November 30, 2006

Freedom and Democracy

Recently there has been much interest in the Russian Government and speculation about how Russia's political enemies are "dispensed" with. Alexander Litvinenko is just the newest name in a string of mysterious deaths of political dissidents from Russia, and it was perhaps just his questionable death by polonium-210 that caught media attention. Polonium-210 is only made in a nuclear reactor and therefore whoever poisoned Litvinenko must have had some serious connections. The accusation made by Litvnenko on his death bed was that President Putin himself was ultimately responsible for his death. Another concern was that at the time of the poisoning, Litvinenko was investigating the suspicious death of a Russian journalist who had also been critical of the Putin administration. These are just a few examples, but many more have surfaced, including that of the Forbes Magazine (Russian Edition) managing editor's murder several months back. He too, apparently was critical of the government and unfortunately was murdered by an unidentified contract killer. These allegations too of government involvement have recurred time and again, most notably with their accusers meeting a mysterious death. Or if your a financial dissident, perhaps that can be commuted to incarceration.

Whether or not these allegations of murder are true, the fact remains that someone, perhaps not the government is doing these acts. Leaders of other countries, including Britain and parts of Europe have voiced their concerns over what's happening in that country. A friend of Litvinenko's put it this way, "Those rogue people are, in my opinion, a direct responsibility of Mr Putin. They are the result of the ideology of falsely understood nationalism which is now being injected into the Russian people." (

(Latest on Ex-spy death and contamination),2933,233218,00.html

(Russia's Secret police)

Civil War??

I was listening to a discussion on MPR about the war in Iraq. The discussion was about the US Government’s hesitance to label the situation in Iraq as a “civil war?. Even though the situation in Iraq has all the elements of a civil war, the Government and Military refuses to label it as such. According to recent polls US citizens would support the war in Iraq would decrease if citizens thought the situation was actually a civil war. Other surveys have shown that US citizens believe the US Government and Military should not get involved in matters of civil war. The fighting countries should find their own resolution.

I haven’t been able to find the discussion on the MPR website to link to this. I found this discussion interesting for a number of reasons. It’s amazing how much the power of a label plays in society. Whether we label the Iraq situation as a war or civil war will vary greatly on the number of people that will continue to support the US Government and Military’s efforts. There are number of labels in our society that play huge role in one’s opinion of you. This also reminded me of discussions in Putnam’s book about people’s generalized trust in government. I’m sure the levels vary greatly for trust in the US Government. What I find most appalling is the Government’s refusal to label the Iraq situation as a civil war because they will have fewer supporters. If it’s a civil war than call it as such because as I (and probably most other citizens) believe we should be given an accurate report of the situation in Iraq. The situation in Iraq has been sketchy from the start but I would believe the Government would learn from their mistakes. The last thing this short MPR discussion reminded me of was the continued power the media plays in our lives. I think the media journals helped show how stories are depicted in a certain way depending on the location and funding of the media source.

November 21, 2006

Asking patriots to serve....again

An article I read a few weeks ago hinted that National Guard and Reserve units in the United States face the possibility of being deployed to Iraq for second tours. The way the current operational tempo stands, every major National Guard brigade will have already served a one year tour in Iraq, the possibilty of new deployments would mobilize those units that served in the first wave of the Iraq war. This poses many interesting questions, as we are faced with an unprecedented level of usage of the reserve forces of the United States military. The current Iraq engagement already has outlasted World War II in duration, and it shows no signs of being resolved any time soon. Some people and congressmen have suggested a reinstatement of the draft to ease the burden shouldered by our armed forces, and disperse the duty.

I, for one, do not believe that the draft is the right approach. I do think it is true that the military disproportionately represents the lower classes as well as minorities. It is not too far off the mark to suggest that the poor are fighting the rich man's war. A draft, however, will not solve the inequality that is present in our society, but, rather, it will degrade the quality of our armed forces by replacing volunteers with conscripts.
The question, then, is how many times shall we, as a nation, ask our armed forces to expose themselves to combat? At how many deployments do we draw the line, and say, "now you have served your country, you are truly a patriot"? The stress on our reserve forces will be tremendous, that I can gurantee. But, the dedication and sense of duty felt by myself and my fellow soldiers is not something that can be measured or capped. As such, I believe that we can sustain another round of reserve call ups without crippling our armed forces.

November 20, 2006

School of the Americas

This past weekend I took a 24 hour bus trip down to Fort Benning, Georgia. Why did I do such a crazy thing at this time in the middle of the semester when I have far too many papers to write? I went to protest the School of the Americas (SOA). The School of the America’s is a school run by the US military that trains Latin American militias effective “counter-insurgency? techniques, including torture. Many of the graduates of the SOA or as some call it, “The School of the Assasins,? have committed tremendous atrocities, from killing nuns who were doing humanitarian work, to killing priests, to murdering union organizers, to being responsible for brutal massacres in which thousands of women and children were. Many of the graduates are currently in prison for what the SOA has taught them to do.

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October 30, 2006

Partitioning Iraq

The article I read was an opinion piece about partitioning Iraq into three separate confederates that represent the majority of the regions (i.e. Sunni Iraq, Shiite Iraq, and Kurdish Iraq). Like most things in life there are opponents and supporters of this idea. As we have seen in the past there is the idea of mass migrations of the minority towards their specified majority. There is also the idea that certain countries will back their favored Iraq which may lead to conflict. And than there is the matter of resources, one country will most likely miss out because they lack the resources of the others. I think in the short term this sounds like a good idea but when we look at past partitions they to were supposed to solve the problems of their regions but did they really. In the end are we just not throwing gas on the fire? If the problem was not fixed we would most likely see the same effects, gas prices go up with mounting violence.

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Most of this blog that I wanted to post was just my personal experience and pretty good freindship with a kid in high school by the name of Najam. He is from the Kashmirian region of India and has gone there multiple times to see his family back when I knew him. His parents moved to the U.S. when they were very young (in their 20's) They moved to escape the violence when wars over territory started back up between Pakistan and India. I remember his outlook on the region and the tense war-like situation in the region. He didn't like Pakistan at all and thought they gave a bad name to Muslim people everywhere. You could almost consider him prejudice against Pakistanis, but he would never openly say much more than what was in the previous sentence. He did ,however, think that India was also being foolish in their tactis to control the region from insurgencies. Najam was more of the religious ascpect of the majority in India, but had instances where he couldn't hang out with some of his relatives neighbors because of tense prejudices in the region. Some people were beaten up and hurt for being associated with one side openly because it brings trouble. He never experienced violence himself, but I remember him saying that he had seen plenty of India's troops in the area to keep the peace. He was a really nice person, but his values were very different and was criticized because of it. However, now that i understand what his position was, it's really interesting to see what and why he believes certain things I remember about him. One question i would ask him if I saw him would be if he felt any different towards thegroups and towards the people in genreal of that region.

October 26, 2006

New Plans for Iraq are not so new

The war in Iraq has been a very important issue for Americans since our invasion in 2003, and almost four years later little has been accomplished yet death tolls of American soldiers continue to rise. Bush’s support continues to wane and many are left wondering what exactly Bush’s plan of action is and if there is any end to the war in the near future. Bush recently gave a response to the public’s call for a new strategy earlier this week; however, there are very few changes set to take place. Bush was still very reluctant to give a timeline for occupation in Iraq stating it would be “impossible to make a timeline because there is no way to predict where the situation will be in five to ten years.? The new plan, however, does include a timeline, developed by the Iraqi government to regain control of their government, for which Bush said talks with the Prime Minister to be already underway. The interesting part of the story was a speech given by the Prime Minister of Iraq, shown on the Wednesday night NBC news, saying he had not engaged in any talks with the US about a timeline and would not be in support of creating one. As violence continues to ensue in increasing amounts between the US occupation and the Iraqis, much of the Iraqi population has become more opposed to the US occupation than ever before.

This story related to what Schaeffer has discussed in his book about the aftermath of 9/11. Schaeffer posed a very interesting question, why is it that in a war in which the US has already claimed victory so many casualties: military and civilian, Iraqi and American, alike are still occurring? According to Schaeffer there have been more deaths of US soldiers in the rebellion against the US occupation than there were during the actual war and death tolls continue to rise. The fact is that the American people will not continue to support a man that continues to make a bigger mess forever, and sooner or later people will have to decide when enough is enough. There has always been resistance to the US occupation from the Iraqi people but as more people continue to die there has been even more resistance, which has only led to more violence. Bush refuses to accept the idea that the American occupation has done more harm than good in Iraq and that pulling the troops in the near future (anytime before the plan of ten years) may actually save lives, not to mention American dollars. The war in Iraq is an increasingly large mess that people, other than Bush, will be cleaning up for years to come, making the war a prominent issue not only for the upcoming Senate elections in November, but also the 2008 Presidential elections.

October 24, 2006

A fading yellow ribbon

Today I came across an article written by Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman, who you may or may not remember was the former NFL player who joined the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan under the cloud of a government cover-up.
Kevin Tillman served alongside Pat in the Army Rangers, and took the time to write a powerful, moving article that questions the legitimacy of our invasion of Iraq, as well as the consequences that should be faced by our leaders that lied to the people and deceived them to achieve personal gains. We as soldiers are not allowed to question the rationale or motivation behind our government's decision to wage war. It is our duty to serve our country and follow orders, not to ask why. Kevin illustrates this point succinctly when he recalls a conversation he had with Pat upon joining, "He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out." These remarks prompted some self-reflection, namely, is blind obedience the course that we should take as a country? If it is true that our leadership lied to us and led us into a unecessary war on false pretenses, what consequences should they face, and what position does that put the scores of troops currently serving, and the hundreds of thousands of veterans of Iraq? The sense of patriotism and civic duty that is so ingrained in those serving their country stands to be undermined by a leadership that seems to be callous to the deaths of thousands and raw wounds of an entire generation of veterans.
It is impossible for those who send troops off to war to comprehend the grim realities of combat unless they have experienced it themselves. This is why after Vietnam, an entire generation vowed that American citizens should not be sent to die on foreign land without good reason. It is easy for an administration to commit troops to war when they don't have have to worry about their own children serving. The public's support for the war has waned considerably, they demand good answers for why they should send their sons and daughters to fight. The yellow-ribbon patriotism displayed by the public in the early years of the war has begun to fade, much like the magnetic sticker, and now is the time for answers.
John Locke once wrote that it is the purpose of the government to serve the interests of the people, and when they fail to do so, it is the duty of the people to question and usurp their government with one that will act on behalf of the nation. If our overseas engagements are truly in defense of the people, then our leadership owes us some answers, and some solutions as well. We created the current quagmire in Iraq, and it is our responsibility to remedy the situation.

More resources

As I said today in class, we're devoting an embarassingly short amount of time to wars in the Middle East. If you're interested in more, however, there's tons of good material out there. There's loads of reading you could do, but if you want something a little lighter, here are just a few (highly blog-able!) online multimedia resources for you to start with:

October 2, 2006

But when have you ever expected good things from sticking a sock down your throat?

How much do we as democratic free people value our right to free speech? Now when I speak of free speech, I do not refer to the right of simple discourse as some sustain, I of course mean the right to outwardly voice opinions that are harsh and at times offensive. This is why a bill of rights was included in our constitution. Other peoples around the world have seen the importance of such freedoms and have voiced their strong support through legislations and practice of such speech. This steadfast belief however is slowly passing away in our world. Just last week a German opera house closed its doors to the showing of Mozart's "Idomeneo" due to the depiction of specific religious figures heads, including the head of the prophet Mohammed. The cancellation was caused by police warnings that the performances might incite insight uproar in Muslim communities around the globe. To put it more directly, the fear of potential violence caused German officials to limit the free artistic speech of a director for whom such freedoms are established.

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Women In Combat and Media Coverage

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq one recurrent theme in the media has been the issue of female soldiers placed in combat situations. The military's official stance is that females are not allowed in a capacity that would place them in direct combat with the enemy, and they are barred from certain specialties within the military that would potentially expose them (i.e. infantry, artillery, armor, special forces, etc.) to hostilities. The reality of the situation is somewhat murkier. In Iraq, the lines between combat roles and non-combat roles are blurred, and there are theoretically no front lines, for every area affords the danger of an insurgent attack. Women have been placed in situations and occupations that were traditionally non-combat roles such as truck drivers and military police. In Iraq, however, these specialties are some of the most dangerous and highest casulty producing.

The media has been quick to report on the dynamic shift of the role of women in the military; the capture of PFC Jessica Lynch during the invasion of Iraq, and her subsequent liberation by Special Forces garnered spectacular media coverage- not only as the capture of a U.S. soldier, but a female soldier. This new phenomenom represented a fundamental change in the way Americans viewed the military at war. Images of young American men being sent off to fight the nation's wars in distant countries have long been ingrained in the minds of the public. The pictures and videos that accompany the descent into combat, and the ensuing casulties have always been accepted (not without tragic recourse) as something that the men of our country were assigned to do.
These new reports of women being exposed to combat, and being killed and wounded alongside their male counterparts have posed a new dillemma in the minds of many, and begs the question of whether or not Americans are ready to accept images of their daughters, as well as their sons, coming home in a flag-draped casket.

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September 28, 2006

Has Lady Liberty Gone the Way of the Stockade?

NPR’s Talk of the Nation Opinion page hosted Ariel Dorfman recently to discuss his recent writing in the Outlook section of the Washington post. Are We Really So Fearful was the title of the editorial in which he fervently condemns our willingness to publicly debate an issue such as the sanctioned use of torture. Dorfman strongly states that what this does is separate us from reasonable and composed status, to a level that differs us little from the motives of those who seek to terrorize us. The actions we take are no longer those that seek to better humanity as a whole, but simply those that would better our position. The reason a captive is not tortured is because they are powerless to a torturer whose actions should never be classifiable as human in any evolved social sense of the word. These actions are those that should never be instilled within a society, and the mere fact tat we are talking about possible benefits of such practices is astounding from a country such as ours which actively flaunts its form of morality.

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September 13, 2006

Speech From President Bush

On Tuesday, President Bush addressed the nation in speech about 9/11 and the war on terrorism. He described the state of the United States as being, "safe, yet not safe." He also stated that the reason for being in Iraq was because the U.S. needed to do something now so that our kids wouldn't have to put up with terrorists in the future who could possibly have nuclear weapons. However, NPR radio has reported that support for the President has diminished and is very low because of how he handled the war in Iraq.

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September 11, 2006

Cheney: war critics aid enemies

As we approach the 2006 election, Vice President Dick Cheney is again trying to drum up patriotic support for both the war, and his fellow republicans running for reelection. On NBC's Meet the Press this past sunday, he said:

...those doubts are encouraged, obviously, when they see the kind of debate that we've had in the United States," he said. "Suggestions, for example, that we should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq simply feed into that whole notion, validates the strategy of the terrorists."

Who knows where present day republicans would be without this soundbyte for the past five years? They were able to ride it to victory in the past two elections, 2002 and 2004, to say the least. In the two years since George Bush has been reelected, support for the war in Iraq has steadily dropped, as well as the approval ratings of those who support the war, who tend to be Republicans. In past elections, the 'ace in the hole' for Republicans has tended to be appearing strong on national defense and utilizing wartime politics to their advantage. In 2004, with the war in Iraq being only a little over a year old, the Republicans were able to argue effectively that only they were competent enough to manage the global war on terrorism, and it is believed to be the major reason why Bush and Republicans were able to keep control of the government, despite relatively low approval ratings on the President's part. However, now, two years later, with the same situation on the ground in Iraq, and other parts of the world and region descending into violence, the formerly invincible argument seems to be the republicans only hope of keeping a hold on Congress. The most interesting thing coming out of this election, i think, will be how long a party practicing relatively unpopular domestic policies year after year can ride the same foreign policy argument that they started five years ago today.

August 31, 2006

Nationalism, Autonomy and Group Boundaries

David Berreby, the journalist who wrote the book "Us and Them," has a blog spin-off from the book, appropriately named "Us and Them: The Blog". He's started a series of entries called "Forbidden Questions," and the first entry is titled "Freedom for Our People" -- is it snake oil?" Like the Barber article on "Jihad vs. McWorld," Berreby draws attention to the tension between group claims to autonomy, on the one hand, and the globalizing forces that contradict those claims. From both sides, democracy gets tossed around as a justification but in both cases, democracy can suffer. Berreby focuses on the outbreak of violence surrounding nationalist movements around the globe. As anthropologists and social psychologists have long pointed out, a group boundary both includes and excludes. In particular, Berreby questions whether we should favor the idea of a nation as a valid group boundary:

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Bush speeches "not political"?

This week, Bush will begin a series of speeches on the war in Iraq. On Wednesday, he had this to say about the upcoming speeches:

``They're not political speeches,'' Bush said Wednesday when asked if they might have an impact on the congressional elections just over two months away. ``They're speeches about the future of this country, and they're speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation would become even more in jeopardy. These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about.''

Bush uses "political" in an interesting manner here, a way we commonly hear politicians of all stripes use it. What is Bush trying to communicate? Presumably that he is "just getting things done," or "just doing his job" for the country and not to advance his own political agenda. To emphasize how "not political" his speeches are, he says they are "speeches about the future of this country." This is a good example of how politics can mean very different things to different people. If politics is defined as the realm of public decision making, then how can discussion of "the future of the country" not be political? And if that's the defintion of politics, then isn't being political a good thing in a democracy? However, given the more sinister definition of politics (where politics equals self-serving power grabs), it's a good rhetorical strategy to cast yourself as being "not political." For one thing, as Bush immediately shows, it entails your critics are "politicizing" the issue by criticizing you, or at the very least puts the burden on them to demonstrate that they're not "being political" and have purely altruistic motives. As Eliasoph points out, this split in how people define politics can make it difficult to discuss public issues.