Paradigm Shifts and the “Science” of Religion

We’ve witnessed a remarkable paradigm shift in the behavioral sciences in the last couple of decades in the aftermath of the collapse of Blank Slate orthodoxy.  A similar one has happened in politics with the collapse of Communism.  A significant fraction of our species are attracted to messianic ideologies as moths to a flame.  For many years, Communism was the brightest flame around.  However, it suffered from the Achilles heal of all secular religions.  It promised paradise, not in the realms of the spirit, but here on earth.  Predictably, it couldn’t deliver, and so eventually collapsed.

That left something of a vacuum for those hankering to be the saviors of mankind.  No new secular religion was waiting in the wings to take up the slack.  But nature abhores a vacuum, so they had to make do with one of the traditional, spiritual religions; Islam.  The resulting ideological paradigm shift has presented us with one of the most remarkable political spectacles history has to offer.  On the ideological left, former Marxist true believers, militant atheists who scorned religion as the opiate of the masses, are being displaced by a new generation of activists who find to their dismay that radical Islam is, at least for the time being, the only game in town.  The result has been a grotesque love affair between the would be liberators of the oppressed masses and one of the more obscurantist forms of religious fundamentalism on the planet.  Those who once despised religious belief have now become some of its most outspoken apologists.

I found one of the more comical manifestations of this strange love affair in an article, embellished with all the jargon, references, and other stigmata characteristic of the stuff that appears in academic journals, posted on the website of the reliably leftist BBC.  Entitled God and War:  An Audit & An Exploration, it purports to debunk the New Atheist claim that religion is a prominent cause of war.  Taking an attitude towards religion that would have been an embarrassment to any self-respecting progressive in the heyday of socialism, it notes that “…at a philosophical level, the main religious traditions have little truck with war or violence. All advocate peace as the norm and see genuine spirituality as involving a disavowal of violence.”  It continues,

One organising feature of this article is what it calls the ‘Religious War Audit’. BBC asked us to see how many wars had been caused by religion. After reviewing historical analyses by a diverse array of specialists, we concluded that there have been few genuinely religious wars in the last 100 years. The Israel/Arab wars from 1948 to now, often painted in the media and other places as wars over religion, or wars arising from religious differences, have in fact been wars of nationalism, liberation of territory or self-defense.

This is a typical feature of the recent crop of articles emanating from the apologists for religion on the left.  Just as good Marxists or defenders of “Confederate Heritage” will tell you that the U.S. Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, even though at the time it actually happened the leaders and population of the south, the leaders and population of the north, foreign observers of U.S. politics, and, no doubt, any aliens who happened to be hovering around in their flying saucers would have agreed it was about slavery, they tell us that many of the wars that merely seem to the casual observer to be about religion are really caused by nationalism, imperialism, territorialism, etc., etc.  If nothing else it’s a safe strategy.  Take any war you like and, no matter how much the actual participants had deluded themselves into believing they were fighting about religion, any historian worth her salt will be able to “prove,” based on abundant citations, references, and historical source material, that it wasn’t about religion at all.  Ostensibly secular wars can be transmogrified into “religious” wars just as easily.

As the article cherry picks the historical record, so it cherry picks the holy books of the various religions to show how “peaceful” they are.  Predictably, this is especially true of the Quran.  For example, quoting from the article,

The Islamic tradition provides for limits on the use of force in war similar to those found in the Christian tradition: ‘Never transgress limits, or take your enemy by surprise or perfidy, or inflict atrocities or mutilation, or kill infants’; and ‘Never kill a woman, a weak infant, or a debilitated old person; nor burn palms, uproot trees, or pull down houses’. The Koran also provides for the humane treatment of prisoners of war: ‘And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive’ [Koran 76:8-9].

As with most religions, one can “prove” the opposite by a judicious choice of verses.  For example,

Quran 5:33

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.

Quran 8:12

I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

After this exegesis of the holy books, the article provides a pair of tables purporting to show that the role of religion in the wars prior to and during the 20th century has been minimal.  In the case of the 20th century, for example, the role of religion is supposedly zero on a scale of 0 to 5 for World War I and one on the same scale for World War II.  In fact, in the case of WWI, the war was explicitly declared a religious war (jihad) by the religious leaders of Turkey, one of the major combatants.  Many tens of thousands of Jews were murdered, frozen and starved in pogroms or as they were forcibly removed from areas stretching back many miles from the front lines by the Orthodox Christian rulers of Russia, and over a million Christian Armenians were murdered by the Moslem rulers of Turkey.  By all accounts, the assurance that the war was not religious did little to relieve their suffering.

In the case of World War II, the role of religion depends entirely on how you define religion.  I doubt that our brains have any hard-wired ability to distinguish immortal gods from mortal ones.  At least as far as evolutionary biology is concerned, the distinction between traditional spiritual religions and modern secular ones, such as Nazism and Communism is, then, entirely artificial.  Every essential element of the former has its analog in the latter.  From that perspective, World War II was almost entirely a “religious war.”

Suppose, however, that we refrain from such unseemly quibbling, nod apologetically to the many millions even the authors agree have been killed over the years in religious wars, and accept the authors’ premise that, for all that, warfare really has played a “minimal” role in promoting warfare.  Alas, the role of individuals in shaping historical events can be great indeed. After reading page after page establishing the benign role of religion in modern society, the authors inform us, to our dismay, that there is reason for concern, after all.  An evil religious zealot of truly gargantuan power and influence appeared on the scene quite recently, almost single-handedly setting at naught the calming influence of religion as an instrument of peace.  And who might this evil bogeyman be?  Think, dear reader!  The article we are discussing emanated from the left of the ideological spectrum.  That’s right! The warmongering jihadi in question is none other than George W. Bush!  Quoting a noted psychologist, the authors inform us with a shudder that,

…however much Bush may sometimes seem like a buffoon, he is also powered by massive, suppressed anger towards anyone who challenges the extreme, fanatical beliefs shared by him and a significant slice of his citizens – in surveys, half of them also agree with the statement “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.”

Gee, and I always thought he seemed like such a nice guy.  How wrong I was!  Reading on we find,

He hated his father for putting his whole life in the shade and for emotionally blackmailing him. He hated his mother for physically and mentally badgering him to fulfill her wishes. But the hatred also explains his radical transformation into an authoritarian fundamentalist. By totally identifying with an extreme version of their strict, religion-fuelled beliefs, he jailed his rebellious self.  From now on, his unconscious hatred for them was channeled into a fanatical moral crusade to rid the world of evil.

Damn!  Now I finally understand why my sister never liked the guy.  The authors provide us with the laconic conclusion,

As the commander in chief, Bush dominates US foreign policy especially in regards to the war on terrorism that is presently the US government’s major military commitment. His plans, however influenced by advisors, arise from his personal view of the world and his concepts of justice, retribution and peace. Clearly his past and his relationships impact these views and ultimately help shape those of the American state. Therefore individual leaders’ psychology is perhaps an underrated area of study in the debate on God and war and could do with further analysis.

What an understatement!  Why, that crazed religious fanatic had his finger on the nuclear trigger for eight years!

How wonderfully ironic!  After spending so much time and effort to create an ideologically driven mirage of religion as benign and peaceful, in the end the authors upset their own apple cart because they couldn’t stifle their ideologically driven need to portray Bush as the personification of evil, complete with all the religious fundamentalist trappings.  By their own account, religion nearly inspired, not merely a war, but the mother of all wars, a nuclear holocaust that might have exterminated our species once and for all.  “Further analysis” indeed!  Maybe we should have listened to the New Atheists after all!

The Atomic Bomb and the Premonitions of James Burnham

We tend to be strongly influenced by the recent past in our predictions about the future.  After World War I, any number of pundits, statesmen, and military officers thought the next war would be a carbon copy of the one they had just lived through, albeit perhaps on a larger scale.  The German government’s disastrous decision to declare war in 1914 was likely influenced by the quick and decisive German victories in 1864, 1866, and 1870.  The Japanese were similarly mesmerized by their brilliant success against the Russians in 1904-05 after an opening surprise attack against the Russian fleet lying at anchor at Port Arthur, and assumed history would repeat itself if they launched a similar attack against Pearl Harbor.

Sometimes startling events force the reevaluation of old ideas and paradigms, such as the German armored Blitzkrieg or the destruction of powerful battleships from the air in World War II, or, more recently, the sudden collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union from 1989-91.  We are always fascinated by such events, yet few of us grasp their significance as they are happening.  Our tendency is always to look backwards, to fit the revolutionary and the unprecedented into the old world that we understand rather than the new one that we can’t yet imagine.  So it was after the dropping of the first atomic bombs.  It certainly focused the attention of public intellectuals, unleashing a torrent of essays full of dire predictions.  For many, the future they imagined was simply a continuation of the immediate past, albeit with new and incredibly destructive weapons.  It was to include the continued inexorable push for world dominion by totalitarian Communism, centered in the Soviet Union, and world wars following each other in quick succession every 15 to 20 years, about the same as the interval between the first two world wars.

Such a vision of the future was described by James Burnham in “The Struggle for the World,” published in 1947.  Burnham was a former Marxist and Trotskyite who eventually abandoned Marxism, and became one of the leading conservative intellectuals of his day.  His thought made a deep impression on, among others, George Orwell.  For example, he had suggested the possibility of a world dominated by three massive totalitarian states, constantly at war with each other, in an earlier book, “The Managerial Revolution,” published in 1941.  These became Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia in Orwell’s “1984.”  The notions of “doublethink”, the totalitarian use of terms such as “justice” and “peace” in a sense opposite to their traditional meanings, and the rewriting of history every few years “so that history itself will always be a confirmation of the immediate line of the party,” familiar to readers of “1984,” were also recurrent themes in “The Struggle for the World.”

Burnham, born in 1905, had come of age during the stunning period of wars, revolutions, and the birth of the first totalitarian states that began and ended with the world wars of the 20th century.  He assumed that events of such global impact would continue at the same pace, only this time in a world with nuclear weapons.   As a former Marxist, he knew that the Communists, at least, were deliberately engaged in a “struggle for the world,” and was dismayed that U.S. politicians at the time were so slow to realize the nature of the struggle.  He also correctly predicted that, unless they were stopped, the Communists would develop nuclear weapons in their Soviet base “in a few years.”  This, he warned, could not be allowed to happen because it would inevitably and quickly lead to a full scale nuclear exchange.  His reasoning was as follows:

Let us assume that more than one (two is enough for the assumption) power possesses, and is producing, atomic weapons.  Each will be improving the efficiency and destructive potential of the weapons as it goes along.  Now let us try to reason as the leaders of these powers would be compelled to reason.

Each leader of Power A could not but think as follows:  Power B has at its disposal instruments which could, in the shortest time, destroy us.  He has possibly made, or is about to make, new discoveries which will threaten even more complete and rapid destruction.  At the moment, perhaps, he shows no open disposition to use these instruments.  Nevertheless, I cannot possibly rely on his continued political benevolence – above all since he knows that I also have at my disposal instruments that can destroy him.  Some hothead – or some wise statesman – of his may even now be giving the order to push the necessary buttons.

Even if there were no atomic weapons, many of the leaders would undoubtedly be reasoning today along these lines.  Atomic weapons are, after all, not responsible for warfare, not even for the Third World War, which has begun.  The fact that the political and social causes of a war are abundantly present stares at us from every edition of every newspaper.  The existence of atomic weapons merely raises the stakes immeasurably higher, and demands a quicker decision.

But to assume, as do some foolish commentators, that fear of retaliation will be the best deterrent to an atomic war is to deny the lessons of the entire history of war and of society.  Fear, as Ferrero so eloquently shows, is what provokes the exercise of force.  Most modern wars have been, in the minds of every belligerent, preventive:  an effort to stamp out the fear of what the other side might be about to do.

The existence of two or more centers of control of atomic weapons would be equal to a grenade with the pin already pulled.

According to Burnham, the resulting nuclear war or wars would lead to the collapse of Western Civilization.  In his words,

If, however, we are not yet ready to accept passively the final collapse of Western Civilization, we may state the following as a necessary first condition of any workable solution of the problem of atomic weapons: there must be an absolute monopoly of the production, possession and use of all atomic weapons.

One wonders what direction world history might have taken had someone like Burnham been President in 1950 instead of Truman.  He would have almost certainly adopted MacArthur’s plan to drop numerous atomic bombs on China and North Korea.  We were lucky.  In the end, Truman’s homespun common sense prevailed over Burnham’s flamboyant intellect, and the nuclear genie remained in the bottle.

However, in 1947 the U.S. still had a monopoly of nuclear weapons, and, for the reasons cited above, Burnham insisted we must keep it.  He suggested that this might best be done by establishing an effectual world government, but dismissed the possibility as impractical.  The only workable alternative to a Communist conquest of the world or full scale nuclear war and the end of Western Civilization was U.S. hegemony.  In Burnham’s words,

It is not our individual minds or desires, but the condition of world society, that today poses for the Soviet Union, as representative of communism, and for the United States, as representative of Western Civilization, the issue of world leadership. No wish or thought of ours can charm this issue away.

This issue will be decided, and in our day. In the course off the decision, both of the present antagonists may, it is true, be destroyed. But one of them must be.

Whatever the words, it is well also to know the reality. The reality is that the only alternative to the communist World Empire is an American Empire which will be, if not literally worldwide in formal boundaries, capable of exercising decisive world control. Nothing less than this can be the positive, or offensive, phase of a rational United States policy.

As a first step to empire, Burnham proposed the union of Great Britain and the United States, to be followed, not by outright conquest, but by firm assertion of U.S. predominance and leadership in the non-Communist world.   Beyond that, the Communist threat must finally be recognized for what it was, and a firm, anti-Communist policy substituted for what was seen as a lack of any coherent policy at all.  Vacillation must end.

Fortunately, when it came to the nuclear standoff, Burnham was wrong, and the “foolish commentators” who invoked the fear of retaliation were right.  Perhaps, having only seen the effects of dropping two low yield bombs, he could not yet imagine the effect of thousands of bombs orders of magnitude more powerful, or conceive of such a thing as mutually assured destruction.  Perhaps it was only dumb luck, but the world did not stumble into a nuclear World War III as it had into the conventional world wars of the 20th century, and the decisive events in the struggle did not follow each other nearly as quickly as Burnham imagined they would.

Burnham also failed to foresee the implications of the gradual alteration in the nature of the Communist threat.  At the time he wrote, it was everything he claimed it to be, a messianic secular religion at the height of its power and appeal.  He assumed that it would retain that power and appeal until the battle was decided, one way or the other.  Even though he was aware that the masses living under Communism, other than a dwindling number of incorrigible idealists, were already disillusioned by “the God that failed,” he didn’t foresee what a decisive weakness that would eventually become.   In the end, time was on our side.  The Communists, and not we, as Lenin had predicted, finally dropped onto the garbage heap of history “like a ripe plum.”

However, Burnham wasn’t wrong about everything.  To win the struggle, it was necessary for us to finally recognize the threat.  Whatever doubt remained on that score, at least as far as most of our political leaders were concerned, was dissipated by the North Korean invasion of the south.  Our policy of vacillation didn’t exactly end, but was occasionally relieved by periods of firmness.  In the end, in spite of a media dominated through most of the struggle by Lenin’s “useful idiots” and the resultant cluelessness of most Americans about what we were even trying to do on the front lines of the “clash between the cultures” in places like Vietnam, we prevailed.

It was a near thing.  Burnham feared that, even after losing the opening battles of the next war to a United States with a monopoly of nuclear weapons, the Communists might regroup, abandon their vulnerable cities, and transform the struggle into a “people’s war.”  His description of what would follow was eerily similar to what actually did happen, but in a much smaller arena than the whole world:

They would transform the struggle into a political war, a “people’s war,” fought in every district of the world by irregulars, partisans, guerillas, Fifth Columns, spies, stool pigeons, assassins, fought by sabotage and strikes and lies and terror and diversion and panic and revolt. They would play on every fear and prejudice of the United States population, every feeling of guilt or nobility; they would exploit every racial and social division; they would widen every antagonism between tentative allies; and they would tirelessly wear down the United States will to endure.

Though the result would be not quite so certain, perhaps, as if the communists also had atomic weapons, they would in the end, I think, succeed. Because of the lack of a positive United States policy, because it would not have presented to the world even the possibility of a political solution, its dreadful material strength would appear to the peoples as the unrelieved brutality of a murderer. Its failure to distinguish between the communist regime and that regime’s subject-victims would weld together the victims and their rulers. Americans themselves would be sickened and conscience-ridden by what would seem to them a senseless slaughter, never-ending, leading nowhere. The military leadership would be disoriented by the inability of their plans based on technical superiority to effect a decision. The failure to conceive the struggle politically would have given the communists the choice of weapons. From the standpoint of the United States, the entire world would have been turned into an ambush and a desert. In the long night, nerves would finally crack, and sentries would fire their last shots wildly into the darkness, and it would all be over.

Change “the world” to Vietnam and it reads like a history instead of a premonition.  Tomorrow is another day, and I doubt that any of us will prove better at predicting what the future will bring than Burnham.  We have lived through an era much different, more peaceful, and more sedate in the pace of events than the one he experienced between 1914 and 1945.  We should beware of assuming, as he did, that the future will bear any resemblance to the immediate past.  The world is still full of nuclear weapons, some of them already in the hands of, or soon to be in the hands of, dictators of suspect rationality.  Some of our intellectuals soothe our fears with stories about the “vanishing of violence,” but as Omar Khayyam put it in the “Rubaiyat,” they could soon be “cast as foolish prophets forth, their mouths stopped with dust,” through some miscalculation or deliberate act of malice.  As the Boy Scouts say, “be prepared.”

Who Says Russia Can’t Beat Napoleon?

The Edinburgh Review, that’s who.  The liberal Edinburgh was one of the two great British political and literary journals of the first half of the 19th century.  It’s conservative counterpart was the Quarterly Review, which enjoyed its heyday at about the same time.  An article in the April, 1810 issue reviewed a Letter on the French Government that had just been published by an anonymous “American recently returned from Europe.”   Unfortunately, we still don’t know who he was, but we gather from his letter that he was an anglophile, highly educated, and very well informed about the financial arrangements of the Napoleonic government in France.  The Letter deals mostly with taxation and the other sources of revenue of France at the time, and includes estimates of the total income and disbursements of the Empire, the amount spent on the military, etc.

The British reviewer, also anonymous as usual at the time, threw in some interesting speculations of his own regarding the current political and military situation, likely reflecting the journal’s editorial point of view.  It will be recalled that in 1810 Napoleon was at the zenith of his triumphant career, with an army of around 800,000 veterans.  His power on the ground in Europe seemed unchallengable, at least as far as liberal opinion in Great Britain was concerned.  The reviewer’s comments about Napoleon and France have an uncanny similarity to some of the “informed commentary” about Hitler and Germany that was appearing on both sides of the Atlantic after his stunning victories in 1940 and 1941.  They also reveal, yet again, the pitfalls of attempting to predict even the immediate future.  Political pundits take note.

Then, as in 1940, victory created a deceptive aura of invincibility.  In both cases, Russia appeared to pose the only remaining credible challenge to the power of the autocrats on the European continent, and in both cases a remarkably large number of “well-informed” commentators dismissed her with a wave of the hand.  Here’s what the Edinburgh’s reviewer had to say about her:

The states that border upon France are ruled either by the kinsmen, or by the vassals of Bonaparte; – all but the Spanish chiefs, who have only a little hour to strut and fret.  The more remote empire of Russia is still in peace; and in peace she must remain, or be crushed without mercy, and without hope of restoration, for she seemed powerful only by the prudent reserve of Catherine.  The succeeding governments, less sagacious, have experimentally shown us how much we overvalued the resources of that country.

Of course, we know in retrospect that both Napoleon and Hitler had a disastrous penchant for undervaluing the “resources of that country.”  Both of them found it rather more difficult to “crush her without mercy” than they had expected.  The rest of the reviewer’s comments about how to deal with the “hopeless” superiority of Bonaparte seem hopelessly naive to those of us who know “the rest of the story.”  They are, however, interesting by virtue of their striking similarity to the advice of a class of writers that we now refer to as “appeasers.”  In both cases, the proposed “solution” to the problem was to avoid offending the triumphant dictator.  Here is what the Edinburgh’s man had to say:

We do think, then, that there is no chance of our being able to crush the power of France by direct hostility and aggression; but still we are of opinion, that, by skilful and cautious policy, we may reasonably hope to disable it.  This, however, we must do by gradual and cautious means; …we ought not to disturb the quiet of the Continent.  Every agitation that we can now excite there, is a fresh advantage to our enemy; …We should rather endeavour to keep the states of Europe so completely tranquil, that he shall have no cause or excuse for war – no resistance to fear, no plots to punish.  If we could but behold the French forces inactive, we might hope to behold them subdued. …”What then?”  it may be said – Are we to congratulate ourselves on the helplessness of all the states that might make head against France?  Certainly; – if we are convinced, as it appears we should be, that nothing can be expected from their exertions, while every thing may be hoped from their repose.

Just as the appeasers of a later day, the reviewer’s sanguine hope was that, if England just stopped provoking the boogeyman, he would eventually go away.  His people, informed of their folly by the burgeoning power of modern means of communication, would become restive, and his army would just “melt away”:

While the war continues, and especially while it is possible to impute its continuance to the restless hostility of England, the vanity and impetuosity of the French people may second the ambition of their ruler; but if they be ever allowed to settle into the habits and enjoyments of peace, all the natural interests and reflections which are generated by the very structure of modern society, will expand with tenfold vigour, and oppose a most formidable resistance to the tyranny which would again repress them for the purpose of its own extension.

Napoleon’s mighty army would simply fall apart of its own accord,

…degenerating, by disuse, toward the level of a new and inexpert militia.

Of course, as we now know, Napoleon’s mighty army, and later Hitler’s, did not “degenerate by disuse.”  Rather, their “degeneration” resulted from their attempts to “crush without mercy” a foe both they and the respective “experts” of the day had underestimated.

I suspect that the pundits of our own day will have no more luck in their attempts to predict the future than those of earlier ages.  However, the psychological type of the appeaser is as familiar today as it was in 1810 or 1940, as is that of their more bellicose and militant counterparts, who once wrote for the Quarterly Review.  In fact, neither type has had much success in predicting events.  It’s a great deal easier to predict how they will react to those events when they happen, though.

World War II Claims Three More

A World War II bomb took the lives of three brave men who were working to disarm it on Tuesday. The 1000 kilo blockbuster was found buried 30 feet deep at the building site of a new sports arena. It’s amazing how casually the German people take stories like this. It’s already disappeared from the websites of Spiegel, Focus, and Stern, three of the countries biggest news magazines. It’s almost as if the three had died in a car accident. I suppose it’s to be expected; the commonplace isn’t news. Another 500 pound bomb had been found at the same site a week ago and disarmed without incident. Between them, the three experts had already disarmed more than 700 others!

I can only agree with a German commenter:

Isn’t there any other way that one could protect the lives of bomb disarmers in these modern times, for example, with robots? Those who put their lives on the line for others deserve our deepest respect, and their families our sympathy.

Depleted Uranium: The Hysteria Rolls On

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use depleted uranium (DU) as ammunition because of its potential value as an energy source. Other than that, its substantial advantages as a penetrator for defeating armored targets are likely grossly outweighed by the value of the propaganda weapon we hand to our enemies when we use it, not to mention the massive cost of litigating cases brought by lawyers who are well aware of the potential value of DU hysteria for lining their pockets. That hysteria lost touch with reality long ago, and continues to grow. A glance at the facts should be enough to cure anyone of an overweening faith in the intelligence of human beings.

The basic propaganda line relating to DU weapons is that a) Great increases in cancer and other health problems are experienced in areas where they are used, and b) Most of these health problems are due to radioactivity from DU.  The professionally pious have devoted a great deal of webspace to the subject, typically short on facts but with lots of pictures of terribly deformed infants and, as usual, featuring themselves as noble saviors of humanity. Those with strong stomachs can find examples here, here and here. It’s all completely bogus, but the truth has never been more than a minor inconvenience for ideological poseurs.

The World Health Organization, public health arm of the UN, an organization that has not been notably chummy with the US of late, debunked the DU hysteria in a report that appeared in 2001 (click on the link to see the document). Quoting from the report,

For the general population it is unlikely that the exposure to depleted uranium will significantly exceed the normal background uranium levels.

Measurements of depleted uranium at sites where depleted uranium munitions were used indicate only localized (within a few tens of metres of the impact site) contamination at the ground surface.

General screening or monitoring for possible depleted uranium-related health effects in populations living in conflict areas where depleted uranium has been used is not necessary. Individuals who believe they have been exposed to excessive amounts of depleted uranium should consult their medical practitioner for examination, appropriate treatment of any symptoms and follow-up.

The potential external dose received in the vicinity of a target following attack by DU munitions has been theoretically estimated to be in the order of 4 μSv/year (UNEP/UNCHS, 1999) based on gamma ray exposure. Such doses are small when compared to recommended guidelines for human exposure to ionizing radiation (20 mSv/annum for a worker for penetrating whole body radiation or 500 mSv/year for skin (BSS, 1996).

Of course, the poseurs dismiss such stuff with a wave of the hand, claiming that, for reasons known only to them, the authors of the report suppressed damning evidence, or didn’t consider certain miraculous processes whereby the DU can be transported into the bodies of its victims without showing up in urine samples.  If one points out, for example, that natural background radiation in places such as Iran and India is much higher than any increase due to DU in the places where all the birth defects and illness is supposedly taking place, without ill effects to the local populations, they merely reply that the DU is carried on insoluble particles, that are infinitely more dangerous than natural uranium.  If it is pointed out that, in that case, it would actually be much more difficult for DU to cause birth defects because the rate at which the body carries insoluble compounds to the vicinity of the reproductive organs is an order of magnitude less than for soluble uranium compounds, or that it is much more difficult for insoluble compounds to get into the food chain, they quickly change tack.  Suddenly, the DU becomes soluble, and the circle is squared. 

A moment’s rational consideration of the facts demolishes the DU hype.  For example, it is claimed that 320 tons of DU were used in the Gulf War in 1991 and 1700 tons in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Those numbers pale in comparison to the approximately 9000 Tons of natural uranium and 22400 tons of thorium currently released each year from the burning of coal.  Much of this material is pumped directly into the atmosphere in the form of particulates that easily enter the lungs.  It is far more likely to contaminate nearby population centers in this form than the byproducts of DU munitions.  Coal consumption in China alone is over 2 million metric tons per year, resulting in the yearly release of about 3000 tons of uranium and 7450 tons of thorium.  There have certainly been health problems downwind of these plants, but they’ve been due to plain old-fashioned air pollution.  There have been no massive increases in birth defects or radiation-related cancer, flying in the face of claims about DU’s supposedly demonic power to sicken and kill.  Uranium absorbed in the body will show up in the urine, whether it is ingested in soluble or insoluble form.  Yet, despite massive screening of military veterans, ongoing studies find no persistent elevation of U concentrations beyond that found in the general population other than in soldiers actually hit by DU fragments or involved in friendly fire accidents.

Studies of uranium miners confirm the absurdity of the inflated DU claims.  Exposure to increased levels of uranium dust has not been associated with increases incidence of cancer, even in older miners.  Increased levels of lung cancer in such workers certainly have been detected, but it is associated with the breathing of high concentrations of radon in confined spaces.  The contribution of DU to radon gas concentrations in the atmosphere in Iraq is utterly insignificant compared to natural seepage from the earth and release by coal plant pollution.  Meanwhile, massive use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, the sabotage and burning of hundreds of oil wells after the first Gulf War, and the release of a host of carcinogenic chemicals in the process of oil production are somehow never considered as possible contributors to illness and birth defects, unless, of course, they happen to fit another narrative.

In a word, the DU propaganda is nonsense, but that doesn’t keep it from being effective.  Other than that, because of DU’s potential value as a fuel in future breeder reactors that will be available to us without the environmental and health hazards of mining new uranium, we are almost literally shooting silver bullets.  Under the circumstances, one wonders what possible justification there can be for the claim that the advantages of continued use of DU munitions outweigh the drawbacks.  Why are we working so hard to confirm the familiar claim that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron?

The Nuclear Posture Review and the Future of the Arsenal

The right and the left in this country have achieved a state of MAD (Mutually Assured Demonization). The recent attempts by the legacy media to whip up hysteria over threats of violence to those who voted for the health bill is a case in point. There was a time, not that long ago, when these “objective journalists” would have gotten away with it. There was no comparably audible public voice on the right to oppose them. Now there is, in the form of talk radio, powerful blogs, and Foxnews. Result: They only succeeded in, once again, making themselves look silly. The Right was in their face immediately, pointing out, among other things, the gross hypocrisy in the double standard they applied to violence and threats of violence depending on whether they come from the right or the left.

Overall, this form of MAD is a good thing. The sanctimonious, condescending attitude of the journalists of yesteryear was getting very old by the time Rush Limbaugh finally appeared on the scene. However, it does have its drawbacks, in the form of increasing levels of political polarization and the associated pious posing on both the right and the left. Indeed, when it comes to the ostentatious striking of sanctimonious public poses, the right has, at long last, achieved parity with the left. Reasoned debate becomes difficult when both sides are only interested in occupying the moral high ground.

Consider, for example, the right’s overwrought response to the latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The NPR is a document submitted to Congress each year by the Department of Defense setting forth what the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy should be. The latest version contains a watered down “no first use” provision according to which we won’t respond with nuclear weapons even if attacked with chemical and biological weapons, with the caveat that for nations that don’t play according to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, everything is still on the table. Some of the other more significant provisions include:

• The United States will not conduct nuclear testing, and will seek ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

• The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.

• The Administration will study options for ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of nuclear warheads on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the congressionally mandated Stockpile Management Plan. The full range of LEP approaches will be considered: refurbishment of existing warheads, reuse of nuclear components from different warheads, and replacement of nuclear components.

The response Tunku Daravarajan at The Daily Beast:

I despair of this latest episode of gestural theater designed to make the U.S. look exquisitely reasonable (should we call it “Jimmy-Cartesian”?), but which in truth results in the U.S. looking flaccid, or worse, complacent. After all, who gains from a presidential posture that has, in effect, stigmatized our most potent deterrent? In terms of foreign policy—or, better put, foreign clout—the U.S. is going through a startling period of auto-emasculation.

and from Roger Simon at PajamasMedia:

Like some looney member of Code Pink, our president is abandoning the nuclear deterrent adhered to by every American president since Truman. And he is doing it in a manner that makes absolutely no sense… What are we to make of this and the man who is adopting this policy? Does he hate us? Does he hate this country? What would he do if there was, for example, a massive small pox attack on the U.S.? Send in the infantry? Call in the Marines? Try to reason with whoever did it and recommend they negotiate as the fatal disease spreads to millions of people?… Now I detest nuclear weapons as much as the next person, but this approach seems — I hate to repeat myself, but I will — deranged.

Now let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the ultimate reason for having a nuclear arsenal in the first place is to protect our security. What if Tunku and Roger, being human, and therefore not infallible, are wrong? What if, just hypothetically, the policy set forth in the NPR really will make us more safe, and the policy they prefer less safe. They have not limited themselves to a reasoned response to the NPR, setting forth, in their opinions, why they think it will not enhance our safety. Rather, they have villified the people who support it, accusing them, not only of being wrong, but of being crazy. When you demonize people, you make it very difficult for them to respond to your objections in a reasoned manner. Being human, they are more likely to strike back, trading tit for tat. I would even go so far as to say that, in some cases, that is the only rational way to respond. It seems rather obvious that convergence to correct policy decisions is not a likely outcome of this process of mutual demonization.

That is the reason that, as I have maintained elsewhere, when it comes to policy decisions as weighty as those relating to nuclear policy, moralistic posing, with all the associated pushing of emotional hot buttons, should be set aside in favor of some semblance of rational discussion. The goal here, I assume, is to survive. Let us, then, dispassionately consider what we should best do in order to survive.

According to Steve Schippert ant Liberty Pundits, the NPR not only does not serve that goal but is, in fact, pointless.  In his words:

There is none, really. Not beyond rhetoric and “historic” moments and – dare the Los Angeles Times say it – a “manifesto.”

No point at all – but for one critical aspect lost in all of the arguing back and forth. Clarity is dead. Nuance and the foolish self-assurance of perceived superior intellectual and/or moral capacity have rightly replaced clear understanding.

Admitting in advance my own fallibility, I beg to differ. In the first place, we have kept the nuclear genie in the bottle now for going on 65 years. I am far from believing that an all out nuclear exchange would result in the extinction of humanity, or anything close to it. It is, nevertheless, an understatement to say that it would be extremely destructive. That being the case, it would be well if, to the extent possible, we maintained a taboo on the first use of nuclear weapons.

Any first user of nuclear weapons likely would become and, it seems to me, should become, an international pariah. Roger paints a nightmare scenario in which millions of people are dying in a biological attack while our hands are tied. Given the known effects of the releases of biological and chemical agents to date, the chances of something like that happening are vanishingly small. If it did, the NPR would become a moot point, just as all our loud protestations against unrestricted submarine warfare prior to our entry into WWI became a moot point for our own submarine forces in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. A far more likely first use scenario would be an attempt at eliminating enemy stocks of biological or chemical weapons with a nuclear bunker buster, either preemptively or after an ineffective and very ill-considered attack on the United States with such weapons. This kind of first use would be very attractive to many in the nuclear weapons community. It would, however, do anything but promote our national security. Rather, it would end the taboo on the use of nuclear weapons, greatly increasing the chances that we, in turn, would become the victims of a really devastating attack, not with ineffective chemical or biological agents, but with nuclear weapons.

I also agree with the other sections of the NPR that are major departures from past policy, or, at least, have been represented as such. One of these is the provision that the United States will not conduct nuclear testing. Again, there are many in the weapons community who would love to resume testing, basing their arguments on insuring the reliability of the stockpile. It would also help the national weapons laboratories solve the demographic problem they face with the retirement or impending retirement of most of the physicists and other technical experts who have actually taken part in nuclear tests, and the difficulty of attracting talented scientists to careers as custodians of an aging pile of nuclear weapons. It would also play directly into the hands of our enemies.

The United States has a huge advantage over potential nuclear rivals in its possession of above ground experimental facilities (known in the business as AGEX) second to none in the world. From the massive National Ignition Facility, with its ability to focus 192 powerful laser beams on a tiny point, to the Z pulsed power machine capable of producing bursts of X-rays at levels far beyond those of any comparable facility on the planet, to a host of other smaller but still highly impressive and technologically advanced experimental facilities, we can approach the physical conditions that exist within exploding nuclear devices more closely and for longer periods of time than any other nation can even dream of. To resume nuclear testing would be to stupidly throw away this huge advantage. At the same time, it would give our enemies all the moral authority they needed to resume testing or develop nuclear weapons themselves.

The decision to set in concrete in the NPR the decision not to develop new nuclear weapons is also a good one. The idea that the United States would do such a thing is anything but implausible. On the contrary, the National Nuclear Security Administration has been agitating for years to get the go-ahead to build the Reliable Replacement Warhead. When Congress wisely told them, not only no, but hell no, they kept up the pressure regardless. Congress has taken a lot of bad raps lately. They deserve a lot of credit for derailing NNSA’s determination to go ahead with the RRW. In the first place, the weapons in our stockpile are not fragile and unreliable. Any enemy that assumed so would be making a very grave mistake. In the second, if we developed the RRW, the pressure to test it would likely become irresistible. The idea of developing a nuclear weapon without testing it would never have passed the “ho-ho” test at the weapons labs back in the 70’s and 80’s. The claim that we wouldn’t need to test the RRW is likely wishful thinking. Again, all the objections to a resumption of nuclear testing I have cited above would apply. Finally, by building a new type of nuclear weapon we would once again sacrifice the moral high ground, handing our enemies all the justification they needed for building new weapons themselves. Again, we would sacrifice major advantages, simply to acquire a weapon that would be somewhat cheaper to maintain than those in the existing stockpile. For obvious reasons, the weapons designers at the labs would love it. For the rest of us, it would make no sense at all.

I am hardly in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament. On the contrary, I am in favor of maintaining a powerful arsenal and assuring that the resources we need to keep it safe and reliable will always be available. However, the latest NPR is a reasoned response to the nuclear myopia that would have us sacrifice real advantages in return for extremely dubious returns. As such, it deserves our support.

nuclear-explosion

No Military Solution?

It’s a persistent meme, isn’t it? You can see recent examples of it here, here, here and here. If you care to see a few thousand more examples, Google is ready and waiting. The interesting thing about it is that it’s completely ridiculous on the face of it. If nigh unto 5000 years of recorded history are any guide, there have been military solutions to virtually any human conflict of interest you can imagine, including countless situations entirely analogous to that faced by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan today.  This particular meme hasn’t acquired legs because its true, but because people who live in any number of different ideological boxes want it to be true.  Of course, it lacks what mathematicians would call symmetry.  Military solutions may not be available to us, but, oddly enough, they are invariably available to our enemies.  Just ask them.  For that matter, just ask the people reciting the meme.

Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War”

Spanish WarI just reread Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War” after a lapse of many years. Thomas has the ability, rare in our times, to write histories peopled by human beings, rather than good guys and bad guys. In this book he portrays an event that is still well within living memory, but seems as remote as the middle ages. It is well worth reading, if only to recall what human beings are capable of. It was a war marked by furious ideological passions, a version in miniature of the titanic struggle between fascism and Communism that was to follow it. Especially in the beginning, but throughout the war, both sides systematically hunted down and shot any person of talent they had any reason to believe might favor the other side. Many tens of thousands of Spain’s best and brightest were squandered in this national decapitation that is such a trademark of the 20th century, mimicking the even more devastating self-immolation that reached its peak of fury in the Soviet Union at the same time, and decades later in Cambodia. Imagine what it would be like if people in a town 20 or 30 miles from yours grabbed weapons, climbed onto trucks and drove to where you live, and then began systematically going door to door, shooting down 100’s of your neighbors for the flimsiest of reasons, including pure malice and personal revenge. That’s what it was like. We forget such events at our peril. They are still quite recent, and could easily happen again.

One wonders how many of the later dictators of central and South America were “inspired” by Franco and his fascists. After all, in the end, he “won,” in the sense that his will prevailed. How many of the organizers of death squads, the “revolutionaries” who murdered and still murder whole villages, and the military thugs responsible for the “disappeared ones” learned their lessons from him? It’s ironic to consider what has become of his “victory,” paid for with the blood of so many of Spain’s most talented children.  Today she is ruled by a socialist he certainly would have shot back in July or August of ’36.  Franco posed as the defender of outraged Christianity.  Recently, I saw the Spanish film “Talk to Her,” in which one of the characters claims that those priests who don’t rape nuns are pedophiles.  The wheel of Nemesis rolls on.

There is a fine sentence in Thomas’ Epilogue that epitomizes both the war and the century:

The Spanish Civil War was the Spanish share in the tragic European breakdown of the twentieth century, in which the liberal heritage of the nineteenth century, and the sense of optimism which had lasted since the renaissance, were shattered.

Wars arouse passions, and passions spawn music. The Spanish Civil War was no exception. Here are examples from the right:

and the left:

German Anti-Semitism circa 1870

Charles Ryan
Charles Ryan

Some of the best and most interesting books I’ve ever read were those I’ve randomly picked out while wandering through the stacks at university libraries.  Occasionally you’ll find nuggets of information and forgotten stories you never would have gone looking for intentionally.  One book, in particular, made a lasting impression on me.  It was entitled, “With an Ambulance during the Franco-German War,” and was published in 1896 by Charles Edward Ryan.  In those days an “ambulance” was a sort of mobile field hospital, occasionally, as in this case, manned by volunteers.  Their neutrality was respected by both sides, and, occasionally, as the lines moved one way or the other with the fortunes of war, they would find themselves under a different flag than the day before.  In fact, this happened to the author at the decisive Battle of Sedan, where Napoleon III and his entire army were surrounded and forced to surrender, and on several other occasions.  War was a great deal less professional in those days.  Instead of shooting the author as a spy, the Germans gave him a pass to travel through France and Germany at will, requisitioning billets and train passes as needed to tend the sick.  So it was that on one occasion he found himself on a train in the same compartment with some German officers and a hapless Jew. 

I have occasionally read and heard claims to the effect that the German officer corps was not tainted by the anti-Semitism of the Nazis.  See, for example, the memoirs of von Papen, a conservative who agreed to serve as Vice-Chancellor in Hitler’s first government in the fond hope that he could be “managed.”  Based on Ryan’s account, however, that wasn’t entirely true.  I will let him speak for himself.

I had seen Ferrieres, the palace of a Frankfort Jew, with admiration, all the more that it had been respected as a sanctuary by orders from the Prussians. Yet it was during this same journey that I witnessed an incident in which a Jew was the hero or the victim, that filled me with astonishment, as it may do my readers who happen not to be acquainted with the ways of the Fatherland. I had frequently heard the Jews spoken of by my German friends in language of supreme contempt; but never did I realize the depth of that feeling until now.

In the railway compartment in which I travelled, all were German officers except myself and one civilian. The latter had got in at a wayside station, and sat at the furthest corner opposite me. My companions began without delay to banter and tease him unmercifully, all the while addressing him as Lemann. He was a small stunted person, in make and features an Israelite, and not more than twenty-five. The behavior of his fellow-travelers seemed to give him no concern ; as they fired off at him their sneering jests, he scanned them with his sharp eyes, but did not move a muscle.
I inquired of the officer next me, who spoke English well, how it came to pass that they knew this stranger’s name. He explained that Lemann was the common term for a Jew in their language, going on to describe how much the sons of Jacob were detested throughout Germany ; and for his part he thought they were a vile horde, who laid hands on everything they could seize, in a way which we English were incapable of fancying. The officers, he added, were all getting down to have some beer at the next station, and by way of illustration he would show me what manner of men these Jews were; and as he said the words, he took off his hairy fur-lined gloves, and threw them across the carriage to our man in the corner, remarking, “There, Lemann! it is a cold day”. The Jew picked up the gloves eagerly, which he had missed on the catch, and pulled them on. When we were nearing the station, the officer who had thrown the gloves at him, took off his fur rug, and flung that also to the Jew. Once more he accepted the insulting present, and quickly rolled the rug about him. Finally, a third threw off his military cloak, and slung it on the Jew’s back as he was passing out. This, again, the wretched creature put on ; and their absence at the buffet left him for the next ten minutes in peace.

Presently the horn sounded, and our Germans came back. One seized his rug, another his cloak, and finally, my first acquaintance recovered his gloves by one unceremonious tug from Lemann’s meekly outstretched fingers. My own face, I think, must have flushed with indignation ; but the others only laughed at my superfluous display of feeling; and Lemann, shrugging his shoulders, — but only because of the sudden change of temperature when his wraps were pulled away,—took out of his pocket a little book with red print, which he began to read backwards, and, turning up the sleeve of his coat, began to unwind a long cord which was coiled round his wrist and forearm as far as the elbow. Every now and then he would stop the unwinding, and pray with a fervor quite remarkable, then unwind his cord again, and so on till the whole was undone. For a time the officers resumed their jeering ; but, seeing that it was like so much water on a stone, they turned the conversation, and allowed the unhappy Jew to continue his devotions unmolested till he got out at Strasburg. What would these officers have done, had they travelled in the same railway carriage with M. de Rothschild?

Evidently, anti-Semitism was alive and well in the German officer corps long before the rise of the Nazis.  I had often thought of scanning Ryan’s book myself to preserve this and the many other interesting historical anecdotes it contains, such as his account of one Dr. Pratt, a former large slave owner who had served with the Confederate medical staff, and was now in exile along with one of his slaves, who had joined him to serve as cook for the ambulance.  When I found the book in the stacks of the University of Maryland, I found its pages badly deteriorated because of the acid paper they were printed on.  The initial printing had been very small, and I suspect very few copies remained by the time I discovered the book.  However, as can be seen by the link above, Google has already preserved a digital copy.  I don’t know how or why they undertook the massive effort of preserving so many valuable old books, but, regardless, I am grateful to them for it.  In this day of Holocaust deniers, 911 truthers, and assorted other tribes of historical revisionists, the more source material we preserve, the better. 

In answer to your question, by the way, no, I am not Jewish.

Of Howard Kurtz, Media Narratives, and Historical Myths

In a recent column, Wapo media guru Howard Kurtz commemorated the high- and lowlights of news reporting in the first decade the 21st century.  It contained some commonplace observations about the development of the Internet, the obligatory journalistic self-adulation, and ended on a sour note about the decline of the legacy media and their rather dim prospects in the decade to come.  There were some entertaining bits, however, not the least of which was a paragraph citing what Kurtz called “the two biggest disasters of early-21st-century coverage” which “remain a permanent stain on journalism.”  The first of these was unexceptional:

…the media did far too little to spotlight a shadow banking system built on preposterously exotic risks and federal regulators who blithely looked the other way.

However, the second one brought a smile to my face:

The failure to challenge the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq — and an accompanying tendency to dismiss antiwar voices — is now regretted by the news organizations themselves.

It’s a remarkable example of a “sharashka” as defined by Solzhenitsyn in “The First Circle:” A lie so big that, in the end, even those who invented it believe it. This yarn about how the U.S. media were too “pro-war” has always been absurd on the face of it to anyone not suffering from the flavor of cognitive dissonance peculiar to journalists.  Since the days it was first invented it has passed from being a useful lie to a constituent element of the legacy media’s ideological narrative to its current status of historical myth, believed by the journalistic faithful as what Stalin referred to as “a well known fact,” something like the “well known fact” that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery taught in southern schools in the 1920’s.  One might call it the Jingoistic Media Myth (JMM).

I’m not quite sure when the JMM made its first appearance.  It was, of course, necessary to allow a decent interval to elapse so memories could dull before legacy journalists could “repent” for having “dismissed anti-war voices” with a straight face without drawing peels of laughter from their listeners.  Eventually, however, it became possible to recite it to the proper audiences without the least embarrassment, shedding crocodile tears about the “shame” of it in the process.  Among other things, it fit right in with the fairy tales the European media were peddling to their clientele about the evil American’s “yellow press” at the time.  Of course, as anyone who didn’t fall off the pumpkin wagon yesterday is aware, the legacy media was never, in any way, shape, or form “pro-war” in the case of Iraq.  Why, then, invent the JMM?  Among other things, it provided ideological camouflage.  Assuming one swallowed the myth, it became the “duty” of the legacy media to “atone for their sin.”  One did this by giving prominent coverage to any expression of anti-war sentiment and to any story that could be given an anti-war spin.  In other words, one did it by making the news fit neatly in the ideological box the legacy media has occupied since at least the time of the War in Vietnam.  Any mutterings about “defeatist propaganda” could be faced down with a fine show of virtuous indignation, and pious remarks about the need to re-establish “balanced reporting” after the shameful, jingoistic lapses following the first days of the invasion.  

In the upshot, this “balanced reporting” was turned on full blast.  The upper right hand column on the Wapo’s front page became the preferred venue for any story that could be given an anti-war spin or reinforced the assumption that defeat in Iraq was inevitable.  When it became obvious, even to the Wapo’s editors, that defeat wasn’t imminent after all, and Iraq might not actually be another Vietnam in spite of all previous mutual assurances to the contrary, they tired of the game.  The upper right hand column was devoted to promoting more plausible yarns, and the Wapo became all but silent about the war.

I don’t mean to pick on Kurtz. He’s an “honest man” in the context of modern journalism, and I suspect he firmly believes the JMM mantra he recited in his recent article.  I can only suggest that he take advantage of Google and, perhaps take a look through the Wapo’s archives.  If he does, he may stumble across a few facts that don’t quite conform to the JMM.  Unfortunately, I don’t have convenient access to the archives, so I will have to rely mainly on second hand accounts. 

Take, for example, an article attributed to the Washington Post on the website of CommonDreams.org.  Published on March 3, 2003, the article describes the “stunning success” of worldwide anti-war protests on the previous February 15 in glowing terms.  Journalists typically use the last sentence of ideologically loaded articles as a “zinger” to make sure their readers don’t fail to see the “moral of the story.  In this case it is:

“This was caused by social forces, and it’s not something that organizations produced,” said Andrew Burgin, a member of the coalition’s British steering committee. “They’re not in our control. . . . You don’t lead a movement like this, the movement leads you.”

Not exactly the stuff of jingoistic saber rattling, is it?  What about the anti-war left’s own assessment of Wapo’s coverage at the time?  If the JMM is true, one would expect to find them fairly frothing at the mouth.  However, based on contemporary comments posted on the website of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), their actual reaction was somewhat more positive in response to the Wapo’s coverage of anti-war demonstrations:

The Washington Post (1/28/07) distinguished itself by assigning six staff writers and a researcher to the (anti-war) protest. Its page-one story conveyed the upbeat mood of the crowd and its diversity. It gave prominence to protesters with relatives in Iraq, let us hear a mother explaining the protest to her son as an exercise in free speech, and reported the crowd chanting for impeachment of George W. Bush.

But the paper went beyond human interest, explaining the protesters’ political goal of prodding Congress into action. By naming 10 of the organizations that have come together under the umbrella of United for Peace & Justice, which coordinated the event, it showed the political blending of the agendas of feminists, religious organizations, farmers, active and retired military members and others.

The Post’s coverage also included two sidebars, one about college student protesters and the other a collection of pictures and quotes from a variety of protesters.

Is this the “dismissal of antiwar voices” Kurtz was referring to.  Here’s another puff piece on antiwar demonstrations that appeared on January 20, 2003.  Zinger at the end of the article:  “‘War is not the answer,’ said Mary Appelhof, 66, of Kalamazoo, Mich.”  I could go on and on.

Perhaps it would jar Kurtz memory if he went back and looked at the stuff he was writing himself in the first days of the war. In an article published on March 24, 2003 containing a series of question and answer responses he replies to one “Howard” of New York, who is griping about what he considers an implication in news coverage that anti-war demonstrators don’t “support the troops:

… I do think it’s a canard to say that those who oppose this war don’t support the troops. At the same time, there has understandably been more focus on the antiwar demonstrations because there have been far more of them, drawing bigger numbers, than the pro-war rallies.

Is this the sort of “dismissal of antiwar voices” he’s talking about? 

No matter, the JMM will live on, in spite of the facts.  Historical myths eventually take on a life of their own.  The truth is always elusive, and historical truth is the most elusive kind.  Those who seek it will need a skeptical attitude and lots of source material.