Recently in War Category


Over breakfast I mentioned these two news items today, and James suggested the connection.


Jack Levine, Welcome Home, 1946, via his obituary in the New York Times

It shows an armchair general being honored at an expensive restaurant, a wad of food in one cheek. On his right sits a bored socialite. Two decrepit businessmen in tuxedos make up the rest of the party. The central figure, Mr. Levine said, was "the big slob who is vice president of the Second National Bank and the president of the Chamber of Commerce, only now he's been in the Army."

When "Welcome Home" was included in an exhibition of American culture in Moscow in 1959, the chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities mounted a campaign to have it removed. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "It looks more like a lampoon than art, as far as I am concerned," but refused to intervene.

The uproar made Mr. Levine a star. He later told an interviewer, "You get denounced by the president of the United States, you've hit the top."

Fired Afghanistan Commander Named to JetBlue Board

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by President Barack Obama after making insulting comments about top administration officials, was named Tuesday to the JetBlue Airways Corp. board of directors.

I don't have a link for this yet, but I was watching CNN at the gym just now, and saw Arlen Specter say that we can't prosecute people in the previous administration for committing torture or war crimes, because "that's what banana republics do."

Meanwhile, after hearing that we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, we learn that administration officials and members of Congress discussed torture but didn't know anything about the history or efficacy of the techniques. I had certainly heard of waterboarding before 9/11, thanks to reading about the Spanish Inquisition.

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved � not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees � investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was �a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,� a former C.I.A. official said.

The graphic accompanying the New York Times article (click to see it larger) would make a great list of people to prosecute if we could have our own Nuremberg trials. That list includes Nancy Pelosi.


Banana republics are the kind of states that torture people, and many democracies in Latin America are now prosecuting former officials for their crimes while in office, such as Peru's conviction of Fujimori.

We are the banana republic in this case.

Remember when Nancy Pelosi said, even though the Democratic Party was set to have a majority in both houses of Congress, that "impeachment is off the table"? As Lewis Lapham said at the time,

Democracy is born in dirt, nourished by the digging up and turning over of as much of it as can be brought within reach of a television camera or a subpoena. We can't "lay out a new agenda for America" unless we know which America we're talking about, the one that embodies the freedoms of a sovereign people or the one made to fit the requirements of a totalitarian state....

Like it or not, and no matter how unpleasant or impolitic the proceedings, the spirit of the law doesn't allow the luxury of fastidious silence or discreet abstention....

The Constitution doesn't serve at the pleasure of Representative Pelosi any more than it answers to the whim of President Bush, and by taking "off the table" the mess of an impeachment proceeding, the lady from California joins the president in his distaste for such an unclean thing as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Rightly understood, democracy is an uproar, the argument meant to be blunt, vigilant, and fierce, not, as the purveyors of our respectable opinion would have it, a matter of liveried civil servants passing one another polite synonyms on silver trays.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are unilaterally disarming against the GOP, which has no qualms about using nasty tactics. The Obama campaign told Dennis Kucinich to remove this line from his speech:

They're asking for another four years -- in a just world, they'd get 10 to 20.

Related: Glenn Greenwald on what's missing from this convention:

First, there is almost no mention of, let alone focus on, the sheer radicalism and extremism of the last eight years. During that time, our Government has systematically tortured people using sadistic techniques ordered by the White House; illegally and secretly spied on its own citizens; broken more laws than can be counted based on the twisted theory that the President has that power; asserted the authority to arrest and detain even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them for years without charges; abolished habeas corpus; created secret prisons in Eastern Europe and a black hole of lawlessness in Guantanamo; and explicitly abandoned and destroyed virtually every political value the U.S. has long claimed to embrace.

Other than a fleeting reference to such matters by John Kerry in a (surprisingly effective) speech which most networks did not broadcast, one would not know, listening to the Democratic Convention, that any of those things have happened. Even our unprovoked and indescribably destructive attack on Iraq, based on purely false pretenses, has received little attention. Those things simply don't exist, even as part of the itemized laundry list of Democratic grievances about the Bush administration. The overriding impression one has is that the only things really wrong during the last eight years in this country are that gas prices are high and not everyone has health insurance. Those are obviously very significant problems, but they are garden-variety political issues which don't begin to capture the extremism that has predominated in this country under GOP rule, and don't remotely approach conveying the crises on numerous fronts the country faces.

susan c. dessel lbif

James and I were very proud to have Susan C. Dessel's work in the show we curated in 2006 at Dam, Stuhltrager. Now that work has had a second chance to be seen, at the Long Beach Island Foundation for Arts & Sciences, but the people that run it have chosen to put walls around it and warn people that it may "offend." See James's post for more information.

People don't seem to be too outraged that torture is committed in our name by our elected government, but they can certainly be upset by an artwork that might remind them of a world that's not as perfect as they would like to pretend.

I was reading this otherwise pretty good article on a young activist in today's City Section of the New York Times today when one thing leapt out at me.

To the Ramparts (Gently)
Published: March 23, 2008


“I actually think violent action isn’t radical at all,” he said firmly. “Radicals go to the root of the problem, and they want to change society. Violence doesn’t change society, and if it doesn’t go to the root of the problem, it’s not radical.” Mr. Kelly paused. “I don’t know what it is,” he added, “but it has nothing to do with what I want to do.”

Drama, Yes. Violence, No.

Despite his attitude toward violent protest, Mr. Kelly has not shied away from dramatic tactics. He has been arrested twice, once two years ago during a protest on Pace’s Manhattan campus, and once a year ago when he and about 20 other S.D.S. members were detained for occupying an Army-Navy recruiting center in Lower Manhattan. Neither arrest led to any charges.


Is this writer implying that getting arrested in non-violent protests is somehow a moral equivalent of using a bomb or other violence to make the same point? I find that a rather dangerous position.

Related: James's post titled Times Square bomblet outperforms march of a million

I got an email about this over the weekend. Check out B. Blagojević's post on the ArtCal Zine and NEWSgrist for more information.



Here are the first paragraphs of an Alexander Cockburn column, titled How the Democrats Blew It in Only 8 Months, in The Nation. (The full text is only available to subscribers.)

Led by Democrats since the start of this year, Congress now has a "confidence" rating of 14 percent, the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1973 and five points lower than Republicans scored last year.

The voters put the Democrats in to end the war, and it's escalating. The Democrats voted the money for the surge and the money for the next $459.6 billion military budget. Their latest achievement was to provide enough votes in support of Bush to legalize warrantless wiretapping for "foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States." Enough Democrats joined Republicans to make this a 227-183 victory for Bush. The Democrats control the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi could have stopped the bill in its tracks if she'd wanted to. But she didn't. The Democrats' game is to go along with the White House agenda while stirring up dust storms to blind the base to their failure to bring the troops home or restore constitutional government.

I was not one of the people jumping up and down with excitement when the Democrats took control of both houses last year, assuming this might be the kind of thing that would happen. The war in Iraq continues, Guantanamo is still open, the habeas corpus-destroying Military Commissions Act has not been repealed, and illegal wiretapping just got an added stamp of approval.

I find it maddening that, in a country with regular elections, we have this kind of rogue government. I still hear people talk about how the people (one could hardly call them citizens under that regime) of Nazi Germany were guilty of the crimes of their government, and use such thoughts to justify the attacks on civilians such as the firebombing of Dresden. I enjoy Alex Ross's music reviews in The New Yorker, but even he can say stupid things such as

I don't subscribe to the thesis that the Dresden bombings were a "war crime"; in the final balance, the Allies treated the Germans with abnormal civility.



Gerhard Richter, Mustang-Staffel / Mustang Squadron, 1964
88 cm X 165 cm
Oil on canvas


Tell that to the people fleeing the burning city, huddled on the banks of the Elbe, who were strafed with gunfire from war planes. Here's an excerpt from Peter Schjeldahl's December 2005 review in The New Yorker of a Gerhard Richter show at Marian Goodman Gallery.

The great and sly German artist Gerhard Richter has inserted a rare note of political provocation into a large show of recent mostly abstract works at the Marian Goodman Gallery. It comes in a photograph of his well-known painting of Second World War P-51 Mustang fighter planes. Richter made the painting from an old photograph in 1964, during the early, Pop-art-influenced phase of his multifarious career. In greenish grisaille with a zone of reddish tint, eight of the sinisterly elegant war machines, bearing British insignia, appear to execute a shallow dive above indistinct farm fields. (Actually, they are flying level; the framing point of view has a rakish tilt.) The Mustang (which, perhaps not incidentally for Richter's present purpose, would share its name with the iconic American fun car) was a long-range craft that escorted Allied bombers over Germany. Mustangs played a murderous role in the February, 1945, firestorm attack on Dresden, strafing survivors of the initial bombing who were massed on the city's riverbanks. From some thirty miles away, Richter, as a boy of thirteen, witnessed the glow in the night sky of Dresden's immolation.

In another blog post, Alex Ross mentions that Hitler and his party never received more than 37% of the vote, so it's interesting that he views firebombing of cities that, by that point in the war, were filled mostly with old people, women, and children, as "civil."

America didn't exactly reject the Bush administration in 2004, when we had all seen the images of Abu Ghraib, and knew that they had no legitimate evidence of Iraqi WMDs. When Americans (Alex Ross is hardly alone) say the people of countries like Germany under the Nazis were guilty, what does that say about us?

[Gerhard Richter image from]

David Rees, the creator of Get Your War On, demolishes Michael Ignatieff's painfully self-serving essay on "getting Iraq wrong" in the New York Times Magazine. Ignatieff is one of many slimeballs who were horribly wrong on Iraq, but now say they feel a little bad and are happy that their careers will continue. He is presently Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in Canada. Go read it. Here is a teaser.

"I made some of these mistakes and then a few of my own. The lesson I draw for the future is to be less influenced by the passions of people I admire -- Iraqi exiles, for example -- and to be less swayed by my emotions. . . ."

And here, finally, is where my skull cracked open, my heart combusted, and a murder of crows flew out of my ass. Michael Ignatieff is drawing lessons for the future. Michael Ignatieff has a future in public policy. Sure, it's CANADIAN public policy, so it doesn't really count, but still-- it's like the guy can't be stopped. You know why? Because he's at that level where you literally can't make a big enough mistake to be fired, shunned, or indicted. I'd like to visit that level someday. First thing I'd do is get rip-roarin' drunk and rob a bank using Richard Perle's face as a weapon. (JOKE!)

More fun Blair news

Related to my previous post, here are a couple of news items of note.

The Trial of Tony Blair


Robert Lindsay as Tony Blair

BBC America presented this film on Sunday, but James and I just watched it tonight. I don't know how to get a copy to anyone, but if you have a friend who has DVR-ed it, ask them to see it. The premise:

The year is 2010, and Blair is giving his last ministerial broadcast, having finally handed over the reins of power to his deputy, Gordon Brown. On the other side of the Atlantic, President Hillary Clinton is campaigning for her second term at the White House, and former President Bush is in rehab.


To compound his problems, the International Criminal Court is looking to bring War Crimes charges against the former UK and U.S. leaders – and now that Blair isn’t Prime Minister, he no longer has Diplomatic Immunity from prosecution.

I looked at Google News to see who had written about it in the U.S,, and came up with very few items from this country. It's interesting to me that the New York Times never mentioned it. Perhaps it hits a little too close to home, and they fear some of their reporters might have to testify in such a trial.

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