Pedantry - Moved to

Friday, August 01, 2003
It couldn't happen here

The editor of The Shamrockshire Eagle makes a point in the comments to my previous post about the secondary role of military build-up in the management of late capitalist economies. Military spending can serve as a mechanism of economic regulation, and while on the surface this role is portrayed as a secondary - even incidental - matter, it may in fact become the primary role of the military.

This sort of thinking has a lengthy tradition. It is, for example, the classic explanation of the social function of magic and religion. The secondary effects of a cultural belief in magic or in other sorts of supernatural authority may be its primary reason for existing. The fear that the economic effects of military spending may become the principal reason for the military was expressed at least as early as 1961, in Eisenhower's parting speech as president.

It is a kind of distorted reflection of Hayek's concerns about economic planning in The Road to Serfdom. As soon as the state begins to take a role in the economy, according to Hayek, it can only take a greater and greater role in all aspects of life, trying to bring it under control so that the state's plans will work. In the same way, once the military starts having a social function beyond making war, that role can only grow as it further distorts the functioning of social institutions, forcing more and more of them to come under direct and indirect military control because they are "vital to national security."

Although the "military-industrial complex" has become a byword of X-Files type conspiracist thinking, it is not a notion without merit. There are quite a few people who think America's technological dominance is primarily a consequence of vast networks of military spending, and they make a pretty good case. Aeronautics and computing are both areas that enjoy huge research subsidies from the Defence Department. Boeing would never have built the 707 jet if it had not received a large order from the DOD. Many early semiconductor firms sold most of their production to the government or to government contractors making missiles.

There is other confirming evidence that state subsidy rather than unique "American know-how" is a major factor in high-tech growth. European and specifically French spending on aeronautics, while vastly less than total US spending, has still managed to produce commercial aircraft of comparable or better quality, showing that the same state support works for other people too. Biotech, which has not enjoyed a similar level of subsidy in the US, but has in many other countries, is the one high tech area where it seems that the US is lagging significantly behind. Profitable biotech comes primarily from European, Australian and Canadian labs.

Of course, a key aspect of 21st century capitalism is its global character. A Swedish biotech lab may be owned by a Swiss company that trades on the New York stock exchange. A European drug company may campaign against the sale of Brazilian-made generic AIDS drugs in Africa by lobbying the US government. It's a lot more difficult nowadays to say just what country can claim credit for what technology .

One of the things I think is worth worrying about is the idea that America's military adventures may serve less desirable social goals than mere industrial subsidy. The Vietnam war served as a focal point for opposition to the government, but now that there is no conscription, the dynamic has changed. It is simpler to just say that you "support the troops" because unless you are one of the troops, when America goes to war no one is actually asking very much of you. War becomes a way of rallying the masses behind the regime and of bullying the opposition into submission.

The first time I encountered this idea from an American, in reference to their own government, was after Clinton's bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998. Many conservatives, and a few liberals, suggested that it was a consequence of the Lewinsky affair. If so, it didn't work, and I see some sign that perhaps Iraq won't help Bush either.

However, when I proposed that the military's greatest value may have little to do with defence, back in '98 on a forum I used to hang around on, I was referred to an interesting short story from 1992. The story was the work of a Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dunlap, at the time attached to the US National War College. It's called The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, and at one time it was moderately famous.

The story is set in the aftermath of a coup d'état that has replaced constitutional government in the US with a junta. The story itself takes the form of a letter written by an unnamed US Army officer, outlining how the government came to be overthrown by a cabal of officers. This near science fiction story, a work of advocacy rather than an attempt at entertainment, is quite enlightening. Dunlap lays the blame for America's dictatorship on the acceptance of the military's secondary effects as its principal justification. In his imagined future, this process has continued to the point where the American military is useless at war, but has replaced nearly the whole of the government.

It wasn't any single cause that led us to this point. Instead, it was a combination of several different developments, the beginnings of which were evident in 1992. Here's what I think happened:

Americans became exasperated with democracy. We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation's dilemmas. We were looking for someone or something that could produce workable answers. The one institution of government in which the people retained faith was the military. Buoyed by the military's obvious competence in the First Gulf War, the public increasingly turned to it for solutions to the country's problems. Americans called for an acceleration of trends begun in the 1980s: tasking the military with a variety of new, nontraditional missions, and vastly escalating its commitment to formerly ancillary duties.

I am more sanguine about the "military's obvious competence in the First Gulf War", but as a statement of the mood in America after the First Gulf War (note that way back in '92, he was already calling it the "First" Gulf War) it is clearly true. In Dunlap's story, the elements that destroy American democracy are the combination of a loss of faith in democratic institutions in conjunction with a sharp and sudden rise of faith in the military, at the same time that the collapse of the Soviet Union reduced the actual need for such a large defensive force.

Commentator James Fallows expressed the new thinking in an August 1991 article in Atlantic magazine. Musing on the contributions of the military to American society, Fallows wrote: "I am beginning to think that the only way the national government can do anything worthwhile is to invent a security threat and turn the job over to the military." [...]

About a decade before Fallows' article appeared, Congress initiated the use of "national defense" as a rationale to boost military participation in an activity historically the exclusive domain of civilian government: law enforcement. Congress concluded that the "rising tide of drugs being smuggled into the United States . . . present[ed] a grave threat to all Americans." Finding the performance of civilian law enforcement agencies in counteracting that threat unsatisfactory, Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act of 1981. In doing so Congress specifically intended to force reluctant military commanders to actively collaborate in police work.

Dunlap goes on to apply one of the classic creative devices of science fiction: Pick a trend and take it to its extreme.

It wasn't too long before 21st-century legislators were calling for more military involvement in police work. Crime seemed out of control. Most disturbing, the incidence of violent crime continued to climb. Americans were horrified and desperate: a third even believed vigilantism could be justified. Rising lawlessness was seen as but another example of the civilian political leadership's inability to fulfill government's most basic duty to ensure public safety. People once again wanted the military to help. [...]

The military's constituency was larger than just the aged. Poor Americans of all ages became dependent upon the military not only for protection against crime, but also for medical care. Again we saw the roots of this back in 1992. First it was the barely defeated proposal to use veterans' hospitals to provide care for the non-veteran poor. Next were calls to deploy military medical assets to relieve hard-pressed urban hospitals. As the number of uninsured and underinsured grew, the pressure to provide care became inexorable. Now military hospitals serve millions of new, non-military patients. Similarly, a proposal to use so-called "underutilized" military bases as drug rehabilitation centers was implemented on a massive scale.

Even the youngest citizens were co-opted. During the 1990s the public became aware that military officers had the math and science backgrounds desperately needed to revitalize US education. In fact, programs involving military personnel were already underway while we were at the War College. We now have an entire generation of young people who have grown up comfortable with the sight of military personnel patrolling their streets and teaching in their classrooms. [...]

The military was also called upon to manage the cleanup of the nation's environmental hazards. By 1992 the armed services were deeply involved in this arena, and that involvement mushroomed. Once the military demonstrated its expertise, it wasn't long before environmental problems were declared "national security threats" and full responsibility devolved to the armed forces.

Other problems were transformed into "national security" issues. As more commercial airlines went bankrupt and unprofitable air routes dropped, the military was called upon to provide "essential" air transport to the affected regions. In the name of national defense, the military next found itself in the sealift business. Ships purchased by the military for contingencies were leased, complete with military crews, at low rates to US exporters to help solve the trade deficit. The nation's crumbling infrastructure was also declared a "national security threat." As was proposed back in 1991, troops rehabilitated public housing, rebuilt bridges and roads, and constructed new government buildings. By late 1992, voices in both Congress and the military had reached a crescendo calling for military involvement across a broad spectrum of heretofore purely civilian activities. Soon, it became common in practically every community to see crews of soldiers working on local projects. Military attire drew no stares.

There are many aspects of Dunlap's nightmare that I don't consider likely. One of my fears about the occupation of Iraq was, and is, that America's troops make poor policemen. Dunlap believes that the pressures of duty will transform them into policemen, but good policemen are professionals who spend years training for their work. Nor do military officers have "the math and science backgrounds desperately needed to revitalize US education." Dunlap has what seems to me to be a traditionally military conception of education, not as a profession requiring specific skills but as the knowledgeable simply passing on what they know. America's trade deficit has nothing to do with the shipping industry. Military hospitals are widely reputed to be worse than civilian ones, and operate at a greater cost. Furthermore, it's hard enough to get the government to recognise that there are any environmental problems, much less assign military resources to resolving them. Crime has not exploded as Dunlap predicts and there seems to be no pressure to put troops on the streets in support of the local police, at least not in response to ordinary crime. Fear of terrorism, though, just might produce such a result.

Dunlap seems to forget, or not really think about, the number of services he attributes to the military where it already depends on private contractors. Shipping and air transport in particular are areas where the military budget supports well connected private concerns, and there simply aren't any independent military resources to draw on.

Dunlap points to a few other factors in the establishment of an American junta that I think are overblown. He opposes a unified military command, which he claims is the inevitable outcome of joint activities between the various American military services. According to the narrator, "no one seemed to recognize the checks-and-balances function that service separatism provided a democracy obliged to maintain a large, professional military establishment." I, frankly, am not impressed by this argument. Chile's multiple military services did not prevent its 1971 coup d'état and I see no evidence that America is any different. Dunlap, in his story, leads us from a joint military command to the appointment of a single, unelected high commander of the military. Yet here in 2003, America already has a single, unelected high military commander.

Still, Dunlap's point about the politicisation of the military in response to declining budgets seems sound to me. However, he isn't done yet. He points to another trend which worries me as much as it does Dunlap:

Still, that doesn't completely explain why in 2012 the military leadership would succumb to a coup. To answer that question fully requires examination of what was happening to the officer corps as the military drew down in the 1980s and 1990s. Ever since large peacetime military establishments became permanent features after World War II, the great leveler of the officer corps was the constant influx of officers from the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. The product of diverse colleges and universities throughout the United States, these officers were a vital source of liberalism in the military services.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, that was changing. Force reductions decreased the number of ROTC graduates the services accepted. Although General Powell called ROTC "vital to democracy," 62 ROTC programs were closed in 1991 and another 350 were considered for closure. The numbers of officers produced by the service academies also fell, but at a significantly slower pace. Consequently, the proportion of academy graduates in the officer corps climbed. Academy graduates, along with graduates of such military schools as the Citadel, Virginia Military Institute, and Norwich University, tended to feel a greater homogeneity of outlook than, say, the pool of ROTC graduates at large, with the result that as the proportion of such graduates grew, diversity of outlook overall diminished to some degree.

Moreover, the ROTC officers that did remain increasingly came from a narrower range of schools. Focusing on the military's policy to exclude homosexuals from service, advocates of "political correctness" succeeded in driving ROTC from the campuses of some of our best universities. In many instances they also prevailed in barring military recruiters from campus. Little thought was given the long-term consequences of limiting the pool from which our military leadership was drawn. The result was a much more uniformly oriented military elite whose outlook was progressively conservative.

Furthermore, well-meaning attempts at improving service life led to the unintended insularity of military society, representing a return to the cloistered life of the pre-World War II armed forces. Military bases, complete with schools, churches, stores, child care centers, and recreational areas, became never-to-be-left islands of tranquillity removed from the chaotic, crime-ridden environment outside the gates. As one reporter put it in 1991: "Increasingly isolated from mainstream America, today's troops tend to view the civilian world with suspicion and sometimes hostility." Thus, a physically isolated and intellectually alienated officer corps was paired with an enlisted force likewise distanced from the society it was supposed to serve. In short, the military evolved into a force susceptible to manipulation by an authoritarian leader from its own select ranks.

I think Dunlap is onto something. Many people have noticed how much more conservative the American military has become over the years. I know I'm not the only person who has also noticed how much of its officer corps is from the American South. A recent article in London's conservative Spectator newspaper, which I found via Silt, highlights this very point in understanding American foreign policy:

Sword of honour

If you are looking for some fun, and have a research grant to spend, try this. Visit an American university, bump into random students in the corridor and loudly call each one 'asshole'. Then measure their reactions. This is what a team of psychologists did in a controlled experiment at the University of Michigan. The results were most interesting. Students from the southern part of the United States reacted far more violently and aggressively than those from the North, were shown to have much higher levels of cortisone and testosterone, and in tests regularly suggested more belligerent solutions to problems. America, it seems, remains culturally divided along the Mason-Dixon line, and the crucial difference now, as at the time of the American Civil War, is honour. [...]

The kind of honour I am referring to here is not the gentility of men such as Robert E. Lee. It is the rougher sort embodied in the code duello, which encouraged men to engage in vainglorious bouts of one-upmanship and to respond to insults with violence. Among the poor, the violence took the form of no-holds-barred gouging and scratching contests, the aim of which was to tear out an opponent's eye or otherwise permanently disfigure him. Among the rich, it took the more formal shape of the duel. But the essential point was the same -- an honourable man never accepted insults; he responded to them with force.

In 1861 this led to war. An interesting point is that the South had no need to leave the Union. Lincoln was not proposing the abolition of slavery, and even if he had been, he could not have enacted it. Pro-slavery elements continued to control both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. The 'peculiar institution' was not under threat. But to southerners, Lincoln's election was a provocation too far. [...]

If all this seems remote from the current era, consider that the American Civil War was, according to James McPherson, one of its foremost historians, America's first pre-emptive war. As he describes it, the South's way of life was not immediately under threat, but southerners chose to pre-empt what they saw as a potential future threat by seceding. The honour code dictates that one loses face if one does not respond to an insult, but one does not always know whether something is an insult. So it is always best to treat it as if it were. Similarly, it is better to get one's strike in before an opponent has a chance to hit first, even if perhaps he never intended to attack anyway. Thus, one secessionist commented in 1860 that if one sees a sleeping, curled-up rattlesnake, one doesn't wait until it wakes and unwraps itself before killing it: precisely the logic of the 2002 US national security strategy.

Other parallels between the old South and the present are not hard to find. The years before the Civil War saw a rapid expansion in the number of military institutes and academies in the South. After years of decline, these schools and colleges are now once again enjoying a revival. Confederate armies were famous for their religiosity. The modern United States army is remarkably similar. It is not uncommon to find American generals beginning meetings with prayers, just as they might have under Stonewall Jackson. The ante-bellum South was famous for its militarism. Contemporary southerners continue to be disproportionately represented in the US military, and opinion polls consistently show far greater support for all forms of military action among the states of the South than in those of the North.

I don't know how prevalent this kind of thinking is in the South, but it seems pretty widespread among American troops. This suggests to me that the military is not only susceptible to corruption from within, but that it can be corrupted from without by a leader able to speak a language of honour and force that is clearly inappropriate in the affairs of state.

Furthermore, the isolation of the military from the rest of society is very apparent at US bases in Europe. A few weeks ago, I was at the headquarters of the US Army 254th Base Support Battalion at Schinnen, Netherlands. My reasons were simple enough: I needed to buy some things that are either very hard to find or very expensive in Europe. My wife's office is primarily composed of American military officers, so she has a number of friends who have base access and who buy things at American PX's to save money.

The facilities at Schinnen aren't so much a military base as a shopping centre. The men assigned there all live off-base in rented apartments. It isn't an active forces base, but rather some sort of supply centre. On base, only US dollars are accepted. Even the soda machines take only US currency. Euros were nowhere to be seen. There is a Burger King, a franchise pizza restaurant of some sort, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, a small Waldenbooks-style bookstore, a barbershop, a department store that was, by European standards, very large, a Home Depot-type store, and a base commissary with hard-to-find American foods like peanut butter. It was as if someone had tried to boil the essence of middle America down to a few familiar elements and decided to make them into a mall.

The prices were all lower than comparable prices in the US, but without American - much less European - sales taxes. For the price of a good pair of shoes and a pair of jeans in Leuven, I bought four pairs of shoes and a year's worth of jeans, from sales staff with Georgia accents and Walmart smiles, who pronounced Schinnen "Shin-un." I heard no Dutch, saw no Euros, and encountered nothing that wouldn't have seemed completely familiar in the Midwest. It seemed like the entire base staff was hanging out at the mall with their families, just as they might have on a Saturday in the States.

Since technically I wasn't supposed to be shopping at the base, I didn't ask people too many questions, but I had a distinct sense of being cut off there, The place has a very shut-in sort of vibe to it. The base itself is almost invisible from the highway that runs alongside it, and on the inside there is no indication that you are in Europe instead of suburban Kansas. The thing is, a lot of military communities in the US feel that way too. Military towns in the US tend to be small, somewhat out-of-the-way cities. The local business community tends to lean towards large national franchises and lowest-common-denominator services, and driving through them you often get a sense of déjà vu.

The other matter is more worrying. American colleges have been the traditional home of American liberalism - not just the sort of liberalism that leads to liberal politics but also to the sense that tolerance and diversity are valuable things. Even politically conservative university graduates tend to have those sorts of values, at least to some degree. Small town America, especially in the South, has more or less the opposite reputation.

Before reading Dunlap, it simply had never occurred to me that the growing social and political conservatism of the American military might have nothing at all to do with military culture as such. As others have pointed out, the actual structure of the military and the nature of military life bear a much closer resemblance to Soviet-style socialism.

Dunlap places the blame on the disappearance of college ROTC programmes, many of which were under fire in the early 90's because of the exclusionary anti-gay policy of the US military. Dunlap attributes this to "political correctness", carefully avoiding telling us what he thinks about gays in the military. I think Dunlap is right to think that the decline of ROTC programmes and other sources of more liberal officers, as well as the social isolation of the military, are the cause of the growing conservatism of the armed forces. I think, however, he has not correctly identified the cause of the decline of ROTC programmes. A military career is simply not very lucrative for university graduates, and 20-something men and women are a lot less willing to sign up when it probably means spending their careers in places like Iraq and Liberia and risking actually getting shot at. Furthermore, even the most jingoist of America's university graduates are still probably wary of placing their careers - not to mention their lives - so completely in the hands of the US government. These days, fighting wars is what other people do.

Dunlap offers some advice for avoiding his dictatorial nightmare. In particular, he suggests that the American military get used to living on a smaller budget:

We are not the DEA, EPA, Peace Corps, Department of Education, or Red Cross - nor should we be. It has never been easy to give up resources, but in the long term we - and the nation - will be better served by a smaller but appropriately focused military.

Where I feel most uncomfortable with Dunlap is his suggestion that campus ROTC programmes should be kept open by litigation. I think the better approach would be to simply change policy and stop throwing out gay soldiers.

Despite Dunlap's interesting and stimulating short story, I don't actually think a military coup is a likely scenario for the US, nor do I think the growth of military participation in public life, which seemed so plausible in 1992 in the face of Cold War budget cuts, is very likely now. I do fear that many of the elements of Dunlap's story could play out in a quite different sort of death of democracy. In the comments to a previous post, I told David Weman that I had actually come up with an alternative to liberal democracy in the context of a science fiction novel that I, at one time in my life, was trying to write. Although I strongly doubt that the novel will ever come to pass, some of the issues I wanted to raise in it are ones that I think are still important.

Dunlap's story is how he fears that it - Sinclair Lewis' pronoun referring to fascism - could happen in America. So, next post (or soon anyway), I will answer David's request for my alternative to liberal democracy and show you how I would have written Dunlap's cautionary tale.

Update: Geez, I misspell the guy's name like 300 times (Dunlap, not Dunlop) and spell "serfdom" as "surfdom." I'd blame booze, except I haven't had any.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003
America: the stillborn empire?

An article in today's NY Times got me thinking about something.

New Top General Tells Legislators U.S. Will Probably Need a Larger Army

The former Special Operations commander called from retirement to be Army chief of staff said today that the Army is likely to need more troops to meet its worldwide commitments.

General Schoomaker's use of the phrase, "chain of command," was a reference to Constitutional provisions for civilian control of the military.

Mr. Rumsfeld has repeatedly stated that he wants the entire military, and especially the Army, to be speedier and deadlier, the hallmark of the Special Operations forces. It was General Schoomaker's credentials in that area, especially his time as chief of the United States Special Operations Command from 1997 to 2000, that brought him to Mr. Rumsfeld's attention.

General Schoomaker gained insight into the terrorist threat long before the Sept. 11 attacks, serving on the team that investigated the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. He also has served with conventional forces, including infantry and armored cavalry units, before moving to Special Operations. [...]

Now, contrast with this:

Last of the Big Time Spenders: U.S. Military Budget Still the World's Largest, and Growing

Selected CountriesMilitary Budget
United States399.1
Russia* 65.0
China* 47.0
Japan 42.6
United Kingdom 38.4
France 29.5
Germany 24.9
Saudi Arabia 21.3
Italy 19.4
India 15.6
South Korea 14.1
Brazil* 10.7
Taiwan* 10.7
Israel 10.6
Spain 8.4
Australia 7.6
Canada 7.6
Netherlands 6.6
Turkey 5.8
Mexico 5.9
Kuwait* 3.9
Ukraine 5.0
Iran* 4.8
Singapore 4.8
Sweden 4.5
Egypt* 4.4
Norway 3.8
Greece 3.5
Poland 3.5
Argentina* 3.3
United Arab Emirates* 3.1
Colombia* 2.9
Belgium 2.7
Pakistan* 2.6
Denmark 2.4
Vietnam 2.4
North Korea* 2.1
Czech Republic 1.6
Iraq* 1.4
Philippines 1.4
Portugal 1.3
Libya* 1.2
Hungary 1.1
Syria 1.0
Cuba* 0.8
Sudan* 0.6
Yugoslavia 0.7
Luxembourg 0.2

Figures are for latest year available, usually 2002. Expenditures are used in a few cases where official budgets are significantly lower than actual spending. The figure for the United States is from the annual budget request for Fiscal Year 2004.

* 2001 Funding

As I understand it, The US is now outspending the entire rest of the world on national defense. The US is the third largest nation in the world, and has the highest GDP by a factor of at least three. And yet, it needs a larger military.

Paul Kennedy is best known for advancing the idea that empires are destroyed by overreach, but the numbers in this case are so incredible that I can't imagine why it isn't a public scandal. According to the CDI, Iraq spent all of $1.4 billion on its defence, and yet it has cost the US some $70 billion to invade Iraq and roughly $4 billion a month to occupy it. Imagine attacking an enemy that spent $3 billion a year on defence!

At 50-to-1, the ratio of US invasion costs to Iraqi annual defence spending, it takes only $20 billion dollars to defend against an annual US defence budget of $1 trillion a year - twice what Bush is budgeting for fiscal 2009. Federal receipts are approximately $2 trillion and total US GDP is roughly $10 trillion, so it doesn't take too many billions in spending to ensure that the US simply can't afford to attack you. At $200 billion, half of what the US spends now, it would take the entire US GDP to invade your country.

Logically, I suppose the cost of defeating an enemy doesn't rise linearly with their defence spending, but it is worth asking just how much money it takes to defend against a single dollar of the US military budget. It doesn't look to me like the US can afford to be a superpower.

The Romans took centuries to reach the point where they could no longer afford their empire. For the major European colonial empires, it took a couple centuries at least to reach that point, and in France and Britain's cases, two devastating wars against industrialised enemies. For America, it seems like the empire can't even afford its start-up costs.

Neck deep in Liberia

Via The Head Heeb, an interesting piece on US legal obligations towards Liberia. It's primarily about the legal case that the US has some responsibility towards the country, but I am sceptical. What court could you make the case in? However, the moral obligation comes through quite clearly in the following section:

Understanding America's Obligations in Africa's Newest Trouble Zone

The "Special Relationship" Between Liberia and the U.S.: Lengthy and Deep

As a review of Liberian-U.S. ties will show, America's special relationship is based on its using Liberia's resources to advance its security interests, and for economic gain.

In the early 19th century, Paul Cuffe, a wealthy African-American merchant from Massachusetts, became convinced that the only way that American blacks could become self-governing was to emigrate to Africa. To this end, he created a transportation company called the American Colonization Society. With the U.S. government's approval, the Society began to resettle free American blacks in Liberia.

Those pioneers were the original Americo-Liberians. In the small tropical nation, they quickly became the ruling group, assuming all positions of power and influence. Soon they constituted a U.S.-friendly elite. (It was also an elite whose skin color was typically lighter than that of the original Liberians. Sadly, then, the Americo-Liberians created a hierarchy that, in this respect, mirrored the racial hierarchy they had endured in the U.S..)

In the 1920's - in large part because of the presence of this friendly elite, and that of a considerable U.S. naval fleet just offshore - the U.S.-based Firestone Tire and Rubber Company founded the largest rubber plantation in the world in Liberia. The company installed Americo-Liberians in positions of power, and the small elite rose to economic prominence.

Subsequently, Liberia's president, William Tubman - who ruled from 1944 to 1971 - allowed the CIA to build the largest spy station in all of Africa within his borders. During the Cold War, the U.S. sank billions of dollars into developing surveillance equipment in Liberia. Liberia also functioned as a U.S. outpost from which the U.S. sought to undermine national liberation movements throughout the continent.

After Tubman's death, his successor, President William Tolbert, angered the U.S. by courting favor with China and Cuba. Tolbert also angered most Liberians by showering privileges on his fellow Americo-Liberians. The ethnic and class conflicts between the Americo-Liberians and the darker Liberians grew.

In 1980, Tolbert was murdered by Samuel Doe - an illiterate warlord trained by the U.S. Green Berets. Doe became the first "true" Liberian to rule the country. Doe assassinated most of the former cabinet members as well as his fellow insurgents, and unleashed a wave of ethnic-based terror.

Doe also exploited America's Cold War fears concerning Africa. Famously, President Reagan - who handed Liberia more than $5 billion during the early 1980s - invited Doe to the White House, addressing him as "Chairman Moe."

Just as the victims of abuse so easily seem to become the next generation of abusers, ex-slaves from the US move to Africa and restore all of the injustices they had left behind with the assistance of the old country's own elite. To me that makes a much better case for some US responsibility than the legal issues the article discusses.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Okay, I don't read the Volokhs that often

By the far the best of the Volokhs and the main reason I visit the site at all - Jacob Levy - is back and blogging. His post on Liberia's historical ties to the US is worth a gander. Also, he reminds me (last Sunday, to my shame) that I said I would buy Language Rights and Political Theory when it came out. It's out.

Unfortuately, one of the conditions of my parole (and since my wife is my parole officer, I can't get out of it) is that I can only make a few big Amazon orders a year, and I've spent my quota until September. However, if someone wants to buy me the book, you can do so by clicking here or on the "Buy me books" link on the left. Because it gets shipped to my wife's APO box, there is no overseas shipping to pay.

If I receive the book, I promise to do a full review here on the blog. Since it's about language policy, I expect it ought to be an interesting review.

Update: Aidan Kehoe has come to the rescue and bought me the book. I have to admit, I didn't actually think anyone was going to do it. Now maybe I'll have to add some other books to my wish list. Thanks loads, Aidan!

If French is the language of love, then what is German?

Via Universal Language, which is just a veritable plethora of useful pointers for language politics junkies, comes this article from the Deutsche Welle website:

Teachers Plan to "Sex up" German

An international conference of German language teachers concluded with plans to make the language more attractive and to adopt a more aggressive approach to its promotion.

German is sexy, apparently, and should therefore be used more as an international language. That’s the conclusion of the International Association of German Teachers which just concluded its annual conference at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena on Monday. [...]

So, what can be done to make German more attractive? Well, to start with, the conference concluded that the language must first be spread by those speakers already confident and proud of their German skills. To do this, the teachers have expressed a desire to follow the Lingua Franca model where the French language is aggressively promoted among native speakers around the world. The French are renowned for their pride in their language and their mostly unshakeable use of it at home in France and in former colonies. [...]

German is taught but is it promoted? Dr. Hermann Funk, one of the 80 professors attending the conference in Jena, went a step further when he criticized the Germans themselves. “There is no German language policy. In France, language is a political issue. In Germany, it is something more or less dealt with.” [...]

This has been building up for a while. Domestically, there is very little that could really be called an aggressive language policy in the Bundesrepublik. However, Germany is growing a lot more aggressive in its external promotion of the language, particularly at the European level.

For instance, back in the summer of '99, Germany started boycotting all informal EU ministerial meetings that don't place German on an equal footing with French and English. English and French are the semi-official languages of the EU bureaucracy, but since reunification in 1990 and especially since the addition of Austria to the EU in 1995, Germany has been pressing hard for their language to be given genuinely equal footing. They have been fairly successful too. Many EU committees now operate in English, French and German, although some are still just English/French and a few are English-only.

The semi-official policy of the French government is to promote multi-lingualism in all the international institutions it participates in. This no longer means just French and English, increasingly it means French politicians enlisting the help of other nations who want to promote the use fo their languages. Germany is increasingly France's major ally in this. The recent creation of the European Patent Office is an excellent example. The UK, Scandinavia and some of the smaller EU states wanted the EPO to only accept patent applications in English. The French government found this unacceptable and enrolled the German government to support a trilingual patent bureau, which Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal considered unacceptable. However, France and Germany together were able to put up enough pressure against an English-only solution that in the end they got their trilingual patent office. France alone could not have managed it.

I expect to see more French-style efforts from Germany to promote its own language abroad and quite possibly more effort to promote it at home. I think the European Patent fight is a sign of a nascent Franco-German axis to stem anglicisation in Europe. Language promotion is increasingly the trend everywhere in Europe, not just France. Even in Flanders, there is perceptible pressure to place more value on Dutch. But of the European nations, Germany has the most people and money and therefore the best chance of making a dent in international institutions. In combination with France, I don't see any coallition of other states likely to inhibit them.

À bas le mél!

Jeremy Osner sends e-mail noting some letters to the editor in today's NY Times.

To the Editor:

Re "You've Got Courriel" (editorial, July 28):

As an American computer technologist living in France, I have followed the coverage of the rejection of the word "e-mail" by the Académie Française with some amusement.

One need not speak fluent French to pick up a French-English dictionary and discover that the word "émail" already exists in French. It is pronounced (roughly) "eh-MY" and means "enamel." So it is perfectly logical that the Académie wants to avoid using it again.

What is surprising is that the Académie prefers the Québécois formulation of "courriel" (a contraction of "courrier électronique") to the more recent, popular and home-grown formulation "mél."

"Mél" is a contraction of "message électronique," but is pronounced, by a curious coincidence, almost exactly like the English word "mail."
Le Bar sur Loup, France
July 28, 2003

I can actually answer this question. "Mél" was not exactly "home-grown." It was part of an unsuccessful effort by the Académie Française to get the public to accept the formulation "messagerie électronique." This is a common story in the history of French computer terminology. Have any of my francophone readers ever heard the word "programmerie"? I didn't think so. Back in the early 70's, that was what the Académie wanted to call "software." The people at the Académie Française are creative proposers of new words. They think up stuff that's logical, coherent, reasonable and - as is the case with "mél" - even cute. And the first term they try to get to work always fails. For computer terms, it's been like this for over 30 years. I don't think I've ever seen the word "mél" outside of term lists and dictionaries. Later, someone else - an ISO committee, the OLF, or the Canadian Secretary of State, sometimes even IBM or Microsoft - will start using some other term and make it work.

To the Editor:

Re "You've Got Courriel" (editorial, July 28):

There have been any number of unsuccessful anti-Franglais forays. But there have also been some very successful ones, notably in information technology.

The French word "informatique" is in fact more useful than the multitude of equivalent English terms like I.T. and data services. From "informatique" has come "burotique," for office applications and matériel.

Courriel is actually fairly elegant, a fusion of "courrier" (mail) and "électronique." It is intuitive, and sounds good — which is very important to French purists.
Calais, France, July 28, 2003

Actually, I think French computer terminology makes more sense than English computer terminology, but there have been some failed campaigns in the computer terminology business. "Toile" never caught on for "web", and at this point "web" has become the accepted word pretty much everywhere. But otherwise, French has been very successful in creating and propagating new, consistent, native terminology in computing. Only Chinese has a comparable record of success.

One of the reasons it has worked so well is that they got to the translators fairly early on. In the early 90's in Quebec, you could tell the old-timers from the newbies by the French computing vocabulary they used. The old-timers used a lot of anglicisms: rebooter, se loguer, directoire and the like. The newbies used official OLF-approved terms. Why? Because the newbies learned their computer terminology from their translated manuals. They didn't know that the words they were using were inventions and most of them had little or no contact with the older generation of computer people. By '94, when I left Quebec for California, the newbies outnumbered the old-timers 10-to-1 and we were the ones being forced to use the new terms because no one would understand us otherwise.

Anyway, that's how official neologisms get to be common words without anybody having a gun held to their heads.

Faith put to the test

It's been a while since I put up a post about my great-grandfather David Jakob Dick (who will mostly be referred to as "Grandpa Dick" from here on out) - more than a month from the look of it. The last post, written by his younger sister Helene, ended with:

When the greatest misfortune took us, I can well remember sitting right there under the fruit trees and hearing the shots.

To read up on how we got to this point, you can start here, with the beginning of the story of the Dick family in Russia before proceeding to the last post; or, you can start with the index to all the posts that I've put up from my grandfather's family and personal history.

I found the scanner at my office. Man, technology is great. It took a fifth of the time to do this with the scanner than when I had to retype everything. Since I had access and some time on my hands, I thought I might include some other material in today's post. For the fans of Tsarist bureaucratic forms, I have a scan of Grandpa Dick's birth certificate, which I rather amateurishly translated ten years ago when I was studying Russian. Unfortunately, most of the material I have from Grandpa is photocopied, so it's not photo quality.

For those of you who read the last instalment and were wondering about the dollhouse great-aunt Helene was talking about, it looked like this:

The Dollhouse at Apanlee - Beats the hell outta Malibu Barbie, dunnit?

Preparing this post put me in mind of something Richard Dawkins wrote in mid-September 2001 for the Guardian:

Religion's misguided missiles

A guided missile corrects its trajectory as it flies, homing in, say, on the heat of a jet plane's exhaust. A great improvement on a simple ballistic shell, it still cannot discriminate particular targets. It could not zero in on a designated New York skyscraper if launched from as far away as Boston.

That is precisely what a modern "smart missile" can do. Computer miniaturisation has advanced to the point where one of today's smart missiles could be programmed with an image of the Manhattan skyline together with instructions to home in on the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Smart missiles of this sophistication are possessed by the United States, as we learned in the Gulf war, but they are economically beyond ordinary terrorists and scientifically beyond theocratic governments. Might there be a cheaper and easier alternative? [...]

How about using humans as on-board guidance systems, instead of pigeons? Humans are at least as numerous as pigeons, their brains are not significantly costlier than pigeon brains, and for many tasks they are actually superior. Humans have a proven track record in taking over planes by the use of threats, which work because the legitimate pilots value their own lives and those of their passengers. [...]

Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? If only! Nobody is that stupid, but how about this - it's a long shot, but it just might work. Given that they are certainly going to die, couldn't we sucker them into believing that they are going to come to life again afterwards? Don't be daft! No, listen, it might work. Offer them a fast track to a Great Oasis in the Sky, cooled by everlasting fountains. Harps and wings wouldn't appeal to the sort of young men we need, so tell them there's a special martyr's reward of 72 virgin brides, guaranteed eager and exclusive.

Dawkins has a point, albeit a limited one. If we are going to hold 9/11 against religion - all religions - we have to hold WWI against all nations. The things that convince people to die for their faith aren't much different from the ones that convince people to die for their country. At least with God, you're getting offered heaven in the end. If you die for your country, you might get a nice funeral on the taxpayers.

What I want to draw attention to is the flip side of Dawkins' rather pessimistic view of religion. There are people who will not kill, people who won't even fight to save their own lives because of their religion. The promise of heaven means that they won't resist any sort of aggression at all, for fear of the damage it might do to their souls. Better to die than to kill. The same power that makes holy wars also makes martyrs and like most powerful forces, religion is a two sided thing.

For my Mennonite ancestors, committing an act like the WTC attack would have been inconceivable. WWI seemed to them at the time like the act of pure, stupid folly it seems like to most of us now. These people didn't even have murders in their communities. During my lifetime, some of them still refused to lock the doors to their homes or cars. There was some strife and the ordinary sorts of conflict that all people suffer, but for them, there was no war, no murder, no theft worthy of mention and very little fear.

Seems too good to be real? I promise you, these people and places really existed. Unfortunately, in an act that proves that if God exists then she must have a sense of irony, they built this utopia in the middle of what was about to become the Soviet Union.

Grandpa Dick, my Russian-born great-grandfather, described the events that preceded his departure for Canada in the April 15, 1977 edition of the MB Herald, the bi-monthly magazine of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Church. He was quite at ease in English, and the words are wholly his own. One missing piece of context that you ought to have: from 1919 to 1923, Canada forbade all immigration of Doukhbours, Hutterites and Mennonites from Russia. The Canadian Mennonites lobbied Parliament - the first time they had ever been so deeply involved in politics anywhere - and eventually had the order overturned.

The Dick Family, circa 1909
From left to right: Jessie, Jacob, Elsie, Lydia, Louise, mother Katharina with Helene on her lap, Anna and her husband David Sudermann, father David, son David [my great-grandfather David Jakob Dick], Tina, Johann [John], and Maria [Mary].

Faith put to the test

My parents were devoted Christians. They lived what they believed and they believed strongly in the "very peculiar teaching" of non-resistance. Our family lived on the beautiful plains of the Ukraine on an estate called Apanlee. We lived in peace and harmony with our Russian neighbours, who lived in large villages nearby. Whenever my father could he helped needy people, and we had many friends. In the revolution of 1905 many of the large estates, especially Russian ones, were demolished by roving mobs, and many of the owners were killed. Our farm was also threatened. A letter written by my father to his mother on December 22, 1905 describes how he handled the situation:

On Wednesday, late in the afternoon, a carriage with four men drove onto the yard. One, more educated than the rest, was the leader. The Lord gave me grace to remain calm, and I asked this man what he wanted. He replied, "Support for the poor." I asked if he had a government permit giving him the right to collect the money. He replied that he did not need one. When they saw they could not frighten me, they left. In the backyard they met some of our workers and advised them to quit their jobs and ask for their wages, because in two days they would return to smash everything.

Of course, anxious days followed. But we can still praise and thank God for those days; prayers and the Word of God became more meaningful to us. Our faith was especially strengthened through the promises in Ezra 8:21-23 and Nehemiah 6. As he did in Nehemiah's time, God built a wall around us. Unfortunately, through our unbelief we often breach the wall. Yes, mother, there have been days of blessing. The Lord showed us our shortcomings, he showed us that we have not done our duty toward our Russian neighbours.

The next week was hectic. The yard was always filled with people, but nobody was rude or indecent. They all asked for help, though some actually did not need it... Most of the time I stood on the porch and talked with them, distributing New Testaments and tracts. I realised the hunger of the common people for the Word of God... Most of them told me they had not come to smash and destroy my property, but because they wanted to protect us...

Now it is quiet and we trust our Lord for the coming days. The moment we put our trust in his promises he strengthens our faith and we are confident that nothing will happen against his will; whatever may come will be for our good.

The people wanted to protect us with clubs and pitchforks, but father, who wanted no fighting or bloodshed on his place, thanked them for their good intentions and asked them to return home. Not long after, the leader who had demanded money was saved and became a good friend of ours.

The second revolution, in February, 1917, was more successful in toppling the government. The Communist party came to power in October. Two of our neighbours left their estates. One, a Mr. Sudermann, moved to the Mennonite town of Halbstadt and was one of the first to be murdered in the Molotschna colony, where I was attending school at the time. Our family decided not to move.

One day a communist named Alexander came to our place with the intention of organising the poorest Russian villagers into a commune. As my father predicted, he was not successful. But, since Alexander was a good-natured man, he soon became our friend. Father could even witness to him about Jesus Christ.

Our peaceful way of life was interrupted abruptly on the afternoon of February 13, 1918 when two communists appeared at our doorstep. One of them I recognised as the bloodthirsty man who had murdered Mr. Sudermann and others. They searched our house for silverware, dry goods, and sugar. Then the "black Vidka", as he was called, ordered my father to come along to the headquarters of the commune on the neighbouring estate. We all knew what. that meant: he intended to kill father on the way. My youngest sister cried, "Dear, dear Jesus, you have to save our dear father."

God answered in an unexpected way. Our friend Alexander stepped between the mad man and my father, so he could not shoot him on the way out. Then he arranged that he and this man would go on one sleigh, while the other soldier and my father followed in a second sleigh. By the providence of God the Russian peasants were assembled for a meeting at the place. As they were being told what was going on, they put up a petition asking that my father not be killed. By 11 p.m. Father was home, and we had an evening of thanksgiving unlike any we had ever had before.

The next morning brought an unusual surprise. The man entered our house again, with two revolvers and grenades on his belt, and confronted us. We were all shocked and wondered what was coming. But the man took off his belt and weapons, sat down comfortably in an armchair, and said: "Now I want to see that man for whom several hundred have signed that petition." After a while he received a phone call and left. Through God's grace another chapter had ended peacefully.

In the spring of 1918 the German army occupied the Ukraine and restored law and order. However small bands of terrorists frequently attacked isolated places and murdered whole families. A German officer, Lieutenant Reinhard, the commander of our district, visited and offered us as many army rifles as we wanted for our protection. Father thanked him for the offer but refused it, explaining that it was contrary to his non-resistant convictions as a Christian. Mr. Reinhard, a polite man, said to him, "If you can't kill, take the rifles anyway. If the people know you have rifles they will stay away." Dad's reply was: "Mr. Reinhard, if they come in spite of the rifles, I'm not sure what I would do. I am only a human being. Would I be strong enough to overcome the temptation to kill if the rifles were standing in the corner?" Father did not accept the offer and as long as the Germans occupied the Ukraine we lived in peace.

That fall the Germans had to leave, and the civil war began with all its horror. In the fall of 1919 the most dreaded terrorist group, the Machno group, overran our district.

October 30 of that year was another gloomy day for us. Brother Bernard Dick, a teacher on a neighbouring estate (who now lives in Coaldale, Alberta) came over to tell us he had heard that a gang was planning to murder our family.

Father called the family and all the servants together to pray and ask the Lord for his guidance. After they rose from their knees, father had the conviction that the Lord wanted him to stay. His eldest son Jake also decided to stay with his wife and baby boy.

All day small groups of bandits came and went, taking everything they could get hold of. All the horses were taken, except one very old nag.

At about 11 p.m. in the evening a carriage with five men pulled up before the house. As had been arranged beforehand, my sisters and the servant girls left the house and hid in the bushes. Only my widowed sister, whose husband had been murdered a few months earlier, remained in the house with three of her children, my mother, my sister-in-law and her baby, and the men.

The gang burst in and lined up my father and mother, my two brothers, Jake and John, and Mr. Schellenberg, an employee, against the wall. The leader demanded fifty thousand roubles. Dad told him that the money had all been taken. He asked for permission to go to the other employees on the farm; he was sure he could borrow that amount from them.

The request was refused. A shot rang out, and my father fell wounded, pretending to be dead. The light had gone out after the gun blast, and in the dim light from the other room Schellenberg leaped out the window and John threw himself on the bed, waiting for the bullet. Father whispered to him, "Save yourself." John then leaped out the window. Jake escaped through a door, but was wounded as he ran. Mother tried to escape also, but two shots were fired and she died instantly.

Before the murderers left, they fired twice more at my father, but missed. Once they were gone Dad shouted for help and one by one the family members emerged from their hiding places. They found a horrible picture. Mother lay dead, her head shattered by explosive bullets, and father lay in a pool of his own blood, suffering great pain.

During the last 28 hours of his life father received the most severe test. of his faith. The pain and agony he experienced can only be understood in part by those who shared that time with him. He had obeyed God; he had trusted God completely; and now this had happened. Why? What was the answer? The family realised that the "very peculiar teaching" did not lead along an easy road.

With no medical help, no pills or needles, the pain was severe. A doctor from 10 miles away arrived that evening under cover of darkness, but it was too late. A choir from Aleksanderkrone came to sing comforting songs. Despite the pain, father never complained.

Dad's last hours were a great blessing to his family. He was the first one to find his way through. My sister wrote down some of his final words: "Children, love one another. Be good soldiers of Christ... Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." He was concerned about his people: "Do not forget Bethany (a home for the retarded) and the other institutions... Send greetings to our teachers." He had no bitter words or feelings against his murderers. By the grace of God he could pray, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

When the pains overwhelmed him, he prayed, "Lord help me to be patient... Lord, forgive my impatience. You have suffered so much for me." Satan was not idle either, and did not allow my father to die in peace. When he became very weak, father whispered to one of the ministers, "Only not to go astray in the end" (Nun nicht am Schlusz nosh irren). Early in the second morning the struggle ended and he was reunited with his wife after a separation of only 28 hours.

Our father lived the Jesus way and died the Jesus way in the power of the Holy Spirit. Praise be to God now and in all eternity. For the family it was not easy to understand the leading of the Lord. But he did not let us down, and gave us the victory over all inner struggles.

My personal reaction has not been mentioned. At the time of the murders I was serving in a military hospital. Communication with home had been interrupted, and it was not until I returned home three weeks later that I learned, like a bolt out of the blue sky, that my father and mother were dead. My first thoughts were not very Christian. One was to give up the non-resistance stance, take the gun and fight the terrorists. I thought of revenge. I would not judge anyone who does not have any other strength but his own and does take revenge. But praise the Lord, I knew Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour, and in his power I could overcome the temptation. Today I thank God that I have not sent a single soul into a Christless eternity.

I am so glad we can claim Psalm 73:23-25: "But even so, You love me! You are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me all my life with Your wisdom and counsel; and afterwards receive me into the glories of heaven. Whom have I in heaven but You? And I desire no one on earth as much as You."

I don't have much else from Russia after that. I have two very brief letters from Grandpa Dick to his sisters who went to Canada immediately after the ban on Mennonite immigrants was lifted. They are very banal stuff, mostly about where he is on the emigration lists. Grandpa Dick himself got out in the spring of 1924. His sister Elsa summarises the years from 1919 to 1927 in two sentences:

Until 1923, all the children kind of drifted around in South Russia. Then, from 1923 to 1926 when the way was opened, most of them immigrated to Canada except Anna, Lydia and Johann who are still there. [These three were married before 1923.]

This brings us just about up to 1929, where Grandpa Dick enters my grandfather's life for the first time.

Next: We return to Canada in the 1940's, where Grandpa faces culture shock for the first - but not last - time in his life.

Update: Fixed the images problem, I hope. The free web storage site I was using is going non-free, so I tried to use Geocites. No dice. But is should all be okay now - I found an alternate storage area.

American war crimes

Quite a few bloggers have picked up on this Washington Post article. Technorati lists 56, and this post on Eschaton has pointers to the highlights. The relevant chunk of text is quite small:

Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are being used to gather the intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." Such tactics are justified, he said, because, "It's an intelligence operation with detainees, and these people have info." They would have been released in due course, he added later.

The tactic worked. On Friday, Hogg said, the lieutenant general appeared at the front gate of the U.S. base and surrendered.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is bad. It is a breach of the first Geneva Convention, the fourth Geneva Convention and both Protocol I (which applies to international conflicts) and Protocol II (which applies to non-international conflicts) of the Convention. Although the US has not signed the two 1977 protocols, it signed and ratified the first convention in 1882 and the second in 1949.

The fourth Geneva Convention goes on to define this action as a grave breach of international law. The term grave breach is used for very serious matters. The things defined as grave breaches are:

  • Attacking a person who is hors de combat. (Protocol I, Art. 85, Sec. 3)
  • Practices of apartheid and other inhuman and degrading practices involving outrages upon personal dignity, based on racial discrimination. (Protocol I, Art. 85, Sec. 4)
  • Biological experiments on the wounded and sick. (Convention I, Art. 12; Convention I, Art. 50)
  • Biological experiments against shipwrecked combatants. (Convention II, Art. 12; Convention II, Art. 51)
  • Biological experiments against prisoners of war. (Convention III, Art. 130)
  • Biological experiments against civilians. (Convention IV, Art. 147)
  • Compelling a prisoner of war to serve in the military forces of the hostile power. (Convention III, Art. 130)
  • Any unlawful act which causes death or seriously endangers the health of a prisoner of war. (Convention III, Art. 13)
  • Unlawful transfer, deportation or confinement of civilians, willful killing, hostage taking and torture . (Protocol IV, Art. 147)
  • Attacking cultural objects when they’re not located near a military target or used for the war effort. (Protocol I, Art. 85, Sec. 4D)
  • Depriving civilians who are under the control of an enemy power of the right to a fair trial (Convention IV, Art. 147)
  • Depriving combatants, prisoners of war, refugees, or medical or religious personnel of a fair trial. (Protocol I, Art. 85, Sec. 4e)

Folks, this is a pretty serious list. The US has neither signed the two 1977 protocols to the Geneva Convention and has not only declined to join the Internation Criminal Court, but has also refused to sanction any external legal authority to prosecute exactly the acts listed above. One of the provisions of the fourth Geneva convention is that no nation can negotiate immunity for itself or its troops if they commit grave breaches. The agreements the US has signed to avoid ICC prosecutions offer no protection in any state that has signed the fourth convention. Col. David Hogg can no longer safely travel anywhere without risking indefinite detention.

If we are to believe that America is not trying to grant itself arbitrary authority, then an act of hostage taking of the type described in yesterday's Post needs to result in a court martial and a serious prison term. I realise that this isn't the first breach of the Geneva Convention in US history - it doesn't even compare to the bombing of Cambodia or My Lai - but this article is bragging about it publicly as if there was nothing wrong with taking hostages at all. I expect to either see a denial of the Washington Post's coverage or a public prosecution, and I expect anyone else who imagines the US to be something better than the Taliban to demand the same.

Monday, July 28, 2003
L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde

I just came across this site while looking for some information on the exact role of the Duden publishing company in German standardisation. The story, as I recall it, is that in the late 19th century, the German, Swiss and Austrian governments got together to try to establish a German language academy like the Académie Française. They couldn't agree on how the institution should be structured, so the responsibility was given "temporarily" to the private company Duden. I wasn't able to confirm the story, primarily because I found this French language site at the Univeristy of Laval in Quebec.

The site is an effort to maintain a comprehensive database of language laws and policies around the world. There are too many things missing for me to give it a perfect score. For example, I didn't find any reference to Duden on the German page, and I know for certain that Duden enjoys a unique status among German dictionaries, I just don't remember the relevant history. There are also some outright errors. The population statistics they have for Singapore don't add up the way the author claims - he has confused the percentage of Mandarin speakers with the percentage that speak all forms of Chinese, and the entry on Mennonites claims that Plautdietsch and Pennsylvania Dutch are the same language. They are not mutually comprehensible at all - the latter is a middle German dialect close to the Rhine valley dialects and the former is a dialect of Lower Saxon.

Still, it is quite detailed. The page on the USA is particularly interesting to those who think that America's current linguistic situation came about without any coercion. It mentions, for example, how the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago requires Spanish to enjoy a priviledged legal status in some parts of the US. It seems to skip, however, the diverse linguistic situation in the US during much of the 19th century. Untill WWI, there were public schools in German and Spanish in many parts of the US, and until the Civil War, French was the primary language of the state of Lousisiana.

Dans les faits, les États-Unis ont appliqué, depuis le début, une politique linguistique jacobine. Avec le résultat qu'aujourd'hui l'unilinguisme anglais règne de façon quasi incontestée dans l'administration fédérale. Selon un rapport du General Accounting Office, de 1990 à 1994 moins de 1 % des documents du gouvernement fédéral ont été produits dans des langues autres que l'anglais. C'est ce qui entraîne le jugement suivant en 1995 de la part de Edward Chen, membre de l'American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, qui affirmait que les langues des minorités étaient immensément sous-employées: «If anything [...] language minorities are vastly under-served.»

"Une politique linguistique jacobine" - that's perhaps a bit harsh. Although American language policy is not quite as awful as all that - or at least not at all times or in all places - the page is a useful corrective to movements like English Only and US English. It even points out that some of the language laws in the US are stronger than even French language law.

Anyway, the site is all in French, so I imagine it will only be of interest to those with decent French skills. For those who want to read something in German, try this from the Duden website instead:

Fremdwörter: Bedrohung oder Bereicherung?

[...] Fragwürdig kann der Gebrauch von Fremdwörtern dort werden, wo die Gefahr besteht, dass sie Verständigung und Verstehen erschweren, wo sie der Überredung oder Manipulation (z. B. in der Sprache der Politik oder der Werbung) dienen oder wo sie lediglich als intellektueller Schmuck oder sogar aus purer Nachlässigkeit und Gedankenlosigkeit (weil ein deutsches Wort »gerade nicht zur Hand« ist) verwendet werden. Freilich sind dies Funktionen der Sprache, die sie durchaus auch mithilfe von einheimischen Wörtern erfüllen kann, sodass es sich hier nicht um ein spezifisches Fremdwortproblem handelt.

Ein solches spezifisches Problem ist die Tatsache, dass Fremdwörter sich kaum auf Wörter des deutschstämmigen Wortschatzes beziehen lassen, da sie nicht zu einer vertrauten Wortfamilie gehören, aus der heraus sie erklärt werden können (z. B. Läufer von laufen). Aus diesem Grunde ist mit der Verwendung von Fremdwörtern auch ganz allgemein die Gefahr des falschen Gebrauchs verbunden. Nicht umsonst heißt es im Volksmund: »Fremdwörter sind Glückssache.« Fehlgriffe sind leicht möglich: Restaurator kann mit Restaurateur, Katheder mit Katheter, kodieren mit kodifizieren, konkav mit konvex, desolat mit desperat oder effektiv mit effizient verwechselt werden. Oft kann dabei unfreiwillig Komik entstehen, beispielsweise wenn statt von einer Sisyphosarbeit von einer Syphilisarbeit die Rede ist. [...]

I suppose it could be embarassing to mix up the "labour of Sisyphus" with "work on syphilis." One of the justifications for language management is to try to reduce this sort of confusion - although this example is a bit farfetched - but it's not the only reason.

Update: I want to give a shout-out to Brian Lennon at Universal Language, who links to my post on French language laws below. I actually support language laws of certain kinds and in certain cases, and I've added a more thorough explanation of why to my running list of as yet unwritten essays. But, the example from Duden is one reason why. In the end, the goal must always be clear communication and the methods should be primarily structural rather than legal. But, that's for another post.

\/0+3 133+, \/0+3 630r6y!

To add to the list of people running for governor of California: a 26-year old UC Berkeley computer programming grad.

Hard-at-work-Georgy [Russell] demonstrates her great posture from her (current) station in life.

Well, she's probably smarter than Ahnuld, and almost certainly smarter than Simon, and much better looking than either one. She's in favour of a balanced budget, in favour of gay marriage, against the death penalty and thinks the recall is a farce. So far, I'm with her 100%. My only gripe about her take on the issues is my suspicion that she really does think the analytical skills you learn by writing code are useful in getting out of a recession.

Trying to think of something useful to say about California's recall election...

...but all I can think of is how much cheaper it is to buy a democracy with a free press than to buy a dictatorship. This, it seems to me, is one of the few places where Chomsky and I are largely in agreement.

Anyway, what can you say for a governor's race with Governor Moonbeam's straight man, a car thief, a certifiable Republican wingnut who has already lost to Davis once, the mayor of LA, not one but two Huffingtons - a straight ex-conservative liberal and her conservative gay ex-husband - and, in the words of Bill Maher, "a Viennese weight lifter [...] who can explain the [Bush] administration's social policies in the original German"? I'm speechless. The whole thing is getting intermittent coverage on the Beeb and CNN International, but I think I'm going to be missing out on some of the funniest political TV in a generation by living in Europe.

I think Fox ought to turn it into a reality TV show:

Survivor: The Governor's Mansion - Who will be voted out of Sacramento next?

Or better still, get Jerry Springer to moderate the debates. I might actually pay to see that.

Anyway that's all I've got until the mudslinging really starts.

Philosophy as an interdisciplinary pursuit

Decent article (not terribly enlightening but worth reading anyway) in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the differences between British and American philosophy departments. The author admits it's a bit of a charicature, but since I've never studied philosophy in the UK, I can't really judge. I'm actually on the North American side of this debate (or at least on the side described as North American by this article's author), despite my strongly continental tendencies. The following quote, however, highlights the risks of interdisciplinary thinking as it is often practiced and is utterly, horribly true:

In Britain, there is more skepticism about the value of interdisciplinary work, notes Tim Crane, the country's leading philosopher of mind. "A lot of what counts as interdisciplinary work in philosophy of mind," he says, "is actually philosophical speculation backed up with certain, probably out-of-date, Scientific American-style summaries of research in psychology or neuroscience, which tend to support the philosophical preconceptions of the authors."

Update: Eeep! Since I've been linked to on Crooked Timber, let me make myself clear: I am agreeing with Tim Crane about the philosophy of the mind. I don't know that much about most other interdisciplinary fields in philosophy, except for the philosophy of artificial intelligence (which is mostly the same stuff as the philosophy of the mind) and the philosophy of language, to which this judgement doesn't apply quite so much.

Barney goes North

Why is this polar bear purple? Alas, a Blog has the answer.