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Timely reading: Why People Believe Weird Things

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The Holocaust didn’t happen.

Aliens abduct humans.

The Earth spontaneously came into being 10,000 years ago.

Satanic ritual abuse of children is widespread and out of control.

We must invade Iraq or Saddam Hussein will destroy the U.S.

Why do people believe such weird things? Skeptic Society director Michael Shermer wrote a compelling book about this question, called, appropriately, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.

Shermer, of course, doesn’t deal with the current U.S. Iraq obsession in his 1998 book, but perhaps it is the same deep, human reasons that underlie our vulnerability to cults and conspiracy theories that also explain the mass delusion in the U.S. that catastrophe will result if the U.S. does not adopt a doctrine of preventive war and take out every monster on the planet.

Shermer suggests five general reasons that people invest their faith in weird things:

1. Consolation

2. Immediate gratification

3. Simplicity

4. Moral meaning

5. Hope

Starting a few years ago, prompted by the development of a movie I was making along with actor and co-producer David James, I began a study of JFK conspiracy theorists. It didn’t start as a study of the CTs, as conspiracy theorists are known in the community (in contrast with the LNs, or “Lone Nutters”–i.e., those who believe, as I do, that Oswald acted alone). It began as a study of the JFK assassination itself, because, having suddenly begun reading about that crime, I became convinced that there was something rotten in Dallas.

There are literally hundreds of books written from a CT POV about the assassination, and these (Crossfire and On the Trail of the Assassins, the two books upon which Oliver Stone’s movie JFK was based, were among them) formed my original impression of the Kennedy murder, the Tippit murder (Dallas cop killed on the same day) and the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby. The books are filled with details–pieces of original evidence, witness statements, theories both simple and elaborate–and to read them is to become utterly overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of evidence pointing to a conspiracy of some kind involved with the assassination. Caught up in this hurricane of evidence, I was convinced something more than the official version of the event had happened, and that justice had yet to be served.

And then I noticed something odd: The theories cancelled each other out. They couldn’t all be true at the same time. Some had to be wrong. So I set about trying to determine which was right and which was wrong. I wrote out a long list of claims: “Magic” bullet could not have taken that path, Kennedy’s head movement inconsistent with shot from behind, parade route was changed at the last minute, Oswald was a terrible marksman, Oswald was in the break room in the building during the assassination, the backyard photos of Oswald show evidence of tampering. And so on.

And then I checked them all out. I went to Dallas and walked Dealey Plaza for myself. I stood where Zapruder stood when he took that famous film. I stood behind the picket fence. I went up to the Sixth Floor and sat in a window near the one Oswald allegedly used (and was astonished by how close the shots really were–Dealey Plaza is very small). For a segment for a cable newsmagazine show, David James and I interviewed many of the leading CT figures, including Jim Marrs, author of Crossfire, and Robert Groden, considered the key expert on the photographic evidence. We interviewed the archivist for the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We attended the annual seminar for CT scholars, called November in Dallas, and took notes at numerous presentations and lectures.

I checked out all of the claims that I had found persuasive. And they were all bullshit. All of them. The “magic” bullet theory, for all the ridicule it has suffered, is not at all lacking in credibility, given the Zapruder film and the wound locations. There are no “U-turns” required. It’s the nearly straight path of a tumbling bullet slowing down as it passes through flesh and bone, and it is hardly in “pristine” condition. With as much practice as Oswald had (and he had a lot), I’m pretty sure I could have scored two out of three shots, too, perhaps with one of them being a head shot. The parade route wasn’t actually changed–that’s a myth. And those “mysterious deaths”? Someone just made that up. It sounds scary, so it sticks in your memory, but it’s statistical nonsense, just plain made up.

I checked out all of the claims, and they were all based on nothing, or on some author’s desire to make money, or on long-discredited evidence. (Talk to Jim Marrs someday if you want to see just how seriously he takes this whole greatest-crime-of-the-century thing–he treats it like a lark, like something fun to do, like the UFO stuff he also dabbles in to sell books to the same crowd.) Nobody, but nobody, had any credibility once you actually sat them down and pressed them on the issues–in fact, they pretty much have a rule barring you from pressing them on any issues. At the “scholarly” conference I attended, the host explicitly instructed us not to ask any of the guest “witnesses” (many claim to have been there on 11-22-63) any “rude” questions. They had shown up to be celebrated, not interrogated. In fact, not a single skeptical, truly probing question was ever asked of any speaker at the November in Dallas conference. They don’t want the truth–they want to believe.

The JFK conspiracy theories, taken as a whole, fit some of Shermer’s reasons, and so does the “If we don’t invade Iraq, Saddam Hussein will come destroy us” theory.

Consolation. The JFK killing was extremely damaging to the American psyche, and one would think that “Oswald did it” would provide plenty of consolation, since he was caught and killed. But it doesn’t. Because it hardly consoles us to believe that some disgruntled and confused ex-Marine Commie could bring down one of the greatest Americans who ever led the nation. A common parallel drawn is the Holocaust–greatest crime, greatest criminal. Hitler qualifies as a great criminal. Oswald does not. He’s just a nobody punk. But a grand conspiracy involving [fill in your choices here]–now that’s proportionate to the crime. Life is actually less unsettling if this kind of balance is present. It’s less chaotic.

Similarly, it hardly consoles us that a rogue band of criminals could commit 9-11, especially if the ringleader is still out there. But Saddam Hussein–now there’s a great criminal, and we already know who he is, where he is, and how to get him. It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence connecting him to 9-11. If we can just feel there’s a connection, we can find consolation in his downfall. We are still reeling emotionally from 9-11, which means we are extremely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. Unfortunately, those who have wanted to invade Iraq for 12 years now realize how vulnerable we are. (On Sept. 10, 2001, there was no plan to invade Iraq.) It’s going to feel good to settle our scores with Saddam. It’s going to feel a bit like 9-11 has been avenged, as irrational as that may be. Consolation.

Simplicity. How do you stop a Lee Harvey Oswald from popping up again? Just thinking about it boggles the mind. Lee Harvey Oswalds are everywhere. The Lone Nut is terrifying, largely because it is impossible to figure out how to find and stop the next one in a country of 281 million people, many of whom are a little bit crazy in their own way. Most JFK conspiracy theories, as complex as they may be, have at their root an attractive simplicity: If we root out the bad guys in the [government, mafia], the problem is solved. It might not be easy (simple being different than easy), but at least the problem is located. It’s not 281 million potential problems.

We have similarly located the solution to our 9-11 anxiety in Saddam Hussein. A more rational approach–to examine the complexities of terrorism, to treat it as a long-term, international law-enforcement problem in addition to a long-term political problem that must be cured at its root–is very complicated and comes with approximately zero guarantees. It is much easier to believe that a single military campaign–or even a series of them–will stamp out the problem. Violence is alluringly simple. You kill once, your problem is gone. If there’s one thing President Bush likes, it’s simplicity.

Moral meaning. The struggle to discover the truth behind the JFK assassination is an intoxicating mission–I know, because I was intoxicated by it. (And it’s one of the reasons I am so careful to keep an eye on myself and my anti-war zeal.) It feels like a great moral crusade. Your life suddenly has Purpose. It’s very easy to overlook those pesky facts that would get in the way. Much easier to just show up at the annual conference where nobody ever challenges anyone else, and everyone literally applauds the dedication and courage of the CTs.

Similarly, it’s easier to cast aside any complex view of the world stage and simply choose a war–no matter how arbitrary–against “evil.” President Bush probably could have chosen any number of countries to invade. Cases could be made against many regimes, and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia certainly would rank higher on the list of clear and present dangers to the United States, by any rational analysis. I don’t doubt that the country would have rallied behind an invasion of Saudi Arabia, given the nationality of most of the 9-11 hijackers and the proven links between high levels of that country’s government and terror groups. Stories could be told about the scary stuff that goes down in that country, too–it ain’t pretty by a long shot. We would have gone just about anywhere, as long as eradicating “evil” was the purpose. Useful word, “evil.” It gives meaning even to something that is obviously arbitrary.

It might be a bit too soon to try to examine America’s bizarre behavior in 2003. The Salem witch trials (“Don’t you care about the devil?”) and the McCarthy hearings (“Don’t you care about the Communist menace?”) made sense back when they were happening. Satanic ritual abuse made sense even to seasoned (and now terribly embarrassed) prosecutors just a few years ago (“Don’t you care about the children?”). And “America should wage war on Iraq” makes sense to a lot of people in the U.S. right now (“Don’t you remember 9-11?”), even as the rest of the world looks on in disbelief.

Someday, though, historians will try to root out the answers. One of them will write a book about it. It will be called Don’t You Remember 9-11?: Monsters, Madness and the U.S. Preventive War Doctrine. I’ll bet it’s going to be a good read.

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About Brian Flemming

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Now, there is some good thought and consideration in this article, but you’re also trying to get away with some nonsense slipped right in. Supporting our current effort to oust the Iraqi regime is absolutely not the same thing as believing in a bunch of specious alien abduction or holocaust denial crap. It is dishonest of you to lump them together. You badly hurt your own credibility with these cheap tactics.

    There are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made against military action. However, the Iraqi regime does in fact exist, and they have been in verifiable fact responsible for murdering at least a MILLION people, etc. Pretending in the face of obvious evidence that there are no reasons for supporting the war other than mass hysteria or evil right-wing psyops puts YOU, Brian Flemming in the same league with the holocaust deniers.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    I like to consider myself a pretty reasonable person, not much given to conspiracy theories. After all, why credit conspiracy when simple human stupidity is a good enough explanation?

    But yeah, Al’s right. Like a man with a hammer, you seem to be seeing nails where there are screws.

    Holocaust deniers don’t deserve to be reasoned with. Like teaching a pig to sing, it simply wastes our time and annoys the pig. If a simple recitation of the facts and the evidence doesn’t convince someone within seconds or minutes, there is nothing more to be done. Ditto for alien abduction, though it is admittedly hard to prove a negative. To say that the earth popped into existence thousands of years ago instead of big-banging into existence jillions of years ago is slightly more debatable than the others, because the “evidence” for each is more complex to understand. Widespread ritualistic satanic abuse is another pretty easy one, since it is simply a statistical matter, coupled with a simple demonstration of “false memory.”

    But the last, the link you invented yourself, isn’t a matter of conspiracy. It’s a matter of opinion. There is no set of facts in hand that can prove or disprove a future event. Put another way, we can’t know whether a holocaust could happen in the future. We can’t say that because no humans have ever been abducted by aliens, no humans ever ever will be, unless of course we can disprove the very existence of aliens, but as I mentioned, it’s hard to prove a negative. We can’t guarantee that ritualistic satanic abuse won’t become widespread for some reason, and we can’t know with any certainty what Saddam Hussein would do if we suddenly withdrew all of our troops, granting him a de facto victory.

    I have heard repeatedly the false statement that more than half of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein engineered the 9/11 attacks. I’ve seen the survey, and I’ve read the question. The majority of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was at least partially responsible for those attacks, and that again is just a matter of opinion. If Saddam gives cash to terrorists in Palestine, does that make him responsible for terrorism? Yes, even though he commits no terrorism himself. That Saddam has done so isn’t a matter of conjecture, it’s a matter of undisputed fact.

    There is a big difference between taking a series of disputed facts and linking them together to make a theory that would barely hold water even if the facts were true, and taking a look at the undisputed facts and forming an opinion that takes them all into consideration.

    It’s worth noting that those who have done with Iraq what you’ve done with Dealey Plaza have almost unanimously decided that Saddam is a menace worth confronting sooner rather than later and likely indeed poses a danger to the security of the United States. So you’ve actually put yourself in the position of those you discredit, making judgements based on second-hand information, without addressing the overwhelming preponderance of evidence that doesn’t fit your view.

    But again, unlike the other examples where people deny simple demonstrable facts, so far this is all just a matter of opinion. Based on what I’ve seen from most of the anti-war crowd, it will always be a matter of opinion and dispute, because even if the troops find piles of chemical weapons and maps and a round-trip plane ticket to Dallas in Saddam’s closet, it will still be conjecture that he was actually planning to use them.

    So be careful of applying a pattern where it doesn’t fit. Just because conspiracy nuts exist in this world, doesn’t make everybody who disagrees with you a conspiracy nut.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Al,

    “Pretending in the face of obvious evidence that there are no reasons for supporting the war other than mass hysteria or evil right-wing psyops puts YOU, Brian Flemming in the same league with the holocaust deniers.”

    There were “reasons” for burning the witches in Salem, too–they had actual trials, with judges and testimony and everything. Similarly, the Holocaust deniers have reams of “evidence” to buttress their case. Modern-day prosecutors, with real law degrees and actual high IQs, also fell into the “ritual Satanic abuse” trap. They didn’t lack “obvious evidence.” They had enough of it to convince juries.

    The question is, are these “reasons” mere window dressing on an emotional impulse not truly supported by the facts?

    Every look I have taken at the dozen or so conflicting arguments for the Iraq invasion convinces me the real reason has not yet been clearly stated.

    I think the real reason may in fact be emotional, not logical.

    Phillip,

    “…we can’t know with any certainty what Saddam Hussein would do if we suddenly withdrew all of our troops, granting him a de facto victory.”

    I don’t know where you found this proposal–it wasn’t in my review. My review is about how we got into this war, specifically how United States popular opinion accepted the notion that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the country’s security. It’s a ludicrous view, yet it is widely held, and it is partly responsible for the invasion of Iraq.

    “I have heard repeatedly the false statement that more than half of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein engineered the 9/11 attacks. I’ve seen the survey, and I’ve read the question.”

    Could you provide a direct link to this survey that you have seen and read? I base my position that there is significant and widespread belief on the part of the U.S. public of a connection between Saddam and 9-11 partly on this information (taken here from the Christian Science Monitor, 3-14-03):

    In his prime-time press conference last week, which focused almost solely on Iraq, President Bush mentioned Sept. 11 eight times. He referred to Saddam Hussein many more times than that, often in the same breath with Sept. 11.

    Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks. A New York Times/CBS poll this week shows that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was “personally involved” in Sept. 11, about the same figure as a month ago.

    That President Bush and his Administration deliberately tried to connect Saddam and 9-11 in the public imagination is, I think, indisputable. I find it hard to take seriously anyone who believes otherwise. Around the same time that “Osama” ceased to be publicly mentioned by Bush (after having been mentioned constantly), 9-11 and Saddam start showing up in the same sentences. A lot.

    Ignore that all you want. It still means something.

    Elsewhere in the Monitor article, a separate poll by a separate organization is mentioned:

    Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either “most” or “some” of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

    As I mention in my Blogcritics article The Media’s Share of the Blame, only 17 percent of the U.S. public knew the correct answer.

    The public feels, intensely, that 9-11 is a major factor behind the invasion of Iraq (“Don’t you remember 9-11?”), and yet only 17% of the public knows that none of the hijackers were Iraqi. This matters. It isn’t the only significant fact about this war. But it matters.

    And that war proponents can so easily dismiss the obvious manipulation of the American public–as well as the blatant lies told by the Administration to the public, Congress and the U.N. in the run-up to the war–is very telling to me. It makes me suspect that war proponents want to believe the lies, that ultimately they are taking refuge in feeling the connection between Saddam and 9-11, because they know deep down there really isn’t one.

    And, absent that connection, it’s hard to justify war.

    “Don’t you remember 9-11?”

  • http://www.murphyhorner.com murphy

    Brian,

    From reading your post, I understand you to be saying that people’s logic can be manipulated under certain psychological or emotional circumstances to believe things that are without foundation.

    And you think that the climate in America right now is leading the populace to assume a connection between the invasion of Iraq and the 9/11 when the is not in fact a direct link.

    I am so interested in this kind of mass delusion. I have come at it from a different angle, having had unfortunate personal experience with a religious cult.

    As I did research on how cult mind-control works, my eyes were opened to how frequently these patterns repeat themselves. I’ve been fascinated with the McCarthy era, and the Nazi atrocities. These are the same tricks, the same kinds of synapses activated in people’s thought processes.

    I just read _The Unbearable Lightness of Being_ by Kundera, and one more piece snapped into place when he talked about his idea of “kitsch.”

    It’s hard to wrap your mind around, but he creates a category that covers all these ideological mind-sets. He points to the similarities in how groups choose the facts they will recognize and ignore the facts that don’t fit.

    At the base level, it’s the same mechanism, whether it’s religious, political, philosophical, or personal.

    Thanks so much for your post!

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Murphy,

    “From reading your post, I understand you to be saying that people’s logic can be manipulated under certain psychological or emotional circumstances to believe things that are without foundation.

    And you think that the climate in America right now is leading the populace to assume a connection between the invasion of Iraq and the 9/11 when the is not in fact a direct link.”

    Wow. You got it. Thanks for letting me know that point was actually in there, because I was beginning to worry that I didn’t state it clearly enough.

    That people in the U.S. have drawn a connection between Iraq and 9-11 is, I think, undeniable. Some debatable questions, however, are:

    1. Is there truly a link? Evidence to date has not demonstrated such a link, and our intelligence agencies have been looking very, very hard.

    2. If there is no link, why do people believe there is one? I would suggest a purposeful campaign by the White House to get the public to think of the two together is largely responsible. A simple examination of Bush’s own public statements would indicate that the White House did make such an effort, once an Iraq war was decided upon.

    3. Is the perception of a link a key factor in U.S. support for the war? This is the sort of question that could be endlessly debated. But I would say common sense should come into play here–the chorus of “Don’t you remember 9-11?” that gets shouted in response to any expression of opposition to the war does mean something. It means that’s why Americans, by and large, think their Army is invading Iraq.

    The burden on those who disagree, I think, is to show what else “Don’t you remember 9-11?” means.

  • http://www.murphyhorner.com murphy

    In a sort of holistic view of the Middle East, I think there is a link. But not a very direct one, I think it’s subtle.

    I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s going on in the Middle East…I mean, my understanding of it.

    From what I can tell, Arab peoples have a lot of solidarity with one another. The differences are not so pronounced as their similarities. They have a unifying principle, too: Hatred of Israel.
    A common enemy is incredibly galvanizing.

    So, since we already have a very strained relationship with Saddam, and since we appear weak after the 9/11 attack, there is a possible fear that Saddam would use his purported Weapons of Mass Destruction to get us while our pants are down.

    America, as a whole, might feel something like a family whose house has been robbed. HYPER paranoid about it happening again. So they see somebody that looks suspicious (saddam) and say “remember 9/11?” meaning, remember when we were attacked? We have to look big and mean so it won’t happen again.

    classic displacement of aggression.

    So far, the only thing I am sure of is that I don’t have a full picture. RIght now, it seems to me that the war on Iraq has more immediate connections to the power and effectiveness of the U.N. than anything else.And that’s a whole nother set of worries.

    But the global respect for America may have fallen so far as to inspire those who hate us, and there are many, to take a stab at their own 9/11.

    People hate america for good reasons. Yeah, we’ve done good things, but we’ve done some stinkers too. We’ve stomped around the world in smug ideological arrogance and occasionally in reekingly corrupt greed.

    Bush may need to go “beat somebody up so we don’t get dissed again.”

    But as I said, I don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Murphy,

    “In a sort of holistic view of the Middle East, I think there is a link. But not a very direct one, I think it’s subtle.”

    I agree with you. That Saddam Hussein was pleased by the 9-11 attacks is probably a fair bet. Whether he had anything to do with them or not, he was probably made happy by them.

    That Saddam Hussein has developed chemical and biological weapons is not in doubt. And that he is ruthless and aggressive enough to use them on his neighbors is certain.

    So…9-11 was a horror. Saddam attacking his neighbors would be a horror. Saddam probably liked that we got attacked on 9-11. There’s kind of a connection there. Add in the alleged apparent attempt on GHWB and there’s a kind of…something.

    And if one gets holistic about it, yeah, it’s enough to justify war. You kind of just squint your eyes a little bit, blur all of the facts into one, and you’ve got an invasion.

    The problem is, you can do this very easily with a lot of other countries. I’ve never heard a solid argument against the assertion that this war opens a Pandora’s box. In fact, war proponents run screaming from this assertion. I would guess because it’s very hard to make a case that this war has extremely simple and clear reasons, and they only apply in this case.

    It used to be that way. Our reasons for war were simple and clear. One country violates another country’s border–war. A country attacks us–war. A country is about to attack us–war. Urgent police actions to stop an ongoing genocide were also motivated by simple, clear reasons–to stop an ongoing genocide.

    There is nothing like that here. There are a dozen reasons for the war, and none of them pass the test of being simple, clear and sound. The men and women fighting don’t know why they’re fighting. Saddam’s troops know better than ours why they’re doing what they’re doing.

    The reason for this war? Because Bush says so. That’s what it comes down to. That’s fine with many Americans. But that sort of rationale didn’t used to be good enough to start a war, at least among decent nations. The U.S. used to need an actual reason.

    I guess a cynic would say we only needed an actual reason because there were powers on Earth to stop us if we didn’t have one. And now that there’s nobody to stop us, we don’t need no stinkin’ justification.

    That much of the world–not just the Muslim world, but the other parts of the world that used to actually like and admire us, what Bush perhaps calls “the irrelevant 6 billion”–sees us this way is not in doubt.

    One of the reasons I was out protesting today was to show the world that we don’t all possess this arrogant attitude toward them. I want them to give us another chance. Let us straighten this out in 2004–let us elect someone who repudiates the literally insane doctrine of preventive war.

    I hope they’ll wait.

    “Bush may need to go ‘beat somebody up so we don’t get dissed again.’

    “But as I said, I don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know.”

    I’m right there with you. I don’t know why we’re in this war, either, beyond “Bush says so.” I have no idea.

  • http://www.murphyhorner.com murphy

    “Our reasons for war were simple and clear.One country violates another country’s border–war. A country attacks us–war. A country is about to attack us–war. ”

    Um…How can I say this politely? I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    How far back do you want to go? The American revolution did not fall under any of those categories. It was a revolution. America wanted home rule. We COULD have gone the Canada route and not had a war. We didn’t.

    Why did Napolean start a war? Because war was how you got respect, and he wanted to prove that He and the French People could kick anybody’s ass.

    Why did World War I start? Entire libraries could be filled with theories on THAT one. But the reasons for that one were flimsier than the reasons for this current war.

    World War II? Basically, a continuation of World War I…But Germany was the agressor, initially. But then Japan jumped in because they thought they had a chance to do some damage while everyone else was distracted. We were attacked in Pearl Harbor…Why did they start to go after Germany? Maybe it was a “while we’re at it” thing.

    And WWII was the war that gave war a good name again. America wouldn’t want to miss a chance to get a piece of that.

    Korea? Vietnam?

    Most of these things had to do with Treaties. Which is actually what THIS war is about, too. The U.N. agreement that Saddam do certain things in exchange for not being executed after the Gulf War.

    and THIS is the reason why we aren’t going after the dude in Korea. We don’t have an agreement with him. Not the same kind, anyway.

    President W wanted to use the U.N. to put consequences to Saddam’s actions. But the U.N. didn’t want to enforce the agreement. I suspect that W thought they would vote to enforce the agreement once he said he’s be the one supplying the troops.

    But they didn’t. So he went forward alone. If you look at it one way, he might be the only one really doing what the U.N. is supposed to do.

    Or he might be the one that is destroying the U.N. power.

    The pandora’s box it opens may have been kicked open by the war. It may have been just waiting for the slightest thing to spring open, because of the pressure of previous choices made all along.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Murphy,

    “Um…How can I say this politely? I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    “How far back do you want to go? The American revolution did not fall under any of those categories. It was a revolution. America wanted home rule. We COULD have gone the Canada route and not had a war. We didn’t.”

    You are correct. I usually append a qualifier to that statement, and I failed to do that in this case. What I meant to say (and have said elsewhere on blogcritics) is that since the end of WWII the U.S. has recognized that the legitimate reasons for one country going to war with another are few, simple and clear.

    You are right that the U.S. hardly expanded from the original colonies to what it is today without playing a bit more fast and loose with the rules. I was speaking of the rules that have governed Earth after the formation of the U.N., and I wasn’t clear about that. My bad.

    “President W wanted to use the U.N. to put consequences to Saddam’s actions. But the U.N. didn’t want to enforce the agreement. ”

    I disagree with you. President Bush went to the U.N. framing his issues with Iraq as relating to disarmament. Whether this was disingenuous of him and everyone should have seen through it is a separate issue–as Kofi Annan has noted recently, the issue was framed as disarmament.

    So the Security Council did what it is supposed to do. It tried to take care of the problem in a way that avoided war. It set up inspections with real teeth and showed a willingness to make them even tougher. And Saddam startled everyone by agreeing to the inspections.

    The new inspections, barely under way, were clearly working–at least toward the goal of disarmament.

    George W. Bush launched this war for precisely that reason. The inspections were working. He couldn’t let Hans Blix have the “weeks” Blix said it was going to take to reach a definitive conclusion. Those weeks might have cost Bush the war.

    So he launched a war, possibly earlier than his war planners thought was wise, and possibly killing a number of American soldiers as a result of his haste.

    I don’t think the record shows that George W. Bush is doing the job the U.N. woudn’t do. We’re at war because the U.N. was doing its job so well.

  • http://www.murphyhorner.com murphy

    So, you think that President W had the prior intention of going to war. The whole U.N. thing was an excuse to go over there rather than a chain of events whose consequences led the war to happen.

    Some of the things I’m hearing on the radio (I have a pacifica station I listen to here in L.A. and they say things others don’t) support that idea.

    They keep saying that there is no evidence of Weapons of mass destruction. If that’s true, W looks like a warmonger.

    Which is what you are essentially saying…

    I do think it’s kind of sneaky that he used the “Go to war free” card passed by congress after 9/11 to go to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

    I wonder if it had had to go to vote again, what might have been different. I bet there might have been more than one dissenting vote. Barbara Lee might have had the right idea

    I know that the acceptable reasons for war in the very recent past have been narrowed. But that hasn’t really stopped people from going to war from unacceptable reasons.

    Plus, we have a narrow-minded view about who has the right to go to war. Meaning, not all people groups represent a government or political entity. Terrorism is becoming more prevalent, and that is the result of disenfranchised people taking what power they can to make their views known.

    Our Focus on “Human Rights” is the beginning of dealing with these people. But it’s not working so well that the disempowered have faith in it yet.

    So there will be a proliferation of terrorist acts in the near future, I believe. Because for some people, ALL acts of self-defense or political action are illegal. They don’t have an acceptable outlet to work on their greivances, so all routes are unacceptable. And if you are going to be unacceptable, you might as well go for something that will really get attention.

    The 9/11 attack gives a nice model for those peoples. That’s why I am saying that W may need to truly beat the living hope out of someone, anyone, to reinstate the balance of fear and respect that potential terrorists have for America.

    I’m not saying that this kind of Mafia global politics is RIGHT, but it nonetheless is one way of dealing with the current situation.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    “So, you think that President W had the prior intention of going to war.”

    I’m not sure this is even in dispute.

    “The whole U.N. thing was an excuse to go over there rather than a chain of events whose consequences led the war to happen.”

    I think an examination of the record makes this the most reasonable conclusion.

    The “Wolfowitz doctrine” calls for the U.S. use of military force not just as a defense, but as a warning. The neoconservatives who held sway in the White House in the run-up to war clearly wanted war, not disarmament. The behavior of the White House is inconsistent, to say the least, with a campaign only to disarm Saddam Hussein. That disarmament was clearly happening, with greater speed and effectiveness than it had in 10 years, and Bush put a stop to it.

    I don’t think any reputable historian will ever write that George W. Bush went to the U.N. sincerely seeking disarmament of Saddam, then chose war only because that disarmament proposal didn’t work out. Disarmament was working. He still chose war.

    The neoconservatives actually wanted to defy the U.N. They want to weaken it. Their own public documents do not hide this fact. They want U.S. military power, not the U.N. Security Council, to keep the “peace” on this planet from this day forward.

    The U.N. did not get in the way of disarmament. The U.N. got in the way of this neoconservative vision for the world order. They needed this war to get this vision started. And this vision was conceived long before 9-11. It scared the hell out of everyone when it was leaked (and repudiated) in early 1992. Since 9-11, however, we are shaken up enough that we’re letting this same vision–the one that caused a scandal when it was leaked to the press in 1992–become our nation’s foreign policy.

  • Rev Nick

    Well, here we are now, with the war all but won, and the people of Iraq CHEERING and WELCOMING us, and tearing down the statues. I would like to point out that all the anti- war nonsense was irrelevant (sic?) once the war started, now (and I don’t even know if this is possible, at least grammatically)you are redundantly irrelevant. But I heard on the radio something that has near enraged me. A prison was liberated by coalition troops- a prison full of CHILDREN. You people like to say “peace at all cost”, well THAT WAS THE COST FOR TWELVE YEARS. Children thrown into FUCKING PRISON!! For not joing some stupid youth group, some for as long as FIVE YEARS! Just so you know, by the by, I didn’t even bother yo read the above stupid pointless article, I just had to express my rage and disgust. CHILDREN! IN JAIL! Let that sink in. “It’s the childern that’ll suffer if we invade” you gutless cowards sniveled. It was the children that suffered becouse we didn’t finish off Hussein years ago. Say what ever you want, I’m sure you will, go on about what ever stupid left wing idealogical bullshit comes to mind, whatever anti American rhetoric you can spout off, but the truth is this: the people of Iraq now HAVE A CHANCE. The future is now open to these people, they are going to be allowed to decide their own destiny for the first time in almost thirty years. Oh- wait- this is a wra of conquest, I forgot. Assholes.

  • the Rev Nick

    “The neoconservatives actually wanted to defy the U.N. They want to weaken it. Their own public documents do not hide this fact. They want U.S. military power, not the U.N. Security Council, to keep the “peace” on this planet from this day forward.

    The U.N. did not get in the way of disarmament. The U.N. got in the way of this neoconservative vision for the world order. They needed this war to get this vision started. And this vision was conceived long before 9-11. It scared the hell out of everyone when it was leaked (and repudiated) in early 1992. Since 9-11, however, we are shaken up enough that we’re letting this same vision–the one that caused a scandal when it was leaked to the press in 1992–become our nation’s foreign policy.”

    Yeah, I just read the statement of policy on that website you posted a link for as ‘proof’ of a evil republican world conquering scheme, and wow, you’re right-
    “• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global
    responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

    • we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

    • we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

    • we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.”

    Scary shit- especially that part about freedom abroad.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Rev Nick,

    Would it do any good at all to point you to the part of that document that DOES say the stuff that has the rest of the world scared to death?

    And as for your finger-pointing and yelling in the previous message, I had already predicted that here:

    And so the gloating begins

  • zeravan

    i like to know about my future.

  • http://iliketoknowaboutmyfuture zeravan

    i like to know about my future

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    I’m tempted to add a reason, Brian:

    6. A sense of superiority.

    I see that all the time. People will believe things that make no sense if they think doing so confirms their (usually) overestimation of themselves. An argument could be made that in America it is a group trait that only a minority of us escape. Remember the American general who said he can defeat Muslim leaders because his god is superior to their god last month? I believe that attitude is pretty widespread, though not always couched in religion. A more typical statement of it would be ‘We’re better than the other people in the world because (insert stupid reason).’

    Too bad I already blogged something Brian wrote at Mac-a-ro-nies this week, this material would have been good to pick up. Or, alternatively, more people could post excellent analytical essays I can link to at Blogcritics. Come on now, help the Diva out.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    In regard to Murphy’s point, I believe she is on to something. America must always have an external enemy. They have come and gone quickly since the end of the Cold War, but there must always be one. Notice how disposable the external enemies have become? Panama? Somalia? Afghanistan?

    I think it has to do with feelings of guilt . . . and selfishness. That is why one so often hears silly notions of an international conspiracy of envy against the U.S. Americans feel guilty about undeserved affluence and, like a four-year-old who has taken all the crayons, beat up the two-year-olds who want a share because of their guilt. Something like that, anyway.

    Nick, you are doing a good job demonstrating the attitudes Brian, Murphy and I wonder about.