Oct 29

Two weeks ago, Don Gomez, on Carrying the Gun, put out a list of “7 Underrated Milblogs That Can’t Get No Respect” and included us on it. Thanks, Don.

He also threw down the gauntlet that we hadn’t been posting enough. He’s right, but we’re back up to 2 to 3 a week (since last week), and look to continue that pace moving forward. So take that Don; more posts!

Oct 28

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch shoots and kills a rabid dog. Why? Because you can’t rationalize with an animal, especially a crazy animal caught by disease.

Too many Americans--even influential pundits and politicians--feel the same way about Arabs or Muslims, especially the extremists. From Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post:

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times..."The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face."

Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand n*****s understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it.”

Societies use language to manipulate how we feel about other groups. We use language to dehumanize our enemies. By dehumanizing them, we make them easier to kill. It’s one thing to kill another rational human being with thoughts, emotions, feelings and a family. It’s another to kill a “sand n*****” who can’t be reasoned with.

Muslims (even the so called “islamofascists”) aren’t animals. They aren’t less than human. They aren’t barbarians, primitives or savages. They’re people. We may hate them and what they do. They’re still human.

We’ve been writing about language and hate speech for these last few months not because we’re grammar and usage mavens (though I am). We’re writing about language and war because words matter especially when those words sustain conflicts instead of ending them. Words actively change points of view and perceptions. Words actively shape worldviews. Language affects whether the American military ever tries to adopt population-centric counterinsurgency, or whether it decides that the enemy is an sub-human that must (and can only) be killed.

Take this quote from Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor:

“To meet these guys in these remote Pashtun villages only made the conundrum more difficult. Because right here we’re talking about Primitive with a big P. Adobe huts made out of sun-dried clay bricks with dirt floors and awful smell of urine and mule dung. Downstairs they have goats and chickens living in the house. And yet here, in these caveman conditions, they planned and then carried out the most shocking atrocity on a twenty-first-century city.”

This quote makes the masterminds of 9/11 sound like backwards primitives. But Osama bin Laden was anything but. Osama bin Laden, as is commonly known, was a millionaire from a rich, cultured family. He was educated; he was not a primitive. In fact, most terrorists are educated.

Tactically, this misguided belief puts us (the West, if you will) at a disadvantage. Understanding the enemy is the key to winning a war. By not actually knowing your enemy, you can’t defeat them. By labeling all Muslims--or at least, entire nations--as backwards, primitive, savages or barbarians, it destroys all nuance. After the Innocence of Muslims debacle from last year, Slate ran an article on Muslims who support free speech.

But I hate writing about tactics. Just like the debate about torture, it doesn’t matter if hate speech is  ineffective; morally, it’s wrong. That’s all that matters.

Oct 27

(Today's guest post is by John Mikolajczyk. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

If you’ve heard the “Muslims are savages/barbarians from the 6th/7th/12th century” trope before, you’ve probably heard its counterpart, “Why aren’t more Muslims speaking out/protesting/resisting the Islamic extremist tide?” Often paired with the century designation, this talking point asks the reader to consider why there is a seeming lack of push-back against Islamic extremism worldwide and assumes that the apparent silence on the matter hints at complicity.

So why aren’t more Muslims speaking out, protesting or resisting the actions of their so-called brethren? Well, consider that as you read this:

- In Libya, government forces, as well as tribal forces and even former Gaddafi loyalists, are presently dueling with a burgeoning Islamist insurgency. Over 2,000 people have died in such clashes this year alone.

- In Iraq, Iraqi police and military forces from December 2011 to June 2014 have lost at least 6,788 personnel combating an Islamic extremist insurgency. Battling, mind you, the same kinds of terrorists, in some cases perhaps the very same terrorists, US forces fought during their nearly decade long deployment in the region.

- In Syria, Pro-Assad, as well as Anti-Assad forces, have been engaged against Islamic militants for years, with an estimated 10,467 Islamic militants killed in the war as of 9/3/14. Recently over 700 people were in killed in just 48 hours of combat between Syrian government forces and ISIS fighters.

- In Egypt, since the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egyptian military and police forces have been struggling with an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, suffering “hundreds” of dead in the ongoing conflict.

- In Pakistan, from 2003 to October 2014, at least 5,938 soldiers and police officers have died fighting Islamic militants inside their borders. Like in Iraq, many of these militants are same that were and are currently engaging US forces in the region.

That’s quite an appalling amount of blood to be spilled fighting against people you supposedly agree with. It’s also an incredible amount of fighting, for years nonetheless, to be doing to be called out for not doing enough.

Thus the question posed earlier in this article proves itself not just to be a fallacy, but perhaps the very definition of a fallacy as not only are “good Muslims” suffering the most in the struggle against Islamic terrorism, but also they’ve done the most damage to it.

Muslims worldwide aren’t just speaking out; they’re dying fighting back against something they probably don’t like any more than Americans do.

John Mikolajczyk is currently an office administrator with a government healthcare agency and a part-time bookseller. He graduated in the top 10% of his class from Kean University with degrees in criminology and history. While at Kean, he was a standout Air Force ROTC cadet and student activist. He also received an award for “best undergraduate term paper” for his treatise on the theoretical costs of the Trojan War. In his spare time he enjoys reading, playing video games, creative writing, hiking, and walking his golden labrador.

Oct 23

(Today's guest post is by Daniel Faris. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Gun control is one of the defining issues of our lifetimes. It ranks alongside climate change, gay marriage, pot legalization, and health care reform in the list of issues that Americans desperately want to see addressed in a productive and realistic way.

And yet, we can’t seem to get any traction on it. I’m as guilty as anyone of using my heart instead of my head to formulate my opinions, but that’s going to have to change--for all of us--before we put this issue to bed.

I have, historically, supported reasonable gun ownership rights. I refuse to believe that we can continue to shape our public policy around the tiniest percentage of American citizens who own guns and kill people with them.

After all, isn’t that what America wants? The Occupy Wall Street movement rallied against the 1% and their privilege, citing America’s growing fondness for giving the tiniest minority--the wealthy--special treatment. Neither can we allow the tiny fraction of violent gun owners to shape our nation’s laws.

However, we all owe it to ourselves to challenge our beliefs. Here’s what challenged mine.

Historical Precedent: The Port Arthur Massacre

As you may or may not know, Port Arthur in Australia was the setting for one of the deadliest shootings in world history; in fact, it remains the deadliest attack of its kind in the entire English-speaking world. In 1996, 26-year-old Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 23 others at the Port Arthur prison colony.

What makes it a truly remarkable event, however, is not the lost life but the overwhelming response of the Australian people; a reported 90% of poll respondents indicated that they favored stricter gun control methods, culminating in what remains one of the most successful gun control overhauls ever.

Just twelve days after the shooting, Australia’s leadership agreed to ban semi-automatic and automatic weapons, and also instituted a buy-back program for those who already owned high-powered firearms. Australia had, more or less overnight, rallied to deliver one of the most comprehensive and consistent gun control packages in recorded history, to nearly universal approval.

There have been no further mass killings since the laws took effect.

Inspiration from an Unlikely Place

When I said my beliefs had been challenged lately, I wasn’t kidding. And the most recent challenge came from an unlikely source: a stand-up comedy special on Netflix. Jim Jeffries, an Australian who now calls America home, is particularly outspoken when it comes to gun control. And he’s not throwing around tired talking points or politically-charged sound bites; he knows what he’s talking about.

He rightfully calls on the evidence that Australia is a demonstrably safer place after instituting this ban, and he does it with the showmanship of a professional entertainer.

More than that, he demonstrates an understanding of common sense that seems to be lacking from America’s current discussions on the subject.

Jeffries points out that the Second Amendment is just that: an amendment. It’s an alteration to an already existing document, so to pretend that it and the rest of the Constitution is somehow immutable is to seriously misunderstand the point of the document. It was designed to be organic, to change according to our shifting perspectives.

He also points out how fallacious it is for die-hard gun owners to cling to the empty argument that personal firearms are for “protection.” Your average gun owner in suburbia has no need for high-caliber protection; Joe Six Pack is not nearly as tempting a target as he might like to believe.

Whatever you happen to believe about guns – and hopefully, like me, you’re at least ambivalent on the subject – you’re making an informed decision. We too readily abandon reason for gut reactions and blind grasping after privileges that were never a part of the original Constitution – a document that too many of us seem to want to deify.

The truth is, this argument is driven by personal arguments rather than practical ones. In much the same way that our dependence on oil will continue, in defiance of reason and progress, until we embrace new technologies like electric and driverless cars, so too will the gun control debate continue to distract us on a cultural level until we decide to act together with the common good in mind.

At the end of the day, I’m not saying that Jeffries is 100% right, or that further study isn’t necessary, or even that the evidence wholly supports the theory that fewer guns would mean fewer crimes. All I’m saying is that, so long as comedians are making points that our lawmakers seem not to have considered, we’re as far away from closure on this issue as we could possibly be.

Daniel Faris is a graduate of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University and a current resident of Harrisburg, PA. If you want to talk politics, you can check out his work at Only Slightly Biased, or you can join his alter ego for discussions about progressive music over at New Music Friday.

Oct 21

(To read the entire “Quotes Behaving Badly” series, click here.)

Last year, Matthew Bradley passed along a link to an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education on, well, “Quotes Behaving Badly”. Corey Robin, a political science professor at Brooklyn College, describes the phenomenon of the “Wrongly Attributed Statement” (or as we call them, “Quotes Behaving Badly”. Naming things!). I really liked the essay…

Until I read the ending.

Corey Robin ends his essay defending this phenomenon as a (sort of) triumph of group think, or in his words, crowdsourcing:

“It's precisely these sorts of affectations—and appeals to authority—that have led me over the years to a greater appreciation of the WAS. I no longer think of it as a simple pain in the neck or desperate appeal to authority. I now see it as a kind of democratic poetry, an emanation of genius from the masses. We recognize the utility of crowdsourcing. Why not the beauty of crowdwriting? Someone famous says something fine—"When bad men combine, the good must associate"—and some forgotten wordsmith, or wordsmiths, through trial and error, refashions it into something finer: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

“It's good that we remember the knockoff rather than the original. The knockoff is better—and we made it.”

Nope.

First, Wrongly Attributed Statements, by definition, don’t change the meaning of a quote; they misidentify its authorship. That’s just intellectually wrong and corrupt. Misinformation exists; we don’t need to celebrate or endorse it. Most “Quotes Behaving Badly” (or Wrongly Attributed Statements) violate basic truth by misidentifying the author in an attempt to give the thought greater gravitas. (Think Plato versus George Santayana.) We should try to stamp that misinformation out, not celebrate it. Websites like BrainyQuote, ThinkExist, GoodReads and others, which use algorithms to systematically misidentify the actual authorship of a quote, just need to go. They perpetuate bad information.

Especially in today’s world, when it takes, what, a couple minutes to find the actual authorship of a quote? When Edmond Halley investigated comets, he had to comb through ancient tome after ancient tome documenting every mention of a comet. Today, you can Google search virtually every book that’s ever been written. Sites like Snopes, Quote Investigator, Wikiquote and Google Books make the process of researching and debunking “Quotes Behaving Badly” easier than it’s ever been in human history.    

Worse than that, as the cliche goes, conventional wisdom is just that, conventional. (If I wanted, I could attribute that cliche to Ben Franklin, inventing my own Wrongly Attributed Statement, giving the cliche the imprimatur of intellectual rigor.) Or often flat wrong.

As any reader to our “Quotes Behaving Badly” series know, we don’t just debunk the authorship of quotes; we debunk the quotes themselves. Let’s just look at two examples cited by Corey Robin. First, he cites Plato’s George Santanaya’s quote, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” as an example of a “Wrongly Attributed Statement”. Yes, it’s misattributed. It’s also wrong. As we’ve written and written, the world is safer than it has ever been; war is decreasing. Though most people reject this thesis, it’s happening. But this fatalistic little maxim denies this reality without using any evidence to support its claim, using the second or third most famous ancient Greek philosopher to give it the veneer of wisdom.

Same with Robin’s example, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." As we wrote before, “It’s banal and, in the hands of demagogues, has probably caused more death than it's saved.” This quote is also useless. Anti-war.com uses this quote and so do far right extremists. So does this sentiment actually send more people to battle than not? Does it actually prevent peace or reconciliation?

We’re going to keep debunking quotes like this, both their authorship and their sentiments. In a rigorous, forward-moving world, it’s not just something people can do; it’s something they should.

Especially academics.