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GWB and his “Churchill cult”

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes in NY Review of Books, one of my favorite journals of opinion, writes an interesting review of several books about Churchill titled Churchill and his myths.

Apparently Wheatcroft is writing his own book about Churchill.

I find the following excerpt from the NYRB review most interesting:

And yet the strangest thing is that Churchill knew what a hateful regression all this was, or a part of him knew that. In My Early Life, his most engaging book, he writes a romantic reverie about cavalry warfare in the good old days, cast aside in “a greedy, base, opportunist” manner by

chemists in spectacles and chauffeurs pulling at the levers of aeroplanes…. War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid…we now have entire populations, including even women and children, pitted against one another in brutish mutual extermination.

Ten years after writing that, Churchill led the way in cruel, brutish, and exterminatory war-making against women and children, partly thanks to his uncompromising personality, partly thanks to what was seen as the logic of the situation. Three years after he hoped for “devastating, exterminating” attacks on civilians, he was shown blazing German towns filmed from the air, and exclaimed, “Are we beasts? Have we taken this too far?” And two years after that he tried (not very creditably) to dissociate himself from the destruction of Dresden by Bomber Command. He was the same man—the same immensely complex man—in 1930, 1940, 1943, and 1945. He was the same man still when, in his last speech as prime minister before his final retirement in 1955, he wondered sadly, “Which way shall we turn to save our lives and the future of the world?”

Those words are quoted by John Lukacs at the end of his essay, though he doesn’t draw any further moral. Lynne Olson does. In the best sentence in her book, about the Suez adventure of 1956, she writes, “Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, the lessons of Munich and appeasement were wrongly applied to a later international crisis.” Likewise, having rightly observed that “there has arisen among America’s elite a Churchill cult,” Patrick Buchanan devotes a chapter, “Man of the Century,” to denouncing the cult, and the man. He not only looks askance at Churchill’s saying in September 1943 that “to achieve the extirpation of Nazi tyranny there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go”; he chastises the administration of George Bush the Younger—who installed a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office—for having emulated “every folly of imperial Britain in her plunge from power,” and having drawn every wrong lesson from Churchill’s career. There is by now an entire book to be written about the way that “Munich,” “appeasement,” and “Churchill” have been ritually invoked, from Suez to Vietnam to Iraq, so often in false analogy, and so often with calamitous results.

Which of us knows for sure whether any war can ever be “good”? The conclusion one might well draw from the story told in different ways by these books is that there may never be good wars or just wars, but that there may be necessary wars; and that the war in which Churchill led his country, awful and inexcusable as its means sometimes were, and grim as many of its consequences, really was a “war of necessity,” just as much as the present war in Iraq was not. We should almost be grateful to George Bush and Tony Blair for illuminating the distinction.

Since my life was so affected by the Spanish Civil War and WW II until July 10 1940, I am very attracted  to all critical commentary about great WW II personalities like Churchill. What I gets most of my attention in Wheatcroft’s review is that he ties together several “good war” personalities to point to their shortcomings.

My bottom line is that all war is bad, but I do realize (without accepting) that some wars may be necessary. War on the Eastern Front in WW II could not be avoided given the ambitions of Hitler and the “deaf and blind” policies of Stalin. Considering the unmitigated brutalities on both sides during that 4 year campaign, how can the word “good” be written next to “war”?

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/05/12 at 09:59

Bush’s War

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It’s too much to hope that real voters in the US will give due consideration to the raw truth about the Bush’s War on Terrorism. But two separate media events this week should give them a lot to think about and the real evil doers seem to be Cheney and Rumsfeld. First Frontline ( aired “Bush’s War”. Then this morning via I found this piece about a truth telling essay by Mark Danner.

Both pieces tell a story of political skulduggery and incompetence difficult to contemplate, but devastatingly true, probably!

Here is the summation of Danner’s piece:

“So how, finally, do we “take stock of the War on Terror”? Let me suggest three words:

1. Fragmentation — brought about by “creative destabilization,” as we see it not only in Iraq but in Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere in the region;

2. Diminution — of American prestige, both military and political, and thus of American power;

3. Destruction — of the political consensus within the United States for a strong global role.

Gaze for a moment at those three words and marvel at how far we have come in a half-dozen years.

In September 2001, the United States faced a grave threat. The attacks that have become synonymous with that date were unprecedented in their destructiveness, in their lethality, in the pure apocalyptic shock of their spectacle. But in their aftermath, American policymakers, partly through ideological blindness and preening exaggeration of American power, partly through blindness brought about by political opportunism, made decisions that led to a defeat only their own actions — that only American power itself — could have brought about.

A small coven of America’s enemies, using the strategy of provocation so familiar in guerrilla warfare, had launched in spectacular fashion on that bright September morning a plan to use the superpower’s strength against itself. To use a different metaphor, they were trying to make good on Archimedes’ celebrated boast: having found the perfect lever and place to stand, they proposed to move the Earth. To an extent I am sure even they did not anticipate, in their choice of opponent — an evangelical, redemptive regime scornful of history and determined to remake the fallen world — lay the seeds of their success.”

Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror (2004) and The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History (2007). He has covered the Iraq war from its beginning for the New York Review of Books. He teaches at both Bard College and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His work is archived at

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/03/27 at 09:25

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The monster and the abyss circa 2007

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Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and ownerImage via Wikipedia

Ms. Dowd of NYT found this quote from a precursor of fascism:

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster,” Nietzsche said. “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

We’re gazing into the abyss all right, and Blackwater is gazing back.

Is this a prediction, a warning to heads of state, a philosopher’s musing about the sad fallout of war, premeditated or not? For Ms. Dowd it’s a way into examining the current monster in US armed forces privatized version. There is something obvious here. Any policy of muscular national defence usually leads to bad decisions, especially in a country whose political power structure is dominated by a toxic mix of conservatism, too much money and religion. Voila Blackwater. Nepotism is also mixed in here just to juice things up. The GWB regime is cold, heartless and unaware of a reasonable moral compass in public affairs. No surprise it then finds ways of funnelling $$ into the hands of thugs, who operate under the cover of legal relations with the government. Thugs and murderers!

What moral compass? Who cares really, apart from wimpy intellectuals and left-wing “bougoisie”? Meanwhile the political opposition is caught in between its objective to redeploy national assets from war to peace and fighting the broad conservative juggernaut doing its very best to maintain its hold on power.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2007/10/03 at 06:46