Category: Violence

My Resistance to Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel’s death has prompted much discussion on social media. I’ve written—quite negatively—about Wiesel in the past: It’s long been remarked that the Holocaust and Israel have replaced God and halakha as the touchstones of Jewish experience and identity. The Holocaust is our deity, Israel our daily practice. You get a sense of this in a New York Times oped Elie Wiesel wrote on the day that NBC first aired its mini-series Holocaust. That was in April 1978. All Jewish families, mine included, watched it. One Jewish magazine even said that watching it “has about it the quality of a religious obligation” for Jews. Like the Six-Day War, it was a founding moment of contemporary Jewish identity. I remember it vividly. […]

Robert Kagan, Donald Trump, and the Liberal Imagination

Robert Kagan has an oped on Donald Trump in yesterday’s Washington Post. It’s called “This is how fascism comes to America.” It’s got the liberal chattering classes chattering. It blames Trump on democracy and the mob, it cites Tocqueville, it gives a hand job to the Framers. For the liberal imagination, it’s the equivalent of a great massage. And it’s got critics on the left clucking. Kagan, you see, is a neocon who supported the Iraq War, so he’s not above suspicion as a commentator on the American way of violence. But if you say that, liberals will cry, Ad hominem! So let’s pay closer attention to what Kagan says, while being mindful of who he is. The two points, as we’ll see, are not unrelated. Trump, […]

Chickens Come Home to Roost, Palin-Style

Sarah Palin’s son Track, who’s a veteran, has been arrested for allegedly punching his girlfriend. The former vice presidential candidate had this to say: “My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened,” she said. “They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airman and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country,” she added. “And that starts from the top.” “That comes from our own president,” she elaborated, “where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we go through? Do you know what we’re trying to do to secure America?’” “So when […]

On Islamist Terror and the Left

Glenn Greenwald speaks to and rebuts a rhetorical move that’s become common across the political spectrum: when it’s pointed out that US and European foreign policy makes some contribution toward radicalizing Muslim populations, including the turn to terrorism, the response is that anyone who makes such a claim is: a) denying the agency and autonomy of terrorists; b) overlooking the role of religion as an independent variable, which some want to see as completely unrelated to any other variable. You see this response increasingly among certain parts of the left, and Glenn shows why it’s wrong. I would add two points to Glenn’s analysis. First, with regard to the agency/autonomy claim, it surprises me that leftists would repeat an argument […]

What if Donald Trump is the Lesser Evil?

Lesser evilism is always a trope in an election campaign. In part because it reflects a very real reality: there are candidates who are worse against whom we must mobilize, even to the point of casting a ballot in favor of an only slightly less odious candidate. But here’s the problem with that argument: human nature being what it is, that argument can also be used on behalf of the truly odious. As our friend Victor Klemperer discovered in Nazi Germany. Writing in his diary in April 1935: Frau Wilbrandt told us: in Munich people complain out loud when Hitler or Goebbels appear on film. But even she—economist! close to the Social Democrats!—says: “Will there not be something even worse, […]

The Moloch of National Security

Of all the smart recommendations Steve Walt makes in his post, “Don’t Give ISIS What It Wants,” this is the most important: No. 2: Accept that 100 percent security is not possible. As I’ve written before, of all the ideological Molochs that modernity has spawned—communism, fascism, liberalism, conservatism, whatever—none is as potent and enduring, none demands so much sacrifice, as the idea of security. If we’re going to get past the permanent state of emergency we seem to be in, we have to accept that 100% security is not possible. Risk is part of life. While the siren call of safety has an irresistible lure—though we should always remember that not everyone’s safety has the same lure to policymakers; security […]

On the Other 9/11: Pinochet, Kissinger, Obama

Today is the anniversary of two 9/11’s. The one everyone in the US talks about, and the one not everyone in the US talks about. Greg Grandin, who’s got a new book out on Kissinger that everyone should read, writes in The Nation today about Pinochet’s violent coup against Allende—fully backed by Kissinger and Nixon—and how Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is completing the work that Kissinger, Nixon, and Pinochet began. Forty-three years ago today. The TPP includes one provision that will, if activated, complete the 1973 coup against Allende: its Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. ISDS allows corporations and investors to “sue governments directly before tribunals of three private sector lawyers operating under World Bank and UN rules to demand taxpayer compensation for any […]

Security Politics, Anti-Capitalism, Student Activists, and the Left

I gave a lengthy interview to Margins, a progressive student magazine at Yale. We talked a lot about a lot of things. We talked about the increasing securitization—terrible word, I know—of politics. But, as I said, what I think is most significant about that trend is the growing opposition to it. Compared to what was going on in the 90s, or the aughts, the movements on the ground against the security state are tremendous. The only question is: can they build and last? We’ve seen lots of blips of movements in the last 15 years: against the WTO, the Iraq War, Wall Street, debt, and now the police. Their half-lives seem to be getting shorter and shorter. In part because we’ve yet to […]

Thoughts on Charleston

So much excellent stuff has been written on the murders in Charleston, I hesitated to weigh in. But one part of the story that I thought could use some amplification is the politics of safety and security in this country, from the backlash of the GOP through today, how that intersects with the politics of racism. So I took it up in my column for Salon. I’m not sure I said exactly what needed to be said or what I wanted to say: for some reason, the precision and specificity I was aiming for here proved to be more elusive than usual. So if you find that the article misses its mark, I’ll understand. Here are some excerpts: In response to Wednesday’s […]

You Have to Go: Dylann Roof in Historical Perspective

Of all the things Dylann Roof said, that “you have to go” is the most chilling. It’s so historically resonant. It makes me think of Jefferson: …convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race…. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture. Dew: If our slaves are ever to be sent away in any systematic manner, humanity demands that they should be carried in families. And Harper: …one race must be driven out by the other, or exterminated, or again enslaved.

Frederick Douglass in and on Baltimore

It occurred to me Friday morning that Frederick Douglass spent quite a bit of time in Baltimore as a slave. So I re-read his Narrative and wrote a column for Salon: Across the street from Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall, where violent protests erupted last Monday afternoon, stands Frederick Douglass High School. It was from that school that students emerged at 3 p.m., only to find themselves in the crosshairs of the police. The school is named after the famed abolitionist who spent 10 years a slave in Baltimore. Anyone familiar with Douglass’ most famous work—”Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself“—cannot but feel a bitter irony in that juxtaposition of Douglass High and the riots […]

When George Packer gets bored, I get scared: It Means he’s in the mood for war

Greg Grandin called me on Friday. Greg: What are you doing? Me: Working on my Salon column. Greg: What’s it on? Me: George Packer. Greg: Low-hanging fruit. Me: Did you see that article he wrote in The New Yorker, where he says he’s bored of American politics? Greg: Uh oh. Bombs away. Me: That’s the first line of my column! “When George Packer gets bored, I get worried. It means he’s in the mood for war.” So here is said column, just out this morning. Packer did say he was getting bored of American politics, so I examine how his political ennui so often gives him an itch for heroism, sacrifice, and war. Packer belongs to a special tribe of ideologically ambidextrous […]

Yom HaShoah: Three Readings

On Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, three readings. Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz: And night came, and it was such a night that one knew that human eyes would not witness it and survive. Everyone felt this: not one of the guards, neither Italian nor German, had the courage to come and see what men do when they know they have to die. All took leave from life in the manner which most suited them. Some praying, some deliberately drunk, others lustfully intoxicated for the last time. But the mothers stayed up to prepare the food for the journey with tender care, and washed their children and packed the luggage; and at dawn the barbed wire was full of children’s […]

The Lives They Touched

The year after I graduated college, I lived out in the East Bay area. I was interning at a magazine, for free, and temping (among various other jobs) to support myself. At one of my temping gigs I befriended a woman from Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Her name was Gloria. She had long black hair, wore lots of leather and makeup, and listened to hard rock and heavy metal. I think she had a son, though I can’t remember for sure. A working-class Italian-American from back East, we didn’t have much in common except a shared love for complaining about our job and trash-talking our boss. Even so, she wound up telling me a lot about her personal life (I have vague memories of  a problematic […]

The Real Mad Men of History

From The Washington Post (h/t Marilyn Young): “It’s a childish story that keeps repeating in the West,” smiled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with the BBC last week. He was dismissing allegations that his regime is attacking Syrian civilians with barrel bombs, crude devices packed with fuel and shrapnel that inflict brutal, indiscriminate damage. “I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots,” Assad said, and then repeated when pressed again: “They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets. There [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.” If you think Assad doth protest too much, you’re probably right. The Post not only cites evidence supporting the claim of the Syrian regime’s “frequent use of barrel bombs in densely packed […]

How Will It End?

Three Muslim students killed in North Carolina. Jewish hostages killed at a kosher market in Paris. The Charlie Hebdo massacres. The NAACP firebombed in Colorado. And it’s just February. How will it end, how it will end? … this bleak year, year of blind rats, this bleak year of rage and rancor, you ask, you ask me, how will it end? —Pablo  Neruda, Chronicle of 1948 (America)