America: the contested legacy

This post is a follow-up to a previous post and its comments.

An anonymous commenter was a-o.k. with the contents of the recently leaked Apache helicopter video, although to me it looked like outright murder. He (and others like him all over God's America) justify this because "they" hate "us" for our values, and basically they have it coming.

Despite the fact that Osama bin Laden is on record saying...

Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Each and every state that does not tamper with our security will have automatically assured its
own security.

...some people still insist that it's for our values.

I'd get into how appalling it is that people justify murder in the name of freedom, but that's not the point here. I'd mention how you can still support the overall war without automatically excusing footage like this, but that ought to be obvious. I'd even throw in a bit about people who live in corrupt regimes having rights just like we have in our glorious republic on a hill, but hey, nobody would seriously dispute that, right?

What I'd actually like to ask is what "our" values are. Ask 3 people what "American" values are and you'll get four answers. What Ayn Rand acolytes love about America is very different from what religious conservatives love about America, and both are different from what left-wing hippies love. Which of those is the "real" American set of values? Do you prefer how devoted so many people are to the flag or how easily you can get high in any random town on the map? Do you like jazz? Rock & roll? What about god-fearin' Nashville faux-country? Maybe a symphony?

While we're having a debate over here about the million facets of America, Osama bin Laden and hundreds of millions of people in other parts of the world are focused on just one: military force. I'm willing to bet Osama bin Laden has never had the pleasure of listening to Robert Johnson, and he probably wouldn't know what to do if he did. Likewise for the pool of people he recruits from, and likewise for other people who don't share his murderous zeal but do resent the constant American exports of death and more death.

When people defend America's right to literally get away with murder in foreign lands, they justify it based on some great feature of America. Osama bin Laden doesn't give a shit if a Cambodian immigrant can start with nothing and end up with a chain of doughnut shops and a Cadillac. Millions of Iraqis don't know and don't care either. What they know of America is a bunch of thugs shooting them. That's what they resist. And that's something, as an American, I don't blame them for.

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Too one-sided. You're taking

Too one-sided. You're taking the enemy's side, believing whatever he says, accepting his characterization of his role in the war as purely defensive. Remember, Americans didn't invade Afghanistan until the United States was attacked. And while the recent invasion of Iraq was not directly provoked by Iraq aggression, it was in a way a (stupid) continuation of the previous war with Iraq, which was provoked by Iraq aggression against its neighbors. And while Bin Laden claims to be fighting a defensive war, he's not a state. What the hell is he defending? He attacked the United States in part because we had infidel troops stationed on the Muslim holy land with the permission of the Saudi government. That's not self-defense. Bin Laden doesn't own the Middle East. Attacking infidels for daring to set foot on holy land is, once you factor out the religious assumptions, not self-defense.

Look at Bin Laden's letter. I'll quote. It starts:

Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.

That sounds defensive, sure. But whether it really is depends on the specifics. Next bit:

Palestine, which has sunk under military occupation for more than 80 years. The British handed over Palestine, with your help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years

Jews on the holy land. The Jewish state's primary sin is not being Muslim.

Imagine if Mexico had the same attitude about California and Texas. "For the past X years, Yankees have been occupying Tejas and California." Normally, when wars are over and territory is won and lost, people stop trying to take it back. People update their concepts to take into account the new reality. Exceptions, like the Argentine attempt to retake the Falkland Islands (which they call the Malvinas) are very rare. And normally, such actions are considered (properly, in my view) aggression.

By this standard, Israel is the target of aggression, not the aggressor. So in Bin Laden's mind, Israel, by continuing to exist, by continuing to resist efforts to destroy it, is attacking Islam. Indeed it is - by the standard of Islam. When a Muslim says, "you attack us", this needs to be understood in the context of his religion and its definitions. Israel is a case in point. More from Bin Laden:

It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah.

Whatever. Bin Laden started by claiming that America "attacked us", but here he's arguing about who has "historical rights". That's not about self-defense. Bin Laden's reasoning here is the same reasoning that led Argentina to attack the Falkland Islands. Argentina wasn't defending itself then, and Bin Laden wasn't defending himself visavis Israel. He perceived it as self-defense, yes, he did. But that's just the problem. He's got a religion that tells him that murdering Jews who are minding their own business is self-defense. And you take the claims of this murderer at face value. That is a mistake.

The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged.

More Israel obsession.

The removal of these governments is an obligation upon us, and a necessary step to free the Ummah, to make the Shariah the supreme law and to regain Palestine. And our fight against these governments is not separate from out fight against you.

This is Osama's true goal. He's a Muslim imperialist. He wants to establish a theocratic empire in which the law is the Muslim law of Shariah. That is not self-defense. That is aggression. That he sees it as self-defense does not make it self-defense. The main sin of the United States is that it is hindrance to him, preventing him from establishing his caliphate.

You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of you international influence and military threats. This theft is indeed the biggest theft ever witnessed by mankind in the history of the world.

"Steal at ... prices." What this looks like to me is Lenin's theory of imperialism, the theory that the first world is raping the third world via capitalism.

Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures.

We corrupt their lands and besiege their sanctities not because we murder, but because we are infidels daring to tread on holy land.

You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern.

I think he's hit on a real problem, finally. Of course, if you look at the history, those sanctions are (however unwise) a result of Saddam's aggression against fellow Muslims. Still, and despite the dubious nature of the statistics, I'll give him that.

You have supported the Jews in their idea that Jerusalem is their eternal capital, and agreed to move your embassy there.

More obsession with Jews daring to occupy what Muslims consider Muslim land.

Should be a statute of limitations for land stealing

"Imagine if Mexico had the same attitude about California and Texas. "For the past X years, Yankees have been occupying Tejas and California"."

Where you been hiding? Mexicans don't think we stole their land?

I suggest a 10 year statute of limitations for international land stealing. If a country can hold the stolen land for 10 years, title passes.

Where you been hiding?

Where you been hiding? Mexicans don't think we stole their land?

And so do the Indians or so I hear. And so do the Argentinians about the Malvinas. And that's really the point. They think these things, maybe they say these things, but they don't usually attack. They respect the new boundaries. And when they don't, when they attack and try to retake the territory, as Argentina did once with the Malvinas, it's not self-defense. It's really a stretch to consider it self-defense.

Israel is at war with Islam. So the question is, who's the aggressor, and who's defending themselves? It's an important question. It's the question whose answer decides whether Randall is mistaken to understand Osama the way he would understand a fellow libertarian who said he was defending himself aggression.

We know what Israel wants. They want security. They don't want an empire spanning the Middle East. They want to be able to sleep at night secure in the belief that they won't be blown up. And we know what Osama - and everyone else on his side - wants. Osama says it himself. He says:

The removal of these governments is an obligation upon us, and a necessary step to free the Ummah, to make the Shariah the supreme law and to regain Palestine. And our fight against these governments is not separate from out fight against you.

Key words: "to regain Palestine". Osama Bin Laden's goal isn't to secure the rest of the Middle East against Israeli aggression. He wants to reconquer for Islam all of the land that Israel currently occupies. To my way of thinking, Osama is the aggressor in this and Israel the defender, just as Argentina was the aggressor and Great Britain the defender, and just as Mexico would be the aggressor and the US would be the defender if the Mexicans tried to retake Texas and California.

But Osama views Israel as the aggressor and Islam as the defender. And so do most Palestinians. Therefore, I conclude, we must be very careful in how we interpret Muslims who claim they are defending themselves. Sometimes they are, but Islam - as understood by many Muslims - defines things in a way that we non-Muslims do not expect, so that what they call self-defense, we would call aggression. Therefore we must be careful when Osama complains about aggression against Islam.

Is it possible to write this comment without collectivism?

Example (emphasis added):

We know what Israel wants. They want security. They don't want an empire spanning the Middle East. They want to be able to sleep at night secure in the belief that they won't be blown up. And we know what Osama - and everyone else on his side - wants. Osama says it himself.

This isn't just a quibble about syntax. I don't know how to get any traction understanding guilt or innocence when attributed to groups. Individuals act. Individuals have intentions. Individuals are harmed.

Collectivist language is fuzzy enough that it can simultaneously cast two separate groups as defending themselves against the other. The language convinces individuals to give up their own goals and spend their brief life on this earth supporting the declared goals of one group or the other.

Group identities

But it must be recognized that group-identities also get people to act - they act based on their beliefs and some of those beliefs, despite being ludicrous, are specifically adapted to survival and replication to other minds, without any regard for their owners. We must actively point out the blatant falsity and mortal danger of those kinds of beliefs (libertarians Sean Hastings and Paul Rosenberg have written a great book on this topic, it's called God wants you dead: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2532766/God-Wants-You-Dead)

I think that the Muslim group-identity in particular is extremely divisive and dangerous to the safety of many people around the world, just like the Christianity of the Inquisition and Crusades was during the Middle Ages. The Jewish group-identity also exists, but its danger to the rest of the world pales in comparison. We must remember that it took the Enlightenment and the emergence of Liberalism to fully put the Church in its place, so the best thing to do is to spread those ideas to the Muslim world as much as possible - before the radicals get their hands on real WMDs, with the tacit consent of the "moderate" masses who can't really go public in their criticism of their more pious brethren - because that would mean criticizing the literal word of God. It takes some serious mental contortionism to view verses like "kill all unbelievers" as having a hidden, esoteric meaning.

Let's remember that Churchill had to bomb the whole of Germany because the elites before him thought it was wise to appease Hitler since he and his ideologies could be reasoned with. They were wrong. Apologists for Islam are also wrong.

Osama is a man. He is the man

Osama is a man. He is the man that Randall quotes. Randall argues that osama is fighting a defensive war. I claim that osama is fighting an aggressive war. One bit of evidence is that osama is on record claiming that he wants to retake Palestine and that we are in his way. If that is randall's idea of self defense then what more need be said?

Is it your contention that wanting to wipe israel off the face of the earth in order to make room for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate uniting the Muslim world is self defense? By what stretch of the imagination?

I am generalizing from osama to others but since you seem to think that the use of plurals is collectivism (which by itself should lead you to reject randall's argument, since Randall implies a generalisation from osama to others), let us stick to osama and why he fights.

Also, I have read much about

Also, I have read much about the actual stated views of Muslims who fight against Israel and against the united states, and as far as I am able to determine, not a one of the fighters, either fighting Israel or fighting the us, desires peaceful coexistence with Israel. To the best of my ability to determine, all of them, from the leaders to the foot soldiers, desire the end of Israel and the establishment of Islamic rule over Palestine, by which they mean to include the entire territory of Israel. This is not merely a generalisation from one remark by osama, but is supported by all I know, so that the remark by osama merely is yet another confirmation of what I have already long known. If there are exceptions, they are too rare to make a difference to the conflict.

since you seem to think that

since you seem to think that the use of plurals is collectivism

No, I don't object to the use of plurals. I object to attributing desires, actions, innocence, and guilt to groups. You would have to explain to me how a group could be guilty of something. If you mean that each member of the group has been individually examined, found to have that attribute, and the group is defined as all individuals found to have that attribute, I think we can be clear. But if the group is defined by "those holding citizenship to Argentina", and go on to talk about what they think, say, and do, you're being uncharacteristically sloppy.

Sometimes, the sloppiness is innocuous and helps simplify language: "Argentinians raise cattle." But your editorial blue pen should highlight that and ask, "What do I really mean here?"

On the issue of judging guilt or innocence, I don't know of any way to apply it to groups unless group membership is part of the group definition. You could say, "those who desire to rule over Palestine are a threat to the government and/or citizens of Israel", and I would at least be able to examine what you are saying about some individuals' intent.

There is a well developed legal method of determining the guilt or innocence of individuals. War is a collective action that avoids this legal method. Eliminate the concept of "the State" as a collective that acts on behalf of its citizens, and individuals who kill would have to defend their actions individually, instead of hiding behind the institution with a monopoly on determining justice.

I object to attributing

I object to attributing desires, actions, innocence, and guilt to groups.

Then complain to Randall, who writes:

When people defend America's right to literally get away with murder in foreign lands, they justify it based on some great feature of America.

America, like Argentina, is a group and therefore (according to you) cannot murder. For murder is an action and a murderer is guilty, and groups cannot act or be guilty - or so you say.

It is clear to me that you have made a wrong turn somewhere.

Wrong turn

It is clear to me that you have made a wrong turn somewhere.

Apologies, Constant. It's taken me a month to lay out the argument clearly. If you could read through it and show me the error, I would appreciate it.

You objected to this: We know

You objected to this:

We know what Israel wants. They want security. They don't want an empire spanning the Middle East. They want to be able to sleep at night secure in the belief that they won't be blown up. And we know what Osama - and everyone else on his side - wants. Osama says it himself.

That's a prediction about what Isreal would do if the attackers backed off, and it's a prediction about what the attackers (the Palestinians and their supporters) would do if Israel backed off. Predictions are in principle falsifiable claims about the future.

It's a prediction because a statement about want (desire, preference) is a prediction (probabilistic prediction). For example, if I want to eat indian pudding (cornmeal, molasses, and milk, usually served with vanilla ice cream) and I am in a restaurant that serves fine indian pudding, and my pocket is bulging with money that I can freely spend, then chances are good that I'm going to purchase indian pudding at this restaurant.

Israel is an entity capable of observable behavior. For example, if employees of the Israeli government were (under orders from above, who were acting under orders from the elected civilian government through proper chains of command) to start dropping bombs on Iran, then most observers would say that Israel has started dropping bombs on Iran. If a behavior is observable, then it is possible to make a prediction about it. I predict that if threats to Israel and attacks on Israel were to cease, then Israel would not become aggressively belligerent, but would instead itself stand down, and take up a less warlike and more peaceful posture with respect to its neighbors. It would do this in no small part because the government, democratically elected, is more or less answerable to the people, and the vast majority of the people - enough to decide elections - are interested in not being attacked. Israel attacks its perceived attackers because it is attacked: were the attacks on Israel to cease, Israel would cease attacking.

And my objection

And my objection to that passage was that it was rendered unclear by collectivist language.

It sounds here as if you are saying that you are using generalizations about Israelis and Palestinians to make predictions about future events. If this is a casual prediction for the purposes of, say, writing a novel or choosing investments--actions which are not criminal in and of themselves--then it doesn't matter if it has error bars of 20%.

However, if someone is in the position of ordering (or participating in) an armed attack based on collectivist reasoning, it should not come as a surprise if the attackers have to face the consequences. One possible consequence is that they are captured and put on trial for their criminal use of force. But, there are other consequences that are less easily evaded: colleagues who learn of their actions may ostracize or distrust them, the aggressor's own conscience may make his life unbearable, or sympathizers of the victim may commit the identical error and attack someone they believe belongs to the same collective as the original aggressor.

Either an American or an Iraqi (or Israeli or Afghani or ...) could say, "Take my friend as an example. He was simply going about his daily business and hurting no one, when Boom! His life ended in a fireball from the sky. Those who planned and executed the attack against him are surely evil. I may not be able to kill the trigger man for the attack, but at least I can claim vengeance against the people who support him!"

That sort of conflation of individual innocence and collective guilt is a recipe for eternal conflict. This is what I meant when I said, "Collectivist language is fuzzy enough that it can simultaneously cast two separate groups as defending themselves against the other." You asked in response, "Is it your contention that wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the earth in order to make room for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate uniting the Muslim world is self defense?" No, it is my contention that it is sloppy language to talk about "Islam" "wanting" to do anything to "Israel". We cannot talk clearly about self defense in relation to collectives.

And my objection to that

And my objection to that passage was that it was rendered unclear by collectivist language.

I think you're abusing language by claiming that ordinary English words are "collectivist". Collectivism is a class of philosophy about society. Using the word "Israel" does not make me into a follower of Rousseau.

You're cricitizing me because somebody else on some other occasion might say something that bears a broad resemblance to what I said, and on that other occasion something bad might result from it.

You could say that about anything at all.

Did you even watch the full video?

Just one question. Did you even watch the whole video and understood the context in which it happened?

I am a Singaporean and even to me, it appears to me that the incident was justifiable though not necessarily justified. It seems unfair for you to so unreservably condemn the pilots if you have not even watched the entire video and actually heard what the pilots said rather than depending on second hand descriptions of it.

It is clear to me that you

It is clear to me that you have made a wrong turn somewhere.

Really? I was able to follow Mark's logic just fine.

Since this somehow spun into showing Osama's Israel fetish, I am going to bring it up once:

However you want to spin it, at one level or another the governments of Israel and the US are responsible for the murder of innocents. For a murder to be accidental, it would require a lack of premeditation. The video clearly shows malicious intent and premeditation.

Remember, Americans didn't invade Afghanistan until the United States was attacked.

Talk about taking the enemies side!

The US (generalization for WTC1&2) was attacked by Saudi's flying hijacked American made aircraft, and the claim is that the Taliban was hiding Bin Laden, that was why the invasion happened. I hate to tell you this, but the Taliban said they would hand him over if the the US could present evidence that bin Laden did it. The Fed's refused and to this day the FBI wanted poster for Osama doesn't list the WTC attacks. The FBI says they have no hard evidence.

The supposed video of Osama confessing to 9/11 wasn't good enough for the FBI. Mike Rivero dissects the confession video expertly, showing that the tape was faked to provide a false pretext for war.

That is criminal.

lol

However you want to spin it,

However you want to spin it, at one level or another the governments of Israel and the US are responsible for the murder of innocents. For a murder to be accidental, it would require a lack of premeditation. The video clearly shows malicious intent and premeditation.

Apparently you did not understand Mark, for Mark's logic prohibits you from saying what you have just said. You claim that the US is responsible for the murder of innocents. But "responsibility" requires the ability to act and to be guilty. And according to Mark, a group cannot act or be guilty. I quote again:

I object to attributing desires, actions, innocence, and guilt to groups.

That is a quote from Mark. He objects to attributing actions and guilt to groups. And we know that he considers "the US" a group because he has already illustrated what he means by "group" in the objection that he raised to my own statement. I wrote:

We know what Israel wants.

Mark quoted me and he bolded the bits that he found "collectivist". In particular he bolded the word "Israel". He commented by saying:

I don't know how to get any traction understanding guilt or innocence when attributed to groups. Individuals act. Individuals have intentions. Individuals are harmed.

So he explained his bolding of the word "Israel" by saying that he doesn't know how to get any traction understanding quilt or innocence when attributed to groups. Evidently he considers "Israel" a group. If Israel, then "the US". Let's look again at what you just wrote:

at one level or another the governments of Israel and the US are responsible for the murder of innocents.

You are writing at the same level at which I am writing: you are attributing guilt or innocence to what Mark considers "groups" - specifically, you have named a country and attributed guilt to it. Earlier I named a country, and Mark bolded this, and objected to my having named a country and attributed desires, actions, innocence, or guilt to it.

Is it clear enough or do I have to run through it again?

I hate to tell you this, but the Taliban said they would hand him over if the the US could present evidence that bin Laden did it.

That is a completely distinct line of argument from Randall's. I was responding to Randall's argument, and he was basing his argument Osama's supposed intent, and I disputed his conclusion by offering additional evidence about Osama's intent.

Dang

Apparently you did not understand Mark

Just because I can understand something, doesn't mean I have to adopt it as my own. This isn't the first time it has been assumed that I have somehow acquired sentiment by proxy.

Collectivist language is what I was raised with, it makes it easier to discuss statist situations. Especially government action. This is beside the point, that was one sentence that was completely twisted to make it seem like I was going to follow Mark's example henceforth. Almost your entire post is spent dissecting a straw man.

About the meat:

That is a completely distinct line of argument from Randall's. I was responding to Randall's argument, and he was basing his argument Osama's supposed intent, and I disputed his conclusion by offering additional evidence about Osama's intent.

I attacked the first part of your argument, which is a non sequitur. Your argument relies entirely on Osama being the aggressor and the US being the victim who only invaded Afghanistan in the interest of defending itself. Which - as I pointed out - is BS.

I was answering Randall and,

I was answering Randall and, later, Mark. What I wrote is only of interest even to myself as a response to their arguments. I am not interested in dealing with the question of whether Osama was actually behind the WTC attack. Randall didn't argue on the basis that he was not. There are many different arguments that can be made about the war in afghanistan, for example 9/11 truther arguments that it was actually the US govt that attacked the WTC. I am not interested in answering all such arguments. I am interested here only in a particular line of argument. Your claim that the Osama tape was faked is simply beside the point.

If you are interested in only

If you are interested in only one line of argument, ignore mine for your own benefit. No need to claim that the reason you cannot refute my argument is because it is uninteresting to you. Besides, creating and attacking strawmen hardly seems like disinterest, just a lack of information on your part to adequately defend your position.

Feel free to ignore my posts henceforth, you have already proven your value.

If you respond I will rejoin tomorrow. Goodnight.

Each comment of yours makes

Each comment of yours makes even less sense than the previous one.

Maybe it makes less sense

Maybe it makes less sense because you have been driving this discussion away from the original topic.