Saturday, August 27, 2005

Why the War was Wrong, Part the First

What does Robert Manne say? (I am only starting with him because his is the first essay in the book. It says in the introduction that he is Professor of Politics at *ahem* Latrobe, and –as you doubtless know- a columnist for the Age and the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald.)

“The danger of this conflation of the pre-emptive strike and preventive war was aggravated precisely by the fact that ... the US reserved for itself the right to strike unilaterally without mandate from the established procedures of the United Nations. ...the US not only reserved for itself the right to go to war on the basis of an imagined threat. It also arrogated to itself the exclusive right to decide when and where such a threat existed.
... If all states possessed this right, the Bush doctrine opened the way for a return to the law of the jungle, where the powerful have the capacity to impose their will on the weak. If, on the other hand, the right did not exist for other states, the Bush doctrine amounted to an almost formal claim to US world hegemony.”

This is as close as Robert Manne comes in his essay to explaining why the 2003 War was wrong. What is his assumption, that we must share in order to accept his argument? I believe it is this: The United Nations has moral authority over the nations that comprise it.

What is the United Nations? The United Nations itself is simply another manifestation of the law of the jungle Manne talks about. The United Nations is an institution imposed by the victors in the last World War in order to impose their collective will upon the vanquished. The law of the jungle has never gone away, so it cannot return: all states have, in practice, always behaved in the way Manne paints as a new and disturbing innovation of President Bush. Their leaders, for good or- generally- evil, decide for themselves where a threat to their state exists and what they should do about it. The powerful do indeed, and will as long as the words ‘powerful’ and ‘weak’ have any meaning, have the capacity to impose their will upon the weak. The United Nations has no standing army, and so it cannot stop them, whatever legal authority it may have.

What is the United Nations? It is the sum of the states that compose it, all of which are institutions imposed by force upon unwilling or compliant individual human beings. Some of these states are halfway decent, most of them are not, some of them are awful. Without exception these abstractions called states have magnified their importance to a fantastic and obscene degree over the importance of real, non-abstract entities called individual human beings. ‘Legality’ is what each state says it is, and ‘internationl law’ is what they have collectively decided it is. Some laws are in reasonable accord with reason and morality, some are less so, and some are awful. According to the rules of the United Nations, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was illegal, and Pol Pot’s regime continued to occupy Cambodia’s seat in the United Nations for a decade. I accept that the Anglospherican invasion of Iraq was illegal, in exactly the same way that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia was illegal. This is not relevant to the question of whether it was right or wrong.

Hilary Charlesworth (Profesosr of International Law at the Australian National University) demonstrates entirely convincingly- as you would expect a Professor at a real university to do- that the invasion was, according to the accepted principles of international law, illegal.

Eva Sallis (an Australian-born writer) communicated her emotional state in a most satisfactory way, as one expects a novelist to do, but presented no rational argument that I could find.

The next essay, by Raimond Gaita (Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of London and the Australian Catholic University) seems rather more coherent from the first few pages- although it reads disturbingly as though it might have been written by myself, Dr Clam. Knowing my own formidable powers, I therefore expect it will convince me, so I bid you farewell from what may well be my last ‘pro-war’ post!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

From Fred Hoyle's 'The Black Cloud'

'The two men were mentally too dissimilar for more than a half hour of conversation between them to be possible. When the Home Secretary talked, it was his aim to make those to whom he was talking react according to some pre-arranged plan. It was irrelevant to him how he succeeded in this, so long as he succeeded. ... For the most part, like other administrators, he found that arguments containing some deep-rooted emotional appeal, but couched in seemingly logical terms, were usually successful. For strict logic he had no use whatsoever. To Kingsley on the other hand strict logic was everything, or nearly everything.'

I am slowly working my way through a book called 'Why the War was Wrong', trying to figure out the rational arguments are, and hope to respond soon...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Pax Americana

I'm not quite sure what Marco means when he says Pax Americana, but I mean what the phrase was coined for, something exactly analogous to the Pax Romana under the Four Good Emperors, but exhibiting the distinctive characteristics of American rather than Roman civilisation. "One world under God, with Liberty and Justice for All". In such a world I, selfishly, would not have to worry about my children being drafted to fight the barbarians, which is why it holds great appeal to me.
This Pax Americana is obviously something that is potential, not actual. Sadly, it does not seem to be approaching with any rapidity. All of the evidence is that the only potential World unifier and pacifier is sliding back more and more into short-sighted pragmatism. It is pathetic to see the most powerful nation on earth making feeble appeasy noises towards totally unimportant and vile organisations like Hamas. It is more pathetic to see it turning a blind eye to the actions of the 'friendly' regime of Uzbekistan. A good first step towards the establishment of the Pax Americana would have been the conquest and long-term occupation under Douglas Macarthur-style American rule of the five Middle Eastern places where some permutation of nihilist Anti-American islamofascism was an entrenched way of life: Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. They should have started in the west and slowly rolled across to the east, like Alexander the Great. It is almost a pity that Al-Qaeda did not take out the White House as well: then there might have been sufficient political will to get and keep the required two million troops on the ground between the Mediterranean and the Indus. If this had happened, there would be a pretty good chance that the world would be a nice place ten years from now. But it hasn't.
In the last few months it has sunk in that things are moving much too slowly, and that I will just have to live with the fear that my children will be drafted to fight the barbarians. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all had to go off and fight the barbarians. I have been fortunate enough not to have. Maybe we will luck out and get two generations in a row. We shall see.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Picture = 1000 Words

Having found where all the Jack Chick tracts are online, I couldn't stop at just one. I'm not sure if this is the exact panel, since this motif seems to recur in several of his tracts. But when I was a young fellow, I used to worry sometimes, 'What if what the evangelicals say is true'? Then I saw this panel, and I realised, 'It doesn't matter if it is true or not, it's wrong.' God isn't sending the rain down in the picture; God is standing in the water. And I'm with him, even if he doesn't exist, and our universe is at the mercy of some psycho looney God-wannabe.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Proportionate Response

I've decided to respond to the recent moves to introduce a national identity card by over-reacting wildly and inappropriately, to a degree exactly proportionate to the extent that this proposal is a wild and inappropriate overreaction to the problems it is supposed to solve.

Wisdom from Dave

Quoth Dave: Extremes of opinion (informed, researched or otherwise) to my mind are frequently associated with extremes of emotional attachment to those opinions. As someone given to unreasonable behavioural modes in situations of extreme emotion, my inclination is towards the reserved end of the spectrum wherever possible. If you don't get involved in an issue, you can't get angry about it.

This is a very sensible comment- the motivation for Moderation may well be something far nobler than the desire to appear Solomonically wise and even-handed without putting any intellectual effort in, namely, the socially responsible desire not to kick somebody's head in. The principle of Moderation is obviously an easy way to achieve emotional distance from stressful issues, especially ones you don't have a particularly desire to think about anyway. I suppose I am happy with Moderation as long as it is a politically-correct cloak over one's real extremist opinions, and does not conceal a mere absence of thought. My habitual method for maintaining emotional distance from arguments that might unsettle me is the somewhat more entertaining Taking the Piss method, e.g.: If I fell into the middle of an online argument between fanatical Zionists and hard-core Palestinian rejectionists, I would do my best to argue- drawing on my meager knowledge of the Book of Mormon- that God had actually promised their land to the Arapaho Indian Nation. I was tempted to do something just like this when I found the Nagorno-Karabakh flame wars on Wikipedia.

Furthermore, quoth Dave, speaking of the Buffster: The oddly upbeat finale does raise an interesting question: for the first time in 7 years (not counting her brief flirtation with lucidity in the episode where the Truth is Revealed) Buffy is happy - or at least satisfied - her issues are resolved and her angsty "only I can save the world" mission is no longer hers alone. Does this utterly out-of-context end to the foundations of her fantasy existence point to a full recovery from her coma? I'd like to think so.

So would I- there is a beautiful symmetry in how Buffy first creates Sunnydale as a 'safe' place to escape from her stressful experience in Los Angeles. It very rapidly became a place that was not safe at all (well before the end of the first episode), but she was unable pull herself away from it; in the end, it is only when it is destroyed that she can be sane again.