Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."




Total Pageviews

Monday, August 27, 2018

A FEW WORDS


I want to say just a few words in response to the flood of comments triggered by my son’s YouTube posting, which I reproduced here.  I really am not interested in arguing about the matter, but this is my blog, which is to say my weblog, and so I shall exercise that privilege.

John McCain’s political positions were anathema to me, as I am sure everyone can guess.  It is also the case that I know about, at least informally, his past as a privileged army brat and perennial screw-up.  [I recall reading that he crashed a number of planes during training before he even went to war.]  He chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, which is simply off the charts awful.  But when he was captured, and tortured, and was offered the chance to go home as an admiral’s son, he chose the stay a prisoner until his fellow prisoners were released.  Nothing in my own life enables me to even imagine making such a choice.  I have no doubt he was, in some way, trying to live up to his father’s expectations, or atoning for his screw ups, or even [though I suspect not] making a cold-eyed calculation of future political advantage.  None of that impresses me, since every courageous act [as well as every other kind of act] is rooted in childhood experiences, parental expectations, and other pre-moral psychological forces.

But he did it, and I honor him for it, even though I was bitterly opposed to the war and believe it was conducted on the American side as a series of war crimes.  Well, you may ask [as I am sure someone will want to], does that mean you would honor a German who made an analogous choice while fighting in a war to wipe out the Jews? And the answer is, yes.

Perhaps I say this because I am old, and painfully conscious of the limitations of life and its brevity.  Perhaps I am simply aware that I have never been presented with such a choice, and honestly do not know what I would do if I were.

Well, there are many fine blogs written by those of us on the left, so if you now feel that you can never again read what I write without a sense of revulsion or betrayal, feel free to click on one of them.

49 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

I don't see that courage in a bad cause is a virtue. Virtue consists in determining whether the cause is good or not.

The idea that physical courage is a virtue in itself is fomented by elites (who seldom risk their lives) in order to manipulate young and at times not so young people so that they serve as willing cannon fodder in horrid wars.

Now I feel absolutely no revulsion or betrayal in reading your text above. I don't come to this blog seeking a guru or the reincarnation of Chairman Mao. I rather seek a space to discuss and debate ideas on the left with intelligent and well-informed others, and your blog is a good space for that.

Anonymous said...

"I don't see that courage in a bad cause is a virtue. "

Refusing to participate in said bad cause, when doing so is unpopular, may be the greater virtue.

The "courage" of McCain may simply be understood more as one fear winning out over another - the fear of dishonor outweighs the fear of death or bodily harm. Is that kind of courage still a virtue?

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

You and I have crossed rhetorical swords a number of times and probably will continue to do so. And I do not say the following as an exercise in piling on. But I believe it is important in the context in which we are speaking – judging the merits or lack thereof of a human being’s actions, and recognizing the innumerable degree of variation that such actions can take, to say the following.

Courageous and heroic actions can take many forms, some more honorable and some more ignominious than others. It is probably the case that when John McCain was flying his combat missions, he killed many innocent men, women and children from the relatively safe height of his jet. And for that, he should be condemned. Just as the Nazi soldier, who perhaps very heroically risked his life in combat, while he was killing innocent civilians – his heroically risking his life, perhaps by falling on a hand grenade to save the life of his fellow soldiers - would not deserve commendation.

But it is the character of John McCain’s particular conduct while in captivity that we are discussing. He underwent repeated, horrible beatings and torture, and was given the opportunity, apparently in an effort to affect public opinion given the esteemed pedigree of his father and grandfather’s naval service, to go home. It was an offer that in his place I may have – probably would have - succumbed to. He did not. Now you may believe that because the predicate for his captivity was the commission of war crimes, that he deserved the torture that was inflicted on him. But, even if this is the case, even if he deserved the torture, the character of his refusal to take advantage of his military pedigree and go home, to avoid the continuation of the torture, and leave his fellow comrades in arms to remain in captivity and continue to be tortured– in a cause that you find disgusting – in my book deserves a degree of admiration.

For me, this discussion raises a more important point, however. It is what I have noted in some of the comments on this blog on this and other issues, comments by what I can only conclude are offered by well educated, very literate and knowledgeable people, a tendency, as I have said before, to see things only in terms or black or white, to refuse to see issues in their numerous subtle variations, out of a commitment to a particular philosophy or political perspective. Out of this purportedly humanistic commitment, some demonstrate what I regard as actually a dogmatism, a lack of empathy for the variety of motives that can generate human conduct. I submit, “There are more things on heaven and earth ... than are dreamt of in [their] philosophy.” (Some may say that in my past comments regarding Trump I, too, have demonstrated a similar lack of tolerance. I would submit that Trump is so beyond the pale that he is a special, unfortunate case.)

With that, let me say that I no longer want to share a drink with you at a bar. (Joke.)

s. wallerstein said...

Hi MS,

How about a human rights criminal, who has tortured and disappeared people, who refuses to "rat" on his fellow human rights criminals, although if he or she is willing to give evidence against them, he or she will receive a lighter sentence and the possibility of going free on parole (I'm not sure about the technical term in U.S. law). Is he or she courageous? Is he or she virtuous. Well, that happens all the time in Chile: there is a pact of silence and human rights criminal, all of them like McCain, ex military officers, who are jailed for their crimes against humanity, refuse to testify against their fellow criminals. No, they are not tortured (although they tortured), and no, I don't believe that North Viet Nam was justified in torturing McCain.

Well, I don't consider the human rights criminals in Chile to be virtuous or to be courageous nor do I see any difference between them and McCain, since, as you point out,
McCain murdered innocent women, children and men from the safe heights of his jet in an imperialist war.

Do you believe that there are courageous and virtuous child molesters? Courageous and virtuous serial killers? Courageous and virtuous rapists? Yet I'm sure that we can all imagine (I wouldn't bother for the moment) situations in which some child molesters or some serial killers or some rapists "braved" dangerous situations in order to achieve their goals.



MS said...

s. wallerstein,

Well, it appears that things are starting to get vitriolic. My apologies, Prof. Wolff, I know you once chided me for my lack of decorum, so I will try to be as diplomatic as possible.

Your riposte, and the examples you cite, demonstrate precisely the point I was making - an inability, or just refusal, to recognize distinctions between subtle differences in the gradations of human behavior. John McCain is not regarded as heroic with respect to his captivity because he refused to “rat” on his fellow POWs, so the example you give of Chilean tyrants who are hailed because of their fidelity to a pact of silence is inapposite. McCain was regarded as a hero for the reasons I gave – his refusal to take advantage of his military pedigree in order to avoid the continuation of his horrendous torture, his insistence that he would not use that advantage to save his skin if it meant leaving his comrades behind. It had absolutely nothing to do with a refusal to “rat” on his comrades. The Chilean despots who maintain their pact of silence and refuse to “rat” on their compatriots are advancing the inequities they have promoted and preventing justice from prevailing. Their actions are not honorable or heroic, because those actions are still in service of a dishonorable cause. I simply do not see that in any way as being in the same category as what John McCain did. McCain’s refusal to abandon his comrades was not equivalent to refusing to rat on them; nor did it advance the cause of the Viet Nam war – it was not a statement in support of the war, it did not encourage others to enlist in order to fight the war, etc. And your inability to see the difference is demonstrative of the very dogmatism I was referring to.

Regarding the examples you give, they underscore fallacy you are operating under. Can I envision a child molester, a serial killer, a rapist engaging in a heroic or honorable act, separate and apart form their child molestation, their serial killing, their rape – Yes. From your perspective this concession equates to characterizing them as courageous and virtuous child molesters, serial killers and rapists – as if they are either all one thing, or all another. No, for me they would be child molesters, serial killers, and rapists, who, to their credit, did something courageous and honorable, in addition to, and notwithstanding, their depredations. And history is full of such examples. Oscar Schindler, for example, was a liar, a larcenist, an adulterer, and a spy for the Abwehr, an intelligence service of Nazi Germany (and please don’t tell me this is not an apt example because he was not child molester, serial killer or rapist). Yet, because of his courageous conduct in saving hundreds of Jews from the death camps, he is hailed as a heroic and virtuous person. Did these actions on behalf of Jews make him less a liar, larcenist, adulterer or spy? Hugo Black, generally regarded as a great Supreme Court justice and a staunch defender of the First Amendment, had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The list of people who have, in one form or another, engaged in disreputable conduct in some aspect of their life, but who also committed acts that deserve commendation, can go on and on. But right now, I have to do something else – return some items to the library before it closes.

Ed Barreras said...

To abide by a soldier’s code of honor is one thing, to abide by a soldier’s code of honor in the face of repeated, brutal, and very illegal torture is another thing entirely. I agree with Professor Wolff and MS that McCain’s act of heroism can exist in a context independent from the larger evil of the Vietnam War. After all, it’s not as if McCain, in refusing the offer of release, was directly causing the deaths of even more Vietnamese. If anything, it was the opposite.

Aside from that, I noticed that the talking heads on MSNBC seem to be using their celebrations of McCain to strategically cudgel the current occupant of the White House, who looks all the more small and weasely in comparison to the Dearly Departed Great Man. They’re making sure this news cycle is as bad as it can be for T***p (who, by the way, is doing everything to aid them in that task, with all this petty nonsense about lowering the flag, etc.).

To which I say: Works for me. We can be sure that if the shoe were somehow on the other foot, the Republicans would be doing the exact same thing, only tenfold — and it would work in firing up their base!

As usual, the question for leftists is: Do you want the satification of righteous preening, or would you rather win elections and gain power?

s. wallerstein said...

MS,

You are starting to get vitriolic, not me. Rather than reply in kind to your personal disqualifications, I'll stand by my earlier remarks.

Let me just say that, as you know, no analogy is perfect. Let the other readers judge whether my analogy between Chilean military who violated human rights and refuse to cooperate with investigations into human rights violations out of "a soldier's code of honor" (thank you, Ed Barreras) and McCain who out of "a soldier's code of honor" refused to accept early release from a Hanoi prison where he was being held for war crimes against the people of North Viet Nam is apt.

By the way, McCain, like his Chilean peers, never showed any remorse for his crimes against humanity.

MS said...

You still fail to see the distinction, so I’ll leave it at that. (Alexis Zorba: “On a deaf man’s door you can knock forever.”) On my drive to the library another example popped into my head that I cannot refrain from adding to my list of examples of humans who have a checkered history of admirable and rather sordid behavior. And it concerns a person who, I believe, is generally regarded as having been highly virtuous, an extremely intelligent person who, aside from his contributions to philosophy, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The individual? Bertrand Russell, the co-author of Principia Mathematica, the ardent champion of atheism and pacifism, the vocal opponent of nuclear proliferation. I recently read a book titled “Wittgenstein’s Poker,’ by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, which tells of a dispute that arose between Ludwig Wittgentstein and Karl Popper during a guest lecture that Popper was giving at Cambridge. Wittgenstein became incensed with Popper regarding the role that Popper saw the study of ethics can contribute to philosophy. Bertrand Russell’s relationship with Wittgenstein is discussed in the book. There is a passage about Russell in the book that, among the cognoscenti in philosophical circles may be common knowledge, but which, frankly, shocked me. Here it is (pp. 50-51):

There was indeed some irony in Russell’s sermonizing on relationships, given his lack of emotional insight and his fraught bonds with his family, who accused him of coldness, callousness, and cruelty toward them. Having decided during a bicycle ride that he no longer loved his first wife, Alys, he broke the news to her immediately on returning home. Though they divorced, she never fell out of love with him. His granddaughter has claimed that he slept with his daughter-in-law, breaking up the marriage of his son, John. He has been charged with driving John to madness, and of causing two of his wives to attempt suicide.

Now, the accusation was made by Russell’s granddaughter, and on that account, may be apocryphal. But, if true, and I have not read anything that contradicts it (and I have looked), where does Russell’s transgression fall on the sliding scale of contemptible behavior? Certainly, it is not the equivalent of killing innocent women and children from the air, but I submit that sleeping with your son’s wife and causing, thereby, your son to go mad is pretty bad. Does this behavior detract from our respect for him as an advocate for peace and nuclear disarmament? No, I submit not. It demonstrates that Russell was human, subject to human frailties, neither all saint nor all sinner. From a personal standpoint, it increases my cynicism about human nature and reinforces my belief that, given human nature, a utopian society is a long way off – we cannot rely on the philosopher-king to be benevolent.

Anonymous said...

"As usual, the question for leftists is: Do you want the satification of righteous preening, or would you rather win elections and gain power?"

Righteous preening. Easier and more fun to sit around and talk than to act. Having power is scary, especially for those who act based more on deliberation than instinct.

"sleeping with your son’s wife and causing, thereby, your son to go mad is pretty bad. Does this behavior detract from our respect for him as an advocate for peace and nuclear disarmament?"

Actually, yes; It does and it should.



Nice Nihilist said...

Ordinarily I wonder where the presumption to instruct others when and how to comment about the dead comes from--but then there is this gem by Core Robin.

Daniel Langlois said...

'so if you now feel that you can never again read what I write without a sense of revulsion or betrayal..'

Hold my feet to the fire, I think we were already past that point. Here, you seem to expect this revulsion from those who cannot stand John McCain, but my own revulsion concerns your remark about honoring German fighting in a war to wipe out the Jews. I think this is pretty dumb..

Daniel Langlois said...

I'm confident that there are facts about the Vietnam War that may surprise those too young to remember the conflict. Actually: What was the Vietnam War about? I am perfectly willing to entertain views that U.S. foreign policy decision makers in the mid-1960s committed a supreme act of misjudgment by intervening directly in the Vietnam War. What went wrong in Vietnam, interesting stuff. Intervention proved calamitous? I'm willing to sit for a lecture, and I'm not totally innocent of what was persuasively argued at the time by such astute observers as George Kennan, Hans Morgenthau, and Walter Lippmann. I might have one in me, actually, about how as Democrats, both Kennedy and Johnson bore the legacy of a political party whose presidents had "lost" both Eastern Europe and China to communism, had "permitted" the emergence of a nuclear-armed Soviet Union as a rival world power, and had waged a "no-win" war in Korea (i.e., denied MacArthur a conclusive victory over Red China). During the late 1940s and 1950s the Republicans, led by such redbaiters as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy, indicted the Truman administration. No post-McCarthy-era Democratic president could afford to give up additional real estate to communism. That's just a thought about domestic political imperatives that seems pretty obvious. Less 'obvious' would be our conclusions today, about convictions that the United States was losing the Cold War, especially the war with Moscow and Beijing for power and influence in the Third World, and that communist expansion anywhere in the world was strategically unacceptable. The concept, that is, of strategic fright, occurs to me, but it's just a preliminary thought, though I'm fairly confident that as they say, policymakers thus read the war in Vietnam as but a local manifestation of an externally orchestrated conspiracy. Really my only point is it might be interesting to learn more, I haven't even watched that recent tv documentary about it. That sounds like interesting stuff. Not interesting to me, is praising McCain in terms that you can afford for Nazi war heros. Very funny, jackass. People of course might be emotional about the vietnam war, I didn't live through it. Fair enough, but you could move to Vietnam. Going off like this is like in that movie where the guy speculates about assasinating the president, and he's talking on independence day. -- 'Unforgiven'. He gets his ass whupped.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

That McCain refused to be released early from a prison camp seems to be the principle reason why he is viewed as a hero.

We also know the following: by his own admission, he "broke," or confessed to the Vietnamese that he was a war criminal and his confession was broadcast in the camps. Other American prisoners have also said that he divulged order of battle information that may have resulted in the deaths of American soldiers. McCain, himself, admitted shame and that he was very worried about his father's response to the matter. Some American POWs claim that McCain's refusal to be released early was less about solidarity and more about being exposed as a collaborator given that collaborators were released early. We also know that as Senator he blocked the search for information that might have led to the discovery of MIAs. This has puzzled many but many also have suspected he was fearful of damaging information about himself being revealed.

No one knows for sure about all of this but his strongest critics were in the camps along with him.

But what strikes me in these over the top eulogies is that they mask the wanton horror that pilots like McCain effected in Vietnam. I've listened to such pilots who spoke of their bombing runs and too often I would get the feeling that at least in part for the pilots, it was a kind of sport, killing the "gooks" on the ground. This language and this attitude was also McCain's. To say he was merely a "hawk" would be to erase the slaughter of innocent people that he was involved in, in and out of uniform.

All the hoopla over McCain doesn't bode well for peace in the world. Not one person who has eulogized McCain so has said a word about the blood on his hands, or god forbid, the crimes committed by his nation. I worry that the deification of McCain is ideological; heroes can't commit war crimes, the US military keeps us free, the war machine is redeemed. Maybe patriotism isn't a good thing.

MS said...

Jerry Fresia,

Thank you for the information you have provided discrediting the heroic version of what McCain did while in captivity. What I am going to say will strike you, and other readers of this blog who are critical of McCain, as specious and a legalistic trick of obfuscation. What you are stating, however, even if true – and you acknowledge that “no one knows for sure about all of this but his strongest critics were in the camps along with him” – is beside the point. Agreed, if the information you provide is accurate, then McCain does not deserve the praise he has received for his purported rejection of an offer for early release. But Prof. Wolff and I are responding to critics who assume that the heroic version of what McCain did is in fact the accurate version, and who, notwithstanding this assumed accurate version, still deny that he is entitled to praise as a hero because of his role in the Viet Nam war that resulted in his capture. We maintain that if the heroic version is true, which, after all, is the predicate for the discussion to begin with, then, notwithstanding condemnation for his role as a navy pilot, this aspect of his life deserves respect. Saying that he does not deserve respect because this reported aspect of his life is a fraud does not address the argument.

MS said...

(MS, Part One)

Daniel Langlois,

Here I go again, being contrarian and giving my two cents on an issue that, perhaps, I should keep my nose out of. But I am incorrigible.

Prof. Wolff, as I have said in a comment to a previous posting, is perfectly capable of defending himself, but I do not believe that by his comment regarding a German soldier he meant to glorify, for example, an SS officer at Auschwitz who, captured by the Allies, resisted torture (like McCain) and, out of loyalty to his country’s cause (unlike McCain’s, at least reported, motive), refused to divulge, for example. the whereabouts of the concentration camp’s cache of Zyklon B.

In this regard, however, there was, in fact, a Waffen-SS officer who was a member of the Nazi party, who remained an SS officer for the entire duration of the war, who arguably (“arguably” will be clarified) engaged in execrable conduct as an SS officer, at the same time that he did in fact also engage in extremely courageous behavior. I only learned of this individual recently (another cinematic reference) when I watched the movie “Amen,” directed by Costa-Gavras (the director of the Oscar winning movie “Z”). The movie is based on the play “The Deputy, a Christian Tragedy,” written by Rolf Hochhuth, which was itself based on the journal written by the SS Officer in question, Kurt Gerstein. The play and movie examine the role of the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII in failing to intervene aggressively on behalf of the Jews to prevent their extermination. Gerstein plays a principal role in the story, because it depicts his efforts to inform Pope Pius regarding what was occurring at the concentration camps, to move the papacy to intervene with Hitler on behalf of the Jews. How did Gerstein know what was happening? He knew because he was a chemist and served as the director of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS - it was his responsibility to maintain the production of Zyklon B and to assure that adequate supplies of the gas were delivered to the concentration camps to sustain the efficient and uninterrupted gassing of the concentration camp internees, most of whom were, of course, Jewish. Originally, Gerstein did not know what Zyklon B was being used for. As a chemist, he had promoted its use to disinfect water that was being delivered to the German troops in the field and to eradicate typhus. As depicted in the movie, he did not learn how it was actually be used until he was forced to witness the gassing of Jews at Treblinka, watching the horror through a peephole. When he learned of its actual use, did he resign from his position as director of the Institute or resign his commission in the SS? No, horrified by what he had learned, he continued to serve as director, manufacturing and delivering Zyklon B, but took steps, to the extent that he was able, to impede and sabotage the production and delivery of the gas to the concentration camps. At the same time, he made contact with a priest whose father was a friend of Pope Pius, informed the priest of what was happening and made efforts to arrange to meet with Pope Pius to provide documentation to the Pope to substantiate what he claimed was happening. He rejected appeals by friends and family in whom he confided to resign from the SS as the only expedient thing to do. He insisted that he could better undermine the use of Zyklon B by remaining as director of the Institute, while still delivering it to the camps. The movie depicts him as cheerfully engaging with Nazi officers, throwing parties for their entertainment, while concealing his true sentiments.

MS said...

(MS, Part Two)

Two weeks before Germany surrendered, Gerstein surrendered to the French. While in French custody, he wrote the Gerstein Report recounting what he had witnessed and what his actions were. That report is the basis for the play and the movie. After he wrote the report, he was transferred to a military prison and was accused of being a war criminal. He committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. Holocaust revisionists denounced his report as fictitious, denying that exterminations occurred at the camps. Some have suggested that his depiction of his role was self-serving, to mitigate his potential punishment. Historian Christopher Browning, while acknowledging that some of the details of the scope of the extermination at the concentration camps may have been exaggerated by Gerstein, his role in attempting to impede the manufacture and delivery of Zyklon B was largely accurate.

Should Gerstein have resigned his position as director of the Institute, rather than continue his role in the production and delivery of Zyklon B, notwithstanding his efforts to undermine it? Would that have been the more moral choice? Now, I will acknowledge that what Gerstein did if far more heroic than what McCain did – even assuming that the heroic version of what McCain did is accurate, which Jerry Fresia has challenged. But for those who believe that Gerstein should have resigned, rather than assist the Nazi machine in any manner, Gerstein’s conduct does not demand respect. I do not know if Prof. Wolff was aware of Kurt Gerstein when he wrote his posting, but I suspect that Gerstein’s example is more in keeping with what he meant than the hypothetical example I gave at the beginning of this comment.

MS said...

My limited efforts to determine the validity of Jerry Fresia's criticism of the heroic version of McCain's conduct during captivity and his role with respect to locating and rescuing MIAs has p;roved inconclusive.

One article agrees with Jerry's criticism:

https://www.thenation.com/article/why-has-john-mccain-blocked-info-mias/

Another disagrees:

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-true-nature-of-john-mccains-heroism

Regardless, my rebuttal stands, since the argument is based on the presumption that the critics assume that the heroic version is accurate.

Jerry Fresia said...

MS

Yes, I agree with you. Someone of import could say, "Indeed, McCain did a noble thing, but he was a scoundrel who did
a noble thing." But what we are getting is a deification.

For what it's worth, here is one source demystifying McCain's heroism:

https://www.adamtownsend.me/john-mccain-mythology/




s. wallerstein said...

As Jerry Fresia says above, whom we single out as heroes is ideological or political.

Obviously, as has been pointed out, no one is entirely black or white. I'm sure if we search, we'll find some virtues in Trump, in Pinochet and in Hitler (who was decorated for bravery during World War I). As Hannah Arendt observes, Eichmann was full of normal everyday virtues.

Heroism is a public virtue, one that supposedly we all can emulate. Wisdom, on the other hand, another of the 4 principle Greek virtues, cannot be emulated so easily: in fact, only someone who is on the way to wisdom can distinguish a wise person from a non-wise one, and wisdom is learned alone by each person through hard knocks. Heroism is different, so we must be very careful about whom we call "heroes."

Here's a hero: when I lived in the Bay Area in the early 70's, I met Eduardo Martinez. Eduardo came from a rural chicano background in California and when he finished high school, he was immediately drafted into the army in the time of the Viet Nam war. When he first had to shoot a targets with human figures, he refused to. He was insulted, mocked, roughed up and placed in solitary confinement in a military prison for a few weeks until he received a dishonorable discharge. Flags will not be flown at half-mast when Eduardo dies nor will editorials be written in his honor. That says a lot about our society. I suggest that we be more careful about whom we call "heroes".

Anonymous said...

Someone of import could say, "Indeed, McCain did a noble thing, but he was a scoundrel who did
a noble thing." But what we are getting is a deification.

As Jerry Fresia says above, whom we single out as heroes is ideological or political.

Yes, now we get to the main issue here.

Howard Berman said...

Dear S Wallerstein:

I'm not so sure: first, though the Vietnam War was imperialist, maybe even in the same way as Nazi policies, it was not racist, and though there were war crimes, it was not a war of extermination per se. Second, though the two are related, character and morality are distinct categories. For instance, the Spartans had a lot of character, but the category of good and evil was problematic in the ancient world- nobody was an idealist except for their conquering God and the Athenians who were in a limited sense democrats, but they were imperialists. So, I'd say that McCain showed plentiful character in a war that was ostensibly 'good' but was not metaphysically evil like the Nazis.
So he deserves qualified praise. Were he alive in the Civil War, he may have shown the same qualities for the Union.
A lot of our lives are due to accidents

Anonymous said...

Howard Berman:

I remember seeing McCain on Henry Louis Gates's PBS show, "Finding Your Roots." It was revealed there that at least one of McCain's direct ancestors was a confederate soldier (who deserted and was captured (by the Union forces, I think)), and that various of McCain's ancestors were slave-holders. So, I'm not sure which side McCain himself would have been on if he had been born around 100 years earlier.

Anonymous said...

I imagine that the psychology of courage (or of the subjective side of actually being courageous) is pretty much the same, regardless of what cause one’s courage is in the service of. I wouldn’t say that I’d “honor” or “admire” courage as such, but I think I’d notice it when I encountered it. I don’t think much of the cause for which Robert E. Lee fought, but I don’t doubt that he was, by any reasonable standard, courageous. Heroes are courageous, but one side’s hero is the other side’s son-of-bitch. Hector was the Trojan’s hero, but Homer made him look bad—and he got the end, in Homer’s or the Achaeans’ view, that he deserved. So, yeah, hero/heroism is a social construct, but courage? I think it’s a universal human psycho-physiological structure, and we know it’s there when we see it expressed. Anybody who’d parachute out of an airplane has more guts, or courage, about that sort of thing than I have; maybe I admire it (I’m not sure), but I know I notice it. Put it in a combat setting, and you have the makings of heroism, depending on which side (yours’ or the enemy’s) the jumper is on.

MS said...

I am not writing this in order to ensure that I get the last word. It just so happens that it appears that way because of the nature of a blog – if we were sitting together in a room (assuming we were not beating each other up) we would be talking over one another.

Neither I nor Prof. Wolff was arguing that John McCain should be regarded as a hero, we were not deifying him. We were simply saying that he had engaged in an heroic act (again, the predicate for the discussion), which should be taken into account when evaluating the whole of his character. And while Hitler, Stalin and Pinochet may have performed some acts in their lives that demonstrated a certain degree of humanity, but I sincerely doubt that they did anything that was comparable to the degree of heroism that the heroic act – again, assumed as true for the sake of the discussion - that McCain is credited with.

Whom we regard as heroes is indeed a complicated business. Lew Ayres, who was a very successful actor and portrayed Dr. Kildare in the 1930s movies, was a conscientious objector during WWII. He was opposed to the U.S. involvement in the conflict, and would only agree to serve if he was trained as a medic. He was publicly denounced as a traitor. And, although he eventually was allowed to serve as a medic, after the war his career never flourished again. By contrast, another conscientious objector, who also served as a medic during WWII, Desmond Doss, was recently honored in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.” John Wayne, who made numerous movies during WWII portraying combat heroes, never served in WWII, whereas other matinee idols – James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, did serve. (John Wayne’s explanation was that powers in Washington instructed the draft board in California not to induct him because he could be of greater service for war morale by making his war movies, of which he made 13 during the war.)

One of the chapters in John Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” (allegedly ghost-written by Ted Sorensen) always puzzled me. It is the chapter devoted to paying tribute to Sen. Robert Taft, the Republican senator from Ohio. (He was the co-author of the Taft-Hartley Act, legislation that I am not fond of, since it restricts the power of unions.) The tribute was in recognition of a speech that Taft gave at Kenyon College in October, 1948, in which he expressed disapproval of the Nuremburg Trials. He argued that prosecution of Nazis for war crimes was unconstitutional because it constituted implementation of an ex post facto law – making something illegal after the fact, since there was no international law at the time of WWII defining what war crimes were. Taft was pilloried in the press for his position, and some believe it cost him the 1948 Republican nomination for President. Kennedy/Sorenson regarded Taft’s political stance as courageous. I don’t see what the U.S. Constitution had to do with the issue, since the Nuremburg trials were not conducted under the aegis of the Constitution. And it seems to me you should not need a written law to be told that incarcerating people based on their religion, ethnicity or sexual persuasion, gassing them and then incinerating them is violative of an unwritten law of humanity. I would therefore not regard Taft’s political position as courageous. (Curiously, Justice William Douglas, for whom I have high regard, agreed with Taft.)

Anyway, as Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

Anonymous said...

MS:
Reagan made movies during the war, too. I remember when he so boldly visited Normandy on maybe the 40th anniversary of the Allies landing there. One of the veterans who had actually been there on D-Day said something to the effect that he thought Reagan was 40 years too late. Etc. Sic transit histrionicus.

LFC said...

MS,
It's not quite true that there were no legal precedents of any applicability before the Nuremburg trials. The 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed (or purported to outlaw) war, and the so-called Stimson Doctrine, promulgated after Japan's 1931 seizure of Manchuria, put the U.S. (however hypocritically, as some might suggest) on record as refusing to recognize the results of obvious aggression.

A fairly recent book by two Yale law profs, called The Internationalists I believe, rehearses some of this (among other things) in detail. I haven't properly read it, but based on a glance some months ago, I think they substantially exaggerate the importance of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Still, they know a lot and they write well, and given your evident interest in these issues, you might find it interesting.

LFC said...

Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World

LFC said...

@ Daniel Langlois,

I wrote an online review a while back of the Burns/Novick PBS Vietnam documentary. I thought it was far from perfect but not completely terrible, unlike most other reviewers on the left side of center, who criticized it heavily in various print and online venues. (I may give the link later -- don't have time to do it right now.)

Howard Berman said...

@ anonymous 9:54

If the confederacy were to rise again, he'd be on our side- he did give the finger to Trump and his bed stuffed with fascists, didn't he?

MS said...

LFC,

So then Sen. Taft had even less justification for his criticism of the Nuremburg trials, correct? How could William Douglas get it wrong - he was a very knowledgeable person and a liberal.

Thank you for the reference to The Internationalists.

Anonymous said...

To Howard Berman:

I imagine were Robert E. Lee alive today, he’d be a Union man, were the south to rise again, regardless of where Lee was born sixty or so years go. It would be treasonous to rebel against the country now, and only a kook would maintain otherwise. But that’s arguably not how the collective mind in the south worked 150+ years ago. And the point that you and I were talking about in the earlier comments was the hypothetical Civil War McCain. I’d say that the side he’d be on (then) would have depended on where he had been born. One never really knows, of course: there were famous southerners who fought for the north—for example, the Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs was a Georgian, and his son was killed fighting for the Union. Both he and his son are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. But the historical examples one could cite were probably exceptions, which is why we have the expectations that we do about who would likely have done what way back when. One of McCain’s confederate ancestors was actually associated with the legendary confederate guerilla, Nathan Bedford Forrest, so if family loyalties are anything to go by, McCain would have been a reb—fighting to defend his family’s (actual) slave-holding interests. I don’t know. But it seems to me that history goes through us as much as it goes around us. Etc. Etc.

MS said...

LFC,

Please publish the link to your review of the Burns/Novick Viet Nam documentary. I tried to find it by Googling your initials and Burns/Novick and was unable to locate it.

I am curious to learn what the criticisms of the documentary from the left were. I watched all 6 (I think 6) segments and thought the documentary was excellent. They made an earnest effort to include the viewpoints of people from the full range of the political landscape, including interviews of North Vietnamese participants in, and survivors of, the war. They also included interviews with American soldiers who, after their service, protested the war. I noted at the time that they did not include interviews with John McCain or John Kerry, so I checked on the internet as to why. Burns explained that while they included footage of McCain's captivity, they told McCain and Kerry that they were not going to interview them for the documentary because they did not want them putting their "spin" on the war. Instead, they opted for interviewing less well known individuals who served.

Anonymous said...

Aside from that, I noticed that the talking heads on MSNBC seem to be using their celebrations of McCain to strategically cudgel the current occupant of the White House, who looks all the more small and weasely in comparison to the Dearly Departed Great Man. They’re making sure this news cycle is as bad as it can be for T***p (who, by the way, is doing everything to aid them in that task, with all this petty nonsense about lowering the flag, etc.).

To which I say: Works for me. We can be sure that if the shoe were somehow on the other foot, the Republicans would be doing the exact same thing, only tenfold — and it would work in firing up their base!

As usual, the question for leftists is: Do you want the satification of righteous preening, or would you rather win elections and gain power?


So, in reality, the question is not really of morality at all. It's a question of political expediency. It's how to use a name, any name, as electoral cudgel.

Barreras is probably right that the Republicans would be doing the exact same thing if "the shoe were on the other foot".

What I wonder is what makes "morality leftists" different from Republicans? Oh, I get it now, because they are (self-proclaimend) good. The others are bad.

s. wallerstein said...

Here's a critique from the left of the film. Since I haven't seen the movie, I didn't watch the critique. There are two parts, as you can see. Here is the first:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=tnmicUkdX2E

LFC said...

MS,
Here are three links.

The first is my piece on Burns/Novick. The second is a fairly short critique of the film. The third is a slightly longer critique (which I haven't really read) that was published in an academic journal called The Sixties. (Maurice Isserman also had a critique of the film in Dissent, which will probably not be hard to find on your own if you want.)

My piece below was published under my full name. Although I don't particularly care whether people here know my full name -- obviously I wouldn't link to the piece if I wanted to keep my name a complete secret -- I do prefer commenting here, as well as certain other places, under my initials. I am sufficiently unimportant, and my online presence is sufficiently below the radar of most people, that I don't think I need fear that someone will start trumpeting my full name through various and sundry precincts of the internet. I think basically no one in the blogosphere gives a s*** what my name is -- no one in the blogosphere should. (That's my hope, at any rate.)



https://s-usih.org/2017/12/when-narratives-clash-the-vietnam-war-as-history/

http://www.publicbooks.org/burns-and-novick-masters-of-false-balancing/

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17541328.2018.1464105

s. wallerstein said...

LFC,

Thanks.

MS said...

Thank you s. wallerstein and LFC for posting links to reviews of the Burns/Novick Viet Nam war documentary (especially LFC, since by doing so you have revealed your identity).

I watched the first of the two videos from the Chilean review of the documentary. It was, I thought even-handed, not a scorching condemnation of the documentary. The moderator did make some criticisms – he thought the documentary would have been better if it had included some analysis by political pundits. But, as LFC points out, that was not the purpose of the documentary. Its main focus was to offer an historical overview, to offer the views of those who participated in the war, U.S., South and North, and allow the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions. The Chilean moderator also criticized the lack of footage showing the devastation of property and loss of life in the North caused by the bombing raids.

LFC, I thought your analysis was excellent. You pointed out the difference in perspective between the U.S. vs. the North Vietnamese view of the conflict – from the U.S. perspective, we were assisting the South in resisting a war of aggression by the North to expand its territory – from this viewpoint, the U.S. government could convince Americans that our involvement was morally justified as a defensive war. From the North’s perspective, it was a civil war, waged to reunite a country that had been divided by virtue of the failure to hold fhe free elections that had been agreed upon in the Geneva accords after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Thank you again for the link. I’ll read the other two reviews later today.

s. wallerstein said...

MS,

For the record, the moderator isn't Chilean. He's Pakistani.

Tariq Ali is the "street-fighting man" of the Rolling Stones song, they say. As a student at Oxford, he was one of the leaders of the movement against the War in Viet Nam in Great Britain. Since then, he's written many books and has been one of the directors of the New Left Review. He has a weekly program in English in Telesur, Venezuelan TV, and I'm subscribed to it and hence, I received the video which you watched in YouTube.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariq_Ali
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_Fighting_Man

MS said...

Sorry. My error.

Anonymous said...

This may be idiosyncratic, but I picture the notion of debate liberals entertain this way.

Imagine a tea room in a Victorian manor or in a London club. (Think of the beginning of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days).

A variety of scones and tarts, a jug of hot water, some China cups with tea, a little jug with milk and a little container with sugar cubes on a tea table. Around, seating on armchairs matching with the table, their backs straight, a group of visibly well-bred people exchange ideas in the most pleasant, witty, gentlemanly manner (I write gentlemanly for a reason: those gathered are mostly men, of the Oxbridge variety).

The exchange may range from the latest Parisian fashion to the merits of the notion of white men's burden. It doesn't really matter. Whatever the topic, gentlemen are meant to discuss things at their most civilised earnest, disinterestedly, without ever raising their voices.

It is taken for granted that disagreement, if disagreement were to arise, is due to honest mistake.

Debate, after all, is for edification. That underlies the idea of free speech and democratic debate. Genuine gentlemen don't appeal to tricks just to win in a debate. Ideas, arguments prevail on their merits and on their merits alone. Whether they know it or not, they are re-enacting Plato's dialogues.

In that environment the worst accusation to hurl against one's debating partner is not that he is dishonest -which is inconceivable, imagine- but that he is being rude, nasty: ungentlemanly, in one word.

If that were to happen, either the accusing party retires in the most ostensibly dignified manner, or challenges the accused party to a duel (with a vintage and expensive flintlock pistol, to be sure, thirty steps and witnesses).

-------

I don't know whether Victorian Oxbridge gentlemen lived up to those ideals.

I do know that's not how their great-grandsons (and they remain largely wealthy, white, educated and men) debate in our own times. They, however, like their forefathers, still proclaim their unwavering adhesion to civilised debate.

This says a lot about liberal democracy.

s. wallerstein said...

MS,

No apology is called for.

We both are well-read and well-informed, but it seems that we've read different books and informed ourselves about different things from different sources over the years.

That makes the discussion more interesting.

MS said...

For a humorous version of the refined Victorian gentlemen's debate, watch this Monty Python skit, Four Yorkshire Men:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1by0-nkKOTs

"A Few Words" is threatening to turn into the never-ending blog thread.

LFC said...

MS
Thanks for the kind words. On a phone so have to leave it at that.

Charles Pigden said...

MS. There really is no evidence that Russell had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law Susan except her say so (which may have been transmitted to her daughter) and Susan is not a reliable witness. Even Ray Monk, whose biography of Russell' is marred by and increasing hostility to Russell, admits as much:. See The Ghost of Madness p. 336 In Russell's correspondence o he time, and in his surviving papers, the is no nothing to suggest he loved Susan or even that he liked her very much. In his letters to Edith (which grew increasingly affectionate during the year 1951 [are large part of the time during which Russell was sharing a house with his son's family] Russell often mentioned Susan , but almost invariably wth disapproval, particularly of her reckless and indiscriminate promiscuity' [which he deplored mainly because it hurt his son.]

Susan abandoned her children leaving them Russell's care when he was 80.

Charles Pigden said...

MS. (Corrected - I am such a rotten typist) There really is no evidence that Russell had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, Susan, except her say-so (which may have been transmitted to her daughter) and Susan is not a reliable witness. Even Ray Monk, whose biography of Russell is marred by an increasing hostility to Russell, admits as much:. See The Ghost of Madness p. 336. 'In Russell's correspondence of the time, and in his surviving papers, there is no nothing to suggest he loved Susan or even that he liked her very much. In his letters to Edith (which grew increasingly affectionate during the year 1951 [a large part of the period during which Russell was sharing a house with his son's family] Russell often mentioned Susan , but almost invariably with disapproval, particularly of her reckless and indiscriminate promiscuity' [which he deplored mainly because it hurt his son.]

Susan abandoned her children, leaving them Russell's care when he was 80. He had been paying for their upkeep already for several years, after Susan and his son John had squandered the Trust Fund the he had earned for John with years of laborious lecturing.

Excellent Assignment Help said...

Knowledgeable Post. Keep Sharing On.

Assignment Help
Online Assignment Help
Assignment Help Australia

Assignment Help said...

It is very interesting post.

Dissertation Help said...

Nice Post!Keep Posting With Us

Dissertation Help