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that dog don't hunt... the right way, sir

Sometimes the liberal bloggers remind us of so many untrained coon hounds out on the hunt, baying for anything – skunk, squirrel or sparrow – except coon. So it seems at least with the Berube post over at Crooked Timber and the resulting comments rush, in which LI elbowed into the queue, hollerin’ for a stake.

Now to my mind there’s one and only one coon in the hunt: the war culture. Since the whole thing started on the level of a feud between Cockburn and Berube on the credentials of Berube’s anti-war stance (about which Cockburn is wrong, apparently) this was probably a rush that was gonna go wrong from the beginning. And in fact Cockburn’s fucking point, at the beginning of his article, doesn’t get a look: “Pick almost any date on the calendar and it’ll turn out that the US either started a war, ended a war, perpetrated a massacre or sent its UN Ambassador into the Security Council to declare to issue an ultimatum. It’s like driving across the American West. “Historic marker, 1 mile”, the sign says. A minute later you pull over and find yourself standing on dead Indians. “On this spot, in 1879 Major T and a troop of US cavalry “

So the point is the American normalization of the war culture, and its effects. But in the liberal anti-war coon hunt, the whole notion that it is somewhat crooked and downright fucked that the U.S. spends the sums it does on war, engages in so many wars, encircles the globe with its troops, and keeps trying to jimmy the rules so that its missiles dominate this planet with the threat of cruel annihilation goes and sits on a log and has a beer while we all bark all over the woods. In place of an honest discussion of the war culture there is always a discussion of the perfect war, the one we all like to imagine where nobody can say it isn’t right and good and just the thing to do. It’s the Beach Boy’s immortal hit, wouldn’t it be nice if we were married, except not about marriage, but about war. This alluring possibility remains, of course, a little abstract, and none of the participants or promoters have the slightest inclination to actually get into one of these dreamy wars or even look at the gross pictures of people fucked up by it – the scoriated torsos, extruded eyes, the wriggly spill of bowels in lovely pixel.

I’ve been reading Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore this week. The preface was written in 1962. By this time, Wilson was in his mandarin autumn. He’d been there in 1932, voting communist. He’d been there in the fifties, swatting down Agatha Christie in the New Yorker book section. At this point he could take a long squint at the course of American history, and he saw: wow, a lot of war. And the abiding delusion that all these wars were forced upon a peaceseeking Columbia – even, as some senator said before we invaded Mexico in 1845, it was the non-aggressiveness of the Mexicans that had forced our hand. Wilson disposes of the question of right and wrong with an image that he boosts, perhaps unconsciously, from the beginning of Dreiser’s the Financier. “In a recent Walt Disney film showing life at the bottom of the sea, a primitive organism called a sea slug is seen gobbling up a smaller organism through a large orifice at the end of its body; confronted with another sea slug of only a slightly lesser size, it ingurgitates that, too.” Wilson sees the repression of the Southern states, the war against Mexico, the first World War, etc. – all the way up to the recent hostility to Castro – as part of the same blind pattern of expansion. With that idea, he sees Lincoln as a figure like Bismark and Lenin. He ends the intro with a survey of the harm done by the cold war to our fundamental liberties. It is a nice thorough job.

The liberal in me protests, though, against the sea slug. Surely we can put that god damn sea slug on a vegetarian diet, dip that orifice into... g-green technology! or some damn thing if we really try. Although the realist thinks that, most likely, the slug is in a phase of fatal overstretch that will set much harsher limits to its very ability to continue this insane thirst for lesser sea slugs.


Anonymous said…
Roger, appreciated your comments in the Berube thread. I have to say there is something about Berube that irritates me, even when I think he has made a good point or has an interesting piece of reasoning. It's a certain snarkiness and I often feel that while he's scored a debater's point, he's nonetheless missed something. Besides, it gets downright confusing sorting out arguments on those types of comment threads. I do think that the Cockburn-Berube dust-up betrays issues more personal than politically substantive. Thanks again for the great blog.
Roger Gathmann said…
That wasn't exactly satisfying, was it? I'd be burned if I was Berube and Cockburn said I took the same position as Berman - that is just wrong. On the other hand, I just don't think he understands the criticism of the odd need of the anti-war pundits to curry mainstream favor, instead of working patiently on the mainstream until it changed. And attacking Chomsky for a radio broadcast he made in East Bumfuck seems pointless to moi. Who cares?
Anonymous said…
Reading some of the liberal arguments for humanitarian intervention I often feel like I want to reach for my Hegel. The arguments are often couched in the language of deontology and inspired by Kant or Rawls. Here one refers to the justness of the Kosovo intervention, there to Afghanistan (still a question mark), way over there to the debacle of Iraq. There seems to be a temporal status to the argumentation. One argues deontologically when dealing with the legitimacy of the use of military power (generally before the event), but then reverts to consequentialist reasoning when assessing the action ex post facto.

Rarely is a historically informed and dialectically related moment added to the analysis. Nor is there the sort of historical intuition that Hegel brought to the Phenomenology with the idea of the cunning of Reason and which, in this case, might be: "The Truth of Kosovo is currently fought for in the streets of Baghdad."

I suppose all of this is one of the reasons that I find realist and libertarian analyses of US foreign policy more useful in understanding the present. Perhaps there is a lack of scruples, but also fewer illusions about US power and also more of a sense of the limits of the use and deployment of military power to reshape the world or achieve right. One misses the pen of William Appleman Williams.

Forgot that I wanted to add one more point vis-a-vis your argument with Bertram: the one thing that the US government could do, currently illegal, is manufacture generic HIV drugs and freely distribute them in Africa. This is clearly an humanitarian crisis of epic and tragic, proportion. At the very least, relax intellectual property rights law to some form of reason.
Arkady said…
Roger, it's good of you to reach out to the snide dork demographic over Crooked Timber. But I wonder if the hyperventilating contests they enjoy are good for your health. They might explode one day. Bone shrapnel hurts! Recall, please, that the Washington Post headline writers are already trying to kill you.

The person best qualified to help them is actually our old friend, Vermin Direct, LLC, the brand manager who specializes in the humanitarian look and feel.
northanger said…
kanji spam!
Roger Gathmann said…
Okay, North. I am not going to delete those puzzling squares that should be Japanese letters just because it amuses you.

Anonymous - I liked your last paragraph. When Al Gore was instantiating the immoral 90s poolitican that his current avatar is dedicated to purging, I have a vague, horrified memory of him actually carrying water for the IP rights of drug companies re the cure for AIDS - trying to shut down cheap generic anti-aids drugs in Africa. I'm not going to look this up, because I don't want to start this day with an unhappy amount of bile in my system.
As for your remark about Hegel - myself, in 2002, I tried to do this thing I called second hearing - tried to hear the war talk through a certain group of writers, among whom the most important was Burke - the Burke of the Hastings impeachment - and Benjamin Constant. Have you read Constant's De l'esprit de conquête et l'usurpation? Constant was a dry man, a gambler, and an extremely odd lover- vide Adolphe - but the spirit of conquest is an excellent piece of work.
Mr. Scruggs - my blood was a-slowin down yesterday, so I figured a comment-mash was just what I needed!
Arkady said…
Roger, I was only partly joking about hiring Vermin Direct, LLC. At the core of every liberal argument is an attempted accommodation with the views of movement wingnuts. They keep looking for something that an incoherent sectarian could find compelling. Me, I think it's a wasted effort. The Decents and Decent-lites could yield 90% of their integrity (or whatever's left of it) and still be held culpable for the defeats, disgraces and disasters engineered entirely by bull goose wingnuts.

People who relish one moral panic after another, the more inconsequential the better, whose bloated self-importance allows them to justify collective punishment and who think other people's misfortune is a real yuck get a kick out of watching Berube et al jump through the hippy-bashing and Chomsky-bashing hoops. Then they demand more.

I've come to think the Decents and Decent-lites are as batshit crazy as the wingnuts. They're proudly incapable of rethinking disastrous decisions. So I've given up on them.
Roger Gathmann said…
Mr. Scruggs, as I've said before, sometimes you are a teeny bit pessimistic. I think I've plugged into the old prophets, but my darkness is powder pink compared to yours.

However - I'm not sure that the point is so much to convert old guard people - I don't know much about Berube, but I have never figured out Todd Gitlin's whole schtick: he was like valetudinarian and v.p. of the SDS in 1961, when he was nineteen or something? And he's never gotten over it? But I'm always hoping for accidents - as I think you are, too, even if you don't want to admit it down in the valley of the bones. You can never tell where your words, or a thought you had, is going to turn up. I might be seriously deluded about this, and I run the tiniest of weblogs here, but I swear I see big league bloggers saying about Iraq things that I wrote in 2003 and 2004. Maybe this was merely coincidence, and maybe I was picking up unconsciously from somebody else - which isn't bad - but I like to think that these things float around. I'm modeling myself on the cedar trees here in Austin, that pollinate heavily and don't pay any attention to where all that pollen is going. Some of it, at least, has certainly gotten up my nose.
Arkady said…
Roger, who said anything about converting? It's brand management. Hence the incoherence noted by your Anonymous. Some of them seek a bit of celebrity to further an ideology -- Eleanor Roosevelt with a blackjack for the progs -- and some seek a bit of ideology to further their celebrity. The more vulgar intellectuals seek ways of shaping themself into something useful to the power structure.

All observations I got from you, by the way.

My own take is that they're insatiable rectums from outer space.