June 17, 2008
Being the trivial fellow I am, the parts of Greg Grandin's recent article on the Monroe Doctrine to which I choose to draw attention are as follows:
...National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger quipped that Latin America is a "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica." But Kissinger also made that same joke about Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand...I remember when Mort Sahl toured Australia in the 80s he joked that Reagan saw New Zealand "as a dagger pointing at Antarctica" but I didn't realise he'd been ripping off the man whose receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize marked the death of satire*. New Zealand was rather in America's bad books at the time as the new government of David Lange had made good on Labor's promise to ban nuclear warships from NZ ports. As Lange said at the Oxford Union debate: "What's happened is that a government has done exactly what it said it would do if it was elected - and of course this is terribly destabilising."
Douglas Feith, former Pentagon undersecretary, suggested that, after 9/11, the U.S. hold off invading Afghanistan and instead bomb Paraguay, which has a large Shi'ite community, just to "surprise" the Sunni al-Qaeda.Mr Grandin oversells the stupidity of that just a tad. According to the Newsweek link the supposed justification for hitting Paraguay was the idea that Hezbollah had a training camp there. Coz Shi'ite/Sunni, Hezbollah/Al Qaeda - wot's the diff, right? If only there was a sobriquet that did justice to Mr Feith's extraordinary intellectual gifts.**■ ■ ■This intriguingly Orwellian aspect of Benedict Anderson's excellent survey of the history and legacy of "Haji Mohammed" Suharto caught my eye:
[T]he introduction of a new spelling system for the national language, [was] inaugurated in 1972–73. Officially, this policy was justified as a way to open up a common print market with Malaysia. But the real motive behind it was to mark a decisive break between what was written under the dictatorship and everything written before it. One had only to read the title of a book or pamphlet to know whether it was splendidly modern, or a derisory residue of Sukarnoism, constitutionalism, the revolution, or the colonial period. Any interest in old-orthography materials was automatically suspicious. The change was sufficiently great that youngsters could easily be persuaded that ‘old’ printed materials were too hard to decipher, and so not to be bothered with. ■ ■ ■From The Av Club's two-part interview with Harlan Ellison:
The effective result was a sort of historical erasure, such that the younger generation’s knowledge of their country’s history came largely from the regime’s own publications, especially textbooks. Needless to say, the decades of anti-colonial activity against the Dutch largely disappeared. The revolution was renamed the War of Independence, in which only soldiers played significant roles. The post-revolutionary period of constitutional democracy was abruptly dismissed as the creation of civilian politicians, aping Western rather than Indonesian ways. All this had some comical aspects. For example, the brave but hopeless Communist rebellion against the Dutch colonial regime in 1926–27 was described as the first of a series of treasonable Communist conspiracies culminating in October 1, 1965.
In the decade after Suharto’s fall, some tentative rewriting of textbooks has occurred, but in general inertia prevails. Many once-banned books have been republished (anachronistically, in the Suharto spelling), but the market for these books is basically limited to students and intellectuals. The general ignorance of the past is probably greater than at any time in the last century.
What is it W.S. Merwin said? "The story of each stone leads back to a mountain." Which is a great quote, and it's as true for the film as it is for anything. If you take me, he said humbly, as the mountain, and you take it all the way back, the stone is Jack Wheeldon and his buddies beating the crap out of me on the playground at Lathrop grade school in Painesville. On the other hand, I went out on the road, and I hung out with people who society would have called desperate characters, or bums, or lost causes. These were men—and very, very occasionally women, but mostly men—who could have taken terrible advantage of me! I was a little kid, and green as grass, and they could have done that. But everybody was kind to me. Everybody was helpful to me. Everybody gave me their wisdom. You're riding in a boxcar, and a guy says, "Hey kid, don't dangle your legs out. When it hits the grade, that door's gonna slam shut and take your legs off at the knee." Well, Jesus Christ, who the hell ever thought of that? And I saw guys on the road with stumps, and I thought about that. If anything would damp the anger, it would be good grace visited on me by total strangers like that.■ ■ ■Here's an article about the prospects in Iraq for those who prefer their analysis to come with a non-threatening Establishment gloss. Everyone else can continue reading Patrick Cockburn and Nir Rosen. I like how the history in this extract shows a similar morphology to other accounts of the causes for the swamp we find ourselves in now - in order to frustrate third world nationalism and democracy, colonial regimes succoured those elements that are now the problem - although in Iraq it is the tribes more than the Islamic Religious Right.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, ruling powers in the Middle East have slowly and haltingly labored to bring tribal populations into the fold, with mixed success. Where tribes and tribalism have remained powerful, the state has remained weak. The Ottomans attempted forced sedentarization of the tribes, weakening tribal authorities by disrupting settlement patterns and replacing tribal sheiks with smaller cadres of favored leaders who became conduits for patronage. The colonial powers after World War I faced a different problem: the threat of nationalist urban elites opposed to foreign rule. In an effort to counter defiant urban leaders, they empowered rural tribes on the periphery. In Iraq, the British armed the tribes so that the sheiks could maintain order in the countryside and balance the capabilities of the nominal local governments operating under League of Nations mandates. Thus, the tribal system that Ottoman rule sought to dismantle was revitalized by British imperial policy, and the power of the nominal Iraqi government was systematically vitiated. In 1933, Iraq's King Faisal lamented, "In this kingdom, there are more than 100,000 rifles, whereas the government has only 15,000."Despite my sneering, it's a very good overview of the problems that may arise from the occupation's recent policy of arming Sunni tribal militias subsequent to their falling out with regional AQ clones, although Mr Simon's suggestions to improve the situation may require a major rethink now that Iraqis are reacting to the US government's heavy-handed methods of coercing a new Status of Forces Agreement from Maliki, one likely to severely undermine Iraqi sovereignity for the long term.
* Sahl steals from Kissinger; I steal from Tom Lehrer.
** EDIT: Wow, my memory is just terrible.