Fuck That Shit

To my expropriating friend,

You have opined about the unkempt nature of your recent communications, announcing that you will start using the word feck.  

“In an effort to clean up my act, I am expropriating the Irish word “Feckin” as my official expletive.”
Fuck that shit. Fuck1 has an ancient and honorable tradition that was sullied only by the minions of Queen Victoria.

Now, if you wanted to talk about you being feckful (I think we reserve feckless2 for those promoting “solutions” which are, in ‘effect’ [you liked that bit of word play, didn’t you?] little more than opportunities to co-op energies that might otherwise actually produce change… ) we could talk about how full of feck you were (though I don’t know how we actually measure feck – perhaps a fecking meter – would we find one of those in Old Eire?).

But feck, as a minced oath (you will want to read this 3 amounts to what the ultrablue might argue is cultural appropriation (as you no doubt understand based on your intent to expropriate), and that would be potentially damning in a political melee where the critical play is choosing sides!

All I can recommend is what is suggested to be the lesson of the friars of Cambridgeshire:

Flen, flyys, and freris populum domini male caedunt,
Thystlis and breris crescentia gramina laedunt;
Christe, nolens guerras, sed cuncta pace tueris;
Destrue per terras breris, flen, flyȝes, and freris.
Flen, flyȝes, and freris, foul falle hem thys fyften ȝeris,
For non that her ys lovit flen, flyȝes, ne freris.

Fratres Carmeli navigant in a bothe apud Eli,
Non sunt in cœli quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.[1]
Omnes drencherunt, quia sterisman non habuerunt,
Fratres cum knyvys goth about and txxkxzv nfookt xxzxkt,[2]

Ex Eli veniens praesenti sede locatur,
Nec rex nec sapiens, Salomon tamen ille vocatur.

Pediculus cum sex pedibus me mordet ubique,
Si possum capere, tokl tobl[3] debet ipse habere.

Si tibi strok detur, wyth a round strok evacuetur;
Et si revertetur, loke tu quod retribuetur.

Est mea mens mota pro te, speciosa Magota.

Verum dixit anus, quod piscis olet triduanus;
Ejus de more simili foetet hospes odore.

Est in quadrupede pes quintus, in aequore pulvis,
In cirpo nodus, in muliere fides.

Cum premo, re retrahit, stringit con, inque sigillat,
Sub silet, ob spoliat, sed de gravat, ex manifestat.

Thus, pix, cum sepo, sagmen, cum virgine cera,
Ex hiis attractus bonus est ad vulnera factus.

Vento quid levius? fulgur. Quid fulgure? flamma.
Flamma quid? mulier. Quid muliere? nichil.
Auro quid melius? jaspis. Quid jaspide? sensus.
Sensu quid? ratio. Quid ratione? nichil.

Frigore Frix frixit, quia Tros trux tubera traxit,
Trosque truces Traces secuit necuitque minaces.

Taurus in herba ludit, et optat tangere limpham.
Rumbo murena extat Thamesia plena.4

 


 

“One can’t appreciate philosophy until one understands that one IS the relish…”

I often enjoy the conversational approach of the early Greek philosophers, though it is clear that the dialog is being manipulated.  But in the open back and forth of unfettered discourse, one might well pick up a thing or two. Here is one such discussion (published without anyone’s permission):

Elstun W Lauesen — Here I a brief restatement of what I wrote in the middle of the night.

I am a Leftist. I am not a Conservative. I will, therefore confine my remarks to the Left.
The fuel of the Left is hope because the Left is devoted to change (reform).

This is a problem in 2018. To work toward reform, we have to believe that change is possible.

And just because Barack Obama appropriated those words for his political campaign does not make the presence of hope in our hearts any less imperative as an instrument of change.

I say this because my own self-examination reveals an awful truth. I have an affliction. It is cynicism.

There is no more damaging and cancer-like condition that can afflict a person devoted to reform than cynicism.

I have concluded the following about myself:
If I think I know too much about “the system” to believe that change is ever possible; if I feel too bitter by disappointment and dashed hope and the grossness of human nature to ever believe that a New World is possible; and if my advanced skills are devoted to sitting in the back of the room and picking the scabs of old wounds rather than taking a few more hits for the cause…
…then I am irrelevant to everything I believe in and to which I am devoted.

Cynicism is an intellectual and spiritual cancer.

See it. Call it out. Cut it out. Kill it.

Merwyn Ambrose Thanks for the death sentence brother 😉

But you view of the cynic is postprandial as is the more disturbing view of pedant and elite, the mob having dined on what those terms meant, and thereupon produced the target of your abuse.

Perhaps your problem is that you continue to hitch your hope to the wagons of the snake oil salespersons? It is one thing to have glorious visions, it is another to putter along trying to make small changes; I think both may be valuable as one inspires, and the other perhaps produces results.

Yes, it is difficult to keep digging away, but it is foolish to think that the project you are working on is going to miraculously materialize, lol, and you must toil away with the full knowledge that what you are doing will likely NOT succeed. But like Camus’s Sisyphus, dig we must…

But here you castigate those that know that these efforts have little chance of success but nevertheless toil on, apparently in favor of the flag wavers – and there is your real culprit… The smiling distributors of Blue Litmus Tests, the arbiters of the “illiberal left”, the exiters and the never enoughers 😉

Merwyn Ambrose You want to see where the cancer is, Elstun? Ask Harriet why the few sentences that would have protected Alaska workers from being denied medical services were excised from HB79 with the consent of the House Majority Caucus, and then come dance by the fire 🙂

Merwyn Ambrose Cynicism is the rejection of the accoutrements of power, and the recognition that Hobbes understood full well human nature (including Macpherson’s possessive Narcissism). The Maroons who have been selling their confused version of Locke’s tepid philosophy might be excused their ignorance (though perhaps not their hubris) but Locke, in his confusion, did draw a line in the sand. It comes down to Aristotle or Plato ever again – we either forge our own way, or search for magical tablets, and if the former, then we need to fully understand the beast we are dealing with, no???

Merwyn Ambrose Man of Constant Sorrow – Soggy Bottom Boys – O…

Allen Blume MA, this is assuredly some of your best and most forthright writing! Well done, sir!

Merwyn Ambrose Thank you, AB. “One can’t appreciate philosophy until one understands that one IS the relish…” Now THAT was good

Merwyn Ambrose I appreciate the criticism of Coyne and others that the arguments as to the “illiberal left” are simply artifacts of alt-right trolling, lol, and I have often pointed out how the likes of Jonah Goldberg miss the boat, but you will note, Allen, as you peruse the thread, that there are flecks of foam on the mouths of Elstun’s intended audience 😉

“Progressives” demand forthright candidates willing to charge into the breach, but faced with persons of honesty and integrity, they regularly turn on them for lack of ideological purity.

As an educational progressive I went so far as to stand for election, lol. Check out the old web site: Let’s get it on! | Grober for School Board. I don’t recall any army of progressives flocking to me banner 🙂 In fact, just the OPPOSITE! Why is that, I wonder. Yes, I know, I am an alt-right troll….

Elstun W Lauesen Merwyn Ambrose my view of things has gotten simpler and more mystical. In math we have the Fibonacci seq in which every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones. Now the natural path of progress might adhere to this spiraling matrix, building, as it were, upon preceding values. But we know that it’s more like Hegel and less like Fibonacci, n, n+1, n-0.5, n+.75…

In the net of human experience we continue to limp along, sometimes dramatically like n+2.5 (as with electrification) and step back dramatically as we may see if Trumpism seizes arts and science (a National Science Foundation research grant on the weight of the human soul, perhaps, by NSF Head Franklin Graham, DD)

But my belief is that history in the age of the Jupiter Brain (look it up) becomes a series of fractal instances building a crystalline Stairway to Heaven (cue Led Zepplin)

Merwyn Ambrose Bradbury’s flaw, Elstun, was his failure to understand that scale is meaningless if the answer is 42…

Your comments indeed smack of Hegelian presupposition, and I worry that so many erstwhile progressive friends hide a belief in human “destiny”, lol. One of the most curious experiences I have had of late was reading Jonah Goldberg’s incredibly “progressive” introduction to “Suicide of the West”, in which he refutes the typical conservative litany on human “evolution”.

Not to push the physics analogy too far (as that is where so many ‘wu li dancers’ have gone so wrong), but light, as we know it, it based on what is arguably the imperceptible photon. It is the volume of these particles that we celebrate, and at core, the birth of these particles is on the subatomic level… hence, my argument that while one should not ignore gas giants (like Graham, pere et fils) the attempt to escape the “night that covers me” must address the minute, the granular, the local where those elements meet the organisms of tomorrow’s challenges. And that translates, dear friend to School Boards.

Rant of wrack and ruin, and hurl your epithets, but remember, the child is the father to the man.

Merwyn Ambrose He has a great riposte, Allen, but I honestly think I have 2 out of three falls here, rofl…..

The truth, gentlemen, is that this discussion should have its own thread, especially now that Elstun has admitted he is veering to the Pythagorean, lol. Music of the spheres?
Gustav Holst- The Planets, Full Suite

Allen Blume Elstun, my first instinct was to applaud your anti-cynicism polemic but then came Mr. Ambrose’ most articulate response. While there is truth in not succumbing to bleak cynicism and despair, if we fail to recognize the crisis today and the harsh cruelties to come, then we are setting ourselves up for catastrophic failure, and then, as Mr. Dewar has noted, get ready for a second FUBAR45 term in 2020.

As is already apparent, our own Democratic Party have become Quisling facilitators of the corporatist (read Fascist) agenda, willing to sacrifice the “proles” to some oligarch’s bottom line; and willingly so by the the Schumers, Pelosis, Feinsteins, et al who have become the virtually official spokespersons for Wall Street. In the face of such sycophantic surrender there is little any of us “down here” can do to reverse their abdication.

I’ve remarked elsewhere that I’m not particuarly sanguine about the coming “Blue Wave” in November because of the nature of the candidates that have emerged – mostly well-off, many former military, Chamber of Commerce neoliberals – and the fact that of all of the primary candidates only a very small percentage appear to have any substantive legislative experience/knowledge.

For those who are part of the former group, their co-option by Establishment Iron Triangles is virtually assured, while those in the latter group will be rudderless/leaderless/clueless until such time as they’re adopted by one or another of the special interest caucuses, because assuredly there is no “Poor Peoples Caucus” in the US Congress!

And while our national leaders curry favor with the Masters of the Universe our state and local parties drift ever closer to authoritarian “suck up, kick down” electoral management. Their agendas are virtually indistinguishable from their corporatist sponsors and the ALEC agenda.

And then there’s the putative leader of the so-called “Free World.” Even our seemingly “best” leaders (Obama and Clinton) were manipulated tools of Dark Money authoritarians (the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, the Mellon-Scaife robber barons) and where they may have had some political capital they could spend it was quickly consumed by the gaping maw of corporatism, phony capitalism, and rampant consumerism. When their coins were spent or devalued they had little choice but to bend over in accommodation to their political captors.

Each of us has struggled with affecting political change in the “polis'” interest, ably backstopped and supported by one another. We’ve taken our lumps, crawled off to knit ourselves back together, and returned to the fray – but increasingly there hasn’t been enough liniment, bandages, splints, or aspirin to make the hurts go away, and that has taken a severe toll, even among the strongest true-believers.

I see and recognize that you’re not offering Polly-Anna saccharin in your charge to all of us, but I fear you’re diminishing our ability to see the harsh realities that loom over us and that demand that we think differently – prudently – about the crisis at hand.

We’re seeing the bloody specter of Nazism already shambling across our political desert but our responses are tepid and inconsequential; and liberals that we are, we will sit in conference introducing ever more evidence of the horrors loosed and not push away from that conference table to take our outrage into the streets where it should be made manifest.

Do I sound cynical? I damned well hope so! If we do not make for a militant common cause to oppose this usurpation of our freedoms then we had best circle our wagons, hunker down, and hope we can ride out the coming years of oppression and hate. I don’t like this second alternative but it’s increasingly looking like it may be our only means of survival!

Husbandry vs Hubris

We had seen her regularly in RJSP for a month or more. This past weekend she was down in the spring, and Tuesday she was up in the meadows below the moraine. But there was as yet no sign of any calf. This morning as we walked the proposed bike trail, Bernie suddenly went on point, and I scanned the copse of trees 40 yards ahead. Sure enough, there was mama with not one calf, but two, brightly minted new moose. Any tweener on that trail on a mountain bike (and I have raised a few myself) would have plowed into Mama Moose at about 8 mph, and the Mrs. would not have been pleased.

What we are seeing in the MOA’s brash attempt to push through single track trails in Russian Jack Springs Park is a past MOA Park official now running a private grant shop abusing Municipal systems intended to protect natural resources (and the public’s interests) to promote a recreational user group, entangling ADF&G habitat biologists in what is really a web of deceit. The proposed trail ran through wetlands in an area identified as critical natural habitat and the response, put crudely, from ADF&G biologist Cunya, was that a game path is much the same as a highway so it’s of no concern to anyone at ADF&G… Did I overstate the biologist’s position? Perhaps, but that was the impact of what he had to say on the grant process, because Ms. Nordland (not Anna Shaw, who spoke to the biologists) certified that there were no resident fish in RJSP (false), no anadromous fish in RJSP (very possibly false), no migratory fowl in RJSP (false), no raptors in RJSP (false), and no concerns regarding interactions between large land mammals and humans (really?).  And virtually none of that is really defensible.

Is my disappointment primarily with ADF&G? No. Frankly, the MOA (and the buck here sits in Chris Schutte’s lap) has bobbed and weaved in an effort to duck every checkpoint that Planning has placed in the system, including, apparently, ignoring Title 21’s requirement for a UDC Trail review, ensuring that the WNRC could not review the project, and refusing to comply with the 2006 Municipal Plan or the 2009 directive from PRC requiring the development of a natural resource plan before any further development in the park. But as habitat biologists, ADF&G staff could have set flags, in no small part because they are very well aware that the MOA has no habitat staff.

Last year my neighbor and I put out garbage cans in the park (and regularly cleaned them) because P&R had decided that the danger of Black bear in RJSP was so great that all non-bear proof cans had to be removed. They took ours, as well the cans at the ball fields! We have seen one Black bear in the area (on the east side of Cheney Lake) in 20 years. We see half a dozen moose in RJSP almost year around, with 2-4 calves each spring, and the position of P&R is that if someone gets hurt by a moose “that’s up to the lawyers to work out, ha ha ha”. Perhaps we need to change the name of Parks and Rec. to the Municipal Hubris Department?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pages 50-51 of the Anchorage Bowl Park, Natural Resource,and Recreation Facility Plan, adopted by Adopted by Ordinance AO 2005-122, April 18, 2006. Click on the images to obtain the pdf files.

A Less Modest Proposal

Recently some folk have gotten their shorts in a twist because someone has the temerity to suggest that killing a 200 year old whale is not necessarily a good idea. Efforts to address those upset have been very unsuccessful because any word to suggest that Native harvest of whales should be challenged is labeled racism (which it, by definition, is not).

There is way too much emotive baggage, way too little reflection on issues underlying our cultural prejudices. Tribalism is inherent in Homo sapiens… we are virtually hard wired to be tribal as that provided some selective benefit as we evolved from under the shadows of the thunder lizards , but now it will kill us all. The harvest of marine mammals is still (and will likely become more of) a widely debated ethical decision (much as has happened with respect to pigs) as no human will die of lack of whale meat. The question is one of cultural relativism. If I eat children should I be allowed to continue eating children? Really. Why shouldn’t I eat your child? Or just mash it up as a blood sacrifice to my gods (which, after all, is not atypical for Homo sapiens)? While Dean Swift was being ironic when he penned “A Modest Proposal”, the point he makes is still very poignant, and the taking of marine mammals is as close to the dominionism now infecting our political culture.

If Critter A is hungry and he wants to eat another critter, he will run into some issues eventually, and he develops a credo that allows him to eat some (but not all) other critters. That credo, based largely on belief, is a matter of faith. You eat pig because you believe the pig is dumb, or you have some divine authority, or other excuse that applies to pig, but not dog, horse, or people. Many Neolithic and tribal cultures invent a mythology that results in their belief that their prey gives themselves freely to predator. This is, as suggested above, no far reach from dominionism.

Arguing that a specific cultural approach to life is inappropriate is not necessarily racist (and I think is rarely so, though humans are particularly inventive when it comes to being stupid). I think Female Genital Mutilation is horrific, yet I have no real qualms about Male Genital Mutilation… imagine that! Such cultural prejudices are endemic to Homo sapiens. At core it is now essentially a matter of faith. With the clash of cultures, questions will be asked, and I think that is appropriate – that is what Montesquieu was talking about when he discussed commerce, and the claims of “historical accident”, “cultural artifact”, or “religious tenet” can, and eventually will,  wear thin.


Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal. 1729. https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/modest.html

War, Korea and reality: an historical reflection

In my previous post “Reflections on War and Reality” I described how in the 20th century nationalist movements in South-east Asia used communism as a legitimizing philosophy. In particular Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam and Mao-Tze Tung of China interpreted Marxist philosophy in a manner that appealed to local nationalists thus garnering widespread popular support.

As a friend reminded me just before the article was published, Ho Chi Minh was well known to the United States and the West. He had implored the Big Four to recognize Vietnam’s right to self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Later he served as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) during World War II. In the latter role he helped lead the anti-Japanese resistance in French Indochina. When the Allies refused to recognize Vietnamese demands for independence from France, Ho Chi Minh became the leader of a national resistance to colonial rule.

Ho’s story is worth revisiting since it contains parallels to a similar communist East Asian figure – one who like Ho would become a pariah in the eyes of the Western World. His name was Kim Il Sung and he would rise to become the first president of an independent North Korea.

Like Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung grew up in the shadow of imperialism. In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan. Kim’s parents were active in the anti-Japanese resistance but were forced to flee to Manchuria. There Kim joined the Chinese Communist Party and later joined the Communist guerillas in their fight against the invading Japanese Army. After a long and brutal campaign, Kim and some surviving guerillas fled to the Soviet Union. There Kim and his comrades were re-trained by the Red Army and Kim eventually rose to the rank of army major.

After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Kim returned to Korea and established the Korean People’s Army. With the support of China and the Soviet Union he took control over the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile South Korea became an independent entity led by the American trained and backed Syngman Rhee.

Both Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee were repressive strongmen backed by rival superpowers. Yet both men were representative of a broader Korean nationalism. Where they differed was how that ideology should be expressed and to what end: A worker’s dictatorship or a hierarchical capitalist oligarchy. Eventually, their differing visions led to all-out war between the North and South.

When a widespread insurgency against Rhee’s government broke out in the South in 1950, Kim saw an opportunity to untie the two Koreas. Initially the North possessed greater firepower and in a matter of months, they had conquered most of the peninsula. But for U.S. intervention, the North would have completely overrun the South. Instead, the U.S. President Truman sent an American Army commanded by the increasingly unstable Douglas MacArthur to Korea, supported by a multi-national force including British, Canadian and ANZAC troops operating under the auspices of the United Nations.

MacArthur and the UN Forces routed Kim’s armies, prompting China to intervene on behalf of North Korea. In turn the Chinese drove the American-led coalition back to the 38th Parallel, where a truce between the North and South was agreed. A full armistice between the two sides was delayed at first by an intransigent Syngman Rhee, who even went as far to say that should the US pressure South Korea into an armistice, he would order the UN and American Forces out of Korea so that the South’s armies could die fighting the enemy alone. Finally in July 1953, both sides laid down their arms.

However the stalemate at the 38th Parallel did not result in a peace treaty. Instead every morning since the armistice of July 27th 1953, officers from both the North and South meet in order to agree to another twenty four hour extension to the truce.

Relations between the two Koreas remained tense up until the 1990’s. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il. The younger Kim proved more moderate than his father. In 1998 he initiated the Sunshine Policy intended to improve relations with the South. South Korean companies were allowed to bid on contracts in the North. A rail-service between the two states opened for the first time since the Korean War.

Relations with the West also improved. In an agreement with the Clinton Administration, North Korea agreed to curb its development of nuclear weapons. Relations between the Koreas, the US and China were on the path to normalcy. To help facilitate better relations, the US agreed to sell fuel oil and other commodities to the North.
However that agreement was never finalised. In 2000, US President George W Bush came to power bringing with him to the White House the Manichean world view of the neo-conservative lobby. Clinton’s agreement with Pyongyang was thrown out. In response North Korea resumed its pursuit of the nuclear bomb – and by 2006 it had procured it.

North Korea carried out four more nuclear tests between 2006 and 2016 and on each occasion the responses from its neighbors and the West were full of bellicose rhetoric. George W Bush described North Korea in silly terms. North Korea was part of the “axis of evil” he said and Richard Perle who served as on the Pentagon’s National Security Council regularly used the word “evil” when discussing North Korea with journalists. The hypocrisy of Perle, Rumsfeld and Cheney regarding the issue was striking considering neo-conservative connivance with dictators in the Middle East and Latin America under Reagan. As a Clinton Administration diplomat described the Bush Administration’s stance on North Korea, the Republicans didn’t have a policy on North Korea –they had an attitude.

The ideology of the Bush presidency trumped common-sense and objective reality when it came to North Korea’s actual nuclear capabilities. Eleven years after North Korea’s first nuclear test, Pyongyang hardly has an effective nuclear arsenal. What weapons it possesses are insignificant in number (perhaps a dozen) compared to those in the possession of the US and China (around 4000 and 600, respectively).

The drive behind North Korea’s quest for nuclear capability is motivated less by military considerations than simple economics and domestic politics. North Korea suffers from a shortage of energy and trade. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s she has also suffered chronic food shortages. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a loss of a vital trading partner. China’s development of her own extensive coal and oil reserves has lowered the demand for imports of North Korean coal. South Korea too has enjoyed an economic boom.
Compounding matters is Kim Jong Un’s unpopularity at home. He is the first North Korean President born after 1950 and cannot claim the same lofty status as his father and grandfather.

What a sensible observer in the period of the Sunshine Policy and beyond would have recognized was the opportunity help end Pyongyang’s isolation. They would also have acknowledged the late Kim Jong Il’s admiration for China’s modernization efforts and interpreted his pronouncements as an opportunity to assist North Korea with meaningful economic reforms. Trade between the North and South might have been encouraged and with that trade a normalization of relations between the two Koreas and an eventual peace treaty might have occurred.

But instead of a sensible, measured policy towards Pyongyang, the US offered ramped up militarism. Under Bush, American troops participated in war-games with Taiwan, annoying China and by extension alarming North Korea. Instead of diplomatic overtures, Bush and the neo-cons talked of “regime change.” Once again the Hermit Kingdom retreated into itself.
Under Barack Obama, a measure of sanity was restored to US-North Korean relations, yet the fundamental issues driving North Korea’s quest for nuclear power were ignored by the West. Kim Jong Il’s death brought his son Kim Jong Un to power and with him a hardened attitude towards the rest of the world.

Yet looking beyond the bluster of Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric a picture emerges of a rather insecure and immature man, unsure of his position and willing to engage in compensating behaviors such as military displays and absurd pronouncements regarding North Korea’s military power. Sensible diplomacy with this in mind would do wonders for relations between Pyongyang and its neighbors.

But as in 2000, 2016 has brought with it another missed opportunity in the form of US President Donald J. Trump. Like Kim Jong Un, Trump displays a narcissistic insecurity and a penchant for bellicose and silly rhetoric. Neither Trump nor his cabinet possess the necessary understanding of history or the tact to address North Korea’s issues or concerns about its own security.

Like the administration of George W Bush, Trump’s cabinet makes up for a lack of policy with a cavalier attitude. This was on display Friday April 14th when with typical vague bluster Trump stated to reporters “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of.” On Fox Business News he said “We are sending an armada. Very powerful” and of Kim “He is doing the wrong thing. He’s making a big mistake.” Incapable of self-reflection, Trump clearly missed the irony of this last statement.

These statements also indicate the idiocy of current administration policy towards Pyongyang. Threatening pre-emptive action against North Korea in the event of further nuclear weapon’s tests ignores the reality of Pyongyang’s weakness as well as overestimating the extent of US military power to deliver on those threats. Much of North Korea’s military infrastructure was built underground in anticipation of enemy airstrikes. North Korea’s topography is mountainous and heavily forested providing additional protection against any “precision” aerial bombardment. Limited airstrikes against North Korea would accomplish little. Meanwhile, Pyongyang possesses enough conventional artillery to level most of the South Korean capital Seoul in a matter of minutes. Civilian casualties would be enormous in the event of that bombardment.

There is also China and its formidable military to consider, yet the White House has stated that it is prepared to act with its allies against North Korea without Chinese support.
Yet all of the above can be avoided once the past is considered and the meaning behind Kim’s rhetoric is understood. However despite decades of bluster from North Korea, Trump the reality TV president seems unable to differentiate talking tough from being tough and to comprehend North Korea’s actual economic and military reality. A truly strong and sensible leader would work to de-escalate tensions and seek a long term solution to East Asia’s security concerns. However Trump, himself a blusterer, is playing the role of president instead of behaving with common-sense.

The moral vacuum that is the Trump Administration was put on display earlier in the week when Syria was bombarded by 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles and the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal was detonated in Afghanistan.

Like Bush’s war-games with Taiwan in the early 2000’s the effect of these acts on Pyongyang has been considerable. In the face of an equally insecure and narcissistic American President, Kim Jong Un feels compelled to escalate his own silly self-serving behaviours. His planned nuclear test, intended to coincide with the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday, is a show of force to prove to the North Korean population that he is a strong leader and equal to his grandfather. Seen for what it really is the act while disreputable is insignificant in the broader international sense. However in the mind of an immature US President, Kim’s nonsense is something to be taken seriously.

There is an irony that both Trump and Kim Jong Un share an identical characteristic: they are both unpopular in their home nations and fearful of their political legitimacy.

Like that of Vietnam, Korean history has been shaped and scarred by attitudes both foreign and domestic. The Ancient Chinese believed Korea to be a disobedient child. The Japanese condescendingly viewed Koreans as their “little brothers”.  The Korean War of 1950 to 1953 was aggravated by Western attitudes towards communism and local animosities between Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee. The current crisis between the US and North Korea is based on a dangerous combination of ignorance, insensitivity and boorishness. Assuming that there is a de-escalation of tensions, those who will claim victory will be Trump and Kim Jong Un for standing firm.

Ho Chi Mihn – 1946

Yet the true victors of this grubby fiasco will be China for winning the diplomatic victory and holding the moral high ground, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe, an outspoken Japanese militarist will use the crisis to drum up support for rebuilding the Japanese military along Imperial lines. From there arises the potential for a case to be made for Japan to possess its own nuclear deterrent to counter both China and North Korea.
Since Japan’s economy is faltering and its population dropping, Abe’s resort to militarism is a logical step for an unimaginative character who has failed to address Japan’s economic woes. These failings will be glossed over by his stance towards North Korea: another example of a politician acting tough.

In the meantime, and until the latest crisis is resolved, the fate of millions hangs in the balance – assuming of course that the reality of their predicament is considered at all by our political leaders.

Reflections On War And Reality

Carl von Clausewitz, the author of On War witnessed the brutality of modern warfare. He was present at some of the most critical battles of the Napoleonic Wars and saw first-hand the carnage large groups of armed men and artillery can inflict on one another.

He fought on the side of the Russians at Borodino (1812) where approximately 80,000 men on both sides were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Clausewitz saw the horrific slaughter of French Infantry at the Raevsky Redoubt – a series of earthworks from which a rain of cannon and musket fire scythed down the advancing French troops in grim a precursor to the trench warfare later played out at disparate locations such as Sebastopol (1854-55),Cold Harbour (1864) and the Marne (1914). Later he fought at the lesser known but equally significant battle of Wavre where the Prussian Army blocked French reinforcements from joining Napoleon at Waterloo (1815).

On War, which was published after his death in 1832 is both a theoretical treatise on warfare and rational summary of Clausewitz’s experience of combat. Typically, as in the case of all great thinkers, later academics both military and non-military have misinterpreted or misunderstood Clausewitz in order to justify their various ideological agendas. His most famous aphorism that “war is a continuation of politics through other means” has been removed from its context and used to justify massive public spending on armaments.

Yet one of the most significant and relevant passages from On War is probably the least famous [italics are mine].

Wars must vary with the nature of their motives and of the situation which gives rise to them. The first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgement that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.

Here Clausewitz is talking about the reality of motivation for war rather than the ideological convictions behind those motivations and how that reality should shape the tactics for the successful completion of a war. A further extrapolation being that the resolution of any conflict is dependent on what is real not what its actors desire it to be.

Yet since the end of World War II both the public and western militaries have dwelt in a bubble of non-reality. Since the conclusion of World War II one thousand soldiers and five thousand civilians have been killed per day in regional wars across the world. This is approximately the same number of deaths per diem as during World War II.

There is a public disconnection between the perception of this ongoing death and destruction and the reality of why it is occurring. Part of the blame for this lies with the unofficial covert status of modern warfare as practiced by Western powers. At the time of writing, French troops are embroiled in Mali while American military advisers in Kenya are assisting Kenyan troops in an ongoing fight with Al-Shabbab in Somaliland.

At the same time, troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria with the backing of the American CIA and Britain are pursuing a war with Boko Haram in Nigeria and surrounding states.

In the Middle East, both Saudi Arabia and the United States are locked in a dirty war in Yemen while to the north, Palestinian opposition to US-supported Israeli occupation continues its violent cycle, a conflict that has since 1948 spilled over into Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

The Syrian Civil War that erupted in 2011 has drawn outside forces into that conflict. There are parallels with the Syrian Civil War and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 in that outside powers are working to influence the outcome of that conflict. In Syria, Russian, American and Turkish forces and their proxies are vying for control of an area crucial to oil exports and regional trade.

In each of these cases, the root causes of each conflict are environmental and nationalist. Each of the countries listed has suffered from climate change, most notably Syria where a series of failed harvests and the failure of the Assad regime to address food shortages ignited the popular revolt that triggered the recent Civil War.

The nationalist aspects of each conflict are visible in the manifestos of the groups involved. The organisations have different names – ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Quaeda, Al-Shabbab- and while their Islamist principles have been made evident through their many pronouncements on social issues, these groups are at the core, nationalist movements. Just as communism served as a legitimising ideology for nationalist movements in China and Vietnam, and Korea in post-World War II era, Islamism is being used by nationalist groups in Africa and the Middle East to create a sense of philosophical legitimacy.

None of this is to condone the methods employed by ISIS and other groups. It is merely an effort to provide an accurate portrait of these groups that is untainted by the jingoistic descriptions emanating from the Western powers.

Moreover, when the situation is looked at without an ideological lens, what is apparent is that all of the above conflicts are connected. In each case, Western powers and their proxies are fighting to maintain control over regions containing strategic resources.

Leaving aside the dubious ethical reason for the fighting, the ideological convictions at play on all sides are rooted in fantasy. The United States claims to be fighting a war against “terrorism” and against Islamist forces that want to control the world. The reality is that the groups they are fighting are local nationalist movements with an Islamist philosophy. The reality of geopolitics is that even if a group like Al-Shabbab came to power in its locale, it would be limited by both physical geography and ethnic geography. The latter is of crucial importance.

Consider Afghanistan and Vietnam. Even at the height of its power, the Afghan Taliban only controlled eighty percent of the Afghan landmass. They were limited by topography and the ethnic divisions that coalesced around the Northern Alliance, including the Tajiks and the Pamiris.

Similarly, the Domino Theory behind French and US intervention in Vietnam did not stand up to reality when in 1979 the Vietnamese defeated the invading Chinese forces during the Third Indochina War. American assumptions that China would absorb Vietnam ignored the centuries of ethnic rivalries between the two powers that predated Western colonialism.

Regardless of the reader’s stance on the so-call War on Terror, any sensible resolution to the above conflicts can only occur when reality is acknowledged and accepted over ideological agendas. To do otherwise is to deny Clausewitz’s correct assertion that statesmen and commanders neither mistake this war for, nor try to turn it into, something alien to its nature.

Failure to acknowledge that reality will result in the geopolitical, military, economic and political defeat of the West.

There are many reasons why militaries (and the societies that produce them) fail to come to terms with reality and all of these are rooted in ideology. In the case of the United States there exists at a tactical level, an obsession with military technology and equipment. Yet as defeat in Vietnam attested, technology alone does not ensure victory.

Second, there exists a moral dimension to America’s failure to grasp military realities; that being the contradiction of spreading democracy and free markets by armed force. Like the Athenians of the Classical Era, there is a dishonesty at the core of American foreign policy that denies the brutality and larceny that occurs when its military is unleashed against a foreign population.

Third and of primary importance is a religious ideology at entirely at odds with reality. US support for Israel, while ostensibly serving as a pillar of regional control is rooted in a fundamentalist Christian belief that the Final Conflict between the Messiah and the Anti-Christ will occur in Israel. That this belief (best described by the term dispensationalism) is not derived from the Gospel but from the Book of Revelations, – which in itself is derived from the pre-Christian Book of Daniel – and has no basis in physical reality is beside the point. The fact is believers in such abstract nonsense have influenced Western policy towards the Middle East for the last two hundred years. Most notably in the twentieth century was Prime Minister Lloyd George and his colleague Lord Balfour from whose foreign policy helped create the modern state of Israel. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair subscribed to dispensationalism and those beliefs influenced his determination to draw Britain into Gulf War II.

In the United States, dispensationalists have included former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. Donald Trump’s current energy secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry is a member of the Dominionist Church, a militant Christian grouping that seeks to set-up a Christian nation governed by biblical law. A planned consequence of this would be the criminalization of homosexuality, adultery and public blasphemy to name but a few “biblical crimes”, all of which would carry a death sentence.

That such beliefs are predicated on abstract nonsense does not diminish the fact that these beliefs have profoundly influenced American foreign and domestic policy since the end of World War II. In turn, these beliefs have hindered effective foreign and domestic policy during the same time period. The hardline Anti-Soviet stance adopted by the Christian Right helped precipitate the Cold War.

The dispensationalist support for “regime change” in the Middle East has cost the lives of millions of people and bankrupted the US treasury. These beliefs have had a deleterious effect on the effectiveness of the US military in foreign operations. The US military operates under the illusion that it is a crusading force for good, rather than an occupying army. The inability of US forces to handle the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was evident in its conduct towards civilians, its many war-crimes (Abu Ghraib being the most notorious) and the contrasting success of British forces operating in Basra.

Before these issues can be addressed, there first needs to be a widespread acknowledgement of reality among the citizenry. A capable president with the backing of popular support could do much to deal with these problems. Doing so would not be easy and it would require a great deal of personal courage. However, these issues are not insurmountable. Precedent can be found with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Faced with opposition to the policy of Glasnost and Détente with the US in the 1980’s Gorbachev was able to outmaneuver his critics and his own generals. After Mathias Rust flew his plane over Red Square, Gorbachev used the incident to marginalise the army generals who opposed his reform policies. The result for the world was the aversion of nuclear conflict with the US and the end of the Cold War.

War is as Plato noted, a reality “that exists as if by nature between every city-state.” However a constant state of war as exists in the Western World today undermines the foundations of civilisation. Wars, then while an occasional and unpleasant necessity should therefore be ended as quickly as possible. Instead, the dominant ideologies behind modern Western militarism persist in perpetuating unlimited, endless warfare. These forces must be stopped and controlled through democratic means otherwise they will continue to undermine the moral and economic well-being of society.

Carl von Clausewitz

Doing so will not be easy. The journalist Chris Hedges compared war to an addictive drug and like addicts western militarists are unable to perceive the damage they are doing to society. There is no easy solution to that addiction but the first step is the acceptance of reality. That requires an informed citizenry rejecting the nonsensical views of ideologues like Karl Rove who once said of the Republican Party “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Regardless of the cognitive dissonance of Rove and others, the most important lesson of war was best stated by Sun-Tzu: There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.