wearing flowers in your hair and talking about peace. The third step is to talk about how to deal with the criminals and lunatics who are determined to launch wars regardless of how destructive and pointless they are. Criminals and lunatics will always be with us, and we have to respond, but not by becoming criminals and lunatics ourselves.

It’s late here, so you’ll have to wait a while for the remaining steps.

11

J Thomas 11.11.08 at 1:22 pm

Richard J, you are looking at it from the american point of view. Of course we wanted the japanese empire to fail. They were an empire that threatened british oil and for that matter our philippines. So of course we wanted to coerce them to give up their weapons and do what we wanted.

But the japanese wanted their independence, and they couldn’t be independent without having an empire strong enough to hold off all aggressors. And they didn’t have the resources to do that. They didn’t have the steel, the coal, the oil, or the food. They couldn’t stay independent without taking manchuria from china. And then of course they had the problem that china was weak but far too big to occupy the whole thing.

In retrospect japan would have been far better off to surrender to the russians or to us ahead of time, and be part of somebody else’s empire. But it’s understandable that they’d try to be independent. We’d do the same thing in their place. At various times we’ve said it would be better for us to start a nuclear war that killed everybody in the world rather than surrender.

There isn’t a fine line between coercing others and avoiding being coerced. Once you take the stand that you will not be coerced, you have to coerce others. It isn’t two sides of the same coin, it’s two different names for one side of the coin.

12

matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 1:32 pm

“clever clogs?”

To what degree do masses of people demand wars, and to what degree to leaders manipulate those masses into supporting wars the leaders want? Americans were ready for a rumble post 9-11, but the specific target of Iraq was the child of Bush and his clique, not the righteous rage of the ordinary citizens.

13

A. Y. Mous 11.11.08 at 1:38 pm

>> To what degree do masses of people demand wars, and to what degree to leaders manipulate those masses into supporting wars the leaders want?

Masses of people demand leaders to do something. That is what a mandate is all about. The what is left as an exercise to the leaders. Results matter. More booty. War good. More graves. War bad. That rumble post 9-11 was exactly the mandate Bush fulfilled in Afghansitan and Iraq. That he chose Iraq, is proof that he was a fool or incompetent or a failure, or even bad. Not proof that war is bad.

14

Leon 11.11.08 at 1:40 pm

There was an interesting article in Foreign Affairs recently which argued that, contrary to the common narrative, the world wars may have actually fulfilled the ethnic nationalist dream, rather than ending it.

http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080301faessay87203-p0/jerry-z-muller/us-and-them.html

15

matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 1:42 pm

JThomas’s remarks about Japan in the 1930s are pretty ridiculous. A racist, aggressive and criminally incompetent military class can’t win a endless war against China for all the viciousness they commit and contempt they feel for the suffering of the Chinese and even their own people. When we stop enabling them by refusing to sell them the oil and other materials they need to continue this long atrocity, they come up with the brillant idea of attacking the USA and Great Britain.

16

matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 1:54 pm

Mous: “Proof war is bad” That needs proving?

It seems to me that a strong executive, like the American President, commanding, without significant check, a powerful and capable military, makes military options to any crisis a little too easy. The public doesn’t object because most of the public (in the US) doesn’t see any cost. War happens on television. And has great visuals. And the visuals that aren’t so great, like a mass of flag draped coffins…

Not every president pulls bonehead plays. Adams was too smart to get us into a shooting war with the French. Eisenhower turned down the poisoned cup of Vietnam.

17

Walt 11.11.08 at 1:58 pm

Lex: Zzzzz.

18

J Thomas 11.11.08 at 2:29 pm

JThomas’s remarks about Japan in the 1930s are pretty ridiculous.

Matt, it isn’t my remarks that are ridiculous. It’s the facts that are ridiculous.

I agree with you that the japanese would have been better off to surrender before they started. They didn’t see it that way, they hoped to maintain their independence.

As do we. I claim that if the time came that the USA had a choice between surrender to the USSR versus kill everybody in the world, that we — and the whole world — would have been been better off if we surrendered. Lots of people didn’t see it that way and luckily the choice never came up. (Though various military people have told me that we did threaten to kill everybody in the world over israel, in 1973.)

Lots of people have told me that it was only because we were ready to kill everybody in the world, that we didn’t have to.

The only thing that let us keep our independence was that we were ready for every single US citizen to die horribly rather than refuse to fight.

And we also saved the independence of the whole Free World, many many nations which stayed independent only because we gave them total protection without ever asking anything in return. It was only because we were ready to kill them all on fifteen minutes notice that they were not enslaved.

From that, can you begin to see the japanese side? They wanted their freedom just as we want ours. To be free they started a stupid war over resources. Any chance we might do that someday? Of course our war of aggression war on iraq wasn’t for oil. We did it because … because … because … Bush wanted to. Nobody knows why Bush wanted to do that….

To be free they started a war that could possibly kill every japanese citizen. Our invasion plans for japan considered the possibility that they would continue to resist and we might have to kill very large numbers of them. We expected to lose large numbers of US soldiers. Did that slow us down? Of course not. But we nuked them and they surrendered.

Was their war that could have killed them all really so much stupider than our war that could have killed everybody? Yes. We are alive and undefeated, and they are not. But it could have gone the other way, and in that case we would be dead and no longer arguing about it.

19

Peter Hart 11.11.08 at 2:31 pm

I think some distinctions need to be made. As already noted, in the 1930s the US was reacting to the Japanese assault on China. Hey, sanctions were working! And Japan didn’t ‘have’ to attack either country. Somewhat similarly, the UK had no interest in a European war in 1914 – they were acting to defend France and Belgium, who had done nothing to provoke Germany. Perhaps the gross fallacy we need to focus on here is the belief by govts and interest groups that aggressive action is urgent, an absolute necessity, that its the only alternative to humiliation or decline or whatever, or that a quick war will solve big problems and we musn’t let the opportunity slip by. This puts Germany and the Hapsburgs in 1914 in the same boat with Bush in 2001-3, and with Saddam in 1980 and 1990, Georgia in 2008 etc.

20

Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 2:35 pm

Lots of people have told me that it was only because we were ready to kill everybody in the world, that we didn’t have to.

See quote from Goering above.

The only thing that let us keep our independence was that we were ready for every single US citizen to die horribly rather than refuse to fight.

What keeps Costa Rica, with no military, independent?

21

stuart 11.11.08 at 2:49 pm

Because bananas and really nice views are not a massively valuable geopolitical commodity, especially for most of their neighbours?

22

lemuel pitkin 11.11.08 at 3:02 pm

The only thing that let us keep our independence was that we were ready for every single US citizen to die horribly rather than refuse to fight.

Somebody needs some remedial history lessons….

23

Anderson 11.11.08 at 3:08 pm

I think you’re missing out the ‘to stop them killing millions of Chinese in a brutal unprovoked war of aggression’ bit here.

I find myself having to point this out about once a month on the internet. The myth of “FDR, warmonger” must be a regular Rush Limbaugh feature or something like that.

JThomas, I have rarely read anyone more full of it. Why not construct a nice apology for the Holocaust while you’re at it?

But the japanese wanted their independence, and they couldn’t be independent without having an empire strong enough to hold off all aggressors.

WHAT aggressors? Who was threatening Japan? What kind of “independence” requires autarky? On that theory, the U.S. isn’t “independent.”

Do you have any idea how many millions of Chinese died thanks to Japan? Do you care?

24

Anderson 11.11.08 at 3:12 pm

Twenty million dead Chinese? Thirty-five million? Somewhere in there.

But mercy sakes, the poor Japanese couldn’t be expected to feel threatened!

And FDR was a bad, bad man for not supplying them what they needed to kill Chinese!

25

lemuel pitkin 11.11.08 at 3:20 pm

To spell out my thought – the idea that the USSR had plans — had the slightest desire, ever — to invade and subjugate the US, and were deterred only by our Will to Fight, is pure fantasy. And, needless to say, a horribly destructive fantasy — which I took to be the point of John’s post.

26

Matt 11.11.08 at 3:34 pm

Lemuel, you’re talking as if you’ve never seen _Red Dawn_! We know they wanted to come take the cars out of our garages and run our filling stations! Just like someone was just about to subordinate the Japanese, or NATO is going to destroy Russia now, or, well, something.

27

Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 3:37 pm

We know they wanted to come take the cars out of our garages and run our filling stations!

They also want to pry the guns from our cold, dead hands. Wolverines!

28

matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 3:39 pm

Actually Japan in the 1920s did have a choice(I’m not an expert) but I remember it was framed (at the time) as between being wealthy or being powerful, sort of “guns or butter.” It’s hard to see who was threatening Japan’s independence in 1920s 0r 30s.

The trouble with World War II is that for millions of people targeted by the Axis it wasn’t a choice between surrender or die, it was a sequence: surrender, then die.

I agree with Peter Hart’s point.

29

Anderson 11.11.08 at 3:39 pm

They also want to pry the guns from our cold, dead hands.

Due to the drastic gun shortage in the USSR. They needed our guns to feel independent.

Since Colorado voted socialist in 2008, clearly Red Dawn was a prophecy.

30

don't quote me on this 11.11.08 at 3:45 pm

Lemuel, clearly you haven’t seen the documentary “Red Dawn.”

31

don't quote me on this 11.11.08 at 3:45 pm

Oops, Matt beat me to it.

32

P O'Neill 11.11.08 at 4:07 pm

in a last fight over the remnants of the Russian Empire that did so much to create the War

Another hornets’ nest here. But how much weight do historians give to the thesis that Russia carries a major part of the blame for WWI?

33

Richard J 11.11.08 at 4:12 pm

P O’Neill – do go on… Really, I’d be interested in an outline of the argument.

34

Anderson 11.11.08 at 4:15 pm

But how much weight do historians give to the thesis that Russia carries a major part of the blame for WWI?

Plenty.

on July 29 … the Czar signed orders for both partial mobilization (full mobilization against Austria-Hungary and of the Baltic and Black sea fleets) and general mobilization. Later that day, the Czar received a telegram from the Kaiser warning that Russian intervention would lead to a general war and he revoked the general mobilization decree, leaving only the decree for partial mobilization in force. On July 30 the Czar’s ministers convinced him to reorder the general mobilization of Russia. On July 31, Austria-Hungary ordered the general mobilization of its army in response to the Russian mobilization.

General mobilization by Russia turned a local, Balkan war into a European war. I don’t think it was realistic to imagine that Germany could refrain from mobilization with the Russians mobilizing.

However, had Germany not planned to hit France first, Germany probably *could* have waited a bit and tried diplomacy. The need to defeat France before Russia completed mobilization led to Germany’s going to war vs. France, invading Belgium, and bringing England into the war.

So there’s plenty of “war guilt” for Germany, but Russia has to bear its fair share of the blame. Of course, by November 1918, the Russian regime that started the war was gone.

35

Slocum 11.11.08 at 4:16 pm

So where would we draw the line now between those who we would stand with and defend and those who fall into the category of “faraway people of whom we know nothing”. Presumably, the Baltic states, Poland, and Hungary are examples of the former while it seems Georgians, Ukrainians, etc are in danger of being considered ‘faraways’.

Look, declarations of moral equivalence between Russia and Georgia has to be pretty much exactly what Putin is looking for. Even if the two governments were equally authoritarian, only one of the two is a major power seeking to re-arm and intimidate (and possibly reincorporate) its neighbors. This is pretty fundamental.

Which does not mean saber-rattling is a good idea at all. The West may be able to defend Georgia, but it won’t be through military means. With the huge decline in the price of oil, Putin is not in the position of power he was. Threats of economic consequences in response to Russian aggression/expansionism have a good chance of having an effect. But not if our attitude is that we really don’t care one way or the other because both sides are equally bad.

36

a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 4:18 pm

It is funny how the American wars are wars and the rest just didn’t happen. Look. this thread is on WWI, which unlike WWII, had far less American contribution and even less American merit. As to that, had not Hitler invaded Poland, Japan raping China would have been just that much more fun for you isolationist folks. You yanks jumped in ’cause your fraternal affinities were threatened in Europe. Nothing wrong with it. But everything wrong to say you jumped in because you felt bad that one slant-eyed fucked another up the backside when that is a blatant bald-faced lie. You didn’t. So shut the fuck up about Japan and China.

WWI was a redrawing of empires. And the continuation of the time honoured tradition of land-grab. Something that stopped only in 1962. It was time for it. And it happened. One end of the rope was the brownest of them all, the Ottomans. The other end, the whitest of them all, the Brits. The tug of war ended up with the coloured falling flat on their faces. Nowhere is the U. S. of A. anywhere near anything of a substantial decider in this whole sorry affair.

37

Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 4:26 pm

As to that, had not Hitler invaded Poland, Japan raping China would have been just that much more fun for you isolationist folks. You yanks jumped in ‘cause your fraternal affinities were threatened in Europe.

We “jumped in” because the day after Japan declared war on us, Germany did so as well.

38

Anderson 11.11.08 at 4:34 pm

But everything wrong to say you jumped in because you felt bad that one slant-eyed fucked another up the backside when that is a blatant bald-faced lie. You didn’t.

Leaving aside Malaclypse’s resort to the facts, the thesis that we simply didn’t give a shit does not explain FDR’s embargo. There was in fact a substantial amount of support for China in the U.S. (for whatever motive). Not enough to go to war on China’s behalf, but then, that would’ve been extraordinary in any event, let alone for a Depression-weakened, isolationist America.

39

matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 4:35 pm

a.y. mous, (if that’s your real name)
Using foul language and racist terms makes both you more convincing, and personally seem much more honest and, dare I say it, cool.
However, I believe the Dutch are the whitest of them all, not the British. The rest of your post wasn’t that good either.

40

matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 4:36 pm

Er…”makes you both more convincing….”

41

ajay 11.11.08 at 4:43 pm

I believe the Dutch are the whitest of them all, not the British.

Now that’s the way to start a real CT argument.

bananas and really nice views are not a massively valuable geopolitical commodity, especially for most of their neighbours?

Oh, sure. Because no one ever heard of an imperial intervention caused by bananas.

42

a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 4:45 pm

Matt, sticks and stones. Stick and stones. This is not my doctoral dissertation. This is the Internet. Grow up. And corrected, the Dutch are the whitest. I should know. Lines on the map half-way across the mountains and all that. Mea culpa.

Malaclypse and Anderson, engineering a participation is precisely that.

43

lemuel pitkin 11.11.08 at 4:46 pm

In the unlikely event anyone’s inclined to take a. y. mous seriously, they should look here. Dude sets new records for pompous ignorance.

44

Anderson 11.11.08 at 4:47 pm

“Engineering a participation is precisely that.”

Okay .. and a rose is a rose is a rose.

Whatcha got besides tautologies and bad history?

45

Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 4:54 pm

Malaclypse and Anderson, engineering a participation is precisely that.

Who “engineered” it? Was it the “slant-eyes”? The “coloureds”? Was FDR a nefarious mastermind?

46

mpowell 11.11.08 at 4:57 pm

If you look closely into the history around the effective oil embargo on the Japanese, it seems clear that it was driven by a concern for what the Japanese were doing, not the Europeans. You could argue that it was a concern for what the Japanese were doing to European and American interests in Asia and the Pacific instead of China, but, as I said, arguing that it had to do with Germany would be questionable at best.

Also, there was initially no formal oil embargo. Congress empowered the executive with authority to approve individual shipments of oil to Japan b/c of various concerns about what the Japanese were doing. In August of 1941, the administration did not approve any shipments. But it is actually unclear whether FDR made this decision or Dean Acheson, acting independently, forced his hand once a de facto embargo had been established following a period of a few weeks of not approving any shipments. The whole story suggests a process of clumsily attempting to use economic sanctions to deter an aggressor. I would say that it was a process that could have been successful with a more reasonable government, however.

Whatever the case, I don’t believe there is much equivalency between Russia’s current behavior in Georgia to Japanese behavior pre-WWII. One of the big problems with Japan was that due to the extreme idiocy of their governing military junta they were extremely militarily aggressive and impossible to deter. Hard to imagine avoiding war in those circumstances. Fortunately, there is not a comparable government controlling substantial resources in the world today.

47

a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 5:09 pm

Lemuel, you have a funny definition of pompous. But, I am really glad that someone actually used that word on me. I never knew I could ever afford anything pompous. As to the link, it was always a given that homosexuality was the pompous lifestyle. How times change!

Anderson, and what may be the reasons for the oil embargo? The Japanese position in southern Indo China and its stand off with the Dutch there? How does that affect the U. S. of A.? Oh! Loss of oil revenue. Once more, sorry. My bad. It is a “human rights violation” to use economic sanctions as a reason for violence. Sorry.

Oh! BTW, isn’t the purpose of this thread to stand at attention and be silent for 120 seconds in honour of all those who were slaughtered during the First World War? I did. Did you? How many died during that inaction? I counted a few hundreds across the world. Fighting over resources.

48

Anderson 11.11.08 at 5:16 pm

Anderson, and what may be the reasons for the oil embargo? The Japanese position in southern Indo China and its stand off with the Dutch there? How does that affect the U. S. of A.? Oh! Loss of oil revenue. Once more, sorry. My bad. It is a “human rights violation” to use economic sanctions as a reason for violence. Sorry.

I’m pretty sure I would argue with this logic, if I could follow it. But I can’t.

49

Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 5:27 pm

Oh! BTW, isn’t the purpose of this thread to stand at attention and be silent for 120 seconds in honour of all those who were slaughtered during the First World War?

No. The purpose of the thread is to “let us remember all those who have died as a result of the crimes of the rulers of the world, and do our best to save more form [sic] dying.”

50

a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 5:27 pm

Anderson, brush up on your history. Preferably from decidedly un-American sources. You should be able to follow the logic.

Back to WWI, how come African casualties are not as venerated or mourned as the others? For that matter, the South Asians? The tens of thousands who wanted to be left alone in peace that JQ spoke of, were predominantly Africans, particularly in the East which was a German stronghold. Some words of regret for them, please.

51

mpowell 11.11.08 at 6:01 pm


Anderson, and what may be the reasons for the oil embargo? The Japanese position in southern Indo China and its stand off with the Dutch there? How does that affect the U. S. of A.? Oh! Loss of oil revenue. Once more, sorry. My bad. It is a “human rights violation” to use economic sanctions as a reason for violence. Sorry.

I believe the situation you are attempting to describe is one where economic sanctions were used to protect economic interests. The Japanese then responded to economic sanctions with violence. I’m pretty sure this is the least charitable interpretation you can give to American actions at the time and it certainly does not rise to the level of ‘human rights violation’. I’m not sure what position you’re trying to argue for, but your second to last sentence here doesn’t really seem to follow follow from the rest.

52

Northern Observer 11.11.08 at 6:11 pm

If we are going to play the most deserving victims card, I would start with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the people of Newfoundland. Asians and Africans can get in line like the rest of us; isn’t that equality or are we still trying to build hierachies of righteousness?

What a silly little game.

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a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 6:12 pm

Close to 90% Japanese oil was imported from America. A war is on in which neither the U. S. of A. nor Japan were the perpetrators. A chance to shore up oil fields in South East Asia. Chance taken. America still gets a good lot of business, though less than earlier. But what does Uncle Sam do? Stops all sales. Why? Because Aunt Bess’s second cousin third removed has a problem and has sweet talked Uncle into dumping the the Japs and helping family out.

Now, that the Japanese should not use force as a reaction to the above is very a agreeable thought, but oil becomes steel and then everything else. Still no violence? To regain lost resources. At least, chances of access to resources? That is not so very agreeable.

54

a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 6:15 pm

Northern Observer,

Any member of any Regiment is not a victim. By definition.

55

mpowell 11.11.08 at 6:17 pm

52: The only problem with this story is that Americans made it very clear why they were not shipping oil to the Japanese. They could have ended their aggression in South East Asia and continued to be dependent on a reliable source of oil in the Americans or they could have taken their chances with extreme violence. They chose the latter. It still doesn’t explain:

It is a “human rights violation” to use economic sanctions as a reason for violence. Sorry.

56

a. y. mous 11.11.08 at 6:37 pm

mpowell,

Sorry. Linguistic ambiguity. I try my best to better that style. It has improved. But it sometimes backfires. Re-phrased and tagged attempt begins:

“{Rhetorical} Anderson, and what may be the reasons for the oil embargo? The Japanese position in southern Indo China and its stand off with the Dutch there? How does that affect the U. S. of A.? {Sarcasm} Oh! Loss of oil revenue. {Resignation} Once more, sorry. My bad. {Sarcasm} I did not know that it is a “human rights violation” to use violence as a reaction to economic sanctions. {Resignation} Sorry.”

As to your comments @ 54, yes, it was made very clear. Clarity is a pre-requiste. Not self-sufficient. Once it was clear, giving up Indo China was not an option because it did not affect US-Japanese trade other than a reduced oil exim balance sheet. By squeezing Japan in a corner, the Japanese could have succumbed. That they didn’t speaks of Japanese motivations for Indo China and not of American motivations for the embargo.

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lincoln 11.11.08 at 6:38 pm

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Happy Armistice Day/ Veteran’s Day Gentlemen. Shake a hand of a Veteran you see on the street today, and say thank you, because the world will little note nor remember what you wrote here, but maybe, just maybe, that veteran will remember what you did for him or her today, if only for the night.

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John Quiggin 11.11.08 at 7:38 pm

To make the obvious point about independence and control of resources, in response to J Thomas back at 11, Japan lost the war and remained dependent on other countries for resources of all kinds. That didn’t stop the Japanese people becoming rich, even more so because they were forcibly precluded from military adventures and greatly restricted in how much they could spend on “self-defence”. That’s a qualification on Japanese independence, I guess, but one from which others could benefit. Thanks to their defeat, the Japanese turned their attention to making things people wanted to buy, and gained access to far more resources than their army could ever have got them.

Shorter JQ: it’s cheaper to buy than to to steal.

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KAS 11.11.08 at 7:49 pm

Today is also Veterans Day in the USA… what better way to honor the sacrifice of service than to discount it as barbaric and unnecessary. As far as war being bad, well yes, it is. So is cancer. These issues both societal and biological need solutions. I could propose that solutions will not come until religion is stamped out by reason and the whole world operates as one entity. But, what is the likelihood of either of those happenings? In the interim, people are dying in current conflicts. Instead of preaching as to the right and wrongs of war ~ how about speaking to life and death (humanity.) The finite aspects of lives changed or lost and the effect of that on society and the world. Are there not changes being made in the perception of conflict and peace as time progresses; are there not changes in societies that are progressive and less conflict orientated. Give human’s a break man; we’ve only been around a couple hundred thousand years… and have accomplished so much in that time.

Also, not all sacrifice is on account of a bad leader’s unfounded orders or unnecessary conflicts… some fights are for freedom and human rights. And EVERY soldier who has ever fought or fallen~ had a personal cause. Do you have any causes you are willing to die for? Is it the cause or the human ability to die for a greater cause than oneself that bothers you? Do not combine to two. One is a colossal mechanism of military, leadership and society, the other is an individual with dreams, passions, talents, family, love and loss.

The only post I saw on here with substance was J Thomas who touches on the intricacies of war and the change in society that would be necessary to overcome conflict affiliation; not simply the overall history reflection/dissection.

John,

“Even those who are fooled by the standard patriotic stories about the glory of war aren’t as disconnected from reality as the supposed hardheads who spout the “realist” attitude embodied in the comments of Lex and Mous.”

What are you angry at exactly; human genetics, history, particular leaders or society? The ‘Glory of War’ as you call that has ‘Fooled’ me for one! Maybe you lack the interpretation of what exactly that is? The glory that you speak of is not winning a war of no substance; it’s having a cause worth dying for and helping or winning that cause. Don’t be an ignorant *ss when people are dying for the right causes all around the world; whether you think the causes are worthy of your magnificent judgment or not.

This particular post may just turn me from this blog. I thought this was a place of thinkers, not more individuals trying to preach their generalized ideals to the masses.

War exists because we as humans are not progressive enough as one congenial society of Earth. War exists because of the ignorance of religion and the greed ingrained in human character. War exists because of the type of individualistic species that we are and our genetic affiliation for violence, ownership and domination. But, war also exists because of the atrocities of human treatment, lack of freedoms and equality of rights; and not just because those things exist~ but, more impressively, because other people are empathetic and in some cases willing to die to prevent them from continuing. Isn’t this the important piece; that humans can be both ridiculous and cruel as well as self sacrificial and kind? Isn’t the second bit progression?

If boiled down to a one-one altercation your could say that war could be;

Bad;

A bully beating up a smaller child
A person killing another person for money

Good;

A person killing someone that is trying to kill them
A child standing up to a bully at school

In reality, things are rarely invariably good or bad. War is the best example of this. As the cause may be bad, the people fighting for it~ generally are not.

For that matter, cancer is not bad for cancer- it’s only bad for the host.

On this Veterans day, for all those who have fought for a worthy cause or know others doing the same- Thank you.

KAS

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Malaclypse 11.11.08 at 8:02 pm

Do you have any causes you are willing to die for?

“For this cause I too am prepared to die, but for no cause, my friend, will I be prepared to kill.” Mohandas Gandhi

“The occasion of war, and war itself (wherein envious men, who are lovers of them-selves more than lovers of God lust, kill, and desire to have men’s lives or estates) ariseth from lust. All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with – outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world.” George Fox, Quaker Peace Testimony

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Random Passerby 11.11.08 at 9:00 pm

To hell with “Veterans Day”. The Armistice that ended one of the greatest and most senseless tragedies in the history of the world merits a day of remembrance. It’s not like there’s there’s a shortage of rah-rah nationalism and arrogant blatherskites raving about the virtues of occasional wholesale slaughter the other 364 days of the year.

Stow your preening, self-serious discourses on necessary and just wars for a more appropriate date, such as the Fourth of July or V-E Day, and leave John’s fine tribute to the victims of unjust and unnecessary wars in peace.

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Roy Belmont 11.11.08 at 9:01 pm

Much of the point for point here depends on the validity of monochromatic entities like “the Japanese” “the Germans” “the Americans” “the Bolsheviks” etc.
Quiggin’s point about the post-war Japanese rests entirely on this.
But the reality is the actual character of “the Japanese”, the tonalities and essentials of the people that compose the nation, shifted dramatically from one “kind” of Japanese to another because of what happened.
It’s these shifts that produce and evolve ethnicities with identifiable characteristics, if not character, in the first place. And it has a lot more to do with breeding and reproduction than it does anything like philosophy or ethics.
That’s too complex for our present graphic capability to illustrate, just as the tonalities and essences of evolutionary reality generally were too complex for Darwin and his peers to nail precisely, but the overall, the big picture was there and caught accurately enough.
The historical picture of post-WWI England, with everywhere the missing young men, and the damaged and broken, who should have been moving up and into power, not there to take up their burdens and responsibilities and privileges. Which meant the ones who were there and fit had much more room, much more weight to their presence, and a much greater share of posterity. Over time these changes are profound and fundamental.
This is rendered meaningless when all members of the community are viewed interchangeably.
In Japan especially there’s a dramatic difference between the imperial ethnic warrior supremacy of pre-1945 and the capitalist hustler-princes post-war.
Success in those very different cultures bringing with it an evolutionary advantage as distinct as any other form of fitness, though since they’re all “Japanese” they can be conflated and the differences ignored as long as you pretend, as many do, that there’s no permanent shift in essence happening.
Also at work in war, at least until very recently, is the heinous to me intentional sacrifice of evolutionary competitors by established breeding males, to put it baldly.
Getting rid of the up and coming young males, and the threats they pose to existing holders of genetic dominance, has possibly been a significant purpose behind waging war for a long long time.
Most people accept that without thinking, it’s what makes Dresden and Nanking so horrifying, and the carnage of Passchendaele much less so. Because of who it happened to, the difference between destroying cities full of civilians, the women and children and elderly, contrasted with slaughtering ranks of expendable young men.
Does this have evolutionary significance?
How can it not?
Add to that manipulation of young lives the flagitious capitalizing on armaments and materiel that have increased wartime profiteering returns exponentially over the last few hundred years. Bullets and bodies no more than units of commodity on the balance sheet.
What these historical wars start to look like is something similar in purpose if not in form and number to what the current “war” in Iraq has been all along, the powerless, and the powerless young, dying for the powerful, and the poor dying for the rich.

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J Thomas 11.11.08 at 9:05 pm

John Quiggin, you have a very good logical point. Japan did far better after they lost everything than before.

The point of having armed forces is to coerce people and to keep from being coerced. The two go together — it’s usually hard to keep from being coerced without at the same time coercing somebody. When japan gave up protecting themselves it turned out we treated them very well after all, though they couldn’t have known that ahead of time given our example of the philippines etc.

People here are talking about when it’s good to coerce people and when it’s bad. And the consensus is that it’s good when good people coerce bad people, and it’s bad when bad people coerce good people.

You can tell them apart because bad people coerce good people without having sufficient justification. While good people only coerce bad people who have been doing bad things.

That is, good people only do bad things to bad people, while bad people do bad things to good people. A very different thing indeed.

So for example, at one point the british did a pearl harbor on a french fleet. The french had just lost a war with germany, and so clearly the french admirals were going to turn their fleet over to the germans, or perhaps themselves serve under german orders. Therefore it was a *good* thing to bomb the so-far-innocent french in a surprise attack, because the germans were *bad* and so the defeated french were bad too and deserved to be killed.

There are lots of examples of that sort of thing. The vietnamese fought the japanese invaders, and then fought the returning french colonialists, but then we decided that it would be wrong to let the vietnamese communists coerce the buddhists and khmer and so on. So we helped the vietnamese catholics coerce them instead. It was necessary that we do this because the communists were bad, so anything the catholics did to stop the communists had to be good. And yet some nonamericans did not parse it out that way.

I think the idea is that it’s right to coerce people when your intentions are good, when you want to achieve a good outcome. No matter how terrible the things you do in wartime, it’s essential to hold onto that distinction: My side is good because our intentions are good. Our enemies are bad because they do bad things.

I think if we want some different result we need to get away from the coerce/avoid-being-coerced idea. Get less interested in the difference between good coercion and bad coercion.

But when I say that then people get annoyed at me. Because their side only does *good* coercion, while their enemies do *bad* coercion, and it seems to them that I’m thinking in terms of moral equivalence between the two. But to good people, there is _no similarity whatsoever_ between good coercion and bad coercion.

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matt mckeon 11.11.08 at 9:44 pm

Jthomas,
You’re being deliberately simplistic, and it weakens your argument. If Japan wanted to be independent it was welcome to be independent. No one coerced Japan. Certainly by the 20th century, there was no danger of a imperial style takeover, as in other countries in Asia. Japan, or its military elite, attacked other people, and those people resisted. This does not put the Chinese or the Americans on the same moral plane with the Japanese.

No one coerced Nazi Germany into attacking other countries. There was no danger of anyone taking away Germany’s independence. In fact, other countries accomondated Hitler to avoid war, and only resisted when they were attacked by the Germans. This does not put the Poles, or French, or Jews, or British, or the myraid of other Nazi victims on the same moral plane as the Nazis.

There are plenty of times any national government you can name has acted greedily, cruelly or foolishly. But we have national governments. Certainly many wars are needless, including the current occupation of Iraq. It would be a better world without war. But that’s not the world we live in. And given the world we live in, we have to act as humanely and responsibily as we can. What is the alternative? That’s not a rhetorical question.

Well this is a regular sermon, isn’t it.

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beowulf888 11.11.08 at 9:46 pm

I’d have to agree with Lex — Quiggen offers nothing but platitudes, which, despite their purity of goodness, obscure objective discussions of peace and war. Moreover, I would argue that very few wars are caused by the crimes of the rulers. Historically, most wars start with the consent of the ruled. Let’s take the example in question: one could legitimately argue that WWI was entered into with majority consent of the populations involved (both on the side of the Entente, and on the side of the Central Powers). Certainly on the Entente-side, the “rulers” acted in accordance to the popular sentiment of their respective citizenry, and they probably would have faced removal from office if they had not gone to war. But what was initially a popular war didn’t work out to anyone’s expectations. Or let’s look at one of the WWI’s grandchildren, the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Were the Serbian nationalists who stayed at home, but who waved Milosivec’s troops off to war, any less guilty than foot soldiers who raped tortured and killed? And were the soldiers any less guilty than Milosivec? — perhaps only less so in the causal magnitude of their offenses — but not in the criminality of their offenses. So, crimes of the rulers, my ass! That’s an excuse to let the common man off the hook. And I don’t think future generations will be any less belligerent or gullible than are predecessors were – or than we are now (Quiggen included).

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Doctor Science 11.11.08 at 9:55 pm

KAS:

On this Veterans day, for all those who have fought for a worthy cause or know others doing the same

I think one of the points John Q is trying to make is that Veterans Day is not just for those who have fought for a worthy cause, but for *all* vets. We don’t have to figure out whether their cause was worthy before we remember them; we don’t get to treat the ones who fought in unjust wars like trash.

As John notes, Veterans Day was originally established to honor survivors of the wretchedest, most Pyrrhic war *ever* — especially if you agree with the current historians’ consensus, that WWI & WWII were actually one war with an intermission.

And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.

Down indeed.

The best history of WWI I’ve read recently: A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
by G.J. Meyer
.

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KAS 11.11.08 at 10:03 pm

I asked you, not Gandhi or George Fox…

I’ll take that as a no. It is easy to judge; much harder to sacrifice. Some people do, others talk about what should be done…

I’ll waste no more time legitimizing causes as I have stated that argument already.

Your statement of war being wrong- is not able to be factual, nor does it lead to much thought at all. That’s like me saying the sky is blue. You could say it’s not really blue, I could say that it is blue based on what I see it as… When causes outweigh expenses, wrong is trumped by right; the same as when the actual components of the sky and the corresponding color’s are evaluated to determine that the sky is green or grey. Your perception of war’s moral character doesn’t have an effect on anything tangible or lead to any sort of solution; just like my persistence of the sky being blue wouldn’t. Your thoughts are linear and miss the complexities of the reality of war. War is not black or white (right or wrong) it’s a massive collection of components consisting of the two.

Don’t you see that your statement is non conducive of open thought, discussion or argument. It’s like arguing about god. One side is right based on fact; the other is right based on belief. Or in this case, ideals and reality.

KAS

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mpowell 11.11.08 at 10:12 pm

J Thomas, I think you’ve made your point. The problem is you haven’t really offered the alternative way of thinking that you’ve acknowledged previously as being necessary to replace the current thinking. Until then we are pretty much stuck using the means we have available to us of preventing bad people from coercing others when it is worth the cost of doing so.

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KAS 11.11.08 at 10:14 pm

I meant worthy cause as in the individual’s cause; not the war’s cause. My apologies if that is, in fact, that case as well as my response to Malaclypse as opposed to whom I thought wrote that reply.

KAS

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W Rood 11.11.08 at 10:14 pm

Empires worked in the past because of technological disparity and sometimes because of the illegitimacy or disunity of the less powerful state being attacked. As long as cheap, mass produced weapons like repeating rifles, machine guns and artillery could be monopolized by an industrial power, that power could colonize non-industrial societies. But where the technological level of two societies were more evenly matched, occupation by the imperial power was much more tenuous. This was true of Britain’s occupation of the US, Napoleon’s occupation of Spain, French and US occupation of Indochina and Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Even without WW II, it would probably have proven true of the Japanese occupation of China and likely of German occupation of Western Europe. It is proving true of US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Occupation of an alien culture becomes almost impossible because occupation troops are readily identifiable even out of uniform, but insurgent troops are not.

If a state can co-opt the elites of a another state without an actual occupation, there can be enormous benefit to the co-opting state. Even military bases can be beneficial to the empire if the host country consents, but consent is rarely given if the imperial power meddles in the internal politics of the host state. But co-opting and basing is not war. Actual occupation against the will of large segments of the host country is one way of defining war and will almost always drain the empire’s resources in an asymmetrical conflict. The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fantastically expensive for the US but very cheap for the Iraqis and Afghans. That’s the way it works when a multi-million dollar tank or APC can be destroyed by an EFP easily manufactured in a small machine shop for a few hundred dollars.

Thus, in today’s world, the forcible occupation of a foreign culture can not possibly be a net benefit to the occupying power. This is what will ultimately bring relative peace to the world. Unfortunately, it will be a while before Americans come to understand this. Most likely, it will not be understood until the US is bankrupted, a process that is well on its way and unlikely to be interrupted by Barack Obama.

On the other hand, co-opting the elites of another state can be of huge benefit, at least in the short-term. Thus has Israel co-opted US elites and gotten the US to support it with all its might and even fight wars to Israel’s short-term benefit. However, this will no longer benefit Israel once the US is bankrupted. Obama’s appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, and Obama’s pronouncements on “Russian aggression,” his claim that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon and his threats to Pakistan are all an indication of no change we can believe in. The US is already over the precipice and it seems Obama is enjoying the euphoria of weightlessness. As a result, he will likely be a one-term wonder, taking the blame not only for our defeat in the Middle East (a fait accomplis), but the total destruction, bankruptcy and isolation of the US economy. I dare say we will be energy independent in 2012 because we will no longer be able to affort foreign oil after the rest of the world decides it can no longer afford US.

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MQ 11.11.08 at 10:31 pm

Or shut up and stop pretending that all those millions died for a simple mistake that could have been sorted out if only they’d all listened to you.

Well, in WWI and by extension WWII, they did — it was a useless war, and it’s simple to see that. Setting up social structures that stop such simple mistakes is complex, but pretending that it’s hard to see how pointlessly destructive war is would be a start. Current sentiment among those who support the massive U.S. military establishment leans toward the view that war is an actively good thing.

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imnotgivingmynametoamachine 11.11.08 at 10:35 pm

There must be something wrong with me. I spent most of Armistice day sitting in the staff club at my little Australian university, programming and drinking coffee. Most of the folks at the other tables were older academics, talking about their memories of past wars and dead mates. I took the minute of silence – not at 11am as per the tradition, since I’m a bit scatterbrained sometimes – and listened to the other conversations around the room, in effect letting their stories do the remembering bit for me. It was nice, and a bit sad, I guess. Call me crazy, but I suppose I thought that was the point of the day and of John’s post too – to remind us that saying “innocent people die in wars, and those wars are usually fought for other people’s reasons” isn’t just a platitude, but such an obvious fact that we don’t actually think about it as often as we probably should. Damned if I can figure out why needed a long angry comment thread over this.

When I was a kid we called it Rememberance Day, though I now call it Armistice Day and I’ve learned that Americans tend to call it Veterans day. Maybe I’m a bit simple, but I’m glad I spent my November 11th doing my peaceful little job and remembering stories of wars past, rather than getting angry on the internet. Oh well. It’s the 12th here now and I’m late for work.

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Xanthippas 11.11.08 at 10:50 pm

So come on, clever-clogs, let’s have your comprehensive ten-point plan for everlasting world peace, with a timetable for implementation and monitoring. Or shut up and stop pretending that all those millions died for a simple mistake that could have been sorted out if only they’d all listened to you.

The first point would be to toss blowhards like this into the bottomless pit of wankery. Nothing is as tiresome as those who think that lambasting, ridiculing and criticizing the anti-war sentiments of others means that they themselves are steely-eyed, clear-thinking “realists” who can see the world for the way it really is. I can think of nothing more useless than to say “Truly, I detest war too…but YOU’RE the jackass for saying so!” Honestly, anti-war sentiment is what gets your ire up? Spare us.

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Xanthippas 11.11.08 at 10:54 pm

Moreover, I would argue that very few wars are caused by the crimes of the rulers. Historically, most wars start with the consent of the ruled.

Yes, yes…but few wars are begun by the governed, rushing out to take up arms against someone against the strict orders of their rulers. And many rulers have marshaled their people to war for their own cynical purposes. I enjoy a good bout of revisionist history as much as anyone, but yes, yes, yes, rulers deserve a far greater share of the blame than the soldiers they send to war or the people who cheer them on. To say otherwise is nonsense.

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b9n10t 11.11.08 at 11:54 pm

mpowell 11.11.08 at 10:12 pm

“J Thomas, I think you’ve made your point. The problem is you haven’t really offered the alternative way of thinking that you’ve acknowledged previously as being necessary to replace the current thinking.”

Allow me to step in here. We currently have a US administration that just did one of those “bad” coercive things. Aggression readily succumbs to positive feedback, as well. Japan’s invasion of China made it more likely to attack the US (and the US’s invasion of the Phillipines made it more likely to involve itself in Japanese aggression). We should see our aggression as an acute threat to our security. Just as Vietnamese was not nearly as dangerous to Americans as LBJ & Nixon, Saddam has turned out to be less dangerous to us that Bush .

We need war crimes tribunals for the Bush admin., simply. Self-policing in this respect would have a beneficial demonstration effect to other nations and, more importantly, be an act to promote the national security of the United States.

76

Doctor Slack 11.12.08 at 12:42 am

Jeebus, but this thread is ridiculous. After the past six years, how the hell are there still this many self-satisfied warmongering fuckwits on Crooked Timber? And more importantly, why on Earth do the bloggers tolerate them?

77

Doctor Science 11.12.08 at 1:44 am

how the hell are there still this many self-satisfied warmongering fuckwits on Crooked Timber?

Answer: there is no draft.

78

imnotgivingmynametoamachine 11.12.08 at 1:49 am

Jeebus, but this thread is ridiculous.

It does seem to have been the victim of an early threadjack, doesn’t it? Just over 90 years ago the guns fell silent in Europe after one of the bloodiest episodes of modern history, and the CT thread on the topic is more argumentative than reflective. Doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the spirit of the Armistice, really.

If I might suggest – I think it’s still the 11th over the Pacific ocean. Maybe the CT community could declare its own little armistice with what’s left of the day.

79

Michael Bérubé 11.12.08 at 2:03 am

Hey, it’s only 6 pm in Los Angeles, 3 pm in Hawaii. So wherever it’s still the 11th and the pubs are still open, let’s have everyone read comments one and seven really loud in a slurred voice and then slam their pints down on the table in indignation. Because it’s the right thing to do.

80

Walt 11.12.08 at 2:08 am

I tried it, Michael. Everyone else in the bar just stared at me for a minute, and then went back to arguing about football.

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imnotgivingmynametoamachine 11.12.08 at 2:43 am

I dunno – it’s might be a bit too late since it’s the 12th here in Oz and there’s more of a “hey, look – no mustard gas in the air!” kind of mentality on the streets. Still, I am tempted to head down to the local in a few hours time and ask for a “comprehensive ten-point plan for everlasting world peace” from the regulars. Given the nearly-optimal (IMHO) geek/hipster/wonk mix of people down there, I might get some good policy suggestions.

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imnotgivingmynametoamachine 11.12.08 at 3:09 am

Actually, on a very geeky note, DC at #5 has got to be right. The simple act of required rememberance probably makes a substantial difference. It certainly makes a difference in individual behaviour in undergrads – from memory, it’s called the “mere reference” effect, and it basically implies that simply referring to moral codes acts to to increase adherence to them. Dan Ariely at MIT actually has a really nice example where reference to the “MIT honor code” decreases rates of cheating, despite the fact that no such honor code actually exists. Can’t be bothered tracking down the original paper, but I think he talks about it in Predictably Irrational. I’d like to think that there’s an analogous sociological effect caused by the mere existence of Armistice day.

Anyway. I really need to stop wasting time on the intertubes and get back to work.

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J Thomas 11.12.08 at 3:52 am

J Thomas, I think you’ve made your point. The problem is you haven’t really offered the alternative …. we are pretty much stuck using the means we have available to us of preventing bad people from coercing others when it is worth the cost of doing so.

MPowell, you demonstrate to me that I have utterly failed to get my point across.

I will try to say this plainly. When you think that you are the good guy and you know who the bad guys are and you’re going to make them be good by force and violence — you are the problem. No, you are not the good guy, you only think you are.

We’re talking killing people and taking stuff for justice. Raping for virginity. The relentless rage for mercy. Scorched earth tactics to defend the homeland. MAD for defense.

This kind of thinking will drive you crazy. Stark raving bonkers. We get people who don’t recognise that war is a game. (A high-stakes game.) They think there can be no agreement on the rules because it’s possible to win using whatever technology plus tactics *will* win, and after you win nobody can punish you for breaking rules. They invariably say the enemy will break any rules they agree on , so we can’t agree on rules.

This approach has worked out in america’s favor in the short run, because we have been the best at hi-tech weapons. Other nations can’t get our weapons declared against the rules, so we win in singularly bloody ways. We can hope this is to our long-term advantage though it tends to look to foreigners like we’re homocidal maniacs.

Here’s one last clue — when it’s time for a war and time to choose up sides, anybody who wants to attack somebody can come up with reasons why the guys they want to attack are the bad guys. It’s easy. Sometimes people don’t bother with that, they admit that they’re just attacking because they want the strategic location or strategic materials etc. But it doesn’ t make much difference, the guys on their side will overlook it while the guys on the other side will say they’re bad guys. Either way. Mostly, the way we decide who the bad guys are is too look at whose side they’re on.

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Colin Danby 11.12.08 at 4:25 am

I suspect, Doctors S and S, that CT has a cunning arrangement of regular decoy posts to distract the blowhards. Now if only some clever programmer could create a blowhard-free view of this site.

It’s a sign of something, either the times or inebriation, that nobody’s yet picked up on “brought forth the horrors of Bolshevism and fighting in Russia continued well beyond the Armistice.” Without giving the Reds a free pass or anything, one might note the extent of post-Armistice intervention to support the Whites. Fighting did not just continue of its own accord.

Or one could say to hell with quibbling and support John’s last sentence, which I’m happy to do.

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bad Jim 11.12.08 at 4:33 am

It’s still 11-11 in California, and I find solace in the fact that the US has just elected as president a candidate who unequivocably opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and who explicitly prefers diplomacy to preventive attack. Obama’s hardly a pacifist, but he stands heads and shoulders above his major contenders in this respect. The nation itself has turned decisively against the Iraq adventure, which is reason to hope that we’ll remember this lesson for at least one generation.

The US will probably continue its tradition of belligerence and bullying, but we might just avoid starting another big war for another thirty years, and that’s not nothing.

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Roy Belmont 11.12.08 at 5:07 am

Bad Jim:
a candidate who unequivocably opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq
As long as you keep that sentence in the past tense you’re doing fine.

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John Quiggin 11.12.08 at 5:13 am

Colin, I thought about covering your potential quibble, but it didn’t quite flow right and I thought I had damned warmongers (including the Russian Empire) comprehensively enough to encompass the Whites and the forces of intervention.

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notsneaky 11.12.08 at 6:10 am

Actually, Soviet propaganda of the time to the contrary, the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War was almost negligible. The only significant outside forces were the Czechoslovak Legion which found itself deep within Russia through no fault of its own on the eve of the revolution and basically wanted to get the hell out and the whole Polish-Soviet war which was more about border disputes than ideology (Poles and Whites like Denikin and Wrangel didn’t get along either for obvious reasons) and the Japanese who were involved in a straight up land grab. Most you could say is that military supplies from the Allies allowed Denikin to postpone the inevitable a bit longer. Some troops and advisers were sent but never did much of anything.

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notsneaky 11.12.08 at 6:15 am

Or to clarify, while the Russian Civil War was a more or less direct outcome of WWI and so should be added in all the horrible costs that that war brought, by that point the Allies didn’t have all that much to do with it. If anything, the Allies chose not to intervene at greater scale than they actually did precisely because by that point they have had enough of bloodshed. For better or worse.

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Deborah Kazazis 11.12.08 at 8:06 am

Dear John,

Thank you for reminding us all. Here in Greece, it’s hard to forget, no matter where one travels. On the northeastern Aegean island of Lemnos last summer, we came upon the following: http://www.diggerhistory2.info/graveyards/pages/anzac/mudros.htm
There’s a very moving musical and visual tribute to the Blue Puttees at

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Lex 11.12.08 at 8:47 am

I see, reading not very far between the lines, that my entirely general denunciation of JQ’s po-faced sanctimony has been read as an endorsement of precisely the kind of imperialist warmongering that commenters seem not to like. Funnily enough, I don’t like it either, and I never said I did. I think that their misperception says rather more about their ability to turn any point to their own self-satisfied rhetorical ends than it does about my view, to which I adhere resolutely [ooh, there’s a surprise], that po-faced sanctimony is the very last thing, in a complex and multipolar world ravaged by poverty, inequality, ideological and religious hatreds and looming insoluble resource shortages, that will help. Still, I’m glad I helped a few of you wrestle with your inner demons.

I’m sorry you feel misunderstood Lex, but don’t worry, everyone here understands you only too well. You’ve had your chance, now go away.

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Michael Turner 11.12.08 at 9:02 am

Or one could say to hell with quibbling and support John’s last sentence, which I’m happy to do.

No way. It’s got a typo, for one thing. Unless there actually is something called “form dying” and John’s whole point is that we should save more of it.

[NOTE: This is has been an auto-generated message from the BHPRS (Blowhard Honeypot Periodic Replenishment Script). Had this been an actual contribution from an actual blowhard, it would have made even less sense.]

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noselfrespectingscriptgivesitsnametoanotherone 11.12.08 at 9:18 am

I just corrected the typo in the above error message generated by BHPRS, and it now reads “This has been . . .”, not “This is has been . . .”. So please don’t bother logging this as a bug report at SourceForge, as the issue has already been noted, escalated, masticated, emasculated, resolved, dissolved, redissolved, and closed.]

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Troll 11.12.08 at 11:36 am

Please piss off, Lex

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enzo 11.12.08 at 12:45 pm

I wish that were true. First, a counterexample: what about the hugely profitable wars of colonial/imperial expansion Britain fought and won in the 19th century?

More importantly, it seems to me that wars will continue to happen because sometimes gambling one’s fortune away (but with a hope to being able to keep it) is preferable to peacefully giving away a large chunk of it. War is the throw of dice that might stop us from going down an otherwise certain path.

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c.l. ball 11.12.08 at 1:59 pm

I am more than willing to support war for the right cause, but I generally believe that it’s better to stick flowers in nasty men’s guns than on young men’s graves.

Of course, it is not exactly true that the “War brought nothing but evil.” Some fairly good literature came out of it.

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PHB 11.12.08 at 2:05 pm

The Great War was in many ways the first neo-conservative war. It was fought for no other reason than the doctrine of preventive war.

Germany declared war on France because it could not defend against attack by France and Russia at the same time. And Russia had mobilized because of what was going on in the Balkans.

If McCain had been elected he would almost certainly have appointed people who were pushing for wars against Iran and Saudi Arabia (1) before the election as advisers and cabinet members. It is a very good thing that the senile old warmonger was not elected.

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Michael Turner 11.12.08 at 2:46 pm

Is there something specifically neocon, or even con at all, about a doctrine of preventive war? I’m not being partisan, here. I’m just a little worried about the intellectual sloppiness of over-extending the notion of neoconservative, possibly back into the paleolithic, if archaeology happens to establish some hazy resemblance to some identifiable group of hunter-gatherers.

“Neo-con” Saddam Hussein: possibly attacked Iran because Iran was going to eventually attack Iraq.

“Neo-con” Imperial Japan: attacked Pearl Harbor and invaded Singapore rather than wait until the oil embargo against them weakened them to the point of being much more easily defeated.

“Neo-con” my older sister: punched my shoulder that time I opened my mouth to once again mercilessly mimic the way she sang along to her favorite Monkees song. (It didn’t hurt, but thanks for asking.)

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Picador 11.12.08 at 3:01 pm

Lovely thread.

I recently moved to Canada, where Remembrance Day is a Big Deal, and practically everyone wears a little felt poppy on his or her lapel. I don’t, and because I’m a blowhard, I spent about ten minutes yesterday formulating a response to an absurd hypothetical question about its absence. It went something like:

“I got married last summer. It was really, really nice. [insert details of my very pleasant wedding] Last week, another couple got married in Afghanistan. Their wedding didn’t go over as well. [insert details of the less-than-pleasant bombed Afghan wedding last week] I wanted to go out and buy a flower to wear on my lapel today to commemorate those innocent wedding guests who were ruthlessly murdered, but nobody was selling any. All they were selling were these poppies commemorating the soldiers who dropped the bombs.”

I’m not a principled pacifist, but I would rather not participate in any social ritual that has come to stand for “support the troops”, which in turn has come to stand for “don’t question the orders the troops have been handed by their officers, and which they will gladly carry out, no matter how immoral or illegal, because that might make some of the troops feel bad”.

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Sam Dodsworth 11.12.08 at 3:34 pm

I wanted to go out and buy a flower to wear on my lapel today to commemorate those innocent wedding guests who were ruthlessly murdered, but nobody was selling any.

Here in the UK, the Peace Pledge Union has been selling white poppies since 1934:

http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html

They’re not very common, but I’ve been buying them instead of the British Legion red poppies since the start of the Iraq war.

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Anderson 11.12.08 at 4:50 pm

I will try to say this plainly. When you think that you are the good guy and you know who the bad guys are and you’re going to make them be good by force and violence—you are the problem. No, you are not the good guy, you only think you are.

We did not fight Germany and Japan to “make them be good.” We fought them to stop their killing and oppressing millions of victims.

Have you ever looked at the Nazi plans for Russia after a German victory?

This Nicholson-Baker-style “waaaah, war is bad” stuff should be beneath you. Yes, war sucks. (And certain methods of warfare, such as carpet bombing cities, are war crimes and should be admitted as such.) But the people to blame are the ones who started the wars in the first place. We fought to stop their fighting. And unlike raping for virginity, it did in fact work.

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J Thomas 11.12.08 at 5:11 pm

You’re being deliberately simplistic, and it weakens your argument.

I dunno. Sometimes piling on complexities and exceptional cases and such weakens the argument.

Try this. When my daughter went to preschool two of the rules were “Share” and “Don’t hit”. And the kids mostly followed those rules with some exceptions. What would happen if every time one kid didn’t share the others stopped sharing too? What would happen if every time one of the kids hit somebody the others started hitting people too?

Well, that’s what we do when we start fighting other people’s wars. Suppose that when two nations start fighting that everybody else asks them to agree to arbitration. Would that work? Sometimes. Sometimes one side believes that the rest of the world wrongly refuses to see their point of view, so they have no choice but to win the immediate war and then deal with world disapproval. Serbia faced a lot of that. The russians could understand that they had good reasons on their side but mostly nobody else did, and the russians weren’t ready to stop the bombing. Israel faces a lot of that. Essentially nobody outside of the USA sympathises with their problems or sees the necessity of their treatment of palestinians, and without the US support they’d get the serbia treatment. Except of course for their nukes. Nukes are a sort of ace-in-the-hole when nobody likes with you. When nobody likes you and you have nukes, you can say “OK, I don’t like anybody either” and they’ll talk mean about you but not do anything. When you don’t have nukes they might send in the airstrikes.

So when people have disagreements and both sides think they can get a fair hearing, they’re likely to accept arbitration by the World Court etc. It’s when they think that they’re right but that the world disagrees that they’re more likely to insist on war.

There are plenty of times any national government you can name has acted greedily, cruelly or foolishly. But we have national governments.

Yes, we just have to live with that. If we expected more from our national governments they might live up to our expectations. Or else we’d get rid of them and try again.

And given the world we live in, we have to act as humanely and responsibily as we can. What is the alternative? That’s not a rhetorical question.

OK, here’s one alternative. I say that human beings need something like war for social purposes. We need a way for young men to prove themselves. The Olympics are no good for that because only a very few, the world’s best, can get recognition that way.

I propose we set up a new game, maybe kind of like paintball. Set it up so that thousands can play on each side. Winning is more like winning in war, but ideally casualties should be no more than maybe 0.3%. Paintballs that hurt and can put out an eye, grenades that don’t kill you unless throw yourself on them, artillery that only kills the people it lands directly on. Tactics matter. Strategy matters. Precision teamwork matters. Individual prowess matters too. Individual small towns can compete against each other. Colleges compete. US cities compete. Nations compete. Participants can wear their uniforms whenever they feel like it, and get the prestige they’d get from high school letter sweaters but more so.

Nations can bet diplomatic agreements on their teams if they want to, but they don’t have to.

A game like that would give us a lot of the social value we get from war now, without nearly so much bloodshed. It would be clear that you win by keeping to the rules of the game, and so the rules of the game can be adjusted to provide the social value we want. It was a loss when armies at war had to stop wearing bright uniforms with gleaming metal, and had to crawl in the dirt and dig holes to cower in. Once the participants agree to rules they can make the rules work for them. A place for heroes, a place for teamwork, lots of opportunities for glory, and it all happens on a battlefield with no civilians.

A game like that, you can let girls play provided they make the team. If they want to.

Our current warfare doesn’t provide nearly enough opportunities for glory. We could do much better, and still with very low casualty rates, and with rules that can be adjusted to fit our needs. If we had a game that met our social needs well, then actual warfare would be far less attractive.

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ajay 11.12.08 at 5:30 pm

First, a counterexample: what about the hugely profitable wars of colonial/imperial expansion Britain fought and won in the 19th century?

1) Just because one side comes out ahead doesn’t mean something isn’t negative-sum.

2) It’s by no means a settled issue that the Empire was a profit centre rather than a cost centre for Britain. For certain people in Britain, clearly yes. For the country as a whole, not so clearly.

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sg 11.12.08 at 5:53 pm

It saddens me that in so many of these “debates” the actions of all the European forces – even the Nazis – are given the benefit of understanding (e.g. WW1 and Ww2 were really one war with an intermission, the treaty of Versailles caused it, etc.) but “the Japanese” continue to be derided as a bunch of warmongering imperialists whose actions don’t have an explanation. Attempts to point out the containment going on before the war (treaty of London, anyone?) are derided, European racism towards Japan at the time and fear of its growing economic power (read anything from 1905 to see how far back that goes) are ignored, and the growth of military dictatorship is trivialised.

If the Germans’ willingness to vote in a Nazi thug and go to war gets the benefit of an attempt at understanding, I think the capitulation of the Japanese to tyranny and their actions in Asia also deserve something more sophisticated than “they didn’t have to do it”. And portraying american and british actions at the time as moral or honourable is really unfair.

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notsneaky 11.12.08 at 6:31 pm

Sg, the way it should work is that neither the Nazis nor the Imperial Japanese have excuses made for them. Of course explaining a phenomenon (why the Germans all went crazy in the 30’s) is different than excusing it. And yes, compared to the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, American and… well, ok, just American, actions at the time can be considered “moral or honourable”.

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J Thomas 11.12.08 at 7:09 pm

We did not fight Germany and Japan to “make them be good.” We fought them to stop their killing and oppressing millions of victims.

Well, it didn’t work.

Look, sometimes when people fight they reach some sort of agreement to end it. They agree to go back to the status quo ante, or one side makes some concessions, or both sides make concessions, and they stop fighting.

Otherwise they fight until one side is too exhausted to keep fighting.

Did our fighting get them to stop when they were less exhausted than they would otherwise be? No. If anything we made it harder for them to stop, because we made it harder for them to negotiate anything but an unconditional surrender.

Have you ever looked at the Nazi plans for Russia after a German victory?

Sure. Stupid of them to publish that, since it made it impossible to get a russian surrender. Our enemies are often stupider than we are, which is a good thing for us.

This Nicholson-Baker-style “waaaah, war is bad” stuff should be beneath you.

I hear this stupid argument a lot, in a lot of different contexts. “We all know war is bad so shut up and get ready for the next war.” “Sure, everybody knows we can’t keep running the trade deficit like we’re doing, so shut up about it and just accept it.” “Stop talking about doing IRV voting because it just isn’t going to happen.” Something about this reasoning leaves me with a nameless doubt. It just is not a serious argument.

Yes, war sucks. …. But the people to blame are the ones who started the wars in the first place.

But Mommy, Bobby started it! I was *right* to burn him alive! I didn’t do anything wrong, I did everything completely right because Bobby started it!

We fought to stop their fighting.

You think that. And you thinking that makes you part of the problem.

And unlike raping for virginity, it did in fact work.

It hasn’t worked yet. Rather, it kind of worked on the germans, after they got exhausted enough to quit they haven’t had another war since except the ones we dragged them into, and they got into those in a minor way. It kind of worked on the japanese, they haven’t had another war though they helped finance our Gulf war. But we’ve had lots of wars on various stupid excuses. Fighting to stop fighting does not work. You have to stop fighting to stop fighting.

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notsneaky 11.12.08 at 7:30 pm

“No. If anything we made it harder for them to stop, because we made it harder for them to negotiate anything but an unconditional surrender.”

This is just nonsense. Up until almost the very end neither the German nor the Japanese command wished to surrender, conditionally or otherwise. Hitler believed in victory even as the Russians were encircling his bunker and dreamed of his Wunderwaffen. The Japanese put their faith in the islands’ defenses and the dedication of their troops. There were factions within both governments that may have thought about it but they never influenced the conduct of the war, if they didn’t get purged as soon as they appeared in the first place. At one point the Japanese thought they could get a separate peace with the Soviets or get them to influence to US, but even there they (and this seems crazy in retrospect) weren’t thinking surrender but rather cease fire based on the status quo (Japan gets to keep what it grabbed, the Soviets and US get to keep what they got)

And the Allies agreeing to anything less than unconditional surrender or the possibility of separate peace treaties would’ve been a very very stupid policy and strategy.

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virgil xenophon 11.12.08 at 9:49 pm

J Thomas’ usual insightful head has failed him here. notsneaky is on the mark.

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John Quiggin 11.12.08 at 9:58 pm

As regards Britain’s empire, it’s also important to remember that much of it was acquired during the Second Hundred Years War with France, running from 1689 to 1815, lasting almost as long as the subsequent period of Empire, and costing untold numbers of lives and huge amounts of money. Even if it could be shown that the Empire produced net gains for Britain as a whole, it’s highly unlikely that it could have paid for the wars that produced it. France did far worse and of course, the people whose land they were fighting over paid the heaviest price.

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J Thomas 11.12.08 at 10:13 pm

This is just nonsense.

Well, Notsneaky, I think before we discuss this you need to admit that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Until we get that established we aren’t going to get anywhere.

First notice that a whole lot of what passes for scholarship on this topic was written for the purpose of showing that the USA was correct in its intentions and actions. This literature should be heavily discounted.

Second, notice that you don’t know what japanese government officials were thinking. They had strong incentives to keep that secret. We said we would accept nothing but unconditional surrender. Any weakening in their position would look like they were about to collapse and accept unconditional surrender, and would make it harder for them to negotiate other terms if other terms were possible. So while we gave no hint of concession it made sense for them not to also.

The Japanese put their faith in the islands’ defenses and the dedication of their troops. There were factions within both governments that may have thought about it but they never influenced the conduct of the war, if they didn’t get purged as soon as they appeared in the first place. At one point the Japanese thought they could get a separate peace with the Soviets or get them to influence to US, but even there they (and this seems crazy in retrospect) weren’t thinking surrender but rather cease fire based on the status quo (Japan gets to keep what it grabbed, the Soviets and US get to keep what they got)

How much farther would you expect them to go, when we demanded unconditional surrender and nothing else? You interpret the negotiating position they were forced into as their true desires. That’s possible. I don’t know what they were thinking either, since it was secret. But you believe you know things you have no inkling of.

And the Allies agreeing to anything less than unconditional surrender or the possibility of separate peace treaties would’ve been a very very stupid policy and strategy.

That depends. Maybe it was uneasy allies who had a hard time negotiating with each other while negotiating with the japanese. Maybe they were just not flexible enough to try for anything but unconditional surrender because anything else might result in the tragedy of a separate peace or a backstabbing new alliance.

And there’s the possibility that leaks about negotiations might cause a slowdown in the war on both sides. Why should japanese soldiers and sailors and airmen take heroic action leading to almost-certain death when the war is about to end? Why should we push hard against mostly-irrelevant targets when the surrender is close? If the pace of the war had slowed then japan would have gotten into increasingly serious straits without so much bloodshed.

Any negotiation requires at least two partners. If we had given japan a chance to perhaps negotiate something other than unconditional surrender, they might have refused. You claim they definitely absolutely would have refused. But we never found out, we only assumed that. The research that claims it wouldn’t happen is all research that references other people who made the same assumptions.

Suppose we had offered to let the imperial family live in some circumstances. One of japan’s reasons not to surrender unconditionally was to save the emperor. If they had the chance to surrender and save the emperor, the idea became more thinkable.

Suppose we had offered to spare japanese soldiers and officers, except those convicted of war crimes. What would that lose us?

Suppose we had promised not to commit mass rapes in the occupation. They were expecting mass rapes and not just because they did that in china. They thought of that as the default. We might have reduced resistance to surrender considerably, if they believed us.

Suppose we had offered to send enough food to japan for everybody to get 1200 calories a day.

Suppose we had actually sent food to japan. They needed it — they were starving. We say “We know the surrender is not in doubt. We give you food because we don’t want you to starve.” Do they reject it and starve? Do they admit they live only by our mercy? Would that have shortened the war? They didn’t want to throw themselves on our mercy with an unconditional surrender because they hadn’t seen anything about how merciful we’d be.

There’s the chance if we look too eager to offer concessions that the enemy will think we’re desperate and will hold out for better terms. We definitely didn’t make that mistake.

But if you think you know how the japanese high command thought, and how they would have handled hypothetical negotiations we might have proposed, please reconsider.

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J Thomas 11.12.08 at 10:21 pm

I say a 111 post thread. What say you? I’m game!

OK, we’re at 111. Now what?

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notsneaky 11.12.08 at 10:52 pm

“I think before we discuss this you need to admit that you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Until we get that established we aren’t going to get anywhere.”

Uh…ok. Why are you bothering to reply exactly?

“First notice that a whole lot of what passes for scholarship on this topic was written for the purpose of showing that the USA was correct in its intentions and actions. This literature should be heavily discounted.”

Even if that’s true, and it isn’t, what makes you think that I’m talking about US-Centric scholarship?

“Second, notice that you don’t know what japanese government officials were thinking. They had strong incentives to keep that secret.”

I guess they could’ve been thinking of cuddly puppies and chocolate chip ice cream, and never said anything out of fear of violating the Bushido code but who the hell cares? There is such a thing as the study of wartime Japanese documents, memoirs and sources. It goes by the esoteric and little known word of “History”. I hear some institutions of higher learning are considering offering courses in this exciting new field.

“Suppose we had offered to let the imperial family live in some circumstances. One of japan’s reasons not to surrender unconditionally was to save the emperor. If they had the chance to surrender and save the emperor, the idea became more thinkable.”

This is a common myth pretty thoroughly debunked by historians. Yes, there was a faction within Japanese leadership that considered a emperor+territorial status quo for peace option. It was a minority, never had influence on the actual conduct of the war, they were pushed aside politically and some were even accused of being traitors for even considering the idea.

“Suppose…”

“Suppose…”

“Suppose…”

“Suppose…”

Suppose that blue bunnies from outer space parachuted on Iwo Jima and started hoping around while singing jolly songs about faire maidens and chivalry in a little known dialect of Esperanto while building pyramids as landing sites for their spaceships. Suppose you stop making shit up.

You know, I used to think to myself “95% of time I have no idea what J Thomas is going on about”. Then I realized that I was being charitable. It seems that I do understand what you’re talking about it’s just that it never makes sense.

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J Thomas 11.12.08 at 11:41 pm

Why are you bothering to reply exactly?

There’s always the chance that you or somebody else might say something interesting.

“Second, notice that you don’t know what japanese government officials were thinking. They had strong incentives to keep that secret.”

I guess they could’ve been thinking of cuddly puppies and chocolate chip ice cream, and never said anything out of fear of violating the Bushido code but who the hell cares? There is such a thing as the study of wartime Japanese documents, memoirs and sources.

Have you ever noticed in a modern japanese corporation, a controversial choice comes up and nobody says anything in public except the status quo, and that goes on for a long time, and then all of a sudden everybody agrees on a new course?

You might get somewhere comparing generals’ memoirs to modern corporate managers’ memoirs. Do either of them have reason to shade the truth of their experience? But the wartime documents and “sources” are worthless for this.

“Suppose we had offered to let the imperial family live in some circumstances. One of japan’s reasons not to surrender unconditionally was to save the emperor. If they had the chance to surrender and save the emperor, the idea became more thinkable.”

This is a common myth pretty thoroughly debunked by historians.

If a historian tells you that definitely we could have gotten a quick peace treaty by saving the emperor, he’s a fool. If a historian tells you the myth is debunked then he’s a fool too.

Yes, there was a faction within Japanese leadership that considered a emperor+territorial status quo for peace option. It was a minority, never had influence on the actual conduct of the war, they were pushed aside politically and some were even accused of being traitors for even considering the idea.

Sure. And you don’t know how the others would have reacted to an offer for something other than unconditional surrender. You can assume that they paid no attention to their enemies and would have responded exactly the same no matter what we did. In that case you can believe you know how they would have behaved if we had done something different. But you would be wrong. I don’t know and you don’t know either.

You wouldn’t expect the japanese military to behave precisely the same way no matter what strategies and tactics we used, would you? Why do you believe they would do exactly the same thing no matter how we negotiated? As it was, we didn’t even set up channels to negotiate with them.

I used to think to myself “95% of time I have no idea what J Thomas is going on about”.

Interesting. It seems I have not communicated effectively.

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roy belmont 11.13.08 at 6:42 am

John Quiggin:
…lasting almost as long as the subsequent period of Empire, and costing untold numbers of lives and huge amounts of money

Untold numbers of pretty specifically mostly young underclass expendable male lives. And nothing, at least this is how it looks to me, simply “costs” money.
The current US financial “bailout” may “cost” umpteen-tumpety billions, but the recipients of that desperate largesse won’t be looking at it like that. Won’t be feeling it “cost” them much of anything.
It may have “cost” the light artillery 300 florins for a well-made bombardelle, or twice that for a goodly accurate and transportable bronze cannon, but the foundryman, at the receiving end, will have seen the transaction somewhat differently, all in all.

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J Thomas 11.13.08 at 7:42 am

Untold numbers of pretty specifically mostly young underclass expendable male lives. And nothing, at least this is how it looks to me, simply “costs” money.
The current US financial “bailout” may “cost” umpteen-tumpety billions, but the recipients of that desperate largesse won’t be looking at it like that. Won’t be feeling it “cost” them much of anything.

The real cost in both cases is an opportunity cost. How much value would have been created otherwise?

If the young men would have accomplished nothing with their lives otherwise, if they would mostly have been hanged as criminals etc, then the opportunity cost of getting them killed in foreign lands would have been low. There’s the long-term cost of the reduced genetic diversity, but that’s something no individual person pays and so it can be considered to cost nothing at all.

Similarly with the bailout money. If the Treasury sells hundreds of billions of dollars of new T-bills, and it gives the money to rich people who buy T-bills with it, then nothing is lost except the interest. On the other hand, if they send the money out of the country and buy swiss francs with it, the consequences might be more severe.

There are various ways the bailout might take a whole lot of money that might have been used to build the US economy and instead build some other nation’s economy.

Opportunity cost. If otherwise we’d have issued those same T-bills and wasted the money, then maybe we haven’t lost anything. And after all we tend to get bubbles when there isn’t enough valid investment opportunities to soak up the money. If alternate energy isn’t worth doing, if every investment possibility that could actually be productive is already oversubscribed, why *not* waste the investment money in a bubble?

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Doctor Slack 11.13.08 at 8:37 am

I see, reading not very far between the lines, that my entirely general denunciation of JQ’s po-faced sanctimony has been read as an endorsement of precisely the kind of imperialist warmongering that commenters seem not to like.

I guess after recent experience, I’m just not very impressed by empty chatter about “po-faced sanctimony” from people pretending to be realists. Quiggin’s precis of how the first Great War segued into the second seems to be pretty reasonable, his linking of the current Russian-Georgian conflict to the ridiculousness of the War “To End All War” seems at least arguable, and your immediate default to blathering about “sanctimony” seems patently dishonest and intellectually mediocre. Far as mediocrities go, it’s true that I’ve come to be indiscriminate about the declared warmongers as opposed to those who just don’t mind sounding like the declated warmongers, and in the bargain can’t be much bothered about stupid things like facts. Fucking sue me.

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Doctor Slack 11.13.08 at 8:46 am

Or how about a shorter version: from now on, when someone says “peace, love and understanding are preferable to war,” you don’t get to just taunt and mock them. You actually have to back up the taunting and mocking with concrete reasons why they are wrong and you are right.

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Michael Turner 11.13.08 at 8:55 am

Peter Hart: Perhaps the gross fallacy we need to focus on here is the belief by govts and interest groups that aggressive action is urgent, an absolute necessity, that its the only alternative to humiliation or decline or whatever, or that a quick war will solve big problems and we musn’t let the opportunity slip by.

Interestingly, but not too auspiciously, for that point of view: the man who ended up planning the Pearl Harbor attack, Adm. Yamamoto, was of the opinion that it was sheer folly. He said that it would, at best, give Japan 6 months free run of the Pacific, after which the U.S., with its superior industrial might, would grind Japan down.

Now, from a purely rational point of view, the Japanese high command had every reason to believe Yamamoto. He was brilliant, experienced, educated, more than sufficiently expert for such a judgment call. He had a track record in innovation with naval aviation technology, putting Japan’s navy ahead of the Britain and America in certain respects. He also knew that the industrial precursors for the realization of his aviation work traced back to relatively primitive low-productivity cottage industry craft production. He’d hung out at Ivy League universities, had toured America to assess its industrial capacity. The Japanese leadership had every reason to assume Yamamoto what the hell he was talking about.

But what happened? Yamamoto was ostracized. During his banishment from circles of respectable opinion, he disconsolately gambled and whored and talked idly about emigrating. He probably knew, though, that if he left Japan and its sphere of influence, Imperial secret police would track him down and assassinate him. I sometimes wonder if his misbehavior and drunken rambling about emigrating around that time wasn’t a kind of sotto voce invitation to the spy agencies of America and Britain: “Please, ‘kidnap’ me!” If so, they didn’t go for it, maybe they didn’t even notice. At any rate, he caved in: he planned Pearl Harbor. (An attack semi-botched probably because he himself didn’t execute it.)

It was at best a desperate roll of the dice. Maybe they hoped that something heavily distracting would happen for the U.S. and Britain in the European theater. After all, the Japanese military (who had their own A-bomb program perhaps as early as 1939) probably knew that the Germans were working on the bomb, but that program was probably far more opaque to them than it was to U.S. and British intelligence. They could not have known that the Germans wouldn’t be able produce a weapon in time to make a difference. Even though they’d gotten a lot of their nuclear equipment from the U.S., maybe they thought it was a race that Germany could win. A chance worth taking?

Still, it’s hard to understand what the Japanese leaders were thinking, except perhaps that they decided Yamamoto was simply wrong. Groupthink is strong, group pride is strong, the Japanese are as prone to both as any nationality, if not more so, and perhaps most important: how many of them had seen what Yamamoto had seen in America? After all, seeing is believing, and not-seeing is not-quite-believing. (I think Machiavelli said that.) These days, when Japanese and American naval officers study together at Pearl Harbor, they study the life, work, and thought of Admiral Yamamoto. After all, what could be more instructive for them?

What Peter Hart above calls a “gross fallacy” can appear quite different in the eyes of beholders, if they only wishfully minimize one factor and overestimate one other. Much is made of Colin Powell’s not-quite-Adlai moment at the U.N., in the face of his own intelligence branch’s reports saying there wasn’t nearly enough reliable WMD evidence to go on. But all of the other branches were telling him there was something to worry about. So maybe he figured State had it wrong, and everyone else was on to something? I hate to hand Powell even a sliver of soap, but if that’s what happened, it’s what happened. It would hardly have been unprecedented. But perhaps just as likely: he caved, so as to continue on with some hope of influencing the outcomes positively. That’s not unprecedented either.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much history you’ve studied. Sometimes you’re doomed to repeat it anyway, eyes closed, or even more harrowingly: eyes wide open.

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sg 11.13.08 at 9:14 am

notsneaky, no-one makes excuses for Germany. But they try to explain them in terms of old Empires, punitive treaties, historical movements. When it comes time to explain Japan’s actions, claims that they were encroached upon, vulnerable, subject to racism or overrun by tyranny get short shrift. The educated position on Germany is that it started a foolish and evil war of aggression as a consequence of extreme pressure; the educated position on Japan is that they are inscrutable evil orientals who tried to take over the world. I see quite a bit of that going on here.

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Troll 11.13.08 at 10:18 am

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A. Y. Mous 11.13.08 at 10:32 am

J Thomas @ 111, you hop on one leg. But now that it is post # 120, it just is a bad attempt at a bad joke.

Funny how WWII is defended and derided far more that WWI, especially by people who keep harping about knowing history. Though nice to see some changes here on CT. This did not degenerate into an Israel-Palestine thread despite a few unconscious attempts, guilty as charged. Crooked timber does on occasion manages to brings out some straight stuff. On occasions only, mind you.

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Michael Turner 11.13.08 at 11:22 am

The educated position on Germany is that it started a foolish and evil war of aggression as a consequence of extreme pressure; the educated position on Japan is that they are inscrutable evil orientals who tried to take over the world. I see quite a bit of that going on here.

If so, that’s too bad. The educated positions in Japan itself are: toward the right, that the Empire was at least a little better than the European empires; and, toward the left, that it was about the same, and . . . therefore as just as damnable as those inscrutable occidentals who tried to take over the world.

Well, OK, I made up that last part. Educated liberal/leftie Japanese are too nice to say that. Except when they are drunk, maybe. Later, we all politely pretend we don’t remember.

There are also two uneducated positions here: that the Empire rooled (shared by at least one of my wife’s older sisters), and “huh? I slept through those 15 minutes in high school” (neither of my wife’s kids, thank God.) The teacher’s union here is pretty leftwing, but the curriculum shots are called by the Education Ministry, which was turned into a kind of bureacratic refugee camp for unindicted war criminals after WW II, so they canceled each other out to a great degree.

Maybe it’s cultural Stockholm Syndrome, but years of living here and not being too sure what to think, I’m now pretty much down with the educated left-leaning Japanese view of the Empire (which is also my wife’s position, but then she votes kyosanto [commie], so duh.)

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sg 11.13.08 at 1:23 pm

Yes Michael, funnily enough, Japanese people seem to think that their own country’s aggression has historical antecedents, causes which can be examined and explained, etc. But a lot of western discussion of Japan’s actions is entirely ignorant of or refuses to accept these causative factors. The Japanese invaded the rest of Asia because they’re Japanese, seems to be the theme running through much of what we see here. Attempts to even point out the lack of parallels between these positions get turned (as notsneaky did) into an attempt to suggest moral equivalence between Japanese and US actions (I suppose notsneaky always sees that threat in anything anyone says, though).

I can’t imagine that there would be many scholars who would leave historical causes of war unexamined – or treat them unsympathetically, even – if it was America that had been forced at gunpoint to open to the world, experienced aggressive empire-building in its own back yard, had its imperial ambitions thwarted by nations which considered their own Empires to be valid and historically inevitable processes, and then suffered direct threats to its economic and military growth, all in an atmosphere of growing racist paranoia. It’s warm and fuzzy that we can be so damingly judgemental of Japanese actions, but I think it’s pretty obvious why that judgement is being cast without proper accounting for these historical factors.

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a. y. mous 11.13.08 at 3:35 pm

sg,

As I keep saying, it is because a shitload of people believe that intelligence, governance, morality, technology and philosophy was born only about 200 to 300 years ago. As one gentleman I know recently informed (quite very exasperatedly, might I add), another, who was holding a passport of a decidedly different origin, “The walls of my toilet are older than your constitution!”

It is our incompetence that we can do absofuckinlutely nothing about it. Yet. Pity.

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PHB 11.13.08 at 3:59 pm

Michael Turner : Well, yes the examples you just described could well be described as ‘neo-conservative’, but that is precisely my point, that these very ‘serious’ people are in fact tremendously shallow and their love of war comes from their deep igonorance, not their expertise.

Stupid people have started stupid wars for centuries. But ideological wars are a rather more recent invention. The wars of the middle ages and earlier were the product of naked ambition and nobody bothered to argue otherwise. Napoleon’s wars began with a thin veneer of ideology but that was pretty soon rubbed off and there was no real connection between the ideology and the war.

There is of course nothing new in ‘neo’ conservatism. It is simply a new name for some age old stupidity that needs to constantly rename itself because the results have been so disastrous in the past. The intellectual roots of the movement are to be found in a Trotskyite clique that Poheretz and Irving Kristol were members of in the 40s. When McCarthy came round they discovered that snitching on their Stalinist rivials had two benefits, allowing them to enjoy the persecution of their rivals while obtaining protection from persecution themselves.

Since then they have essentially turned out a ‘conservative’ version of Trostkyism that the Republican party was too ignorant and stupid to recognize as such. They employed entryist techniques to seize control of key party structures. And as the Republican party under Gingrich and Delay steadily became more corrupt and more engaged in ‘pay for play’ politics, the politicians were more than happy to delegate to the neocons all areas of policy that were not dictated by their donor/client’s interests.

The Republican party did not notice that Kristol, Perle and co knew absolutely nothing, they simply didn’t care, any more than they would care that their economic policy had turned into bankrupting the country by borrowing money to support economically unproductive tax cuts for their clients.

The common factors that bind the Repubican party together are hatred and ignorance. Each of the three wings of the party (race, taxes, war) has one particular set of issues that they care about to the exclusion of all others. None of the ideas was ever mainstream except within the beltway. Now that the combination adds up to less than a winning electoral coalition the party is facing a long spell in the wilderness.

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Michael Turner 11.13.08 at 4:43 pm

Good stuff, PHB, and all very original. Plus your logic is chillingly precise. Group X has trait A, Group Y has trait A, therefore Group X = Group Y. Or close enough for sales purposes.

I’ve already designed the book’s cover: there’ll be a happy face, but with circular-lens spectacles and a goatee. It’ll be called “Neoconservative Communism: The Secret History of the American Right, From Trotsky to the Politics of Neener-Neener-Neener”.

Well, I’ll probably have to change the subtitle a couple times, but you get the drift. What’s important is that it’ll be like nothing anyone has ever done before. You just wait.

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notsneaky 11.13.08 at 8:29 pm

“The educated position on Germany is that it started a foolish and evil war of aggression as a consequence of extreme pressure; the educated position on Japan is that they are inscrutable evil orientals who tried to take over the world.”

No, those are not the educated positions on either one. I don’t see it in this comments thread either despite your claims to the contrary (and admittedly I skip a lot of comments that I guess are not going to be worth reading). The educated position on Germany is that the Germans democratically elected a bloodthirsty madmen who was able to play on their nationalistic and racist prejudices which then caused them to go crazy and begin a series of belligerent conflicts. You really are acting as if there’s many people out there making excuses for Nazi Germany, but aside from the standard lunatic fringe there just aren’t

(there is a group of people who seem to have a perhaps unhealthy fascination with German military technology without any apparent ideological motivations, but then this is usually the same group of people who also seem to have a perhaps unhealthy fascination with Japanese military technology).

Now, if you’re talking about WWI then yes, in that case there is some historians (British, mostly) who make excuses for Kaiser’s Germany and don’t see it as necessarily the “bad” side in that conflict (Niall Ferguson for one).

The educated position on Japan is more or less similar. It does not blame Japanese aggression on “inscrutable evil orientalesness” or whatever – I mean for starters most of the victims of Japanese aggression were other “orientals”. The education position says that much like the Germans (and the Italians, and to lesser extent other European countries) the Japanese ended up with and, yes, acquiesced to, a military dictatorship which fed on their nationalistic and racist feelings and which sent them off on a series of aggressive conquests and wars.

Of course in both cases historians try to understand how the particular countries arrived at a point where belligerent crazies could take them over and lead them willingly on such evil, destructive and ultimately self destructive paths but finding historical reasons is different than providing excuses. I’m just not seeing this supposed differential treatment.

There may be popular works out there that fit into this scheme you propose – but I admittedly skip a lot of books which look like they’re not going to be worth reading.
But that brings up another point. So far you’ve merely made assertions and made some innuendos (“I see quite a bit of that going on here.” and “theme running through much of what we see here”) and couldn’t resist throwing in some personal slights (“I suppose notsneaky always sees that threat in anything anyone says, though” – and come on, I wasn’t even talking about US at all) but WHO exactly is it that’s saying that “Germans did it because they had no choice, the Japanese did it because they’re ‘inscrutable evil orientals'”?
Rather than just asserting that this is the way the debate is framed, can you point out WHERE such statements are being made?
And remember we’re talking about “educated opinion” here.

In other words, care to actually offer some evidence for your argument rather than just truths-by-declaration?

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PHB 11.13.08 at 8:43 pm

Michael, this is not an argument of the form ‘National Socialism has socialism in the title and thus must be the same thing’.

The argument here is that the founding fathers of neo-conservatism started out as Trotskyites, a particulary authoritarian form of communism and have developed a particularly authoritarian form of conservatism. Along the way they have swapped one incoherent and incomprehensible economic policy for another and one abstract class of purported beneficiaries ‘the proletariat’ for another ‘wealth creators’. They remain committed to transformational politics.

Accusing the political extremes of being equivalent is hardly the same thing as accusing all liberals of being fasicsts, particularly when the argument is in fact ‘the founders of group X used to be members of group Y and have only made superficial changes to their views since, supporters of group X who beleive that they are in fact anti-group Y should become less ignorant’.

What you miss about Goldberg’s book is precisely the fact that it was a work of projection. A more appoprirate title would be ‘Fascist Fascists: The Public but Unremarked History of the American Right from the Klu Klux Klan to Abu Ghraib’

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Roy Belmont 11.13.08 at 9:33 pm

…with their lives otherwise, if they would mostly have been hanged as criminals etc, then the opportunity cost of getting them killed in foreign lands would have been low.
Despite the wankish grandiosity and collegiate sarcasm that seems to lurk beneath its delivery this is a pretty common serious idea about the past.
That the hanging was being done to people who were broken into exitless poverty by invasion and injustice and subjugation to corrupt authority and the workings of corrupt economy doesn’t enter into it. Though it should, to be morally complete.
As long as the absence of beauty in the world is balanced by the absence of anyone moved by beauty, there can be no loss. By that two-dimensional reasoning.
Following these flat logical/moral chains back to their origins we find only creation myths and self-justifying fantasies, no more no less.
Coming back to the present again we find all “civilized” moral systems, including those on display here, derived from these foundational documents of hot air and imaginary beings. Meaning they have no substance, in the broadest sense.
And also we find highly articulate sufferers from socially-productive autism-like syndromes that have moved along the gene-flow for some time now unimpeded because they display strengthening attributes and, like a tendency to go off in frightening tantrums when thwarted, unimpeded and unchecked these syndromes confer immediate survival advantages on those who suffer from them.
Or, to be more succinct, selfish people will justify whatever gets them what they want, including keeping what they have no matter how it was obtained.
And most of the witnesses, those who didn’t compromise with the atrocities and heinous campaigns of subjugation of the past, were themselves silenced as victims.

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J Thomas 11.14.08 at 12:56 am

“…with their lives otherwise, if they would mostly have been hanged as criminals etc, then the opportunity cost of getting them killed in foreign lands would have been low.”

Despite the wankish grandiosity and collegiate sarcasm that seems to lurk beneath its delivery this is a pretty common serious idea about the past.
That the hanging was being done to people who were broken into exitless poverty by invasion and injustice and subjugation to corrupt authority and the workings of corrupt economy doesn’t enter into it. Though it should, to be morally complete.

Agreed.

But I believe my point stands, morality aside. The other guy claimed there was a tremendous opportunity cost — that the british human beings whose lives were wasted creating the empire might otherwise have created tremendous wealth by their sheer labor, and the labor of their unborn children and grandchildren and so on.

And I say that opportunity cost is a might-have-been. If there was a way for those people to create fantastic wealth, but the british society was not capable of going down that way, then the relevant opportunity cost is the improvement they’d have gotten if they’d done the alternative they would actually have done. If the alternative to empire was to waste those lives at home, then the empire didn’t cost so much after all.

But of course we don’t know what alternatives were possible. Maybe no alternative was possible, and the actual thrust of events was inevitable. Maybe there was room for a better past than I can imagine. It’s an experiment with one replication and no control group.

It’s often fun to imagine what the world would have to be like if things were different.

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J Thomas 11.14.08 at 2:19 am

When it comes time to explain Japan’s actions, claims that they were encroached upon, vulnerable, subject to racism or overrun by tyranny get short shrift.

Well, first there’s the question why did they wind up with basicly a military dictatorship with censorship and something even worse than a Patriot Act.

And my answer is that can happen to anybody, there’s no special explanation required. Let’s do what we can to keep it from happening to us.

Second, there’s the question why the military dictatorship didn’t surrender to us ahead of time instead of trying to fight a war. As it turned out, their logistics failed. It should have been predictable that their logistics would fail. Our submarines successfully disrupted their shipping. Their factories in japan couldn’t get enough raw materials and their population couldn’t get enough food. Their armies in china and various islands etc couldn’t get enough supplies of any needed kind. Even if the submarines hadn’t worked, the japanese system couldn’t produce enough stuff to stop us, at their best. Even if our bombing had been ineffective. Even if we didn’t have their codes. They didn’t have enough stuff to maintain their war effort, and they knew it. Why fight a doomed war?

We can ask the same question about the american south. The confederacy couldn’t possibly stand up against the union. They didn’t have enough ironworks. They couldn’t make enough gunpowder. They didn’t have enough credit with foreign nations, and couldn’t protect their shipping against blockade anyway. Their population was too small, and in theory they needed to keep too much of their armed soldiers pinned down preventing slave revolts. Why did they even try to fight, knowing they must lose?

And for that one I have an answer. They hoped the Union would give up and accept secession rather than apply its full strength.

But why did they keep fighting after it became obvious they’d failed? Why did they keep fighting as long and as hard as they could, until they just plain couldn’t keep going any longer?

My guess is that the primary reason is the union did nothing to persuade them that they’d be better off to surrender than to keep fighting a hopeless cause. Suppose that Jefferson Davis could have persuaded the central confederate government (and most states) to unconditionally surrender in january 1864. Then the union might hang him, just as they might if he fought longer.

And of course in a losing war, there’s always the thought that some miracle might happen. If you give up today then all the losses so far were for nothing. Maybe next week or next month something will happen that will provide some sort of value for the whole sorry mess. I’ve heard that argument within the last year for iraq. And the miracle came through in iraq. We made a separate peace with our sunni enemies, they agreed to attack the mythical al qaeda in iraq for us and in return we would give them arms and training and stop patrolling their land. And we were able to put enough troops in Baghdad to lock it down and mostly stop the publicised violence there. Victory!

Try this analogy — when you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, at what point do you decide to just give up and commit suicide instead of live with it one more day?

Before a war there might be ways to persuade the doomed side to give up without a fight. Or to give up before the bitter end. Demanding unconditional surrender is not usually one of them.

But then, there might be legitimate policy reasons to want to bleed the enemy as much as possible before they surrender. The way I heard the story, before the iraq war the US government was required to negotiate with the iraqi government. And so they set surrender terms that the iraqis were sure to reject. For example, Saddam and his sons were required to go into exile, into confinement by their enemies. But Saddam started talking like he was about to accept the conditions. So the US government had to come up with harsher more stringent conditions to make sure the iraqis didn’t surrender before we could bomb them. When the intention is to delay the enemy’s surrender until you can kill the maximum number of them, it’s silly to look for ways to end the war quicker.

Was that our intention with japan? if you look at what we did rather than what we said, doesn’t it look that way?

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Roy Belmont 11.14.08 at 3:11 am

Maybe there was room for a better past than I can imagine
That there’s the diffrence between an irrational pathological condition that’s unaware of its own symptoms, and one that is. Aware of its symptoms, as they’re expressed.
Because of how the words go, when you don’t filter them through all that learned rationality.
When you get spontaneous, in other words, you sound more insane in direct proportion to how spontaneous you get. When you have that condition.
Oh yes just maybe, just very much maybe there just might have been a better past than you, with your great and magnificent intelligence and perspicuity, might imagine.
Even now with all your accumulated knowledge and so forth.
Given time constraints and all those books you would have had to digest in addition to the volumes required by professional duty, to get to imagining real good.

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Michael Turner 11.14.08 at 5:22 am

The argument here is that the founding fathers of neo-conservatism started out as Trotskyites, a particulary authoritarian form of communism and have developed a particularly authoritarian form of conservatism. Along the way they have swapped one incoherent and incomprehensible economic policy for another and one abstract class of purported beneficiaries ‘the proletariat’ for another ‘wealth creators’. They remain committed to transformational politics.

Not one word there, though, about some doctrine of preventive/preemptive war. Which is where we started: that people who believe in that are neo-conservatives, somehow. What, you forgot already?

Are you saying that any group of authoritarians who change from one “incoherent” ideology and “abstract” class loyalty to another, while remaining committed to “transformational politics”, is “neo-conservative”? Or only if they go from Left to Right? Why that directional bias, if so? And again, where does this preemptive war doctrine necessarily fit in? Favoring preemptive war doesn’t seem to guarantee automatic membership in the neocons. I distinctly remember Paul Bremer being asked if he was a neocon, and his response: “No, I’m a con-con.”

You seem to have arrived at this discussion with your definitions not very neatly packed.

Y’know, sometimes when there’s a group of people in politics you just don’t like, and you want to express your contempt, instead of stretching for epic historical parallels for their shortcomings, you call them “a bunch of flaming asshats” or something. Go ahead. It feels good, doesn’t it? Best part: your bowel movements become much smoother. Works for me, anyway. Well, really, the best part is a kind of vocabulary reset: you get back in touch with the use of shorter words to say what you mean, you start feeling like George Orwell wouldn’t have found you too insufferably pompous to share a park bench with, in Paris or London, or on the road to Wigan Pier. From then on, you can start bringing logic back into it.

Say it: “The neo-cons are a bunch of flaming asshats!”

See? When was the last time you breathed so easily?

Everybody will understand that you’re just angry or disgusted, and not trying to be precise or analytical. Why, I remember saying Paul Wolfowitz was an idiot. Many times. Even while fully cognizant that, by almost any accepted measure of intelligence (academic achievement, IQ, citation index, number of times he’s been invited onto wonky talk shows where they don’t shout at each other, or not very much anyway), he’s more intelligent than I am. Then again, I’m a moron, and if I’m not mistaken, morons have lower IQs than idiots, precisely speaking. But at least I’m not a cretin. I think they were lowest on that scale I saw once in an old psych textbook.

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Doctor Slack 11.14.08 at 7:04 am

Lex: “You want a quick bit of profound insight?”

I would love some, but I sure won’t be getting it from watching you tear down ultra-pacifist swords-into-ploughshares strawmen that have nothing to do with Quiggin’s post., now will I?

“The question is, given that human societies have had that formulation held up before them at least since the time of the Buddha, and have failed to do anything much about using it as a guide to practice”

Actually, history is littered with any number of examples of unnecessary, futile conflicts that could have happened, but didn’t, because cooler heads and an appreciation of the destructiveness of war prevailed. The question is, how many such wars were averted by vapid twits prattling about how useless it is to state that war is bad? And the answer to that question is, probably none.

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virgil xenophon 11.14.08 at 9:48 am

Well, Doctor Slack, it seems to me that the question of whether war is “bad” or “futile”(aside from the obvious fact it doesn’t do much for the dead and maimed) depends on which analytical level one chooses to examine. For the victorious survivors it can bring all sorts of good things–freedom, land, increased material wealth, etc. And while people like Seymour Melman have argued quite cogently that war and large peacetime standing armies is/are a drag on economic prosperity in terms of opportunity costs (see “Pentagon Capitalism” 1971) there is also a strong argument that war spurs technological advances that might never have happened at all or at best decades later and which ooze into the civilian economy. (The microwave oven, for example, was invented by the Germans in WWII as a better way to more expeditiously cook food in Army field kitchens.) And that these advances spur economic growth and bring vast material improvements to peoples lives that never would have happened otherwise.

And while Quiggin is quite right, I think, in his characterization of the bloody affair between Russia and Georgia, it is much easier to see in retrospect. Sometimes things are not so clear on the front end. Was not THE central lesson taken away by all parties from WWII that they agreed the Allies should have forcefully opposed by military means Hitler’s re-occupation of the Rhineland? Sometimes things don’t look so “futile” on the front end–especially when one is trying to keep a small problem from getting bigger.

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J Thomas 11.14.08 at 11:27 am

You want a quick bit of profound insight? try this: it’s a prisoner’s dilemma. We can all agree, in theory, that if everyone disarmed, everyone would be better off. But if almost everyone disarms, and someone doesn’t, everyone else is screwed. The only way to deflect the risk of a ‘cheater’ is to actually stay armed. It’s not nice, it’s not fair, but it is true.

Wait, you assert it’s true. I say it sounds plausible, but we may not have gotten to true yet.

Is it always true? Consider the last time the russians invaded czechoslovakia. They told their troops that a bunch of counterrevolutionaries had taken over czechoslovakia and they had to root them out. The czech army put up essentially no resistance, and they set up an occupation. And then a bunch of czech girls started inviting russian boys on picnics, and they told them there weren’t any counterrevolutionaries, they just wanted to do communism right and the whole country wanted it. The russian armies involved got so dispirited it took a tour at the china border protecting the motherland from the chinese hordes before they could be allowed to talk about it.

Most modern armies are plagued by idealists who care about what it all means. If you tell them a story and then act contrary to it, they get upset and cause trouble. Czechoslovakia didn’t win, but they came a lot closer than they could have by fighting.

It makes a difference if you want the native population to survive. If you want to exterminate an unarmed population, you can do it provided you have sufficient dedicated killers. If you want them to work smoothly for you, it’s harder. The more people you need that interact with them, the more chances for them to get their story across.

Well, what about places where they think it’s right to kill unarmed civilians to create lebensraum or to encourage the rest? Lots of places, the army just wouldn’t do that. It takes a special kind of person to continue to kill the harmless just because you’re ordered to. There aren’t that many places like that left.

Most of the places they do that, they don’t have ambitions to rule the world. Israel wants at most their original god-given borders, and maybe some land with oil. Serbia only wants the land serbs are from, plus land serbs have now. The mongols have gone from ruling china etc to just wanting their independence. The USA however has the overt goal of preventing bad things from happening all over the world.

When bad things happen anywhere in the world, we debate whether we should kill people to make the bad things stop. The US public mostly supports the idea to stop bad people from doing bad things anywhere, by killing them. There is a big difference between this and ruling the world. We don’t want to make everybody do what we say by killing them if they don’t. We only want to make people stop doing what we say to stop doing.

We are in a prisoner’s dilemma with the world. If we aren’t stronger than the rest of the world put together, then the rest of the world will be stronger than us. They might band together to hurt us. We can’t take the chance. We have to be stronger than them.

Somehow this particular prisoner’s dilemma sounds crazier than it did the way you said it. At least to me.

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virgil xenophon 11.14.08 at 3:56 pm

J Thomas

It was no less than Il Duce himself who declared that world disarmament was impossible “because for everybody to do it at the same time is impossible, and no one wants to go first.” A pretty realistic appraisal, I’d say.

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matt mckeon 11.14.08 at 9:38 pm

As far as the American Civil War is concerned, there was a conference in 1864 between Union and Confederate commissioners over ending the war. It floundered(in part) because there was no common ground between the two sides. Lincoln wanted an end to slavery and the seceded states back into the Federal Union, and Jefferson Davis wanted to preserve slavery and have an independent Southern Confederacy. These are mutually exclusive aims. One side would have to win, and one side would have to lose.

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J Thomas 11.14.08 at 11:00 pm

Virgil, yes. But it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach.

For example, the USA had spent much less than we needed before WWII, to prepare for WWII. The navy was in adequate shape but the army wound up doing training with WWI rifles and pretend artillery because they just didn’t have enough actual weapons ready. Our relative disarmament didn’t actually make much difference, as it turned out. We were still strong enough to invade mexico failing to find Pancho Villa, and we re-armed quick enough to win WWII.

Switzerland did and does use a strategy of staying strong enough to make invasion not worth it, while keeping essentially no offensive capability. If switzerland were to build an army capable of attacking france, or germany, or even italy, their neighbors would wonder what was going on. It’s partly that switzerland has natural defenses, but that’s only a part.

In WWII part of their safety came from selling ball bearings and precision optics to germany, and the germans knew if they succeeded in taking switzerland those factories would be sabotaged. They had more to lose than to gain by invasion.

But also the swiss set up their military for defense. They didn’t create the logistics to run big campaigns far from home. They arranged for their units to travel fast and hide well — within switzerland. Their military might do its job very well, nobody can be sure until they get invaded, but it’s a limited job. Make invaders pay. Nothing there about winning the war and taking over the invading nation.

Albania also tried that approach. Surrounded by enemies that they could not defeat but who were probably not going to invade them, the albanians poured a whole lot of concrete into pillboxes. Strictly defensive. Not even great defense. But it used concrete which they had plenty of, more than steel or engineering talent which were both in shorter supply.

When two nations that aren’t getting along compete to build armies that can invade each other, it’s called an arms race. When it becomes clear that one of them is winning then the other has a stark choice — attack now or get resigned to eventual defeat. There’ll never be a better chance. Germany was losing the arms race when they attacked russia. Japan was losing when they attacked the USA.

If you don’t actually want to invade anybody, and if your technology and terrain allow it, it can be good to prepare for a defensive war. It’s likely to be cheaper. It doesn’t scare your neighbors. You get to be first and they might respond by reducing their militaries too.

On the other hand, when you negotiate you have a weaker hand. They can invade you and maybe wreck a lot of stuff even if they lose in the end. Your aim is deterrence and they may not be deterred. Plus you wind up with a military that doesn’t invade other nations for you. If what you want is to win wars and get unconditional surrenders and do whatever you like to the losers, that approach won’t get it.

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J Thomas 11.14.08 at 11:38 pm

Thank you, Matt. So Davis was unwilling to accept defeat on the big issues, and so he got nothing on the small issues either. There’s nothing the winners can do if the losers refuse to compromise, except to win and impose terms.

It deserves a solid attempt, unless the victor wants the war to continue as long as possible.

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PHB 11.15.08 at 4:27 am

Michael,

OK, it seems to me that we are closer than you think here.

My meta-argument here is that the neo-cons are not the serious people they purport to be and in fact the real problem here is that they really haven’t thought very hard about reality at all. Instead they are the type of pseudo-experts who use a bunch of invented bullshit-jargon to fool others into thinking they are experts.

So, no, it is not worth spending a great deal of time unpacking their nonsense, any more that it is worth reading much Freud’s stuff or Yung or for that matter Lenin if your objective is to find useful information on the subjects they were talking about. Yes, fine to read them if you are interested in looking at who they influenced or to find out about them.

What I meant by calling WWI the first neo-con war is that it was the first war that was caused by their particular brand of thinking: shoot first, ignore the possibility of consequences.

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virgil xenophon 11.15.08 at 9:29 am

J Thomas

See, it’s the point you made (and which I have made elsewhere over at Winds of Change) about “now or never” mindsets of national leaders with limited assets facing larger and more dynamic societies that I worry about in re Iran and China. Just like Japan and, to a lesser extent, Germany, I fear the religious zealots actually in control in Iran will, seeing the inevitable desire of the under twenty-five crowd (now almost one-third to one half of Iran’s population, I believe) for western lifestyles, (zealots perhaps, but not stupid–they know a trend when they see it) come to believe they are on the inevitable glide-slope to losing ultimate control and elect a “now or never” approach.

The same for China. Already one faction of the party (significant because it WAS NOT
made by the even more normally bellicose Army) is on record as saying in a “then what will become of us?” article that it would be worth it to accept 600 million casualties in a nuclear war with America if it meant the obliteration of the majority of our 300 million. Otherwise, the article went on, slowly but surely the party would lose it’s grip to the materialism of capitalism. Articles such as this one exhibit much of the same attitude as old Imperial Rome held versus merchant-trader/mercantilist Carthage. I am afraid that just as Rome thought it could not afford to co-exist with a dynamic society like Carthage, China will eventually draw the same conclusion about the US.

Such attitudes as are held by those who are willing to risk a win or extinction strategy
are like those of the famous Mr. Toad of Toad Hall in “The Wind in the Willows.” When arrested after his “wild ride” occasioned by stealing a shiny motor-car and going joy-riding, and facing a long, long sentence, he declaimed: ” It is the end of the world! Or at least it is the end of Toad, which amounts to the same thing for me.”

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Michael Turner 11.15.08 at 9:52 am

The same for China. Already one faction of the party (significant because it WAS NOT
made by the even more normally bellicose Army) is on record as saying in a “then what will become of us?” article that it would be worth it to accept 600 million casualties in a nuclear war with America if it meant the obliteration of the majority of our 300 million.

Ah, the smell of VX gas in the morning . . . I’m about 99% sure that if any such article exists, it doesn’t say what virgil now vaguely remembers it said. Why has the U.S. military been engaging in observer exchanges with a Red Army that’s “normally” so “bellicose” as to sign up to such views, I wonder? “On record”, virgil? Where, exactly?

I believe there was a time when Mao et al. promoted larger families on the assumption that national survival of nuclear war was a matter of population size. But that was then. (Assuming it was even then. Now, I’m wondering. It’s the effects of VX gas.)

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J Thomas 11.15.08 at 11:53 am

….“now or never” mindsets of national leaders with limited assets facing larger and more dynamic societies that I worry about in re Iran and China.

China is the larger and more dynamic society. But we can hope they don’t think they need a nuclear war with us.

Iran doesn’t have to attack first unless they believe we’re going to attack them. Even then, the disparity in strength is too big. They know they can’t win a war with us, so they have to persuade us not to attack. A nuclear deterrent might scare us, but it’s risky because it scares us too much — we might persuade ourselves they’d commit national suicide by trying to nuke us, and that might get us to attack.

They claim they aren’t trying to get a nuke. It’s rational for them not to, though it’s also rational for them to claim they aren’t if they are. But their cover story actually makes good sense. They really are heading to run out of oil in 20 years or so, and it didn’t make sense for them to burn oil that they could get $100/barrel for, to make their electricity. To have a functioning nuclear power grid in 20 years they need to start now. And they need to hide their nuclear sites from us because we’re likely to bomb them.

Their supreme religious leader has told them not to make nuclear weapons. We say their government is controlled by that guy, who gets his temporal authority from people who believe he’s pious. We don’t have a good western analogy to that, but what would happen if the Pope told the world that it’s the purest evil to make nukes, and then the Vatican made nukes? He controls the iranian government because people believe in him, he tells the iranian government not to make nukes, the iranian government makes nukes. You can have it both ways, but you have to work at it.

I can’t really see the iranians being scared enough of us to attack until after we finish collapsing and are on the way back up. Likewise china.

Be careful about disinformation. Would a chinese communist authority publish a paper that said the chinese communist party will inevitably lose market share unless they get into a nuclear war? Wouldn’t that be like a prominent GOP party source saying publicly that the GOP is doomed forever unless we start a war with china? Prominent GOP hacks would never say in public that the GOP is doomed. It’s suspect that a prominent chinese communist would say that.

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virgil xenophon 11.15.08 at 6:51 pm

J Thomas

The question that was always posed by those seeking to divine the intentions of the old Soviet Union was to ask to what extent was the leadership cadre captives of it’s own ideology insofar as it’s impact on foreign policy decision-making as opposed to traditional nationalistic power considerations dictated by geography and history. To my mind, the classic (and best) answer was given by Jim Schlessinger when he replied to this question on one Sunday morning talk show by saying: “Well, it’s (Communist ideology) not everything, but it’s not nothing either.”

My worry in the case of Iran is the extent to which those in control who hew to the apocalyptic view of the desirability of bringing forth the return of the “twelfth Imam,” seeing control slipping away will think, like Mr. Toad, that the end of them and the end of the world are all one and the same–so why not? If the fall of the old Soviet Union and our access to hitherto unreachable records teach any lessons at all,
it is the revelation that many in power there were more truly insane and dellusional than even the West’s worst critics had imagined–and that there was a significant faction that would have been all too willing to initiate a nuclear war to further these delusions.

Likewise, China, although having a leadership cadre seemingly measurably more
resistant to unreality, (and, unlike the case in Iran, certainly free from religious ideations) has demonstrated at times the extent to which it’s bedrock belief in it’s own ideology might cause elements in it’s leadership cadre to think about, and risk the “unthinkable” if they truly believed that ultimate control was irrevocably slipping away. Of course none of these things are necessairly inevitable, or even currently highly probable, but the catastrophic consequences that would result from the realization of such fears as outlined are enough I would think, to seriously worry about, and include in our thought processes as something to be alert to the possibility of, and guard against. As to what policies, if followed, would obviate the
possibility of these fears becoming reality? That is a question for another time, but
it is enough to say that such fears should not be dismissed out of hand. People that think in the way I have described really do exist–many of them with their hands near the levers of power. People minimized the extent to which Hitler was truly dangerous also–the same with Stalin (“I’ve seen the future and it works!”) and
whistling past the grave-yard about the dangers of psychopaths in China and Iran
as something to be ignored in a world now grown too sophisticated, cosmopolitan and “connected” for such things is something only intellectuals can possibly believe in–as Orwell would have reminded us.

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John Quiggin 11.15.08 at 11:03 pm

If the fall of the old Soviet Union and our access to hitherto unreachable records teach any lessons at all, it is the revelation that many in power there were more truly insane and dellusional than even the West’s worst critics had imagined—and that there was a significant faction that would have been all too willing to initiate a nuclear war to further these delusions.

Do you have some links for this? I don’t think I’ve seen this claim made before, and the Soviet records of the Cuban missile crisis seem to show pretty much the opposite.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0393317900/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books

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J Thomas 11.15.08 at 11:59 pm

Virgil, it may be that the reason I’ve seen far more of that thinking in the USA than elsewhere is that I’ve seen far more source material from the USA. But still….

“Shoot your own dog.”

We have enough psychopaths in this country to protect against, it’s too much of a stretch to protect against psychopaths all over the world.

Let’s first eliminate the danger that crazy government officials in the USA start a nuclear war, and then after that’s settled we can spare the attention to the similar dangers from foreign nations. If you remember, the last time we publicly threatened to nuke a foreign nation was in 2003. Let’s go to at least 2013 without another nuclear threat from us, before we attack a hypothetical future threat.

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virgil xenophon 11.16.08 at 1:34 am

John Quiggin:

You’re certainly right about the Cuban Crisis, although the Soviets HAD to know that the shootdown of one of our reconnaissance aircraft during the stand-off would be interpreted as a provocation and thus in this single instance at least one could accuse them of risky and irresponsible behavior–although I chalk that up to the “10%” in any bureaucracy who “never get the word,” just as American naval forces were forcing Soviet subs to the surface despite Kennedy and McNamera issuing orders not to. No, what I am talking about are those who actually thought that a nuclear war could be fought and “won.” There is a considerable literature and Soviet documents that indicate that many in the Soviet military never bought into the entire concept of MAD and that the only thing that constrained them was the belief that, given our range of weapons systems and distribution of forces in conjunction with our allies–they might actually “loose.” Remember after the fall of the wall, findings in East Germany revealed that they had thousands of street signs pre-manufactured with new street names for W. Berlin and tens of thousands of campaign medals struck off to award to those participating the victorious “liberation” of Europe. Only people totally removed from the realities of nuclear war would go to the trouble of doing such things. I would note that no such counterpart anticipatory medals or street signs for a post-nuclear conquered Soviet Union have ever existed in the West……

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J Thomas 11.16.08 at 2:19 am

There is a considerable literature and Soviet documents that indicate that many in the Soviet military never bought into the entire concept of MAD and that the only thing that constrained them was the belief that, given our range of weapons systems and distribution of forces in conjunction with our allies—they might actually “loose.”

Virgil, what you describe is precisely MAD in action. They don’t have to buy into the entire MAD concept. They only have to be deterred.

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virgil xenophon 11.16.08 at 2:33 am

J Thomas

As an ex-USAF type who sat on top of nuclear weapons for a living from time to time while on alert in England in the late sixties and early seventies I can attest from personal experience that from our end we were far more worried that, due to multiple checks and redundancies in the command structure, we would never get the “GO CODE” in time before a Soviet SS#20 came stumbling by. And all this even if things worked as advertised–which they rarely do–even within our own command structure.

I would also point out that while during the Cold War many, many unarmed reconnaissance aircraft of ours were shot down with great loss of life by both the Soviets and the PRC, not once was a Soviet or Chinese reconnaissance aircraft downed by gunfire by the Western powers–let alone with loss of life. It was the North Koreans who violated international law and in a technical act of war seized a US naval vessel in international waters by armed assault with loss of life, not the other way round. And I would remind you that it was the Soviets who rejected Eisenhower’s “Open Skies” confidence-building proposal of mutual reconnaissance flights–not the other way round. I think you’re looking for psychopaths in all the wrong places……

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John Quiggin 11.16.08 at 3:08 am

Virgil, are you saying that Soviet/PRC reconnaissance flights freely operated over the US (or Western Europe for that matter) in the Cold War period, and that the US refrained from shooting them down because they were unarmed? As with Cuba, that’s not my recollection. My impression was that there was no parallel to (for example) the 1960 U2 incident because there were no similar flights by the Russians.

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virgil xenophon 11.16.08 at 3:12 am

J Thomas

MAD was designed by McNamera around what he(McNamera) thought would deter HIM, if he were a Soviet. It posited a force sufficient to cause a 25% attrition of the Soviet Armed forces, industrial capacity and population, respectively. Only problem with that is that while that might be enough to deter McNamera, would it have indeed deterred the Soviets? History provides a guide here. In order to preserve the Communist party Lenin, at the treaty of Brest-Litovisk, gave away 98% of Russia’s steel mills, 89%of her working coal mines, and 20% of her most educated and productive population. So what would give one confidence that a loss of 25% of ANYTHING would deter committed ideologues? And conversations with Russian bureaucrats “in the know”
post collapse of the SU seemed to confirm that MAD was not a limiting factor.

Remember, the concept upon which MAD was based required a destruction of national muscle and bone sufficient to deter even a side with distinct superiority of weapons at any given time because of the shock of unacceptable losses even in victory. In short, the beauty of MAD from McNamera’s point of view was that it allowed for aysmetrical force postures which meant that, beyond a certain point, the US did not have to compete in the arms race, saving pressure on the budget. Kissinger’s desperate SALT efforts were a recognition that the Soviets did not buy into the logic of MAD and that only by keeping the opposing forces at relative parity could the Soviets be deterred. SALT was a tacit recognition that MAD was a failed concept unrecognized/honored by the Soviets.

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virgil xenophon 11.16.08 at 3:32 am

John Quiggin

No, I am talking about those intelligence reconnaissance flights by both sides that took place in international airspace, as exampled by the Navy P-3 Orion ELINT aircraft downed by the PRC, (the latest such affair) not U-2 flights nor earlier RB-47 SAC flights which Curt “Bombs Away With Curt Lemay” Lemay had flown over the length and width of the SU in the early fifties because the SU was incapable of shooting them down with the weapons they then had.

As for the Cuban crisis, I am not at home now with access to my personal library, but I believe you will find in Graham Allison’s seminal work “The Cuban Missile Crisis” that he mentions an RF-101 Voodoo pilot who was downed and killed during a reconnissance run over Cuba at the hight–even provides his picture. Was a Major, I believe…..

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J Thomas 11.16.08 at 5:06 am

Virgil, you can say that the soviets were not deterred by MAD, and yet every time we threatened them with nuclear war they backed down.

Your recent posts to me read like a series of non sequiturs. Sure, israel and north korea attacked mostly-unarmed US spy ships, leading us to stop sending them in unprotected. The USSR was weak and they knew it; they didn’t want us to know where all their stuff was all the time. I sure don’t see how Brest-Litovsk compares. The bolsheviks agreed to give up stuff which they reasonably promptly got back. It was a controversial move that got them breathing time they needed. But after something is nuked you don’t get it back. Different context entirely.

SALT was a recognition that we had kept increasing our nuclear force by default, without any thought to how big it needed to be, and we got ourselves a face-saving method to quit. Note that after SALT the USSR was still deterred. We couldn’t quit building new nukes unless the USSR quit too, or else another politician would try Kennedy’s ruse and claim there was a missile gap.

I claim that MAD succeeded in preventing world war between the Warsaw Pact versus NATO etc. While you seem to be saying tht it failed to do so. I’m really not sure how to proceed here.

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virgil xenophon 11.16.08 at 1:33 pm

J Thomas

(Sorry to have delayed, computer crash.)

“They didn’t want us to know where their stuff was all the time.”

So this is an excuse to provocatively shoot-down unarmed aircraft in Int. airspace in defiance of Int. Law causing the death of US aircrews? Is your statement to be taken as condoning that?

As to MAD, it always was a Chimera mis-understood by the public and even elements in our own government and certainly never totally accepted by all elements in the SU.
Remember, it was based on the concept that one didn’t need to maintain parity in the arms race–one only had to maintain forces under this concept sufficient to inflict “unacceptable” damage to the muscle and sinuews of the Soviet Union even despite a first strike by the Soviet Union that would have left them “victorious” by anyone’s standards–thus deterring even a nominally superior force. This concept had the advantage of letting the US run a slower pace in the arms race rather than respond to the demands of “keeping up” in automatic response to the logic of the functional equivalent of a set of quadratic equations, thus reducing budgetary pressures, which is why it so appealed to bean-counter ex Ford accountant McNamera–which is why he pushed it. Unfortunately there is little evidence that the SU ever bought into Mac’s logic.(which as I’ve said was 25% damage across the board)

Rather, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the SU was much more impressed by the existence of a robust US force roughly equal in capabilities to it’s own and the possibility that in any war with the US it might actually “lose.” Most students of the Soviets now coming to realize that they were willing to accept almost ANY level of casualties as long as they “won,” Brute force, not nuanced, sophisticated deterrence theory about the utility of various aspects of asymmetrical defense postures kept the Soviets at bay. MAD receives undue credit. Our force posture never approached the sort of configuration the logic of MAD called for at any rate. And the SALT treaties were an attempt by Kissinger to lock in parity before a war weary Congress refused to fund at a level capable of keeping up with the SU as they pulled away from us and gained the upper hand.

And it does no good to say that the arms race was useless in that both sides had more than enough weaponry to destroy each other at much lower levels. The point is, the Soviets believed that “size matters” and what we are talking about is deterrence seen in the psychological eye of the beholder. It is the psychological meilleur that counts. If the only thing that’s stopping one’s opponent from pushing the nuclear trigger is the belief that wearing a garlic clove around one’s neck protects from nuclear blasts then everybody damn well better be wearing fresh garlic cloves. The important thing was what actually deterred the Soviet mind, not what McNamera thought “ought” to deter them. And the overwhelming evidence indicates that brute force alone deterred them;
the niceties of the logic of MAD being lost on them. MAD was simply a dubious concept we glommed onto because it was catchy and a seemingly an attractive way out of the tread-mill to oblivion of the arms race. Thus we labeled everything we did as being in keeping with the precepts of MAD whether it was or not–which thankfully it wasn’t.

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J Thomas 11.16.08 at 2:53 pm

Virgil, I suspect that you and I are simply ideologically incompatible on this topic.

Note that britain, france, china, india, and pakistan all depend on MAD and none of them has been bombed yet. Only the USA, russia, and israel attempt large numbers of nukes, and they haven’t been bombed yet either.

Note that the whole idea that iraq or iran mustn’t be allowed to get one single nuke is that MAD is completely effective on us. We are not willing to attack a nation that can destroy part of a single US city.

Note that the russians were considering a preventive attack on china, and perhaps it was us that persuaded them not to, and pretty soon china had enough nukes that the USSR negotiated a more-or-less peace with them rather than fight.

I have a suspicion that you have confused a part of the MAD idea. If some enemy were to nuke us and destroy a quarter of the USA, would we surrender? No, we’d hit them back as hard as we could. But if we saw a chance to completely destroy an enemy and lose only 1/4 of the USA in return, would we do it? Absolutely not. We only invade foreign countries when it looks like a cakewalk. And the same with the USSR and russia. If we attacked them they’d fight back until they couldn’t fight any longer. But would they attack us? No. They never did.

Our conventional forces in europe were never adequate to stop a Warsaw pact advance, until toward the end. We had the idea we’d fall back and make them take unacceptable losses. And we said we’d use tactical nukes, and their own doctrine said that any use of nukes would inevitably escalate to total nuclear war. Even though they probably could have reached the west atlantic coast, the russians never attacked. Maybe they just didn’t want to? However the details went, they didn’t think the rewards were worth the cost.

And it does no good to say that the arms race was useless in that both sides had more than enough weaponry to destroy each other at much lower levels. The point is, the Soviets believed that “size matters” and what we are talking about is deterrence seen in the psychological eye of the beholder.

Well, we had so many nukes that we ran out of targets, we were reduced to targetting *crossroads*. We had a collection of military contractors whose prosperity required that we continue spending enough to increase our nuclear arsenal. And the doctrine was that it didn’t matter how utterly we destroyed the USSR while they destroyed us, what mattered was only what we thought the russians thought. Sweet. And if we cut back on new nukes all by our lonesome then it would become a campaign issue. “The incumbent let us get another missile gap!” What really mattered was what US voters thought.

But in reality, it truly didn’t matter whether we destroyed every isolated railroad bridge in russia, along with all their cities and towns and rail yards. We did have enough stuff there for MAD to work. If you want to say that MAD doctrine called for us to stop making nukes at a tenth or a twentieth or a fiftieth of the level and we didn’t, OK, no problem. There was an unknown chance that MAD would not have worked, that what we did might not have worked. If the wrong russians were convinced it was OK to lose 25% of everything, they might just as easily get convinced they have saboteurs in the USA who have disabled all our missiles and they can attack at will. If they were willing to pay some private group in the USA to do that, is there a chance they’d find one who’d try to convince them it was done? You bet.

When you get right down to it, if you don’t want your cities destroyed there’s no substitute for peace.

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virgil xenophon 11.16.08 at 8:55 pm

J Thomas

One bit of ephemera before my reply: If you think targeting rural crossroads was bad,
we also–at the request of the Army–targeted large forests as potential “staging areas”
for hidden Warsaw Pact tank formations, We in the Air Force used to sarcastically refer to these targets as “tree blow-downs.”

(A technical point: In order to assure high-value targets had a 90+ percent kill probability it was often necessary to target multiple weapons to insure this, given Soviet defenses, equipment malfunctions and the inaccuracy of missiles. The Battle-Management Ballistic Missile radar near Moscow was targeted with NINETY-FOUR (94) warheads. One of the targets I used to sit–a Polish military airfield–had four weapons programmed. A Pershing missile, was first, a West German F-104 was second, I was third 4 minutes behind him and an F-111 from another base in England was 4 minutes right behind me.)

On the matter of MAD, you are confusing “Defense” with “”Deterrence.” Defense is what you do when deterrence fails–and the sort of weapons posture necessary for defense is not necessairly the one needed for deterrence. Our bone of contention is that I am of the opinion (and I think the literature supports me on this) that if the Soviets thought they could have launched a “winning” first-strike that would have cost them “only” 25% of their population, they would have. Remember, it depends on WHICH 25% would have been lost, the nomenklatura or the Turkmanians. In an article in the Atlantic Monthly well over a decade ago Ziebnew Brzenehski is quoted, upon receiving an initial briefing on US SIOP warplans as Carter’s new National Security Advisor as saying: “But where are the plans to kill the Russians?” When an agast briefer replied that the plans he had just briefed would kill hundreds of millions ZB cut him off by saying that no, the briefer didn’t understand. The Soviet leadership didn’t give a damn about how many Tashkentians died, it was the Great White Russians that comprised the original heart of Russia and from whence the leadership cadres came from that were the only thing the Soviet leaders cared about protecting. Deterrence would only be had if the Soviet leaders knew that they would be PERSONALLY targeted and that they would be the first to perish.

And, btw, we DID cut back on the nukes “all on our lonesome ” during the Carter years. Only problem was the SU didn’t follow suit and Carter’s last defense budget showed an increase reversing three budget reductions. As his SECDEF Harold Brown is on the record as saying in explaining the budget increases: “When we build, they build; when we don’t build, they STILL build.”

Deterrence works–MAD doesn’t.

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J Thomas 11.17.08 at 12:54 am

Our bone of contention is that I am of the opinion (and I think the literature supports me on this) that if the Soviets thought they could have launched a “winning” first-strike that would have cost them “only” 25% of their population, they would have. Remember, it depends on WHICH 25% would have been lost, the nomenklatura or the Turkmanians.

That cuts both ways, of course. If a Democratic administration could handle a really troublesome foreign situation while losing only texas and the South south of north carolina plus alaska and say idaho, well, where’s the downside?

But a GOP administration that had the chance to lose new york and massachusetts etc would really need to look at their remaining tax base….

The Battle-Management Ballistic Missile radar near Moscow was targeted with NINETY-FOUR (94) warheads.

Ninety four because they weren’t sure about the precision? So how far away were those nomenklatura, that they’d be sure they’d be unbombed?

I can easily believe Zbigniew Brzezinski told that story. It’s kind of like Kahn’s story, “You don’t have a war plan, all you have is a sort of horrible spasm!”. Of course he wanted to tell the world he was an expert on russians and the military was doing it all wrong, but were we actually sparing 75% of the white russians? No way.

Here’s the story I believe. Our nuclear contractors were producing new nuclear devices at a rate that was comfortable for them. It wasn’t that our military planners looked at new maps of russia and decided which new places needed bombing and asked for that many bombs. It was the contractors decided how many bombs to make, and congress provided the money, and then the military guys looked at the maps and figured out places they could target with them. The site you mentioned couldn’t possibly deserve 94 hits, except that we had that many bombs extra. Not like we had market forces to tell us how many bombs to make.

And, btw, we DID cut back on the nukes “all on our lonesome ” during the Carter years. Only problem was the SU didn’t follow suit and Carter’s last defense budget showed an increase reversing three budget reductions.

Sure. It wasn’t an arms race, since it didn’t matter how many bombs either side had. We finally noticed how expensive it was getting and cut back, and the russians who were even less sensitive to market forces than us, kept going. and then Carter had to build back up again or he’d have some Republican claim there was a missile gap and win the election that way. A couple of bureaucracies playing “status quo”. Luckily, neither of them had their status quo involve actually using the nukes.

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