Frustration Aplenty

I think, perhaps, the most frustrating thing to me about the triumph of Donald Trump is the inability — or unwillingness — of hordes of people to see through the facade, to the man beneath. It is so painfully obvious to a great many people that he is replete with character flaws despite the fact that he is also a master at channeling human emotions, chiefly fear and hatred, toward a desired goal. In every case the goal is the greater glory of Donald Trump. I don’t think he cares a tinker’s dam about this country or about the well-being of those who adoringly hang on his every word and rush off in whatever direction he points to.

The latest example of this, of course, is the terrible shooting in Orlando where at least 49 people were killed by a madman. Immediately the Trumpet jumped into the confusion calling the event a clear act of terrorism (which it was by any definition of that term) and hastily pointing fingers at the religion of Islam. After hinting broadly that our sitting president was somehow complicit, Trump insisted that the shooter was born in “Afghan” (which I thought was a blanket, but which apparently is a country that Donald Trump invented). In fact, of course, the man was born in New York — not far from Donald Trump as it happens. But this obvious stupidity was overlooked, as it always seems to be, by his purblind minions who are ready to take up arms against the enemy who happens to be anyone who at the moment is irritating Donald Trump.

In the face of this emotional frenzy — which is the sort of situation Trump seems better able than most to make worse  — we hear the calm voice of reason in the form of Hillary Clinton’s urge to calm down and figure out how best to deal with the real enemy and avoid fanning the fires of hatred toward an entire religion that preaches, as it happens, peace and love. As someone recently said, “This act had about as much to do with religion as it had to do with horticulture. The guy was an unstable time bomb who hated everyone who wasn’t him, but who nonetheless had no trouble at all buying an AR-15 rifle and a handgun . . . ” None the less, Trump’s reaction is to refuse all Muslims admission to this country. As Clinton noted in a recent rally in Pittsburg, referring to Trump’s hysterical reaction to the shooting in Orlando:

“We don’t need conspiracy theories and pathological self-congratulations,” said Clinton. “We need leadership, common sense and concrete plans, because we are facing a brutal enemy.”

As Hillary goes on to point out, the Trumpet’s variety of hysterical fear-mongering is the very thing ISIS hopes to encourage in this country and it helps their cause immensely.  Now, I have said it before and I repeat it here: I am not  a Hillary Clinton fan. I think she sails way too close to the wind, has her hand deep within the pockets of the wealthy robber-barons of Wall Street who have so much to say about how this country is to be run, and seems to be every bit as ambitious as is Donald Trump. But as we have been told by the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, who worked closely with Donald Trump in Scotland, our choice is between sanity and insanity in the upcoming election. And that choice forces us, it would appear, to choose the lesser of evils. I say this while realizing that Clinton is politically astute, has wide and deep international experience, and is bright and able — despite her  flaws. She would make a decent president, I believe. But in light of the choice that faces us all, she appears brighter than bright white.

In the end, my frustration over the fact that so many have been taken in by a super-salesman whose main claim to high office is his ability to sell himself to the deluded and mentally incompetent. I will try to keep on an even keel and in doing so will choose to listen to reason, which is the voice Hillary Clinton speaks with most of the time, and to close my ears to the wild exaggerations and hysteria that are all around us and seek to drown us in a sea of hatred and fear. The coming months will test the best in all of us.

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All In The Timing

In an interesting story on CNN recently, we are told about President Obama’s preparations for issuing an executive order that would address the issue of gun control:

Washington (CNN)As his administration prepares an executive order tightening access to guns, President Barack Obama met Wednesday with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a proponent of new gun laws who has become the chief enemy of the National Rifle Association.

Obama has met with a series of gun control advocates in recent weeks as his aides complete work on a potential order expected to expand background checks on gun sales by closing the so-called “gun show loophole.”

A timeline on the order — which has been tangled in legal and administrative questions — is still unknown. The President met with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was gravely wounded during a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on December 4 to discuss gun control.

But even as he works to tighten access to firearms, a new survey shows dwindling support for an outright ban on assault weapons, which both Obama and Bloomberg have advocated as a means to prevent gun deaths.

Obama is meeting with Bloomberg because New York has fairly tough gun control laws, though, apparently, they have not yet been overly successful. In any event, the comment at the end of the above quote is of most interest. To be sure, there is the question of whether an executive order at this time that is not supported by a Republican Congress could have any effect whatever. But in addition to that issue, there is the question of timing.

Since the recent mass killings in San Bernardino there has been minor hysteria in this country about possible terrorist attacks here at home, hysteria encouraged by some of the loudest and most unconscionable of the Republican candidates for presidential office. The mood has shifted from the 90% of the people who supported some sort of gun controls after Sandy Hook to considerably less at this time. It would appear that many of those who would have supported Obama then are now having second thoughts. Perhaps they think that by buying an automatic weapon themselves they will be safer from terrorism.

Apparently they have not heard about probabilities. The likelihood of another attack like the one in California is extremely low and the likelihood that a family of four, say, would be safer by providing themselves with automatic weapons is even lower: the likelihood that there would be an accident with that weapon and that someone in the family might be shot dead is greater than the probability that there would be any danger from terrorists in the first place. This is not to say that there won’t be any more mass killings. In this country with hysteria the order of the day — encouraged by political candidates like the Trumpet and his ilk — there is every reason to believe there will be more such attacks. My point is that the purchase of weapons will not reduce that likelihood or make us any safer.

But more to the point, Obama missed the boat. He should have gone before the TV cameras with his considerable rhetorical skills and obvious charisma and asked the citizens of this country to flood their Congressmen with requests for stronger gun laws immediately after Sandy Hook — when there was such strong support for such a move. To be sure, with the NRA and its millions of dollars hanging about in the background in Washington any sort of gun laws are extremely unlikely. But at that time, the chances would have been much better than they are now with the thought of terrorism clouding the judgment of so many of our citizens. It’s really a question of timing, isn’t it?

Declaring War?

You have probably noted the latest outburst from the cluster of clowns running for the Republican presidential nomination insisting that we declare war on IS. This in response to the shootings in San Bernardino by two people who were apparently supported by money from an unknown source, presumably IS — and in response to President Obama’s perceived soft response to those killings. Folks like Jeb Bush insist that IS has already declared war on the United States. Another idiot suggested that we are already involved in World War Three. Whether these things true or not matters little. What matters is that saying such things will bring the votes to Jeb Bush or one of his ilk when November rolls around.

There are so many things wrong with this knee-jerk response one scarcely knows where to start. For one thing, it is clear that as long as the American people are kept fearful and full of hatred they will be more likely to vote for a “strong” candidate as their leader next November. So the tactic is to keep the flames burning as fiercely as possible. Convince the voters that the Democrats, who seek to maintain some semblance of sanity in what appears to have been an insane act by two people in California, are too soft to lead the country in time of “crisis.” This is standard practice, politics as usual. The end justifies the means and grabbing the office of President of the United States is the prize.

But any talk of a declaration of war against a terrorist group that is apparently growing exponentially will assuredly simply give impetus to that group to continue to grow even more rapidly. We should have learned by now that such a war cannot be won. Hate-mongering might make some people feel better, but it is precisely the sort of thing groups like IS will use to convince like-minded people in the Middle East that they must take up arms against those insane Americans across the Atlantic. It pours gasoline on the flames — as does absurd talk about refusing admission to this country by anyone who happens to be a Muslim.

I applaud Obama, as I have said previously, for trying to sooth jangled nerves. Hillary Clinton has also attempted to restore some sort of reasonable balance to the discussion, to keep things in perspective. As F.D.R. said long ago we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But fear is the order of the day and those who would declare wholesale war on terrorist groups have their heads in the sand and are concerned only about gaining political office and not in the least about doing the right thing — or even the sane thing, which is to keep our cool and deal with these problems as they arise in a way that assures everyone that this sort of aberrant behavior will not be tolerated.

If we assume that Jeb Bush is correct and that IS has indeed declared war on this country (which is debatable), then as a nation we need to pull together, not in several different directions. A frantic, passionate response to the actions of zealots can only lead to chaos and if these men running for President were truly patriots concerned about the safety and security of their country they would not attack the sitting President of this country and stir up fear and hatred among its citizens in times of crisis. What is required are cool heads and reasonable suggestions. But, then, these men have their eye on the prize and winning that prize is the only thing that matters. Cool and reasonable are not their strong suit.

Predictable

Following the president’s speech from the Oval Office on Sunday night (something I have said he should do more of) the Republicants predictably lined up to take pot shots at the man who was clearly trying to quell fears and bring civility to the discussion of terrorism. It seems clear to me that the president might have rallied the citizens behind such things as tougher gun laws if he had used his prestige and considerable rhetorical skills in front of cameras addressing the American people before this. But he has been reluctant tho do so — perhaps because he knows he will simply provide an occasion for his political opponents to take aim. And what a group it is! A brief portion of a news story tells us of the response from some of the clowns vying with one another for the Republicant presidential nomination:

“President Obama has finally been forced to abandon the political fantasy he has perpetuated for years that the threat of terrorism was receding,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said in a statement. “We need to remove the self-imposed constraints President Obama has placed on our intelligence community and military, and we need to put in place an aggressive strategy to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism as I have proposed.”
After the speech, Republican hopeful Donald Trump tweeted, “Is that all there is? We need a new President – FAST!”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida criticized Obama for saying that Americans should not fall into a trap of discriminating against Muslims.

“Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?” Rubio said on Fox News after the speech. “I think not only did the president not make things better tonight, I fear he may have made things worse in the minds of many Americans.”

Aside from the Trumpet’s comment which, as always, is not worthy of note, one must reflect on these comments. Jeb Bush wants to assume the Nazi pose and take a Fascist approach to international affairs. Storm troopers and armed drones against anyone and everyone who thinks or believes differently than us. But Rubio’s claim that this nation is not becoming rabid in its fear of Muslims and reeks of discrimination shows how out of touch he is with reality. Long before 9/11 this nation has shown its ugly side when it comes to those who are different from the norm. As I have said in previous posts, the root of this fear and hate of others is our ignorance of those who differ from us. But to see issuing forth from the mouth of one who would be the leader of this nation words that show him to be blind to the obvious does give me pause. Has the political fabric of this country torn beyond repair? Are we that far gone that we would pay serious attention to people who reside at the bottom of the intellectual pool groveling  in the mud and sludge of utter nonsense and hate-mongering?

In any event, I applaud the president for seeking to restore calm after the praise ISIS heaped on the couple who engaged in mass killing in San Bernardino last week. The murders themselves were sufficient to drive reason from the playing field, but the discovery that the pair were Muslims added fuel to the fire and someone needed to say something. The president was wise to make this move and one would hope that it will have a soothing effect and bring civil discourse back into play. But with ambitious, small-minded political candidates elbowing each other out of the way to claim center stage, this may not happen. My goodness how stupid those people are.

Panic Attack

I hope you have seen the 25 minute interview with Ed Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the NSA. The interview was conducted in Hong Kong where Snowden now resides until he has determined what the future will bring. He comes across as a bright, articulate, well-informed, and conscientious young man who knows whereof he speaks and also knows exactly what he did. I will not  spoil the interview for you because it is well worth your time, no matter how busy you are. I will simply attach the link here and hope you will check it out.

Toward the end of his interview Mr. Snowden expresses his main concern: that after the dust settles, things will go back to the way they were — except that the intelligence gathering community will become even more efficient and they will continue to gather information about all of us and we have no idea whatever how that information will be used by a government that increasingly borders on paranoia. Actually, I paraphrase and added the bit about paranoia myself. But if you listen to the interview you will see what Mr. Snowden actually does say. He certainly hopes that American citizens will become riled up enough about the situation that they will put pressure on their representatives so that present policies in Washington can be changed and this surveillance nonsense can be thwarted. And he is realistic enough to worry that this will not happen.

So am I. I am put in mind of some comments made by Andrew J. Bacevich, a West Point graduate who fought in Viet Nam in 1970 and 1971, served as a career Army officer, rising to the rank of Colonel. Bacevich recently testified to a Senate committee that Americans have “fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history.” As Bacevich went on to say, “The mystical war on Communism finds its counterpart in the mystical war on terrorism. It prevents us from seeing things as they are.”

Bacevich, like Snowden, also knows whereof he speaks. And given this present aura of “mysticism” in Washington, one can conclude that the Congress in the grips of the military and the intelligence community to a degree that even a full-fledged effort by the American people will not penetrate that fog and result in alterations of national policy. This is the case because it is not only the American citizens who have “fallen prey to militarism,” it is our leaders as well. And with this fog thickening every day, it will become even more difficult to penetrate and messages to Congressional leaders from their constituents will simply not get through. The truly unsettling thing about this situation is that it is largely built on a fiction. Ours is one of the safest countries on earth.

We are separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, as we are reminded by Jill Lepore in a recent New Yorker article (1/28/13). The country is, “by dint of geography among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy.” Further, our intelligence community, despite its excesses, is considerably better informed about the goings on of suspected terrorists than it was before the attacks on the Twin Towers.  And yet, despite these protections the nation shakes in fear of what we seem convinced is an inevitable terrorist attack that will bring this nation to its knees and wreak havoc among our citizens. We have become increasingly apathetic and are losing our collective sense of perspective. Despite the fact that the odds of any single American being killed by terrorists is approximately the same as that same American winning the lottery, we seem perfectly content to hand over our freedoms and even our consciences to the government in the name of “national security.”

Thus, it would seem, Mr. Snowden’s fears are well founded.  After the dust settles — and it will settle sooner rather than later — things will almost certainly go back to the way they were. The mystique of militarism has us all in its grips, and we seem perfectly content to leave it that way.

Droning On

I hate to keep kicking a dead horse, since the subject of drone attacks targeting innocent civilians is obviously not one that concerns most people. But a recent story carried by a British (not an American) newspaper caught my eye. It’s about a retired Air Force enlisted man whose job while in the military was operating unmanned aircraft in their attacks on targets in the Middle East. He was sitting comfortably — or not so comfortably, as it turns out — in Nevada watching the whole thing on a TV screen. Just like a game, which is what the recruiters promised him: just like guys in the James Bond movies. Except that it is no longer a game for this man who is suffering from post-traumatic stress and can’t seem to get the images out of his mind. The story carried in the London Daily Mail reads, in part:

A former drone operator who helped kill 1,626 targets says he’s haunted by the carnage he witnessed from behind his computer screen.
Brandon Bryant, 27, served as a drone operator from 2006 to 2011 at bases in Nevada, New Mexico and Iraq. It was a desk job of sorts, but unlike any other, it involved ordering unmanned aircraft to kill faraway targets while he watched.
In an interview with NBC News’ foreign correspondent Richard Engel, Bryant recalled one operation where his team fired two missiles from a drone at three men in Afghanistan.
The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,’ he said, recalling what he saw of the scene through the thermal images on his screen. ‘And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.’
He recalled watching the mens’ bodies grow cold, as slowly the red color detecting the heat of their bodies grew smaller.
‘I can see every little pixel if I just close my eyes,’ he said.

There are so many things wrong here it is difficult to know where to start. I have spoken about the moral crisis these acts of violence signal, though so many Americans seem unaware of it, or simply don’t give a shit. Not only is it a violation of the Geneva Conventions, to which this country was a signatory once upon a time. But from any moral perspective you can imagine it is simply wrong to engage in military activities that invariably take innocent lives — excuse me, cause “collateral damage.” If they were doing this to us, we would see immediately how wrong this is. But since it is us doing it to them  — and they are thousands of miles away and wear different clothing and look different from most of us — we see no harm. This is one of the things that bothers Bryant: the fact that people over here don’t seem to care, even though we have fits when three people are killed by a couple of stupid kids during the running of the Boston Marathon. We really have become callous, and perhaps a bit blind.  As long as we are safe in our little boxes made of ticky-tacky, watching TV programmed for us by Madison Avenue to sell us products we don’t need, we are perfectly content to have innocent men, women and children killed somewhere else. Just don’t tell us about it. No harm (to me or mine) no foul. And our government is making sure we know as little about these activities as possible. There aren’t many folks like Bryant who have the courage to speak out — assuming that other drone operators are also bothered about what it is they are doing.

Just imagine sitting in a chair in Nevada or New Mexico, or wherever, and watching human targets, many of them only alleged enemies of your country, as they are struck by the missiles your drone releases at them. Bryant can’t get the images out of his head. Neither can I — and I haven’t even seen them except in my wildest imagination. It’s getting harder and harder to make excuses for this president and this Congress whom many people abroad identify with this country. I don’t, but what I think really doesn’t count.

Smoke Screen?

It is interesting to see how the media has turned its attention to the mother of the young man accused in the Boston bombing and who is now recovering from wounds in a prison hospital. As a recent story in Yahoo News tells us, the mother’s appearance has altered recently — from an ” 80’s rock star” to a middle-eastern Muslim.

But in recent years, people noticed a change. She began wearing a hijab and cited conspiracy theories about 9/11 being a plot against Muslims.

Now known as the angry and grieving mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Tsarnaeva is drawing increased attention after federal officials say Russian authorities intercepted her phone calls, including one in which she vaguely discussed jihad with her elder son. In another, she was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, U.S. officials said.

Tsarnaeva insists there is no mystery. She’s no terrorist, just someone who found a deeper spirituality. She insists her sons — Tamerlan, who was killed in a gunfight with police, and Dzhokhar, who was wounded and captured — are innocent.

There are a couple of interesting points here. Ms Tsarnaeva claims there was a conspiracy surrounding the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. She may be right, of course, even though conspiracy theorists are dismissed as devil-worshippers. There always is a slice of the truth behind conspiracy theories — which is why they are believed. This is not to say that we should embrace them as the whole truth — but we should not simply turn a blind eye toward them and dismiss them as the rantings of fools. Remember: even though you are not paranoid, they may be out to get you!

But in any event, the interesting thing here is the attempt by the media to turn our attention to this woman and keep us enthralled in the drama surrounding the Boston bombings. It is guaranteed to sell papers and keep the bombings alive in the minds of folks who tend to have short attention spans. But I ask in all candor, is it not possible that those in power would just as soon keep us aware of that tragedy so we will not turn our attention to the terrorist activities that we in this country are responsible for?  I’m just saying. This may sound like another conspiracy theory, but again there may be an element of truth in there somewhere. It is certainly the case that this administration does not want American citizens taking too close a look at what is going on “over there” where the deaths of innocent people make Boston look like a Sunday school picnic.   And when the subject does come up calling it “counter-terrorism” and blaming “them” for starting it hardly avoids the moral stigma attached to our activities. But from the point of view of those who like to mold opinion, it is better to keep people in the dark and their attention focused elsewhere. Continued reminders of the Boston bombings engender patriotism, whereas the truth about what is going on in the Middle East would almost assuredly engender humiliation and embarrassment, possibly outrage. Where better to keep our attention focused than the ongoing drama of two young men who not only planted bombs in Boston but were planning to move on the Times Square in New York and whose mother now wears a hijab and is an avowed Muslim. It does give one pause….

U.S.A! U.S.A!

The citizens of this country, and Boston in particular, welcomed the news of the capture of 19 year-old Dzhokar Tsamaev with applause and immense pride. Clearly, there was a sigh of relief that could be heard as far away as California as the young man was found, almost by mistake, and the terrible events surrounding the Boston bombing seemed to be at a close. The relief is warranted as the thing this young man and his brother did defy description and raise more questions than we have answers for. But the chest thumping, obscenities from David Ortiz, and shouts of U.S.A! U.S.A! that could be heard around the country must give us pause. Our extravagant patriotism frequently spills over into ugly, chip-on-the-shoulder jingoism. And often it is not the least bit deserved.

From all reports, the young man was badly wounded and in pain when he was discovered hiding in a boat in a wealthy suburb of Boston beyond the net that had been spread to catch him and just before the search for the man was about to be called off. The capture of the young man, barely alive, was touted as an act of heroism on the part of the police and National Guard, when, in fact, the heroic act was that of the man who owned the boat who had the courage to look under the tarp to see if there was someone hiding inside. (Courage is sometimes difficult to distinguish from stupidity. Tsamaev was known to be “armed and dangerous” and peeking under the tarp was not the smartest thing the man ever did: he is lucky to be alive.)  Those involved in the capture showed courage, since they didn’t know what to expect. Yet the rest of us who had nothing to do with the capture acted as though we were the ones who caught the young man and brought him to the hospital. Americans are not short on pride and even arrogance, taking credit for the things that they have had nothing to do with, such as landing a man on the moon, placing a chimpanzee in orbit, or inventing sliced bread. We are not known as a people who hide our candle under a bushel, sad to say.

But the thing that keeps being ignored as this story unfolds is the question why two young men, seemingly perfectly “normal” and even bright and able — the young one even looking somewhat angelic in the photos that have been made public — would resort to this sort of suicidal act. And we hear little, if anything, about the possibility that this act of terrorism may well be a “pay-back” for the acts of terrorism this country is committing even as I write this blog. I speak, of course, of our drone strikes that are taking hundreds of innocent lives while we thump our chests in pride because a 19 year-old boy has been taken alive by an army of law-enforcers after an admittedly horrendous act of cruelty. The only mention of the possible quid-pro-quo is a cartoon I saw in USA Today that showed two monsters holding time bombs, identical in appearance except for the fact that one was wearing a tee-shirt labelled “Made In USA.” The cartoon directed our attention to the fact that the act of terrorism our law-enforcers brought to a close is merely one side of a two-sided coin. When we pause for breath after shouting out how proud we are of this nation and its brave men and women (who do deserve the praise they receive) we might want to ask again why these two very young men did this terrible thing and whether or not, perhaps, recent actions on the part of this country have bred hatred in other regions of the world, actions that are very likely to come back to haunt us repeatedly as a result of our swagger and presumption of moral superiority that leads us to ignore our acts of terrorism against others while we condemn similar acts when they are directed toward ourselves.

Disobedient Soldier

America has a proud tradition of civil disobedience. From Henry David Thoreau who went to jail rather than pay a tax to support slavery to Martin Luther King Jr. who went to jail in protest over laws in Alabama that he was convinced were discriminatory. The  latest in that line appears to be a young Army private named Bradley Manning who is facing a court-martial for leaking confidential and classified material. As Manning sees it, he was simply trying to alert the American public to the atrocities their armies were committing in Iraq and Afghanistan where he perceived a “bloodlust,” what he called a “total disregard for human life.”
As we are told by HuffPost, in a 35 page document he read prior to his court-martial he said he was disturbed by the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the way American troops treated the populace; he did not believe the release of the information he downloaded onto a thumb drive would harm the U.S.

Bradley Manning (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Bradley Manning
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Manning went on to say, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”  In a word, he saw his act as an act of patriotism that would draw attention to a situation he thought his fellow Americans would abhor. In his statement, for example, he claims he saw films of American soldiers who killed 11 men, including a Reuters photographer, and they seemed to be exhibiting the same sort of delight as a group of young boys “torturing ants with a magnifying glass.”

The key to civil disobedience, as King noted, is to draw attention to an unjust law while at the same time showing a willingness on the part of the disobedient to respect laws in general. As King said in his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,”

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. . . . One may want to ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all'”

The difference between Manning’s case and that of King or even Thoreau is that Manning did not disobey a civil law; he is a member of our armed forces and it will be argued that as a private in the Army he has an obligation to follow orders and not put the nation at risk by leaking thousands of classified documents. One could counter that the war in Iraq (as St. Augustine would argue) was an unjust war and that Manning is on solid moral grounds. Still, he is in the military and it is doubtful that Manning will escape the harsh judgment of a military court that will have what it regards as the nation’s best interest in mind — and future military discipline as well. They will want to make an example of this man, it seems, and he is facing the very real prospect of life in prison.

But the parallels with Thoreau and King are striking and one does wish the young man could be tried in a civil court by a jury of his peers. In the end, though, the moral high ground that Martin Luther King always sought no longer seems to be a concern in this “war on terror” that really isn’t a war at all but is a nightmare in which we seem to be lowering ourselves to the level of the very people we are protecting ourselves against.

Targeting Terrorists

A very unsettling news item recently surfaced about the drones this country has been routinely employing in such places as Pakistan to target terrorist leaders. The very fact that this country would resort to terror to fight terror is disturbing, especially when innocent civilians are killed in the drone strikes. But the rationale for these strikes is even more bothersome, since it puts me in mind of a blog I wrote some time ago about how nation-states set ethics aside when they engage in horrible acts they regard as in “the national interest.” This country was supposed to be above such acts. In this case we are told in a recent HuffPost news item the determination of when and where to use these drones “in the national interest” has become a political issue:

The report, by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, reveals that the Obama administration believes that high-level administration officials — not just the president — may order the killing of “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or an associated force even without evidence they are actively plotting against the U.S.

“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” states the Justice Department white paper quoted by Isikoff.

The paper states that the U.S. would be able to kill a U.S. citizen overseas when “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” determines the target is an imminent threat, when capture would be infeasible and when the operation is “conducted consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

One concern that is receiving a good deal of attention is the possibility of illicit extension of executive power — a constitutional issue that will bear careful scrutiny by constitutional lawyers and political pundits. I am more interested in the moral issue, as we all should be. After all, ours is a democracy that was a signatory to the Geneva Conventions placing “humane” restraints on modern warfare. Those restraints have been found wanting recently by our incarceration of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo. But this policy takes us even further away from the ideals.

The issue here is not so much that this policy allows for the killing of American citizens — which has already been accomplished — but that it condones the killing of suspected terrorists in crowded areas where, regardless of nationality, innocent people will also die. The notion that we — that is to say, this country — routinely order drones into crowded urban areas with the intention to “take out” an alleged leader of al-Qaeda “even without evidence they are actively plotting against the U.S.” on the grounds that this is “consistent with applicable law of war principles” is morally reprehensible. What, precisely, are those principles? And how do we determine which ones are “applicable”?

If the drones were used against presumed terrorists in the streets of Los Angles or New York by our enemies we would assuredly not recognize this as “lawful killing.” What we would not allow to have done to our own citizens in this country — or anywhere else — we should not regard as morally acceptable when done by our own leaders to suspected terrorists, no matter how “high” the level of the “official of the United States” happens to be who makes this dreadful decision.

As a student of rationalization — the attempt to find reasons for doing what we are going to do anyway — I am struck by the claim that “a lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination.” To begin with, how are those killings in any way “lawful”? What laws apply in this case? — certainly not moral laws. And certainly not moral principles as we can see from the fact that a neutral observer reading about such a “lawful killing” would never agree that it is not an assassination. Imagine what people in other countries must think of this nation when our leaders reason this way. Would we ourselves agree that it is not an assassination if “a lawful killing” targeted, say, the Secretary of Defense, or one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and killed several innocent bystanders in the process? We would be appalled, and we should be.