Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Body Counts and Conspiracy Hypotheses

I've gotten some interesting comments lately, along with suggestion for things to write about.  I've also been tagged with the book meme, and have written a response to that, but I know I am supposed to tag five other people at the end.  

I just have to figure out if I want to tag people whose Internet personnas I like, or otherwise.  Technorati lists over twelve thousand hits for "book meme", so I might decide to cut it down to three.  We don't want it to spread so fast that we run out of victims.

But what I am posting today does not require any particular brain power.  Earlier today, in the category of things found while looking for other things, I encountered an interview (small PDF file) with Sen. Biden, on Face the Nation. The headline for the interview has to do with his Presidential aspirations.  What got my attention, though, was his description of the problems he has had getting access to the mortuary at the Dover Air Force base in Delaware.  

Apparently, there have been occasions upon which families of deceased soldiers want Biden to accompany them to the airbase when they do to get the remains.  But someone at the Pentagon will not allow him to do so.  He does not know who, or why.

Recall that there was a controversy about that, back when the press wanted to be able to view and photograph returning coffins.  This never has been permitted.

Now, as it happens, a few days ago I ran across a wild conspiracy theory.  It has been rumored that, in addition to the 1,700 reported military causalities in Iraq, there have been around 6,000 soldiers who died after being airlifted to military hospitals in Europe.  It is alleged that these causalities are not included in the official total, with the rationale being that they did not die in Iraq.  I can't find the original reference, but it does not matter since I am only using it to advance my own conspiracy theory.

Of course, those coffins would have to come back to the US, regardless of whether the soldiers died in Iraq or in Europe.  If the press were allowed access to Dover, and if they ended up with photos of 7,000 to 9,000 coffins, it would be a little difficult to convince anyone that only 1,700 soldiers had died.  Note that, for this theory (a hypothesis, technically) to be valid, it would not matter how many soldiers actually have died.  All that matters is that the Administration has a mechanism to keep the actual number secret, so it can lie if it wants to.

That is really the point.  They can lie if they want to, and this is just one example of the kind of secrecy that has become the hallmark of this Administration.  It's irritating because all we can do is sit around and speculate.  I suppose that is politically expedient. in fact, the more wild conspiracy theories, the better, because they become a smokescreen for the one or two times that people actually guess correctly.  What this means is that, so long as secrecy is the norm, we cannot allow ourselves to get so complacent about all of these wild conspiracy hypotheses that we stop paying attention to them.  A few of them might be true.  We can't be dissuaded by a rote refrain of dismissals of "just another wild theory."

Why should we have to tolerate this?  Democracy can work only if the people are informed.  If they are made to guess, then mocked for having guessed, we can't have any meaningful dialog.

Look at the invectives flying around over the .  There is no dialog.  Each side is suspicious of the other, and each dismisses the concerns of the others as being grounded in unfounded suspicion.  That's no way to run a country.

Categories: nutty ideas
Technorati Tags: Politics

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

We Practice Denial So You Won't Have To

Phan Thi Kim PhucTo the right is the modern-day picture of one of the survivors of a napalm attack in Viet Nam.  Her injuries were unintentional; they resulted from an accidental release of the incendiary chemical en route to an attack on a military target.  The incident occurred on June 8, 1972.  Kim, then 9 years old, was hiding in a Buddhist pagoda when the collateral damage was inflicted.

Ms. Kim Phuc Phan Thi (1 2) now resides in Canada, having settled there with the help of a group of Quakers; she works for the United Nations.  It is remarkable that she is still alive.  She spent 14 months in a hospital in Saigon, recovering from third-degree burn injuries covering half her body.

More recently, she has participated in numerous anti-war activities.  These are detailed on the UNESCO website, which is the destination of the second link in the paragraph above.  The site for her Foundation is here.  Admirably, she has expressed a charitable attitude over the whole thing:

She has forgiven, but has not forgotten, and in a commemorative ceremony to the Vietnam war she publicly pardoned the person who had launched the napalm bombing in her village in Vietman. Ever since, she has dedicated her life to promoting peace, and to this end she founded the Kim Foundation International. This foundation helps children who are victims of war everywhere by providing medical and psychological help to surmount their traumatic experiences.
Probably everyone reading this who was born before, say, 1965, remembers when they first saw a picture of Kim:

I was 13 years old when this picture appeared on the front page of just about every newspaper in the USA.  At the time, I still wanted to believe that my country always used its power for morally justified purposes.  Shows like Dragnet, Combat, and Twelve O'Clock High invariably presented our government's use of force as being beyond reproach.  

In spite of the media influences, I was aware of the antiwar movement, and had begun to question the notion of US beneficence.  No doubt, Kim had some questions of her own at the same time, lying in that Saigon hospital bed.

Kim reported in interviews that she remembers very little about her wartime injuries and subsequent medical treatment.   The human mind has an astonishing capacity to ignore uncomfortable facts that are plainly true.  This psychological defense mechanism is known as denial.  Prior to seeing the photograph of Kim in 1972, I was in denial about the true horrors of war.  I thank her for helping to bring me to awareness.  In fact, I'm going to send some money to her foundation when I'm done writing this.

Incidentally, 1972 is the year that I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  That book has been listed as one of the most dangerous books.  I am wondering why we have a list of dangerous books, but no comparable list of dangerous bombs.

In case such a list is ever compiled, in honor of Kim Phuc Phan Thi, I nominate the MK77.  The MK77 is a 750 pound napalm bomb.  It is brought to us by the US petrochemical industry, the same folks who make DDT, the same industry whose profits were damaged by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  (You go girl!)  I guess books can be dangerous.

Back to the point: denial is a universal process.  Everyone does it.  But it takes work, so it is handy if you can get someone else to do the work for you.  

The US government is always hard at work.  In fact, as Mr. Adams at Dispassionate Liberalism points out, Mr. Bush has stated that
"Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home."
--George W. Bush
Not only that, but the US government is helping us with the hard work of denial.  They have been using MK77s in Iraq, then lying to the British government about it.  (Link pointed out, via email, by Shakespeare's Sister.)
But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position."
Melanie, writing on Just a Bump in the Beltway, comments that US media are not reporting this.  A quick Google search shows news articles from the UK, Italy, Africa, and Iran; none from the USA, at least by 5PM EDT.

This leads me to a quote of my own:
"Our government practices denial in Iraq, so you will not have to face unpleasant facts at home."
--The Corpus Callosum
Thank you so much, Mr. Bush!  I just have one question for you: what does napalm do to a snowflake?

Categories: politics, pacifism
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General Commentary on Durbin and the Media

Blogpulse informs us that the "burstiest" person this week is the Honorable Richard Durbin.  It appears that the conservative hemiblogosphere is jumping all over his case, for comments he made about Guantanamo.  This impresses me as manufactured rage.  He did not say anything that hasn't been said before.  To use a favorite McClellanism, it is old news. And if you read the full text (PDF file hosted on TalkLeft) of what he said, you see that he was not condemning our military personnel categorically, as so many have implied.  His speech was carefully written; the wording is sufficiently precise to make a clear distinction between those who participated in the abuses cited in the FBI memos, and the rest of the military.  He was not "slandering his own country" as stated on Powerline.

Here is the purportedly offensive text:
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
This is not a condemnation of his country, or of the military in general; rather, it is absolutely clear that he is condemning specific actions undertaken by specific persons.  

So don't go calling him a traitor, or saying that he has slandered our military.  He is not.  He did not.  He did not even say that the United States of America is as bad as those other regimes, just that the behaviors described in that one excerpt are so bad that one ordinarily would assume that they had not been done by Americans.

There is an important subtext here.  By deliberately using inflammatory comparisons, he put the Administration on the defensive.  This is a necessary step to taking control of the agenda of the mainstream media.  He provoked an reaction, such that his opponents are overstating their case, thus diminishing their credibility.  

Of course, it is not enough to wrest the control of the MSM agenda.  One must have something to offer to make use of that agenda.  In other words, once you get the spotlight to shine on you, you better have a dance to do.  

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Notice that remains a big topic.  But spiking right along with it is that nasty word, .  Even gentle souls, such as ornithologists, are using it.  There is even a Technorati tag for it already!

I propose that impeachment should be the next topic for the media frenzy, and it appears that others do, too.  All the noise about Durbin is an attempt to keep the attention of the media away from a topic that could have serious repercussions.

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