March 18, 2004

THE ROOTS OF HORROR: The Voice of the Thug, and the Harbinger of Horrors Still to Come

I have reached the point in this series where it becomes necessary to speak some very ugly truths. I must admit that I find it extremely difficult to write this particular entry, precisely because of the degree of ugliness, hatred and cruelty that has been revealed by recent events, and by much of the commentary written about them. But if we are to avoid even worse horrors in the future, certain causes and certain dynamics must be identified. What people choose to do then is obviously up to them.

In an earlier part of this series of articles, I wrote about the fact that it is useless to try to argue with many hawks: they have staked out their position, and nothing will dissuade them from its "truth." They appear to be completely impervious to facts. In fact, and this is part of the underlying dynamic that must be understood, they are impervious to facts, but in a much deeper sense than most people grasp. It is not facts that have lead them to their current point of view in a significant sense, and no amount of argument, regardless of how well-grounded in evidence or history it is, will cause them to change their minds. It is not their minds that led them to adopt their current views, no matter how loudly they protest against such a charge.

For example, they have set up a classic false alternative: either you agree with them about every detail in their plan for fighting terrorism, or you are an "appeaser." Either you agree that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a crucial part of the "war on terror," or you are a spineless peacenik. And for those "libertarians" who support the Bush administration's foreign policy, you can point out in great detail how every aspect of that policy grows out of and further supports the New Fascism, but they don't care. Or to be more precise: they might acknowledge the truth of certain of the arguments, but they will still not change their view about the "tragic necessity" of what must be done. And what must be done, of course, is to remake the world by military force, one country at a time.

The amount of mental gymnastics, the neverending supply of new "theories" to justify this policy, and the number of contradictions they permit themselves to justify the unjustifiable are truly stunning in their magnitude. But I stress again: it is a mistake to try to answer every single argument they offer, because those arguments are not the point. And those arguments are not what is driving their determination to bring "enlightenment" to the rest of mankind, at the end of a barrel of a gun if necessary. In addition, it is not a concern with our national security that motivates them, either.

The recent tragedy in Spain and the reaction to it have provided an invaluable prism to see the underlying mechanisms at work. To appreciate the confession that many hawks have now made, we should begin with excerpts from two accounts from Spaniards, people who one might justifiably think would know better than armchair analysts elsewhere in the world exactly what transpired in Spain, and why. Here is part of what one correspondent wrote to Tom Tomorrow:
As you will know well, Islamic terrorists blew four commuter trains in Madrid in the morning of March 11th, 2004, three days before general elections. This trains were packed with workers and students going to their jobs and classrooms, and covered the route known as "Corredor del Henares", a collection of working-class suburbs. They killed 201 people (up to today). There were 1,500 wounded. There're still dozens of people in critical or very grave state, and some of them could die. When the bombs exploded, two of the trains were very near to Atocha central station, one was stopped in El Pozo del Tío Raimundo station (a very combative, traditionally leftist, working-class district) where many people was killed in the platforms, and the last one was very near to Santa Eugenia station, another working-class area. ...

The behavior of the people was of utter heroism. I must say it, I didn't expect it and I'm very proud of my people now. When the victims in the trains started shouting "neighbours, neighbours, please help us!" to the surrounding buildings, hundreds of every age and sex rushed downstairs to help, even understanding that there were bombs and could be more. Commuter drivers in nearby roads stopped their cars and took the horribly mutilated and burnt woundeds to area hospitals even before the first ambulances arrived. Even some people who were inside the trains stayed to help others instead of fleeing! Please believe me when I tell you that the people of Madrid behave EXCEPTIONALLY and with rare bravery and solidarity in these very hard minutes. I use to be quite cynic, but this defies any cynicism. It was epic, heroic, I don't have words. Those thinking that the Spanish people is being coward should reconsider their opinion in the light of this. ...

So, many people began to ask "who did it?", "not all of us are here, we lack 200" and "we want the truth before voting" already in the mammoth antiterrorist demonstrations on Friday. The Government stuck to the ETA hypothesis trying to avoid this probable electoral damage. They must have thought that using their massive media control they could cover it up for four days, until election's aftermath. Government-controlled public and private televisions, radios and newspapers broadcasted once and again "it was ETA", but each minute less people was buying it. It has been said that workers of some of this media were near to revolt because of the pressures to avoid the Islamic hypothesis (today, EFE -Spanish state press agency- workers' unions have asked for the immediate resignation of their boss because of this). But then, media not controlled by the Government started broadcasting the Islamic hypothesis and how the controlled media were manipulating the whole issue. In a matter of hours, Spain was bipolarized, with thousands seeking information in Internet and sending it via SMS to their friends. IMHO, the Government went mad and commited suicide in this moment. They agreed there were "Islamic clues" but said once and again it was ETA although the mass crime was claimed three times by Al-Qaeda and there were several tapes (two or three, still unknown) with Islamic messages claiming "Operation Trains of Death" in Madrid and threatening "Smoke of Death" in Italy and "Winds of Death" in the USA. Millions began to think they were being lied, with the blood of 200 Spaniards still warm. SMS messages with the truth spreaded very quickly (I received about 50 from about 40 different sources). In workers' districts through the country, people began to protest beating pans in the windows and shouting "they make wars, we suffer them", "we are not puppets" and "Spain is not to be lied". ...

And Sunday came, and it was election's day. I didn't see fear. I saw mourning. A strange feeling, believe me. Spaniards use to be very funny. People is continously laughing and making jokes about everything, specially the younger. Watching all that people lining up to vote without a laugh nor a smile was impressive. And there was something more in truckloads of eyes. Anger. Deep anger. No incidents.

Aznar-Rajoy's party lost about one million votes. Not much, it's true, given the situation. But three million voters arose essentially from disenchanted abstentionists to nail them. And almost all of these voters supported the Socialist Party, the main opposition group that had spoken openly against the Iraq war and was also denouncing the media manipulation. This inverted completely the results, where Rajoy had started as favorite. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, not Mariano Rajoy, will be the next president of Spain.

What will happen now? First, don't get confused. Although named "Spanish Socialist Workers' Party", the Socialist Party is a center-left organization that during their past Government period (1982-1996) brought Spain in NATO and faced several general strikes because of their pro-Capitalist economic policy. So "centrist" was their policy, that a truly Socialist leftwing party called Izquierda Unida could appear around the Communist Party (libertarian eurocommunists, not the totalitary ones) and is continuously supported by hundreds of thousands of disenchanted ex-Socialists. Even more, Rodríguez Zapatero is a very moderate politician usually perceived as too soft as opposer to the Government. ...

Has Al-Qaeda voted in these elections? Yes, obviously yes. How could I, a voter, stop thinking in my killed and maimed people, young students, hard-working fathers and mothers, pretty college girls, fragile elders and even babies? Hey, they're my people. As a citizen, I have an obligation to them. But let me tell you that I honestly think that we voted not guided by fear, but guided by anger. In the critical hours after the attack, Aznar's Government confronted and bipolarized the Spanish people lying and manipulating even when the truth was alreday obvious for millions. This caused an automatic reaction in the low and middle classes thinking "they make wars against our opinion, then it's our blood who pays them, and furthermore they're lying us and insulting our deads and our intelligence". Not a good cocktail for a Government seeking re-election, I'm afraid. The result has been obvious. I think that if they had told the truth, they would have lost votes, but perhaps won the elections by a scarce majority. When they decided to lie the impossible, they committed suicide.
I urge you to read the entire message, which still has much more.

Randy Paul also received an email from Spain, which sounds very similar themes (he added the emphasis):
So, the PP knew that their antiterrorist policy (against ETA) was one of its main winning cards, and they didn't hesitate to blatantly manipulate the 11-M attack, suppressing information, calling people to demonstrate against ETA, knowing all the while that the Antiterrorist Information Brigade had as good as discarded ETA authorship a few hours after the attack. The antiterrorist police heads even threatened to resign at the madness of it all, and this was leaked to the opposition and the press. And all the while the state TVE showing documentaries about ETA activities right until late Saturday night, on the eve of the election, and failing to report live on Minister Acebes informing about the Al-Q line of investigation which he had been forced to acknowledge - forced by his own angered police heads and by the media which had all the information but was withholding it just long enough for the Minister to do the decent thing. This heartless manipulation of the dead for political gain clinched it - it was the last straw, it galvanised a portion of apathetic socialist voters who would have otherwise abstained, galvanised first-time voters, and galvanised Izquierda Unida voters (which include communists) who opted for heaping their vote on the PSOE for a higher chance of defeating Aznar (IU lost 5 seats because of that). In Spain, government change has always been heralded by a higher participation of voters. In a nutshell, many Spaniards felt badly abused, and acted accordingly. So, yes, 11-M influenced the vote, but not because we are overcome by fear, or because we think that we can avert further attacks, but because we will only put up with so much lying and manipulation, and especially not when it is the dead and their families that are being heartlessly and shamelessly manipulated.
Julian Sanchez has provided an excellent summary of what probably happened in the Spanish election, and here is part of what he said:
Aznar had defended the war in Iraq as measure necessary to "guarantee the security of Spaniards from any internal or external threat," and his government sought to dismiss claims that a Spanish club was targeted for bombing in Casablanca because of Spanish participation in the war. Meanwhile, PSOE officials had suggested that Spain, Britain, and the U.S. were "kicking a wasp's nest," that "the war in Iraq was going to provoke more hatred and rancor and, therefore, the threat of more instability." Transparently, Aznar was mistaken and the opposition was correct. Are Spanish voters to be tarred as cowards if they now hold Aznar accountable for his miscalculation? A few especially glib commentators have suggested that the Spanish should "blame the terrorists," not the PP. But why can't they blame both?

The election has brought to power a candidate who now says that "beating terror" will be his top priority—hardly a clear victory for Al Qaeda, except for those unable to distinguish between the war on terror and the occupation of Iraq.
The electoral motives that led to this result are ambiguous and complex. So why have so many been quick to cry "appeasement"? Appeasement, after all, is largely a matter of perception: What really matters, in terms of encouraging or discouraging future attacks, is not so much whether Spanish voters were trying to appease terrorists, but whether the terrorists themselves perceive the result that way. By insisting that the election results constituted capitulation to terror, the hand-wringers are perversely, irresponsibly bringing about the very result they pretend to decry. Why?

Among the more naive, this rush to judgment may simply be impelled by the smug sense of moral superiority it affords. But this is not the only possible motive. David Frum tips his hand when he writes that "the voters of Spain have indelibly associated the anti-Iraq position with one motive above all: fear," and goes on to suggest—one might say hope—that a vote for John Kerry will also come to be seen as cowardly capitulation to terror, as appeasing Al Qaeda. It is hard to suppress the suspicion that much of the criticism of Spaniards we're now seeing is ultimately, if indirectly, about the U.S. election. Fail to support Bush, whispers the subtext of these critiques, and you might as well be some sort of Spaniard.

I'll take that as a compliment.
I agree with all of Julian's points, and I will also take it as a compliment, thank you.

But the commentary offered by many hawks reveals a still deeper mechanism at work, and it is that mechanism to which we must now turn our attention. David Brooks begins by stating that he is "trying not to think harshly of the Spanish," an effort at which he fails miserably, since but a few scant lines later, he asks: "What is the Spanish word for appeasement?" He then says:
There are millions of Americans, in and out of government, who believe the swing Spanish voters are shamefully trying to seek a separate peace in the war on terror.

I'm resisting that conclusion, because I don't know what mix of issues swung the Spanish election during those final days. But I do know that reversing course in the wake of a terrorist attack is inexcusable. I don't care what the policy is. You do not give terrorists the chance to think that their methods work. You do not give them the chance to celebrate victories. When you do that, you make the world a more dangerous place, for others and probably for yourself.
Mark Steyn endeavors to demonstrate that his intake of testosterone-laced cocktails has only increased substantially in the last couple of years:
"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, naturally they will like the strong horse." So said Osama bin Laden in his final video appearance two-and-a-half years ago. But even the late Osama might have been surprised to see the Spanish people, invited to choose between a strong horse and a weak horse, opt to make their general election an exercise in mass self-gelding. ...

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the slain. In the three days between the slaughter and the vote, it was widely reported that the atrocity had been designed to influence the election. In allowing it to do so, the Spanish knowingly made Sunday a victory for appeasement and dishonoured their own dead.
Jonah Goldberg also soldiers on, attempting to annihilate whatever might remain of mankind's intellect after Irving Kristol's determined effort to destroy all attempts to inquire into history, causality and logic [an assault on the mind, and on freedom, which I analyzed in a previous essay]. Here is Goldberg:
Right now - not last year or 10 years ago - the connection between al-Qaida and Iraq is obvious for anybody willing to see it. Al-Qaida benefits if Iraq descends into chaos; it benefits if the Western world bickers with itself and dickers with terrorists; it benefits if America is isolated. Conversely, al-Qaida suffers if Iraq prospers, if the West stands together, if America leads.

The tragedy is that many people and nations refuse to see it that way. They want to pretend that Iraq is America's problem and that it has nothing to do with the war on terrorism. The incoming Spanish prime minister - a man with a thoroughly anti-American record - has declared the war in Iraq a "disaster" and will pull all of Spain's troops out of Iraq.
In other words: never mind what miscalculations (and lies) brought us to this unresolvable predicament. We're here now. That's all that matters. And never mind that it was our miscalculations (and lies) that brought us here. We have the solution. And never mind that we've been wrong about everything so far. We know the answer now. How dare you disagree?

It was not enough for James Lileks to engage in condescending, unbelievably offensive lectures to Salam Pax about how he ought to behave toward his "liberators," and how Iraqis ought to act like grownups and be appropriately grateful for all we've done for them (never mind the history of our support for Saddam Hussein, or how we stood by while Iraqis were slaughtered, or how ignorantly repulsive Lileks' comments were in general, all of which I discussed earlier). Now, immediately after the worst terrorist attack in Europe in decades, Mr. Lileks has the opportunity to lecture condescendingly and insultingly to an entire nation, and he is not about to let such a moment pass him by:
How do you vote when both hands are raised in surrender? Perhaps some Spaniards used their noses, or made an X on the ballot by gripping the pencil between their knees. We may never know, but one thing is apparent: You can take the country out of Old Europe, but you can't take the Old Europe out of the country.

Bloodied by an atrocity, many Spaniards sought comfort in the arms of socialist multilateralism, and they changed the balance of power in Europe. The new Spanish government will soon meet with Germany and France to craft a "European" approach to terrorism. Topic No. 1: How big should the white flag be? Oak or cedar for the pole?
Please note a few significant aspects of this kind of commentary. The first point is so obvious that it should not need to be stated, but these writers unfortunately make it unavoidable. We are constantly told that we are intent on bringing "democracy" to Iraq, and to the rest of the world once we get around to it (and once we have probably brought back the draft, so that we have sufficient military manpower to occupy the entire globe). Yet when the Spanish people freely elect the leader they choose, these hawks offer only insults, derision, and contempt -- because the Spaniards committed the worst and most unforgivable sin of all: they dared to make political judgments that did not follow every detail of the line being peddled by the hawks. So much for "democracy." If you don't vote the way we think you ought to, you're worthless scum, and not worthy of the privilege. And never mind all the factors identified by the Spaniards quoted above, or those issues identified by Sanchez.

A related issue is important, as well: heaping abuse and scorn on an entire nation, especially in the wake of a terrible tragedy, is not exactly a wise way to attempt to change people's minds. If these hawks view the Spanish electorate as having made a terrible mistake, wouldn't these writers be trying to convince them to see these issues differently? But offering a compelling argument in a manner likely to alter someone's manner of thinking is obviously not what concerns them. Something else motivates this kind of response.

But before we turn our attention to what actually is going on, and what these hawks have unwittingly revealed, we have two final entries in the sweepstakes of profoundly offensive writing. First, we have Andrew Sullivan. After noting that, "You'd be a fool to predict anything," Sullivan then proceeds to disregard his own advice:
I do think the odds of the next major Jihadist terrorist action happening in Europe just went up a notch. Al Qaeda and its multiple off-shoots have learned a couple of things recently. The first is that the U.S. will not cower before a terror attack. Bin Laden misjudged that one on 9/11, foolishly believing that he could move public policy in his direction by shell-shocking the American public. ... But now the Jihadists know something else: that the 9/11 gambit can work in Europe. Starting with Spain, and wrecking the anti-terror alliance of New Europe, was a master-stroke. But it has an added effect of demoralizing the others - especially Italy. That's why Romano Prodi's astonishing disavowal of any force in response to terrorism was so devastating. Then Britain, where the terrorists may not be able to get rid of a Labour government, but may well try to inflict such a blow against Blair (in next year's elections) that he is ousted in favor of a more amenable center-left alternative. Humiliating Blair will prevent a future prime minister from ever fully and unequivocally committing to the American-led war on terror again. France and Germany can be left till last - they are already deeply vulnerable to Islamist terror networks and in France's case, there's also a vast, unassimilated Muslim population ripe for exploitation. The alligator will eat them last. Let's hope they enjoy the ride in the months left to them.
As stomach-churning as it is to do so, I suggest that you think about the implications of those final two sentences, and the kind of soul that they reveal: "The alligator will eat them last. Let's hope they enjoy the ride in the months left to them."

The kindest comment I can offer is that this almost completely undisguised gleeful joy at the destruction of entire countries is a very odd stance for someone who repeatedly insists that he is on the side of "defending civilization." With enough monstrous "defenders" of this kind, civilization doesn't have a chance in hell.

Finally, we have Steven den Beste. Known for writing essays of 5,000 or 10,000 words, den Beste offers what may be his shortest entry ever. They are also two of the most deeply contemptible sentences it has ever been my misfortune to read:
The people of Spain marched in the streets on Friday.

Then they crawled on their knees into their voting booths on Sunday.
I suggest you reread the first email message excerpted above, recounting the tremendous heroism displayed by the ordinary people of Madrid in the wake of the tragedy there -- and then consider what kind of human being den Beste thus shows himself to be.

I submit that this kind of commentary, offered by so many writers and in any number of newspapers, ought to be deeply and profoundly unsettling to anyone who is genuinely concerned about the direction in which the world is headed. One would hope that it would be rare to see such undiluted hatred, contempt and vilification heaped upon an entire country -- especially when that country has just undergone a terrible trauma, and a truly awful tragedy. And particularly when the factors that led to a particular election result are complex, and hardly one-dimensional.

But we find barely a word of sympathy for Spain -- and in its place, an absolute demand that all Spaniards completely adopt the hawks' views. And if they don't...well, any destruction which befalls them is their own damned fault, and they shouldn't expect the smallest glimmer of understanding or compassion from these people.

And these are the same people who maintain they, and they alone, are the true guardians and saviors of civilization. In fact, whatever it is they believe they are saving, civilization is not its name.

So what is going on here? The following excerpt provides the ultimate explanation in my view, but to appreciate it more completely, you may want to read some earlier entries in my series based on the work of Alice Miller. Fortunately, however, Miller provides a useful summation at the beginning of this passage.

Here is the most significant part of Miller's answer, from Chapter 7, "The Monstrous Consequences of Denial," in Alice Miller's Breaking Down the Wall of Silence (the italics are hers; the other highlights are mine):
Every abused child must totally repress the mistreatment, confusion, and neglect it suffered. If it were not to do so, it would die. The child's organism could not withstand the dimensions of this pain. Only in adulthood do other ways of handling our feelings become available to us. If we do not make use of these opportunities, then what was once the life-saving function of repression can turn into a dangerous, destructive, and self-destructive power. The careers of such tyrants as Hitler or Stalin show how previously suppressed revenge fantasies can lead to destructive actions of near-indescribable proportions. We do not encounter this phenomenon in the animal kingdom because no young animal will ever be trained by its parents to such a complete denial of its nature in order to make of it a "good" animal. Only human beings behave so destructively. Descriptions of the childhoods of Nazi criminals, and of Vietnam volunteers, the Green Berets, show that mindless programming to destructiveness always begins with a brutal upbringing aimed at enforcing unthinking obedience and total contempt for the child. ...

To suppress the feelings, perceptions, and impulses of a child is to commit psychic murder. The experiences [Rudolf] Hoess went through in his youth gave him a thorough grounding in the grammar of death. He simply had to wait thirty years, whereupon Hitler's regime presented him with the opportunity to practice the skills he had learned.

Thousands of his contemporaries functioned in just the same way. Instead of exposing and condemning the criminal behavior of their parents, they uniformly praised and defended it. Had a consciousness of the absurdity and dangerousness of brutal childrearing already existed, monsters like Hoess could never have been possible. The susceptibility to blind obedience and the demand for a man like Hitler simply would not have existed in Germany. ...

The young people demonstrating [in Central and Eastern Europe] in 1989 were capable of exposing the emptiness, terror, mendacity, and destructiveness of Stalinism--all the things with which their parents and grandparents came to terms--because as children they were allowed more freedom than the older generation. To be conscious of unfreedom one must have a concept of what freedom and respect for life are.

A person who has never experienced this as a child, who has only known and been exposed to extreme violence, brutality, and hypocrisy, without ever having come across a single helping witness, does not demonstrate for freedom. Such a person demands order and uses violence to achieve it, just as he or she learned as a child: order and cleanliness at any price is the motto, even if it is at the price of life. The victims of such an upbringing ache to do to others what was once done to them. If they don't have children, or their children refuse to make themselves available for their revenge, they line up to support new forms of fascism. Ultimately, fascism always has the same goal: the annihilation of truth and freedom. People who have been mistreated as children, but totally deny their suffering, use the mottoes and labels of the day. They thereby meet the approval of others like them because they have are also helping to conceal their truth. They are consumed by the perverse pleasure in the destruction of life that they observed in their parents when young. They long to at last be on the other side of the fence, to hold power themselves, passing it off, as Stalin, Hitler, or Ceausescu have done, as "redemption" for others. This old childhood longing determines their political "opinions" and speeches, which are therefore impervious to counter arguments. As long as they continue to ignore or distort the roots of the problem, which lie in the very real threats experienced in their childhood, reason must remain impotent against this kind of persecution complex. The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason. That is the lesson that all tyrants teach us. One should not expect judiciousness from a mad person motivated by compulsive panic. One should, however, protect onself from such a person.

It is our access to the truth that can enable us to prevent such people, who yearn for the "order" spawned by violence, from realizing their destructive plans. Fascism will have had its day once society ceases to deny the knowledge we already possess about the production of brutality, violence, and dehumanization in childhood and minimize its dangers. Once this has happened, it won't have a chance in this society. It is not enough to unmask Stalinism and Nazism as mere lies. As long as we do not recognize the circumstances to which they owe their success, these and similar lies can continue to exist, dressed up in forms in keeping with the "Zeitgeist." Fascism is a psychic attitude that floats the latent history of destruction to the surface.

The nature of fascism is not determined by political or economic circumstances. For a long time, people sought to "explain" Hitler's success by pointing to the catastrophic economic situation of the Weimar Republic, and in doing so they sought to collectively deny the origins of Hitler's urge toward revenge, destruction, and power. But we eventually desperately need the truth.

It is not enough to see the surface and describe that. We have to recognize, and defuse, the production of paranoid confusion, which takes place in childhood.

Can one have a dialogue with such people? I believe we must keep trying because this may, indeed it very likely will, be their first opportunity of encountering an enlightened witness. How they make use of this encounter is something over which we have no influence. but we should at least make use of the occasion. Life failed them--something that is, I suspect, true of all prison inmates. One should try to show them that they had the right to respect, love, and encouragement in their childhood and that this right was denied them, but that this does not give them the right to destroy the lives of others. We must also show them that destruction is a dead end. Even millions of corpses could not sate Hitler's hunger for revenge or dispel his hatred. We have to show them that what was passed off on them in childhood as "a good upbringing" was a base, mendacious, and idiotic ideology in which they had to believe in order to survive, and that they now wish to recirculate at the political level. And we have to show them that the people who cheated them, who engendered their misery, their hunger for power and destruction, were not Jews or Turks or Arabs or Gypsies, but their very own parents--clean, orderly citizens, godfearing, respectable churchgoers.
In light of Miller's analysis, we can now see the real tragedy of the terrorist attacks in recent years -- the attacks of 9/11, the attack in Madrid, and all the other atrocities that we have witnessed. The people who commit such monstrous acts are the perfect embodiments of the mechanism Miller describes: these are people who were terribly abused as children (read any description of the kind of education and upbringing endured by any terrorist), yet they deny their own history and their own immense pain, and idealize and venerate their elders, and their religious leaders.

Now, as adults, since their denial continues, they seek revenge -- and no mounting toll of bodies will sate their need, and their arguments are impervious to reason: "The unconscious compulsion to revenge repressed injuries is more powerful than all reason."

Such terrorist attacks demand a response, and they demand that our political leaders protect us from future attacks, to the extent possible. But a reasoned response would be one targeted to those who represent the danger: it would be an attack on the terrorist networks themselves, not on a third- or fourth-rate dictatorship that represented no substantial threat either to its neighbors, or to us.

But those who plan and implement our current foreign policy, as well as those who defend them, have adopted a different strategy, which arises from a different source altogether. They are using the threat of terrorism as a springboard to remake the entire world, one area at a time -- utilizing the Utopian delusion of "nation-building" as their rationale, and as their rationalization. They ignore the lessons of history, which show that such a delusion is simply that -- a delusion, one that it is doomed to fail; they ignore the huge costs in both human life, and economically; and they ignore that our current course provides a recruiting tool for our enemies that the terrorists themselves could only dream about, and would not be able to provide themselves, if we did not offer it to them.

But the hawks and their defenders ignore all this -- and they ignore the indisputable fact that rather than minimizing the dangers we face, our present course only increases them -- because they are not focused on the reality of the threat that faces us. And this leads to the additional tragedy now unleashed by the terrorist attacks of recent years, and it is this tragedy that almost no one cares to name, or to face.

The fact that we have been attacked by monsters who seek revenge for the injuries they themselves have suffered in the past, and particularly in their childhoods, has provided a morally defensible "cover" for the hawks now to engage in a similar revenge fantasy, arising out of the injuries that they have suffered in the past, and in their childhoods -- and it takes the form of their desire to remake the world, of their plans of "nation-building," and of their desire to impose their will on the rest of the world by military force, one country at a time.

This is the source of the rage and condemnation you see directed at the people of Spain. The hawks are saying, in effect: "How dare you disobey and disagree with us? How dare you question the wisdom of our course? How dare you suggest that you might have another plan of action which would achieve the end we say we care so much about, and would achieve it more effectively, and create less new dangers in doing so? Don't you understand that we know best, and that we are not to be questioned? How dare you?"

This is the voice of the enraged parent -- who inflicts untold cruelties on his child, all the while proclaiming that he is committing monstrous acts for the child's own good. And, in fact, this is precisely what the hawks tell anyone who disagrees with them, and what they tell the entire rest of the world: we know what is best for you, not your own citizens, and not your own leaders. We do -- and you had better do what we say...or else.

No, we are not at the point where another Hitler or Stalin could grab the reins of power here in the United States -- not yet. But the longer the indeterminate "war on terror" goes on, and the more attacks there are, the greater the likelihood becomes that either this administration or a succeeding one will finally impose an authoritarian dictatorship on us. All the required pieces are now being put in place, as revealed for example in this series about Ashcroft's unremitting attacks on individual rights, and on the personal liberty of us all.

In this deeper sense, commentators and writers such as David Brooks, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, James Lileks, Andrew Sullivan, and Steven den Beste are the harbingers of the horrors that might yet come. They are the people who will tell us, in a moment of great national and world crisis, that what we need is more "discipline" -- despite the fact that it is mindless, cruel, unnecessary "discipline" that caused the initial horrors. And they will tell us that anyone who dares to disagree is a "fifth columnist," who is aiding the enemy -- and who must be made to shut up and go away, or perhaps simply to disappear forever.

Then, in another thirty or forty years, assuming that mankind survives and people in the future study how it was that horrors visited the world yet again despite all the warnings of history, they will be the people who will say: "But we never knew it would come to that. We just did what we thought was required for our own survival." And one or two might even add that they "were only following orders."

What you are hearing now is the voice of the thug -- which in truth is the voice of the abused child, grown to adulthood, and still denying his own pain, and therefore denying the pain of everyone else. And the child now seeks to revenge himself upon an external enemy, any external enemy, and the terrorist attacks have provided the perfect opportunity to unleash destruction, but destruction on a scale that Hitler and Stalin could only dream of.

Do I think catastrophe can be avoided? Perhaps. It is too soon to tell. But many of the signs are not hopeful, and the longer the "crisis" goes on, the greater the danger becomes.

But it is not too late...not yet. And it is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I will continue to write about these issues.

March 17, 2004

And Still More Death

A story to be noted [link no longer working]:
MONUMENT, Colo. (AP) - A Special Forces soldier shot himself to death during a confrontation with police about three weeks after he returned from Iraq, authorities said.

Chief Warrant Officer William Howell was following his wife around the front yard with a handgun when officers arrived Sunday night in response to a 911 call from the woman. When police officers ordered him to drop his weapon, Howell shot himself, authorities said.

A police officer also fired, hitting Howell in the right arm, Monument police Sgt. Richard Tudor said. An autopsy showed Howell was killed by his own bullet. ...

The military requires troops returning from combat to be screened for post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems. The policy was enacted after four military wives of special forces soldiers returning from Afghanistan were killed by their husbands at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2002.

Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, an advocacy group for veterans of both conflicts, said at least 23 service members committed suicide in Iraq since the war started and six, excluding Howell, killed themselves after returning stateside.
I am almost certain that those statistics represent some underreporting, quite possibly significant underreporting.

March 09, 2004

THE ROOTS OF HORROR: The Demand for Obedience

Contemporary cultural and political commentary offers countless examples of the mechanisms and dynamics that Alice Miller discusses. Before looking at two notable recent instances, let me review the key points of Miller's thesis, particularly for those people who might be joining this discussion in midstream.

A very kind reader just purchased two books for me from my Amazon Wishlist (and my deep thanks to A.B.). One of the books I received yesterday is Miller's The Truth Will Set You Free, and Miller offers instructive summaries of her central points. First, these definitions (the passages in bold are highlights I added):
Poisonous pedagogy is a phrase I use to refer to the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child's will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail.

In my books For Your Own Good and Thou Shall Not Be Aware, I have explained the concept using concrete examples. In my other books I have repeatedly stressed how the mendacious mentality behind this approach to dealing with children can leave long-lasting imprints on the way we think and relate to one another in our adult lives.
I want to emphasize (and I will return to this subject at greater length soon) that, despite the common acceptance of spanking and corporal punishment as "legitimate" means of obtaining obedience from children, it is probably true that the much more common forms of "coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail" are not physical in nature at all. The damages and costs resulting from the demands of parents and educators for adherence to rules which are arbitrary and nonsensical to the child -- and to most thinking adults as well -- are terrible to contemplate. I will offer numerous examples of these everyday tragedies in the near future.

A second definition from Miller:
A helping witness is a person who stands by an abused child (consistently or occasionally), offering support and acting as a balance against the cruelty otherwise dominant in the child's everyday life. This can be anyone from the child's immediate world: a teacher, a neighbor, a caregiver, a grandmother, often a sibling.

Helping witnesses give sympathy and affection to these beaten or neglected children. They trust the children and help them feel that they are not bad or evil but worthy of kindness from others. Thanks to such witnesses, who may be completely oblivious to the role they are playing, children in difficult situations can see that there is such a thing as love in this world. In the best cases they learn how to develop trust in their fellow humans and to accept the love and kindness that come their way.

In the total absence of helping witnesses these children glorify the violence they have been subjected to and frequently make blatant use of it in later life. (It is no coincidence that as children, mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao had no helping witnesses to turn to.)
In my own case, my helping witnesses were my piano teacher of many years, a fourth-grade teacher and, most of all, our family maid of several decades. This last person, Lannie Earle, is a woman to whom I owe my life in a significant way. I still recall what was for me a stunning moment during a therapy session with a psychologist about ten years ago. We had been discussing the role that Lannie played in my life, and the therapist suddenly asked me: "Do you remember what she smelled like?"

In an instant, I was transported back to the small child I had been at five or six years old, and I remembered hanging onto one of Lannie's legs. And the smell of her skin flooded over me. But what came back to me above all else was this: the feeling that here was someone who loved me absolutely, and offered me complete acceptance and safety. Lannie saw me as a human being worthy of respect, she treated me with complete seriousness -- and she also offered me the incomparable value of physical comfort and affection, something I never received from either of my parents (not even from my mother, and not even as a very small child). And hardly coincidentally, Lannie never made demands of me in the manner that my parents did (demands which were frequently entirely unexplained and/or nonsensical), either explicitly or, much more often, by unstated emotional blackmail.

Without Lannie, I might not have survived, certainly not to the extent I did. Many people have similar helping witnesses in their lives, and it is important to recognize how much we owe them. While it is true that such treatment is precisely what children are entitled to by right, most children do not receive it in anything even close to the degree they deserve.

Returning to Miller's thesis, here is the summary I offered at the beginning of an earlier article in this series:
By demanding obedience above all from a child (whether by physical punishment, by psychological means, or through some combination of both), parents forbid the child from fostering an authentic sense of self. Because children are completely dependent on their parents, they dare not question their parents' goodness, or their "good intentions." As a result, when children are punished, even if they are punished for no reason or for a reason that makes no sense, they blame themselves and believe that the fault lies within them. In this way, the idealization of the authority figure is allowed to continue. In addition, the child cannot allow himself to experience fully his own pain, because that, too, might lead to questioning of his parents.

In this manner, the child is prevented from developing a genuine, authentic sense of self. As he grows older, this deadening of his soul desensitizes the child to the pain of others. Eventually, the maturing adult will seek to express his repressed anger on external targets, since he has never been allowed to experience and express it in ways that would not be destructive. By such means, the cycle of violence is continued into another generation (using "violence" in the broadest sense). One of the additional consequences is that the adult, who has never developed an authentic self, can easily transfer his idealization of his parents to a new authority figure. As Miller says [emphasis added]:

"This perfect adaptation to society's norms--in other words, to what is called "healthy normality"--carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He has never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Fuhrer or to an ideology."
With this background in mind, consider the two recent examples of this phenomenon to which I referred. Let's look first at the latest column from David Brooks, published in our "newspaper of record."

I do not mean the following observation as a below-the-belt kind of insult, although Brooks or his admirers might well view it that way. But I mean it quite literally: Brooks is not an original thinker. And that is precisely why this kind of view is so significant -- it perfectly captures the mechanism that Miller identifies, and expresses it in a way that most people would consider fairly unremarkable, and even "sophisticated." Here is Brooks introducing his subject:
Who worries you most, Mel Gibson or Mitch Albom? Do you fear Gibson, the religious zealot, the man accused of narrow sectarianism and anti-Semitism, or Albom, the guy who writes sweet best sellers like "Tuesdays With Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven?"

I worry about Albom more, because while religious dogmatism is always a danger, it is less of a problem for us today than the soft-core spirituality that is its opposite. As any tour around the TV dial will make abundantly clear, we do not live in Mel Gibson's fire-and-brimstone universe. Instead, we live in a psychobabble nation. We've got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it.

Albom is far from the worst of the schmaltzy shamans, but his fable "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" happens to sit at No. 3 on the Times best-seller list and pretty much exemplifies the zeitgeist. It's about an 83-year-old man who feels lonely, adrift and unimportant, and who dies while trying to save a little girl from a broken carnival ride.
And here is Brooks describing what he sees as the problem with the kind of heaven envisioned by Albom:
In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It's all about you.

Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the language of trauma and recovery. There is no vice and virtue, no moral framework to locate the individual within the cosmic infinity of the universe. Instead there are just the right emotions — Do you feel good about yourself? — buttressed by an endless string of vague bromides about how special each person is, and how much we are all mystically connected in the flowing river of life. ...

Reading "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" is a sad experience because it conjures up a mass of people who, like its hero, feel lonely and unimportant. But instead of offering them the rich moral framework of organized religion or rigorous philosophy, instead of reminding them of the tough-minded exemplars of the Bible and history, books like Albom's throw the seekers remorselessly back upon themselves.

The flap over Gibson's movie reminds us that religion can be a dangerous thing. It can be coarsened into gore and bloodshed and used to foment hatred. But we're not living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Our general problem is not that we're too dogmatic. Our more common problems come from the other end of the continuum. Americans in the 21st century are more likely to be divorced from any sense of a creedal order, ignorant of the moral traditions that have come down to us through the ages and detached from the sense that we all owe obligations to a higher authority.

Sure, let's get angry at Mel Gibson if he deserves it. But let's not forget that the really corrosive cultural forces come in the form of the easygoing narcissism that surrounds us every day.
It is worth pausing to consider how common this view is, and the dangerous and mistaken associations that Brooks offers. Note carefully the alternative that Brooks presents: either one engages in "narcissism," which Brooks maintains inevitably leads to immersing oneself in one's emotions and dispensing with thought, and abandoning any kind of "rich moral framework" -- or one submits to a "creedal order," or "organized religion," or the demands of "rigorous philosophy" (the last of which Brooks notably fails to define further).

In other words, Brooks sees only two possibilities: endless, uncontrolled "self-indulgence" and self-centeredness -- or a willingness to be the obedient servant of some "higher authority." This is the voice of the abused, neglected child described by Miller, now grown to adulthood and offering his views in the pages of The New York Times -- and revealing that he never developed an authentic self, and still does not have one. He has to resort to a "creedal order" or "organized religion" to find "purpose" in his life, and to avoid "narcissism," because in the most profound sense, he has no individual self to fall back on.

(This is related to another issue that I will only mention briefly here, although I will discuss it in some detail in a separate entry: it is this same lack of an authentic self that permits people to cling to obviously mistaken ideas with regard to what constitutes genuine "selfishness." It is not genuinely selfish to believe that manipulation, lying and even violence and crime are in one's self-interest -- but it is easy to believe such notions if one has never developed an authentic identity in the first place. Such people literally cannot conceive what would be in the real, actual interests of a genuine self, because they were never allowed to develop one as children -- and they have never learned how to do so as adults.)

Brooks may offer a respectable, "sophisticated" version of these views for his readers -- but other commentators are somewhat more honest about what the dynamics of obedience require. Joseph Farah at WorldNetDaily is a writer who may not appear in The New York Times, but I think his views accurately reflect those of many others. And he reveals precisely the same underlying attitude that is offered by Brooks.

I have noted before that the dispute about same-sex marriage is a particularly revealing one. This issue is causing many people to offer much less guarded versions of their actual beliefs, since they apparently believe that governmental recognition of same-sex marriage would fundamentally alter the nature of what they view as a "Judeo-Christian nation" (although the United States is not such a nation and never was, since as a nation -- that is, as defined by its political structure -- it is intentionally godless).

Here is Farah on what he considers the undisputed, actual nature of homosexuality -- and in a certain way, I have to thank him for his frankness in this column:
Homosexuality is nothing new.

It has always been around.

But it does thrive and flourish when it is condoned.

In fact, it has led to the downfall of more than one civilization when it has consumed societies – blinding them to right and wrong, robbing them of prosperity, infecting them with diseases of the mind, spirit and body.

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul painted a picture of how this happens. ...
The following is the crux of what Farah has to say, and I suggest you read these paragraphs several times, at least:
I have written many times about the practical, worldly reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. But it's time to get down to basics. There is a reason most people frown on homosexuality. It is not prejudice. It is not bias. It is not irrational. It is because God has pronounced it wrong, immoral, abomination, sin.

Our society is on the verge of hammering what may be the final nail in the coffin of our American way of life.

God is good. God is great. He wants what is best for us. He has given us some simple guidelines to follow for a happier, fuller, more rewarding life. We ignore those rules at our own peril – both as individuals and as nations.

When we reject the One True God, we have nowhere to turn but to depravity of all sorts – base and vile actions, of which homosexuality is just one. ...

Marriage is not an institution invented by man. It is an institution created by God. It was created not just to make man happier on earth, but as a way for men and women to better know God. ...

Marriage is a kind of dress-rehearsal for what believers will experience in their relationship with God in eternity. That's why it was created. For 6,000 years it has served the world well.

I shudder to think what will become of us if we tamper with this institution created in the Garden of Eden as the ultimate lesson for relationship with the Living God.
In a future installment of this series, I will discuss the myth of Creation and the Garden of Eden in much more detail, and show that they hardly represent the "paradise" that people such as Farah consider them to be. But it is a grave error to dismiss this kind of view as belonging only to religious fundamentalists. What is crucial is to recognize that this is exactly the same view offered by Brooks, although Brooks offers the "softer" version, which is somewhat easier to digest.

Farah's view of God is exactly how our traditional views of child rearing demand that we view our earthly fathers. Those traditional views demand that we believe that our father "wants what is best for us. He has given us some simple guidelines to follow for a happier, fuller, more rewarding life." In other words, and despite using means which are unspeakably cruel and profoundly damaging, we must view all such cruelties, to use the phrase Miller employed for the title of one of her books, as being For Your Own Good.

When we understand the underlying mechanism, we can see the simple truth, a truth which many religious people will resist until the day they die: God is nothing more than the supernatural version of the traditional, authoritarian father -- a father who knows what is best for us, who demands that we follow his rules regardless of whether they make any sense at all, and who demands one thing above all else: obedience.

And when we understand this dynamic, we can also see that Farah genuinely means this:
There is a reason most people frown on homosexuality. It is not prejudice. It is not bias. It is not irrational. It is because God has pronounced it wrong, immoral, abomination, sin.
Even if it should be the case that homosexuality is largely or entirely hereditary and genetic, even if it is completely unchosen, it does not trouble Farah at all to view it as "wrong, abomination, sin" -- and simultaneously to maintain that such a view does not represent "prejudice," or "bias," or a view which is "irrational."

It must be true -- because God said so. It must be true -- because our fathers said so. If you were never allowed to develop an authentic self, if you were never permitted to think for yourself or to recognize your own needs, you need no further justification. The authority figure said so --and in this manner, "truth" is established.

It is this kind of mentality that leads to the righteous condemnation of entire groups of human beings -- and it is the same mentality that can be enlisted in the aid of dangerous political ideologies.

And it is this mentality that can also lead to mass slaughter -- and to a Holocaust. If you know what to look for, you can see this psychology in the writing of a Joseph Farah, or in the voice of a "respectable" columnist in the pages of The New York Times.

The true horror today is only in part that the needless destruction of human lives continues in our own time. The full horror lies in the fact that the ultimate cause of such destruction has been identified, and is available to us, together with the means by which such destruction can be avoided in the future -- and the majority of people will still not allow themselves to see it.

THE ROOTS OF HORROR: Iraq -- the Practice of Denial

At the beginning December 2003, before I embarked on my lengthy series on "The Roots of Horror," I wrote an entry entitled, "The United States as Brutal, Violent -- and Hated -- Parent." Here is the central argument from that post:
I have argued, as have many others (including Friedrich Hayek, and historian Barbara Tuchman) that the idea of centrally-planned "nation-building" is a delusion doomed to failure, and that history conclusively demonstrates that not everyone in the world wants freedom in precisely the form in which it has manifested itself in the West, and particularly in the United States. This is simply a recognition of the inescapable fact that history and culture matter -- that it is not possible to graft a political system onto a country which has very scant social or intellectual traditions to support it.

There is nothing remotely racist about any of this. As I said, this is simply a recognition of the fact that the history of any given country is obviously crucial to what may be reasonably expected of that country in the future. Nonetheless, for stating these obvious truths, many hawks have irresponsibly accused people of viewing Arabs and/or Muslims as somehow innately "inferior," as being "unworthy" of "democracy." Such an accusation, at least insofar as it relates to the kind of argument I have been making over the last many months, is simply wrong and without foundation.

But now, in connection with our new "get tough" policy in Iraq -- a policy which involves surrounding entire towns with barbed wire among other delightful "innovations" (as if there is anything new about such methods, especially for the Iraqis) -- we have American military commanders making statements like the following:

"Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating.

"'You have to understand the Arab mind,' Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. 'The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.'"

This is nothing less than insane. There is a well-recognized syndrome in psychology -- a syndrome which leads to a never-ending intergenerational cycle of violence. A parent beats a child, constantly repeating: "But why don't you understand that I love you? Why don't you see that I'm just doing this for your own good?" And all the while, the parent physically brutalizes the child, who then grows up and does the same to his child.

And one of the notable results of this behavior is hardly surprising: the child fears -- and hates -- the parent. Yet this is how we now propose to win over the Iraqis, and prepare them for democracy: "a heavy dose of fear and violence" -- and monetary bribes -- will "convince these people that we are here to help them."

This is the same road the British traveled down in Iraq -- and after 40 years, the British finally gave up, recognizing the hopelessness and self-defeating futility of their task. But in close to record time, we have crossed over into very dangerous territory: this is the kind of occupier psychology that could easily lead to the killing of large numbers of Iraqis, a massacre or massacres which could unleash a horrific wave of violence directed at Americans, and possibly also directed at other Iraqis.

It is time for some very harsh truth-telling, and it is time to strip away the comforting and false self-delusions in which many hawks wrap themselves. There is nothing kind or benevolent about a parent who beats his child, while claiming that he does it out of love and concern for the child's well-being. And there is nothing kind or benevolent about forcing Iraqis (or anyone else) to adopt a form of government or a way of life which they may not want -- and which they certainly do not want if it comes at the ends of the guns wielded by an occupation force.
Even though I did not mention Alice Miller or her work in this post, this entry was obviously informed by my reading of her books over the last decade.

What I want to focus on here is the extent to which the obedience-denial mechanism is being practiced with regard to the Iraq occupation. It is not at all surprising to me, in light of the clear truths identified by Miller, but the fact that most of the more rabid hawks almost never mention stories like the following ones is nonetheless very revealing. It is as if the suffering and pain experienced by many Iraqis is simply not real to them -- as if the Iraqis' pain is somehow less significant, and less compelling, than pain suffered by others. This dehumanization of the enemy is a commonplace of every war, but the truth of the matter is more significant: most of the wars in history, and most of the "reasons" which informed them, would not have been possible without that kind of dehumanization.

If the pain experienced by others is fully real to us -- which requires that we first realize the extent of the pain inflicted on us, first by abusive or neglectful parents, and later by an authoritarian God or a demanding, totalistic ideology -- then we will not be so eager to embark on military adventures, especially when they are not demanded by the genuine needs of our self-defense. But when that pain is not allowed to become real, then monstrous horrors are possible. In this sense, the lack of attention paid by most hawks to the suffering of Iraqis is much worse, and much deeper, than simple racism (although that might be true in some instances). The denial being practiced is much broader than that revealed by hatred of one particular group of people.

Consider some of the details from this recent New York Times story:
Iraq has a new generation of missing men. But instead of ending up in mass graves or at the bottom of the Tigris River, as they often did during the rule of Saddam Hussein, they are detained somewhere in American jails.

Although the insurgency has cooled, with suicide attacks against civilians now eclipsing armed clashes with American troops, American forces are still conducting daily raids, bursting into homes and sweeping up families. More than 10,000 men and boys are in custody. According to a detainee database maintained by the military, the oldest prisoner is 75, the youngest 11.

Military officials say some of the detainees have been accused of serious offenses, including shooting down helicopters and planting roadside bombs.

But the officials acknowledge that most of the people captured are probably not dangerous. Of a recent batch of cases reviewed by military judges, they recommended that 963 of 1,166 detainees be released. ...

Ms. Kudi, whose son, Muhammad, was detained nearly nine months ago, has been to Abu Ghraib more than 20 times. The huge prison is the center of her continuing odyssey through military bases, jails, assistance centers, hospitals and morgues. She said she had been shoved by soldiers and chased by dogs.

"If they want to kill me, kill me," Ms. Kudi said. "Just give me my son."

Ms. Kudi is a compact woman with tribal marks and the sorry story of modern Iraq tattooed on her face. She says she is around 50 years old. She looks much older.

Her first son died in the Iran-Iraq war, her second in Kuwait in 1991, her third during the American invasion last year. Two more boys have been crippled in battle. Her husband is dead.

On June 23, she said Muhammad, a 32-year-old furniture maker, was waiting in his truck at an American checkpoint in Ramadi when a gun battle broke out. Witnesses said Muhammad was lightly wounded in the cross-fire and then detained by American forces.

Three days later, American troops returned Muhammad's truck. But they did not know what had happened to Muhammad.

The other day, as she had done before, Ms. Kudi went to an assistance center in Baghdad to check the computer database of prisoners. Again, she stepped into a little office and sat down in a little chair. Again, she watched a woman behind a desk key in her son's name. Again, she was told there was no record. ...

Ms. Hassan, who lives with her 10-year-old grandson, said American soldiers took her four adult sons. "Couldn't they have left me one?" she asked.

Most of the village teachers were led away, too.

Saba Muhammad, an Abu Sifa elder, began to count them on his hands: Salah, Faisal, Ahmed, Ayub, Emad, Raad.

Soon he ran out of fingers.

"Eleven," Mr. Muhammad said. "Eleven teachers. Now you tell me how we're supposed to feel about Americans."
Among the other justifications for these actions, we are repeatedly told that all of this is unavoidable, that it is a "tragic necessity," and that, after all, we're only doing it for their own good. This is precisely what the brutal father tells his child while he mercilessly beats him, or fails to pay attention to any of his child's deeply felt needs.

It is very important to note that this denial has been implemented by our government as a matter of official policy:
President Bush's rationale for taking us to war in Iraq has crumbled. The truth about supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is being told. At the same time, another truth remains hidden by the Bush administration: the 550 troops who have returned from Iraq in caskets and the thousands returning with severe physical and psychological damage.

The military planes carrying human remains fly into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware under cover of darkness. Unlike Vietnam, when Americans could see the consequences of war, the media are now banned from Dover Air Force Base by military order, reinforced for the Iraq war by an edict from Mr. Bush.

One does not need to be a historian to know that the image of dead Americans, returning day after day in body bags, helped turn America against the war in Vietnam. This administration has gone to great lengths to prevent a repeat by keeping images of lifeless and broken bodies away from the cameras and the consciousness of the American people. Mr. Bush has not yet attended a single funeral for anyone killed in Iraq - not a single one. Spain and Italy held state funerals for their countrymen who died in Iraq, but the Bush Administration's policy for our own war dead is to hide them.

The media blackout extends to the legions of wounded who have returned from Iraq as well. Media stories on wounded troops often use Pentagon figures for those officially wounded in combat, numbering around 3,000. These numbers ignore the well over 7,000 troops who have been injured or made ill as a result of the war. According to the Disabled American Veterans, an additional 6,891 troops were medically evacuated between March 19, 2003 and Oct. 30, 2003, for everything from vehicle accidents to attempted suicides. ...

In their effort to keep this reality from the public, the Bush administration has gone so far as to restrict access of professionally trained and accredited representatives of Disabled American Veterans from military hospitals - access that the DAV has had for more than six decades to counsel and work with service members. The few visits that have been allowed are with pre-selected patients, and closely monitored.
When the mechanisms of denial become deeply engrained mental habits and patterns of behavior, they will encompass the enemy -- or those "lesser" people we say we are "liberating" -- and finally the members of our own military.

These are some of the additional ways in which the denial continues -- and the horrors go on.

And the corpses pile up.

March 02, 2004

THE ROOTS OF HORROR: The Search for Underlying Causes, and Why Spanking Is Always Wrong

In an earlier part of this series, I indicated that I would explain why I was drawn back to Alice Miller's writings about childhood development, and about the numerous, high costs of the infliction of suffering on innocent children. Here I will briefly mention a few of the factors involved, before proceeding to the main topic of this entry. [Added 1/23/06: More of my reasons and some crucial related issues will be further explained in future essays, which will deal with a very deep underlying truth captured by the story of Jesus and the Crucifixion -- although it is not the truth that most Christians believe it to be -- and which will also discuss some of the seemingly eternal underlying mythologies that inform our view of the world.]

I have written a great deal about current events over the last year and a half, and about many issues in both the domestic and foreign policy spheres. I have also read a great deal of commentary about these same subjects, from many and varied sources. After having been immersed in all this analysis for a prolonged period of time, it became more and more clear to me that the reasons people continue to maintain their belief in the truth of certain ideas cannot be explained simply by reference to the policy or factual arguments that they employ.

I will use an example that I have often used before, simply because I think it reveals the problem more clearly than almost any other current dispute. In the area of foreign policy, I have written a great deal about how corporate statism (or the New Fascism) informs the actions of our government, and how it has done so for over a century. And I have traced the results of that policy, showing how it is central to understanding the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the threats we now face. (As I have had to say many times in the past, I repeat again that this is not meant as any kind of excuse or justification for those attacks -- but to identify the causes of events is not to excuse them. It is simply the legitimate and necessary effort to understand the entire context in which certain events took place.)

I have also written many entries about the Utopian delusion that we can successfully "remake the world," or even one portion of the world. As I have pointed out with a great deal of historical evidence, there are no examples to support this delusion -- and in fact, there is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that it is simply that, a delusion. I have also pointed out the necessary connections between foreign and domestic policy: that a policy of aggressive foreign intervention, followed by lengthy periods of occupation, necessitates and requires the growth of an authoritarian government at home. The two spheres are precise mirror images of each other. Many other writers, almost all of them much better known than I am and with much wider readerships, have made these same points, and numerous related ones. Yet to this day, almost without exception, the hawks and the most dedicated defenders of our foreign policy will not address any of these issues in any serious, comprehensive manner. For them, it is as if all these facts simply do not exist.

There is another area that appears to be pointedly neglected by many hawks: the human costs of our actions over the last year. Our government follows this course as a matter of policy: our own non-fatal casualties are significantly undercounted and/or ignored, and the deaths and injuries to innocent Iraqis are almost never mentioned. It is as if, in a very deep sense, these human costs of our policies are not fully real to certain people, or they refuse to allow them to become real. One would think that a strong advocate of our foreign policy would at least have the good grace to acknowledge the costs to American soldiers and to their families, even if they won't mention dead Iraqis, but they almost never mention either of these subjects.

At a certain point, one is justified in thinking that much deeper psychological mechanisms are involved -- and to conclude that the manner in which the debate about foreign policy has been and continues to be conducted obviously involves much more than the surface issues which people are willing to identify. Repeated denial and avoidance, across a wide range of issues and engaged in by very large numbers of people, requires an explanation which consists of more than noting that people will look for information that tends to support what they already believe. That is certainly true -- but it isn't enough to explain many people's seemingless limitless ability to deny what is literally screaming in their faces.

So I began rereading Alice Miller. Here is one obvious and very important point about why her work has so much explanatory power: the one universal experience that all of us share -- an experience that crosses all cultures, all economic classes, and all political systems -- is that we have all been children. And as Miller demonstrates in her books in great detail, the experiences of early childhood leave patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior which last all our lives. This crucial fact is confirmed more and more, by numerous studies. Miller further shows that the most basic of the mechanisms that she analyzes are to be found in almost every culture, and in every historical period -- most notably, the commandment that we are to obey and respect our elders, and especially our parents.

Thus, all the facets of the denial-obedience mechanism that I summarized at the beginning of this entry are not to be found only in the United States, or only in the last century. These results can be observed throughout all of mankind's history, in every culture, and across the entire world. The long history of these phenomena will be further amplified in future entries about certain religious myths.

There is one other important aspect of this that should be mentioned. I view the issues that I am discussing in this series as profoundly different in kind from the error of speculating about the psychologies of others on the basis of insufficient or inconclusive evidence. To begin with, all of us can confirm the truth of what Miller identifies -- simply by looking inward, and examining our own pasts. The only requirement is that we do so honestly, and that we are willing to admit the truth. Certainly, I think some people have "happy" childhoods, but I also think the number of individuals who have deeply happy childhoods is very small. I still remember hearing an unusually perceptive psychotherapist say, many years ago, that whenever he heard someone start talking about how idyllic his childhood was, his very first reaction was to disbelieve every word the person was uttering. Most people's childhoods contain a great deal of pain, and most people will not admit it, even though the truth of that statement reveals itself in much of their behavior, and in many of their attitudes. And the fact that they will not admit it is yet another confirmation of how widespread the mechanisms of denial and repression are. To acknowledge the immense pain in their own histories would be to call into question the idealization of the primary authority figures in their lives -- and the first of those figures is almost always one or both of our parents.

Second, what I am writing about are very general, cultural issues -- or perhaps psycho-cultural issues, if you will. I am not attempting to analyze any particular individual's psychology, but speaking about broad, underlying causes. Of course, I will comment about individuals such as Mel Gibson, when their public comments make certain issues indisputably clear, as his comments did, or as the comments of certain writers on foreign policy do. If someone voluntarily offers statements which render certain facts inarguable, that is no longer speculation: it is simply identifying the meaning of what they have said. And in no case am I condemning or excusing anyone on the basis of psychological factors. If I judge someone negatively, it is because of their views or their actions, and only on the basis of those factors. But what I have been searching for, among other things, is the underlying explanation for why people cling to views which are obviously wrong, and usually horribly destructive as well.

I will have more to say about the very different kinds of events that Miller's writing can explain in future posts, but this will hopefully give you some idea of some of the concerns I have had. Let me now proceed to a narrower issue, but a crucial one.

Not surprisingly, I received several emails in response to earlier parts of this essay which argued the following, in various ways: "But, Arthur, you can't be saying that it's never okay to spank a child. Some children make it necessary, and unavoidable. There's just no other way to discipline them. And as long as they know that they're loved and that we're doing it for their own good, it doesn't do them any harm. After all, I was spanked, and I turned out alright."

As should be clear by now, I disagree with every single part of this argument. In fact, this is a centerpiece of what Miller refers to as the "poisonous pedagogy." (I should note that Miller herself has received countless letters in response to her work, and she talks about them at length. Many of her correspondents were amazed to find how accurately her writing described their own situations -- but many others protested the outrageousness of her belief that "the parents are to blame." How dare she! Well, she dares, thank God, and she's correct, as her books show in great detail. I should also emphasize again that much of the cruelty visited on children is not physical in nature at all, but psychological, as I shall discuss more in future posts.)

But I will let Miller herself answer this kind of argument. In Banished Knowledge, she sets out an unusually revealing passage from a book by Phil Donahue published in 1985 -- and then comments on what the excerpt shows:
"So what is a parent to do? Does all this mean you should never spank your kids? You don't want them to grow up stealing hubcaps; but you also don't want them to grow up undisciplined. Is there any way to punish a child without leaving emotional scars? Are children so sensitive to physical punishment that the slightest slap on the wrist constitutes traumatic 'abuse' and will ensure that the child grows up either delinquent or hopelessly neurotic? Is it possible to discipline a child physically without suffering from terminal guilt yourself if you do?

"Not all behavioral experts agree with [Alice] Miller that punishment, even if administered in the context of a loving relationship, is inevitably destructive. Harvard's Jerome Kagan, for example, thinks children are capable of accepting punishment without developing propensities toward violence as adults. He believes that, except in extreme cases of abuse, parental behavior is not as important as how the child interprets that behavior. 'If the child interprets the physical punishment as unfair,' rather than as a reflection of the 'parent's desire to help him become a productive adult,' says Kagan, 'then you get delinquency, crime, drugs, and so on.'

"In fact, Kagan thinks that many scientists exaggerate the role of parents in causing violent behavior in their children. Although he's foursquare against parental beatings and sexual abuse, he has a lot of confidence in the ability of the human animal to survive a traumatic childhood and become a responsible member of society. The typical response of parents who discover their children engaging in some antisocial behavior is guilt. They wonder, 'What did I do wrong?' According to Kagan, the answer is probably nothing. He thinks it's simplistic to assume, every time a youngster snatches a purse from an old lady, that his mother didn't love him enough."

Although Donahue's discussion ostensibly proceeds from the question of which parental behavior might exert a traumatizing and lasting effect on the child, and although it would appear to give priority to concern for the child, the second paragraph shows that basically it is concerned only with liberating parents from justified guilt feelings. They are assured that their actions pose no danger: The child will suffer no harm if he knows that he is being tormented out of "love" and "for his own good." This kind of reassurance that relies on untruths is based on the statements of "experts" quoted here and, I need hardly say, corresponds to the wishes of all parents who are not prepared to question their own behavior.

But might not there be a different way, other than reassurances? Might not one explain to the parents, in all honesty and frankness, why they traumatize their children? Not all of them would stop tormenting their children, but some would. We can be certain, however, that they would not stop if they were told, as were their own parents thirty years earlier, that one slap more or less does no harm, provided they love the child. Although this phrase contains a contradiction, it can continue to be handed down because we are used to it. Love and cruelty are mutually exclusive. No one ever slaps a child out of love but rather because in similar situations, when one was defenseless, one was slapped and then compelled to interpret it as a sign of love. This inner confusion prevailed for thirty or forty years and is passed on to one's own child. That's all. To purvey this confusion to the child as truth leads to new confusions that, although examined in detail by experts, are still confusions. If, on the other hand, one can admit one's errors to the child and apologize for a lack of self-control, no confusions are created.

If a mother can make it clear to a child that at that particular moment when she slapped him her love for him deserted her and she was dominated by other feelings that had nothing to do with the child, the child can keep a clear head, feel respected, and not be disoriented in his relationship to his mother. While it is true that love for a child cannot be commanded, each of us is free to decide to refrain from hypocrisy.
For these reasons, my view is very simple: it is always wrong to hit, slap or spank a child. Always.

I want to make two additional points about this. First, there is a deep psychological, and even philosophical, error underlying the view that inflicting punishment of this kind is "good" for a child. And the error is to believe that the avoidance of pain can motivate the child in the same way that the pursuit of pleasure can. In fact, many parents and "authorities" on child rearing actually believe that the threat of physical punishment is the most effective motivator of all. This is to make pain, and the avoidance of pain, the center of the child's universe.

A negative is simply that: a negative. It is nothing at all, it is the absence of something else. To make the avoidance of pain a reason for acting a certain way is to distort a child's psychology at the most fundamental level. And in fact, what motivates human beings most deeply and most effectively, particularly in regard to any goal which requires a course of action over any length of time, is the achievement of some positive value: an education, a rewarding career, or a satisfying personal relationship. Or to put the point in more general, philosophic terms: the avoidance of death is not the same thing as the achievement of life.

The second point is that none of this means that a child should be free to operate without any restraints at all. And in fact, Miller herself does not advocate that. But if a child is treated with respect, with seriousness, and with attention to his or her legitimate needs for autonomy and the development of an authentic sense of self, most of the problems that parents have would not arise in the first place. But most of the "accepted" views of "proper" child rearing are geared to one end above all and to the unending defense of one inviolable tenet, which Miller identifies with great clarity: the parents are never to blame.

In a later passage in Banished Knowledge, Miller shows some of the more extreme results to which this syndrome of denial, obedience and repression can lead:
Why is it so difficult to describe the real, the factual, the true situation of a small child? Whenever I try to do this I am confronted with arguments that all serve the same purpose: that of not having to acknowledge the situation, of rendering it invisible, or, at best, of describing it as purely "subjective." The victim is always subjective, I am told: He knows only the wrong done to him, not why it was done to him, especially when that victim is a child, for how much can a child really understand? How should he be able to assess the overall situation--for instance, understand the plight of his parents and realize how greatly he has provoked their violence? Again and again the child's share of the blame is looked for and found, with the result that only in extremely brutal cases is the term "child abuse" mentioned, and even then with reservations, while the broad spectrum of psychic mistreatment is disputed or even totally denied. In this way the victims' voices are silenced almost before they are raised, and the truth, the whole objective truth, of the facts remains in obscurity.

The absurd consequences to which this silencing can lead could be observed in connection with an issue of the German magazine Stern published in 1987. When the son of the infamous mass murderer Hans Frank, the Nazi governor-general in Poland from 1939 to 1945, condemned his father's crimes outright, without embellishing, forgiving, or qualifying them and without acknowledging any blame for his report, he unleashed a wave of anger and indignation. Readers wrote, among other things: "No matter what Hans Frank may have done, his foulest deed was undoubtedly the procreation of this perverse monster of a son." "Anyone else is free to, should, in fact, write this article, but not the son. In doing so he acts just as inhumanely as his father once did." So we are told that it is inhuman and utterly loathsome if a child of a mass murderer is not prepared to idealize his father, to withhold the truth, and to betray himself.
Just recently, we have seen the same phenomenon again, with regard to Mel Gibson's refusal to condemn his father's vicious views about Jews and the Holocaust. Most commentators I have heard on this subject have gone out of their way to be "understanding" about Mel Gibson's "plight." After all, we wouldn't expect or want him to be disrespectful or judgmental about his father, would we?

These are some of the ways in which the denial continues, and future monsters are created.