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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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

FEAR AND LOATHING


I spent six months on active duty in the U.S. Army 63 years ago as part of my six-year National Guard obligation, and I even have an Honorable Discharge to prove it, but I have not in general been a strong supporter of America’s military adventures. Indeed, I think the last deployment of forces that I wholeheartedly approved of was World War II. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I was not only appalled and disgusted but also offended by Trump’s labeling of soldiers as suckers and fallen or captured soldiers as losers.  Will it make any difference? I don’t know, although it wouldn’t hurt for some of these unnamed sources to go public with their recollections.

What a pitiful, damaged, pathetic human being he is! As I am sure you know, I am not of a religious turn of mind, but I could be persuaded by an act of divine intervention, perhaps in the form of a terminal case of the coronavirus.

30 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Oh that would be delicious. An ironic God.

David Palmeter said...

I don't wish a terminal case of the corona virus on anyone, but if there will be someone who gets it, I see no reason why it shouldn't be him.

s. wallerstein said...

I wouldn't say that U.S. soldiers are suckers or that fallen or captured soldiers are losers, but they are all victims of a homicidal war machine that used them in pointless, criminal and ugly wars and they would have been wiser to avoid military service as Trump and I did.

What's depressing is that Biden is not going to say what I said above nor even will Bernie Sanders at this point, although he probably would have said something similar in political language when he was younger. It's depressing that the left ends up as champions of the Pentagon.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Wallerstein, you just don't get it. Let it pass.

s. wallerstein said...

No, sorry, this time I get it.

Michael said...

Sorry, I'm embarrassed to admit I'm scratching my head a bit over those last three comments.

Best guess: s.w.'s first comment becomes objectionable with the words: "they would have been wiser to avoid military service as Trump and I did." Probably a key objection would be: Trump didn't refuse to participate in the military on account of his wisdom. Rather, he dishonestly evaded a draft on account of his shamelessness.

s.w., how were you able to avoid it? Perhaps another objection would have it that luck was more significant than wisdom. (This is all before my time, so I'm pretty unfamiliar. I do have some relatives who were granted exemption by lottery.)

s. wallerstein said...

Michael,

I grouped myself with Trump for the shock value. I'm not sure that Trump isn't capable of wisdom from time to time. Don't underestimate him.

Longer explanation: the words "sucker" and "loser" are not in my vocabulary. I can't recall ever using them. They refer to there being only one game in life which matters. I don't see life as being only one game or several games, but rather as opening multiple paths, some of which are negative and some of which are positive. I don't see Trump's path as positive.

I don't see Biden's path as positive either, although, once again, he's less negative than Trump. He's reply to Trump is straight out of Horace's "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", which in 2020 makes him also a "pitiful pathetic damaged human being".

George Orwell has a wonderful essay, Inside the Whale. On his way to Spain to fight in the civil war, which was a good cause unlike all of the U.S. wars post World War 2, he stops in Paris to converse with Henry Miller. Miller tells him that he's a fool to die for a good cause, that there's no cause worth dying for. Orwell, to his credit (and that's what makes a great writer), weighs Miller's point of view and does not dismiss him entirely, seeing it (to use my words above) as a possible path, although not his, since Orwell does fight in Spain. Some days I agree with Orwell, some days I agree with Miller. Both are great writers and wise men.

I got a I-Y deferment in 1968 (unfit for military service). I tried as hard as I could to show the bastards that I wasn't what they were looking for. I smoked a cigarette in a non-smoking zone and when ordered to put it out, threw it on the floor and gave a Nazi salute to the sergeant in charge. I flunked the eye test and the hearing test on purpose.
I checked the box when asked if I was homosexual (although I'm not), I talked in a loud voice and sang a Country Joe and the Fish anti-war song (along with my pal Ron Felber) when told to be silent, etc., etc. They decided that I was unfit. Ron was also ruled unfit.

s. wallerstein said...

Country Joe (for those too young to remember)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dATyZBEeDJ4

Michael Llenos said...

"which was a good cause unlike all of the U.S. wars post World War 2"

Kim Jong-un would probably disagree with you and say the Korean War was a good cause--but from the other side! I think his sister just took over now, but I'm not sure about the news.

[I believe from our side the Korean War was a just war. Although, the younger generations of South Koreans would probably not agree with me, the older generations of South Koreans probably would.]

The Persian Gulf War, of the early nineties, was the most just war I can think of since WW2. I remember as a kid when it started, i.e. Operation Desert Storm, a young man said he was listening to the news and tens of thousands of American soldiers were already dead. I'm so glad the radio host didn't know what he was talking about.

Doogie said...

Sr. Wallerstein, when I was drafted in 1965 I was very tempted to do something along the lines of what you did. But I just couldn't do it, even though I was indeed gay. And, now, even though I have made some stupendous mistakes in my life since, I am glad I, at least, didn't make that one.

Eric said...

@MichaeLLenos - The "most just war"? Really?

So just a war that they had to make up lies about why US involvement in the war was necessary? Saying that it was that Saddam Hussein was Hitler, murdering innocent babies
NYT Editorial: "Deception on Capitol Hill" Jan 15, 1992

when the real reason was that the US & UK were worried not about crimes against humanity and violations of Kuwait's sovereignty but about control of the oil supply? They were ready to send troops to die in order to defend the brutal monarchy of Saudi Arabia.
FRONTLINE: The Gulf War; Jan 9, 1996


@SWallerstein - Joe Biden got 5 student draft deferments (same as Dick Cheney) and then a disqualification for a past history of asthma. Yet (also like Dick Cheney) he is always ready to threaten other countries with the use of US military force. How did he go from being a star football player at his prep school and a member of his college football team to having a history of asthma so severe as a teen that he was deemed unfit for military service in Vietnam? Not quite as bad as "bone spurs," but almost. My father had pretty bad asthma as a child and teen. That didn't stop him from being drafted. His PTSD was so severe after discharge that he attempted to take his own life. (He is still struggling with PTSD all these years later. It's hard to try to talk to him about the war because it can set off another bout of depression.) Biden then had the nerve, while running for the Senate in 1972, to support amnesty for draft dodgers so long as they would agree to serve the federal government in some alternate capacity, such as in a civilian agency like the veterans' hospital or as noncombantants in the military. McGovern, by contrast, was calling for a blanket amnesty with no service requirement attached.
A look back at Joe Biden's days as an athlete, The Daily Pennsylvanian 8/20/2020

Biden deferred, disqualified from Vietnam duty, AP 2/9/2012

Eric said...

Professor, when will we see the next installment in your reflections project?

This being Labor Day Weekend, it would seem to be a good time now to think about the power the working class could have if more identified as members of an economic class rather than in terms of the myriad other identities that seem to occupy most people's attentions (urban vs rural, Fundamentalism, guns, abortion, trans issues, gay marriage, immigration/borders, BLM, "law and order," etc).

I think your essay on "The Future of Socialism" missed the mark. The capitalists aren't really all that better today at preventing or managing the wild disruptions to people's lives produced by the gyrations of the economic cycles than in the past, if we speak honestly about 2008 and 2020. They also don't seem to me to be all that rational, or organized, in their economic planning, beyond seeking short-term profits for themselves. How can anyone describe the actions of the capitalist state as rational when it does so little to mitigate the climate catastrophe that looms ahead? Or to reduce the environmental degradation that results from consumption-driven economies. I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone reading this blog that capitalist planning left us unable to produce enough coronavirus testing kits to meet the country's needs...for lack of swabs to use in the kits. Yes, a country of 320+ million people could not figure out a way to produce or procure swabs for testing kits that could have provided epidemiologists with data to inform their recommendations on slowing the spread of the virus.

Gramsci was right. It's not their economic planning that is the capitalists' strength. It's their cultural hegemony. Its effect is that many Americans think of Labor Day as a day for shopping, and very few think about the power striking workers displayed in years past in winning the rights that most of us take for granted today, like the 8-hour day, the minimum wage, and workplace safety laws.

We have more ways to connect today than ever, with so many of us carrying internet access around in our pockets or purses. Yet the decades-long propaganda war has been so successful that many voters believed Democratic candidates who claimed people would lose access to health care under a "socialist" universal single-payer healthcare system; and many continue to uncritically consume news commentary from sources that are invested in maintaining the war machine and the fossil fuels-extracting economic status quo. On our current trajectory, I don't see anyone being able to break the spell in time to avert irreversible ecological changes that will threaten all life on Earth as we know it.

Jerry Fresia said...

S.w.

Your cleverness rivals that of Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant...both a film and an actual restaurant in Stockbridge, MA which I used to frequent on occasion....I'm sure you know the film.

s. wallerstein said...

Thank you. I haven't seen the film, but I love the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m57gzA2JCcM

s. wallerstein said...

I had forgotten until I listened to the song again that I had been arrested for disorderly conduct and trespassing (for participating in a civil rights demonstration) and that probably helped my being rejected too.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

S Wallerstein
In addition to Alice’s Restaurant, your saga at the draft board reminds me of a Phil Ochs song, Draft Dodger Rag which, in part, goes like this: “Sarge, I’m only eighteen, got a ruptured spleen, and always carry a purse. I got eyes like a bat, my feet are flat, and my asthma’s gettin’ worse. Think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt. Besides I ain’t no fool, I’m a goin’ to school and workin’ in a defense plant.”

When at Georgetown (before they kicked me out) I played in a band and we covered “The Vietnam Song” by Country Joe. One Saturday night, we had been hired to play a gig on the roof of one of the Foreign Service School buildings. We were halfway through the first set when D.C.’s finest appeared and told use they had a noise complaint from Sen. Claiborne Pell, and we had to shut down. When the cops left, we played one more song - you know, the one that starts with “Give me an F, ....

Stay healthy and sane.

s. wallerstein said...

Thank you.

Stay healthy and sane yourself.

Why were you kicked out of Georgetown? It must have been for something interesting since from what I can see in this blog it wasn't for deficient academic performance.

Jerry Fresia said...

s.w. and whoever is interested; here's the full movie, 1967, Alice's Restaurant:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Yo-ngn46pQ&ab_channel=Michael

s. wallerstein said...

thanks..

Michael Llenos said...

@Eric

Even if that young girl lied about that event, that doesn't mean Saddam Hussein was a benevolent ruler in the region.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anfal_genocide

s. wallerstein said...

No one claims that Saddam Hussein was benevolent. What ruler in the Middle East is benevolent?

Israel? Which oppresses the Palestinians in violation of numerous UN resolutions.

Saudi Arabia? Which oppresses women, gays and immigrant workers.

Why don't we attack Israel or Saudi Arabia, if we're into attacking non-benevolent governments?

In fact, what government these days could be categorized as benevolent? Maybe New Zealand?

Ok, I'll accept for the moment the idea that New Zealand has a benevolent government.
Would the benevolent government of New Zealand have the right to bomb Washington for several days causing numerous civilians deaths and then send a squad of specially trained commandos to take out Trump, who is definitively not benevolent?

Michael Llenos said...

I've never been to New Zealand, but I'm actually in love with the place. I've loved it since I first saw it in Willow. Then I became in love with it again when I saw it in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I believe New Zealanders are good people. The island looks so beautiful. If there was a Middle Earth on our planet, it would be New Zealand.

David Palmeter said...

I think the legitimacy of the 1st Iraq War has nothing to do with our concern about oil.Intent is not relevant. Its legitimacy stems from the UN Charter and the fact that a UN member was invaded. Bush I dotted the I's and crossed the T's in terms of international law, with no fabrication of the facts. He also turned around and left after Iraq was thrown of Kuwait. That's the way it's supposed to go. Bush II's fiasco was built on false claims of WMD, apparently even misleading Colin Powell. There was nothing legit about it. On top of that--the incompetence with which it was planned and carried out is mind boggling. Remember Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz & Co. claiming that the war would pay for itself? They talked as if they expected that the biggest threat American troops would face was slipping on the rose petals that grateful Iraqis would strew in their path as they marched into Baghdad.

I was surprised to see Michael Lenos' comment above that, while older Koreans are likely to believe that the US defense of the South in the Korean war was legitimate, younger Koreans are likely to see it differently. They'd rather live under Kim Jon-un?

Michael Llenos said...

"I was surprised to see Michael Lenos' comment above that, while older Koreans are likely to believe that the US defense of the South in the Korean war was legitimate, younger Koreans are likely to see it differently. They'd rather live under Kim Jon-un?"

I know, it sounds odd. I took a course on Korea in college, and I found out that a lot of the younger generations of South Koreans don't care about political differences or ideologies. They just want to see their country reunited. They don't care for the political turmoil, so they just take it in a simpler way. Why can't we be one country? What is this us vs. them garbage? etc.

Michael Llenos said...

Wo!!! The link for the following article goes against the majority of what I have said about reunification in the Korean Peninsula. Has what I've learned before morphed into something different? Maybe my memory is bad? Probably...

https://www.koreaexpose.com/younger-south-koreans-still-want-unification/

R McD said...

David @ 4:54 pm. Either you're forgetting or I'm misremembering that the American ambassador to Iraq gave a sort of "we've got no major interest in Kuwait so do as you like" notice to Saddam Hussein. There was an awful lot that was questionable about Bush I's invasion of Iraq.

R McD said...

And here, for Michael, a quoted passage from the Wikipedia entry on Bruce Cumings, who has written a major history of the Korean War:

"The Korean War did not begin on June 25, 1950, much special pleading and argument to the contrary. If it did not begin then, Kim II Sung could not have "started" it then, either, but only at some earlier point. As we search backward for that point, we slowly grope toward the truth that civil wars do not start: they come. They originate in multiple causes, with blame enough to go around for everyone—and blame enough to include Americans who thoughtlessly divided Korea and then reestablished the colonial government machinery and the Koreans who served it. How many Koreans might still be alive had not that happened? Blame enough to include a Soviet Union likewise unconcerned with Korea's ancient integrity and determined to "build socialism" whether Koreans wanted their kind of system or not. How many Koreans might still be alive had that not happened? And then, as we peer inside Korea to inquire about Korean actions that might have avoided national division and fratricidal conflict, we get a long list indeed.[7]"

David Palmeter said...

R McD

I don't doubt that the motives for the first Iraq war were perceived self-interest. I'm saying only that in determining the legality of the question under international law, motive is irrelevant. Self-interest is assumed. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a UN member, was a textbook example of what would justify armed intervention by fellow UN members. The second Iraq war was anything but.

For more than 20 years I went to Korea two or three times a year and had a lot of conversations with with Koreans who expressed both gratitude for American intervention in the Korean war, and bitterness about American agreement to dividing the country. They pointed out that after WWII there were two countries divided by the Allies: Germany, which started the war, and Korea which was a victim of Japan.

In defense of the US, that was at a time when we were only beginning to learn that Stalin had no intention of allowing any unification either in Germany or Korea that would result in a country that would not be part of the Soviet bloc. My recollection from reading about it long ago, is that the division of Korea was, as the US saw it, a simple drawing of a convenient line between where the Soviets and where the US would take the Japanese surrender. The 38th parallel was midway in the peninsula. It was done by fairly junior officers in the State Department, one of whom was Dean Rusk, and their Soviet counterparts. Spheres of influence weren't on the table yet. The came with the Cold War.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

S. Wallerstein,
I was kicked out for deficient academic performance, or so it says on my transcript. More to the point, the class that entered in 1968 was the first class that was anti-war and that discomfited the administration. I was admitted to the School of Foreign Service, which I came to understand, was conservative in the sense of being fully committed to the American foreign policy goals of anti-communism’s and containment, etc. I had no intention of being a foreign service officer, rather I was interested in the curriculum which was very interdisciplinary.

I had 1.9 GPA at the end of freshman year, which meant I was on academic probation. Sophomore year I improved and my gpa was well above 2.0. In the last semester of that year, oddly enough, I had 4 B’s and a F in a course taught by a history prof I had in the prior three semesters and had received A’s. That F triggered my being expelled for flunking a course while on probation. The same prof was the dean of students (note lack of due process) and that was that. About 15 other students were expelled at the same time, and all were involved in the anti-war movement and were advocating for other academic reforms.

In the intro to Philosophy class I took freshman year, the take-away point about Greek philosophy was that Plato was Ur-philosopher of totalitarianism, including Marxism, and Aristotle was the good guy. I was TA for Dr. Wolff’s Intro to Social and Political Philosophy class, and when he started his lecture on Plato I realized I didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout Plato and started taking notes even more furiously than the STEPEC students! I figure G’town owes me money for a philosophy class that was deficient in scholarship.

I consider being kicked out of G’Town to be a highlight of my academic career!

s. wallerstein said...

C. Mulvaney,

Great story! One you can be justifiably proud of.

I've never bought into that Karl Popper's narrative about Plato being a proto-totalitarian. The guy who wrote the Apology may not have been a liberal democrat, but he sure wasn't a totalitarian. Maybe Wittgenstein should have hit Popper with that poker.