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“If there’s one thing we should all agree on, it’s protecting women from violence.”
So tweeted Valerie Jarret in the same hour that Leon Panetta made the announcement that the Pentagon would allow women to serve in combat. I’m with Jarret. Here’s my supporting statement:
“My fervent prayer for future warfare: all fighting will be done by a few 18-year-old male geeks in really cool machines far, far away from the planet earth.”
(Kind of like BattleBots–best sport ever. Look it up.)
Yes, the 20th Century fell a bit short in terms of protecting women from violence, didn’t it? All that strategic bombing. All that total war. From crossbow to hydrogen bomb the history of warfare since Napoleon’s rise has been one of greater and greater “inclusion”–including the “equal-opportunity” citizens of Warsaw, London, Dresden, Berlin, Tokyo or Hiroshima. The relatively recent development of smart bombs, precision-guided munitions, laser technologies seemed to offer the beginning of a technical end-run from the massive slaughter of civilians. Okay, nothing in war is pleasant, but it’s an improvement over say, the bombing and use of napalm on North Vietnam that occurred in my lifetime. Somehow, the US military and the Admin seems bound and determined to quarantine that progress, to neglect the value of that trend. Perhaps because it will never work perfectly; there will be human shields, there will be munition factories staffed by pregnant women, there will be awful bumps in the road.
But stay the course: the US must consistently signal that it is against “inclusion” in warfare–that it really is taboo, as a species, to indiscriminately kill women, children and the aged, that we genuinely want to shrink the target set, that don’t endorse doomsday strategies. One critical way to do that is to continue the trend of making US combat troops increasingly professional and yes, increasingly rare.
Although Nat Hentoff is an atheist and a leftist, he took a pro-life position in the abortion debate. His main exhibit was a thought experiment: imagine a woman being bayoneted; imagine a pregnant woman being bayoneted; notice the emotional and moral distinction between the two images. I submit that moral picture applies to war as well.
No top-down policy can erase, or wish away, our species-wide instinct to protect those who give life–or our inability to forgive those who hurt them. For it is those sorts of atrocities–pregnant women, young mothers and children being killed in Belgium for example–that gave birth to the Western trenches of World War I, and ultimately, to strategic bombing, to the age of genocide that we have just passed through.
Stimulated by the politically galvanizing effect of the tragic Newtown shooting, I suspect that there are more than a few in the Administration who harbor secret fantasies, who never want a serious crisis to go to waste; at the expense of a few female atrocities, the US engaging in warfare will become simply too painful. War itself will become impossible.
You might ask: Is it really possible that members of the Administration want to use my niece in combat so they can shed crocodile tears over her body-bag in some perverse political photo-op? Well, yes. And if that’s the motivation, even if it’s a subconsciousness one, it’s a deeply immoral impulse. I mean, why not enlist my nine-year-old or my aging dad in combat too–just like the defense of Berlin? But even if such a plan–to make warfare taboo through the use of limited female sacrifice–is justified by a conscious, chilly, utilitarian calculation of long-term morality and the greater good, as long as an enemy lives and breathes, the calculation is flawed by its essential ignorance. Following the Great War, Douhet’s Theory of strategic bombing–which most intelligent people subscribed to at the time–premised exactly the same idea. After the first bombs were dropped on urban centers, the common people in horror and revulsion would rise up and force their leaders to sue for peace. How did that work out in London in 1940? Or, for that matter, in Berlin? History shows, quite conclusively, that we are not just an aggressive species. Once war begins, we are a deeply vengeful one.
There may be many noble motives at work within the Administration and the highest level of the Pentagon. I don’t preclude that. But their naive assumptions have proliferated to the point of irrationality. Women in combat is a Pandora’s Box which contains the potential to usher in a second age of total war.
Anyone reading through this blog will know that I’m not a scientist. OK, I am literate and not an easy pushover for rigid ideological frameworks, but what could I possibly add to a scientific debate? Yet my little layman observations have been gnawing at me for some time now. And while I have been a genuine agnostic about the man-made global warming theory, I find myself becoming increasingly skeptical and dismissive. Two reasons. First, because global temperatures haven’t really risen for a decade (although I readily admit that could just be a blip in the long-term data). Secondly, because the credibility of so many advocates of the theory feels well, shaky. And that’s what this nobody-asked-me-but post is all about.
“In a sign of discomfort with the White House stance, Fox’s television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Tuesday to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a “pool” camera crew shared by all the networks. (New York Times, October 22, 2009: full article here).
…you can catch me at the Cambridge Union Society tomorrow, 6pm, speaking on “Organs of the State.”
Iranian nuclear warheads redux: The evidence that North Korea has tested a viable nuclear weapon, on the order of 10 kilotons or so, is indisputable. I don’t intend to repeat my entry “Iranian nuclear warheads — a technical note” here (scroll down the page a little), but I will say this: given the close links between the Iranians and the North Koreans on nuclear weapons development–the Iranians were present at the fizzle of 2006–this has to be seen as an Iranian test too. And if the Israelis intend to strike, they should do it now. And yes, it really is that simple.
As you probably picked up from my carping in the previous post, there are a couple of things on my mind. Such as this: The Iranians will have enough materials for two nuclear warheads (unclear what yield–25 kilotons, perhaps–the Jerusalem Post is referring to here) by the end of 2009.
Without minimizing the implications of that, let’s point out that no state, including America in the middle of an out-and-out war, has ever used a nuclear weapon, or even threatened to use one, without testing first. For the Iranians to fire a dud–or what’s usually called a fizzle, i.e. the trigger does not “ignite” the bomb material properly or the modifier does not allow for a chain reaction–at Israel…well, that would invite full-on, uninhibited, nuclear retaliation on the Iranian bunkers, command and control, and nuclear facilities. Never mind hitting Tehran, the Israelis will use a high exoatmospheric airburst producing a pulse that will knock out every electrical system, every computer, every vehicle, every toaster in Iran. (This can’t be done to Israel’s electrical grid without knocking out Amman, Damascus and Beirut as well–Israel is just too small). All this, and the Iranians haven’t even killed any Jews. That’s pretty suicidal right? So they have to test, right?
The twist: There is no way to test in secret. Even the Israeli test in the South Atlantic/Indian Ocean, the so-called Vela Incident, was picked up by observatories and sensor stations around the world, even back in 1979. So in 2009, the world will know. Israel will know. And there will be time, maybe very little time, but time, for the Israelis to attack the Iranian nuclear assets preemptively , using conventional and nuclear assets. World opinion will still condemn the Jews, yadda, yadda, but coming in the wake of an Iranian test, the Israelis will have a legitimate case.