Posts Tagged With: WWII

DEVISING AN EXIT STRATEGY

In my last posting I described how the United States has been the sin eater for the rest of the planet during the past century. How the U.S. has come to the rescue of everyone else, over and over, when the world appeared to be overtaken by some very evil forces. And how most Americans are becoming sick and tired of sin-eating the rest of the world’s most dire problems. Yet with the rise of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups, as they continue to gobble up more chunks of territory and expand their caliphate in the Mid-East, as well as commit the most heinous of crimes while doing so, there are renewed calls from powerful figures in this country  and elsewhere, for the U.S. to once again initiate military action against these jihadists. And not only against jihadism. Many militarists would have us go to war with Iran by bombing their nuclear facilities, since they have no faith that current negotiations with Iran will lead to a cessation of that country’s nuclear weapons ambitions. For example, our illustrious former Vice-President during the Bush Administration, Dick Cheney, has come out with a new book recommending the use of military force in both situations. As well as in the Ukraine, where Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems intent on taking over huge chunks of territory through military means. The problem is that the U.S. has become like a person treading water while stranded in the ocean and waiting for rescue. Our arms are getting tired.

So let us see if the U.S. can devise an exit strategy from it’s role as the world’s sin eater. First, it should be noted that more and more Americans are having less and less interest in the U.S. becoming involved in foreign entanglements, much less being involved militarily. When the I-Phone 6 came on the market not that long ago, huge, hour-plus long lines formed at Apple stores around the country. Those on line just had to be among the first to acquire the new cell. I guarantee that everyone standing in those lines already had an I-Phone 5, but thought that by acquiring the new model, their lives would somehow be magically transformed from the pathetic existences they actually were. Same situation when the Apple Watch started being sold. Does anyone think that even one person on those lines had any interest for the U.S. to engage in militarily adventuring overseas. Of course not, since that would not increase their instant gratification impulses. Same is true for those worrying about who the next American Idol will be or those keeping up with the Kardashians, etc. The U.S. has become too soft and mushy to even consider the sacrifices needed and the costs incurred in going to war overseas.

Those that would have us militarily engage ISIS point out that the U.S. was steeped in isolationism when Nazi Germany was on the rise during the 1930s; and that by the time we did enter WWII the Axis countries had become so powerful that the cost in lives alone was unspeakable. Which is all very true. But it was a different time and a different  country. Americans at the time were willing to make sacrifices if it enabled the war effort. Food was rationed by giving every family a book of stamps that limited the amount of goods that could be consumed each week. Such basics as meat, sugar, dough, baking powder, etc. were only available in very limited quantities. Consumer products were virtually nonexistent, as factories around the country were transformed into producers of military hardware. You think consumers today, contemplating their next purchase of a top of the line Lexus or Mercedes, would be willing to make similar sacrifices. It’s almost laughable.

Also to be considered is the fact that if we did engage Islamic-Jihadists on the battlefield, it would not be the same conditions as military operations against Germany and Japan during WWII. The jihadists know that they would be no match for superior American forces and equipment, and that they would be slaughtered in a head-to-head battlefield confrontation. Most would, therefore, slip away and meld into the local population and bide their time. Some might stand their ground and would likely be killed. But, as I’ve said, most would avoid such a scenario. Unlike WWII battlefields where each side had huge tank forces that sought to destroy the opposing forces tanks. If we engaged militarily today, once we cleared the area of terrorists and the like, we would eventually have to leave. The terrorists are quite patient at waiting us out, and would simply re-organize and move back in when the U.S. left Dodge City.

So how do we get out of this mess. Is there an exit strategy short of war? I believe there is. The key is in understanding what motivates young men, and some women, to likely sacrifice 60-80 years of their lives by joining organizations like ISIS in the first place. While some recruits may be true believers in the cause of Jihadism, most come to join because they’re from poverty-stricken backgrounds with little or no skills, and virtually no prospects for a better future. So what if they’re gunned down while in their twenties. Their lives are filled with nothing but misery and poverty to begin with, and none of that is likely to change. ISIS likes to boast that it doesn’t matter how many of their members get slaughtered, because thousands of new recruits are willing to join their ranks every month.

Thus the key to ending the terrorist initiative is to convince would-be recruits that they do have something to live for, and that it’s myopically brainless for them to throw their lives away in such meaningless fashion. We need to fight ISIS on-line, where much of its recruitment efforts and propaganda take place, rather than fight them on the battlefield. Only when we can convince those that are down-and-out even at a young age, that their future is not as bleak as they imagine, will the terrorist thrust begin to wither.

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THE SIN EATER

Many of you are not likely to be familiar with the role of the sin eater in ancient tribes and societies, and more recently in some 17th and 18th century places such as Scotland and Ireland. But the sin eater was thought to play a vital role as one approached his or her death. For a very nominal fee, a designated sin eater was called in by the family of someone on his or her death bed, or someone who had just died but had not yet been buried. The sin eater was then served a sumptuous feast or perhaps just a few slices of bread depending on the wealth of the family in question. The sin eater would then consume the food presented to him, and by doing so, would absorb all of the dying person’s earthly sins. Those sins would then belong to the sin eater, and the dead could then enter the afterlife completely absolved. Pure as the driven snow. The problem was that when it came time for the sin eater to die, no one would be willing to absorb the huge tonnage of sins that the sin eater had taken upon himself over a lifetime. Most of the time, other sin eaters were too frightened to take on this burden. The sin eater, upon his death, was then doomed to roam the alleyways of Hell for all eternity. The relevance to today’s world is that the United States has been the sin eater for the rest of the planet for a century now, and the burden is beginning to become too heavy.

Just about a century ago, WWI broke out between the Allies and Germany; and  quickly bogged down into a stalemated exercise of trench warfare. More soldiers died from the filth and disease inherent in these trenches then from being shot. It wasn’t until the U.S. was persuaded to enter this fray that the stalemate was finally broken and the Allies were able to push on toward victory. Twenty years later history repeated itself, as a more vicious and evil war machine in Nazi Germany set out to conquer Europe while their counterpart in the Pacific, Imperial Japan, sought total dominance in that part of the world. Again, our desperate allies called upon the sin eater to save them from total destruction. It wasn’t until the U.S. entered that battlefield that the tide of war started turning in the Allies favor. Just a few years after the end of WWII, North Korea invaded South Korea, and the U.S. was again called upon to save the day. It did free South Korea, but could not do the same for the North, which today remains a giant concentration camp, under the heel of a ruthless and tyrannical dictatorship. As in the previous wars, the U.S. once again experienced a huge loss of life.

Not long after the Korean fracas, the sin eater allowed itself to become enmeshed in the hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam, in a war where the U.S. had no vital or essential interests. There was a huge loss of American life, over 58,000 dead, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese deaths. It was a war the U.S. lost, in time, and it took the much maligned Richard Nixon to extract us from that fiasco. It also soured the desire of most Americans from entering into any further military engagements. After another decade or so, President George Bush, the Elder, got us involved in another shooting match, this time in the Mid-East, by coming to the rescue of Kuwait, which had been invaded and conquered by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. We were successful in that venture, and Bush the Elder was smart enough to walk away after Kuwait had been freed.

Not so smart was successor George Bush the Younger. On the pretext that Saddam Hussein was in the the process of acquiring weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear bombs, Bush the Younger decided that once again, the U.S. would be the world’s sin eater by initiating another war against Iraq. Now unquestionably, Saddam Hussein was a very, very bad guy who had slaughtered tens of thousands of his own countrymen, because he believed they opposed his dictatorship. But the problem was that Iraq had not acquired WMDs. There were no nuclear or other deadly weapons to be found. But, on the theory that once you break something in the china shop you own it and have to pay for it, the U.S. has now, and it seems, will for evermore, be responsible for the events unfolding in Iraq, and indeed, the entire Mid-East.

As we all know, a ruthless band of cutthroat Islamic Jihadists known as ISIS has come on the scene and taken over  huge swathes of Iraqi territory, as well as large chunks of Syria, and lately Libya, and is active in other Mid-Eastern countries. In actuality, they are murderous serial killers on a grand scale, and bloodthirsty killings are the name of their game. But they seem to be gaining in both territory and power. So once more, voices in this country and the rest of the world, are pleading with the U.S. to be their sin eater. They want the U.S. to put boots on the ground and go to war in Iraq for the third time. ISIS must be stopped now, or like Nazi Germany, they will become too powerful to take on. However, most Americans are now too tired and weary of becoming the world’s sin eater. The U.S. has now been pretty well drained of any desire for foreign adventurism.

Next time I’ll explain why it would be a bad idea for the U.S. to put boots on the ground in fighting ISIS, and that another option exists outside of a shooting war. Remember that while things may turn out well for the sinners, they seldom turn out well for the sin eaters.

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AUSCHWITZ, 70 YEARS LATER

Even after 70 years, pronunciation of the word still evokes feelings of terror, alarm, and revulsion among civilized societies. Even after 70 years, the full scope of the horror and atrocities committed there has not been totally documented. Last week, January 27th to be exact, marked the 70th anniversary since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Russian troops. There was a major ceremony that day at the camp, with dignitaries from nations around the world in attendance. Camp survivors numbering about 300 now were also there, with some giving testimony as to the nature of their hellish experiences. A decade ago there were 1500 survivors in attendance at the 60th anniversary ceremony, but slowly their numbers continue to dwindle. The youngest of the remaining survivors is now in their late 70s. The buildings and gas chambers are empty now in the dreary cold; but to their credit, about 1.5 million tourists are visiting the Auschwitz every year to experience first hand, the epicenter of the human capacity to perform total, undiluted evil. An evil that could not have been perpetrated by Hitler and his Nazi thugs alone, without the willing accomplices of tens of thousands of civilian bureaucrats that organized and shipped all the logistics to that camp, including the poison gas that killed so many. As if they were manufacturing and shipping clothing to a department store. The banality of evil, as some have called it.

Auschwitz is located in northern Poland and was part of a network concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis starting in September 1941, that included nearby Birkenau. The camps were built in response to Hitler’s “final solution” regarding European Jews, which was their total annihilation. A system of of railway tracks brought trains filled with supplies into the camps on a daily basis. The Holocaust murdered 6 million European Jews, 1.1 million of whom were killed at Auschwitz. Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of tens of thousands of faceless bureaucrats that came into play. Another 100 thousand people, mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime, or Gypsies, were also slaughtered there. Auschwitz was staffed by about 7000 Nazi goons, but only a small handful of higher ranking officers were ever brought to justice. The rest of the murderers lived out their lives un scathed by the Allied justice system. One officer, Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was captured by the British in March 1946, brought to trial, and hung for his crimes in 1947. Mass murder, torture and starvation were not the only crimes committed at Auschwitz. Nazi criminals such as Dr. Josef Mengele performed gruesome medical experiments on on prisoners which usually resulted in their agonizing deaths. As I’ve written before, Mengele escaped the Allies dragnet, and made his way to South America after the war, ending up in Brazil. He supposedly drowned while swimming off the coast off Brazil in 1979.

Life at Auschwitz usually began at 3 in the morning when all prisoners had to come out into the yard for attendance. Even the ones that died during the night. After shivering for 4 hours in the freezing cold, Nazi troops would arrive at 7 AM to take roll call. All prisoners had to be accounted for, even the dead ones. If any were found missing, troops were promptly sent out to search for them. Almost all potential escapees were eventually hunted down and immediately shot to death. Those prisoners that weren’t dispatched to the gas chambers were given grueling work to perform all day, with little or no food. Starvation in the concentration camps was endemic. When supreme allied commander Dwight Eisenhower and his forces entered Auschwitz a few days after the Russians, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The Nazis had fled and left behind a few thousand prisoners that were like walking skeletons. Piles of corpses lay everywhere. Eisenhower stated that it was like descending into the pits of Hell, and that it made him ashamed of his German heritage.

With the destruction of the Third Reich in 1945, the anti-semitism that had prevailed in Europe for 2000 years, and that gave rise to the Nazi empire, was supposedly laid to rest. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs could not have achieved their spectacular successes in evil domination and mass murder, if hatred and persecution of Jews had not been ingrained into the fabric of the European psyche for the past 2 millennia. Along with the many pogroms against Jews during that period. So it seemed that Jew-hating in Europe during the decades after WWII was finally discredited and became a thing in the past. But in actuality,it was just laying low, waiting for the opportune time to rise again. Now after 7 decades, it’s re-gaining its sea legs. The new rise of anti-semitism in Europe, is, in reality, just a return to the norm. The past persecution and pogroms against Jews were always the norm until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly where-in anti-semitism became socially unacceptable. The hiatus is over, however.

The killings of 4 Jews at a kosher food store in France a few weeks ago only gained prominence because it was done in conjunction with the murders at Charlie Hebdo. But the previous murders of a Rabbi and 3 school children in Toulouse garnered virtually no world-wide attention. Nor do terror attacks against Jews that have now become common in many other European nations. There are movements all across Europe (and most prominently, with our supposed allies) to boycott Israeli products, or even to expel in-country Jewish populations. It has now become respectable again in Europe to despise Jews. No more hiding in the shadows. European anti-semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain on the human condition, a continent-wide disease that Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself from. And the size of this tumor continues to grow.

Hatred for any group based on their religion, skin color, ethnicity or for any other reason always occurs when the group in question is a minority. It’s the bully’s mentality at play. Among school children, the bully and his gang can always beat up a defenseless kid to compensate for their feelings of self-loathing. Among adults, the bully mentality transforms into hatred and discrimination for some minority group that similarly is in no position to take on the much larger majority. Another insidious aspect of the human condition.

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THE PLAGUE

“The Plague” written by French existentialist  Albert Camus, should be on everyone’s top ten bucket list to read before dying. Written in 1947, it takes place in an Algerian port city, similar to the one Camus grew up in Algeria. Oran to be specific. At the time Algeria was a French possession, and would not achieve independence until the early 1960s. The Plague deals with issues that were central to French philosophy during WWII years; namely existentialism, the absurd, and humanism. Although the story is ostensibly about infected rats emerging from the city’s sewers and dying in the streets, and then how the disease spreads to the human population who also start dying in large numbers; it is said to actually be an allegory about the horrors of WWII. The basic message of The Plague is that the world, and, indeed, the universe, is often senseless and indifferent to human suffering, which is unceasing and torturous. If you don’t believe so, think of a parent’s worst nightmare-which is the loss of a child. A nightmare they can never recover from. Nevertheless, Camus believed we should always fight the good fight against all this suffering, as the doctor fought unceasingly against the disease in The Plague. Although, in the end, that battle will inevitably be lost. Remember, this book was written shortly after WWII with all its horrors of concentration camps and death; so pessimism concerning the human condition abounded everywhere, especially in Europe. Camus did fight in the French underground and got to see the horrors of war up close.

In a godless, absurd, and uncaring universe, Camus made the case that compassionate humanism was the only rational course for human existence. I was thinking about “The Plague” recently, especially with its latest outbreak concerning the Ebola virus, with the death and destruction it has already caused, and it reminded me of my misspent youth immersed in French existentialism. I have written before about my dalliance with humanism and existentialism when I was in college in New York, and how I had three close friends with the same interests. About how the four of us would work after school during the tax season for an accountant named Herman Lord, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The four of us read virtually all the works of French existentialists such as Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone du Beauvoir, Andre Malraux, Andre Gide, and others. Like the French writers, we fancied ourselves to be atheistic existentialists in a cold and indifferent world and universe. Thus, the irony was not lost on us that we went to work for a man named Lord. When we came into his office, we would profusely bow with great flourish, and refer to him as The Lord. One day he finally lost his temper and yelled that if we didn’t cut that shit out, the four of us would be looking for a new job immediately. We still went on referring to him as The Lord, amongst ourselves, if not to his face. After all, it seemed like destiny that us 4 atheists would wind up working for The Lord.

As I’ve said, his office was in the Bed-Sty section of Brooklyn which was virtually all black at the time. It was the Brooklyn equivalent to Harlem. But this was the mid-1950s, when New York, and indeed, the rest of the country was still peaceful and the crime rate was low. Often I would be the only one in the office, (besides the client, of course), and not lock up until about 9:PM. Usually, my car would be the only one parked on the street. Yet I never had any fear for my safety, or for my car being ripped off. Even my mother, who was a professional worrier, never had a concern about my working nights in Bed-Sty. So how did it all turn so violent as we moved into the 1960s. Cities burning often repeatedly, crime surging, massive illegal drug dealing and usage, huge demonstrations and protests, relentless poverty, inner-city rat infested slums, unpopular and unnecessary war, and a host of other ills burst upon the American scene. It seemed that the relative tranquility we experienced during the 1950s was, indeed, an aberration.

And so it was, as the facade of a peaceful American society papered over huge social and political problems. Blacks were routinely segregated and treated as semi-slaves in the South. There were huge gaps in wealth between rich and poor, blacks and whites, and even between men and women. Minorities were fed-up with being relegated to inner-city slums, as well as dealing with Jim Crowism. The war in Viet-Nam, started because of our neurotic fear of communism, would go on to take close to 60,000 American lives as well as hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese. And the plague of violence that spread across America after the 1950s, would, over decades, go on to infect the rest of the world, that is today caught up in Islamic-terrorism. We swallowed a healthy dose of that terrorism on 9/11 and in terrorist strikes on American soil since then. But large chunks of Northern Africa and Asia are currently subjected to the terrorist plague of almost daily beheadings and massive killings. And the beat goes on.

Albert Camus died in a car accident in Algeria in 1960. I would like to believe that he would have appreciated the absurdity of such a hugely important literary figure dying in such a mundane manner. My friends and I grieved over his death as if we had lost a parent. A major voice for reason  and sanity and compassion in the human condition had abruptly been silenced. We were now truly alone in an indifferent and uncaring universe. How frightening is that.

 

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