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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

How far have we come?


Times Square, VE Day 1945

Recently, Judgement at Nuremberg was on PBS and TCM, asd TNT's Nuremberg movie is on their On Demand service.

61 years after the end of the war in Europe, it is a fair question to ask how far have we come. We tried the Nazis, not just for wholesale murder, but a multitude of criminal acts including aggressive war.

We divide history into neat segments which do not exist in real life. The New Deal made the fleets and armies possible. Berlin's skies turned black filled with airmen saved by government relief and flew in planes build by a government ready to do large things and ask for great sacrifices.

When Grover Norquist talks about drowning the government and the conservatives talk of small government, they forget that it was large government which saved Europe from communism after WWII, the one that fought the Korean War. They want a large government to wage war, but a small one to run America and the two do not mesh.

We have an army taking autistics and gang members because there is no way Bush can ask for national service, even voluntary national service, from the majority of Americans. Most of those in the service want out when their enlistments end. The former NCO's and Officers on the blog are horrified by this.

But after 9/11, Bush asked for nothing. Not to save gas, not to enlist, nothing. So the burden fell on the willing and they are tired. Tired of war, tired of begging for food, tired of seeing their friends horrifically wounded. Once, military service was a way up and out for the working poor, a way to see the world. Most military jobs involve transportation or other kinds of service, only 10 percent, the stuff they show on TV, involves killing, and only a few are members of the elite Special Operators. But Iraq is so dangerous that any job can involve risk, and parents do not want their children taking that risk.

Bush has demanded nothing, and he gets nothing.

The US after WWII understood not only the burdens but the rewards of shared sacrifice. The GI Bill was originally to be a limited program to reward combat survivors, but was pushed to include all honorably discharged service members, men and women, black, latino and white.

This administration does not. It's as if Herbert Hoover was asked to fight the Nazis without rallying the public.

But we don't face Nazis, no matter how much the sad, drink-sodden Christopher Hitchens may pretend, we face the poor and angry, fighting for a fantasy world, a perfect world which never existed.

And how do we do it? By tossing away every lesson we've learned from Nuremberg.

We build gulags, we sent people into a modern version of night and fog, where people are beaten to death, we coerse our allies into accepting kidnapping flights and dump the passengers in places where they will be tortured.

In the TNT movie, Herman Goering is given his endictment by a Major Airey Neave. Neave, who was a lawyer by profession, had been one of the SOE's premier agents in Europe and had escaped from the Gestapo. His feats eventually were noticed by the German high command, as was the desire for his untimely death.

There is a moment of moral superiority when Neave hands Goering the criminal charges against him. Why? Because Goering was a murderer and Neave opposed him.

Bush and Rumsfeld traded that, the thing we could have faced Osama Bin Laden down with, something the world would have stood by us, for capturing Saddam and destroying Iraq. We now kick around the idea of partitioning Iraq as if it is any more legal than Hitler and Stalin dividing Poland and annexing Austria.

American foreign policy has been addicted to power and fear for a long time, as our Central American neighbors can tell you. But we backed the torturers, we didn't take their place, unleash angry young men on them, ship them to places where torture was the rule of the day, then dump them in Albania as a mistake or because they have no place else to go.

Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush made a fatal error, not because we have to worry about Iraqis blowing up buildings years from now, but because we gave away the advantage of clean hands. It may not be much, but it gave us the moral high ground to save dissisents and press for human rights. Vietnam may have ben wrong, but it was based on real fears and was logical. There was an army and a government and we chose sides. Iraq had no sides, just exiles with a siren song only fools heard.

But now, they disdained what they should have held deeply. They thought they could act in any way, because 9/11 would brook no questions. Torture, aggresive war, it didn't matter because we were America, we ruled the world, and other people would follow along.

Too bad half of America didn't even believe that, much less willing to risk their children in such a colonial adventure. Europe, having seen this before, walked away. The French and Germans knew how this ended and it was always tragic. Not movie tragic, but generationally tragic. Iraq is ruined for a generation, maybe two, and Iran and Syria, which now have the whip hand, will feel it as well.

The excuse for violating what we once rejected was more than hubris. Every society has sadists. Most keep them under check, few allow them real power. Rumsfeld unleashed them, their worst instincts justified and it went from CENTCOM down to their field. Sadism is a controllable act, like any other act. Sadists can be controlled. But not when the allure of torture seems near, the ability to solve problems through force. Rumsfeld unleashed these people because he thought they had an easy solution to a difficult problem.

But instead, they allows children to be raped and the innocent murdered for no gain. None.

We had embraced what we had fought so hard to end, not because we were inherently evil, but because it was one more easy thing to do for a man who always chosen the easy, wrong path.

I would like to think we will redeem ourselves one day, that the sadists and their bosses will face justice, real justice, in a large court for the world to see, to redeem the promise of what was begun at Nuremberg

posted by Steve @ 3:13:00 AM

3:13:00 AM

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