Tuesday, November 19, 2002
SUPERHEATED 'STEEM SWEEPSTAKES
I know you've got 'em...send 'em in. PhotonCourier is looking for the silliest, most ridiculous self-esteem programs in existence. Everyone is eligible...education, social work, government, corporations, even the military (isn't the "Obstacle Course" now the "Confidence Course?") All countries are eligible, too. Read Superheated 'Steem and Superheated 'Steem II, and see if you can top these. Extra points if the program is not just useless, but positively harmful.
Send your entries to email@example.com.
Monday, November 18, 2002
SUPERHEATED 'STEEM II
Is The U.S. Falling Behind?
Yes, I'm afraid it's true. In the quest for the most ridiculous self-esteem program, the U.S. is falling behind our British cousins. A British "education specialist" offers a set of techniques to diagnose whether children as young as three years are suffering from a self-esteem shortage. Some of the questions to be asked are: "Does this child have a group they go around with? Does this child like to look nice? or does this child take care to select the latest trends?" When low self-esteem is diagnosed, techniques for raising it are suggested..for example, have the other children chant "You are Polly and you are pretty." Joanne Jacobs, who evidently has actual experience with real children, has suggested how this might work out in real life. (Lots of possibilities: "You are Polly and you are piggy," "You are Polly and you are pathetic" are two that come to mind in addition to the one Joanne suggests.)
I think this program clearly puts Britain in the lead in the Superheated 'Steem Sweepstakes...for now. But I'm confident that American educators, social workers, and psychologists are busily working on something that will help us regain our lead. Send in your suggestions.
Sunday, November 17, 2002
A few days ago, I reported that historical ignorance is so bad that 15% of American high school students thought that Germany and the U.S. were allies during WWII. Dean Esmay has done some sleuthing, and has found that the situation is even worse than I thought...much worse. Bruce Hunter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, reports that fifty-two percent of high school seniors thought that at least one of the Axis powers--Germany, Japan, Italy--was a U.S. ally during that war. (Check out Dean's web site here.)
Statistics like this indicate that the educational establishment has been guilty of gross negligence on a colossal scale. And if you look at any other academic field (in addition to history), I feel confident that the results would be equally grim.
Friday, November 15, 2002
AIRLINE SECURITY AND INDUSTRIAL MOBILIZATION
NBC News just reported that the deadline for screening of all checked baggage will not be met, probably for another *year*. The reason given was that "not enough scanners are available," or words to that effect.
This matter seems to always be discussed as if scanners were redwood trees, which grow at a fixed rate and cannot be hurried. As I wrote earlier, there seems to be no coordinated program to bring the full weight of America's industrial base to bear on this problem. During WWII, automobile plants were rapidly converted to tank plants and aircraft plants. People who had never been in a factory in their lives were put to work making high-precision bombsights. Why can't we do the same with scanner production?
President Bush should appoint a coordinator of industrial mobilization. He should personally call a retired executive of the stature of Jack Welch and ask him to take the job. This executive, in turn, should call the CEO's of the companies with relevant expertise and get them going flat-out on this issue--and the many others which are certain to arise.
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND PEARL HARBOR
December 7 is Pearl Harbor day and in San Pedro, California, a commemorative showing of the film "Tora, Tora, Tora" was planned. Pearl Harbor survivors were invited, ushers were to wear WWII uniforms, and a recently-restored searchlight was to be placed outside the theater. The group organizing the event intended to hold it at the historic Warner Grand, which is operated by the city.
But the event won't be happening, at least in that venue. “I wanted to be very sensitive to the Japanese-American community,” said LA city councilwoman Janice Hahn. “Dec. 7 is a tough day, especially for the second and third generations of Japanese-Americans. Why do we want to do something that makes it more difficult?” (As quoted in the local newspaper Daily Breeze.) The individual who manages the theater says there was another event booked for that data; however, volunteers who were organizing the film say that the date was shown as "open" on the web site used for scheduling. The city agency says that the facility was originally going to show the movie "Boy's Town" on that date, but that it will now be used for the mayor's community party.
Regardless of the scheduling situation, I don't think there's much justification for Janice Hahn's position. If it's sensitivity she's concerned about, then what about the "sensitivities" of Pearl Harbor survivors and other Pacific War vets? And why should any American of Japanese descent be offended by the showing of this film (which is by all accounts a remarkably "balanced" presentation of Pearl Harbor)? Should Americans of German descent be offended by D-day commemorations? A human being is more than his or her ethnic background. To suggest that a person will have a particular view on historical issues because of their ethnic background is offensive to my sensibilities.
(Thanks to Right Wing News for surfacing this story.)
HOW TO LOSE CUSTOMERS
(Rant mode ON:) Idiotic behavior is not limited to politics and academia--it can also be found in the heart of corporate America. For a change of pace, here's a little story.
Earlier today, I tried to sign up for on-line access to one of my credit card accounts. Everything went swimmingly at first, but I knew it was too good to be true. There were about three pages of various questions...and then, a "sorry--server not available" message. Of course, everything I had entered was lost. I then clicked on the "contact us" address for the company, and got the following message: Sorry. Could not include the documentum page. Application Error.
I suspect that the company was running two processes, or maybe two physical servers, one to collect data and one to update the database. Process #1 was running happily along, asking questions and getting answers, without any clue that Process #2 was dead in the water. Now, maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe there's just one combined process, and it just happened to roll over and play dead at the very moment I had answered the last question and clicked the button. But I doubt it. And if my theory is correct, then the "designer" of this system committed a major error in not shutting down the data collection process when the back-end process was dead. And he committed a much worse sin in ever allowing an error message like the one above to be exposed to an end user.
Credit cards are basically a commodity business. One of the few ways of differentiating oneself is by superior customer service--and that includes your customer-service web site. Executives should take these matters seriously, and use their web sites themselves..in many cases, they're going to be horrified. Technical managers should pay a lot more attention to useability considerations and failure modes, and so should university computer science departments.
(Rant mode OFF)
Sunday, November 10, 2002
VETERANS' DAY MUSINGS
On Veterans’ Day, we are meant to reflect on the accomplishments and sacrifices of those who have fought for our country. A significant number of Americans, however, will not be thinking, even for a moment, about those Americans who fought at Gettysberg, Normandy, Anzio, or the Philippines. Still less will they be thinking about the contributions of those who served in the forces of allied nations—the RAF fighter pilots who saved the world in its darkest hours, or the men and women of the French Resistance. They won’t be reflecting on these things because they don’t know anything about them.
The state of historical education in this country is a national disgrace, as indicated many times by survey research. One recent survey even showed that a significant number of high school students thought that Germany and the U.S. were allied in WWII. (15%, if I remember correctly). Anecdotal evidence confirms the same dismal picture. Dr. Thomas Reeves recently wrote of his experiences teaching at University of Wisconsin—Parkside. To quote Dr. Reeves: “One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America...or the nation's constitutional machinery. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II..” (emphasis added) (Quote is from Kimberly Swygert's site.)
To be fair UW-Parkside is not a selective school. But all of these students are presumably high school graduates. Aren’t the subjects mentioned all things that a tenth grader should have some familiarity with? And don't delude yourself that those who missed it in high school will pick it up in college. Those following a professional curriculum may take little or no history; those pursuing the humanities will likely study history only as imaged through the lens of postmodernism and other highly theoretical constructs.
These things matter. How can a person who confuses WWI and WWII, or who thinks the U.S. and Germany were allies in the latter, possibly follow a debate about the relevance of the Munich crisis to today’s Iraqi crisis? Extreme absence of historical knowledge makes effective citizenship impossible.
And there is a more subtle factor at work here, also. To understand the sacrifices and accomplishments of those who came before tends to give a person a bit of humility. The absence of such understanding encourages a certain kind of arrogance--”self-esteem” of the worst kind.
C. S. Lewis wrote that if you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjoining units—and if you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from knowledge about previous generations. Were this the objective of our educational establishment, they would be doing a pretty good job of it.
Thursday, November 07, 2002
MORE ON MULTILATERALISM
Jeane Kirkpatrick, who headed the U.S. mission to the United Nations (1981-85), recently reminisced about her experiences there. One of her strongest impressions was of the extreme level of anti-Israeli sentiment...and more: "I was very deeply shocked by the simple anti-Semitism that pervaded the place."
Kirkpatrick went so far as to say that, as a result of her U.N. experiences, she was able for the first time in her life to understand how the Holocaust happened. (full article). These tendencies in the U.N. have certainly not gotten any better since Kirkpatrick's time, and indeed appear to have become worse.
Why do so many people persist, in the face of all evidence, in regarding the U.N. as the world's primary fount of moral authority? At some point, idealistic naivite shades over into willful disregard of the truth.
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Over at Joanne Jacobs' site, a new teacher has been writing about his experiences. He was assigned to teach a shop class, but was concerned since he had no experience in that area...would he be able to teach the students how to operate the machines safely? No problem, as it turns out...there weren't any machines, and no money to buy any. His suggestion of abolishing the class and teaching something else were turned down..for reasons, he said, that were said to have to do with "funding." (It was suggested that he turn it into a class on "measurement," but he turned it into a drama class instead.)
For a school to represent a class as a shop class and then fail to provide proper equipment would seem disrespectful to (a) the students who enroll, (b) their parents, (c) the funding agency, and (d) the entire set of people whose career plans involve something other than a traditional academic path.
Monday, November 04, 2002
Israel is rightly concerned about attack by chemical weapons, particularly in the event of a U.S. war with Iraq. But when the Israeli government attempted to purchase two Chempro 100 gas detectors, made by a Finnish company, the Finnish government denied an export license for the equipment. According to the Finnish foreign ministry "...according to EU guidelines, restraint must be practiced in exporting defence material to areas of conflict." Finland's foreign minister has separately made comments highly critical of Israel.
In Canada, there is a Jewish organization called Canadian Magen David Adom. It collects donations for Israel's emergency medical service, Magen David Adom, which is similar to the Red Cross. The government of Canada, acting through its customs and revenue agency (CCRA), is attempting to remove the charitable tax status of Canadian Magen David Adom. CCRA stated that by operating donated ambulances in the Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Magen David was contravening Canadian public policy. The court did not upheld this claim, but did uphold other elements of CCRA's position, and right now Canadian Magen David Adom is still on track to lose its charitable status. You can sign the petition against this action here.
President Bush has come under heavy fire for not taking a more "multilateralist" approach. But "multilateralism," at the level desired by these critics, means giving veto power over U.S. foreign policy to government like those mentioned above. No, thanks.
Friday, November 01, 2002
STARVATION BY POLITCAL CORRECTNESS
In Zambia, 3 million people are facing death by starvation. Yet on 10/29, the government of that country issued its final order against the distribution of U.S.- supplied grain which is already sitting in the warehouses. Why? The grain was produced using modern biotechnology (genetic modification), and Zambia's government is concerned that it might violate the "precautionary principle" by not being proven 100% safe. Zambia is also concerned (probably correctly) that distribution of this food could compromise any future exports to the European Union, which currently has a moratorium on the import of GM crops.
Here we see the ultimate terminus of the program to remove all risks from life...in order to avoid a small and purely theoretical risk at some point in the future, we must let people starve to death right now. We also see the effects of increasingly anti-scientific attitudes among significant elements of the elite. Of those who are opposed to GM crops, how many have educated themselves in the relevant science to the point at which they could have a meaningful opinion about GM risks or lack of same? Darned few, I would bet. Yet they are willing to condemn others to starvation on the basis of their prejudices, without putting forth the effort to determine whether these prejudices have any grounding in reality. Keep this in mind the next time you hear about the "compassion" of the Left and of the European Union.
Thursday, October 31, 2002
A kid I know got his first introduction to self-esteem training a couple of years ago, when he was six. All the children in the kindergarten had to watch a video on the general theme "You are wonderful." Sam came home and asked his mom, "How can the people who made the video be so sure I'm wonderful? They don't even know me!" So a 6-year-old has more sense than the mainstream of our educational establishment.
I say "mainstream" because this kind of thing is endemic. Betsy Hart tells about how her son had to make a poster with the remarkable title "It's all about me." And the self-esteem obsession extends beyond the schools: a Google search on the phrase "self-esteem" turns up over 1 million hits.
The self-esteem concept had its roots in a worthwhile concept: that high expectations lead to high performance. But this concept has been perverted to mean unconditional praise (especially self-praise) with no expectations whatsoever. In a recent column, Andrew Sullivan talks about the damage this is doing. Educator friends tell him that students with excessive self-esteem are basically unteachable--if you're already that wonderful, why do you need to learn anything? Sullivan also cites academic research (by Brad Bushman of Iowa State and Roy Baumeister of Case Western) showing that "people with high self-esteem can engage in far more anti-social behavior" than those possessing less of this commodity. Also see Kimberly Swygert (10/29) and Joanne Jacobs for more on this topic.
Apparently, something very like the self-esteem movement existed in the England of the early 1900s. Here's G. K. Chesterton:
"Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Anyone who knows anybody knows how it would work; anyone who knows anyone from the Higher Thought Center knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within." (Orthodoxy, 1908.)
Oh, well. A Google search on "self-esteem" combined with "fraud" turns up 16,600 hits. Anyone want to project in which direction this number will be moving?
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
CAMPUS ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH
At Yale last Wednesday, vandals destroyed a cardboard memorial which had been made in remembrance of 14 Israeli victims of a car bombing. A week earlier, at the same university, a petition opposing divestment (ie, withdrawal of pension fund investments from companies doing business in Israel) was defaced--in the law school.
Friday, October 25, 2002
ARE USAF PILOTS AMERICANS?
Last month, the California Federation of Teachers (which represents over 100,000 teachers and school employees) passed a resolution condemning any attack on Iraq. Of the many remarkable statements in this resolution, the most remarkable is this:
"..the Bush administration has presented no credible evidence that Iraq has intentions of harming the citizens of this country." (emphasis added.)
Fact: On over 100 occasions, Iraqi gun and missile sites have fired at American aircraft...it is only a matter of luck and skill that no planes have been shot down. It speaks volumes that the authors of this resolution seem to have not considered attacks on the pilots of these aircraft under the heading of "harming the citizens of this country."
Or perhaps they believe that these aircraft shouldn't be there in the first place, and that their pilots deserve to be shot down. The planes, of course, are enforcing the terms under which the Gulf War was ended, and are also protecting the Kurds of Northern Iraq--many of whom would be killed within a week if the patrols were discontinued.
The resolution also condemns the U.S. and British bombing of Iraq conducted since the end of the Gulf War...bombing which has been conducted primarily in response to the attacks on our aircraft and has been directed at the antiaircraft facilities which carry out those attacks.
In The Age of Discontinuity, written more than 30 years ago, Peter Drucker talks about the changing role of knowledge in society, and says "...it is quite possible that the great new 'isms' of tomorrow will be ideologies about knowledge. In tomorrow's intellectual and political philosophies knowledge may well take the central place that property, i.e. things, occupied in capitalism and Marxism." This is a remarkable forecast of postmodernism and its intellectual cousins.
PUPS FOR PEACE
At a location near L.A., 17 dogs recently graduated from training school. They are destined for anti-terrorism work in Israel. These dogs are among the first products of the "Pups for Peace" initiative, the brainchild of Glenn Yago (Milken Institute). In a very short time, Yago raised $500K, hired an expert dog trainer named Mike Herstik, and created what The Wall Street Journal calls "the first industrial scale dog-training facility."
Appropriately-trained dogs are, of course, valuable partners against terrorism in the U.S. as well as in Israel--and they are in short supply. Another article in the WSJ (10/2) told of the difficulties being encountered by U.S. airports in acquiring and caring for these animals. Some dogs working the New York City airports are so overworked that their paws are getting sore. It is entirely possible that acts of terrorism will take place that could have been avoided if a bomb dog had been on duty. So why hasn't anyone in the U.S. government shown the same initiative as Glenn Yago in creating an "industrial scale dog-training facility"? On September 12, 2001, it should have been an obvious step to take.
It's not just dogs that are in short supply. Since 9/11, we have heard much about the shortage of x-ray equipment for baggage screening. Usually, this is presented as if the limited supply of x-ray equipment were a fact of nature, like the slow growth of redwood trees. So where were the phone calls from high government officials to the CEOs of companies that have the capability to build this stuff, demanding an immediate ramp-up in production capability? Where were the firm purchase orders, allowing companies to produce without fear that they would be left holding the bag? Where were the government lawyers working on emergency cross-licensing agreements, so that GE (for example) could produce x-ray equipment designed by another company, if that is what is required? Maybe all of these things have been happening behind the scenes, but I don't think so. We need much more of a sense of urgency in dealing with today's situations. The industrial mobilization efforts of World War II should provide a useful guide for what needs to happen.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
ARMING AIRLINE PILOTS -- The Deeper Issues
If all airline pilots had been armed, then 9/11 would never have happened. This point is almost indisputable. Why, then, a year after the event, are there still no guns in cockpits? Clearly there is a powerful body of opinion that is vehemently opposed to this commonsensical policy. The nature of the arguments made by the opponents of armed pilots sheds light not only on this specific issue, but on much that is wrong with today’s political dialogue.
First, we see an unwillingness to face reality. Pundits opposed to arming the pilots repeat, like a mantra, the phrase “the pilot needs to concentrate on flying the plane.” Often, this is expanded to “..flying the plane and getting it on the ground.”
Of course, in an ideal situation, the pilot would concentrate exclusively on flying the plane. But in a situation of successful terrorist attack, the pilot will not be flying the plane. The pilot will be dead, and the terrorists will be flying the plane—directly toward the highest-value target they can find.
The pundits seem unwilling to face this reality, which since 9/11 should have been painfully obvious to all. In many cases, their thought processes seem driven by raw emotion rather than by logical thought—one noted TV personality said that it would make her “nervous” to know that the pilot of her plane was carrying a gun. Thus, she would rather accept an increased risk of her own death….and the deaths of hundreds of others…than be made to think, even incidentally, about an unpleasant matter. An ostrich looks intelligent by comparison. Or perhaps in her mental world, a “gun” is an icon of such negative power that context cannot be considered. This is not thought at all; this is reaction at a stimulus-response level.
Second, we see an obsession with “training” and “expertise”. Opponents of arming pilots make much of the fact that pilots are not trained law enforcement officials. At a deeper level, it seems to disturb them for someone to play a role other than their formal, assigned function…i.e., pilots should fly, law enforcement officers should deal with threats, passengers should sit passively in their seats, etc.
But people have the ability to do things for which they have not been formally and extensively “trained”. Consider the passengers of Flight 93 (the “let’s roll” group), who almost certainly saved the White House or the Capitol from disaster. They were not “trained law enforcement professionals,” but they did what they had to do.
Pilots carrying weapons would certainly receive training in weapons handling, but this is evidently not enough for the critics—who speak of the need for a multi-month training program such as law enforcement professionals receive. This mindset—that people are only qualified to perform a function if they have received a specific length and type of training—is becoming endemic in our society, with baleful results. The requirement that public school teachers hold “education” degrees, for example, reflects much the same type of thinking.
Human beings are not preprogrammed computers, much less special-purpose tools that can only do one thing. As Robert Heinlein put it: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” These observations are doubly true in a time of crisis.
Third, we see again the excessive role played in our society by lawyers and specifically by civil litigation . In general, the airlines themselves oppose arming pilots…largely, most likely, for reasons of potential liability. Their liability concerns may not just be the obvious one..ie, pilot shoots passenger by mistake, but a more subtle one…if pilots are armed, the airline may be perceived as taking on an increased duty to prevent hijackings, and hence, damages in the event of a successful hijacking might be increased.
The explosion of civil litigation in this country has led organizations and individuals to view every situation from the standpoint of self-protection against lawsuits. To mention the schools once more, educational policy is being increasingly driven by fear of lawsuits, with baleful results. In case of war, lawyer-driven policy is even more harmful. An especially egregious example of that may have occurred in Afghanistan, where it was reported that we had Osama bin Laden in our sights but let him get away...because the decision on whether to fire was deferred to a JAG lawyer rather than being made promptly by the commander on the scene.
During World War II, we shot down Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s plane, which we were able to locate because of an intercepted radio message. Can anyone imagine that a lawyer would have been consulted before taking this action? Can anyone imagine that we would have won the war if we had fought it that way?
Fourth, we see an obsession with fictional images. Critics of armed pilots refer to “gunfights at 35,000 feet” as something “out of a Tom Clancy movie”. Haven’t they thought that deliberately crashing airplanes into buildings might be something out of a Tom Clancy movie, too? And whether or not something might appear in a movie is obviously irrelevant to its validity from a policy standpoint.
The critics seem particularly disturbed by the image of the pilot as John Wayne, holding off the bad guys with his trusty six-shooter—there have been sneers about “pilots and highjackers” taking the place of “cowboys and Indians.” Indeed, only two weeks ago the Atlanta Journal-Constitution referred sneeringly to the arming of pilots as “a cowboy idea that conjured a cowboy image.” The core image of the Western film—a man on his own, taking action—is clearly very threatening to some people—indeed, so threatening that they would rather die than admit it may have some truth in it.
Fifth, the opponents of arming pilots seem to have little comprehension of the relevant technologies. Reading their comments on this issue, one gets a feeling that they have no understanding of either aviation or of firearms. They seem to have a mental image of the pilot firing and missing, hitting the fuselage and bringing about explosive decompression…with the plane meanwhile careening wildly out of control as the pilot neglects his flight duties.
In actuality, frangible bullets are available which are unlikely to penetrate the fuselage. And even if they did, a small hole is unlikely to have much effect. Airliners are continually pressurized by multiple pumps (turbocompressors), and an “outflow valve” allows air to escape to maintain the desired pressure level. If air begins to escape from a bullet hole, the outflow valve will immediately begin to close in order to maintain the pressure.
Furthermore, there is no reason for the airplane to careen out of control. Airliners carry two qualified pilots: one can fly the airplane while the other deals with the terrorists. And all airliners have autopilots, which are perfectly capable of flying the airplane by themselves for several minutes. In most areas of the country, air traffic controllers will have the flight on radar, and will be able to vector other traffic out of the way.
Finally, those opposed to arming pilots seem unable to understand the concept of urgency. Pundits point out that the ideal situation would be to have an air marshal on every flight, make cockpits impenetrable, screen passengers better, etc. But even ignoring the huge economic impact, the problem of recruiting, screening, and training would be enormous. It could take years to staff up fully. But in the meantime, we must deal with reality as it is day-to-day. If another airliner crashes into a building, or has to be shot down by an F-16, then all the projects that were “in process” will provide mighty cold comfort.
There is always a tradeoff between speed and perfection, as reflected in the old proverb “the best is the enemy of the good”—ie, if you wait for the perfect solution, you will miss out on the practical solution that is available right now. In business and engineering, the perfectionist attitude can cost billions of dollars. In times of conflict, the implications can be much more serious. It is said that the Battle of Britain was won by the decision to go with a “third-best” radar—the best technical solution being un-buildable in practice, and the second being buildable but taking too long. Government officials who are unable to make such tradeoffs are a danger to national security.
On this specific issue of arming pilots, there is still hope. Both the House and the Senate have passed bills on this subject. Final legislation remains to be accomplished, however, and forces in the bureaucracy are likely to drag out the implementation. We may hope that effective action will occur before there is another dreadful occurrence.
But the mindset which has delayed action in this case still remains. As we have seen, it is a mindset which encompasses: unwillingness to face reality, excessive reliance on specialization and training, overemphasis on lawyer-driven solutions, obsession with fictional images, technological ignorance, and lack of a sense of urgency. This set of attitudes has become increasingly dominant among America’s opinion-making elite: the people who write editorials, anchor news shows, and teach college classes. If such thinking can prevail for so long--even in a life-and death matter where the facts are readily available--what hope is there for rational discussion on more complex and subtle matters, such as education?
Lionel Trilling has spoken of “the moral obligation to be intelligent.” Those who publicly “reason” along the lines discussed above are in violation of this obligation, and should be considered guilty of intellectual gross negligence.
BAGHDAD ON THE RHINE
Hinge points in history rarely announce themselves. Often, it is only in retrospect that they become evident--and then, we say "if only..." and "why couldn't they see?" To identify key turning points before it is too late, historical parallels are useful. A parallel often used by those who favor military action in Iraq is the Munich crisis of 1938. But a much better parallel can be found earlier, in Germany's 1936 remilitarization of the Rhineland. The similarities to our present dilemma are eerie...particularly the forms of logic employed by those who favor inaction.
At the end of World War I, French generals insisted that the Rhine River must be permanently held by France. As Churchill put it: "..the Rhine, the broad, deep, swift-flowing Rhine, once held and fortified by the French Army, would be a barrier and a shield behind which France could dwell and breathe for generations." But American and British diplomats rejected this idea, for it would have involved the permanent annexation of German territory. A compromise was struck: the Rhineland was to remain a part of Germany, but German military forces would be forbidden (by treaty) to come within 50 kilometers of the river. This at least insured against surprise attack; it also insured that if Germany should launch an attack into Eastern Europe, there would be minimal obstacles to a French counterattack into the heart of Germany.
So the entire international order was challenged when--on Saturday, May 7, 1936--twenty-five thousand German troops moved into the Rhineland. France's first instinct was for a military response--at the time, her Army was certainly more powerful than the German. But she was deterred by several factors. First of these was a lack of support from Great Britain. "They are only going into their own back-garden," said one prominent British statesman...and the Rhineland was indeed German territory. He was echoed by a newspaper editorial: "There is no more reason why German territory should be demilitarized than French, Belgian, or British.” (The Observer, quoted by James Pool) It is a statement befitting our own time, when relativists ask why, if we have a right to attack Iraq, other nations shouldn't have a right to attack us...or ask how we would like someone telling us what weapons we can and cannot have.
A second reason for French caution lay in the structure of her armed forces. French military planning was based on the assumption of total mobilization--a massive call-up of the reserves. "General Gamelin consulted the specialists," says Andre Beaufre, then a young Captain on the French general staff, "the reply was precise--it was impossible for us to put an effective expeditionary force into the field...without starting full mobilization, about a million men, and requisitioning vehicles." The government was reluctant to take action on such a large scale, which would cause nationwide disruption. It asked if there was a way to assemble a smaller, but still sufficient, force.
"Sunday passed in frantic studies," Beaufre continues, and the conclusion was that there was no viable smaller-scale plan..."the only sensible thing to do was to carry out the plan and mobilize a million men." But the government still hesitated, and the lack of support from Britain was palpable..."the opinion of the ruling classes and of the best informed was not in favor of the adventure," says Beaufre mordantly. "Multilateralists" in France were reluctant to act without British support. And there were other concerns as well. At dinner on Monday night, a financier told Beaufre that the essential thing was not to stand in the way of economic recovery. By Tuesday, the German occupation of the Rhineland was a fait accompli, and France arrived at her final decision--a protest to the League of Nations.
Today, with regard to Iraq, we see the same dynamics--particularly the opinions of large segments of "the ruling classes and of the best informed" (viz. the readers of The New York Times.) If these forces are allowed to prevail, the probable consequences will also be similar. "The reoccupation...decisively shifted the balance of power in Europe," writes historian James Pool (in Hitler And His Secret Partners). Once the Rhine was fortified by the Germans, the French Army no longer had the power to move into Germany without suffering horrendous casualties. If Iraq is allowed to attain nuclear capability, the same will be true of all operations in the Middle East by the U.S. armed forces.
If France had taken action in 1936, World War II would never have happened. Without control of the Rhineland, Hitler's threats against Czechoslovakia would not have been credible...and his invasion of Poland would have been unfeasible.
Some--a few--understood at the time that the Rhineland backoff represented an irreversible turning point. Ralph Wigram, a British diplomat, was cast into despair. To his wife, he said: "War is now inevitable, and it will be the most terrible war there has ever been...wait now for bombs on this little house."
Writing in 1965, Andre Beaufre--now General Beaufre--summed up the lesson (in his book, France 1940). "The die was cast. We had let slip our last chance of stifling at birth the rise of Hitler's Germany...Through idleness, stupidity, political blindness, or simply frivolity, general opinion lived through these grave events, the result of which was to be a great and catastrophic war, in a kind of sonambulism on which it is necessary to dwell at some length, because it shows how fate deals the cards of history and lulls to sleep its chosen victims."