Archive for the 'war' Category

If this is the Tories’ idea of protecting children, I’d hate to see their idea of not protecting them

It’s funny how the Tories will talk the good talk of defending children when it suits their ideologically narrow world view only to turn around and actively exploit even more vulnerable children by having them guard our military assets and killing machines.  It’s of course, not ‘ha ha’ funny, but rather more on the sardonic side.  If this is what protecting children means to the Conservatives, I’d hate to see their definition of not protecting the children.

An excerpt from an article by Thomas Walkom in today’s Toronto Star:

“Back in 2002, Canada signed on to an international treaty aimed at rehabilitating child soldiers.

In fact, Canada was the first to ratify the so-called Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that requires signatories to give special consideration to captured enemy fighters under the age of 18.

The treaty says they are to be segregated from adult combatants. As well, those who capture children must make every effort to reintegrate them into society.


Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, and Andy Knight, a University of Alberta political scientist, make the case that, in Afghanistan, Canada is running afoul of the very treaty it once championed.

I first heard the pair on CBC Radio’s The Current. Yesterday, I phoned them up. Attaran, who has been a vocal critic of Canada’s detention policy in Afghanistan, points out that government documents released in a court case last fall show that Canadian troops in Kandahar indeed capture child fighters, only to turn them over to Afghan security forces for what is usually a brutal interrogation.

That, he says, is a clear violation of Canada’s international obligations and – depending on how the children are treated by the Afghans – almost certainly a crime under Canadian law.

Citing press reports, Knight told me that there is also some suggestion of Afghan teenagers being used, with NATO co-operation, to guard military facilities.

A national defence spokesman told me yesterday that the Canadian Forces hand over suspected child insurgents to the Afghan authorities who incarcerate them in a juvenile wing at Kandahar’s main prison.

But the two human rights experts say this isn’t sufficient. They say that when Canadian troops capture children, they should hand them over to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. It operates a rehabilitation centre in the country for former child soldiers and so far has successfully demobilized 7,400.

Confidential documents released as part of a court case brought against the government by Amnesty International point out that Ottawa is well aware of the UNICEF project. Yet none of the minors captured (and thanks to the ongoing federal court case, we know there have been at least three) has ended up there.


“Canada was once at the top of the heap in this regard,” says Attaran. “Now we’re keeping company with those at the bottom.”

As a Marxist, I’m obviously not prone to quoting from the Bible, however one quote does spring to mind:  It’s the Biblical definition of the hypocrite outlined in Matthew 7:4:

“cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then
thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Israeli lobby group has begun to pay students to agree with Israeli policy

A pro-Israeli lobby group, has begun a program to pay Canadian and American university and college students to agree with Israeli policy and to voice pro-Israeli sentiment in classroom discussion, and in grassroots organization with other campus groups.

The program, organized by the pro-Israel lobby group Stand With Us Campus, offers $1000 per year to pro-Israeli students or to students who may be enticed to go along in order to receive the prize of $1000 (source).  In exchange for this money, students are to, in Stand With Us Campus‘s own words, “build relationships with their campus groups and individuals” to influence discourse in favour of Israel and then (again, in their words) “report back to SWU campus staff to evaluate program effectiveness and network among themselves to ensure consistency.” (source)

So the next time you hear an undergraduate  student in class claiming that Israel is only defending itself when the Palestinian/Israeli  death toll is more than 14-to-1 in Israel’s favour, just think:  he or she might actually be getting paid to say (and believe) such arguments.

According to Stand With Us Campus‘s literature, so far, the following Canadian and American universities and colleges have a student or students  (or “Fellows”, as they call them) who are being paid to advocate Israeli policy in their discussions and in their extra-curricular campus activity.

(Canadian schools listed in boldvictim-of-israeli-attack.png

Columbia University
Cornell University
Florida Atlantic University
Florida International University
Indiana University
Johns Hopkins University
Lawrence University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
McGill University
Miami Dade College
Northern Illinois University
Queens College (CUNY)
Rice University
San Diego State University
San Francisco State University
San Jose State University
Santa Monica College
State University of New York at New Paltz
Swarthmore College
Syracuse University
The George Washington University
The University of Texas at Austin
Towson University
University of Arizona
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Riverside
University of California, San Diego
University of Florida
University of Michigan
University of New Mexico
University of North Texas
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania
University of Southern California
University of Vermont
University of Victoria
University of Windsor
Wayne State University



Note: The images used in this piece are curtosy of Information Clearing House‘s photographic archive of images of the most recent Israeli incursion into Lebannon (the one that was planned months before to await provocation).  WARNING:  If you click the above link to Information Clearing House, the images you will see are much more graphic than the images included in this post.  The images selected for inclusion above were selected because they were generally much less gruesome than the worst of the images of Israeli attacks.

Holy red-baiting, Batman!

I recently submitted an essay in my academic life on the topic of the imperialism of ‘humanitarian’ intervention.

Unfortunately, my paper’s length went way over the maximum page allottance, so I had to cut out this section which critiques an absolutely incoherent attack on MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky from a paper published in 2003 by LSE professor, and part time professional red-baiter, Chris Brown.

Normally, I don’t let these sort of conservative anti-Chomsky attacks anger up the blood so much when I encounter them on the internet, but this sort of argument bothers me immensely when the author is able to get his or her work accepted by a peer-reviewed academic publication when even the most basic standards of decency show that this work is both fallacious and an ad hominem against another academic.

Thus, I have decided to reproduce selected quotes from this paper by Chris Brown along with my critiques of each quote.  I must apologize in advance for the lack of footnotes or endnotes because for some reason WordPress strips them out (although if anybody would like the specific citations I use, you can feel free to ask and I’d be happy to give them). 

The work being critiqued is:

Brown, Chris. ‘Selective Humanitarianism: In Defence of Inconsistency.’ In Ethics and Foreign Intervention. Edited by Chatterjee, D.; Scheid, D. Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 31-50.


At the outset of his work, Brown writes that:

“[A] second preliminary point that needs to be acknowledged is that many of those who charge the interveners with inconsistency actually have agendas of their own which are unconnected to this issue.  Chomsky, for example, clearly would oppose any exercise of power by what he regards as the American Empire, and the charge of inconsistency is for the most part a rhetorical device designed to appeal to those who, while not accepting his wholesale critique of American society, are, nonetheless, concerned by the way in which American power is sometimes deployed.”

It is important to emphasize here that insinuating that one ought to discredit those who charge American ‘interveners’ with inconsistency (ex. intervening in Iraq for ‘humanitarian’ reasons whilst assisting in the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion of Somolia currently underway or ignoring the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan) based on the existence of putative “agendas” is fallacious in three ways:  firstly, it constitutes an ad hominem attack on the character of the author in question based on political beliefs without consideration of the merit of the argument presented.  Secondly, it assumes that it is merely Chomsky et al. who have ‘agendas’ when it could just as easily be said of Brown’s work that it is no more and no less animated by ‘agendas’ (i.e. an anti-Chomsky ‘agenda’ or a pro-Wilsonian interventionist ‘agenda’ et cetera), than could be found in Chomsky’s work.  Thirdly, the word ‘agenda’ itself is a weasel word intended to connote nefariousness or duplicity and thus is not suitable for academic discourse.

Brown goes on to offer a moral explanation or defense of inconsistency in US intervention policy.  This argument states that:

“There is one possible answer to this question that would preserve the notion that the interveners where behaving consistently in accordance with some moral rule, and not simply selecting the case where they would intervene on the basis of non-moral criteria. Very crudely, it might be held that this particular case was chosen because it represented the most serious current violation of human rights or the situation where the most serious humanitarian disaster would follow from inaction — but this is, indeed, rather too crude because it ignores altogether issues of practicality. Better would be some notion of ‘triage’; thus, one might divide the world’s trouble spots into three categories — those where the difficulties are sufficiently minor such that forcible intervention would most likely always do more harm than good; those where the difficulties are of such magnitude that action would almost certainly be ineffective, either because of the scale of the problem (as, perhaps, with civil wars in the Congo) or because they are caused by states who have the power to turn any external military intervention into a full-scale war (as with Chinese depredations in Tibet, or Russian in Chechnya). [emphasis added]”

This argument is both morally coherent and extremely important.  Indeed, if this formulation were true, and if the United States’ inconsistent interventionism was motivated along the same lines as ‘triage’ then not only would this justify inconsistency in humanitarian intervention, but it would actually go much further and make it so that it would be immoral for the U.S. not to behave inconsistently. If, in a ‘triage’ situation, you frivolously waste the limited medical resources available on just any patient, then you potentially cause significantly more suffering and fatalities than if you limited your attention to the cases where the limited resources can be of most benefit.

This formulation is also relatively simple to test.  If it is true that a humanitarian ethics of ‘triage’ and efficacy is what animates the U.S.’s decision to intervene in a given crisis and not another, then there would be two factors which could explain specious arbitrariness both of which fall under Brown’s moral rubric of ‘triage’: First would be the scale of disaster, the second would be ease of remedy. So, if Brown’s ‘triage’ model holds up, one would expect that U.S. intervention to end human rights violations are avoided in situations which are likely escalate into a full-scale war against another hegemon such as China or Russia, and one would expect the actual cases of intervention to have occurred in situations which are easier to remedy and with less threat of an expansion of hostilities.

This ‘Ease of remedy’ notion — central to any ‘triage situation’ — can be interpreted in many different ways. It can have several factors, for instance:

-Geographic location (is the nation close to other co-operative allies?)
-Does there exist a definitive and coherent polis or political community that is being crushed by oppressors which, if left on its own, could establish itself as a viable state under international law’s so-called “principle of effectiveness”?

A cursory overview of the long history of U.S. interventionism clearly demonstrates that U.S. foreign action is not animated by any notion of ‘triage’.

Case studies to this effect:

#1) The U.S. decided to intervene in Kosovo despite massive Russian and Chinese opposition and eventual Russian land-based counter-intervention, thus greatly risking confrontation with at least one other major global hegemon.

#2) The U.S. decided to intervene in Panama at the dawn of the 20th Century and sever it from Columbian control, thus artificially creating a polis which did not exist previously and which was most certainly neither coherent nor viable under the ‘principle of effectiveness’. Indeed the evidence for this utter lack of its viability rests in the necessary presence of foreign (U.S.) battleships at port in Panama City for the declaration of independence and the outright mention of the United States as a protector and ally of Panama in state’s the new constitution — which, to my knowledge, is the only time ever in history that third party country other than victor and the country being declared independence from, is actually mentioned in such documentation.


#1) The U.S. chose not to intervene in Indonesia’s slaughter of the East Timorians which, between 1977 and 78 alone (although the oppression continued on into the 80s and for a majority of 90s as well), resulted in at least 200,000 dead, despite the extreme proximity of key U.S. ally Australia. Moreover, East Timor, by every account, meets the second criteria of a definitive and coherent polis which could achieve viability if left on its own.

#2) The U.S. chose not to intervene in the Kurdish regions of Turkey during their oppression, despite the extreme proximity of key U.S. allies Israel and Greece and the remarkable linguistic and social cohesiveness (not to mention territorially cohesive and contiguous) of the Kurdish regions.  Moreover, on this subject, Miller writes that:

“In Turkey, in the fifteen years prior to the bombing of Serbia, the death toll of a conflict over Kurdish autonomy and suppression of minimal expressions of Kurdish identity (including Kurdish names and cassettes with Kuridish songs, much less Kurdish-language schools), was 35,000, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate…. in the southeast there are 2 million people left homeless. The previous year, the UN Committee on Torture endorsed an Amnesty International allegation of widespread and systematic use of torture.”

Lastly, in both of these two aforementioned cases it wasn’t just that the U.S. callously gave a proverbial triage RTS (Revised Trauma Score) score of zero to the East Timorese and Kurds of Turkey.  The final blow to the ‘triage’ model is that during both of these crises, the U.S. actively engaged in assisting Turkey and Indonesia before, during and after the human rights violations in question.

Brown later goes on to give the most logically incoherent portion of his work when he poses the question:

“If to behave morally it is necessary to follow a non-arbitrary moral rule, then humanitarian interventions appear not to fit the bill — such is the charge made by critics to the evident discomfiture of supporters…. [But] is it always and necessarily wrong to be inconsistent or arbitrary in applying a moral principle?”

The context of this exerpt is extensive, but in this section, Brown is (correctly) making the argument that his critics hold the belief which, expressed using formal logic symbolism, would hold that:

moral behaviour → consistent behaviour
(“if moral behaviour then it must be consistent behaviour”)

However, Brown takes this logical formulation and attempts to deconstruct it by showing examples of inconsistency in US and UK tobacco, alcohol, drug and cannabis policy as a akin to US humanitarian interventionist policy.  Thus, what he is attempting to demonstrate using the example of US and UK policy in this area is:

 (¬ consistent behaviour ≠ ¬ moral behaviour) → opponents’ argument is flawed
(“if not consistent behaviour does not equal not moral behaviour, then the arguments of his opponents is flawed”)

However, the error Brown makes is that he assumes that ¬ moral behaviour = immoral behaviour in the same way that ¬ consistent behaviour = inconsistent behaviour.

In actuality, ‘not’ moral behaviour does not equal immoral behaviour since behaviour is not dichotomously moral or immoral.  There are any number of examples wherein a person can behave inconsistently and still be neither moral or immoral.  For instance, if, on the vast majority of days, I prefer to have sugar instead of sweetener in my coffee, my inconsistency one morning in asking for sweetener in my coffee is certainly, as demonstrated mathematically above, not moral behaviour, but it is also obviously also not immoral behaviour. My decision here would have been a pragmatic one — perhaps sweetener is less appetising, but also irritates my stomach less than real sugar — and thus was completely outside the dichotomy of moral and immoral behaviour.

Thus, what is clear is that inconsistent behaviour can be ‘not moral’ or outside of the realm of morality — which would fit within the formulation of Brown’s opponents.  But inconsistent behaviour cannot be moral behaviour unless this inconsistency is itself morally justifiable.  And, as the example of Brown’s ‘triage’ model demonstrates, Brown’s attempt to moralize the inconsistency of U.S. intervention simply does not coincide with reality.

Naomi Wolf on the end of America and the rise of fascism (audio)

socialist-podcast.pngEpisode #4 of the Paulitics Podcast has now been released.

This latest episode features a talk by Naomi Wolf on the topic of her new book entitled “The End of America”.

In it, Wolf discusses the historical evidence for 10 steps which are universally recognizable as benchmarks that a democracy is moving towards fascism or totalitarianism and how each of these ten steps is now being seen in one form or another in the United States under the Bush Administration.

To listen to Wolf’s talk or to download the episode, click here.

To find out how to subscribe to the podcast and have episodes brought to you automatically, click here.

To view past episodes of the Paulitics Podcast, click here.

More pro-conservative opinion manipulation at Angus-Reid

For those of you keeping tack, this is strike two against Angus-Reid in less than a month. (Strike one being this wonderful little piece of pro-conservative push polling which I discovered last month.)

Now Angus-Reid is finding new and more interesting ways to push pro-conservative propaganda on the public. This is a screen cap from Angus-Reid’s web page which I took approximately 20 minutes ago.  I haven’t altered anything except to add the highlighting.  The screen cap pretty much speaks for itself.


So this is the top page of the press release that Angus-Reid sends out to the public and to all the media firms reads: “More Americans back long commitment in Iraq.”  Most people reading this headline would read this and likely think ‘oh, more Americans back a long commitment in Iraq than don’t.’

The only thing standing in the way of this is the pesky fact that a huge majority of Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq either immediately or within the next year while fewer than 40% want to stay there.  BUT, the number of Americans who want to stay in Iraq just rose from slightly under one third to slightly over one third.  So “more” Americans want to stay in Iraq… than the previous proportion of Americans who wanted to stay in Iraq.

Oh, how beautifully ambiguous the word “more” can be when you deliberately leave out its referent.

Peace is overrated

I just came back from a talk given by a fairly standard, run-of-the-mill civil servant who’s specialization is the new, over-hyped field of ‘conflict management’.  In the two hours I spend there, I think I must have heard the word ‘peace’ used so much that it lost all meaning.  This got me thinking about how obsessed liberals are with ‘peace’ as some sort of idealized pancea that ought to be sought above all else.

Surely, if we think about it critically, we can realize that, while nobody obviously wants conflict, peace, in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing if it serves to merely solidify other exisiting horrific social conditions.

For instance, one could easily take this current liberal obsession with ‘peace’ and do something radical which liberals are not wont to do: place the subject back 150 years, look at it dialectically, and see what we get.

Well, we get this:


So the problem of the liberal obsession with peace is that, to borrow a quote:

“Peace is over rated. Any slave can have peace. Just pick the cotton.”

So, just as with most liberal thinking, its true absurdity only becomes obvious when you take the time to look at it dialectically and place it within an historical context.

See also:

“Civil Liberty”
The myth of humanity as naturally violent
Propaganda In Action: Canada as a force for peace in the world

I fought Hitler and all I got was eternal damnation??

tshirt-eternal-damnation.pngIf anybody out there in reality-based reality was searching for more proof that right-wingers use some pretty tortured logic, search no more.

This is an except from a comment that was left a few days ago.

“I’m reading about what they [by “they” he means the Republican/socialist side in the Spanish Civil War] did in Spain when the commies attacked the state it is scary. Especially when you read the stories vs hearing that they killed 10% of the population of madrid. Killing 10% sounds tame you hear that every woman between the ages of 10-50 had been raped and how they killed all the nuns is more a cult of satan.”

That’s right folks, you read that first part correctly.  Despite the fact that there were two sides in the Spanish Civil War — the Republicans who supported the national, democratically-elected socialist government versus the anti-democratic insurgent Nationalists who were supported by Hitler and Mussolini and led by future dictator Francisco Franco — it was the side which supported the government which attacked the government.

Then, did you know that every woman between the ages of 10 and 50 was raped?  I know, I was surprised to learn that too.  But I suppose we’re not supposed to think rationally about how plausible that is, we’re just supposed to have faith that it’s really true.

Now, I’ve skipped over the whole “10% dead” figure used — because I guess, considering the absurdity of the other claims in that paragraph, it’s comparably reasonable to assume that 100% of the dead in the Spanish Civil War were attributable to to Republicans and that the openly fascist Nationalist side, I presume, must have used flowers and daisies and marijuana to overcome the Republicans.  I also figure we’re just supposed to use faith and assume that since Spain, at that time, had a population of 23.7 million and since 500,000 were killed, that somehow that equals 10% of the population and not the 2% that our fancy reality-based mathematics tells us it should be (source: here and here).

But really, it’s the last phrase there that makes this guy’s comment truly art.

The Republicans — the people in the conflict who were fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the future dictator Francisco Franco, the people who were defending the democratically-elected republic against a fascist dictatorship-in-waiting — were more like a “cult of Satan” than the side supported by Hitler.

Who ever said right-wingers can’t be ‘creative’ with logic when it suits their purposes?


For those of you in the reality-based community who want to watch a really fantastic segment on the Spanish Civil War that Democracy Now! did a while back, you can find it here:

Democracy Now!  Fighting Fascism: The Americans – Women and Men – Who Fought In the Spanish Civil War

The difference between who pays for war and who dies [pic]

I recently came across these two maps of the world which pretty much demonstrate much of what’s wrong with the world (original source). 

These maps try to show what the world would look like if maps were drawn based on something other than geographic mass.

As you can see, there is a complete disjunction between who pays for war and who gets to die for war.

Map: Military spending per country — 2002 (BEFORE the Iraq War!)

Military Spending

Surprise, surprise, the U.S. takes up approximately 45% of the world’s landmass with everyone else  — by far and away comprised mostly of Europe — together making up the remainder.

But when we shift over to see who actually receives the crappy end of this equation, we see more or less the same countries who either are currently or have historically been the stomping grounds for U.S. and European imperialism and colonialism.

Map: Military deaths per country — 2002

Military deaths

So who gets to die? 


Democratic Republic of Congo (the big dark red country on the map).



All countries the U.S. has long and bloody histories with.  And, in the case of Ethiopia and Somalia, the U.S. is even now in the process of funding the Ethiopian slaughter of Somalis as you read this.

Now this may seem like an obvious phenomenon to you, but consider that before the ‘invention’ (if you can call it that) of highly mobile capital, in Ancient Greece, if a given city was under attack, it was the responsibility of the property-owners to defend the city and they would go out and be the ones on the front lines.  Now, sure, they could pay some peasants to help them fight, but the fact of the matter is that either killing or dying in warfare was nevertheless married to being wealthy.

I wonder what happens when you completely divorce the unpleasant aspects of war from the ability to bankroll it as we have finally accomplished today?

The American Empire Encyclopedia (work-in-progress)

For some time now, I’ve been extremely interested creating something of an encyclopedia documenting all instances of the United States’ imperial adventures.  Specifically, I’ve been interested in countries in which the U.S. either overthrew a democratically-elected government, or countries in which the U.S. helped to keep an existing brutal dictatorship in power despite democratic opposition.

That the U.S. regularly overthrows democratically-elected governments should come as no real surprise to most people who are literate and somewhat familiar at all with global history.  However, in all my searching, I have never found a single exhaustive source which compiled all instances of U.S. imperialism along with proper academic citations for future reference, so I have taken it upon myself to try to get together such an admittedly ambitious collection of information.

So far, my highly incomplete tally has resulted in the creation of this map:

The U.S. and International Democracy: Incompatible?

The problem is two-fold:

#1) I would like to create a ‘clickable map’ so that readers can click on each highlighted country and be brought to a page detailing important dates, information, credible academic sources and possibly even direct quotes and page numbers.

The problem here is that I have little to no experience with html code and am unable to find good programs to generate such a ‘clickable map’ of the data on the American Empire.

#2) This project would obviously be much richer if it were structured as a “wiki” for all like-minded people with an interest in this subject to be able to contribute.

Now the problem here is that I’m not sure of the best way of going about accomplishing this task.  I’m considering switching this blog out of so that I can host it myself, but does anybody here know anything about ‘wiki’ software and hosting said software on a blog?

Can any kind soul help me with these problems?


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