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WHAT “AMERICAN SNIPER” DOESN’T TELL: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 28, 2015 at 12:02 am

Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, American Sniper, has become the most controversial film being considered for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremonies.

The Oscars telecast is scheduled for February 22.

The film depicts the life of Chris Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in American history with 160 confirmed kills.

As a Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty in Iraq, he became known as “The Legend” to his fellow soldiers–and as “The Devil” to Iraqi insurgents.

A $20,000 bounty was placed on his head.

The criticism is coming from the Left, and has triggered outrage from the Right. Much of this criticism focuses on the movie’s failure to reveal what led the United States to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003.

A crucial scene in the movie occurs shortly after Kyle (Bradley Cooper) has completed his SEAL training.

He and his wife (Sienna Miller) are watching the collapse of the World Trade Center on TV. Then, suddenly, the film cuts to Iraq, where Kyle is now serving as a sniper.

Critics have charged that this implies a connection between the two events.

In fact, that was precisely what the administration of President George W. Bush wanted Americans to believe: That Saddam Hussein had worked hand-in-hand with Osama bin Laden to plan and execute the catastrophe of September 11, 2001.

So where did this all start? There is actually a dark historical parallel to the events leading up to the Iraq war.

A parallel that has its roots in Nazi Germany.

ADOLF HITLER

When Germany’s Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, wanted to invade Poland in 1939, he mounted a sustained propaganda campaign to “justify” his ambitions.

Adolf Hitler

German “newspapers”-–produced by Joseph Goebbels, the club-footed Minister of Propaganda–-carried fictitious stories of how brutal Poles were beating and even murdering their helpless German citizens.

In theaters, German audiences saw phony newsreels showing Poles attacking and raping German women living in Poland.

For a time, Hitler not only deceived the Germans but the world.

Just before German tanks and troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, members of Hitler’s dreaded SS secret police rounded up prisoners from German concentration camps.

The inmates were dressed in Polish Army uniforms and driven to a German radio station at Gleiwitz, on the German/Polish border.  There they were shot by SS men.

Then Polish-speaking SS men “seized” the station and broadcast to Germany that a Polish invasion of Germany was now under way.

Hitler, addressing Germany’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Reichstag, dramatically asserted: “This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our territory. Since 5.45 a.m. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met by bombs.”

Leaders of Britain and France were taken in by this ruse. They had pledged to go to war if Hitler attacked Poland.  But they didn’t want to take on Germany if Poland had been the aggressor.

By the time the truth became known, Poland was securely in German hands.

On August 22, 1939, Hitler had outlined his strategy to a group of high-ranking military officers:

“I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war.  Never mind whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked, later on, whether he told the truth or not. In starting and waging a war, it is not Right that matters, but Victory.”

GEORGE W. BUSH

American President George W. Bush followed a similar strategy while he prepared to invade Iraq: He ordered the topmost members of his administration to convince the American people of the war’s necessity.

Among those members: National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice; Vice President Dick Cheney; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Condaleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld

Among their arguments-–all eventually revealed as lies-–were:

  • Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, had worked hand-in-glove with Osama Bin Laden to plan 9/11.
  • Saddam was harboring and supporting Al Qaeda throughout Iraq.
  • Saddam, with help from Al Qaeda, was scheming to build a nuclear bomb.
  • Iraq possessed huge quantities of chemical/biological weapons, in violation of UN resolutions.
  • Saddam was preparing to use those weapons against the United States.
  • American Intelligence agencies had determined the precise locations where those weapons were stored.
  • The war would be self-financing via the oil revenues that would come from Iraq.
  • Invading American forces would be welcomed as liberators.

ADOLF HITLER

Hitler intended Poland to be only his first conquest on what became known as “the Eastern Front.”  Conquering Poland would place his powerful Wehrmacht on the border of the country that was his ultimate target: The Soviet Union.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Similarly, Vice President Dick Cheney–the “power-behind-the-throne” of the Bush Presidency–had his own ambitions for conquering Iraq.

According to former Bush speechwriter David Frum: Cheney longed for war in Iraq to gain reliable control of that nation’s vital oil resources.

A successful occupation of Iraq would also allow the United States to threaten such bordering Islamic nations as Syria, Iran and even Saudi Arabia.

TRUTHS ABOUT “AMERICAN SNIPER” AND THE MILITARY

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 27, 2015 at 1:50 am

Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, American Sniper, has become the most controversial film now being considered for Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars.

The Academy Awards telecast is scheduled for February 22.

Clint Eastwood

The criticism is coming from the Left, and this has triggered outrage on the Right. Some of this criticism is correct and fair, but some of it isn’t.

CHARGE:  The film implies that the Iraq was was in response to 9/11.

There’s a scene where Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) are watching TV as the World Tradd Center crashes.  Then the scene cuts to him serving in Iraq.

FACT:  The movie is a biography of Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in American history, not a documentary on the Iraq war.  And, in fact, Kyle did his service in Iraq.

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

CHARGE:  The movie depicts a terrorist sniper who becomes Kyle’s nemesis.

Named “Mustafa,” he is portrayed as a Syrian Olympics champion marksman.  In a furious mano-a-mano duel with Kyle, he almost nails the SEAL sniper. But in the climax of the movie, he meets his end with a well-placed bullet from Kyle’s rifle.

FACT:  Mustafa is mentioned in a single–and short–paragraph in Kyle’s autobiography.  Writes Kyle: “I never saw him, but the other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we thought was him.”

So the climatic duel never happened. But Eastwood clearly thought he needed the duel to make a dramatic and satisfying finish for his movie.  This is what’s known as “dramatic license” in moviemaking.

CHARGE: The movie portrays Chris Kyle as tormented by his rising casualty rate among Iraqis.

During his fourth tour of duty in Iraq, as depicted in the film, he agonizes over his possible need to shoot a child who’s about to pick up a rocket launcher. “Don’t pick it up,” he mutters, and when the child drops it and runs off, Kyle is visibly relieved.

FACT:   Throughout his autobiography–on which the film is based–he refers to Iraqis as “savages.”  He brags of telling a military investigator: “I don’t shoot people with Korans.  I’d like to, but I don’t.”

And having been credited with 160 confirmed kills, he writes: “I only wish I had killed more….I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.”

CHARGE:  Chris Kyle was a hate-filled killer, but the movie turns him into a hero.  

FACT:  It’s entirely natural for soldiers to hate their enemies.  They know that they–or their comrades–can be blown away at any moment.  So they fear and hate those intent on their destruction.

The toughening-up process starts in boot camp, where the restraints of individuality and pacifism are shattered.  The purpose of boot camp is to turn “boys” into “fighting men,” and this must be done in a matter of weeks.  So the process is shockingly brutal.

Soldiers who aren’t toughened up in boot camp are by the battlefield.  As General George S. Patton famously warned: “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.”

General George S. Patton

During the Indian wars, soldiers called Indians “Red niggers.”  In World War II–“the Good War”–America’s servicemen fought “Japs” and “Krauts.”  During the Vietnam war, Vietnamese became “gooks” and “dinks.”

Today our servicemen and women refer (unofficially) to their Islamic enemies as “ragheads” and “sand niggers.”

CHARGE:  “In Kyle’s version of the Iraq war, the parties consisted of Americans, who were good by virtue of being Americans, and fanatic Muslims, whose ‘savage, despicable evil’ led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christian.”  –Laura Miller, in Salon

FACT:  British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart noted in his introduction to the memoirs of World War II German General Heinz Guderian, the creator of the Blitzkreig theory:

Heinz Guderian

“[Guderian] did not question the cause which he and his troops were serving, or the duty of fighting for their country.  It was sufficient for him that she was at war and thus in danger, however it had come about.

“As a dutiful soldier, he had to assume that his country’s cause was just, and that she was defending herself against would-be conquerors.”

What proved true for Guderian proved equally true for Kyle–and for soldiers in armies throughout the world.

Moreover, every great war movie tells its story from a given viewpoint–such as American, German, Russian or British. Audiences are invited to identify with the leading character.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, the narrator is a young, idealistic German soldier who becomes disallusioned with the horrors of war.  When he dies at the end of the movie, we feel saddened by his loss, even though he served in the ranks of America’s adversaries.

Similarly, when we learn, at the end of American Sniper, that Chris Kyle was killed while trying to help a fellow veteran, we feel a similar loss.

In the end, a historical or biographical movie can tell only so much.  Its audience must then decide its meaning–and whether to learn more about the subjec through their own researches.

A WARNING FROM HISTORY–AND FILM

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 26, 2015 at 12:37 am

January 26, 2015, marks the 130th anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White Nile and the Blue Nile.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

Khartoum in the 1800s

From March 18, 1884 to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamists intent on slaughtering everyone in the city.

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison:The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seen antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama Administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dicator, “President” Bashar al Assad.

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia Muslims.

And now, with Syria, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Consider the combatants:

On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government. Hizbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.

A sworn enemy of Israel, it has kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hizbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.

It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.-Muslim “holy war.”

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon.

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version of Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.

Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film:“For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie, “Khartoum” itself.

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.

It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 22, 2015 at 12:10 am

On February 18, 2012, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum warned about the “phony theology” of President Barack Obama.

“It’s not about you,” Santorum told supporters of the right-wing Tea Party in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs.

“It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”

Rick Santorum

Which raises an interesting question: What would a Bible-based agenda mean for the country?

The death penalty would be vastly expanded to cover such “crimes” as:

  • Sabbath-breaking: Because the Lord considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.  (Exodus 31:12-15)
  • Adultery:  If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
  • Fornication: A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death.  (Leviticus 21:9)
  • Nonbelievers: They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13)
  • Homosexuality:  If a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.  Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20-13)

A modern-day stoning–in Somalia

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution–which forbids slavery–would be repealed. The Bible not only permits slavery but lays out rules for its practice–such as:

  • When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. (Exodus 21-7)
  • However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. (Leviticus 25:44-45)
  • Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)

Almost all scientific progress would be discarded, since most of its findings conflict with the Bible:

  • One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4). This claim is totally contradicted by what astronomers now know about the eventual fate of the Earth: In about 7.6 billion years, the sun will exhaust its nuclear fuels.  This will vastly increase its heat and gravitational pull, and at least Mercury, Earth and Venus will be vaporized.

The sun

  • The Bible speaks of a world where physical laws are often violated by the will of God.   Thus, Jesus turns water into wine and raises Lazarus from the dead; Jonah lives inside a fish for three days; Noah dies at 950 years; and demons are exorcised.
  • In Biblical times, mental illness was seen as a manifestation of demonic possession.  Today we know that mental illness has nothing to do with evil spirits.

Laws guaranteeing equal rights for women would be repealed:

  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 12:10)
  • Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
  • A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. (1 Timothy 2:11)
  • But if…and evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsman shall stone her to death. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

Military conflicts would be fought without regard to the Geneva Convention–as the Israelites did:

  • “You are my battle-ax and sword,” says the Lord.  “With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms.  With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer.  With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens.  With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers.”  (Jeremiah 51:20-23)

Depiction of the taking of Jericho by the Israelites

  • Samuel said to Saul, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15, 1-3) 

* * * * *

Yes, a nation governed by “a theology based on the Bible” would be one far different from the United States we know today.

Since a number of Old Testament practices might lend themselves to easy abuse, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 21, 2015 at 12:20 am

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, America’s most famous preacher, spends a lot of time thinking about who qualifies as a Christian–and who doesn’t.

He said just that on the February 21, 2012 edition of the MSNBC show, “Morning Joe.”

Images of Franklin Graham – Google Search

Franklin Graham

First, however, he offered his views on the relative Christian dedication of the major contenders for the Presidency in 2012:

President Barack Obama: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam…. I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:“Newt’s been married several times… but he could make a good candidate. I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.”

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum: “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. I think he is, no question, a man of faith.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: “I’m just saying most Christians would not recognize Mormonism. Of course they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that they believe in, too, that we don’t accept theologically.”

Toward the end of the program, Mike Barnicle, one of the panelists interviewing Graham, said: “You must spend a big part of the day checking out what you conceive to be people’s depth of faith, in terms of measuring.”

“This is my business,” replied Graham. “You guys go through newspapers every day. I look at a person’s political interest, but more importantly I look at their spiritual interests….

“You have to go by what a person says, and how they live their lives. Are they faithful church-goers? Or do they just go when the cameras are on them?”

Another man who dedicated his life to judging the religious commitment of others was Bernard Gui, the chief inquisitor at Toulouse from 1308 to 1322.

His inquisition of those suspected or accused of heresy led to over 900 guilty verdicts. Of those convicted during examination by Gui, 42 were executed–by being burned at the stake.

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

Interrogator: You call your faith Christian, for you consider ours as false and heretical. But I ask whether you have ever believed as true another faith than that which the Roman Church holds to be true?

Accused Heretic: I believe the true faith which the Roman Church believes, and which you openly preach to us.

Interrogator: Perhaps you have some of your sect at Rome whom you call the Roman Church. I, when I preach, say many things, some of which are common to us both, as that God liveth, and you believe some of what I preach. Nevertheless you may be a heretic in not believing other matters which are to be believed.

Accused Heretic: I believe all things that a Christian should believe.

Interrogator: I know your tricks. What the members of your sect believe you hold to be that which a Christian should believe. But we waste time in this fencing. Say simply, Do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

Accused Heretic: I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe in Christ born of the Virgin, suffered, risen, and ascended to heaven?

Accused Heretic: (Briskly) I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe the bread and wine in the mass performed by the priests to be changed into the body and blood of Christ by divine virtue?

Accused Heretic: Ought I not to believe this?

Interrogator: I don’t ask if you ought to believe, but if you do believe.

Accused Heretic: I believe whatever you and other good doctors order me to believe.

Inquisitor: Those good doctors are the masters of your sect; if I accord with them you believe with me; if not, not.

Accused Heretic: I willingly believe with you if you teach what is good to me.

Inquisitor: You consider it good to you if I teach what your other masters teach. Say, then, do you believe the body of our Lord, Jesus Christ to be in the altar?

Accused Heretic: (Promptly) I believe that a body is there, and that all bodies are of our Lord.

Interrogator: I ask whether the body there is of the Lord who was born of the Virgin, hung on the cross, arose from the dead, ascended, etc.

Accused Heretic: And you, sir, do you not believe it?

Interrogator: I believe it wholly.

Accused Heretic: I believe likewise.

Men like Franklin Graham and Bernard Gui do not seek a golden future. They crave to return to a “golden” past–which includes the one-time power of Christians to impose their religious beliefs on others.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 20, 2015 at 12:05 am

American right-wing elements have recently raised the cry that President Barack Obama is waging “a war on religion.”

It’s clear that GOP candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney intend to make this a major theme of their respective campaigns for President.

Obama supports a woman’s right

  • to obtain abortion–including in cases of rape and incest;
  • to obtain birth control; and
  • to obtain amniocentesis (pre-natal testing).

So, according to American fascists, the President is “waging a war against religion.”

Meanwhile, those Americans who do not support the theocratic agenda of the Right may well be confused.

Since access to such medical procedures as birth control and pre-natal testing has long been entirely legal, what’s all the fuss about?

Those Americans would be well-advised to learn a simple Russian phrase: “Kto-kovo.” This translates as “Who-whom.” Or, to be more precise: “Who can do what to whom?”

In short, the Right is not waging a “war for religious liberty.”

It’s waging a bitter struggle to establish a government that uses force or the threat of it to impose highly conservative religious beliefs on religionists who do not share such religious beliefs.

And on atheists or agnostics, who share none at all.

These Rightists and their theocratic allies have more in common with Tomas de Torquemada (1420 – 1498) the infamous Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, than with Jesus Christ.

Christ never ordered the torture or death of anyone. Torquemada–claiming to act in “defense” of the Roman Catholic Church–presided over the deaths of at least 2,000 “heretics.”

Tomas de Torquemada

Nor did these unfortunate victims of religious fanaticism meet their death quickly or painlessly. They died by perhaps the cruelest means possible–by being burned alive at the stake.

Torquemada didn’t hesitate to pronounce someone a heretic. He “knew” who such people were. They were Jews. They were Muslims. They were “lapsed Catholics” who, in his view, failed to show fervent devotion to the religious authorities who ruled their lives.

For such people, Torquemada believed, the only road to salvation lay in being “cleansed” of their sins. And nothing burns away impurities like fire.

But before the fire-stakes came the fire-mindset: The arrogance of “knowing” who qualified as “saved” and who would be forever “damned.”

Unless, of course, his or her soul had been “purified” by fire.

“Heretic” burned at the stake

This mindset was vividly put on display by no less a religious authority than Franklin Graham, son of America’s most famous preacher, Billy Graham.

Franklin Graham

Appearing on the MSNBC program, “Morning Joe,” on February 21, 2012, Graham was asked if he thought that Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney qualified as Christians.

On Obama, Graham said: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam… I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

On Santorum: “I think so. His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it… I think he’s a man of faith.”

On Gingrich: “I think Newt Gingrich is a Christian, at least he told me he is.”

On Romney: “Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith. They believe in Jesus Christ. They have a lot of other things they believe in too, that we don’t accept, theologically.”

Thus, Graham had no problem in pronouncing as “saved” a notorious multiple-adulterer like Gingrich, or a rights-denying religious zealot like Santorum.

But he clearly refused to pronounce as “saved” a longtime church-goer like Obama or a Mormon like Romney (whose faith, most evangelicals like Graham believe, is actually a non-Christian cult).

It’s easy to imagine Graham transported to the French city of Toulouse in the 14th century. And to imagine him wearing the robes of Bernardo Gui, the chief inquisitor of the Dominican Order during the Medieval Inquisition (1184 – 1230s).

Bernardo Gui

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

When a heretic is first brought up for examination, he assumes a confident air, as though secure in his innocence. I ask him why he has been brought before me. He replies, smiling and courteous, “Sir, I would be glad to learn the cause from you.”

Interrogator: You are accused as a heretic, and that you believe and teach otherwise than Holy Church believes.

Accused Heretic: (Raising his eyes to heaven, with an air of the greatest faith) Lord, thou knowest that I am innocent of this, and that I never held any faith other than that of true Christianity.

THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAHS: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 17, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist in Saudi Arabia, decided to celebrate the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammed in a truly unique way.

Hamza Kashgar

In early February, 2012, he posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and Muhammad:

“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”

“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

“No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.”

The tweets sparked some 30,000 infuriated responses. Many Islamic clerics demanded that he face execution for blasphemy.

Kashgari posted an apology tweet: “I deleted my previous tweets because…I realized that they may have been offensive to the Prophet and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand.”

Soon afterward, King Abdullah ordered his arrest.

Saudi King King Abdullah 

Kashgari fled to Malaysia, another majority-Muslim country. He was quickly arrested by police as he passed through Kuala Lumpur international airport. Three days later, he was deported to Saudi Arabia.

Human rights groups feared that he would be executed for blasphemy, a capitol offense in Saudi Arabia.

After nearly two years in prison, Kashgari was freed on October 29, 2013. Kashgari used Twitter to inform his supporters of his release.

Outrageous? By Western standards, absolutely.

Clearly there is no tolerence in Saudi Arabia for the freedoms of thought and expression that Americans take for granted.

But before you say, “Religious oppression like that could never happen in the United States,” think again.

Right-wing American ayatollahs are now working overtime to create just that sort of society–where theocratic despotism rules the most intimate aspects of our lives.

One of these is the former GOP Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. In early January, 2012, he said that states should have the right to outlaw birth control without the interference of the Supreme Court.

Rick Santorum

In an interview with ABC News, Santorum said he opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling that made birth control legal:

“The state has a right to do that [ban contraception]. I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a Constitutional right. The state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have.

“That’s the thing I have said about the activism of the Supreme Court–they are creating rights, and it should be left up to the people to decide.”

In the landmark 1965 decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court struck down a law that made it a crime to sell contraceptives to married couples. The Constitution, ruled the Justices, protected a right to privacy.

Two years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court extended Griswold by striking down a law banning the sale of contraceptives to unmarried couples.

Santorum has left no doubt as to where he stands on contraception. On October 19, 2011, he said:

“One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘“Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’

“It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also…procreative.

“That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act….And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.”

“How things are supposed to be”–according to Right-wing fanatics like Santorum and the evangelicals who support them.

Like the Saudi religious religious zealots who demand the death of a “blasphemer,” they demand that their religious views should govern everyone. Both groups have far more in common than they want to admit.

The important difference–for Americans who value their freedom–is this:

The United States has a Supreme Court that can–and does–overturn laws that threaten civil liberties. Laws that GOP Presidential candidates clearly want to revive and force on those who don’t share their peculiar religious views.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The same holds true–in a democracy–for candidates who seek dictatorial power over their fellow citizens. Don’t give them your consent.

GRIZZLIES AND AMERICANS

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 13, 2015 at 11:55 pm

There is a poignant scene in the middle of John Milius’ classic 1975 adventure film, The Wind and the Lion, that Americans would do well to remember.

The movie is set in 1904 America and Morocco.  An American woman, Eden Pedicaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children have been kidnapped while vacationing in Tangier.

The kidnapper is a Berber brigand named Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery–successfully trying to shed his James Bond image).

To Raisuli, the Sultan and his uncle, the Pasha of Tangier, are corrupt and beholden to the European powers struggling to ontrol Morocco.

Raisuli issues an outrageous ransom demand to provoke an international incident, embarrass the Sultan and start a civil war.

In the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is running for re-election.  He sees the crisis as a way to score campaign points and demonstrate America’s military strength as a new power.

So he issues a demand of his own: “Pedicarus alive–or Raisuli dead!”

While events rapidly spiral out of control in the Middle East, Roosevelt decides to vacation in Yellowstone National Park.

One night, a grizzly bear attacks the camp and is shot by Roosevelt and several other campers.  The next morning, Roosevelt holds an imprumptu press conference for the reporters who have accompanied him.

Brian Keith (left) as Theodore Roosevelt

REPORTER:  Did you take part in killing the grizzly, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Yes, unfortunately.

REPORTER:  Why do you say, ‘unfortunately,’ Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times, but courageous beyond all doubt.  And one other trait that goes with all previous.

REPORTER:  And that, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Loneliness. The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered–but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he.

REPORTER:  And you feel this might be an American trait?

ROOSEVELT:  Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us–they might even grow to fear us. But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! And, we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.

REPORTER:  Are you perhaps referring to the situation in Morocco and the Panama Canal.

ROOSEVELT:  If you say so. The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America. He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle–he’s nothing more than a dandified vulture.

When the Pasha of Tangier refuses to negotiate with Raisuli to secure the return of Pedecaris, the American Consul to Tangier, Samuel Gummere, decides on action.  He confers with Admiral Chadwick, commanding the South Atlantic Squadron, and a Marine captain named Jerome.

Gummere then orders a company of Marines, supported by a small detachment of sailors, to seize the Pasha.  But then he admits to the riskiness of the decision:

GUMMERE:  You realize, of course, that if we fail in even the slightest way, we’ll all be killed.

CHADWICK:  Yes, and the whole world will probably go to war.

JEROME: Gentlemen, if we fail and are killed, I certainly hope the world does go to war. 

CHADWICK:  A world ar war!

GUMMERE:  A world war.  Now that would be something to go out on.

In just ten years, they will get their hearts’ desire when World War 1 erupts.

The Marines quickly overwhelm the Pasha’s palace guard, take the Pasha hostage and force him to negotiate.

During the hostage exchange, Raisuli is betrayed and captured by German and Moroccan troops.   His friend, the Sherif of Wazan, organizes the Berber tribe for an attack on the Europeans and their Moroccan lackeys.

Eden Pedecaris, who has grown to admire Raisuli, convinces a Marine captain and his men to rescue the Berber chieftain.  She argues that President Roosevelt had promised that Raisuli would be unharmed if the Pedecarises were returned safely.

The Berbers and Marines team up to defeat the Germans and their Moroccan allies, rescuing Raisuli in the process.

Thirteen years later–in 1917–the United States will officially take on the Germans in World War 1.  And in another 37 years–in 1941–America will again declare war on Germany.

The film ends with a confident Theodore Roosevelt expecting (accurately) to be re-elected–and telling reporters  that “the fate of Morocco will be decided tomorrow by me.”

The Wind and the Lion is set in an era when

  • nuclear weapons did not exist;
  • Russia and China were militarily insignificant nations;
  • England was the world’s superpower;
  • America, Germany and Japan were on the rise;
  • Israel was still a distant dream in the eyes of European Jews;
  • the “Great Powers”–Germany, France and Great Britain–were struggling to carve up the Middle East to exploit its massive oli reserves; and
  • Americans did not feel threatened by Islamic radicals.

That era–for all its faults–is long vanished.  As complex and dangerous as it often seemed to those living in it, that era has been succeeded by one even more complex and dangerous.

In this new and even more lethal era, it is well to remember Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that “we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.”

JAMES BOND GONE WRONG

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 12, 2015 at 12:23 am

James Bond, the legendary creation of novelist Ian Fleming, routinely bedded femme fatales–and sometimes killed them. But he never faced indictment for romancing them.

That’s the difference between Bond and David Petraeus, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Movie poster for Thunderball (1965)

The Justice Department is deciding whether to bring criminal charges against Petraeus.  The FBI  alleges that, as CIA director, he shared classified information with his then-mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

FBI agents found classified information on a personal computer Broadwell used–and determined that Petraeus had supplied it.

As an Army General, Petraeus had successfully led U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and was thought to be a potential candidate for president.

In 2011, he won appointment to CIA director–which ended abruptly in 2012 with the revelation of his extramarital affair with Broadwell.

Petraeus is one of the most highly educated men in the United States:

  • Alumnus of the United States Military Academy at West Point–graduating among the top 5% of his 1974 class.
  • General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983.
  • Earned an M.P.A. in 1985 and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
  • Served as Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy

David Petraeus

And Paula Broadwell is one of the most highly educated women in the United States:

  • Graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1995, majoring in political geography.
  • Earned a master’s degree in international security from the University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies in 2006.
  • Earned a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2008.
  • A Research Associate in the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Fellows.

Paula Broadwell

In addition, Petraeus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, knew the importance of secrecy in keeping clandestine affairs (military and personal) out of sight.

So did Broadwell, having earned a reputation as an expert on counterterrorism.

Yet they both violated the most basic rules of security.

They exchanged emails using a cyber trick known to both terrorists and teenagers: Sharing a private email account, or “dropbox.”

In this they composed drafts to each other in order not to directly transmit messages to one another.  Each could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there.

By doing so, they flagrantly left a cyber-trail of their infidelities. (Broadwell was also married.)

It was Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, who warned: If you don’t want it known, don’t write it down.

More than 500 years ago, in his masterwork, The Discourses, he warned:

Niccolo Machiavelli

I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the “Yes” of one man is worth as much as the “No” of another. 

And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting….

You may escape, then, from the accusation of a single individual, unless you are convicted by some writing or other pledge, which you should be careful never to give.

Nor were Petraeus and Broadwell the only ones guilty of thumbing their noses at this most basic of precautions.

General John Allen, the top American commander in Afghanistan, exchanged thousands of emails  with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.

Although charged with directing American military efforts against the Taliban, Allen found time to exchange 20,000 to 30,000 pages’ worth of emails with Kelley between 2010 and 2012.

The scandal began when Kelley began receiving harassing emails from an unidentified woman.  So she complained to the FBI.

The emails allegedly came from Broadwell, who thought that Kelley was trying to move in on “her man”–Petraeus.  Apparently, Broadwell didn’t feel similarly threatened by Holly, Petraeus’ wife.)

The FBI investigation ultimately led to the discovery of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair.

There are several lessons to be learned from this behavior by Petraeus, Broadwell, Allen and Kelley:

  • They believed they were so privileged–by education, status and/or wealth–that conventional rules of morality didn’t apply to them.
  • They believed they were so clever they could violate the most basic rule of security and common sense–and get away with  it.
  • They were so caught up in their illicit passions that they threw caution to the winds.
  • David Petraeus, a highly disciplined man, clearly expected Paula Broadwell to behave in a similarly disciplined manner–and do nothing to compromise their lives.
  • Petraeus felt so confident about the secrecy of his affair he had his wife and mistress present when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2011 to become CIA director.

General David Petraeus’ CIA confirmation hearings. His wife, Holly (in white) and mistress, Paula Broadwell (in black).

  • Petraeus didn’t imagine that Broadwell suspected another of his admirers–Jill Kelley–of having romantic designs on him.
  • And he was utterly surprised when her harassing emails to Kelley led the FBI to uncover his illicit relationship.

Thus does hubris meet its punishment in Nemesis.

BOMBING YOUR WAY INTO HEAVEN

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 9, 2015 at 12:54 am

On June 6, 2012, at least two dozen Afghan civilians died in a suicide-bomb attack in Kandahar City, making this the deadliest day for Afghan civilians so far that year.

The target of that day’s attack was a small market and a hotel where Afghan security escorts for NATO supply trucks stopped between escort runs to rest and have tea.

Eyewitnesses described the death-weapon as a motorcycle with a wagon attached to it. The wagon was packed with explosives and detonated–either by remote control or the motorcycle rider.

Then, as people gathered to assist the victims, another suicide bomber on a motorcycle drove into the crowd and detonated more explosives.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Originally the preferred weapon of Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilians, suicide bombings have become the weapon of choice for Islamic “holy warriors” in Afghanistan.

But the tactic has also proven a public relations disaster for Islamic extremists.

More than 60 people died in Al-Qaeda-directed suicide bombings at American hotels in Amman, Jordan. But almost all of the victims were Jordanian civilians attending a wedding.

Other indiscriminate bombings in Iraq targeted Shia mosques and Sunnis who didn’t practice the Al Qaeda brand of Islam.

Islamics who didn’t object to the murder of “infidels” cursed Al-Qaeda for its slaughter of “the faithful.”

As a result, Osama bin Laden, in the last years of his life, despaired for the future of his organization. In October, 2007, he publicly apologized for his followers’ behavior in Iraq, attacking their “fanaticism.”

Ironically, the use of suicide bombings has declined in Israel for two major reasons.

First, the Israelis have literally walled off the West Bank population from Israel by a series of huge, concrete slabs. The way the Israelis see it: Fewer Arabs = fewer suicide bombers.

Israel: Walling off the Arabs

Second, they have adopted the widespread use of bomb-sniffing dogs. But it is more than the keen noses of the dogs that act as a deterrant.

Within Islamic culture, dogs are seen as defiled–and defiling–creatures. Many would-be suicide bombers fear that if they set off their bomb too close to a dog, its “unclean” blood may be mingled with their own.

And thus “polluted,” they could not hope to enter Paradise and receive those promised 72 willing virgins.

Click here: Pups For Peace: Detecting Terror Before It Strikes.

If that sounds unbelievable, the following may put it into perspective.

In the classic 1956 Western, The Searchers, John Wayne plays Indian-hating scout Ethan Edwards. Early on, he and a party of Texas Rangers discover the corpse of a Comanche killed during a raid on a nearby farmhouse.

One of the Rangers–a teenager enraged by the carnage has seen–picks up a rock and bashes in the head of the dead Indian.

Wayne, sitting astride his horse, asks: “Why don’t you finish the job?”

John Wayne in The Searchers

He draws his revolver and fires two shots, taking out the eyes of the dead Comanche–although the mutilation is not depicted onscreen.

”What good did that do?” the leader of the Rangers, a part-time minister, asks.

“By what you preach, none,” says Wayne/Edwards. “But what that Comanche believes–ain’t got no eyes, he can’t enter the Spirit land. Has to wander forever between the winds. You get it, Reverend.”

It’s a time-honored military truth: Know the mind of your enemy–and victory stands within your reach.

With suicide-bombing now a recognized–and widely despised–facet of Islamic culture, it’s past time to give these human time bombs their due.

And a song all their very own.

MULLAH IN THE SKY

(To be sung to the tune of “Spirit in the Sky”)

Hear the original song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZQxH_8raCI

When I die in my suicide vest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best.
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the Mullah in the Sky.

Goin’ up to the Mullah in the Sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die.
When I die in my suicide vest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best.

Prepare your bomb
You know it’s jihad.
Gotta have a friend in Allah.
So you know that when I die
Gonna blow the lousy infidels goodbye.

Gonna blow the lousy infidels goodbye
That’s what I’m gonna do when I die.
When I die in my suicide vest
I’m gonna go to my grave as a mess.

Never been a Christian
Or worse a Jew.
I’ve got a friend in Allah.
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set up up
With those virgins in the sky.

Gonna set me up
With those virgins in the sky.
That’s what I’m gonna screw when I die.
When I die in my suicide vest
I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best.
Go to my grave as a mess.
Go to my grave as a mess.

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