Monday, September 27, 2004


Are we emulating the Germans of 1942?

There is an eerie parallel between the US occupation of Iraq and the German occupation of France in 1942 and later. In both cases, an active resistance to the occupation grew up and became stronger with time. In both cases, the occupier tried to stamp out the resistance by purely military means. In both cases, the means involved killing "innocent" civilians. In both cases, the occupying power set up a government of its liking: the Petain regime in France and the Allawi regime in Iraq. Both occupying powers resorted to revenge killings in an effort to discourage popular support for the resistance.

There are differences, of course. There is no "Free Iraq" government in exile, like the Free French under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. The American occupation is not directed toward removing Jews or other non-Muslims from Iraq society. Iraq is not united, as the French were, in opposition to the occupier. For example, the Kurds are quite happy to see us occupying the rest of Iraq, their former oppressors. And, of course, we are not motivated by a belief that we Americans constitute a superior race.

Friday, September 24, 2004


Lessons of Viet Nam

In a short article in the October 4 issue of THE NATION magazine, writer Jonathan Schell laments that we Americans have forgotten the lessons of Viet Nam. Because of our public amnesia, we are again involved in a war in which a “growing uprising against the American occupation of Iraq” is frustrating our goal of creating a stable democratic government in that country. I take issue with the writer’s explanation of the willingness of the American public to follow and approve the Administration’s foolish attempt to impose democracy by the sword in Iraq. I think we never learned the “lessons” of Viet Nam because there never was a consensus among our leaders as to what the lessons were.

One “lesson” was that we lost the war in Viet Nam because our political leaders refused to let the generals use all the weapons in our arsenal. Specifically, we avoided using an nuclear weapons against the enemy. We could have easily wiped out, or threatened to wipe out the city of Haiphong. A faction of Americans believe that the use, or threat of use of our nuclear weapons would have settled matters to our liking.

Another “lesson” was that we lost Viet Nam because of the liberals and lefties who demonstrated so vigorously and effectively against the war. They turned public opinion against the Administration’s policy. It was such persons as Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and other anti-war activists that cost us the victory. This is the lesson that our President has learned. He inveighs against those who assert that things are going very badly in Iraq and that a fundamental change in policy is needed. Such statements, he says, sends mixed messages to the people of Iraq and to our own fighting men and give encouragement to our enemies.

Another “lesson” was that we long ago forgot how to fight a guerilla war. We were very good at guerrilla tactics in the war of the American Revolution and fairly good in the war of 1812, but were committed to standard military tactics and strategies by the time of the Civil War. We were unable to defeat the guerrilla leader Pancho Villa in Mexico. We had great difficulty defeating Aguinaldo in the Philippines. We didn’t have a clue as to how to achieve a military victory in Viet Nam.

We fought in Viet Nam because we feared a Communist take-over of all of Asia. The domino theory predicted that if the Communists prevailed in Viet Nam, Thailand would be the next to succumb, followed by Malaya, Indonesia, and the rest. As we have seen from what happened after we left Viet Nam, the domino theory was incorrect. The Communists did indeed prevail in Viet Nam. The feared plague did not spread. The war had been unnecessary.

Which of these lessons is the one we should have learned from Viet Nam? There still isn’t a consensus. Until we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


CBS Blew It; Was the Network duped by Karl Rove?

It is an object lesson in how the Bush campaign and the news media have diverted attention from the allegations in the CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast about Bush’s National Guard service to the fraudulent nature of the documents that contained the allegations. The argument is that since the documents are phony, the allegations must be phony.

The allegations relate to Bush’s service in the Alabama National Guard. After serving in the Texas Air National Guard, he obtained a transfer to the Alabama National Guard. Some official documents of his service there are missing. It has been reported that he went to Alabama to help in the election campaign of a family friend. It is suspected that, although he was a capable airplane pilot, he gave up the privilege of flying when he avoided a routine physical examination. These and other allegations were known long before CBS aired its program. They have not been convincingly refuted by the Bush campaign.

An allegation in the CBS program was that Bush, a member of a wealthy and politically influential family, received preferential treatment in being admitted to the Texas Air National Guard. Well, duh! Is there anyone on the planet who doubts that such a thing happened? The former Speaker of the Texas Legislature admits that he helped young Bush get into the Guard.

Now the Bush campaign people are spreading the word that it was the Democrats, and particularly some operatives in the Kerry campaign, who put CBS up to it. That’s a plausible claim. Of course, Kerry’s campaign denies that it had anything to do with it. You, the uncommitted voter, can decide for yourself whether the CBS broadcast was a Democratic “dirty trick” that went sour. But, you should not underestimate the shrewdness of the Bush people. Knowing that their candidate is vulnerable to the charge of using special influence to escape the draft during the Viet Nam war, how better to diffuse the charge than to plant phony documents with CBS, then publicly deny the allegation on the ground that the documents are forgeries?

Thursday, September 09, 2004



It has been written that we liberals are uncomfortable when a politician expresses a deep faith in a religious belief. This is at least partly true in my own case. I have been wondering why. Is there something in my own background that leads me to have such a reaction? What is my reaction - is it simply discomfort or is it skepticism, disbelief, and scorn?

I have to compare my reaction to President (then candidate) Bush’s assertion that Jesus Christ is his moral philosopher to statements of religious belief made by the Rt. Rev. Desmond Tutu, the (retired) Anglican archbishop of South Africa. I have watched television interviews with Bishop Tutu. He expressed his faith in God, and I was not in the least bothered. I accept his assertion of religious belief as genuine. I also consider that his religious faith leads him to do things that are beneficial to other human beings. Why don’t I give President Bush’s assertions of his religious faith the same credence that I give Bishop Tutu’s?

I searched my memory and thought of a reason. When my grandfather died in 1924, my father inherited his business. The business was the sale of farm implements, such as grain binders, disks, plows, and the like to farmers who lived near our village in Michigan. My father had the franchise from International Harvester Company. A competing business, located across the street, had a franchise from another large firm. To compete effectively, my father had to provide good service. When there was a problem with an implement, my father would go to the farm, inspect the implement, and get it working again. He gained a reputation for repairing equipment that lasted the rest of his life.

My father told me once of a conversation he had with another business man in the village. This man was a partner in a hardware business. He was also a very public member of one of the local churches. He advised my father (my father said to me) to join a church because it would be good for business. My father thought that this man was a contemptible hypocrite to use such an important thing as religious faith for commercial purposes.

Obviously, during my formative years, my moral philosopher was my father. I accepted his condemnation of the hardware partner as a phony. When I see or hear Mr. Bush asserting his Christian faith, I am reminded of the hardware partner.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


An Experience that Taught me Nothing

When I was a student at Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) one of my friends in the dormitory where I stayed was a student from Haiti. His name was Bertoni Vieux. He was tall and thin, probably about six feet and six inches. His father or uncle was an important official in the government of Haiti. I don't know what Bert's major was in college.

At one time in my young life (I was probably 18 at the time) I had read that the reason that Negroes spoke with a thick accent was that they had thick tongues and could not manage to articulate English words correctly. (I now know that most of them spoke with Southern accents.) Bert was as black a Negro as I had ever seen, and I one time got into an animated discussion with him about Negro tongues. I insisted that all Negroes had thick tongues and therefore had to speak English with an accent.

He must have thought I was the biggest fool he had ever met. Here he was, standing right in front of me, speaking English with a French accent, and I was insisting to him that he had a thick tongue that prevented him from speaking perfect English. I believed what I had read and ignored what I was hearing.


The title of this essay is probably not the best one I could have chosen. To explain my opinion about the subject, I have to write about how my opinion has changed. I start with the first glimpse I had of a homosexual person (or “queer”), which occurred when I was about nineteen years old and a student at Michigan State College. For the benefit of you youngsters, the name of that institution was changed some years after I graduated in 1944 to Michigan State University. At the time I was there, old timers remembered that the name had been changed not long before from Michigan Agricultural College. In fact, the tall smoke stack at the power building, where piles of coal were burned in the generation of electricity to light the campus, had the initials “MSC” on the north side and “MAC” on the south side. The south side faced the south campus, where the agricultural field plots were.

One day my friend J and I went on an adventure to a road house outside of East Lansing, where the law against underage drinking was not vigorously enforced. I have several vague recollections of that road house. To begin, we gained admittance by passing ourselves off as workers. We were given the task of collecting used drinking glasses and other dirty table utensils. I can recall the procedure of “cleaning” the drinking glasses. They were dipped in a sink of soapy water and pressed against a rotating brush, then rinsed and returned to the supply of “clean” glasses. The soapy water may have contained a strong germicide or it may be that the patrons were all healthy. I never heard of any outbreak of some dreadful, contagious disease associated with the road house.

During a lull in our clean-up duties, J pointed out to me a homosexual man. I don’t think the term “gay” was in use yet at the time, and I can’t remember how J referred to him. Was it “Queer?” “Faggot?” “Fairy?” I don’t know, but probably the term was “fairy,” as that was a commonly used term in those days for homosexual men. I remember my own feeling at the sight of the person. He was dressed rather differently from others, so he stood out in the crowd, but I can’t remember any more details of his clothing. My reaction was like that I had in Alaska, may years later, at the sight of a grizzly bear in the distance. It wasn’t scorn or hatred or disgust. It was fear and caution. I kept a careful distance between myself and that man.

Later that day my friend and I returned to the campus and to the dormitory where we stayed. We made a spectacular entrance into the dining hall dressed, as well as we could, in the current “zoot suit” style, with baggy pants and long key chains and neckties tied in the fashion of bow ties.

A few years later, I was working for a government research laboratory and was on a field trip to a plant in Boston that manufactured underwater sound transducers for the Navy. One of the technicians in the plant told about a homosexual man who had been at the plant not long before. He said that this man told him that he liked men better than women. There was no tone of scorn or hatred in the technician’s manner of speech. He was simply recounting something that he thought was rather unusual and interesting.

Several years later I was living in California. I became involved in politics and was attending a convention of the California Democratic Council. I don’t remember where; it may have been Long Beach. I was introduced to two delegates to the convention from San Francisco. They were gay men. They greeted me effusively and politely. One of them kissed my hand. Their manner was, to my way of thinking, effeminate. That is, they acted in the way one supposes women would act rather than men. Clearly, they were no menace and had no resemblance to grizzly bears or other large predators. Since that time I have met other gay men who do not act in that manner. It has occurred to me that the two guys from San Francisco were putting on an act and teasing me a little.

Finally, I can mention several gay men whom I have met and become fairly well acquainted with in recent years. One was B, whom I met in Co-counseling. B and I co-counseled a few times. In one private session with me, he told me he was gay. I had a very good opinion of him and from what I could see, I would have trusted him to care for young children. Later, again in a political context, I met E, K, A, G, and M. These are all homosexual men. Their demeanors do not mark them as unusual or “queer.” I would not know that they were homosexual unless they had told me. E, A, and M openly told me of their sexual preferences. I learned of K’s preference from a friend who knew him better than I. G and E have exposed their preferences in writing and make no secret of their sexual orientation.

My present opinion is that none of these individuals are grizzly bears. One of them is politically ambitious and can be a bit obnoxious at times. He has a rather aggressive personality. I am on good terms with all of them and have no hesitation in addressing them by first names. I do not see how they could be considered any sort of menace to me, to any other individual, or to society. They have live-in partners. They have long-term commitments, just as I have a long-term commitment to my beloved wife. If they wish to consider themselves married, if they wish to have solemn ceremonies to celebrate their commitments, if they wish to have benefits like those that society bestows on “legally married” couples, I have no objection. In fact, I applaud their commitments to their partners. No one will ever be able to convince me that allowing gay men and women to marry their partners is in any way a threat to me or to my own marriage.

Saturday, September 04, 2004


False Beliefs and Fond Hopes

Along with deep skepticism, the voting public has a naïve trust in the ability of government and political leaders to accomplish several goals. Two of these are:

The public is justifiably concerned about future terrorist attacks. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry try to persuade the voters that the great responsibility of the next President will be to prevent any such attacks. Mr. Bush claims that he has the resolve and determination to lead and direct the war against terror and that it is the successful prosecution of that war as well as his determination that will protect us from any more such attacks. Mr. Kerry claims that he also has the needed resolve, determination, and character. Furthermore, he has a better plan that Mr. Bush on how to proceed with the “war on terror.” While Mr. Bush seems to rely solely on the military might of the United States and the resolve of Americans, Mr. Kerry proposes to enlist the support of allies to share the burden of continuing the attack.

Many members of the public are also concerned about their economic futures. They want an economy that creates more good jobs for them, jobs as good as the ones they have lost. They feel that, even though there are jobs available, they do not pay well and do not have the benefits that jobs used to have. They resent illegal immigrants for depressing the wages of low-paying jobs. They resent the outsourcing of jobs to firms in India and elsewhere. Above all, they believe that government is powerful enough to do something effective about the situation.

These are fond hopes. Government can not prevent another terrorist attack, any more than the local police department can prevent a criminal from murdering me. Government can not control the world-wide business cycle. A government may be able to control the economy within its own borders, but the cost is economic isolation from the rest of the world and, as experience has shown, permanent recession made worse by growing corruption.

What government can and should do is to alleviate the effects of economic depression and international terror. Franklin Roosevelt showed us the way to relieve the effects of a depressed economy: use government to create public works programs to put people back to work, improve the infrastructure, and so on.

Mr. Bush himself showed us, in the first few days after 9/11/01, that a President can express compassion for the loss and can energize not only the nation but the entire civilized world to embark on an effort to bring the criminals to justice and to deal with some of the causes of terror. Unfortunately, he then proceeded to lose the sympathy of the rest of the world by snubbing the United Nations and engaging in an unrelated attack on Iraq. He is now trying to recover the sympathy and the good will toward the United States that his actions have cost. I doubt that he can succeed. If John Kerry is elected to replace him, I hope that Mr. Kerry will succeed in this endeavor.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Temporary Pessimism

I am pessimistic these days. It appears that the voting public is more interested in dramatic lies told by the candidates or their surrogates about each other than in the important issues that are going to be settled by the coming election. The public is titillated at accounts that "perhaps" John Kerry told a few lies to get his medals and his purple hearts. The public would be equally titillated at an account of how George W. Bush really spent his time in Alabama while supposedly serving in the National Guard. The truth or falsity of such assertions are completely irrelevant to the qualifications of either man to be the President. They have nothing to do with the policies that either man would probably follow if he is elected (or reelected) in November. Nevertheless, these stories crowd out the more important issues that are to be settled next November, such as:

I look forward to a lively discussion about these and other important issues.

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