Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Youth, Interrupted

Somewhere I was listening to an interview with a witness of the Kent State massacre in 1970. The horror of the campus killings 37 years ago were compared to events at Virginia Tech.

Hearing about Kent State reminded me how that massacre helped to forge a generation. So too will Virginia Tech, though quite differently.

Kent State was a tragedy that was the result of two sides facing off over the war in Vietnam. One side was protesting the seemingly endless and expanding conflict in Indochina; the other side was called in to maintain civil order. Guns went off, and four people lay dead. The young generation just emerging from the 1960s rallied around this event. The antiwar cause was buttressed. Their deaths, while tragic, were at least casualties in a battle of ideas.

But what of today's young generation? The Virginia Tech massacre seems prophetic for them. Nine times the number died at Virginia Tech than did at Kent. What cause did these young people die for?

None at all. They died because a lunatic got his hands on some very effective killing technology. The press looks for meaning, and answers. They'll never be found. Because they're not there.

Today's young generation must contend with mass death at the hands of anonymous people, with anonymous causes. Certainly, murder sprees are not unique to today's young generation. But situational catastrophe seems to have taken on a life of its own in the past 10 years. In terms of age, it's possible that some of the kids who were shot at by Cho Seung-Hui might have dodged bullets of similar intent at Columbine High School in 1999. This is a generation that has become accustomed to being distracted, influenced, and sometimes killed en masse by random occurrence without a coherent purpose.

Some of these kids are in school, others among them are in Iraq and Afghanistan. There too, they must contend with anonymous, random violence. International Jihad does indeed represent a cause, albeit incoherent much of the time. But each act of violence in the name of Jihad seems arbitrary, and murderous.

What must today's young people make of the world they must engage? What are their expectations, as a generation? Media has pounded them all their lives about how the world is dangerous; it's full of child molesters, murderers, disease and vice. They're a generation raised with interior childhoods, safe from what lurks outside, but free to observe it on a screen. All their worldly needs could be met in homes and safe places. Childhood became a crafted vocation.

Virginia Tech was the slaughter of the lambs by one of their tormented own. While their lives had purpose and meaning, their deaths had none. That's the despicable truth. Where Kent defined the older generation's opposition to war, Virginia Tech defines only an rising tide of random atrocity without end.

Wish them well.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Running Interference

I live in Boston's backyard. I've been hearing the buzz and fuss about the 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' guerrilla marketing campaign snafu:
The US city of Boston was snarled in traffic jams January 31st as police investigated hoax boaxes with flashing lights placed around bridges all over the city.
Turner Broadcasting Systems had hired people to plant the strange devices around the city of Boston to market a television cartoon called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" which has a movie coming out February 23rd.

Road and rail traffic was disrupted by the Police as they investigated the hoax and removed the boxes within emergency protocols for bomb scares. Two men alleged to have placed the boxes have been charged, and Turner Broadcast Systems apologized. Boston's mayor will pursue compensation to the city for the cost of the scare.
The media circus seems to have oscillated around this event. Most people think Bostonians have overreacted. I agree.

If this were just the work of renegade guerilla artists, it would be one thing. But this isn't quite that.

Guerrilla tactics are flourishing in the hyper-networked age. We see the guerrilla meme changing the nature of war, marketing and advertising -- even childhood. We see it in art, as a form of expression.

The magnetic lighted boards planted in Boston by Berdovsky and Stevens were a kind of guerilla art that is ultimately funded by a large entertainment conglomerate -- Turner Broadcasting. It was apparently the brainchild of Interference Marketing, Inc., engaged by Turner to promote 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force.' In the end, it was all part of a promotion created to enrich a mega-corporation that is shrewd enough to hijack the emerging guerrilla cultural meme.

A friend of mine said that this is a pathology of the wartime mentality we have assumed over five years. Indeed, these are jittery times. In some ways, there's a similarity between this event and the overreaction to Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938. It was the eve of another war then. People had lost their sense of humor. Who can fault them, under the circumstances?

The two men arrested for planting the devices later gave a surreal press interview for television. They made a mockery of the situation, which on some level couldn't be denied as being ridiculous. I wanted to like them and appreciate their Dada moment.

But I didn't. What troubles me is that I can't determine if Berdovsky and Stevens are renegade Dadaist artists, brilliant marketing tacticians, hapless idiots or corporate stooges.

People wag their fingers at an overreactive, jittery populace as being the villain in this situation. But really, it's hard to tell who the villain is. People living in a paranoid age acting irrationally? The pathologies created by the war on terror? Artists? Marketing? Corporate media? The guerilla mentality?

The whole bloody circus?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hama Complex

One of the arguments for pulling out of Iraq is that its citizens are not capable of establishing anything remotely like a democracy. We flatter ourselves to believe that our 230 year old democratic experiment has any chance of getting off the ground in a region defined by clan, religious edict and ethnic rivalries that reach back into antiquity.

I will confess that I myself have nursed this opinion on and off, agog at the carnage in Iraq. Whether or not our boys and girls on the ground are the stewards of a fledgling democracy or are greasing the gears of Iraq's next ethnic meat machine, it's not obvious which will prevail.

I read somewhere that the Americans are too nice to run a place like Iraq. Our introspection gets us caught up in our moral lapses in places like Abu Ghraib, much less actually rule with an iron fist. No, I don't think Abu Ghraib was a good thing, or necessary. I don't particularly want our soldiers to become common thugs. There's nothing to win when that happens.

But the point of our light-handedness -- our niceness -- remains.

Many readers here might be familiar with the massacre in Hama, Syria, in 1982. Here's the background from Wikipedia:
At the time, the Middle East was in deep turmoil and Syria had been deeply involved in Lebanon's Civil War since 1976 and the beginning of the 1982 Lebanon War. Problems also arose from Turkey, which mobilized troops on its borders with Syria primarily to deal with Kurdish rebels and accused Syria of supporting and training the PKK rebels within Turkey. The Muslim Brotherhood took advantage of this situation to start defying Hafez al-Assad's rule. It undertook guerrilla activities in multiple cities within the country targeting officers, government officials and infrastructure. The anti-regime violence included the killings of eighty-three young military cadets at an artillery school in Aleppo in June 1979, and three car bomb attacks in Damascus between August and November 1980 that killed several hundred people. In July 1980, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was made a capital offense punishable by death, with the ratification of Law No. 49. Throughout the early 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood staged a series of bomb attacks against the government and its officials, including a nearly successful attempt to assassinate president Hafiz al-Assad on June 26, 1980, during an official state reception for the president of Mali. When a machine gun salvo missed him, al-Assad ran to kick a hand grenade aside, and his bodyguard sacrificed himself to smother the explosion of another one. Surviving with only light injuries, al-Assad's revenge was swift and merciless: only hours later many hundreds of imprisoned Islamists were murdered in a massacre carried out by his brother Rifaat al-Assad in Tadmor Prison.
Calls for vengeance grew within the brotherhood, and bomb attacks increased in frequency. Events culminated with a general insurrection in the conservative Sunni town of Hama in February 1982. Islamists and other opposition activists proclaimed Hama a "liberated city" and urged Syria to rise up against the "infidel". Brotherhood fighters swept the city of Ba'thists, breaking into the homes of government employees and suspected supporters of the regime, killing about 50. The goal of the attack on Hama was to cease the rebellious activities of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The assault began on February 2 with extensive shelling of the town of 350 000 inhabitants. Before the attack, the Syrian government called for the city's surrender and warned that anyone remaining in the city would be considered as a rebel. Robert Fisk in his book Pity the Nation described how civilians were fleeing Hama while tanks and troops were moving towards the city's outskirts to start the siege. He cites reports from fleeing civilians and soldiers of mass death and shortages of food and water.(Pity the Nation, pages 185-86)

According to Amnesty International, the Syrian military bombed the old streets of the city from the air to facilitate the introduction of military forces and tanks through the narrow streets, where homes were crushed by tanks during the first four days of fighting. They also claim that the Syrian military pumped poison gas into buildings where insurgents were said to be hiding.

The army was mobilized, and Hafez again sent Rifaat's special forces and Mukhabarat agents to the city. After encountering fierce resistance, they used artillery to blast Hama into submission. After a two-week battle, the town was securely in government hands again. Then followed several weeks of torture and mass executions of suspected rebel sympathizers, killing many thousands, known as the Hama Massacre. Journalist Robert Fisk, who was in Hama shortly after the massacre, estimated at the time that 10,000 citizens were killed and later described the death count as as many as 20,000; (Pity the Nation, pages 186; [1]), but according to Thomas Friedman (From Beirut to Jerusalem, pages 76-105) Rifaat later boasted of killing 38,000 people. The Syrian Human Rights Committee estimates 30,000 to 40,000 were killed. Most of the old city was completely destroyed, including its palaces, mosques, ancient ruins and the famous Azzem Palace mansion. After the Hama uprising, the Islamist insurrection was broken, and the Brotherhood has since operated in exile. Government repression in Syria hardened considerably, as al-Assad had spent in Hama any goodwill he previously had left with the Sunni majority, and now was compelled to rely on pure force to stay in power.

Ever since Hama, for better and for worse, the al-Assad regime has kept Syria relatively quiet. Islamicists have been put in their place, working either underground or abroad.

I was struck by an article concerning ancient weapons found in the ruins of Hamoukar in Syria. The archeological dig is located near the Iraqi border. Clemens Reichel, the American co-director of the expedition, has seen explosions just over the border. He said:
"It's somewhat surreal. We're not living in a vacuum there. We know exactly what's happening across the border," Reichel said. "But working in Syria is like working in the eye of the storm. It's very peaceful to work there. Practically no problems."

'No problems' in Syria for the western archeologist. The spoils of Hama, perhaps?

I have wanted to believe -- and would like to believe -- that there is a 'third way' in the Arab Middle East. It's glimmers can be seen in Lebanon, though intermittently, where modernity has not translated to autocracy or theocracy. The moment seems rare though, as we now look at Lebanon's apparent slide into war. Can this region and these people secure themselves without invoking Hama?

Would the world be a better place had Hama not been obliterated? Would it have been better for the Muslim Brotherhood to get control over Syria in 1982? Or was it better that a relatively secular autocrat put down religious extremists? Which is preferable?

This question vexes me. I don't like to ask it. I don't think it gets asked enough. I think we want to believe that it's a false choice allowing only two oppressive outcomes. We want to believe that people in that region yearn for freedom, and don't want to choose between two blunt evils. It may be, however, that what we hope for is not what history delivers.

Eventually, some kind of parity and order will restore itself in Iraq. It might not happen until another Hama occurs. I doubt that we will be capable of enacting the wanton slaughter required to beat anarchy into submission. I'm sure I wouldn't want us to. Not only would we betray the core purpose of our mission in Iraq, we would wind up putting down one side of an ancient war in favor of another. There's no winning that war.

'Hama II' will likely happen in our absence. Or be perpetrated in our midst.

When we leave the region, people who have advocated that Iraq and Arabs are incapable of democracy will be vindicated. But I hope they don't run victory laps in the streets. Because there's an inevitable logic that follows. If Iraqis cannot find democracy because of their deep cultural, ethnic and religious bigotry, then there's no argument that Muslims can live in secular Europe among French or English natives. Or in America, such as Dearborn Michigan. There would be no case for Palestinians taking part in a peace process, or having the capacity to run their own state on a democratic basis. There would be no case that Egyptians and North Africans could transcend tyranny.

'Losing Iraq' -- meaning Iraq losing its chance to join the free world as a beacon to its Arab and Muslim brethren -- does not bode well for Muslims across the globe. If it is clear they cannot be civilized -- yes, civilized by our standards -- then civilization will circle its wagons and exclude them, en masse. Somewhere down that road will come another Hama. And another. And another.

The New York Times published a telling story from our Surge Troops on the ground in Baghdad:
When the Iraqi units finally did show up, it was with the air of a class outing, cheering and laughing as the Americans blew locks off doors with shotguns. As the morning wore on and the troops came under fire from all directions, another apparent flaw in this strategy became clear as empty apartments became lairs for gunmen who flitted from window to window and killed at least one American soldier, with a shot to the head.
Whether the gunfire was coming from Sunni or Shiite insurgents or militia fighters or some of the Iraqi soldiers who had disappeared into the Gotham-like cityscape, no one could say.

"Who the hell is shooting at us?" shouted Sgt. First Class Marc Biletski, whose platoon was jammed into a small room off an alley that was being swept by a sniper’s bullets. "Who's shooting at us? Do we know who they are?"

In the end, the answer to Sgt. Biletski's question might come with an exasperated, apologetic shrug. "Who's shooting at us? Do we know who they are?" Yes, we know who they are. They're Muslims. Some are Sunni. Some are Shi'ite. Some are young. Some are old. Some are Arabs. Some are Persians. Some are in America. Some are in Iraq. Some are in Europe, and Africa and the Pacific. Some are moderate. Some are radical. It's become impossible to pick out who's who. They're all shooting at us, and at each other.

Hama awaits. Who lights the fuse?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Guardedly Skeptical

I've been a nay-sayer here about the war recently. I have found it increasingly difficult to have much faith in the president's competence in prosecuting the war. I still believe we are on the threshold of taking a side in an ancient religious feud. Let's hope not.

I would at least like to upgrade my negative position to 'guardedly skeptical'. I was reminded this morning that my armchair viewpoint is spun from a digital tower. There are people whose experience on the ground in Iraq trumps the prognostications I dream up on the Blogosphere.

Here's the views from some soldiers on the ground in Iraq. In this article at least, they're more optimistic that the fresh troops being deployed will be a positive development.

I hope they're right. And I hope they can do their work well and come home, in spite of the politics at home. And in spite of my skepticism. Read on:

U.S. troops: Fresh faces must be used correctly

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A few hours after President Bush announced more than 20,000 additional troops would deploy to Iraq, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Casper was doing inventory with his soldiers.

Like most soldiers here, Casper did not catch Bush's speech, but he knew the basics: More troops are on the way.

"It's trying something new, and if it works, it works; and if not, we will have to find something else," he said.

Staff Sgt. Roy Starbeck also didn't hear Bush's remarks, but he did hear some of the dissenting reaction from politicians and others -- and it irked him to no end.

"It's just ... really just aggravating," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "People saying that they don't support the war because they don't like the president or saying they don't support the war because they are Democrats or saying they support the war because they are Republicans.

"None of them are taking the time or energy to find out what is actually going on over here."

Most of the soldiers who spoke with CNN said they believe that if the fresh troops are used in the right way, the increase could be a significant help. But these men have no say in policy.

In the words of one soldier, "I am just a little fish."

Starbeck said he believes that Bush "did a pretty good job of owning up to what is going on over here."

That sentiment -- that Americans don't fully understand what's going on in Iraq -- is one that resonates among troops.

A lot of them said they feel that those who make the decisions and the American people don't have a clue what they --- the soldiers, Marines and other forces --- are going through. And dealing with that is not easy...

Based on their experiences fighting in Baghdad, troops who talked with CNN said they feel that more troops would be best used alongside Iraqi security forces. Even in areas that already have been handed over to Iraqi control, the Americans still find themselves coaching and mentoring the Iraqis down to the last detail.

The Iraqi troops also have told CNN they want the American firepower on their side because it bolsters their confidence.

In addition, U.S. soldiers have said they have noticed that when they are present in force, the sectarian violence tends to decrease.

"We would drive right down the Sunni-Shia fault line when we heard the gunfight going on and that would calm things down," Staff Sgt. Daniel Beard told us out on patrol.

His platoon commander, Charles Moffit, said he thinks the increased troops will help.

"We can only be in so many places at one time. ... If we have more soldiers here, we can be more places at one time."

Many of the soldiers here are on their second -- if not third or fourth -- deployments and have a solid grasp on the countless challenges they face.

They know that military power alone is not going to win the fight. And they also know that while, as many of them said, the plans often sound great on paper, it translates differently on the streets of Baghdad.

"I think it's a double-edged sword," Army Sgt. Jason Dooley said, peering over the shoulder of an American sniper about halfway into Tuesday's 10-hour gunbattle for Haifa Street.

"Increasing troops could show more force, could incite the insurgents or get them to back off. You never really know. They do what they want to do -- that's what makes it so hard."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lose, Lose, Lose

Here's some snippets from President Bush's speech on a new Iraq strategy this evening:

The consequence of failure:
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people...
The cause of failure:
There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.
The new security arrangement:
The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad’s nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort – along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations – conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.

...this will require increasing American force levels.
The intended result:
...over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad’s residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq’s Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace – and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.

- - -

The President's Iraq plan assumes that there is a cogent, non-sectarian, uncorrupted Iraqi national government to partner with. I propose that this is an illusion, laid bare by Saddam's mob-like execution at the hands of revenging Shi'a. There is no real national government in Iraq that represents all the factions. I don't believe it is possible at this hour.

We're pouring 20,000 more of our forces to go "door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents". Translation: We're going to unwittingly assist one side of this sectarian conflict suppress the other. We will be taking sides in a conflict that goes back more than a millennium.

It has become inordinately difficult to see how our token force of 20,000 additional troops embedded in Iraq's sectarian war will turn the tide in the Global War on Terror.

I supported this war because I felt it was a gamble worth taking, given the data we had at the time regarding Saddam's WMD programs. But through deception from many sides, error, misjudgment, incompetence, stupidity, naiveté, over-exuberance and bad luck, the gamble failed. 20,000 troops in 2007 is 20,000 troops too late.

Perhaps some will think this is an overarching strategy to beef-up forces in the region pending engaging the Iranians. If we need to do that, we need to consider how taking sides in a pointless sectarian war in Iraq now is going to strengthen our resolve in dealing with Iran later. Here's a hint: It won't. It will sap us. The pointlessness of the exercise will be self-fulfilling.

Hell, I'm no military strategist. I don't have a specific strategy in mind to secure even a limited defeat, short of withdrawal. But I think the President's calling for 20,000 troops at this stage of the conflict is not serious. You and I -- private citizens not in uniform -- are asked to do nothing but fret. The sacrifice expected of us is, once again, minimal.

Enjoy your iPhones.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


On the way to his execution, Saddam Hussein said, "Iraq without me is nothing."

I am glad the Saddam era is over. But I wouldn't say I am relieved. I wonder if his last words are prescient. The nation called Iraq is slipping into civil war. Indeed, is Iraq a nation? Is its national continuity impossible without the bindings of a brutal autocrat? Much relies on the answer to this question.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bellamy's Buzzer

Our first winter here in Massachusetts is just beginning. We have house squirrels, I think. I'm told that when the wind chills, they take refuge where they can. I don't like squirrels in my house, between the ceilings and floors, banging and nibbling acorns up there, unseen. If only I could reason with them, and strike a bargain. Ah, the life of a country squire...

There's a lot of buzz about 'next moves' -- what to do in Iraq, with Iran, and North Korea. What will Hezbollah's next move be in Lebanon and Israel? What of our lame duck president, for two years coming? The Democrats have the helm now, more or less. Maybe they'll bumble onto something positive. Obama seems like a breath of fresh air.

I've been trying to draw my own personal conclusion about the war in Iraq. I was for it. At the war's outset, the cause seemed justified, a gamble I thought worth taking. It seemed positive in the face of the alternative, which was to continue fiddling in the corridors of the UN and in the salons of Arabia and Europe while Saddam would break apart the sanctions regime. Maybe it was just me, but in 2003 the option for more circular diplomacy and realpolitik seemed pessimistic and hopelessly spent in the wake of 9/11.

But I won't kid you. My optimism clouded my better judgement. I mistook a clear view for a short distance. It's not practicable to throw democracy into a region that's never known it, like a hand grenade. Once it explodes, everyone is supposed to head for the polls and be good citizens. Well alright, it was never sold as being that simple, but I admit that I had a few dreams in the fantasy lounge, inspired by Cool Aid. So be it. I'm a dreamer. There most certainly is little room left for peaceable dreams of any kind for the Middle East.

I might say that Project Iraqi Democracy could've worked out more positively under more competent leadership. I might say that it would've been useful to have a few more friends on our side in Europe and elsewhere. And that we played the war too safe, if you can believe that. We should've doubled our effort, and been more serious about nation building. But those things aren't really the whole nut. Not even the war is the whole nut.

Iraq might possibly be the last war this country will fight against another one, in the traditional sense. After this, it's more likely to be America versus various private armies. Empowered by the Internet, black market economies, ideology and fluctuating alliances, such armies will merit enough traction to burst forth in mass-murderous fury, then shrink away like black violets. Many will be Islamic; some will not. Perhaps in the process of these battles, America will also break down into a collection of little armies with global reach. It's nowhere I want to be.

Iraq is a crossover war: It started Clauswitzian, and became fourth generation. Fourth generation warfare can perpetuate anarchy, which is normally short-lived in the vacuum of power. A peculiar rough parity between violent private armies seems to have settled in on places like Iraq, and parts of Afghanistan -- not to mention the Palestinian territories, southern Lebanon and vast tracts of Africa. This may be the omen from Iraq, offering a glimpse into our not too distant future. Or the parity may be temporary, and I just can't see past it.

Under duress, we think of ourselves as a country. We rely on patriotic lore and national will to pull us through war, blight, and now terrorism. I think that most people sense that the bedrock of our national identity is at play in this era. It isn't just Iraq, or Al Qaeda. It's everything. In the 1990s we celebrated high tech companies that came out of nowhere and unseated industry gorillas. Technology is enabling. It clears the decks and capsizes ships. By that measure, it's exciting, especially if the disruption is tied to a bit of equity with your name on it. But decentralization and disruption spares nothing. It not only capsizes companies and industries, but countries too. For now, we can go on pretending that our sovereignty is assured. We gas our cars and water our lawns in the face of a mighty wind, my friends.

* * *

After we tuck our toddler daughter into bed, my wife and I enjoy our evening cocoa stirred with a Netflix show. Right now we're watching all 1,232,849 episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs. After thirty-plus years, it still captivates. It transports one to the Belle Epoch years over six seasons, then into World War I and the Roaring 20s, set in classist England.

Upstairs, Downstairs takes place in a high-class London home, whose master is a Member of Parliament, Lord Richard Bellamy and his family. The upstairs of the house is the living quarters of the elite Bellamys; the downstairs is the working quarters of the lower class servants and tradesmen, led by the head butler, Mr. Hudson. The series examines the intricate interrelationship of the two classes under one roof. Over the many episodes the class system, the fabric of British culture at the time, frays to the forces of world war, industrialism, technological modernity and socialism.

One of the first innovative uses of electricity at the Bellamy residence merely replaced the bells-and-pulley system that rang the servants from throughout the house. The bells gave way to lights and buzzers; the ropes and pulleys to wires and buttons. They imagined that electricity would simply buttress the world they preferred to know -- not destroy it.

Midway through Upstairs, Downstairs, the Bellamys' son, James, becomes a Major in the King's Army during World War I. He winds up commanding machine gunners in France. Over the course of the war, he is transformed from being a young upper-class wastrel to a disenchanted, weary and shell-shocked man. He decries the war as senseless; an appalling waste of millions of men chopped down by death machines in the service of an immoral order. "Nobody's going to win this war," he tells his father, the M.P. "There can be no disagreement so egregious to justify this carnage."

A popular sentiment among the hawks in the current war amounts to this lament: "If only we could summon the will to fight our avowed terrorist enemies in a spirit of patriotism like in World War II." I've thought that myself, more than a few times. I breezed over the inevitable screeds on Pearl Harbor Day, reminiscing when we responded patriotically, which carried us through the long haul to victory. That's the happy-ending story often told.

Patriotism was enormously important for fueling the armies of the Great War that clashed in the Somme and Verdun. Theirs was the more unquestioning variety of patriotism that is demanded today. But what a strange beast those hapless patriots were sacrificed to. Millions of farmers, bakers, and tradesmen on all sides were shoveled into the maw of an uncomprehending, self-serving beast in denial about it's own immorality. Into the Beast's jowls they marched, dispatched in part by their sense of duty to God and King. Regardless of victory, the center did not hold, no matter which sovereign's honor they defended. Larger forces were at play.

We should be careful of what we wish for. "Acting as one" is the password to the Beast's lair. We live in an era where established centers are imploding. We're all an integral part of the process. It doesn't mean we should just give up and give ourselves to despair. But neither should we fantasize about the glory of past wars that were inglorious. It was one of civilization's lowest points.

Clicking on the 'Buy Now' button for cheap Chinese-made goods at, we're little different than Lord Bellamy summoning servants with his new-fangled electric buzzer for afternoon tea. Like him, we want to believe that all this technology is only here to make life as we know it better, easier and more efficient. We can't imagine that the present has no future. So we tell ourselves stories, hoping they become history someday.

'Twas ever thus.