Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
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:: Friday, August 08, 2003 ::

More war about the war
Having been involved in this comment thread on Matthew Yglesias' site about a potential rift between long-time Democrats and the party because of the Iraq war, I think it's worth stating that the greater ideological significance of the war has been overblown both by people who were for it and by people who were against it. Even though Bush made it all about a new universal "pre-emption" doctrine, and even though a lot of his supporters make a big deal about having a "forward-looking, offensive strategy" or whatever, all of that is pure hot air when it comes to deciding what to do in the future. Barring some hugely radical provocation by Iran, North Korea, Syria, etc., there is not going to be another war of "pre-emption"--as in, let's invade this country before its regime does something bad to us--anytime in the forseeable future. Anyone who says that "pre-emption" is now a grand defining strategy and that everyone who didn't support the war and/or doesn't support the doctrine has no ideas for defending America is deluding themselves, since their own so-called strategy is just empty rhetoric. That doesn't specifically apply to breaking up terror cells around the world, which we certainly have to make a full effort to do before they attack us; almost nobody argues with the necessity of doing that. Invading more countries, on the other hand, isn't going to solve our terrorist problem, and it isn't going to happen.

On the other hand, people who opposed the war shouldn't assume that everyone who supported it wants to make a habit out of this sort of thing. It was a very unusual case, a regime that had violated international law (whatever that means, UN resolutions in this case) to such a huge degree that it was already shackled with all sorts of intrusive restrictions on its sovereignty. Enforcing international law was an important factor--Bush would have had literally no coalition at all if he hadn't made that part of the case for war. Yes, he doesn't really give a damn about any comprehensive approach to security problems based on international law, but anti-war types shouldn't be so quick to assume the same thing about everyone who supported the war. Especially not people in Congress, since they had to vote on it last October, when (as few people seem to remember) Bush was consistently overruling his hawks. They said they wouldn't get authorization from Congress for war, and that they wouldn't go to the UN, but cooler heads prevailed in both cases. For instance, Cheney made a speech that essentially said "F^&k inspections, they'll only make invading harder" in late August, but only about three weeks later, Bush totally overruled him at the UN with the speech that called for a new resolution and the return of the inspectors. Senator Joe Biden essentially made that case last fall when he voted to support the war, that his concerns about excessive unilateralism had been tempered by the more measured approach being followed at the time. He just recently made a speech heavily criticizing what happened in the run-up to war and so far in the aftermath, without apologizing or renouncing his support for the war. People are free to disagree with him from whatever perspective (I agree with almost everything he says here), pro-war, anti-war, whatever, but no one can honestly question his motives.
1:02 PM
:: Wednesday, August 06, 2003 ::
Round up the usual suspects
I just picked up the new special edition DVD of Casablanca, and it looks like it was absolutely worth the long wait for obsessive fans like me, with lots of great stuff on the disc and a really nice-looking transfer of the movie. One small thing in the movie that's been a conundrum is a line that Peter Lorre's character, Ugarte, has about the central plot device (a "MacGuffin" in Hitchcock's term), the two "letters of transit" that can get anyone out of Casablanca with no questions asked. Ugarte tells Rick (Bogart) that the letters are that valuable because they're signed by a powerful general. A lot of people seem to think that Ugarte says "General De Gaulle," which would make no sense--De Gaulle was the leader of the exiled Free French movement and wasn't recognized as a legitimate leader in Morocco, which was still part of unoccupied France that was ruled by the collaborationist Vichy government. But I always thought that Ugarte said "General Weygand," as in Maxime Weygand, which would make sense because Weygand commanded all French forces in North Africa for the Vichy government until November 1941. Casablanca appears to take place in December 1941, according to one of Rick's lines when he gets drunk in his cafe after seeing his lost love Ilse (Ingrid Bergman) for the first time since the Germans conquered Paris, which was in June 1940.

Lorre's pronunciation of the line isn't all that clear, and I can understand how people might think he was saying "De Gaulle" (especially since most people have never heard of Weygand). On one of the DVD commentary tracks, Roger Ebert goes with the De Gaulle interpretation. The English and Spanish subtitle tracks on the disc also say De Gaulle in that scene--but the French subtitle track says Weygand! There's also a French audio dub included on the disc, and it sounds more clearly like Weygand than Lorre's original pronunciation. So I think that clears it up as much as it possibly can be.
6:20 PM
:: Tuesday, August 05, 2003 ::
About the bombs
Nicholas Kristof writes about the decision to nuke Japan in WWII and concludes that it was the least bad option:
Without the atomic bombings, Japan would have continued fighting by inertia. This would have meant more firebombing of Japanese cities and a ground invasion, planned for November 1945, of the main Japanese islands. The fighting over the small, sparsely populated islands of Okinawa had killed 14,000 Americans and 200,000 Japanese, and in the main islands the toll would have run into the millions.

"The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war," Hisatsune Sakomizu, the chief cabinet secretary in 1945, said later.

Some argue that the U.S. could have demonstrated the bomb on an uninhabited island, or could have encouraged surrender by promising that Japan could keep its emperor. Yes, perhaps, and we should have tried. We could also have waited longer before dropping the second bomb, on Nagasaki.

But, sadly, the record suggests that restraint would not have worked. The Japanese military ferociously resisted surrender even after two atomic bombings on major cities, even after Soviet entry into the war, even when it expected another atomic bomb — on Tokyo.
I've posted about this before, that my understanding of the Allied bombings of German cities and the firebombing of Japanese cities was that they were done in the name of "strategic bombing." Namely, it was hoped that the bombings would work as a strategic weapon--forcing the enemy to surrender--rather than as simply a tactical weapon, i.e. just one element of a broader strategy centered around a ground invasion to conquer the enemy. Some defenders of the conventional bombings of Germany and Japan defend them on tactical grounds, that they helped bring the enemy to a state where there was less ability to resist, but those arguments never really convinced me because they weren't the central aim of the bombings to being with. That central strategic aim failed in both cases--neither country surrendered because of the pounding they took from conventional airpower. And since people sometimes argue that the relentless Luftwaffe attacks just stiffened British spines and led them to fight even harder, why couldn't the same have been true in the other direction for the Germans? The difference with the nuclear bombs is that they really did achieve their strategic goal of getting Japan to surrender, and that the only other option was a possible million-death nightmare of an invasion.
4:22 PM
:: Monday, August 04, 2003 ::
History lesson
Rachel Bronson from the Council on Foreign Relations explains in this article that the current rhetoric about having a "Marshall Plan" for this or that place is more than a bit loose with the historical facts:
The Marshall Plan was the height of American generosity and internationalism. After World War II, the Truman administration realized that Washington's massive loan program was not making any headway against Europe's social and economic problems. So Secretary of State George C. Marshall began an effort to build grass-roots support for a massive grant program, an exhausting campaign he likened to a run for the presidency.

But let's remember what it really took to make post-conflict reconstruction successful in the European context. In current dollars, the United States poured about $79 billion into Europe between 1948 and 1952, with most of it coming in the first two years. Germany alone received $8 billion. Over its four-year life, the Marshall Plan cost the U.S. between 2.5% and 5% of its national income. Today that would amount to no less than $200 billion a year...

The administration should come clean with the American people. If we are to re-create the Middle East, as we did Europe, it will be expensive in terms of lives and resources. It is worth it, but the case must be made. The American people supported the president's march to war, in no small part because they bought his argument that Iraq could become a model of democracy for the region.

Public support is there to be mobilized, but it will not come automatically. Until the administration fully acknowledges the depth of the commitment made on behalf of the American people by Harry Truman, Dean Acheson and George Marshall, it should be a little bit more humble when invoking the Marshall Plan's good name.

3:12 PM
A terrible story
In the past few days, there was a dreadful news item about the death of a French movie actress, Marie Trintignant, who seems to have been killed by her boyfriend, a popular French rock singer.

I noticed the story largely because I recognized her last name--I didn't know who she was, and I haven't seen any of her movies, but I do know about her father, Jean-Louis Trintignant, one of the most famous French actors since the mid '50s. He was the star of one of my personal favorites, The Conformist, which was among the best and most influential movies of the late '60s/early '70s. He was also the male lead in Red, from about 10 years ago, in the Three Colors trilogy.
11:05 AM

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