Letters to the Editor
Partners or Peons?
Tom Engelhardt's analysis
of President Bush's pointless escalation of
his pointless war is thorough and insightful, but I would like to add a
perspective that he does not address.
In the Bush/Cheney model of government, we see an autocratic approach --
the leaders make the decisions and hand down the orders, and the role of
the people is to unswervingly obey and carry out those orders for "the
good of the nation," where of course "l'état, c'est moi."
It is hard to
imagine a less democratic and less American approach to government. And
if we look back a few decades, it's hard to imagine a less Republican
form of government, too -- the Republicans of Eisenhower and Goldwater
feared nothing more than an all-powerful government dictating to our
nation of independents.
Our Founding Fathers shared this concern, and took great pains to design
a system that was inherently responsive to the needs of the people --
because it was the people. This integrated partnership, where the
people advise and consent, and often dissent as well, is what has made
this a nation of laws, not of men, and one that has become a shining
example to the world for more than two centuries. If we value our
democracy, it is not only our patriotic duty, but an exercise of our
power as free citizens to stand up, to become involved, to become active
partners in our government.
The neocons now in control of our government are fond of telling us that
we must continue the war on Iraq or else those who have died will have
died in vain. This is a recipe for endless war (there will always be men
and women who have already died), one that will concentrate ever more
power in the hands of an ever less-responsive oligarchy.
The neocons are also fond of telling us about our duty to serve God and
country (which they often confuse, but that's a separate issue). But
they forget that our leaders also have a duty to serve the nation.
Messrs. Bush and Cheney, and all their crew, owe their soldiers a
patriotic duty to use them wisely and well, to safeguard them to the
best of their ability, and not to send them casually, capriciously, and
criminally into the jaws of death. But their autocratic model of
government provides only for responsibility upward, treating us citizens
as mere chattel to be moved about or slaughtered as the leaders see fit.
We have no rights, we are not partners, we are property.
I reject this perversion of American democracy. We are all full partners
in this government, and we are entitled to decide for ourselves how it
should be run. That's what "public service" means -- that our public
servants should serve the public. If they can't or won't, then it's time
to replace them with someone who will.
-- Paul B. Gallagher, Horsham, PA
How Hard Should We Hit Hate Speech?
While I am positive that Bruce Ticker's
that we oppose hate speech with truth speech -- is excellent advice for
American society, where we have a tradition of vigorous and not always
polite advocacy, is entirely appropriate in countries which are still
dealing with the aftermath of the Nazi experience, and which are only
now experiencing the kind of mass immigration from the Third World, on
which the United States was built. David Irving was aware of the manner
in which he violated Continental European law, and attended a meeting in
a country where he knew he would be apprehended and dealt with according
to those laws. While much of the hate speech legalisms in Europe are
holdovers from United States military government after World War II,
such laws are on the books still six decades later because Europeans
sense the need for such self-protections from the "Monsters of the Id"
in their own "Forbidden Planet." Now that Irving has challenged his
European civil rights denial unsuccessfully, he has to live with the
The case of Congressman Keith Ellison
has proceeded to its American
conclusion: the Muslim Congressman swore his oath of office over a
religious document which held emotional significance for him, a Koran
donated to the Library of Congress by President Thomas Jefferson. The
bigots who opposed his action have been widely ridiculed in the press;
and the precedent will make it possible for Jews to swear oaths over a
Tanakh, rather than a New Testament, should they wish in the future to
do so, or for Asians to swear their allegiance over Sutras or other
emotionally significant documents in their religious culture. The
broader symbolism of taking oaths over objects which are significant to
the person actually taking the oath is a significant one, which also
surely has limits (for instance, by taking an oath over a magotty
corpse); but Ellison's case surely has not tested those limits for most
The case of the 20 year-old Long Island young adult who damaged a
menorah, and degraded the public religious symbols of another culture,
is not whether he should go to jail for committing property damage: the
property damage by a is a crime that needs to be dealt with through the
usual mechanisms. The question is whether this property damage rises to
the level of burning a cross to intimidate racial minorities, and
deserves the aggravated punishment such intimidation is due. As Judge
Holmes once wrote, "The most stringent protection of free speech would
not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a
panic." The panic of Anti-Semitic violence, even against symbolic
objects, is one which we should be very circumspect to cede, lest it be
escalated to the recurrence of Yankel Rosenbaum's death in Brooklyn, or
to a death like Michael Griffiths in Howard Beach.
-- Ben Burrows, Elkins Park, PA
Was Saddam Really A Threat?
Israeli experts who felt
that the Middle East was actually safer with Saddam Hussein. This is
an interesting contrast to the Bush administration's oft-stated
opinion that they did the world a favor by eliminating him.
After the first Gulf War I had a surprising conversation with a good
friend who is an Iranian expatriate (and a Muslim). He told me that
the smartest thing that Bush I did was to leave Saddam in place. My
friend's rationale was that Saddam was a buffer between the Saudis
and the Iranians, that he was intractably opposed to religious
extremists, and that he was not a threat to the US or Israel. On
reflection I came to agree with him.
Another friend who was a UN weapons inspector in 1998 told me that
while it was clear that Saddam had chemical weapons in 1990, there
was no evidence in 1998 that such weapons, or the capacity to make
them, still existed in Iraq. This opinion, widely shared among the
weapons inspectors, was based on an exhaustive on-site efforts to
find evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Few would argue that Saddam was a good guy. He used poison gas
(supplied by the US) in violation of the Geneva accords. He tortured
and killed people he thought were enemies. His sons, psychopaths
both, tortured and raped indiscriminately. On the other hand, could
our friends the Saudis, or many other MIddle Eastern Arab states,
pass a rigorous inspection without uncovering evidence of torture or
worse? I wonder.
Saddam, until forced into acceptance of Islam as a tactic to fight
the post Gulf War I embargo, ran a secular country where women were
treated as equals and education was widely available. Had the world
responded differently after Gulf War I Iraq might have remained a bastion
against Islamic terrorism.
It is entirely possible that Israel, the US, and the world are
actually worse off because Saddam Hussein is gone.
-- Kenneth Gorelick, Newtown Square, PA
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