Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day and Deconstruction

This post is about Memorial Day… even though it doesn’t sound like it from the top line… bear with me

When I was first starting out in school and becoming aware of potential careers I was inclined to become a writer.  I really enjoyed reading… when I would go to the library as a little kid I would take home a stack of books and the librarians scoffed because they assumed I was just looking at the pictures but really I read most of them cover to cover.

In high school I took various English and literature courses and the teachers, by and large, were excellent.  We would read the various texts, always fiction, most of which were generally depressing (“Moby Dick”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “All the King’s Men”, etc…) and then start to analyze the content of the text.

There were different types of analysis.  For example, I was very interested in the historical context in which books like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Julius Caesar” or “The Illiad” were written – what technology was being employed, which groups had historical or political grievances against the others, etc… because these really helped me both to understand the text and to learn more about history in the grand scheme.

I was completely un-interested in the subtle and non-fact based quest for meaning within the analysis that became more and more prevalent as I went up the chain of English through high school and into college.  The facts (for fiction, the narrative events and what happened to the characters and how they grew as a result of the experience) of the text became less relevant and the “symbolism” was the key element of the analysis.  In my mind, this is primarily due to the intellectual idea of “Deconstruction” that has taken over the social sciences in the university today (or at least ran the whole place while I was there).  From wikipedia:

“The term deconstruction was coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1960s and is used in contemporary humanities and social sciences to denote a philosophy of meaning that deals with the ways that meaning is constructed and understood by writers, texts, and readers. One way of understanding the term is that it involves discovering, recognizing, and understanding the underlying — and unspoken and implicit — assumptions, ideas, and frameworks that form the basis for thought and belief. It has various shades of meaning in different areas of study and discussion, and is, by its very nature, difficult to define without depending on "un-deconstructed" concepts.”

By moving away from facts and to meanings, meanings that could essentially be anything to anybody, academia unmoored itself from reality and created a “virtual world” that was impenetrable to the un-initiated.  Don’t believe me?  Go and pick up any advanced humanities text and try to make sense of it.  Concepts that began as simply as the storyline to Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” devolve into point of view and symbolism nonsense that, frankly, isn’t even worth the thought it would take to pull the mess apart and understand it.  In one of the most famous pranks of academia, a physics student (now professor) submitted a wholly bogus article to a prominent humanities magazine combining various deconstruction concepts, references to prominent social theorists, and it was approved and published even though the entire article was clearly a parody and a sham.  In summary, even the supposed “experts” on the topic couldn’t even distinguish supposed fact from sheer nonsense.  Here is a great link to a summary of the issue and articles on the topic… also note that on the wikipedia page for the deconstruction topic there is a reference that the page is being re-written and there is a big debate about whether or not to include Sokal in the topic at all.

Let’s summarize my opinion of what happened:

  • Left wing intellectuals take over a topic and its underlying philosophy

  • Concrete, straightforward analysis grounded on facts and understandable concepts is replaced by a thicket of senseless terms, definitions, concepts and references that are unintelligible to anyone but the initiated

  • This smug alternate universe employs the left (on your tax dollars) and within this sphere they can opine down on the masses who can’t really respond effectively (because no one can grasp what they are talking about) but it sounds right and people are too impolite to point out that entire concepts and approaches are nonsense

  • The Sokal grenade pointed out for everyone that can’t be bothered to take them on in their own domain that, in fact, it is all bullsh1t… verifying that was everyone thought was true, was true

Let’s move on to a topic that is, in actuality, very closely linked to academic left wing elitism and theories that sound like they may have grounding in fact but are in reality, not true.

The forces against our effort in Iraq (it pains me to call them anti-war… because they are really anti-democracy and anti-freedom, but that is grist for another post) discuss patriotism and dissent.  Once again, from Wikipedia:

A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war (or all wars), minimize inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, often linked to the goal of achieving world peace. Means to achieve these ends usually include advocacy of pacifism, non-violent resistance, diplomacy, boycotts, moral purchasing and demonstrations.

If you scratch a leftist and an academic they will cite that “dissent is patriotism” and the “anti war movement is patriotic”.  In their world of words disconnected from meaning and where their interpretation of the facts based on their feelings or impressions, spiced up with impenetrable academic dogma, this is accepted as a fact.


The left wing is setting up a world where wars would meet an impossible standard, and that it is “patriotic” to fight everything the US stands for all the time and contributing nothing in return but resistance, boycotts, and demonstrations (from above).

From what I have been able to take out of their garbled logic, the primary dissent against the War in Iraq is as follows:

  • War is always wrong and diplomacy is always preferable, and war represents a failure of diplomacy

  • Iraq didn’t represent a threat to the US

  • Iraq didn’t meet the criteria for a popular war, a war we could all rally around with complete moral clarity in purpose to bring the whole country together

  • There have been failures in the way that the war was conducted

  • There have been failures in the way we treated prisoners and civilians

Let’s compare their criteria for military action against actual, recent US history.

For WW1, the US presence in that war unmistakably saved the tide for the Allies, being the French and British (the Russians were knocked out by 1917).  While there are many, many messy aspects of warfare at this time, including the fact that the British and French were running overseas empires that wouldn’t meet the moral standards of today, IN GENERAL without US intervention the Germans would probably have taken over the French and driven the British off of European soil and set back liberal democracy as we understand it today (which the British practiced, and the French too) into the grave, with the US and a denuded Britain being the last holdouts.

By all the criteria above WW1 would never have been fought.  The Germans were NOT an imminent threat to the US, because they couldn’t reach our soil without crossing the ocean.  Certainly, there were many, many, many failures in WW1, including the fact that our soldiers were being sent there un-equipped (basically) and they had to use French military kit, and the blunders of WW1 generals are so legion that it is pointless to cover them here.  If you don’t believe that the US contribution was significant, read this book by Mosier.

Let’s move on to WW2.  Don’t forget that WW2 was essentially three wars:

  1. A war with the Japanese

  2. A war with the Italians

  3. A war with the Germans

The war with the Japanese was pretty straight-forward.  By attacking us in Pearl Harbor, unprovoked, even the most left-wing dissenter and all of their garbled syntax couldn’t overcome the repulsion and rage that the Japanese incited.  Their subsequent insane barbarity to our troops and prisoners only fed the fire.

The war with the Italians was far more subtle.  The Italians were in alliance with the Germans, especially in North Africa, under Rommel.  The Italians committed atrocities in Africa, notably their use of poison gas and aircraft in Ethiopia.  On the other hand, there was an enormous Italian population in the US and while it was easy to hate Mussolini, he wasn’t representative of the Italian people.

As far as the Germans, since the left doesn’t recognize suffering of subjugated peoples to be a problem (no problem watching the Kurds suffer in Iraq) and the facts of the holocaust were not widely known, it certainly wasn’t a slam dunk to declare war on Hitler, although it was 100% the right thing to do in hindsight.  Was Germany an immediate threat to the US?  No, but they were getting close.  Einstein wrote about their development of an atom bomb to Roosevelt and their rocketry was extremely advanced by the time the war ended, and they were far ahead of the US in nerve gas and some chemical weapons.

As far as blunders during the war by the US, they were legion.  Critical ones would be letting our air force get caught on the ground in the Philippines after Pearl Harbor had been attacked, our completely inadequate armor and high silhouette of US tanks, and our lousy anti armor weapons for our infantry.  

The overall point of this is that you can’t have a war without mistakes, many of which will cost the lives of our soldiers and civilians.  However, I would argue that in fact we are getting better with each war, on both fronts, 1) the fighting of the war itself 2) mitigating the impact of the war on civilians.

If you look at Hanoi after the Vietnam war or Baghdad today vs. the completely flattened state of Tokyo or Berlin after WW2, you can see that we are taking pains to not kill innocent civilians.  As far as fighting the war itself, our performance in both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been exemplary, up there in the annals of warfare for quickly disabling and destroying an enemy force with few losses on our side.

HOWEVER, there is no war without mistakes, even “thousands” of mistakes.  Any occupation becomes essentially a civil war, which is an extremely difficult type of war to fight given the morals of today.  When your enemy is suicide bombers and they intentionally strike targets that are full of civilians and of religious significant to their enemies, you are meeting as ruthless an enemy as we have seen in decades.  This is not how the US fights, and we are trying to conduct a war with a minimum of losses to the innocent, while our enemy is doing their best to kill as many innocents as possible.

IN THE END, the US is the only country that is willing to fight for democracy and freedom and lead this fight EVEN WHEN THEIR INTERESTS ARE NOT DIRECTLY IMPACTED.  Britain must be given much credit but in WW1 and WW2 they were directly menaced by Hitler and fighting for their very survival.  The US, protected by an ocean, could have survived for decades against these enemies, even as democracy failed and the blackness of subjugation of fascism (and later, communism) fell across Europe, Asia and most of the world.

If left wing dissent means that the US is wrong for doing this, then I believe they are wrong.  The totality of democracies across the world DOES make the US safer, because democracies are far less likely to breed military dictators and madmen that ultimately WILL menace the US.  Our interests are larger than the immediacy of our threats, because if we don’t do our best to encourage a better world, it will ultimately wash up on our shores.

Listening to them now would be about as effective as listening to Joe Kennedy prior to WW2, when he was a Nazi sympathizer, or listening to the New York Times whitewash of the Communists’ crimes in the Ukraine.  They were wrong then, and they are wrong today.

War is hell, war is terrible, and it would be best if somehow we could solve the world’s problems without war.  But war is the only weapon, albeit a blunt and very imperfect weapon, for cracking open some situations that otherwise could rot indefinitely.

Don’t believe the convoluted rationales of the left, any more than deconstruction was shown to be a web of nonsense by Sokal.


Dan from Madison said...

Carl, this is excellent - one of your best.

Anonymous said...

Points well taken. I am surrounded by many liberals. Very nice, good people, good friends. They preach about how we should be able to avoid war through diplomacy. It sounds nice, right? We DO try to employ diplomacy first. Dictators and madmen are not diplomatic. In an ideal world, everyone would get along. There would be no war. There would be no crime. Hello? Are we robots? This is the same population of people on prozac and other drugs to keep their heads on straight! You are right that we have come a long way in trying to protect the innocent. The US is under far more scrutiny than other countries.

Anonymous said...

While I think that all of Carl's points are accurate (at least from my standpoint), I think that the problem that people have with the war is not way it is being fought and the problems associated with it, but with the justifications that seemed to have blown up in the White House's face. Not making a judgement here, but it seems obvious to everyone now that Bush wanted to fight Iraq and was going to use whatever justifications necessary in order to see that ends to his means. If he were to make the same arguments as Carl did, I think that less people, both liberal and non-liberal, would be able to see things with a less disenchanted view, regardless of the problems on the ground there.