In November 2016, Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton
became the first member of the United States military to die in the continuing
conflict in Syria. Chief Dayton was killed by an improvised bomb in the northern
part of the country, during a raid against the Islamic State. He was an
explosive ordnance disposal technician, a member of the elite bomb squad, as was
I, and everyone called him Scotty. He left behind a wife and two children. He
was 42 years old.
Forty-two. Scotty served 24 years, most of them at war, and he did it by choice.
In the days after his death, I spoke to a number of his friends and fellow
E.O.D. technicians to ask why he made that choice, to go back after already
completing at least five tours in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. They all gave
basically the same answer, and if you are as war-weary as I am, you may be
surprised to hear it: Scotty wanted to go to Syria, they told me, to finish the
long fight, to do his part until the job was done.
The longest conflict in American history — from Afghanistan to Iraq, to
high-value target missions throughout Africa and the Middle East — has resulted
in the nation’s first sustained use of the all-volunteer military, wounding and
killing more and more service members who resemble Scotty: parents, spouses,
career men and women. When compared with casualties of the Vietnam War, the
average age of our dead in this conflict, and the proportion who are married,
have both risen 20 percent. And that trend is accelerating as the burden of the
fight shifts more and more to older, highly trained counterterrorism forces. As
The Times reported recently, of the 18 service members lost in combat since
2016, 12 were Special Operations troops like Scotty.
Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent
fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture,
because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about
going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American
Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done
multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000
have done six or more deployments.
“There are some 40-year-old sled dogs that Uncle Sam has been relying on since
9/11,” one of Scotty’s friends said. “They’ll pull and they’ll pull till their
The Forever War is unlikely to end soon, and for those not in the military,
continued voluntary service in this perpetual conflict can be hard to
understand. Popular explanations — poor outside job prospects, educational
enticements, the brashness of youth — don’t hold up under scrutiny. Unemployment
has returned to historic lows, there are many ways to go to college that don’t
involve prolonged combat, and take it from me, bluster fades the first time you
pick through the carnage from a bomb blast in a playground. No one truly wants
to go back to see more of that.
If survival instincts were all-powerful, no one of sound mind would volunteer
for military service in wartime. This is the crux of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel
“Catch-22,” set in World War II. The main character, Yossarian, and his fellow
bomber pilots count their missions. They are told they can go home after a
certain number of bombing runs, but just as the end seems in sight, commanders
raise the number. Yossarian experiences a certain bureaucratic horror of being
stuck in a system, trapped, knowing he’ll die before reaching the always
out-of-reach final run. The only way out is to say you’re crazy. Crazy pilots
can’t fly, but, as Heller writes, “Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty
isn’t really crazy.” This is the Catch-22. Heller’s point is that
self-preservation is not merely sane, but the only sane response to never-ending
war. If this logic held sway now, all of America’s soldiers would have left Iraq
at the first opportunity and stayed home.
So why did Scotty continue to do one of the most demanding and dangerous jobs in
the United States military, in Syria of all places, when he could have retired
“He wanted to stay in the fight,” said a current member of his E.O.D. unit who,
like all of his active-duty comrades, asked not to be named. “Not to be a
daredevil. To lead men. It’s service.”
At its core, explosive ordnance disposal work is about lifesaving, not killing.
It is not simply feral id, but rather id ennobled, harnessed in the interest of
protecting others. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many explosive devices are meant to
harm civilians. Every bomb is defused, no matter the intended target, and in so
doing the country is left just a little safer for everyone.
The job shifts a bit, though, when you’re working as part of a Special
Operations team, as Scotty was when he was killed. The E.O.D. technician becomes
the defender of some of the toughest men produced by our nation’s military. He
or she has to do everything the assault force does — rappel from the helicopter,
clear the room, snatch the target — but backward. Instead of turning away from
the bomb, the technician runs in. “Scotty could admit when he was scared,” said
Clay Swansen, a longtime friend, “but he never backed down.” E.O.D. technicians
always prefer maximum distance and time when disarming a device, but on a raid,
you have neither. The work is often done by hand, in seconds.
“When you do a job like that,” a fellow chief said, “you accept the
probabilities. The standard is death. It’s not bravado. That’s kid stuff. It’s
functionality and responsibility.”
It is sadly appropriate that an E.O.D. technician should be the first American
military casualty of the Syrian war. Since the roadside bomb became synonymous
with terrorism, the men and women who disarm those devices, catalog them,
exploit their intelligence and track the bomb makers have played a central role
in the so-called war on terror. In response, the war has extracted an outsize
pound of flesh. There are only a few thousand of us, but Scotty was the 133rd
E.O.D. technician killed since Sept. 11.
Friends describe Scotty as funny and humble, but also fiercely protective. “He
wanted to be the guy downrange so other people didn’t have to be,” another
comrade said. “The most experienced of us don’t feel comfortable sending the
junior guys alone into harm’s way.”
Those junior members of the team would be in more danger because they lacked
experience. Several members of Scotty’s unit told me that only about two dozen
E.O.D. technicians have the qualifications and experience to do their
clandestine missions in Syria.
Scotty went back to combat because the volunteer list was short, and he could
shield his younger teammates and fulfill his particular duty to Iraq.
“It’s not vengeance,” a fellow E.O.D. chief said, “but we do have unfinished
In our current war, American service men and women have been killed in combat in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, the Philippines, Jordan, Yemen and now
Syria, at least. It’s hard to nail down a full list, because our Special
Operations forces work in obscure places with minimal public knowledge. The wars
have been going on so long that we Americans have had time to cheer, and then
protest, and then cheer again when we thought they might end, and then forget
when they didn’t.
Meanwhile, our country has trained the men and women of the military to never
give up. For many of those who served, then chose to go back for another tour,
and another, and another, there is meaning to be found in living up to that
Brian Castner is a former explosive ordnance disposal officer and the author of
“The Long Walk” and “All the Ways We Kill and Die.”
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 12, 2017,
on Page SR3 of the New York edition with the headline:
Still Fighting, and Dying, in the Forever War.
AS a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80
soldiers. Despite their sacrifices, and those of thousands more, all we have to
show for it are two failed wars. This fact eats at me every day, and Veterans
Day is tougher than most.
As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it. The grim butchery of war
hovers out of sight and out of mind, an unwelcome guest at the dignified
ceremonies. Instead, we talk of devotion to duty and noble sacrifice. We salute
the soldiers at Omaha Beach, the sailors at Leyte Gulf, the airmen in the skies
over Berlin and the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and we’re not wrong to do
so. The military thrives on tales of valor. In our volunteer armed forces, such
stirring examples keep bringing young men and women through the recruiters’
door. As we used to say in the First Cavalry Division, they want to “live the
legend.” In the military, we love our legends.
Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States
invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a
vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted
improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American
politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that —
The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill
some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to
a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’
unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled
today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the
surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The
remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than
eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as
The surge legend is soothing, especially for military commanders like me. We can
convince ourselves that we did our part, and a few more diplomats or civilian
leaders should have done theirs. Similar myths no doubt comforted Americans who
fought under the command of Robert E. Lee in the Civil War or William C.
Westmoreland in Vietnam. But as a three-star general who spent four years trying
to win this thing — and failing — I now know better.
We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome,
suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are
built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined
counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I
got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and
persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months,
and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season
into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise
in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.
What went wrong in Iraq and in Afghanistan isn’t the stuff of legend. It won’t
bring people into the recruiting office, or make for good speeches on Veterans
Day. Reserve those honors for the brave men and women who bear the burdens of
That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals. What
happened? How? And, especially, why? It has to be a public assessment,
nonpartisan and not left to the military. (We tend to grade ourselves on the
curve.) Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe
that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.
Such an accounting couldn’t be more timely. Today we are hearing some, including
those in uniform, argue for a robust ground offensive against the Islamic State
in Iraq. Air attacks aren’t enough, we’re told. Our Kurdish and Iraqi Army
allies are weak and incompetent. Only another surge can win the fight against
this dire threat. Really? If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over
and over and expecting different results, I think we’re there.
As a veteran, and a general who learned hard lessons in two lost campaigns, I’d
like to suggest an alternative. Maybe an incomplete and imperfect effort to
contain the Islamic State is as good as it gets. Perhaps the best we can or
should do is to keep it busy, “degrade” its forces, harry them or kill them, and
seek the long game at the lowest possible cost. It’s not a solution that is
likely to spawn a legend. But in the real world, it just may well give us
something better than another defeat.
Daniel P. Bolger, the author of “Why We Lost,” retired
from the United States
Army last year as a lieutenant general.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on November 11, 2014, on page A31 of
the New York edition with the headline: The Truth About the Wars
WHEN you’ve been wrong about something as important as war, as
I have, you owe yourself some hard thinking about how to avoid repeating the
mistake. And if that’s true for a mere kibitzing columnist, it’s immeasurably
more true for those in a position to actually start a war.
So here we are, finally, messily winding down the long war in Afghanistan and
simultaneously being goaded toward new military ventures against the regimes in
Syria and Iran. Being in the question-asking business, I’ve been pondering this:
What are the right questions the president should ask — and we as his employers
should ask — when deciding whether going to war is (a) justified and (b) worth
it? Here are five, plus two caveats, and some thoughts about how all this
applies to the wars before us.
1. HOW IS THIS OUR FIGHT?
It ought to be the first question we ask. Sometimes the answer is obvious. There
is a broad agreement that it was in America’s vital national interest in 2001 to
go after the homicidal zealots behind the 9/11 attacks on America, and the
Afghan regime that hosted them. Whatever you think of how the war was waged or
how long it should continue, the going-in was, as the cops say, a righteous
Often the American stake is not so clear-cut. We may feel an obligation to
defend an ally. (Some allies more than others.) We have been known to fight for
our economic interests. We intervene in the name of American values, an elastic
rubric that can mean anything from halting a genocide to, in George W. Bush’s
expansive doctrine, promoting freedom.
Senator John McCain, demanding American air strikes to help rebels topple the
Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, adopts the Bush “freedom agenda”
rationale: by halting suffering and helping overthrow tyranny, we earn some
leverage with the victors, improving the odds that Syria will become less
hostile to our interests. For a variety of robust dissents, look no further than
the conservative Web site National Review Online. There you find the neocon view
that intervention is not about fomenting a Syrian democracy; it is about
striking at an Islamist, anti-American cabal centered on Iran. You also find the
libertarian view that our national interest is best served by staying out of a
situation we can only make worse.
Nobody said these would be easy questions.
2. AT WHAT COST?
Judged solely by Question No. 1, there is little difference between Libya, where
we helped an inchoate mix of rebels overthrow a brutally oppressive regime, and
Syria, where we have so far chosen not to help an inchoate mix of rebels
overthrow an even more brutally oppressive regime. The critical difference:
Syria is much harder. Libya had weak air defenses deployed along the coastline,
easily accessible to Western bombers. Syria’s defenses are more lethal, more
plentiful and spread across inland population centers. “We’d have to carpet-bomb
a path in and out, or risk American pilots being shot down by the regime and
used as human shields,” said John Nagl, a retired Army counterinsurgency expert
who teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. “We’d be killing a lot more people.”
Cost-benefit analysis may seem a cold-blooded discipline — you can’t put a price
on freedom, blah blah blah — but it is inseparable from the question of our
national interests. After more than 10 years of war that have bled our treasury
of at least $3 trillion, killed or disabled many thousands of our troops, and
created the kind of multiple-rotation stress that invites atrocities and
desecrations, every incremental commitment has to be weighed against the cost to
our economic security and our readiness to face the next real threat.
Karl Eikenberry, who served in Afghanistan both as a military commander and as
ambassador, put it this way: “If we do not in the future better align ends, ways
and means, historians may find that in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan the United States was compelled to contract its global posture
similar to the British when they announced their ‘East of Suez’ policy in the
3. OR WHAT?
Policy makers should — and President Obama mostly has — put a premium on
appraising alternatives to war. Most notably, the president has held off an
Israeli air assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities by mobilizing tough sanctions
on Iran’s oil and banking industries, and by all but declaring that if Iran gets
too close to making nuclear weapons the U.S. will send in the bombs. The
sanctions show some signs of working.
The ultimate “or what” question about Iran is, if sanctions and threats fail,
could we live with a nuclear Iran? Could we trust that like every other nuclear
state Iran would be deterred from using its weapons by the certain knowledge
that a counterstrike would turn Persia into a wasteland? It’s worth serious
discussion, but while the idea of containment by deterrence is gaining ground in
pundit-land, President Obama can’t touch it; to do so would undermine the whole
effort to halt Iran’s program and, not incidentally, would be hazardous to his
4. AND WHO ELSE?
In these optional wars, it is useful to have company — to enhance our moral
authority, to amplify the intelligence, to share the cost, to spread the risk —
and to second-guess us. In Libya, we had 17 other nations enforcing a blockade
and no-fly zone, Arabs and Turks among them. “Leading from behind” may have been
a mockable phrase, but it was a serviceable strategy.
In Syria, no one is volunteering to join us yet.
5. THEN WHAT?
This is the question Robert Gates made a mantra at the Defense Department: What
happens next? How does this play out? What are the second-order and third-order
One unintended (but foreseeable) consequence of invading Iraq was that it
distracted our attention and energy from the far more important undertaking in
Afghanistan. Now one possible consequence of rushing too fast for the exits in
Afghanistan — tempting as that may be given the breakdown of Afghan-American
trust — is the increased likelihood that a collapsing Afghanistan would spill
into a wobbly Pakistan. In Pakistan there are both numerous nuclear weapons and
an abundance of rogue fanatics who would not hesitate to use them.
Syria, says Nagl, is another good place to think hard about collateral chaos:
“The hard part is not toppling Assad, it’s what comes afterwards. Everybody
raise your hands if you’re up for another occupation of an Islamic country.”
My first caveat is public opinion, which no democracy can ignore. Fighting wars
is not something you do by poll. Public opinion can be wrong. It lagged behind
F.D.R. before World War II; it was riding along enthusiastically with President
Bush when he invaded Iraq. But public opinion puts a thumb on the scale. The
U.S. used force to stop a genocide in Bosnia, but did not in Rwanda or Darfur —
one critical difference being that Americans (and American TV screens) were
paying attention to the European slaughter, but not to the African atrocities.
My second caveat is that asking the right questions only works if you are
prepared to hear answers you might not like. Sometimes our leaders start with
the answers and work backward, fixing the facts to the policy, as the head of
Britain’s MI6 said of the Potemkin intelligence used to sell the invasion of
Iraq. To pick just one example from the no-fact zone of Republican primary
season, Rick Santorum, the most hawkish of the Republican candidates on Iran,
keeps suggesting that Iran’s nuclear program is not under international
inspection. It’s possible that Iran has hidden away some facility we don’t know
about, but everything we know about — that is, everything we would bomb if we
decided to attack — is monitored by international inspectors.
If Iraq taught us nothing else, it should have taught us this: Before you deploy
the troops, deploy the fact-checkers.
THE end of the Iraq war occasioned few reflections on the scale of destruction
we have wrought there. As is our habit, the discussion focused on the costs to
America in blood and treasure, the false premises of the war and the continuing
challenges of instability in the region. What happened to Iraqis was largely
ignored. And in Libya, the recent investigation of civilian casualties during
NATO’s bombing campaign was the first such accounting of what many believed was
a largely victimless war.
We rarely question that wars cause extensive damage, but our view of America’s
wars has been blind to one specific aspect of destruction: the human toll of
those who live in war zones.
We tune out the voices of the victims and belittle their complaints about the
midnight raids, the house-to-house searches, the checkpoints, the drone attacks,
the bombs that fall on weddings instead of Al Qaeda.
Gen. Tommy R. Franks famously said during the early days of the war in
Afghanistan, “We don’t do body counts.” But someone should. What we learn from
body counts tells us much about war and those who wage it.
More than 10 years after the war in Afghanistan began, we have only the
sketchiest notion of how many people have died as a consequence of the conflict.
The United Nations office in Kabul assembles some figures from morgues and other
sources, but they are incomplete. The same has been true for Iraq, although a
number of independent efforts have been made there to account for the dead.
But such numbers, which run into the hundreds of thousands, gain scant
attention. American political and military leaders, like the public, show little
interest in non-American casualties.
Denial, after all, is politically convenient. Failing to consider the mortality
figures, the refugees, the impoverished, the demolished hospitals and clean
water systems and schools is to deny, in effect, that the war ever happened.
The American military cannot afford to be so cavalier about the dynamics of war.
The consequences of how we fight wars reveals a great deal about how and why
others fight us.
In Iraq, for example, the causes of the Sunni resistance were often attributed
to lost social status; the role of American violence against civilians early in
the conflict was rarely discussed. Yet many of the captured Iraqis said they
were defending their communities by resisting the occupying forces. Roughing up,
detaining or killing suspected enemy fighters — as the coalition forces did in
countless operations — prompted some Iraqis to take up the gun, the I.E.D. and
the suicide bomb. The more violence from the occupiers, the more ferocious their
Gen. David H. Petraeus recognized this and sought to reform Army practice. In a
field manual he co-authored in 2006, he explained that when “forces fail to
provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely
to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias or other armed groups.
This situation can feed support for an insurgency.”
In several opinion polls, Iraqis identified American forces as the primary cause
of the violence besetting their country. And although the violence of war and
occupation was a proximate cause of the Iraqi resistance, we have few metrics to
understand its scope. WikiLeaks released military documents in October 2010 that
included accounts of Iraqi fatalities, but such reports are incomplete and
sometimes biased, and they reflect only what the troops actually witnessed. News
media reports are similarly limited. And our political and military leaders
barely consider these numbers anyway.
They dwell instead in a make-believe world of vastly less mayhem, oblivious to
what actually besets the civilian population. In 2006, two separate household
surveys, by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and by researchers from Johns Hopkins
University, found between 400,000 and 650,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq as a
result of the war. At the time, however, the commanding general in Iraq put the
number at 50,000 and President Bush had claimed in late 2005 that it was just
If our leaders are unwilling to grasp the scale of death and social disruption,
and the meaning of this chaos for the local population, then American war
efforts are likely to end badly and relationships with allies will become
strained, as has happened with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai’s repeated complaints about NATO actions that cause civilian
casualties are often dismissed in the West as political posturing, but his
persistence on this issue indicates how deeply it resonates with Afghans. While
we dismiss it, Muslims around the world take note.
Ignoring the extent of civilian casualties and the damage they cause is a moral
failing as well as a strategic blunder. We need to adopt reliable ways to
measure the destruction our wars cause — an “epistemology of war,” as another
general, William Tecumseh Sherman, called it — to break through the collective
amnesia that has gripped us.
If we do not demand a full accounting of the wages of war, future failures are
all the more likely — and warranted.
John Tirman, the executive director
of the Center for
International Studies at M.I.T.,
November 28, 2011
The New York Times
By ROGER COHEN
LONDON — The Obama administration has a doctrine. It’s called the doctrine of
silence. A radical shift from President Bush’s war on terror, it has never been
set out to the American people. There has seldom been so big a change in
approach to U.S. strategic policy with so little explanation.
I approve of the shift even as it makes me uneasy. One day, I suspect, there may
be payback for this policy and this silence. President Obama has gone
You have to figure that one day somebody sitting in Tehran or Islamabad or Sana
is going to wake up and say: “Hey, this guy Obama, he went to war in our country
but just forgot to mention the fact. Should we perhaps go to war in his?”
In Iran, a big explosion at a military base near Tehran recently killed Gen.
Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a central figure in the country’s long-range missile
program. Nuclear scientists have perished in the streets of Tehran. The Stuxnet
computer worm has wreaked havoc with the Iranian nuclear facilities.
It would take tremendous naïveté to believe these events are not the result of a
covert American-Israeli drive to sabotage Iran’s efforts to develop a military
nuclear capacity. An intense, well-funded cyberwar against Tehran is ongoing.
Simmering Pakistani anger over a wave of drone attacks authorized by Obama has
erupted into outright rage with the death of at least 25 Pakistani soldiers in a
NATO attack on two military outposts near the Afghan border.
The Pakistani government has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to end
drone operations it runs from a base in western Pakistan within 15 days. Drone
attacks have become the coin of Obama’s realm. They have killed twice as many
suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members as were ever imprisoned in Guantánamo.
One such drone attack, of course, killed an American citizen, the Al Qaeda
propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen a few weeks ago.
The U.S. government says precious little about these new ways of fighting
enemies. But the strategic volte-face is clear: America has decided that
conventional wars of uncertain outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan that may,
according to a Brown University study, end up costing at least $3.7 trillion are
a bad way to fight terrorists and that far cheaper, more precise tools for
eliminating enemies are preferable — even if the legality of those killings is
The American case for legality rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of
Military Force act, which allows the president to use “all necessary and
appropriate force” against persons, organization or nations linked to the 9/11
attack, and on various interpretations of the right to self-defense under
But killing an American citizen raises particular constitutional concerns; just
how legal the drone attacks are remains a vexed question. And Iran had no part
In general, it’s hard to resist the impression of a tilt toward the
extrajudicial in U.S. foreign policy — a kind of “Likudization” of the approach
to dealing with enemies. Israel has never hesitated to kill foes with blood on
their hands wherever they are.
This is a development about which no American can feel entirely comfortable.
So why do I approve of all this? Because the alternative — the immense cost in
blood and treasure and reputation of the Bush administration’s war on terror —
was so appalling. In just the same way, the results of a conventional bombing
war against Iran would be appalling, whether undertaken by Israel, the United
States or a combination of the two.
Political choices often have to be made between two unappealing options. Obama
has done just that. He has gone covert — and made the right call.
So why am I uneasy? Because these legally borderline, undercover options —
cyberwar, drone killings, executions and strange explosions at military bases —
invite repayment in kind, undermine the American commitment to the rule of law,
and make allies uneasy.
Obama could have done more in the realm of explanation. Of course he does not
want to say much about secret operations. Still, as the U.S. military prepares
to depart from Iraq (leaving a handful of embassy guards), and the war in
Afghanistan enters its last act, he owes the American people, U.S. allies and
the world a speech that sets out why America will not again embark on this kind
of inconclusive war and has instead adopted a new doctrine that has replaced
fighting terror with killing terrorists. (He might also explain why Guantánamo
is still open.)
Just because it’s impossible to talk about some operations undertaken within
this doctrine does not mean the entire doctrine can remain cloaked in silence.
Foreign policy has been Obama’s strongest suit. He deserves great credit for
killing Osama bin Laden, acting for the liberation of Libya, getting behind the
Arab quest for freedom, winding down the war in Iraq, dealing repeated blows to
Al Qaeda and restoring America’s battered image.
But the doctrine of silence is a failing with links to his overarching failure
on the economy: it betrays a presidential reticence, coolness and aloofness that
leave Americans uncomfortable.
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war,
this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing
libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the
bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of
long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from
the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is
in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not
nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the
essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed,
unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led
us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are
staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a
reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country
ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare
but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly
educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is
grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking
for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity,
the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college
professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were
finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to
think about raising a family.
There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like
greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles.
Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the
third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10
percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average
income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of
Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be,
and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income
distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families
accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent
receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.
The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5
percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority,
the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.
This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while
the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social
unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound
A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in
The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid
Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its
operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S.
taxes last year.
As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based
on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and
innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”
G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt,
is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can
understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government
arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous
imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue
to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And
nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.
New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
This is my last column for The New York Times
after an exhilarating, nearly
I’m off to write a book
and expand my efforts on behalf of working
the poor and others who are struggling in our society.
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
wrenching budget cutting in the years ahead, but there’s one huge area of
government spending that Democrats and Republicans alike have so far treated as
It’s the military/security world, and it’s time to bust that taboo. A few facts:
• The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other
country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the
country with the next highest budget, China.
• The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites
abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear
that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?
• The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret”
clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
• The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for
inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the
Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
This is the one area where elections scarcely matter. President Obama, a
Democrat who symbolized new directions, requested about 6 percent more for the
military this year than at the peak of the Bush administration.
“Republicans think banging the war drums wins them votes, and Democrats think if
they don’t chime in, they’ll lose votes,” said Andrew Bacevich, an ex-military
officer who now is a historian at Boston University. He is author of a
thoughtful recent book, “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.”
The costs of excessive reliance on military force are not just financial, of
course, as Professor Bacevich knows well. His son, Andrew Jr., an Army first
lieutenant, was killed in Iraq in 2007.
Let me be clear: I’m a believer in a robust military, which is essential for
backing up diplomacy. But the implication is that we need a balanced tool chest
of diplomatic and military tools alike. Instead, we have a billionaire military
and a pauper diplomacy. The U.S. military now has more people in its marching
bands than the State Department has in its foreign service — and that’s
What’s more, if you’re carrying an armload of hammers, every problem looks like
a nail. The truth is that military power often isn’t very effective at solving
modern problems, like a nuclear North Korea or an Iran that is on the nuclear
path. Indeed, in an age of nationalism, our military force is often
After the first gulf war, the United States retained bases in Saudi Arabia on
the assumption that they would enhance American security. Instead, they appear
to have provoked fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden into attacking the U.S. In
other words, hugely expensive bases undermined American security (and we later
closed them anyway). Wouldn’t our money have been better spent helping American
kids get a college education?
Paradoxically, it’s often people with experience in the military who lead the
way in warning against overinvestment in arms. It was President Dwight
Eisenhower who gave the strongest warning: “Every gun that is made, every
warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from
those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” And
in the Obama administration, it is Defense Secretary Robert Gates who has argued
that military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer,
harsher scrutiny; it is Secretary Gates who has argued most eloquently for more
investment in diplomacy and development aid.
American troops in Afghanistan are among the strongest advocates of investing
more in schools there because they see firsthand that education fights extremism
far more effectively than bombs. And here’s the trade-off: For the cost of one
American soldier in Afghanistan for one year, you could build about 20 schools.
There are a few signs of hope in the air. The Simpson-Bowles deficit commission
proposes cutting money for armaments, along with other spending. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton unveiled a signature project, the quadrennial diplomacy
and development review, which calls for more emphasis on aid and diplomacy in
“Leading through civilian power saves lives and money,” Mrs. Clinton noted, and
she’s exactly right. The review is a great document, but we’ll see if it can be
implemented — especially because House Republicans are proposing cuts in the
State Department budget.
They should remind themselves that in the 21st century, our government can
protect its citizens in many ways: financing research against disease, providing
early childhood programs that reduce crime later, boosting support for community
colleges, investing in diplomacy that prevents costly wars.
As we cut budgets, let’s remember that these steps would, on balance, do far
more for the security of Americans than a military base in Germany.
IN what promises to be the most contentious midterm election since 1994,
there is no shortage of passion about big issues facing the country: the place
and nature of the federal government in America’s future; public debt; jobs;
health care; the influence of special interests; and the role of populist
movements like the Tea Party.
In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode
into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll
after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this
Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?
How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in
Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and
women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely
they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and
In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat
operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid,
reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is
not in sight.
So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and
center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day
worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out
of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a
family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war
The all-volunteer uniformed services now represent less than 1 percent of the
American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle. It’s not
unusual to meet an Army infantryman or Marine who has served multiple tours in
Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
Moreover, the majority of those in uniform come from working-class or
middle-class backgrounds. The National Guard units and reserve forces that have
been called up, some for more than one tour, draw heavily on first responders,
as well as farm, factory and service workers.
Their families live in their own war zone. At a recent Minnesota event for
military families, I heard Annette Kuyper, the mother of a National Guardsman
who had an extended deployment in Iraq, describe how she and other Guard mothers
changed their lives while their children were in harm’s way. “We close the
blinds on the windows overlooking the driveway,” she said, “so we don’t see the
Army vehicle arriving with a chaplain bearing the unbearable news.”
This woman’s son returned safely, but too many do not. As the campaign season
careens to an end, military funerals will be held in country burial grounds, big
city graveyards and at Arlington National Cemetery. Military families will keep
the blinds closed on the windows facing the driveway.
While campaigns trade shouts of witchcraft, socialism, greed, radicalism (on
both sides), warriors and their families have a right to ask, “What about us?”
If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn’t some
candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front
This is not just about military families, as important as they are. We all would
benefit from a campaign that engaged the vexing question of what happens next in
the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.
No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as
politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure
are worthy of more attention than they’ve been getting in this campaign.
Tom Brokaw, a special correspondent for NBC News,
is the author, most recently,
of “Boom! Talking About the ’60s.”
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will adopt a new strategy that for the first time
orders the military to anticipate that future conflicts will include a complex
mix of conventional, set-piece battles and campaigns against shadowy insurgents
and terrorists, according to senior officials.
The shift is intended to assure that the military is prepared to deal with a
spectrum of possible threats, including computer network attacks, attempts to
blind satellite positioning systems, strikes by precision missiles and roadside
bombs, and propaganda campaigns waged on television and the Internet. The new
strategy has broad implications for training, troop deployment, weapons
procurement and other aspects of military planning.
In officially embracing hybrid warfare, the Pentagon would be replacing a second
pillar of long-term planning. Senior officials disclosed in March that the
review was likely to reject a historic premise of American strategy — that the
nation need only to prepare to fight two major wars at a time.
Driving both sets of developments are lessons learned from the past six years,
when the United States has been fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet
is stretched to be ready for potentially significant operations elsewhere,
Pentagon officials say, such as against Iran, North Korea or even China and
Russia. Conflicts with any of those countries would also be expected to present
a hybrid range of challenges.
But powerful constituencies in the military and in Congress continue to argue
that the next war will not look like Iraq or Afghanistan, and they say the
military is focusing too much on counter-insurgency and losing its ability to
defeat a traditional nation-state.
Even so, senior officials say hybrid warfare will be adopted as a central
premise of military planning in the top-to-bottom review required every four
years by Congress. When completed later this year, the assessment, officially
called the Quadrennial Defense Review, will determine how billions of dollars
are spent on weapons and influence how the military reshapes its training.
During a Pentagon news conference last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
said of the new strategy, “It derives from my view that the old way of looking
at irregular warfare as being one kind of conflict and conventional warfare as a
discreet kind of warfare is an outdated concept. Conflict in the future will
slide up and down a scale, both in scope or scale and in lethality.”
Even before the review is complete, the new thinking has claimed high-dollar
Mr. Gates proposed ending production of the Air Force’s top-of-the-line F-22
fighter jets, arguing that money should be spent on warplanes that carry out a
broader array of missions, from countering enemy air forces to evading
surface-to-air missiles to bombing insurgent militias in hiding.
But supporters of the F-22 in Congress are pushing for financing to keep the
production line open, potentially setting up a veto battle.
The defense secretary also put on hold a multibillion-dollar program for the
Army’s next-generation armored vehicle, saying its proposed flat-bottom design
ignored lessons that angular troop transports are safer from roadside bombs,
which have been the biggest killer of troops in Iraq.
In preparing to adopt concepts of hybrid warfare, the Defense Department has
closely studied Israel’s last war in Lebanon in 2006, when a terrorist group,
Hezbollah, fielded high-tech weapons equal to any nation’s, including long-range
missiles. Likewise, when a traditional military power like Russia went to war
with the former Soviet republic of Georgia last August, its tanks, paratroopers
and warships were preceded by crippling computer network attacks.
The previous Pentagon strategy review focused on a four-square chart that
described security challenges to the nation as perceived then. It included
traditional, conventional conflicts; irregular warfare, such as terrorism and
insurgencies; catastrophic challenges from unconventional weapons used by
terrorists or rogue states; and disruptive threats, in which new technologies
could counter American advantages.
“The ‘quad chart’ was useful in its time,” said Michele A. Flournoy, the under
secretary of defense for policy, who is leading the strategy review for Mr.
“But we aren’t using it as a point of reference or departure,” she said in an
interview. “I think hybrid will be the defining character. The traditional, neat
categories — those are types that really don’t match reality any more.”
The nation’s top military officers are reviewing their procurement programs and
personnel policies to adapt to the new environment, focusing in particular on
weapons systems that can perform multiple missions.
“When I send a carrier strike group forward, or when I send an amphibious ready
group forward with a Marine Expeditionary Unit on board, I don’t know what they
are going to end up doing,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval
operations. “Therefore, the way that we view our training, the way that we view
our capabilities, has to be packaged for this range of actions.”
He cited the experience of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, which was
steaming toward Iraq to carry out combat missions when it was diverted to become
the American headquarters for tsunami relief in Indonesia. Both Admiral Roughead
and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said in interviews
that they had adopted goals of making certain each weapon system could “stretch”
across a spectrum of operations, proving value in traditional and irregular
General Schwartz cited Air Force decisions to place surveillance systems on its
long-range bombers and tactical warplanes to make each a provider of valuable
battlefield intelligence, as well as maintaining strike capabilities.
“This is the kind of thing we are talking about, where we avoid point-mission
platforms and look for versatility,” General Schwartz said. “Multipurpose
platforms are inherently more affordable.”
For the ground forces, the goal is an ability to sustain 10 combat brigades
abroad at all times, with 10 more in reserve and nearly ready to go as they
complete training. This eventually would allow active duty troops to spend three
years at home for every year deployed.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff,
when asked to define the
Army’s goals in the review,
WASHINGTON — It was a hypothetical question in a Supreme Court argument, and
it was posed almost 40 years ago. But it managed to anticipate and in some ways
to answer President Obama’s argument for withholding photographs showing the
abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What if, Justice Potter Stewart asked a lawyer for The New York Times in the
Pentagon Papers case in 1971, a disclosure of sensitive information in wartime
“would result in the sentencing to death of 100 young men whose only offense had
been that they were 19 years old and had low draft numbers?” The Times’s lawyer,
Alexander M. Bickel, tried to duck the question, but the justice pressed him:
“You would say that the Constitution requires that it be published and that
these men die?”
Mr. Bickel yielded, to the consternation of allies in the case. “I’m afraid,” he
said, “that my inclinations of humanity overcome the somewhat more abstract
devotion to the First Amendment.”
And there it was: an issue as old as democracy in wartime, and as fresh as the
latest dispute over pictures showing abuse of prisoners in the 21st century. How
much potential harm justifies suppressing facts, whether from My Lai or Iraq,
that might help the public judge the way a war is waged in its name?
The exchange also contained more than a hint of the court’s eventual calculus:
The asserted harm can’t be vague or speculative; it must be immediate and
concrete. It must be the sort of cost that gives a First Amendment lawyer pause.
As it happened, Mr. Bickel’s response outraged the American Civil Liberties
Union and other allies of the newspaper in the Pentagon Papers case, which
concerned the Nixon administration’s attempt to prevent publication of a secret
history of the Vietnam War. They disavowed Mr. Bickel’s answer and said the
correct response was, “painfully but simply,” that free people are entitled to
evaluate evidence concerning the government’s conduct for themselves.
Which is a good summary of the interest on the other side: Scrutiny of abuses by
the government enhances democracy because it promotes accountability and prompts
Justice William O. Douglas, in a 1972 dissent in a case about Congressional
immunity, described his view of the basic dynamic. “As has been revealed by such
exposés as the Pentagon Papers, the My Lai massacres, the Gulf of Tonkin
‘incident,’ and the Bay of Pigs invasion,” he wrote, “the government usually
suppresses damaging news but highlights favorable news.”
Indeed, the Nixon administration successfully opposed the use of the Freedom of
Information Act to obtain the release of documents and photographs concerning
the killings of hundreds of South Vietnamese civilians in 1968 at My Lai. (The
decision led Congress to broaden that law.)
Disclosure of abuses can also provoke a backlash. The indelible images that
emerged from the Vietnam War helped turn the nation against the war, and may
have steeled America’s enemies. And earlier photographs of abuse at the Abu
Ghraib prison in Iraq were used for propaganda and recruitment by insurgents
How, then, to apply the lessons of history and law to the possible disclosure of
additional images of prisoner mistreatment by Americans in the current wars?
On Wednesday, when Mr. Obama announced that the government was withdrawing from
an agreement to comply with court orders requiring release of the images, he
said there was little to learn from them and much to fear. But he offered
speculation on both sides of the balance.
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our
understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of
individuals,” he said. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them,
I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our
troops in greater danger.”
The first assertion, which the Bush administration also made, is not universally
accepted. In a 2005 decision ordering the release of the images, Judge Alvin K.
Hellerstein of the Federal District Court in Manhattan said they may provide
insights into whether the abuses shown were indeed isolated and unauthorized.
And the claim that harm would follow disclosure — that terrorists, for example,
would exact revenge — is hard to measure or prove. “The terrorists in Iraq and
Afghanistan do not need pretexts for their barbarism,” Judge Hellerstein wrote.
In the Pentagon Papers case, too, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of
publication, saying, in essence, that speculation about potential harm was not
There are, of course, profound differences between the two cases. One concerned
the constitutionality of a prior restraint against publishing information
already in the hands of the press; the other is about whether civil rights
groups are entitled to obtain materials under the Freedom of Information Act.
But both involve contentions that serious harm would follow from publication.
Justice Stewart’s answer, in his concurrence in the 6-to-3 decision, was that
assertions are not enough. “I cannot say,” he wrote, that disclosure “will
surely result in direct, immediate and irreparable damage to our nation or its
people.” In other contexts, too, the Supreme Court has endorsed limits on speech
only when it would cause immediate and almost certain harm to identifiable
people. More general and diffuse consequences have not done the trick.
In 1949, for instance, the court overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of
a Chicago priest whose anti-Semitic speech at a rally had provoked a hostile
crowd to riot. Free speech, Justice Douglas wrote, “may indeed best serve its
high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with
conditions as they are or even stirs people to anger.”
Fear of violence, however, was enough to persuade many people that publication
of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad should be discouraged or forbidden.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who has handled terrorism cases,
said the only prudent course in the current case is to withhold the images. “If
you’re in a war that’s been authorized by Congress, it should be an imperative
to win the war,” he said. “If you have photos that could harm the war effort,
you should delay release of the photos.”
But Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the civil liberties union, said history favored
disclosure, citing the 2004 photographs from Abu Ghraib and the 1991 video of
police beating Rodney King in Los Angeles.
But the touchstone remains the Pentagon papers case. It not only framed the
issues, but also created a real-world experiment in consequences.
The government had argued, in general terms, that publication of the papers
would cost American soldiers their lives. The papers were published. What
David Rudenstine, the dean of the Cardozo Law School and author of “The Day the
Presses Stopped,” a history of the case, said he investigated the aftermath with
an open mind.
“I couldn’t find any evidence whatsoever from any responsible government
official,” he said, “that there was any harm.”
The singer Edwin Starr, who died in 2003, had a big hit in 1970 called “War”
in which he asked again and again: “War, what is it good for?”
The U.S. economy is in free fall, the banking system is in a state of complete
collapse and Americans all across the country are downsizing their standards of
living. The nation as we’ve known it is fading before our very eyes, but we’re
still pouring billions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with
missions we are still unable to define.
Even as the U.S. begins plans to reduce troop commitments in Iraq, it is sending
thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan. The strategic purpose of this
escalation, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged, is not at all clear.
In response to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Gates said:
“We’re talking to the Europeans, to our allies; we’re bringing in an awful lot
of people to get different points of view as we go through this review of what
our strategy ought to be. And I often get asked, ‘Well, how long will those
17,000 [additional troops] be there? Will more go in?’ All that depends on the
outcome of this strategy review that I hope will be done in a few weeks.”
We invaded Afghanistan more than seven years ago. We have not broken the back of
Al Qaeda or the Taliban. We have not captured or killed Osama bin Laden. We
don’t even have an escalation strategy, much less an exit strategy. An honest
assessment of the situation, taking into account the woefully corrupt and
ineffective Afghan government led by the hapless Hamid Karzai, would lead
inexorably to such terms as fiasco and quagmire.
Instead of cutting our losses, we appear to be doubling down.
As for Iraq, President Obama announced last week that substantial troop
withdrawals will take place over the next year and a half and that U.S. combat
operations would cease by the end of August 2010. But, he said, a large
contingent of American troops, perhaps as many as 50,000, would still remain in
Iraq for a “period of transition.”
That’s a large number of troops, and the cost of keeping them there will be
huge. Moreover, I was struck by the following comment from the president: “There
will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments, but our enemies
should be left with no doubt. This plan gives our military the forces and
flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners and to succeed.”
In short, we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there
is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them. I can easily
imagine a scenario in which Afghanistan and Iraq both heat up and the U.S.,
caught in an extended economic disaster at home, undermines its fragile recovery
efforts in the same way that societies have undermined themselves since the dawn
of time — with endless warfare.
We’ve already paid a fearful price for these wars. In addition to the many
thousands of service members who have been killed or suffered obvious disabling
injuries, a study by the RAND Corporation found that some 300,000 are currently
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that 320,000
have most likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.
Time magazine has reported that “for the first time in history, a sizable and
growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants
to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Suicides among soldiers rose in 2008 for the fourth consecutive year, largely
because of the stress of combat deployments. It’s believed that 128 soldiers
took their own lives last year.
Much of the country can work itself up to a high pitch of outrage because a
banker or an automobile executive flies on a private jet. But we’ll send young
men and women by the thousands off to repeated excursions through the hell of
combat — three tours, four tours or more — without raising so much as a peep of
Lyndon Johnson, despite a booming economy, lost his Great Society to the Vietnam
War. He knew what he was risking. He would later tell Doris Kearns Goodwin, “If
I left the woman I really loved — the Great Society — in order to get involved
with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose
everything at home. All my programs... All my dreams...”
The United States is on its knees economically. As President Obama fights for
his myriad domestic programs and his dream of an economic recovery, he might
benefit from a look over his shoulder at the link between Vietnam and the
still-smoldering ruins of Johnson’s presidency.
Re “Trash Talking World War III” (editorial, Oct. 29):
Reading your editorial was a disquieting experience for anyone who is a veteran
of World War II because that war ended with hopes that America and the world
would be at peace for an eternity. If we have learned one lesson, it is that
relying on military aggression as was staged four years ago in Iraq was
To be talking about using military force to curtail Iran’s building of a nuclear
weapon would be compounding the error sizably. If ever diplomacy was needed, now
is the time, before President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney recklessly set
the stage to ensnare us for yet another war before their terms are over. Cy
San Francisco, Oct. 29, 2007
To the Editor:
You write that “the world should not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” How
does The New York Times suggest that “the world” prevent it?
Diplomacy, you say, although years of diplomatic efforts by our European allies,
with the full support of the United States, have accomplished nothing.
Sanctions, you write, wishing away the fact that Russian and Chinese cooperation
will be unattainable with the suggestion that Condoleezza Rice give those
countries a good talking to.
Our best chance of avoiding the necessity of military action is to convince the
Iranian regime that we are prepared to take it, with the hope that this,
together with such diplomatic and economic pressures as we are able to muster,
will persuade more cautious regime elements to change course.
The statements of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that you deride
as “trash talk” — and that are in fact well within traditional diplomatic bounds
— are therefore a necessary part of any realistic strategy to avoid war.
Howard F. Jaeckel
New York, Oct. 30, 2007
To the Editor:
“Trash Talking World War III” lists cogent reasons why it is not in the world’s
or the United States’ interests to bomb Iran, including “the disastrous
diplomatic and economic costs.”
You point out that a bombing campaign is unlikely to set back Iran’s efforts for
more than a few years, nor is such an attack likely to cause Iranians to rise up
against their current government.
What you do not mention, however, are the huge humanitarian costs as well. There
are thousands of Iranians — men, women, children, grandchildren, grandparents,
doctors, lawyers, teachers and so on — living near the sites where we would use
our bombing power. Are we again willing, as we were in Iraq, to disrupt a
population, cause a new refugee crisis, watch bodies collected from homes and
streets, create a civil war and destroy an ancient civilization?
These are the questions that we must ask the Bush administration, questions that
go beyond expediency and economic costs to us. We have done enough damage and
destroyed and disrupted enough lives in Iraq. We should not add Iran to our list
Ann C. Rounds
San Mateo, Calif., Oct. 29, 2007
To the Editor:
Re “Fearing Fear Itself,” by Paul Krugman (column, Oct. 29), and “Trash Talking
World War III” (editorial, Oct. 29):
The points of view in these articles do not recognize the reality of the threat.
Consider the bombings that have shaken London, Spain, Bali, Pakistan and Israel
since 2001. They are all related through the Islamic orientation of the
perpetrators. This is not mere coincidence; rather the Muslim identity of the
murderers represents the very impetus for the attacks.
This religious clarion call is certainly an ideology, and to call it
Islamofascism simply connotes that it endangers the world as much as Hitler’s
Nazism. Iran poses a particular danger since it openly seeks hegemony, at any
cost, in the Middle East. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons portends a cataclysm
that will affect the entire world.
The international community should prevent Iran from obtaining such weapons by
every means possible, including a military campaign.
Sheryl Gura Rosenberg
New York, Oct. 29, 2007
To the Editor:
Paul Krugman’s column is on target. The hate-mongering and fear-peddling
campaign by leading Republican candidates for president, who continue to use the
war on terror as one against “Islamofascism,” a fictitious ideology as Mr.
Krugman points out, is not only irresponsible but also dangerous.
This shameless strategy of attaching “fascism” to Islam to win votes by
exploiting our fears and anxieties is offensive to more than a billion peaceful
God-fearing Muslims. The fanning of anti-Muslim sentiment inherent in the
demagogy that passes for political discourse is likely to add to the bigotry of
some who may feel compelled to act on it.
This is not an issue for American Muslims only, but it affects all of us and we
need to speak out if we are to maintain this “best hope for mankind,” the
American experiment in democracy, tolerance and diversity.
Mohammed A. Nurhussein
Brooklyn, Oct. 29, 2007
To the Editor:
Paul Krugman’s column “Fearing Fear Itself” is a lightning bolt of truth and
insight in a political dialogue gone awry. The use of language by the right is
very calculated and in point of fact very clever. It frames issues by the labels
it chooses. Thus, an escalation of troops became the “surge.” Surge has
connotations of strength and vigor; escalation brings back the bad memories of
The same technique is being used before a confrontation with Iran.
“Islamofascism” taps into the tapestry of themes that have been woven into our
consciousness concerning our participation in World War II. Hitler was a
fascist; look what we had to do to him. Just by using the term “Islamofascism”
we are playing into the hands of those seeking a violent confrontation with Iran
and the Muslim world. Mark E. Ferris
St. Louis, Oct. 29, 2007
To the Editor:
Paul Krugman says that he fears “unreasoning fear” more than anything Al Qaeda
or Iran might do to the United States. So a nuclear bomb smuggled into an
American city by Al Qaeda or another sympathetic group doesn’t frighten him? It
scares me to death.
Published: 21 September 2007
The Independent By Daniel Howden and Leonard Doyle in Washington
In Nigeria, corporate commandos exchange fire with local rebels attacking an
oil platform. In Afghanistan, private bodyguards help to foil yet another
assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai. In Colombia, a contracted pilot
comes under fire from guerrillas while spraying coca fields with pesticides. On
the border between Iraq and Iran, privately owned Apache helicopters deliver US
special forces to a covert operation.
This is a snapshot of a working day in the burgeoning world of private military
companies, arguably the fastest-growing industry in the global economy. The
sector is now worth up to $120bn annually with operations in at least 50
countries, according to Peter Singer, a security analyst with the Brookings
Institution in Washington.
"The rate of growth in the security industry has been phenomenal," says Deborah
Avant, a professor of political science at UCLA. The single largest spur to this
boom is the conflict in Iraq.
The workings of this industry have come under intense scrutiny this week in the
angry aftermath of the killing of Iraqi civilians by the US-owned Blackwater
corporation in Baghdad. The Iraqi government has demanded the North
Carolina-based company is withdrawn. But with Blackwater responsible for the
protection of hundreds of senior US and Iraqi officials, from the US ambassador
to visiting congressional delegations, there is certainty in diplomatic and
military circles that this will not happen.
The origins of these shadow armies trace back to the early 1990s and the end of
the Cold War, Bob Ayers, a security expert with Chatham House in London,
explains: "In the good old days of the Cold War there were two superpowers who
kept a lid on everything in their respective parts of the world."
He likens the collapse of the Soviet Union to "taking the lid off a pressure
cooker". What we have seen since, he says, is the rise of international
dissident groups, ultranationalists and multiple threats to global security.
The new era also saw a significant reduction in the size of the standing armies,
at the same time as a rise in global insecurity which increased both the
availability of military expertise and the demand for it. It was a business
opportunity that could not be ignored.
Now the mercenary trade comes with its own business jargon. Guns for hire come
under the umbrella term of privatised military firms, with their own acronym
PMFs. The industry itself has done everything it can to shed the "mercenary" tag
and most companies avoid the term "military" in preference for "security". "The
term mercenary is not accurate," says Mr Ayers, who argues that military
personnel in defensive roles should be distinguished from soldiers of fortune.
There is nothing new about soldiers for hire, the private companies simply
represent the trade in a new form. "Organised as business entities and
structured along corporate lines, they mark the corporate evolution of the
mercenary trade," according to Mr Singer, who was among the first to plot the
worldwide explosion in the use of private military firms.
In many ways it mirrors broader trends in the world economy as countries switch
from manufacturing to services and outsource functions once thought to be the
preserve of the state. Iraq has become a testing ground for this burgeoning
industry, creating staggering financial opportunities and equally immense
None of the estimated 48,000 private military operatives in Iraq has been
convicted of a crime and no one knows how many Iraqis have been killed by
private military forces, because the US does not keep records.
According to some estimates, more than 800 private military employees have been
killed in the war so far, and as many as 3,300 wounded.
These numbers are greater than the losses suffered by any single US army
division and larger than the casualties suffered by the rest of the coalition
A high-ranking US military commander in Iraq said: "These guys run loose in this
country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come
down on them hard when they escalate force. They shoot people."
In Abu Ghraib, all of the translators and up to half of the interrogators were
reportedly private contractors.
Private soldiers are involved in all stages of war, from training and war-gaming
before the invasion to delivering supplies. Camp Doha in Kuwait, the launch-pad
for the invasion, was built by private contractors.
It is not just the military that has turned to the private sector, humanitarian
agencies are dependent on PMFs in almost every war zone from Bosnia to the
Democratic Republic of Congo. Which raises the next market the industry would
like to see opened: peacekeeping. And the lobbying has already begun.
Shakespeare could have been writing
about Iraq or Afghanistan,
his scenes of
battle were so prescient. Robert Fisk dissects the Bard's attitude to conflict
- and describes how
relevant he has found it to be today
Published: 30 March 2007 The Independent
Poor old Bardolph. The common soldier, the Poor Bloody Infantry, the GI Joe
of Agincourt, survives Henry IV, only to end up on the end of a rope after he's
avoided filling up the breach at Harfleur with his corpse. Henry V is his
undoing - in every sense of the word - when he robs a French church. He must be
executed, hanged, "pour encourager les autres". "Bardolph," laments his friend
Pistol to Fluellen, "a soldier firm and sound of heart, /...hanged must a' be /A
"Let gallows gape for dog, let man go free, / And let not hemp his wind-pipe
suffocate: / But Exeter hath given the doom of death... / Therefore go speak,
the duke will hear thy voice; / And let not Bardolph's vital thread be cut... /
Speak, captain, for his life..."
How many such military executions have been recorded in the past 30 years of
Middle East history? For theft, for murder, for desertion, for treachery, for a
momentary lapse of discipline. Captain Fluellen pleads the profoundly ugly
Bardolph's cause - not with great enthusiasm, it has to be said - to Henry
"I / think the duke hath lost never a man, but one that / is like to be executed
for robbing a church, one / Bardolph, if your majesty know the man: his face is
/ all bubukles and whelks, and knobs, and flames o' / fire, and his lips blow at
But the priggish Henry, a friend of Bardolph in his princely, drinking days
(shades of another, later Prince Harry), will have none of it:
"We would have all such offenders so cut off: and we / give express charge that
in our marches through the / country there be nothing compelled from the /
villages; nothing taken but paid for; none of the / French upbraided or abused
in disdainful language..."
In France, Eisenhower shot post-D-Day rapists in the US army. The SS hanged
their deserters even as Berlin fell. I have my notes of a meeting with Fathi
Daoud Mouffak, one of Saddam Hussein's military cameramen during the eight-year
Iran-Iraq war, a sensitive man, a mere Pistol in the great retreat around Basra
where a reservist was accused of desertion by an officer of the Iraqi "Popular
Army". He was a very young man, Mouffak was to recall:
"And the reporter from Jumhuriya newspaper tried to save him. He said to the
commander: 'This is an Iraqi citizen. He should not die.' But the commander
said: 'This is none of your business - stay out of this.' And so it was the
young man's fate to be shot by a firing squad... before he was executed, he said
he was the father of four children. And he begged to live. 'Who will look after
my wife and my children?' he asked. 'I am a Muslim. Please think of Allah - for
Saddam, for God, please help me... I am not a conscript, I am a reservist. I did
not run away from the battle - my battalion was destroyed.' But the commander
shot him personally - in the head and in the chest."
My own father, 2nd Lieutenant Bill Fisk of the 12th Battalion, the King's
Liverpool Regiment, a soldier of the 1914-18 war, was ordered to command a
firing party, to execute a 19-year old Australian soldier, Gunner Frank Wills of
the Royal Field Artillery, who had murdered a military policeman in Paris. Bill
refused to carry out this instruction, only to be put on a court martial charge
for refusing to obey an order. Someone else dispatched Bill Fisk's Bardolph. "I
ask the Court to take into consideration my youth and to give me a chance of
leading an upright and straightforward life in the future," Wills wrote in his
miserable plea for mercy. British officers turned it down, arguing that an
example should be made of Wills to prevent further indiscipline. The war had
long been over when he was shot at dawn at Le Havre. Bill served in the Third
Battle of the Somme in 1918 and I never pass the moment when Shakespeare's
French king asks if Henry's army "hath passed the river Somme" without drawing
in my breath. Did some faint moment of Renaissance prescience touch the
dramatist in 1599?
I am still to be convinced that Shakespeare saw war in service in the army of
Elizabeth. "Say'st thou me so?" Pistol asks of a cringing French prisoner who
does not speak English. "Come hither, boy, ask me this slave in French / What is
his name." I heard an almost identical quotation in Baghdad, shorn of its
16th-century English, when a US Marine confronted an Iraqi soldier-demonstrator
in 2003. "Shut the fuck up," he screamed at the Iraqi. Then he turned to his
translator. "What the fuck's he saying?" At the siege of Harfleur, the soldier
Boy wishes he was far from battle - "Would I were in an alehouse in London! I
would give / all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety" - and Henry's walk
through his camp in disguise on the eve of Agincourt evokes some truly modern
reflections on battle. The soldier Bates suggests to him that if the king had
come on his own to Agincourt, he would be safely ransomed "and a many poor men's
The equally distressed soldier Williams argues that if the English cause is
doubtful: "...the king himself hath / a heavy reckoning to make, when all those
legs, and / arms, and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join / together at
the latter day, and cry all 'We died at / such a place'; some swearing, some
crying for a / surgeon; some upon their wives, left poor behind / them; some
upon the debts they owe; some upon their / children rawly left..."
This bloody accounting would be familiar to any combat soldier, but Shakespeare
could have heard these stories from the English who had been fighting on the
Continent in the 16th century. I've seen those chopped-off legs and arms and
heads on the battlefields of the Middle East, in southern Iraq in 1991 when the
eviscerated corpses of Iraqi soldiers and refugee women and children were lying
across the desert, their limbs afterwards torn apart by ravenous dogs. And I've
talked to Serb soldiers who fought Bosnian Muslims in the battle for the Bihac
pocket, men who were so short of water that they drank their own urine.
Similarly, Shakespeare's censorious Caesar Augustus contemplates Antony's
pre-Cleopatran courage: "...When thou once / Wast beaten from Modena, / ...at
thy heel / Did famine follow, whom thou fought'st against / ...with patience
more / Than savages could suffer: thou didst drink / The stale of horses and the
gilded puddle / Which beasts would cough at..."
Yet Wilfred Owen's poetry on the "pity of war" - his description, say, of the
gassed soldier coughing his life away, the blood gargling "from the
froth-corrupted lungs" - has much greater immediacy.
True, death was ever present in the life of any Tudor man or woman; the Plague
that sometimes closed down the Globe Theatre, the hecatomb of child mortality,
the overflowing, pestilent graveyards, united all mankind in the proximity of
death. Understand death and you understand war, which is primarily about the
extinction of human life rather than victory or defeat. And despite constant
repetition, Hamlet's soliloquy over poor Yorick's skull remains a deeply
disturbing contemplation of death:
"My gorge rises at / it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know / not
how oft. Where be your gibes now? your / gambols? your songs? your flashes of
merriment / that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one / now, to mock
your own grinning? Quite chapfall'n?"
And here is Omar Khayyam's contemplation of a king's skull at Tus - near the
modern-day Iranian city of Mashad - written more than 400 years before * *
Shakespeare's Hamlet stood in the churchyard at Elsinore:
"I saw a bird alighted on the city walls of Tus / Grasping in its claws
Kaika'us's head: / It was saying to that head, 'Shame! Shame! / Where now the
sound of the bells and the boom of the drum?'"
The swiftness with which disease struck the living in previous centuries was
truly murderous. And I have my own testimony at how quickly violent death can
approach. Assaulted by a crowd of Afghans in a Pakistani border village in 2001
- their families had just been slaughtered in an American B-52 air raid on
Kandahar - an ever-growing crowd of young men were banging stones on to my head,
smashing my glasses into my face, cutting my skin open until I could smell my
own blood. And, just for a moment, I caught sight of myself in the laminated
side of a parked bus. I was crimson with blood, my face was bright red with the
stuff and it was slopping down my shirt and on to my bag and my trousers and
shoes; I was all gore from head to foot. And I distinctly remember, at that very
moment - I suppose it was a subconscious attempt to give meaning to my own
self-disgust - the fearful ravings of the insane Lady Macbeth as she
contemplates the stabbing of King Duncan: "...who would have thought the old man
/ to have had so much blood in him?"
Shakespeare would certainly have witnessed pain and suffering in daily London
life. Executions were in public, not filmed secretly on mobile telephones. But
who cannot contemplate Saddam's hanging - the old monster showing nobility as
his Shi'ite executioners tell him he is going "to hell" - without remembering
"that most disloyal traitor", the condemned Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth, of whom
Malcolm was to remark that "nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving
it." Indeed, Saddam's last response to his tormentors - "to the hell that is
Iraq?" - was truly Shakespearean.
How eerily does Saddam's shade haunt our modern reading of Shakespeare. "Hang
those that talk of fear!" must have echoed through many a Saddamite palace,
where "mouth-honour" had long ago become the custom, where - as the casualties
grew through the long years of his eight-year conflict with Iran - a Ba'athist
leader might be excused the Macbethian thought that he was "in blood / Stepp'd
in so far, that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er".
The Iraqi dictator tried to draw loose inspiration from the Epic of Gilgamesh in
his own feeble literary endeavours, an infantile novel which - if David Damrosch
is right - was the work of an Iraqi writer subsequently murdered by Saddam.
Perhaps Auden best captures the nature of the beast:
"Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, / And the poetry he invented was
easy to understand; / He knew human folly like the back of his hand, / And was
greatly interested in armies and fleets..."
In an age when we are supposed to believe in the "War on Terror", we may quarry
our way through Shakespeare's folios in search of Osama bin Laden and George W
Bush with all the enthusiasm of the mass murderer who prowls through Christian
and Islamic scriptures in search of excuses for ethnic cleansing. Indeed,
smiting the Hittites, Canaanites and Jebusites is not much different from
smiting the Bosnians or the Rwandans or the Arabs or, indeed, the modern-day
Israelis. And it's not difficult to find a parallel with Bush's disasters in
Afghanistan and Iraq - and his apparent desire to erase these defeats with yet a
new military adventure in Iran - in Henry IV's deathbed advice to his son, the
future Henry V:
"...Therefore, my Harry, / Be it thy course to busy giddy minds / With foreign
quarrels; that action, hence borne out / May waste the memory of the former
The wasteland and anarchy of Iraq in the aftermath of our illegal 2003 invasion
is reflected in so many of Shakespeare's plays that one can move effortlessly
between the tragedies and the histories to read of present-day civil war
Baghdad. Here's the father, for example, on discovering that he has killed his
own child in Henry VI, Part III:
"O, pity, God, this miserable age! / What stratagems, how fell, how butcherly, /
Erroneous, mutinous and unnatural, / This deadly quarrel daily doth beget!"
Our treachery towards the Shi'ites and Kurds of Iraq in 1991 - when we
encouraged them to rise up against Saddam and then allowed the butcher of
Baghdad to destroy them - was set against the genuine cries for freedom that
those doomed people uttered in the days before their betrayal. "...waving our
red weapons o'er our heads," as Brutus cried seconds after Julius Caesar's
murder, "Let's all cry, 'Peace, freedom, and liberty'."
My own experience of war has changed my feelings towards many of Shakespeare's
characters. The good guys in Shakespeare's plays have become ever less
attractive, ever more portentous, ever more sinister as the years go by. Henry V
seems more than ever a butcher. "Now, herald, are the dead number'd?" he asks.
"This note doth tell me of ten thousand French / That in the field lie slain: of
princes, in this number, / And nobles bearing banners, there lie dead / One
hundred twenty six: added to these / Of knights, esquires, and gallant
gentlemen, / Eight thousand and four hundred..."
Henry is doing "body counts". When the herald presents another list - this time
of the English dead, Henry reads off the names of Edward, Duke of York, the Earl
of Suffolk, Sir Richard Kikely, Davy Gam, Esquire: "None else of name: and, of
all other men, / but five and twenty... O God, thy arm was here... / Was ever
known so great and little loss, / On one part and on th'other?"
This is pure Gulf War Part One, when General Norman Schwarzkopf was gloating at
the disparate casualty figures - while claiming, of course, that he was "not in
the business of body counts" - while General Peter de la Billière was telling
Britons to celebrate victory by ringing their church bells.
Shakespeare can still be used to remind ourselves of an earlier, "safer" (if
nonexistent) world, a reassurance of our own ultimate survival. It was not by
chance that Olivier's Henry V was filmed during the Second World War. The
Bastard's final promise in King John is simple enough:
"Come the three corners of the world in arms, / And we shall shock them: nought
shall make us rue, / If England to itself do rest but true."
But the true believers - the Osamas and Bushes - probably lie outside the
history plays. The mad King Lear - betrayed by two of his daughters just as bin
Laden felt he was betrayed by the Saudi royal family when they rejected his
offer to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation without American military assistance
- shouts that he will:
"...do such things, / What they are yet, I know not, but they shall be / The
terrors of the earth!"
Lear, of course, was written in the immediate aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, a
"terrorist" conspiracy with potential September 11 consequences. Similarly, the
saintly Prospero in The Tempest contains both the self-righteousness and
ruthlessness of bin Laden and the covert racism of Bush. When he sends Ariel to
wreck the usurping King Alonso's ship on his island, the airy spirit returns
with an account of his success which - despite his subsequent saving of lives -
is of near-Twin Towers dimensions:
"Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, / I flam'd amazement, sometime I'ld
divide / And burn in many places... / Not a soul / But felt a fever of the mad,
and play'd / Some tricks of desperation; all but mariners / Plung'd in the
foaming brine, and quit the vessel; / Then all afire with me the King's son
Ferdinand / With hair up-staring (then like reeds, not hair) / Was the first man
that leap'd; cried Hell is empty, / And all the devils are here."
In almost the same year, John Donne was using equally terrifying imagery, of a
"fired ship" from which "by no way / But drowning, could be rescued from the
flame, / Some men leap'd forth..."
Prospero's cruelty towards Caliban becomes more frightening each time I read of
it, not least because The Tempest is one of four Shakespeare plays in which
Muslims appear and because Caliban is himself an Arab, born of an Algerian
"This damned Witch Sycorax / For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible / To
enter human hearing, from Argier / Thou know'st was banish'd..." Prospero tells
us. "This blue-ey'd hag, was hither brought with child... / A freckl'd whelp,
hag-born... not honour'd with / A human shape."
Caliban is the "terrorist" on the island, first innocently nurtured by Prospero
and then condemned to slavery after trying to rape Prospero's daughter, the
colonial slave who turns against the fruits of civilisation that were offered
"You taught me language, and my profit on't / Is, I know how to curse: the red
plague rid you / For learning me your language."
Yet Caliban must "obey" Prospero because "his art is of such power". Prospero
may not have F-18s or bunker-busters, but Caliban is able to play out a familiar
Western narrative; he teams up with the bad guys, offering his help to Trinculo
- "I'll show you the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries; / I'll fish for
thee..." - making the essential linkage between evil and terror that Bush vainly
tried to claim between al-Qa'ida and Saddam. Caliban is an animal, unworthy of
pity, not honoured with a "human shape". Compare this with a recent article in
the newspaper USA Today, in which a former American military officer, Ralph
Peters - arguing that Washington should withdraw from Iraq because its people
are no longer worthy of our Western sacrifice - refers to "the comprehensive
inability of the Arab world to progress in any sphere of organised human
endeavour". Prospero, of course, prevails and Caliban survives to grovel to his
"How fine my master is! I am afraid / He will chastise me / ...I'll be wise
hereafter, / And seek for grace..." The war of terror has been won!
Shakespeare lived at a time when the largely Muslim Ottoman empire - then at its
zenith of power - remained an existential if not a real threat for Europeans.
The history plays are replete with these fears, albeit that they are also a
product of propaganda on behalf of Elizabeth and, later, James. In Henry IV:
Part I, the king is to set out on the Crusades:
"As far as to the sepulchre of Christ... / Forthwith a power of English shall we
levy, / Whose arms were moulded in their mothers' womb / To chase these pagans
in those holy fields / Over whose acres walked those blessed feet."
Rhetoric is no one's prerogative - compare King Henry V's pre-Agincourt speech
with Saddam's prelude to the "Mother of All Battles" where Prospero-like purity
is espoused for the Arab "side". This is Saddam: "Standing at one side of this
confrontation are peoples and sincere leaders and rulers, and on the other are
those who stole the rights of God and the tyrants who were renounced by God
after they renounced all that was right, honourable, decent and solemn and
strayed from the path of God until... they became obsessed by the devil from
head to toe."
Similar sentiments are espoused by Tamberlaine in Marlowe's play. Tamberlaine is
the archetypal Muslim conqueror, the "scourge of God" who found it passing brave
to be a king, and ride in triumph through Persepolis.
But Othello remains the most obvious, tragic narrative of our Middle Eastern
fears. He is a Muslim in the service of Venice - close neighbour to the Ottoman
empire - and is sent to Cyprus to battle the Turkish fleet. He is a mercenary
whose self-hatred contaminates the play and eventually leads to his own death.
Racially abused by both Iago and Roderigo, he lives in a world where there are
men whose heads supposedly hang beneath their shoulders, where he is black -
most Arabs are not black, although Olivier faithfully followed this notion - and
where, just before killing himself, he refers to his terrible stabbing of
Desdemona as the work of a "base Indian" who:
"...threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe, of one whose subdued eyes, /
...Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees / ...Set you down this; / And say
besides, that in Aleppo once, / Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk / Beat a
Venetian and traduced the state, / I took by the throat the circumcised dog /
And smote him, thus."
That, I fear, is the dagger that we now feel in all our hearts.
Robert Fisk will be in conversation with Joan Bakewell
and Tim Pigott-Smith for
the Royal Shakespeare Company
March 11, 2007 The New York Times By ERIC KONIGSBERG
Park Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets is not the first block you might
try if you were looking to find boys and girls with guns. And none of Manhattan,
for that matter, presents good odds for turning up children engaged in
But Tuesdays, from 5 to 6 p.m., that is what you would find, when the
Knickerbocker Greys cadet corps holds its weekly drill sessions. The site is the
old Seventh Regiment Armory, a crenellated red-brick fortress, and perhaps there
is some comfort to the knowledge that in this era of architectural repurposing,
at least one of New York’s old armories, when it isn’t housing antiques fairs,
is used in a way that actually involves the taking up of arms (particularly as
they’re not loaded).
The Knickerbocker Greys is an organization for children ages 6 to 16, and it has
been something of an Upper East Side institution since 1881 — though the typical
response of most people in the neighborhood upon the mention of its name is,
“Good God, does something like that still exist?”
Last summer, an article in a publication put out by the Social Register (Good
God, does that still exist?) made note of the Greys’ 125th anniversary and
described it as “a kind of Junior R.O.T.C. or Scouts with, if you like, a more
pronounced military bent.”
The Greys’ enrollment currently stands at 21, and last week, most of them —
including three girls — could be found inside the Armory practicing for the
corps’ annual cadet-father dinner.
In a hallway that showcased — in no particular order — its age, portraits of
bearded captains and majors, and a thicket of exposed electrical wiring (the
Armory’s 50,000-square-foot Drill Shed was occupied), the Greys’ commander,
David Menegon, broke his charges into two groups for a pass-and-review routine.
He is 44 years old, an Army reservist who earned two Bronze Stars on combat
tours of Iraq. During business hours, he works for Xerox, in sales.
“The older kids lead the younger kids — that’s central to the philosophy,” Mr.
Menegon said. “How many 9-year-olds have the patience to teach smaller children?
They learn leadership and empathy.”
As they drilled, the children’s carriage and rhythms looked as straight and
precise as those of 7- and 8-year-olds can be expected to look. Adjutant’s call,
right face, right shoulder arms, forward march, column left, left flank, eyes
right, present arms.
Mr. Menegon nodded his approval and called a five minute break.
“Does that mean we can wrestle now?” asked Joshua Klein, 8.
“No wrestling,” Mr. Menegon said.
The regimental culture of the Greys can feel at odds with the prevailing
child-development ethic of today’s Upper East Side, where value is placed on
good behavior, sure, but also on the importance of a youngster’s being able to
express himself at all times.
The Greys repaired to the Company F Room, where they stood around a large table
and rehearsed an elaborate series of toasts and rhythmic clapping exercises.
“When we say, ‘Are all the cannons charged?’ that means are all your glasses
full of soda,” Mr. Menegon said.
Some of the youngsters giggled. “Can we practice with soda right now?” said
Tommy Rowe, a seventh grader at the Buckley School on the Upper East Side.
“No, and don’t laugh,” Mr. Menegon said. He went on to explain the historical
significance of “dining in” traditions as one boy absent-mindedly stuck his
fingers in his mouth and played an imaginary trumpet. West Point it was not.
Membership is open to “boys and girls of good character,” according to the
Greys’ Web site, and costs $400 annually, with financial aid available. Most of
the members come from the Upper East Side, though that is not a requirement.
The two senior-most members of the corps at 14 and 12, Eugene and Quentin Whyte,
are second-generation Greys, along with their younger sister, Catherine (the
corps went coed in 1986). Their father, Gene, who grew up near their current
home on 85th Street off of Park, is a lieutenant in the New York City Police
“Basically, I joined for the swords,” Eugene said. “When we’d go to my grandma’s
apartment, she had my dad’s old swords and uniform and we would have these epic
Tommy and his older sister, Schuyler, who is in the ninth grade at Hewitt, the
girls’ school on the Upper East Side, are Greys’ legacies, too. Their father, a
stockbroker, wasn’t in the corps, but their step-grandfather was. “You get to
make new friends outside of school and everybody’s really friendly,” Tommy said.
“I’m not going to ever join the military, though. Not unless my parents go
bankrupt. I can’t stand the sight of blood.”
“Some girls at school wonder why I’m in it,” Schuyler said. “They all ask if I
have a boyfriend through this. We wanted to join after 9/11.”
“Boys like the army, but girls like the mall and nail polish,” Tommy said.
“I’m an only child, so this is sort of my second home,” said Erroll Rhodes, who
is 10 and will be starting at St. Bernard’s, the boys’ school on the Upper East
Side, in the fall. “Someone always listens to you when you have a problem.”
“I used to be really shy and I had a serious fear of public speaking,” Eugene
said. “Major Menegon helped me a lot, step by step. And since then, as a cadet
colonel, I’ve learned a lot about confidence and how you respond when someone
below you is misbehaving. You have to ask them nicely and let them know you’re
At its peak, during the era of the two World Wars, the Greys had as many as 200
cadets, from Mayflower families and the like. The author Louis Auchincloss,
writing about his childhood, recalled a Major Smith — “a dreadful man” — who ran
the Greys: “He wanted to make us aware that a man’s fate might ultimately take
us to strange lands to fight for glorious causes, and he seemed to have no doubt
that this made us more privileged than women.”
Like a lot of the city’s old-money institutions, the corps was all but crushed
by modernity and the changes that it brought — everything from competitive
private-school admissions to the demise of the Gold and Silver Ball to the
arrival of people who think nothing of renting out the gorilla house at the
Bronx Zoo for an 8-year-old’s birthday party.
The only public notice the Knickerbocker Greys received in recent decades came
in association with a less-than-distinguished veteran, Robert Chambers, the
so-called Preppy Killer who was convicted of the 1986 strangulation of a woman
in Central Park.
Still, the young soldiers soldier on, performing at functions for the Sons of
the American Revolution, St. George’s Society, and the Society of Colonial Wars.
Last month, they crossed a Rubicon of sorts to work the lavish 60th birthday
party of Steve Schwartzman, the Blackstone Group financier.
China tops list with £70m of exports in one year
as military sales soar to
Sunday October 15, 2006 The Observer Antony Barnett
The British government is exporting
record levels of military equipment to 19 of the 20 states its own ministers and
officials have just identified as 'major countries of concern' for human rights
The 20 countries were listed in the
Foreign Office's annual Human Rights Report, which was launched by the Foreign
Secretary, Margaret Beckett, last week. They include China, Burma, North Korea,
Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.
But the government's arms export records reveal that concerns over human rights
appear not to have prevented ministers from approving tens of millions of pounds
of military sales to those same regimes.
For instance, on China the report stated: 'The Chinese authorities continue to
violate a range of basic human rights. The use of the death penalty remains
extensive and non-transparent; torture is widespread.' Yet, despite the
existence of a European Union arms embargo, ministers approved strategic export
licences - which are needed to sell military items abroad - for China worth
almost £70m between July 2005 and June 2006.
According to the UK government's own record of export licences, between January
and March this year ministers approved the sale to China of military
aero-engines, military communciations equipment and 'technology to build combat
aircraft'. It also sold Beijing gun mountings and components for military
vehicles, and 'components for nuclear reactors'.
The EU embargo prohibits countries from selling 'whole' weapons such as missile
and aircraft, although it does allow the sale of parts.
Other countries whose human rights records concern the Foreign Office, but which
still receive arms exports from the UK, include Colombia, Saudi Arabia and
Russia, where more than £40m of military equipment was exported last year. On
Russia, the Foreign Office report stated: 'Human rights defenders continue to be
gravely concerned by actions taken by authorities... The North Caucasus...
remains one of Europe's most serious human rights issues.' Yet last year
ministers authorised export licences to Russia worth £10m. These included
military cargo and utility vehicles, sniper rifles, gun silencers, shotguns, and
components for military aircraft navigation equipment.
The analysis of military exports was carried out by Saferworld, the human rights
campaign group. Claire Hickson, Saferworld's head of communications, said: 'This
once again highlights the incoherence of UK policy which could result in British
military equipment being used to commit human rights abuses abroad.'
At the launch of the Human Rights Report, Beckett said: 'This report would set
down what we were doing to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms around
the world. And it would be something by which the public, the NGO community and
the media could hold us as a government to account.'
But Saferworld responded: 'The UK government does little to check what happens
to arms exports once they leave the country. There is little way of knowing
whether the arms find their way to other users, such as criminal gangs, pariah
states, terrorists, paramilitaries or warlords or other rebel forces. A number
of these states have reputations as conduits of arms to other irresponsible
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said that all military exports were
rigorously scrutinised on a 'case by case basis' and the British government
needs to be reassured that such sales would not be used for internal repression
or external aggression.
The Human Rights Report was first published in 1998 by former Foreign Secretary
Robin Cook, who wanted to promote human rights overseas in line with the new
Labour government's 'ethical foreign policy'.
Tue Mar 21, 2006
6:42 PM ET
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Beneath the busy Brooklyn Bridge, city inspectors last week
uncovered artifacts of modern American history -- provisions left in a shelter
harkening back to fears of nuclear attack in the days of the Cold War.
Up two flights of rickety stairs in an arched masonry roadway support, workers
making a structural inspection found a dusty room containing evaporated water
drums, boxes of sealed blankets, shock-prevention medical supplies and an
estimated 350,000 cracker biscuits, as well as clothes and remnants of homeless
people who lived there until they were evicted when the structure was sealed in
Officials believe it may be one of many nuclear fallout shelters created around
America during the 1950s that were stockpiled with survival supplies.
"Here we have this wonderful cache of information," New York transport
commissioner Iris Weinshall said on Tuesday, standing in the dark, dank room
pointing to the sealed boxes. "This is modern American history."
Boxes of blankets were marked "For Use Only After Enemy Attack," while the
sealed biscuit tins read "Civil Defense All Purpose Survival Crackers" and were
dated October 1962 - the year the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred that brought the
world to the brink of nuclear war.
Other boxes were dated from 1957, when the Soviets launched the Sputnik
satellite. Weinshall noted both dates signified "tumultuous times in American
"People were worried, they thought we were going to go to nuclear war when there
was a conflict with Russia," she said. "Today, we are worried about terrorist
attacks, we are not worried about nuclear attacks. It's a whole different
Other supplies found included a box containing tags to show people's name,
address, next of kin and type of first aid they needed.
Joseph Vaccaro, who has been conducting inspections for the city's bridge
department for 17 years, was on hand when the supplies were discovered.
"This is certainly the most historically significant thing that we have ever
found," he said.
The city said it would turn the space over to historians and the Civil Defense
museum after health officials conducted an inspection.
November 3, 2003
The New York Times
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON— Whoever came up with the idea of the ''Mission Accomplished''
banner that has so plagued President Bush remained as elusive last week as the
White House leaker. But here, so far, is the story of ''Bannergate'' and the
hunt for the person or persons behind the two words.
President Bush got the story rolling in a Rose Garden news conference on
Tuesday, when he distanced himself from the exultant ''Mission Accomplished''
declaration that his critics increasingly cite as hubristic and premature. As
anyone who has watched television lately now knows, the enormous red, white and
blue banner was the backdrop to Mr. Bush's May 1 landing in a flight suit on the
carrier Abraham Lincoln and his speech on the open deck declaring major combat
in Iraq at an end.
''The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the
U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished,'' Mr. Bush
testily told reporters at the news conference, on another day of violence and
death in Iraq. ''I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man
from my staff. They weren't that ingenious, by the way.''
After the news conference, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan,
tiptoed around the president's words. The banner ''was suggested by those on the
ship,'' Mr. McClellan said. ''They asked us to do the production of the banner,
and we did. They're the ones who put it up.''
The Democratic presidential candidates immediately pounced, saying that Mr. Bush
was blaming the Navy for something his advance team had staged. Gen. Wesley K.
Clark told reporters that Mr. Bush's comments were outrageous and added, ''I
guess the next thing we're going to hear is that the sailors told him to wear
the flight suit and prance around on the aircraft carrier.''
So who on the ship came up with the idea for the banner? How involved were White
House imagemakers, who embedded themselves on the Lincoln before Mr. Bush's
speech and were at least present when the idea first surfaced? In short, was
there truth to General Clark's contention that Mr. Bush was unfairly implicating
the sailors for a sign at an event that has appeared more and more untimely,
particularly after the attack on a helicopter yesterday that killed 16 American
troops in Iraq.
Mr. McClellan referred the questions seaward, where the first stop was Cmdr.
Conrad Chun, a Navy spokesman in Washington.
''I'll give you the whole scoop,'' Commander Chun said. ''The ship came up with
the idea, and thought it would be good to have a banner, 'Mission Accomplished.'
'' The idea popped up in one of the meetings aboard the ship preparing for its
homecoming, Commander Chun said, and the sailors then asked if the White House
could get the sign made.
But Commander Chun said he was not in any of those meetings, and did not know
who had come up with the banner idea.
Next stop was Lt. Cmdr. John Daniels, the public affairs officer aboard the
Lincoln, which is now in dry dock in Bremerton, Wash., for maintenance and
''The sailors came up with an idea of a banner, and they said, 'Hey, is there
any way we could get a 'Mission Accomplished' banner made?' '' Commander Daniels
But Commander Daniels added that he, too, was not in any of the meetings
preparing for the landing and did not know the name of anyone from the Navy who
Next stop was again Mr. McClellan, who was told that so far the Navy had not
produced a ''Mission Accomplished'' accomplice. Mr. McClellan said he would see
what he could do.
Soon enough, Commander Daniels called to say that one person in the meetings
preparing for the ship's homecoming was Cmdr. Ron Horton, the executive officer
of the Lincoln and the ship's second in command.
Commander Horton was too busy to come to the phone, Lt. Cmdr. Daniels said, but
he recounted what he said Commander Horton had told him about a shipboard
meeting in late April with officers of the Lincoln and members of the White
House advance team. The team, including security, had boarded the ship in Hawaii
around April 28 to make preparations for the president's speech -- some 75 to
100 people strong.
''The White House said, 'Is there anything we can do for you?' '' Commander
Daniels said. ''Somebody in that meeting said, 'You know, it would sure look
good if we could have a banner that said 'Mission Accomplished.' ''
And who was that someone? ''No one really remembers,'' Commander Daniels said.
One of the White House communications people in the meeting, Commander Daniels
said, was Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer who oversaw the production of the
sign. Mr. Sforza did not return telephone calls seeking comment last week.
In any case, Commander Daniels said that it was not uncommon for a ship to have
a homecoming banner. ''Having a banner hanging off the ship is not unheard of,''
Commander Daniels said. ''Does it happen every single time? No. Does it happen
every third time? Probably.''
Meanwhile, Republicans said that it was increasingly unlikely that Mr. Bush
would use the film of his ''Top Gun'' landing on the carrier in a campaign
But would the Democrats consider using it in an attack ad?
''Yes,'' said Jim Margolis of GMMB, who is making television commercials for the
presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Westerners held after the
invasion of Kuwait
were forced to make
a second television appearance
before they were eventually freed
in December 1990.
TWENTY-ONE days after his invasion of
Kuwait, President Saddam Hussein last night temporarily abandoned his bellicose
posturing and tried to portray an avuncular image. In a bizarre interview on
Iraqi television, he paraded Western hostages, many of them British. They were,
he claimed, just “guests”.
“We have families. We would know how you feel. But we are trying to prevent a
war from happening. We hope that your presence as guests is not going to be for
long, because you are not hostages.”
Later, in another attempt to produce a caring image, Radio Baghdad reported he
had ordered that a British boy, aged 15, separated from his family be sent home.
The boy’s name was not clearly heard.
The radio said: “President Leader Saddam Hussein has ordered that Alex Cameron
Barnett, a 15-year-old British national, be sent back to his country after his
excellency learned that he is alone with the British families and that his
family is not with him.”
For some relatives back in Britain the television film was the first
confirmation that their families were still safe following the invasion of
Dressed in a cool grey business suit, President Saddam gave a rambling interview
flanked by two soldiers and surrounded by about 20 Westerners, including two
young British boys who gave their names as Ian and Stewart.
The presentation of the Falklands war has been carefully sanitised. Pictures
and descriptions of casualties have been discreet, and I believe rightly, for
the sake of relatives. Even now to attempt to describe some of the more horrific
sights and sounds of a war would be unkind.
But the ballooned faces of badly burned men whose clothes had been welded on to
their bodies by the flash of an explosion; the screams in the night from the
dormitories on the ships acting as refuges for the survivors: these can never be
erased from the memories of those who saw and heard them — nor should they, for
this was so often the price of victory in a bloody campaign.
'Warmongers and people who delight in death and destruction are not welcome in
this department,' said a notice taped to the door of a compartment on one of the
ships. In the Task Force, if not in the saloon bars of England, there was little
taste for glory achieved at such a cost. Even seasoned officers said they never
wanted to return to Goose Green, the insignificant hamlet where 300 men died in
a few hours. The scene after the battle was ghastly. There were rows upon rows
of corpses badly charred by the phosphorus of artillery shells.
In several places there were rifles stuck in the mud with helmets on them,
marking where men died. Days later, Argentine prisoners went round the trenches
of their fallen comrades, yanking out bodies and throwing them in a tractor
trailer. There were pigs rooting around the battlefield. I saw one pig lazily
scratching himself on the side of an unexploded 1,000lb bomb.
A mass grave on a hill overlooking Darwin, two miles from Goose Green, where the
bodies were taken for a service conducted jointly by an English and an Argentine
padre, was itself a continuing horror. As the days went by and the water began
to rise from the clay, the bodies wrapped up in drab green ponchos would start
to float. Only the sight of two black boots sticking out of the battle shrouds
gave any real clue that these pathetic bundles were once human.
At the airstrip in Goose Green there were tons of canisters of napalm. Britain
had agreed never to use it but it seems that the Argentine intention had been
different. Some senior officers were horrified by the number of canisters and
said that their use against our troops could have altered the course of the
Even without napalm, flash-burns were the most horrifically common wound,
especially among Navy personnel.
Britain's biggest anti-Vietnam war demonstration ended in London yesterday with
an estimated 300 arrests: 86 people were treated by the St John Ambulance
Brigade for injuries and 50, including 25 policemen, one with a serious spine
injury, were taken to hospital.
Demonstrators and police engaged in a protracted battle; throwing stones, earth,
firecrackers and smoke bombs. Plastic blood, an innovation, added a touch of
It was only after considerable provocation that police tempers began to fray and
truncheons were used, and then only for a short time. The demonstrators seemed
determined to stay until they had provoked a violent response of some sort from
the police. The intention became paramount once they entered Trafalgar Square.
Peter Jackson, Labour MP for High Peak, said that he would put down a question
in the Commons today about "unnecessary violence by police". Members of the
Monday Club handed in letters expressing support to the US and South Vietnamese
More than 1,000 police were waiting Grosvenor Square. They gathered in front of
the embassy while diagonal lines stood shoulder to shoulder to cordon off the
corners of the square closest to the building.
About 2,000 spectators gathered, among them a few hundred Conservatives and
Monday Club supporters who shouted "Bomb, bomb the Vietcong" and "Treason", when
anarchists leading the procession marched past.
When the demonstrators had broken through on to the lawn of the US embassy, they
started to tear up the plastic fence inside the hedge. Mounted police jumped
over the shattered fence and drove back some of the milling crowd for a minute
or two from the south corner of the lawn.
One [policeman] had his hat knocked off and was struck continuously on the back
of his head with a stick as he clung, head down, to his horse's neck. Another
officer, his nose already cut, had his hat knocked flying and his reins seized
before his companions could rescue him.
For about 10 minutes, the men were pinned against the fence under a barrage of
insults, sticks and mud.
None of the speakers - Vanessa Redgrave was among their number - who addressed
an estimated 10,000 demonstrators in Trafalgar Square specifically urged the
marchers to be peaceful; but there was no incitement to misbehave.
and banned from fighting for more than three years
CASSIUS MARCELLUS CLAY, the world heavyweight champion who prefers to be known
by his Black Muslim name of Muhammad Ali, today refused to be inducted into the
United States Army. He declined to take the traditional step forward when called
upon to take the oath by the commanding officer at the induction centre in
Houston, Texas, even though he was addressed first as “Muhammad Ali” and then as
Clay now faces the possibility of a prison sentence of five years and a fine of
up to $10,000, the penalties the Government can invoke against him as a “draft
dodger”. However, if his lawyers contest the case through the courts, the
proceedings might last for two years.
In New York, the state athletic commission announced that Clay would be stripped
of his world title if he went to prison, as he would not then be able to defend
his title. An elimination tournament would be held to find a successor. The
World Boxing Association and other controlling groups may be expected to take
Later Clay issued a four-page statement saying: “It is in the light of my
consciousness as a Muslim minister and my personal convictions that I take my
stand in rejecting to be inducted into the armed services.
ONE of the most moving and remarkable scenes of yesterday’s national rejoicing
was that which took place just before 6 o’clock in the evening when Mr Churchill
spoke from a balcony in Whitehall to a great crowd, whose self-disciplined
orderliness and gaiety were typical of the proud, unconquerable spirit of London
through the dark and perilous days now left behind. This was London’s own joyous
meeting with the nation’s war leader and with other ministers who have worked at
his side through five exacting years. Mr Churchill spoke to this assembled
multitude of citizens only a few sentences, but they were deeply expressive.
“This,” he said to them, “is your victory!”
The Prime Minister made his historic broadcast from the Cabinet Room at 10,
Downing Street, where he and his colleagues have grappled with so many grim
problems during the war. When he finished he left in an open car for the House
of Commons. The crowd which had already gathered in Whitehall and Parliament
Street surged past the police round the Prime Minister’s car, and it was only
with difficulty that an escort of mounted policemen made way for him through the
enthusiastic throng. Mr Churchill stood up in his car to acknowledge the
greetings of the crowd, and he was heartily cheered.
In the grey chill of dawn today in a south-eastern port, war correspondents
watched with incredulous joy the happening of a miracle.
By every canon of military science the BEF has been doomed for the last four or
five days. Completely out-numbered, out-gunned, out-planed, all but surrounded,
it had seemed certain to be cut off from its last channel of escape. Yet for
several hours this morning we saw ship after ship come into harbour and
discharge thousands of British soldiers safe and sound on British soil. As the
sun was turning the grey clouds to burnished copper, the first destroyer of the
day slid swiftly into the harbour, its silhouette bristling with the heads of
the men packed shoulder to shoulder on its decks.
One watched them with a pride that became almost pain. They had passed through
nights and days of hunger, weariness and fear, but nearly every man still had
his rifle and a clip of ammunition: nearly all had brought their full kit with
them - and what an agony its weight must have been. They were still soldiers and
still in good heart. They were of all units and ranks. Some were in the position
of the gunners whose battery had been shelled out of existence near Oudenarde,
because our overworked fighter planes had had no time to deal with the German
Their battery commander had told them to do the best they could for themselves,
and they had walked 30 miles to Dunkirk. It is a stretch of level sand backed by
dunes. The sea in front of it is shallow for some way out, so that ships cannot
come close in. Many of the men have spent up to four days on this beach, hiding
in hollows scratched in the sand, from the German planes which have scourged
them with bomb and machine-gun.
Every now and then, among the men who climb the gangplank into England, one sees
stretcher-bearers carrying a still form, its face bloodless and remote. Yet
[others] survive in their thousands and are able to joke and sing.
In no time the ship is ready to return to Dunkirk. But before it is ready,
another has drawn up alongside. British ships and French and Dutch, warships,
drifters, trawlers, yachts, barges, they bring their loads across the hostile
Channel and then go back undaunted into the inferno.
All the selfless courage of two nations is being thrown into the resistance at
Dunkirk, and it looks as if it will not be spent in vain.
· Evelyn Montague,
eldest son of the Guardian leader writer CE Montague,
The latest news of the BEF [British Expeditionary Force] in France is grave.
It had always been obvious, even
before the defection of the Belgian king, that the British force was running
risks of encirclement in its heroic efforts to keep the Somme-Arras gap as
narrow as possible.
It now seems likely that we shall pay heavily in British lives for King
Leopold's action. We have to face the fact that the possibility of withdrawing
the BEF from its present position is small. It is now virtually surrounded, and
the abandonment by the Belgians of their position on its eastern flank has left
Dunkirk, its port of evacuation, in grave danger of falling to the Germans.
The situation is now so clear that nothing that we say today can be of the
slightest value to the enemy. One is free to tell in outline the story of 18
Some of us have been nauseated by rumours in England that our soldiers had in
some way failed. They did not fail in any way. No troops in the world ever
fought better. Fierce fighting took place, and little ground was lost. But
German pressure on the French forces farther to the south increased, and so did
that fatal gap which had now been created between the French armies on our right
and their main body. In consequence we had to carry out another withdrawal.
In the meantime, German armoured and motorised divisions had streamed through
the gap and were already threatening Arras. In an endeavour to close it a
British force moved down to the Arras area and counter-attacked successfully.
The Germans were so vastly more numerous, however, that our success was only a
The BEF was now faced with the problem of manning a extending front in order to
protect its lifeline to the sea. The fact that it quickly formed the necessary
defensive line is yet another proof of the heroic efficiency which both
commander and troops have shown throughout this epic fortnight.
Small British motorised and light armoured detachments kept pace with the
encirclement and resisted every attempt at penetration of our lines.
Up to this morning the BEF was facing the enemy on the French frontier from near
Ypres to the River Scarpe. Thence it supported the part of two French armies
roughly as far as Douai, and from there a thin but resolute line continued the
ellipse into which the British force had been driven to west of Dunkirk.
The early collapse of the Belgian advanced positions enabled the Germans to push
on fast and to attack the lines held by the British.
[The Manchester Guardian which reported Churchill's "I have
nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech carried an article
which dealt with another pressing matter.]
People of modest means can effect a substantial economy during
the war by doing without a maid. Her services will then be available for more
essential work, and the employer can be sure of saving anything from one to two
pounds a week.
Apart from food and wages the cost of many household items can be lessened. The
careful and intelligent housewife will be able to halve her bills for soaps,
powders, and cleaning materials. Light and fuel bills will be less and there
will be fewer leakages. Careful planning will, however, be necessary if the
housewife does not wish to be too tired and harassed to keep up outside
In most houses the two most constant tasks are preparation of meals and keeping
down the dust. The best way to keep the house spick and span is never to let
dust accumulate anywhere, and for this a thorough turn-out of every room and
passage is necessary once a week and a quick daily dusting. Employ a daily woman
to come in, say, on two mornings a week for the turning-out. Then an hour a day
should be enough to keep any small house immaculate.
Meals are a more difficult problem. Food must be provided, or health suffers.
Soup, for instance, can be taken off the menu during the summer. Make plenty of
use of all casserole dishes. If glass ovenware is used it should be soaked for
an hour in very hot soda-water.
Potatoes should be baked or boiled in their skins. Eaten with salt and margarine
or dripping they are not only more nutritious but more appetising, besides
saving much time. Avoid puddings which necessitate the making of breadcrumbs,
chopping ingredients, creaming, beating, and tying up of basins. Reduce the
number of cooked meals as far as possible. One hot meal a day is ample for
anybody except in very cold weather. This saves time in preparation, washing up
and fuel, and is healthier as it enables more fresh food in the form of salads
to be taken.
Grown-up members of the family should make their own beds, keep their rooms
tidy, and clean their own shoes. Older children can also help in these tasks,
but, apart from putting away their toys and being reasonably tidy, children
should not be expected to spend much time on housework. Their free play-time is
psychologically important, especially in these days, and should not be unduly
[In popular histories of the war,
this debate was dominated
one phrase, "in the name of God go",
which destroyed Neville Chamberlain.
was not how the Manchester Guardian
or the Times reported the occasion.]
As far as the debate has gone it has changed nothing in the
Parliamentary situation. That is, superficially.
And yet there was a difference. Today's Prime Minister was not the Chamberlain
of a few weeks ago whom one heard telling the Tory Central Council that Hitler
had missed the bus. But one can still hear those cheers from the embattled "Yes
Mr Chamberlain's apologia for the Norwegian failure can be studied elsewhere.
Here one turns to his "general observations" which shed a good deal of light on
himself and his Government. The lessons are those which the Opposition parties
have been trying to teach him for months, so the Labour and Liberal benches
rocked with cheers at his discoveries.
One lesson was that we had not realised the imminence of the threat. There the
Opposition cheered for a full minute. The Leader of the Opposition [Mr Attlee]
saw Norway as only one more failure in the uninterrupted story of Ministerial
failures. Yet he was full of confidence about our winning the war, though he
said bluntly it would only be done by putting different men at the helm.
Drama touched the debate once, when Admiral Sir Roger Keyes alleged in effect
that Trondheim had been lost through faint hearts in Whitehall. He rose in his
uniform of an admiral of the fleet, as he explained, because he had come to
Westminster to speak for men in the fighting Navy who were very unhappy.
Sir Roger admonished [Mr Churchill] to steel himself for vigorous action,
because he possesses the confidence of the War Cabinet, the country and the
Navy. He ended by reminding Mr Churchill of Nelson's saying that bold est
measures are always the safest. So far this had been quite the most disturbing
speech in the debate.
Sir Roger's speech will probably tell for more against the Government than Mr
Amery's, which followed, but Mr Amery's speech was a sustained and harsh
denunciation of the Government for its timidity and ineffectiveness, full of
power, and concluding with the savage application to the Government of
Cromwell's words to the Long Parliament: "You have sat too long here for any
good you have been doing. Depart, I say. Let us have done with you. In the name
of God, go."
Mr Amery's philippic was delivered as usual to half-empty benches on his own
side, but there was a goodly muster of the Opposition to hear him.
While Herr Hitler was making a conqueror's progress through
the streets of the Austrian capital yesterday afternoon, Mr. Chamberlain in the
House of Commons was announcing that Germany's actions would force Britain to
take still further defence measures.
The Premier's words were: "I am confident that we shall be supported in asking
that no one, whatever his preconceived notions may be, shall regard himself as
being excluded from any extension of the national effort which may be called
"In regard to our defence programmes, we have always made it clear that they
were flexible and they would have to be reviewed from time to time in the light
of any new development in the international situation. It would be idle to
pretend that the recent events do not constitute a change of the kind we had in
Mr. Chamberlain brushed aside the official German pretences that "forcible
pressure" was not exerted by the Reich. Mr. Chamberlain declared that the
methods adopted by Germany throughout these events "call for the severest
condemnation," and must prejudice the Government's hope of promoting
The Premier's reference to the "national effort" was not a hint of the
possibility of military or industrial conscription. Mr. R. A. Butler, in making
this clear in his speech closing the debate, also indicated that it was in the
Air Force programme that expansion or acceleration may be contemplated.
The Premier, it was further explained, was referring to "certain inconveniences
and perhaps sacrifices," which employers and work people would no doubt be asked
to accept in the national interest if the Government decided upon these
The Prime Minister's announcement about defence follows only a week after he had
informed the country that the figure of £1,500,000,000 contemplated for the
defence estimates would have to be substantially increased.
Mr. Chamberlain recounted in his speech the German assurances to
Czecho-Slovakia, but said nothing of the British position.
Yesterday, France gave Czecho-Slovakia a solemn pledge that she is determined to
honour her agreement in the event of attack. The pledge was given by M Blum, the
Premier, and M Paul-Boncour, the Foreign Minister, to the Czecho-Slovak Minister
in Paris, and the French Ambassador in London was instructed to inform the
British Government of this determination.
Sir, - The announcement that a
sentence of two years' hard labour has been passed upon Mr. Clifford Al1en
raises the question whether the press and public, in accepting the news without
protest or comment, are acting advisedly. Imprisonment with hard labour is the
most severe form of incarceration practised in England. A sentence of two years
is regarded as reaching the limit of endurance. When terms of imprisonment
exceeding two years are called for the prisoner is sent to penal servitude. The
difference is that a prisoner at the end of two years' hard labour is in a state
of exhaustion which could not be prolonged without endangering his life, whereas
penal servitude has to be so ordered that men can endure ten or even twenty
years of it without physical collapse. It must therefore be clearly understood
that a prisoner can be killed by sentencing him to hard labour for a continuing
offence.Thus Mr. Clifford Allen, having already served a severe term of hard
labour, is virtually under sentence of death. Is It the intention of the
Government? If so, there is nothing more to be said. It may be so, for it is a
matter of daily experience that many people think that such a death is too good
for a conscientious objector, and do not hesitate to say as much. But are these
vicarious zealots in the majority? Why are the scruples and personal rights of
the objectors treated with pedantic respect when they operate to the
disadvantage of the objector, and overridden by force when they have the
contrary effect? Mr. Stephen Hobhouse refuses to submit to medical examination.
Why was he not examined by force? Objectors refusing to put on uniform have been
forcibly clad. Women refusing their dinners have been forcibly fed. Your columns
have just reported the case of an invalid recruit who was stripped naked and
prevented from sitting near the fire. He is now dead. Yet when Mr. Hobhouse
objects, his wishes and his person are regarded as sacred, and the authorities,
deploring his obstinacy, consign him to hard labour for life. Anyhow, here are
two gentlemen in a fair way to be killed because the public has no knowledge and
the authorities no sense. If we wish to kill them, cannot we shoot them out of
hand and have done with it, Dublin fashion? Yours, &c., G. BERNARD SHAW
[Allen, later the pacifist socialist
peer Lord Allen of Hurtwood,
Like so many other official
documents on South African affairs, Lord Milner's new despatches are belated
admissions of unpleasant truths that independent observers have long insisted on
in the face of official indifference.
The public were sceptical as to the
extent of the devastation of the conquered countries. It was thought that some
six hundred farms had been burnt and then the mischief had stopped. Great was
the outcry when the Boer Generals in appealing for funds declared that the whole
land was laid waste.
But now what is Lord Milner's account? "We began working," he writes, "with the
country absolutely denuded of everything."
Lord Milner has a turn for rhetoric and he states the case a little more
strongly than a sober and literal-minded Boer would do. A Boer would have
mentioned prosaically that there were only a few thousand cattle left, or that
many towns were wholly and many partially destroyed.
However, Lord Milner is merely admitting at length what the Boer leaders
contended eight months ago. The country when the war ceased was laid waste from
end to end. He passes on at once to a further admission. One of the complaints
from the Boer side about the administration of relief turned on the condition of
the animals supplied to them instead of a money grant out of the three millions.
It was said that the animals taken over from the military were in a miserable
plight, and that many died before work could be got out of them. That was
thought by many to be a slander, but what, again, does Lord Milner say? "The
large number of animals which we took over from the military were for the most
part in wretched condition.
"Hundreds of them died before they had done any work at all; many thousands were
useless for several months, and were only gradually resuscitated by the greatest
care and at considerable expense."
A further complaint came from those who had surrendered during the war under
promise of British protection and who nevertheless had their property destroyed
later on - sometimes by the British themselves.
We note such admissions in no spirit of controversy, but because we in England
have frequently had the argument from common sense checked by the argument from
authority. When common sense and knowledge of affairs seemed to show that events
were turning out one way, we were told that they were turning in precisely the
opposite way. Milner was British high commissioner in South Africa before the
The following extracts from a diary,
of the authenticity of which we have obtained sufficient assurance, illustrate
one aspect of the process of "clearing" tracts of the country occupied by the
Amsterdam, New Scotland, February 14
1901. This morning, about eight o'clock, the cavalry of the enemy entered the
town, the infantry following.
Every garden and tree was stripped of everything. All the livestock was taken.
General Campbell arrived; he was very abrupt. He said they, the English, had
come to give us food and protection.
Mother replied that we were quite satisfied with the food and protection our own
people afforded us. Then he said we were to be ready to leave the following day
at 10 a.m.
Feb. 15. Worse than ever. The Provost Marshal, Capt. Daniels entered the house
and began searching. They took what they wanted - soap, candles, mealies & c.
even to white sewing cotton. When mother came in, Capt. Daniels turned to her
and said, 'Those devils of Boers have been sniping at us again, and your two
sons among them, I suppose. If I catch them, they will hang.'
Feb. 17. At dawn Capt. Ballantyne said we would be allowed a quarter of an hour
to load, and only to take the most necessary things. Beds, clothing, mattresses,
chairs, chests & c., odds and ends of all kinds were burnt. Foodstuffs were also
taken. At 9 p.m. we out-spanned in a hard rain. It was pitiful to hear the
children crying all night in the wet waggons for water and food.
March 5. Annie very sick. Must be the food, as we have only meat, and mealies
when we can pick them.
March 6. Annie very ill all day. A driving misty rain. Oxen with lung sickness
are made to pull until they fall down in the yoke to die.
April 19 [in captivity at Volksrust]. Message that Major Watt, Assistant
District Commissioner, wanted to see [Mother] at once. Mother, Annie and Polly
Coltzer went with the policeman. Major Watt was in a dreadful rage.
'You are Mrs. Cameron?' 'Yes.' 'You are a most dangerous woman, you have been
speaking against the British Government. You are an English woman.' 'All my
sympathies are with the Boers.' 'Make a note of that. All the concessions we
intended making you will be withdrawn. You will not be allowed to receive any
April 25. We received the following: 'I beg to inform you that you are to
proceed to Maritzburg tomorrow by the 11p.m. train. A waggon shall convey your
luggage to the station.'
B. R. Cameron,Prisoner of War, May 31 1901. Green Point, Pietermaritzburg,
On Wednesday an armoured train was
derailed near Chieveley and attacked. The escort was composed of half a company
of Dublin Fusiliers, and another half company of Durban Light Infantry, 120 of
whom are missing. Mr. Winston Churchill is among the missing. The armoured train
consisted of, in the front, a flat truck with a seven-pounder gun, manned by a
petty officer and five bluejackets from Her Majesty's ship Tartar. It contained
100 men in all. The train was despatched for the purpose of reconnoitring the
Boer positions near Colenso and to ascertain the truth of reports that railway
track had been destroyed.
The troops were entrained and left
Estcourt at six o'clock in the morning. The train ran forward to Chieveley,
where a body of the enemy was seen. The enemy opened a cannonade at a range of
about 2,000 yards. The Boers also had tilted a rail.
Instantly two of the trucks were overturned and the third was derailed. Many of
our men were injured. Mr. Winston Churchill bravely summoned the train hands and
volunteers, detached the locomotive, ran back to the front trucks, and then,
pushing and pulling, drove through the wreckage.
The infantry opened a rifle fire on the Boers, who were advancing on the west
side of the line, and held them in check. [Mr. Churchill] set to work heroically
with the engine hands and cleared the debris, and put many of our wounded men
upon the locomotive and tender, which, though shelled, got back at ten in the
morning. Mr. Churchill remained at Frere to assist the other soldiers.
Meanwhile our bluejackets fired their seven-pounder, the petty officer bravely
laying and serving the weapon against the cannonade. He sent three shells
bursting among the enemy, who numbered some 500.
The Boers poured shot and shellfire into the crippled train... A shell struck
and hurled [the seven-pounder] away, overturning the truck. The only newspaper
correspondent present was Mr. Winston Churchill, who distinguished himself by
his courageous conduct, as did also Wagner, the driver, and Stuart, the stoker
of the engine.
The troops, who had maintained a hopeless fight with great courage, were
overpowered. A few managed to escape, but the majority were either killed or
wounded or taken prisoners. Mr. Churchill was last seen advancing with a rifle
among the Dublin Fusiliers. He is believed to have surrendered himself to cover
· Within a year of his highly publicised capture and escape,
became a Conservative MP at the age of 26