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PHOTON COURIER
 
Wednesday, April 23, 2003  
TURNING THE LIGHTS BACK ON -- UPDATE

The power is now on across something like 25% of Baghdad. Four plants were on-line as of yesterday, and a fifth plant in in the process of being brought up. This restart was accomplished by Iraqis and Americans, under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army operation is called Task Force Fajr, adopting the Arabic word for "dawn."

The work has been made much harder because no one in Baghdad has an overall electrical grid map. Because of the regime's penchant for secrecy, such information was not made available to employees at the foreman level and below.

"All of life depends on electricity," said baker Wisam Abbas. "All of life almost stopped." Now, across a substantial part of Baghdad, people are rediscovering the simple joys of cold water, hot bread, and lights in the darkness.

4:46 PM

Monday, April 21, 2003  
ON GOVERNMENT

In Robert Heinlein's SF novel Tunnel in the Sky, a group of high school students is stranded on a distant planet. After realizing that they may never be rescued, they hold an election to select a leader. One of the candidates is an irritating student-government type named Grant--who turns out to have unsuspected depths. In his electioneering speech, Grant asks: "What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race? That without the rest is useless? What flame must we guard like vestal virgins?"

Members of the group give various answers: fire, writing, the decimal system, the wheel.

"No," says Grant, "none of those. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. It is also the hardest of all. More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs. But these things are not easy.." Heinlein leaves little doubt that Grant's opinion is also his own.

I was reminded of this passage by recent events in Iraq. Get government wrong in one direction, and you get the torture chambers of the Saddam Hussein regime. Get it wrong in another direction, and you get the chaos and looting of immediate-post-liberation Baghdad. And history shows how rarely it is gotten right.











2:10 PM

Sunday, April 20, 2003  
IRAQ LOGISTICS--GOOD NEWS

The rail line from Umm Qasr to Basra is now open. Umm Qasr is Iraq's only deepwater port, while Basra is both the country's second-largest city and an important grain- milling center. Opening this line is also an important milestone in getting the rail connection restored all the way from the south to Baghdad.

The first train--a test run with four passenger cars--pulled out of the station to the tune of "When the Saints Come Marching In," as the newly minted Umm Qasr town council cut a white ribbon.

The repair work was directed by the British 17th Port and Maritime Regiment, of the Royal Logistics Corps. "It's a team effort, very much a team effort," said Colonel Paul Ash. "We've got soldiers from the British army, soldiers from the American army, but also more importantly, Iraqi locals. It's their train, it's their line, it's their country and they're running it and they're doing all the driving." One of the key officers in charge of the work was 24-year-old Lt Liz Davies, the commander of the regiment's rail troop. (A photo of Lt Davies--not taken in Iraq--can be found here. More info here.)

Refreshments served on the test run unfortunately included ham sandwiches, and the media can be counted on to make much of this gaffe. But getting the line running is a significant accomplishment, which dwarfs a minor PR flap.

TV news tonight reported that the price of flour in Baghdad has tripled. This points up the critical state of transportation and food distribution in Iraq.







8:12 PM

 

TURNING THE LIGHTS BACK ON

In the effort to normalize life in Baghdad, one thing that would make a tremendous difference is the restoration of electrical power. With power, the pumps of the water stations and sewage treatment plants would run again. Refrigerators would operate, avoiding the spoilage of food. Lights would be on at night, helping to discourage looting.

Coalition forces did a fine job in avoiding damage to electrical facilities (and other infrastructure). So why is the power still out over most of Baghdad?

It may be counterintuitive, but you can't start an electric power plant without electric power! Electricity is needed to power the generator field coils--the rotating magnets at the core of the whole process--and also to power the station auxiliaries, such as oil and water pumps. Normally, this isn't a problem. Power stations are interconnected via the grid, so if one plant needs to be cold-started, the startup power can be taken from those plants that are operating. But when the entire grid is down, the situation is different. The U.S. found this out the hard way during one of the New York City blackouts. You couldn't get power, because you didn't have power.

The contingency of a total grid failure should have been considered in the planning for the Iraq operation. A sufficient number of portable power plants should have been provided to enable start-up of a major power station, without dependence on any outside resources. Instead, engineers are having to play a game of electrical leapfrog--start a smaller power plant, insure that transmission lines are operational, and use the power to start a larger plant. And, with phone service out over most of Baghdad, it isn't clear that they have the communications necessary to perform the required coordination.

The U.S. and its coalition partners need to be very aggressive in addressing key infrastructure issues like this. There isn't time for business as usual. With the multiplicity of organizations involved--Central Command, General Garner's reconstruction organization, various humanitarian organizations, Iraqis themselves--there is tremendous potential for dropped balls. It sounds like General Garner has the will and the ability to pull it all together: there may be issues as to whether he has the full level of appropriate authority.

News: CNN just briefly covered the power situation and said (I think) that the boiler fires have been lit at a major Baghdad power station. This doesn't necessarily mean that the plant is ready to go on-line, but it's a very good sign. Keep your fingers crossed.





11:16 AM

Friday, April 18, 2003  
SUPERHEATED 'STEEM CAN BURN YOU

For more than twenty years, "self-esteem" has held the place in the American pantheon that was once held by motherhood and apple pie. There's been an unquestioned assumption that being told good things about yourself leads to improved grades for children, better performance for workers, lower crime, less social pathology, and good things all around. Schools in particular have been active in the use of generalized praise as a tool for building self-esteem--like the "you are wonderful" video for 6-year-olds that I mentioned before.

Recently, researchers have devoted considerable effort to studying whether the claims of the self-esteem movement hold up in practice. A group of scholars under the auspices of the American Psychological Society pulled together the results of more than two hundred studies that address this topic.

How does one study this kind of thing? Here's an example. A professor was asked to send weekly e-mail messages to students who had done poorly on their first exam for the class. These students were divided into three groups. The mail to one group of students included only a review question. A second group received the review question plus some advice--along the lines of "study harder." The third group received (in addition to the review question) a classic message for self-esteembuilding--"You're too smart to get a D," or words to that effect.

And the results? The students who got the "self-esteem injection" performed notably worse on subsequent tests.

Of course, it makes sense if you think about it. If you focus on how smart you are, rather than on the effort that's required--why, you might just decide that the problem is with the test, or with the professor, or with the whole field of study, or even with the "system"--after all, it can't be you--you've just been told how smart you are.

Once, the result of this study would have been intuitively obvious to most people. Now, we have reached the stage where we need a research study to point it out.

The results of the 200-study analysis project are summarized by The Wall Street Journal in these words: It isn't just school performane. From the 200-plus studies they analyzed, the APS group found no evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic interventions or school programs) results in better job performance, lowered aggression or reduced delinquency. And "high self-esteem does not prevent children from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in early sex.."

So for more than two decades, our schools have devoted tremendous efforts to pursuing self-esteem programs--often at the expense of more substantive activities--based on a mere hypothesis which now appears to be incorrect. We see here again the mindless trend-following that plagues many aspects of American society--but particularly the schools. The damage to America's children has been incalculable.

(In fairness, it should be noted that the study did show one positive effect of self-esteem: increased likelihood to persist in the face of failure. But it would seem that this positive must be masked by other, negative effects; otherwise, it would lead to positive correlations with school performance, job performance, etc. Indeed, persistence in the face of failure is not always an unmitigated good--depending on the situation and the nature of the failure, it can be good or bad. In some situations, it can be positively fatal.)

Here's some good advice from the APS study team: "Psychologists should reduce their own self-esteem a bit and humbly resolve that next time they will wait for a more thorough and solid empirical basis before making policy recommendations to the American public." The same could be said--squared and cubed--of educators.

It will be interesting to see what impact--if any--these results have on actual educational practice.










7:56 PM

Thursday, April 17, 2003  
INTERESTING NEW WEBSITE

"Let's Talk Together" is a forum for French and Americans to discuss their views on the war in Iraq and other current issues. Head on over there and participate--the idea has great promise, but the quality of the debate so far is best described as "mixed."

4:47 PM

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  
NEW LOW FOR THE NYT

The New York Times described Abu Abbas, a pirate and murderer, as a "guerrilla leader." They used the phrase twice in this article.

Guerrillas are people who fight, usually in small groups, against larger military forces. They are not people who shoot a helpless man in a wheelchair.

The Times owes an apology to real guerrillas--those who have fought on our side, such as the members of the French Maquis, and even those who have fought against us--for making such an association.

Most of all, they owe an apology to the relatives of Leon Klinghoffer and to all of the other passengers who were aboard the Achille Lauro.

2:15 PM

 
JUSTICE, AT LAST

Abu Abbas was captured in Iraq by U.S. special forces yesterday. Abbas was the mastermind of the 1985 attack on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. During that attack, an American--Leon Klinhoffer--was murdered. Klinghoffer, who was Jewish, was 69 years old and confined to a wheelchair. The terrorists shot a helpless man in a wheelchair, in front of his wife, and then threw him--wheelchair and all--into the ocean. Abbas was convicted of murder in absentia by an Italian court, and a warrant for his arrest has been outstanding ever since. He has evidently spent much of his time in Iraq, where he was protected by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Can any serious person really believe that a regime that protects such people should have been permitted to continue in existence? Is it not obvious that allowing sanctuaries for terrorists will insure the persistence and spread of terrorism?

Michele Catalano writes eloquently on this matter:

I still have nightmares about this. I don't recall many news stories that stayed with me as long as this one did.

I imagined again and again the horror of Leon Klinghoffer plunging into the water, still in his wheelchair. I imagined his wife watching this happen. I never forgot about it.

Klinghoffer was dead when they pushed him overboard. The terrorists shot to death a helpless man who could not defend himself. I could not let go of the thought that he went into that ocean in his wheelchair. There was something so barbaric, so raw and sinister about it. Leon was killed because he was a Jew. An American Jew. An American Jew sitting in a wheelchair doing his best to fend off the terrorists using only his voice. (To the terrorists, this was "provocation.")

I spent a lot of time at the library discovering all kinds of sordid things about the Palestinian Liberation Front after that incident.


It's unfortunate that there aren't more people with Michele's sense of empathy and of intellectual curiousity. If more Americans and Europeans had understood the attack on the Achille Lauro in its true meaning--as the leading edge of a wave of terrorist barbarism--then a lot of grief might have been avoided.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Authority is calling for the U.S. to release Abbas, saying his detention violates the U.S.-backed Middle East peace accord of 1995.

And, according to Andrew Sullivan, the BBC announced the capture of Abbas in these words:

A wanted Palestinian fugitive, Abu Abbas, has been detained by US forces in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. He led the Palestinian Liberation Front, which hijacked a US cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in 1985. During the hijack, an elderly American passenger died.

Andrew says that in subsequent versions, the BBC substituted the words "was killed" for "died."

FURTHER UPDATE: The Palestinian claim that detention of Abbas is in violation of a 1995 agreement is false, according to a U.S. official. "..the agreement, signed in Washington on September 28, 1995, is a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian accord and does not set out any US specific commitment to immunity for acts against US citizens."

Surely the Palestian leadership knows what this agreement really says. So why did they make the demand for this criminal's release? In case they didn't notice, the President of the United States is not a person like Bill Clinton or Al Gore, who might well have let Abbas go as a sign of "good will." They must have known that a Bush administration would do no such thing. What were they thinking? Did they think that this kind of demand would increase support for Palestinian statehood among the American people?


8:29 AM

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  
EUROPE'S CONTINUING SUICIDE

The killer of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was just sentenced to a mere 18 years in prison -- for what was clearly a coldly premeditated murder. And Dutch prisoners are usually released for good behavior after serving only 2/3 of their sentences, meaning that the murderer, activist Volkert van der Graaf, may be back on the steet on 2014.

Van der Graaf's defense counsel, in pleading for her client, said: "He did commit the crime, but not with a morally reprehensible intention. He did not view the murder as an attack on democracy but rather saw Fortuyn as a danger to democracy..." And van der Graaf himself has refused to apologize to Fortuyn's family, saying that he "wrestles" with the question of whether he acted justly. Nevertheless, the presiding judge says "All considered, a sentence of life imprisonment would not be appropriate," saying that van der Graaf "would be unlikely to kill again and deserved an opportunity to “rejoin society”."

Political murder and intimidation strike at the very foundations of a free society. In societies where such behavior is common, freedom of speech and of the press become increasingly meaningless. As is well known, the spread of political violence (instigated by both the left and the right) played a major role in the disintegration of the Weimar Republic, paving the way for the dictatorship of Adolph Hitler. The Dutch, more than most, should be sensitive to this history.

6:28 PM

Sunday, April 13, 2003  
ENCOURAGING

Iraqi Muslims came to the aid of Baghdad's tiny Jewish community yesterday, chasing out looters trying to sack its cultural centre in the heart of the capital.

"At 3am, I saw two men, one with a beard, on the roof of the Jewish community house and I cried out to my friend, 'Hossam, bring the Kalashnikovs!'" said Hassam Kassam, 21.


There really were no Kalashnikovs, but the bluff succeeded in scaring off the intruders. And a self-defense militia has now been formed in the neighborhood to fight back against bandits. "We are defending the synagogue like all houses on the street and we will not let anyone touch it," said a Christian member of the militia, a young computer science student. (From Sydney Morning Herald, via Command Post.)

7:54 PM

 

EU SUPERHERO

The European Parliament has published a comic book featuring Irina Vega, a crusading MEP. She was carefully designed to be generic enought to not be identifiable with any of the EU's 15 member nations. She lives an exciting life, focused on water rights and Europe-wide water pollution standards. She exposes a corrupt chemical company, and even braves death threats. And best of all, she has a way with words:

"..we have to reach agreement with the council, if necessary via a concilliation committee.."

Maybe there is some language in which it sounds less dreary.

(Hat tip: Reason magazine)


7:09 PM

Thursday, April 10, 2003  

AND WHO WAS MISSING?

Ali Karim Bey points out the irony. Referring to yesterday's victory celebrations in Baghdad, he says, "Everyone is reminded of Paris in 1940s. However on April 9, 2003, there are no French men and women in Baghdad.."

6:31 PM

Wednesday, April 09, 2003  
IRAQI FREEDOM DAY, 2003

Dean Esmay got this note from Women for a Free Iraq:

Thank you so much for your wishes; it is the day we all have been waiting for for long long time, it is a very mixed feeling when watch and listen to the news I wish I were there and be part of it as I was in 1991.
thanks again

Kanar Sarraj

Congratulations, at last Saddam regime is out. At least now Iraqis have hope for the future. All Iraqis have to work very hard to avoid another Saddam from taking over the power in the future.

Best wishes to all.

Basma


Happy freedom day to all! I can't believe it has finally happened!

Love to everyone
Tamara Q.

Congratulations !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Iraq is Finally free from Saddam and his
disgusting thugs....

Love to you all, Ban


Greetings to everyone,

Congratulations, today is a historic day for the
Iraqis and the whole world.
Thank you all,

Suhad Ajina


Greetings to all,
CONGRATULATIONS
Iraq finally have his freedom, it's really a historic day.
We should not forget it happened by U.S. Troops and President Bush help .
Many thanks to them.

Ibtisam Latif


There's a lot of rejoicing in the world tonight.

4:23 PM

 
UPDATE: UMM QASR AND FOOD AID

THE flow of humanitarian aid into southern Iraq has reduced to a trickle amid fears the Umm Qasr port is still not safe for cargo ships.

"The international aid is taking time to arrive. The insurance the aid organisations are being asked to pay may be disproportionate to normal routes," Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ash, commanding officer of Britain's 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, said today.
(This from the Sunday Mail (Australia))

A smaller ship, the Sir Percivale, did dock at the port, carrying 300 tons of food, water, and medical supplies, and the Sir Galahad -- a ship of similar size -- made a return trip. But, in the world of transportation and food distribution, 300 tons is not a big number. (For comparison, a single U.S. hopper (rail) car can carry about 90 tons of grain.) What is needed is the ability to dock the large ships that carry not hundreds of tons, but tens of thousands of tons. This is being prevented by the silting of the port. Dredging operations are apparently underway, but it is not clear when they will be completed. And more problems may lie ahead even when the port is open. According to the Sunday Mail, there is only one major grain mill in Southern Iraq -- in Basra -- and there are fears that it may have been sabatoged. So it may be necessary to grind the grain in Kuwait and bring it overland.

I don't have a good feeling about all this. I'm concerned that the lines of authority may not be clear, and the priorities may not be sufficiently high. It's definitely a case where I would like to be proved wrong.

On a positive note, the Royal Engineers completed a water pipeline which is alleviating at least some of the water shortage in Umm Qasr.

4:03 PM

 
FIGHTING CONTINUES

Amid the jubilation of victory, fighting continues--at Baghdad University and many other places. And it's the kind of fighting where "high-tech weaponry" -- however helpful -- is not the main event.

Men may argue forever on what wins their wars
and welter on cons and pros.
And seek their answers at history's doors,
But the Man With the Rifle Knows.
He must stand on the ground on his own two feet,
And he's never in doubt when it's won.
If it's won he is there, if he's not it's defeat.
That's his test when the fighting is done.

When he carries the fight it's not with a roar
of armored wings spitting death.
It's creep and crawl on the eathen floor,
Butt down and holding his breath.
Saving his strength for the last low rush,
Grenade throw and bayonet thrust;
And the whispered prayer before he goes in,
Of a man who does what he must.

And when he's attacked , he can't zoom away,
When the shells fill the world with their sound.
He stays where he is, loosens his spade,
And digs his defense in the ground.
That ground isn't ours till he's there in the flesh
Not a gadget, or a bomb, but a man.
He's the answer to theories which start afresh
With each peace since war began.

So let the wild circle of argument rage
On what wins as war comes and goes.
Many new theories may hold the stage,
BUT THE MAN WITH THE RIFLE KNOWS


(author unknown -- found here)

12:00 PM

 
TROOPS LIBERATE JAIL FOR CHILDREN

American troops have liberated an Iraqi prison for children. James Lileks writes eloquently on the existence of such an institution--and on what totalitarianism does to the human spirit. Go and read it.

11:49 AM

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  
SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP

As the U.S. prepared for war with Iraq, many American religious leaders vehemently opposed such action--and continue to do so. And the tone of their statements is often, as Michael Novak has noted, "bombastic, fiery and murderously polemical. They are not content to disagree civilly. They describe their opponents as evil, venal, and brainless. They calumniate."

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Joseph Loconte looks at what religious leaders were saying during an earlier debate about war and peace--that which took place in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as the threat grew from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. These statements, although made 60 and more years ago, have a contemporary ring to them.

German militarism, said one Methodist minister, "may be provoked by bitter belief..that there is no peaceful way of solving a desperate economic problem." Condemnation of Hitler, according to a leader in the United Church of Christ, was a "short-circuited, adolescent hatred of individual leaders." And a Unitarian minister in New York said that "If America goes into the war, it will not be for idealistic reasons but to serve her own imperialistic interests." The it's-all-our-fault line was echoes by a Reverend Holmes, who said that a German victory should be viewed as "the punishment for our transgressions." Stunningly, comments along these lines continued to be made in 1940 and even in 1941.

One wonders if the people who said these things ever reflected on just how wrong they were. One wonders, also, if the outspoken Reverends of our own day are familiar with this history.

(Hat tip to Relapsed Catholic for the Novak article.)






7:42 PM

Sunday, April 06, 2003  
PEACE AND LOVE, 2003

At "anti-war" demonstrations in Paris, banners were displayed showing the Star of Davis intertwined with the Nazi swastika, while protestors shouted "Vive Chirac. Stop the Jews." In at least one case, Jewish "anti-war" demonstrators were physically attacked by their non-Jewish counterparts. Noam Levy, a 24-year-old French Jew, was beaten with an iron bar and needed several stitches in his head. The French police have formed a new unit to investigate racist and anti-Semitic crimes, but Chirac himself has remained silent on the attacks. (From the Washington Times.)

Chirac's policies may well have unleashed forces within France which will be very difficult to control. But no one should think that the problem of political violence is limited to France or even to Europe. See my article Be Afraid on the rise of left-wing political violence--often anti-Semitic but sometimes directed at other targets--in the U.S. and in Canada.

7:18 PM

 
OFFENDING PEOPLE

Many college professors are disappointed that their "anti-war" beliefs are not finding a more receptive audience among students, according to a New York Times article. Indeed, one student columnist for a student newspaper (at University of Wisconsin-Madison) "took a professor to task for canceling classes to protest the war in Iraq, saying the university should reprimand her and refund tuition for the missed periods."

There are several quotes from both professors and students in the article, but I was particularly struck by this:

"We used to like to offend people," Martha Saxton, a professor of women's studies at Amherst, said as she discussed the faculty protest with students this week. "We loved being bad, in the sense that we were making a statement. Why is there no joy now?"

Well, if she still likes to offend people, she can count me as offended--and I think everyone else should be, too. Whether you support or oppose the present war in Iraq, these are issues of life and death, and deserve to be considered with the utmost seriousness. Why would you want to offend people when you should--if you are sincere in your beliefs--be trying to convert them to your point of view?

"Offending people" seems to have become a core value across a broad spectrum of academia, art, and entertainment. It's encouraging that perhaps some students are beginning to see the sterility of this.




6:59 PM

Saturday, April 05, 2003  
REFLECTIONS

...for Mohammed, who made possible the rescue of Jessica Lynch:

Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare's characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.

--Dietrich Bonhoeffer (quoted in Saints and Villains, by Denise Giardina)


8:31 AM

Tuesday, April 01, 2003  
LOGISTICS AND UMM QASR

An article in today's Wall Street Journal raises some serious concerns:

U.S. and British officials wrote detailed plans aimed at opening Iraq's largest port quickly as a major unloading point for humanitarian aid. Instead, it will take weeks before supplies can flow in significant amounts, coalition officials here now concede...Getting the port running is pivotal to avoiding dire food shortages. Most of Iraq relies on United Nations' food shipments, which were cut off two weeks ago, just before the war began. Yet Monday, officers here learned over the radio that there is no firm date for the next humanitarian shipment.

The people trying to reopen this port face some daunting problems. There is no electricity to run the cranes. Workers need to be located, and an assessment needs to be made of who is trustworthy vs who is a stooge for Saddam...and some workers may be reluctant to help the coalition, fearing retaliation from the Baathists. There may still be booby traps scattered around the port. And, even before the start of the war, the port was in a state of disrepair. There are insurance issues, resulting in understandable reluctance to use this port on the part of commercial shipping lines.

But food needs to start flowing through this port in massive quantities, and needs to start flowing very soon. The alternative is disaster--people starving while under the jurisdiction of the Coalition forces.

It sounds like it's time for nonconventional approaches. Ships may well have to be moored in the harbor, and their cargos ferried to shore on lighters, as was done in earlier times. Amphibious landing ships may need to be used for direct beach deliveries. Consideration should be given to temporarily bringing in U.S. and British workers (including retired workers) while the local labor force is recruited and vetted. Emergency insurance for shipowners may need to be provided by the government.

Let's hope that the people in charge of this project have the ability to think "out of the box." Reopening the port of Umm Qasr may turn out to be as vital as any battle.

UPDATE: This doesn't sound too good to me, despite the optimistic first paragraph. Sounds like bureaucracy-as-usual. This is also depressing, though not directly related to port operations.




8:37 PM

 
SHOULD GOD BLESS AMERICA?

Rachel writes about a recent experience in one of her college classes. One of her classmates strongly objected to the song "God Bless America." Now, understand--this isn't an ACLU-type, separation-of-church-and-state thing. His objection wasn't to the "God" part, it was to the "Bless America" part. He said that the song "God Bless America" is a racist and xenophobic propaganda song, and that if you sing it, then you believe that every other country on the planet is forsaken by God, which makes you a racist of course. Then he said the song should never be sung again.

I wouldn't pay much attention to this, except I've heard the same kind of thinking before. In a letter to one of the newsmagazines (Time or Newsweek), about a year ago, a woman expressed the exact same thought. I suspect that there are a fair number of people who think that way -- ie, that expressing patriotism toward one's own country encourages one to look down on/exploit/murder the citizens of other nations. Indeed, this idea is probably behind much of the de-emphasis on American history in schools and universities. It's an idea that couldn't be more wrong.

Suppose a person loves his family and does his best to take good care of them. Will this encourage him to treat other families viciously? There may be a few extreme cases where this happens (as with those involved with organized crime), but, in general, the better a person treats his own family, the better he is likely to treat people of other families. The same principle applies in international affairs. As C S Lewis says about patriotism: "In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realize that other me, no less rightly, love theirs?

What about the case where one's country does evil things, and must be resisted? Does patriotism discourage such resistance? Consider the case of the (small) German resistance to the Nazi regime. Count Claus von Stauffenberg was the man who actually placed the bomb which was intended to kill Hitler. After the failure of the coup attempt, he was put up against a wall and shot. His last words were "Long live the true Germany!" (Sometimes quoted as "Long live the eternal Germany!"

A question for Rachel's classmate: if Count von Stauffenberg had been utterly lacking in patriotism, would he have been more or less likely to take the action he did?

And a question for everybody else. Suppose that the United States really was controlled by a dictator (as so many on the Left claim to think that it is now). And suppose the U.S. really was wantonly murdering people in other countries for reasons of racial hate and self-aggrandizement. And suppose that any opinions dissenting from this state of affair were punished by long jail sentences or by death.

Who would be most likely to participate in a resistance movement? Those who now sing "God Bless America," or those who--like Rachel's classmate--do not?

(Note: in Policy Review, Lee Harris has some interesting thoughts about the issue of patriotism from a philosophical perspective.)



4:29 PM

 
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