Podcast • April 3, 2014

Phil Klay: Redeployment

Phil Klay has assembled a remarkable group of fictional short stories in a collection called Redeployment. A Dartmouth alum with two brothers in the military, he joined the Marine Corps, serving as a Public Affairs Officer in Iraq's Anbar Province between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Redeployment explores the horrors of the battlefield, and the shaken veterans that struggle to escape them.

 

Phil Klay has assembled a remarkable group of fictional short stories in a collection called Redeployment. A Dartmouth alum with two brothers in the military, he joined the Marine Corps, serving as a Public Affairs Officer in Iraq’s Anbar Province between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Redeployment explores the horrors of the battlefield, and the shaken veterans that struggle to escape them.

“Growing up,” Jessie says, “Sarah spent a lot of time at our house, and she still spends some holidays with us. Her family is a mess. And last Thanksgiving we were talking with my grandpa about how nobody remembers Korea, and he said the only way to do it right wasn’t to do a film about the war. Do a film about a kid, growing up. About the girl he falls in love with and breaks his heart and how he joins the Army after World War Two. Then he starts a family and his first kid is born and it teaches him what it means to value life and to have something to live for and how to care for other people. And then Korea happens and he’s sent over there and he’s excited and scared and he wonders if he’ll be courageous and he’s kind of proud and then in the last sixty seconds of the film they put them in boats to go to Inchon and he’s shot in the water and drowns in three feet of surf and the movie doesn’t even give him a close-up, it just ends. That’d be a war film.”

An excerpt from “War Stories”

 

Phil Klay’s Reading List on the Iraq War

Matt Gallagher – Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War

Jessica Goodell & John Heam – Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq

David Finkel – The Good Soldiers

Joe Haldeman – The Forever War

Adrian Bonenberger – Afghan Post

By the Way • March 17, 2014

The Armor You Have

If you come to see the emblem of the police department of your small town on the door of a giant armored truck, you'll have seen the end of a long story — the story of America's lurch into and out of what's sometimes called, in Pentagon jargon, the battlespace. Consider the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected): in effect, an enormous armored truck.

This piece is a follow up to our March 13, 2014 show, “Will We Ever Get Over 9/11?”

If you come to see the emblem of the police department of your small town on the large door of an armored truck, you’ll have seen the end of a long story — the story of America’s lurch into and out of what’s sometimes called, in Pentagon jargon, the battlespace.

Consider the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected): in effect, an enormous armored truck. A typical model, the Navistar MaxxPro, weighs almost 38,000 pounds — not a tank, technically, but only thirty percent lighter than the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that charged down Iraqi highways in the Gulf War. You can tell an MRAP by its nautical-looking V-shaped hull, high off the ground, a small architectural change that diverts much of the force of explosions coming from below. (The innovation dates to 1960s and ’70s, to the colonial armies of southern Africa, of the 1960s and ’70s engaged in guerrilla warfare against rebels prone to laying mines.)

One Navistar MaxxPro now belongs to the police department of Madison, Wisconsin; there’s another in Watertown, New York. The Georgia communities of Waycross, Cartersville, Doraville, and Newnan each have their own large armored vehicles. In fact MRAPs and machines like them now appear in semi-official photographic tableaux on law-enforcement homepages across the country. Ohio State University has an MRAP; Virginia Tech has one that appears during athletic events, with the Nike “swoosh” logo and the words, “PREPARE FOR COMBAT” across the back. These vehicles look like bigger versions of the ones that gathered redundantly around the Arsenal Mall during Boston’s post-Marathon manhunt last April, and that roll back and forth down Storrow Drive on the Fourth of July.

We may forget that many of these vehicles were built for a military purpose: to endure the kind of explosive that is never detonated in the United States, to win the sort of war that we are supposed to have left behind.

The U.S. Department of Defense called a new wave of MRAPs into being in 2007 in an attempt to counter the improvised explosive device, or IED, which was still wreaking havoc on American forces in Iraq. This was fully two years after a frustrated army specialist—one of thousands who had been asked to prepare for IED attack by, at worst, affixing plywood and sandbags to his Humvee—confronted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait. His question: “Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up armor our vehicles, and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?” Rumsfeld’s reply may serve as the epitaph of the entire war.

Memos from the weeks following show Rumsfeld worrying aloud about armored trucks to Pentagon brass, but quickly he was reassured. No one, he was told, was going to be asked to travel around Iraq without sufficient armor: “They are simply going to change the tactics… That issue ought to be eliminated, one would think.” Two days later, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff, followed up: the Army would stick with the (supremely vulnerable) Humvee, while it considered whether to buy MRAPs and which ones. Over the next two years, IEDs would continue to kill and maim soldiers — 993 dead, more than 11,000 wounded — unless they were riding in MRAPs. According to one manufacturer, Force Protection, Inc., its model, the Cougar, was hit 3,200 times over five years, but only five of its passengers were killed. It is unclear who to blame for the slow trickle of these vehicles into the warzones through the end of 2006, but it is clear by now that many parties — Secretary Rumsfeld’s office, the contracted manufacturers, and military leadership — share responsibility for the protracted vulnerability of Americans at war.

It was Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, who openly embraced the MRAP, ordering more than 15,000 vehicles by the end of 2007 and jumpstarting production. $44 billion was earmarked for the vehicle program in total. This allotment was for the most part separate from the more than $20 billion spent on the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the search for a durable high-tech solution to the roadside-bomb problem which is considered one of the wars’ great sources of waste. Together, the initiatives amounted to at least $64 billion spent in response to a weapon, the IED, that costs around $30 to make.

Across 2007 and 2008, IED and other violence dropped across the board in Iraq, following the surge in troop levels. It is not clear to what extent the late-coming MRAPs played a role, or what good effect they might have had on veterans’ lives or on the course of the American adventure in Iraq if they had been available in sufficient numbers from day one. There are now 10,000 and more of the vehicles in Afghanistan, the graveyard of Soviet tanks.

***

Now we are witnessing the transfer of these specialized, heavy-duty war machines to domestic law-enforcement agencies of varying size. Under the Defense Department’s 1033 Program, more than 13,000 MRAPs, once sorely needed and now denoted as “excess property”, have been offered to sheriff’s departments, prisons, and campus police for free or for the price of shipping. (Business Insider likened it to buying a preowned luxury sedan with 100,000 miles on the odometer.)

The acquisition program has alarmed both the ACLU, which began a “Towns Don’t Need Tanks” campaign last year, and a more extreme libertarian set online. When the website Infowars reported (erroneously) last year that the Department for Homeland Security was going to acquire 2,700 MRAPs for itself, some posted strategies for disabling the vehicles if they were ever put to use on American citizens in what’s called the “S.H.T.F.” contingency. Recommendations include tipping them over (they have a high center of gravity), leading them into holes hidden under leaves, and blowing them up using homemade IEDs.

Many of the officials acquiring the MRAPs admit the vehicles’ overkill aesthetic. But they’re also clearly pleased, both by their power to intimidate and by the fire-sale price. If they cost nothing, if they were going to be reduced to scrap metal anyway, they are post-consumer material. There can be no complaint of waste no matter how, or whether, the MRAPs are ever needed by the small-town police forces that inherit them. Sheriff Wayne Gallant of Oxford County, Maine (pop. 57,481), whose office received one Navistar MaxxPro, gave a shrug to the Bangor Daily News: “It’s just going to be a safety tool, it’s not going to be used as a patrol unit or anything like that… Maybe it will never be used.”

As soldiers waited in Iraq and Afghanistan, now we wait here — not for the armor-plated rescue vehicle, but for the emergency that could warrant its place in our lives.

— Max Larkin.

Podcast • November 29, 2007

Pakistan for Beginners: 3, with Omer Alvie

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Omer Alvie (17 minutes, 8 MB MP3) But suppose this were a realistic novel! Just think what else I might have to put in… How much real-life material ...

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Omer Alvie (17 minutes, 8 MB MP3)

But suppose this were a realistic novel! Just think what else I might have to put in… How much real-life material might become compulsory! — About, for example… the attempt to declare the sari an obscene garment; or about the extra hangings — the first for twenty years — that were ordered purely to legitimize the execution of Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; or about why Bhutto’s hangman has vanished into thin air, just like the many street-urchins who are being stolen every day in broad daylight; or about anti-Semitism, an interesting phenomenon, under whose influence people who have never met a Jew vilify all Jews for the sake of maintaining solidarity with the Arab states which offer Pakistan workers, these days, employment and much-needed foreign exchange; or about smuggling, the boom in heroin exports, military dictators, venal civilians, corrupt civil servants, bought judges, newspapers of whose stories the only thing that can confidently be said is that they are lies; or about the apportioning of the national budget, with special reference to the percentages set aside for defense (huge) and for education (not huge). Imagine my difficulties!

Salman Rushdie, in his “modern fairytale” of Pakistan, Shame, 1983… p. 67 in the Picador paperback.

Pakistan: All Martial and No Law was the headline on Omer Alvie’s last piece for the invaluable Global Voices Online. In our conversation today he remarks on the comic-opera moment in the news this very day as General Musharraf took his oath as President Musharraf under a constitution he’s suspended, making him — what? — a Suspended President.

Omer Alvie is a Pakistani who works and blogs in Dubai, and commutes now and then to Karachi. He has a talent for the absurd humor and not-so-post-colonial anguish of Pakistani politics. It was all, as Omer says, described and foretold nearly a quarter century ago in Salman Rushdie’s novel Shame — a telling in fiction of the ouster and then the hanging of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979. “I tell myself this will be a novel of leavetaking,” Rushdie writes in the book, “my last words on the East, from which, many years ago, I began to come loose.”

Omer Alvie is of a younger generation that once saw charisma and modernity in the face of Pervez Musharraf. He now feels bitter disappointment and the weight of more than Pakistan’s history on events. He says:

The external influence is so strong on Pakistani politics… I have to go back to the War on Terror. This thing overall is farcical to me… If you want to get to the root cause of why terrorist cells exist, or why terrorism happens, you don’t go around bombing countries or arresting innocent people in hopes of catching a few. That’s not addressing the problem, and that’s what’s happening in Pakistan. I sometimes get the feeling that Pakistan is being conditioned. I believe it’s on the same hitlist as Iraq, Iran and Syria. Actually I should clarify: the hitlist should have the letter S in front of it, because that’s probably how the project of the New American Century and most of the Bush administration sees it… this collosally screwed up foreign policy which is now classified as a “war on terrorism”…

…The whole “war on terror” thing, this 9.11 thing, I think, has screwed up Pakistan more than anything else really, because it’s affected us more. We’re stuck in bookends. The average Pakistani is now stuck being questioned by extremists and militants about how to dress, what to do, when to pray, and being questioned constantly about how they live their lives. This is their experience in Pakistan. The same Pakistanis when they travel outside to the US get blamed and classified in a very generic manner as a terrorist, because they’re a Pakistani or a Muslim. We are squeezed between 2 bookends.

Omer Alvie of The Olive Ream, in conversation with Open Source, November 29, 2007

May 29, 2007

Deploying. Again.

We've been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than we fought in WWII, without a draft or any national call to serve. While the political fight over withdrawal continues in Washington, the reality for now is that President Bush's 21,000-troop surge is underway -- and it's clear that the military is too small to sustain its current troop levels easily in a protracted ground war.

We’ve been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than we fought in WWII, without a draft or any national call to serve. While the political fight over withdrawal continues in Washington, the reality for now is that President Bush’s 21,000-troop surge is underway — and it’s clear that the military is too small to sustain its current troop levels easily in a protracted ground war.

The result is that many servicemen and women are now in their third or fourth (or even sixth) tours of duty. And for some those tours are getting longer: last month, the Army extended them from 12 to 15 months.

The military is also boosting its numbers through the “backdoor draft.” This became an issue barely a year after the start of the Iraq war when the Army announced sweeping use of stop-loss policies. (Stop-loss forces troops to finish tours with their units even if their individual service commitments would otherwise end mid-way through.) Another part of the “backdoor draft” involves recalls from the Individual Ready Reserve — soldiers and Marines who are no longer on active duty. The Army has been using its IRR for several years; and the Marine Corps recently announced its biggest call back to active duty since the early days of the Iraq war.

With the weight of the war falling on soldiers and Marines (and their families) who have to cope with multiple and extended deployments, we want to ask some of them who are about to start their third or fourth tours: How different is it this time around? Does your sense of mission change as the war in Iraq grinds on? Or if you’ve seen many casualties in previous tours? Or if you just feel you’ve done enough for your country already? What stops you from creating family or medical excuses to avoid a recall? How do you leave family behind again and what kinds of conversations do you have to have?

Update, 5/30 8:00 pm

Sometimes the production process takes you in directions you don’t anticipate. We thought we’d focus primarily on different attitudes towards repeated deployments. But the pre-interviews led us to recast the show a little bit. We found three Marine Corps officers just finishing or slated to start Harvard Business School. It turns out that the military’s well represented in the ranks of HBS and other b-schools, and we’re curious to know more about that connection. We’ll definitely still talk about what it takes to serve repeatedly in Iraq or Afghanistan. But we also want to ask how the draw of leadership — being led and leading others — affects your willingness to return. And how that experience carries over to civilian life and the business world later on.

Seth Moulton

Captain, USMC Reserve

Deploying on 4th tour in Iraq to work for Gen Petraeus

In previous tours: infantry platoon commander; worked for Gen Petraeus training Iraqi Security Forces

Accepted to Harvard Business School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

Donovan Campbell

Captain, USMC

Deploying on 3rd tour in Iraq

In previous tours: intelligence analysis officer; and infantry platoon commander

Class of 2007, Harvard Business School

Sarah Stokes

[Sarah unfortunately won’t be able to join us because of a delayed flight.]
Captain, USMC

Deploying to Afghanistan on 3rd tour

In previous tours in Iraq: logistics officer

Class of 2007, Harvard Business School

Extra Credit Reading
Why Military Officers Make Successful MBAs, Military MBA: “Through active practice and experience, military officers live a life of leadership. Officers are known for their values, ethics, and strong leadership skills such as problem solving, decisiveness and succinct communication. They have experience developing teams and working with large groups of diverse people to accomplish organizational goals. These character traits are important factors for success in both graduate school and corporate America.”

Debra M. Schwartz, Military officers courted by Olin School, The Washington University Record, September 10, 2004: “Veterans have always been welcome at the Olin School, said Joe Stephens, assistant director of M.B.A. admissions, who has responsibility for military recruitment. But “there wasn’t a steady stream,” and the school wanted more because they add value to the educational experience.”

Janet I. Farley, Using the Right Lingo, Operation Hero for Hire: Resource Corner:

“In the Military: First Sergeant

In the Civilian World: Personnel Manager

In the Military: Squad Leader

In the Civilian World: Team Leader/Team Chief

In the Military: Supply Sergeant

In the Civilian World: Supply Manager/Logistics Manager”

Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney, Where have all the leaders gone?, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26, 2007: “I’ve never been commander in chief, but I’ve been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the top… We should look at how the current administration stacks up.”

sig, Learning to lead, SigSpace: Form Without Function, May 20, 2007: “I was hoping that a few days at home would give me perspective on the NCO development course I just finished, the so-called Warrior Leadership Course (previously known as Platoon Leader Development Course, before the Army’s penchant for calling everything Warrior-this and Warrior-that). What has actually happened is that I am quickly forgetting things. This may be for the best.”

Ken Lovell, ‘Winning’ in Iraq, kenalovell.com Blog, January 11, 2007: “The new measures are a mix of military optimism and Harvard Business School Management By Objectives (MBO), circa 1975. First to the military optimism.”

Robert J. Williams, J. Douglas Barrett, and Mary Brabston, Managers’ business school education and military service: Possible links to corporate criminal activity, Human Relations, 2000: “The study utilized data from 184 Fortune 500 companies. The results suggest that both graduate business education and prior military service among members of a firm’s TMT strengthen the relationship between firm size and corporate criminal activity. Further, the results provide no support for the moderating influence of managers’ graduate business education or prior military experience on the relationships between firm strategy and corporate criminal activity.”

December 27, 2006

Thucydides: Ur-Historian of the Ur-War

Our West Point-educated wisemen on the matter of Iraq have been beating the drum: Read Thucydides! Col. Peter Mansoor tipped me over the edge with a post-game remark about the daily brutalities in Baghdad. "Read Thucydides on the revolt at Corcyra," he said. "You can practically see the drill bits in the head." So we've plunged.

Our West Point-educated wisemen on the matter of Iraq have been beating the drum: Read Thucydides! Col. Peter Mansoor tipped me over the edge with a post-game remark about the daily brutalities in Baghdad. “Read Thucydides on the revolt at Corcyra,” he said. “You can practically see the drill bits in the head.” So we’ve plunged.

Thucydides

Thucydides (c. 465 – 395 BC) wrote — “for all time,” as he prophesied — of the Peloponnesian War between the imperial city-states Athens and Sparta at the close of the 5th Century, BC. He was the first modern historian of, arguably, the first modern war. It was long and merciless civil slaughter — a “war like no other,” on land, sea and islands — that ended the glory years of Hellenic civilization. Thucydides narrates, in effect, a world war in the Mediterranean, “a twenty-seven-year nightmare that wrecked Greece,” in the judgment of our contemporary Victor Davis Hanson.

Thucydides, I find, is as modern as Neil Sheehan in Vietnam or Peter Arnett on CNN in the Gulf War of 1991. No thunderbolts from Zeus, no visits from Pallas Athena to Achilles in his tent, lighten or mythologize this Peloponnesian War. Thucydides gives us gritty black-and-white reporting from the meticulous and critical eye of an Athenian war officer. He is famously careful about sourcing his evidence and justifying his judgments of men, battles and human behavior in general.

And what a grim lot of judgments it is!

On the local and personal politics of war, for example. Cleon of Athens and Brasidas of Sparta

…had been the two principal opponents of peace on either side — the latter from the success and honor which war gave him, the former because he thought that, if tranquility were restored, his crimes would be more open to detection and his slanders less credited.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book 5

On power: As the Athenian envoys explained to the independent islanders of Melos, about to be crushed like bugs:

The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Chapter 17: The Melian Conference, The Fate of Melos

On the politics of empire: For the Athenians, enmity in external affairs was preferable to friendship, as the same sorry Melians were instructed:

… for your hostility cannot so much hurt us as your friendship will be an argument to our subjects of our weakness, and your enmity of our power… so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection; the fact that you are islanders and weaker than others rendering it all the more important that you should not succeed in baffling the masters of the sea.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Chapter 17: The Melian Conference, The Fate of Melos

On the inversions and corruptions of language and character in wartime:

And people altered, at their pleasure, the customary significance of words to suit their deeds: irrational daring came to be considered the “manly courage of one loyal to his party”; prudent delay was thought a fair-seeming cowardice; a moderate attitude was deemed a mere shield for lack of virility, and a reasoned understanding with regard to all sides of an issue meant that one was indolent and of no use for anything. Rash enthusiasm for one’s cause was deemed the part of a true man; to attempt to employ reason in plotting a safe course of action, a specious excuse for desertion. One who displayed violent anger was “eternally faithful,” whereas any who spoke against such a person was viewed with suspicion. One who laid a scheme and was successful was “wise,” while anyone who suspected and ferreted out such a plot beforehand was considered still cleverer. Any who planned beforehand in order that no such measures should be necessary was a “subverter of the party” and was accused of being intimidated by the opposition. In general, the one who beat another at performing some act of villainy beforehand was praised, as was one who urged another on to such a deed which the latter, originally, had no intention of performing. Indeed, even kinship came to represent a less intimate bond than that of party faction, since the latter implied a greater willingness to engage in violent acts of daring without demur. For such unions were formed, not with a view to profiting from the established laws, but with a view toward political advantage contrary to such laws. And their mutual oaths they cemented, not by means of religious sanction, but by sharing in some common crime.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book 3:82 – 3:83: Civil War in Corcyra

On the price of the tragedy:

Thus every form of iniquity took root in the Hellenic countries by reason of the troubles.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book III 69 – 85, The Civil War at Corcyra.

My first question: Is it the right use of Thucydides to say of human nature that we are an unredeemably domineering and self-destructive species of killing machines?

Take heart, for there are peace-mongers, too, in this book, like Hermocrates, the most influential among the Syracusans at Sicily, who prevail in the end against the Athenians:

And why, if peace is acknowledged by all to be the greatest of blessings, should we not make peace among ourselves? Whatever good or evil is the portion of any of us, is not peace more likely than war to preserve the one and to alleviate the other? And has not peace honours and glories of her own unattended by the dangers of war? …As I said at first, I am the representative of a great city which is more likely to act on the aggressive than on the defensive; and yet with the prospect of these dangers before me I am willing to come to terms, and not to injure my enemies in such a way that I shall doubly injure myself. …Let us remember too that we are all neighbours, inhabitants of one island home, and called by the common name of Sicilians.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book Four: The Jowett Translation

Victor Davis Hanson’s powerful introduction to Robert Strassler’s admirable edition of The Landmark Thucydides concludes:

The Peloponnesian War turns out to be no dry chronicle of abstract cause and effect. No, it is above all an intense, riveting, and timeless story of strong and weak men, of heroes and scoundrels and innocents too, all caught in the fateful circumstances of rebellion, plague, and war that always strip away the veneer of culture and show us for what we really are.

Victor Davis Hanson, Introduction: The Landmark Thucydides

Is this who we really are?

Robert Strassler

Editor, The Landmark Thucidydes: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Victor Davis Hansen

Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Author, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War and The Wars of the Ancient Greeks, among many others

Kimberly Kagan

Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow, Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University

Author, The Eye of Command

Director, Understanding Military Operations

Extra Credit Reading
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (downloadable), trans. Thomas Hobbes, 1628.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (downloadable), trans. Richard Crowley.

Brent Ranalli, The Iraq War and the Sicilian Campaign, theGlobalist, January 22, 2006: “Does history repeat itself? If it does, it may be worthwhile to look back further than the Vietnam War and to compare the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with the Athenian campaign against Sicily during the Peloponnesian War in 415 B.C.”

Brad DeLong, The Civil War in Iraq Corcyra, Vrad DeLong’s Daily Journal, December 18, 2006: “For some reason, both the New Republic and the Weekly Standard rejected this forecast of civil war in Iraq account of the civil war in Corcyra when it was submitted to them back in 2003.”

Harry Kreisler, War: Conversation with Victor Davis Hanson, Conversations with History, 2004.

Via Ben Jonson: Francis Macdonald Cornford, Thucydides Mythistoicus, Kessinger Publishing, March 2004.

James F. Trumm, Thucydides Nails It, Framed, December 12, 2006: “Talk about being condemmed to repeat the past: fast-forward to Atrios, our modern-day Thucydides, writing about our own times.”

September 11, 2006

Simon Schama and Sean Wilentz on “After 9/11: The Long View”

We seek out historians to reveal the present, not the past. We want to find a doctor who's seen our symptoms before... on the general suspicion, from Ecclesiastes, that "there is nothing new under the sun." Or as Joyce's Stephen Daedalus said, because history is "the nightmare from which we are trying to awaken."

We seek out historians to reveal the present, not the past. We want to find a doctor who’s seen our symptoms before… on the general suspicion, from Ecclesiastes, that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Or as Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus said, because history is “the nightmare from which we are trying to awaken.” Also: because so much of the daily news — of mad military overstretch abroad and commercial and cultural decadence at home — feels like the late-imperial lurch that our own Founding Fathers warned us about and that contemporary historians say is here. (Historian Niall Ferguson — only recently an empire enthusiast — has “The Descent of The West,” in the subtitle of his new doomsday book, The War of the World.)

The terrorism section at a bookstore.

We will have at the grand historial scheme of things (“Where the hell are we?” and “How did we get here?”) with Simon Schama, historian of the Dutch and British Empires and the most thrilling English-language talker since Churchill; and with Sean Wilentz, a preeminent historian of American 18th and 19th Century democracy who, in Philip Roth’s glowing estimate, “redeems the time he writes about without sentimentality or cynicism and with a deep understanding of every last detail of the American political tradition.”

We want them to play the counter-factual (what if?) game (as Roth did in The Plot Against America, the novel in which the isolationist hero Charles Lindbergh unseated Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, to keep the US out of the war in Europe.) What if Al Gore had been elected in 2000? What if Abraham Lincoln had been president when Al Qaeda struck America? What if Tony Blair had leapt out of the Bush lap before the invasion of Iraq? What if the Bush administration had by now dragged us oil addicts into a tough detox program and led an agonizing recalibration of our role in the world? What if Osama bin Laden had been captured by a concerted police effort in 2002 and been tried and convicted at the Hague in 2003?

Please fire up the conversation with yet more pointed, or more philosophical, what ifs…

And above all, on the day after this fifth birthday of 9/11, help us locate this uneasy moment, this “long war,” as the Pentagon calls it, in a longer story. We live life forward, as Kierkegaard said, but what if it can only be understood backward?

September 8, 2006

Fear Factor

In this hour we'll examine the post 9/11 culture of fear. How it is perpetuated, how we react to it and what in the world we should really be bracing for. FDR once told us, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," but is fear now the force that gives us meaning? Do your fears originate from color-coded threat alerts and ever-growing terrorist cells?

We watched the New Year coming in around the world, the mass hysteria of no significance that was the millennial New Year’s Eve celebration. Brilliance flaring across the time zones, and none ignited by bin Laden. Light whirling over nighttime London more spectacular than anything since the splendors of colored smoke billowed up from the Blitz. And the Eiffel Tower shooting fire, a facsimile flame-throwing weapon such as Wernher von Braun might have designed for Hitler’s annihilating arsenal-the historical missile of missiles, the rocket of rockets, the bomb of bombs, with ancient Paris the launching pad and the whole of humanity the target. All evening long, on networks everywhere, the mockery of the Armageddon that we’d been awaiting in our backyard shelters since August 6, 1945. How could it not happen? Even on that very night, especially on that night, people anticipating the worst as though the evening were one long air-raid drill. The wait for the chain of horrendous Hiroshimas to link in synchronized destruction the abiding civilizations of the world. It’s now or never. And it never came.

Philip Roth,The Dying Animal

Phillip Roth’s portrayal of the Y2K hysteria, which held our nation hostage, is a remarkable foreshadowing of the culture of fear that we live in today. As soon as we survive an Anthrax scare, or a mad cow craze, or that kitchen sponge suffused with pestilence, another fear-trend dominates the headlines. It’s impossible to escape and even more impossible to determine what fears are real and what are perceived.

In this hour we’ll examine the post 9/11 culture of fear. How it is perpetuated, how we react to it and what in the world we should really be bracing for. FDR once told us, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” but is fear now the force that gives us meaning? Do your fears originate from color-coded threat alerts and ever-growing terrorist cells? Or are your fears the fears of car accidents, bad diagnoses, escalating crime rates in the neighborhood? How does America identify with fear? What purpose is fear serving?
Update, 9/08/06, 5:37 pm

We’re hoping to include voices from the Open Source community, and from other realms of the blogosphere, in this show. If you comment on this thread we’ll consider calling you to record a brief phone conversation, which we’ll play during this broadcast. If you are radio-shy but know someone else whose voice should be heard, please send him/her our way. Thanks.

Robert Jay Lifton

Psychiatrist Author of several books, including Destroying the World to Save It and Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima

Thanks to Potter for suggesting Mr. Lifton

Susan Willis

Associate Professor of Literature, Duke University Author, Portents of the Real: A Primer for Post-9/11 America

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

Conterterroism consultant Contributing Expert, Counterterroism Blog
Extra Credit Reading
Station Charon, The Enduring Power of Fear, Station Charon, August 13, 2006, “‘To live in America is to be beset by fear, anxiety and insecurity, to be surrounded by potential harm, enemies and evil intent.'”

Furyious, Politics, Fear, and Creating a Culture of Scaredy Cats, Lots O’ Stuff, September 7, 2006: President Bush has made “fear” and “caution” interchangeable words in our society.

Joseph Carroll, Americans’ Terrorism Worries Five Years After 9/11, Gallup Poll, September 11, 2006.

Matthew B. Stannard, Alerts aid terror goals, study finds, San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 2006: “‘There are findings suggesting that the administration’s use of the alert system increased inordinately before the election and each time it did, Bush’s numbers went up about 5 percent.'”

Potter suggested: Robert Jay Lifton, Giving Meaning to Survival, The Chronicle Review, September 28, 2001: “The greatest danger in our present situation would be to resort to extreme measures to deny our vulnerability and reassert a sense of superpower invulnerability.”

William M. Arkin, The continuing misuses of fear, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/ October 2006: “A threat that is nightmarish and enduring and can neither be proved nor disproved is a powerful lubricant.”

nother suggested:Archive Search Results: fear, the ONION, September 9, 2006.

November 15, 2005

Lawrence Wilkerson: Why Does Rumsfeld Always Win?

Why does Donald Rumsfeld always win? We’re reading the George Packer account of the genesis of the Iraq war, The Assassin’s Gate, and Packer points out that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and their surrogates won every bureaucratic battle they encountered.

lawrence-wilkersonWhy does Donald Rumsfeld always win? We’re reading the George Packer account of the genesis of the Iraq war, The Assassin’s Gate, and Packer points out that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and their surrogates won every bureaucratic battle they encountered.

How does this happen? Lawrence Wilkerson was the chief of staff for Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005; he describes Powell’s testimony on WMDs before the UN Security Council as a “low point.” He’s only recently gone on record to describe what brought us war in 2003: it was a cabal, a concert of efforts by a small group of people determined to cause a war and then get out quickly.

Its insular and secret workings were efficient and swift — not unlike the decision-making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy. This furtive process was camouflaged neatly by the dysfunction and inefficiency of the formal decision-making process, where decisions, if they were reached at all, had to wend their way through the bureaucracy, with its dissenters, obstructionists and “guardians of the turf.”

But the secret process was ultimately a failure. It produced a series of disastrous decisions and virtually ensured that the agencies charged with implementing them would not or could not execute them well.

Lawrence Wilkerson, The White House Cabal, The Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2005

Wilkerson will be in a studio for a full hour next Tuesday. He’s eager to take questions, to explain what it is that we don’t understand about our own government. How does a bureaucracy create a war? What are we to make of the reports of turf wars between State, Pentagon and CIA? How did so many people, who were so disappointed with lack of transparency or or process or a plan, fail to say anything for so long?

Extra Credit Reading
New America Foundation, Weighing the Uniqueness of the Bush Administration’s National Security Decision-Making Process: Boon or Danger to American Democracy?The Los Angeles Times, The White House Cabal, Lawrence Wilkerson Op-ed, October 25, 2005

CNN, Former aide: Powell WMD speech ‘lowest point in my life’

September 8, 2005

John Burns back from Iraq

We are catching the New York Times’ ace war correspondent John F. Burns on his way back for his umpteenth tour in Baghdad. Burns was there with his eyes wide open, his ears tuned to ...

We are catching the New York Times’ ace war correspondent John F. Burns on his way back for his umpteenth tour in Baghdad. Burns was there with his eyes wide open, his ears tuned to “listen to whispers,??? under Saddam Hussein’s republic of fear. Burns filed every day from Baghdad during the US assault in March 2003. And he’s been an unblinking witness ever since to the crumbling of official US expectations. In a Sunday “Week in Review??? analysis this past July, John Burns marked indelibly for me a turning point:

From the moment American troops crossed the border 28 months ago the specter hanging over the American enterprise here has been that Iraq, freed from Mr. Hussein’s tyranny, might prove to be so fractured—by politics and religion, by culture and geography, and by the suspicion and enmity sown by Mr. Hussein’s years of repression—that it would spiral inexorably into civil war… Now, events are pointing more than ever to the possibility that the nightmare could come true.

I am riffling through the electronic file of John Burns’ dispatches with awe at his range: he has stared into the eyes of Saddam Hussein in the dock, and eaten with the regulars at the favorite diner in Tikrit—(not to mention that Burns has been kidnapped in Iraq, as he was also imprisoned and charged with espionage in another reporting incarnation in China). But I’m also struck by some persistent threads in John Burns’ last year of Iraq stories—the stuff of tonight’s conversation: the daily carnage, the oceanic depth of the insurgency, the multiplicity of roadblocks to a constitution, the steep decline of American hopes in Baghdad, and (weirdly!) the persistence of the unsinkable badboy in the epic: the now Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi.

John Burns made his name the first time as the Toronto Globe and Mail‘s reporter in Beijing–before American correspondents could go there. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting from Afghanistan and Sarajevo under siege. He is one of those reporters out of the Harrison Salisbury tree who’s been to every awful place in the world and written exquisitely about it–one of those legends of whom you’d say: “they don’t make them like that anymore,” except that “they,” and especially the Times, keeps making them.