Erudite op-ed piece on current events by Mark Morford of SF Gate.
November 5, 2001 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Erudite op-ed piece on current events by Mark Morford of SF Gate. Pro-America does not mean pro-war. Or pro-Bush. Or anti-Afghanistan. Or pro-little-flags-on-SUV-antennas. [via BR]
posted by skallas (37 comments total)
 
Well, now that's something for a change of the pseudopatriotic whiny angst that the US TV networks try to shove down everyone's throats (domestic and foreign alike).

It was about time someone finally put things on its proper perspective: Most US citizens are incredibly great, open-minded, respectable people, which aren't one and the same as their country's exterior politics, which have always sucked ass on the outsider's focus and are largely liable for the situation their country is facing right now. Things change a lot when on the other side of the fence.
posted by betobeto at 2:35 PM on November 5, 2001


I really needed to read that. Yes, I did.
posted by tpoh.org at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2001


I think he hits the nail on the head. Bush, or his handlers, have been speaking of things in very black and white terms - good and evil, right and wrong, et all; not allowing for even the slightest shades of gray to peak through.

I'm pro-America, but I'm even more pro-humanity. Borders are such an intangible thing, in my opinion. What makes your right to be allowed to live so much more important than someone else's just because you happen to live 1/2 a word away, and are considered an "American"?

We've spent years, and years, and years in the Middle East, trying to have our cake and eat it too. On one hand, we want peace, because that protects our oil supplies from dangers, but on the other hand we want war, to keep our arms trade brisk. We've pissed off a lot of people over there for being hypocrites, and I think now it's blowing up in our face.

We can't just blame things on evil anymore. Nothing is inherently evil for evil's sake. There are always shades of gray.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:59 PM on November 5, 2001


I like Mark. His daily email "Morning Fix" is a hoot. He has a hugely inflated opinion of himself and his own values, which seem to center around red wine and Astroglide, but his ability to take events to their [often ridiculous] logical conclusion makes him an excellent commentator on society. His penchant for putting words in the mouths of the players in the daily news (always carefully caveated for legal protection as "he didn't say" or "she should have said") is hilarious.

Unfortunately, this is not one of his better pieces. "Bush is an idiot. It's OK to not like war." There's no thought behind this commentary, no alternatives being proposed... just a lame sort of intellectual snobbery and disdain for the people who are fighting to protect our country and forced to make some hard decisions. Mark is better when he confines himself to ranting against SUVs and Mormons.
posted by JParker at 3:02 PM on November 5, 2001


Erudite, Skallas? Erudition is the one thing noticeably lacking from this piece.

If we're going attempt objectivity here, (which probably isn't the case given that Morford insinuates that the Taliban's claims of hundreds of civilian casualties are more credible than Rumsfeld's denials), Morford needs to add a few other "does not equals" to his list: i.e., American support for war does not equal GOP-stroked military machine.

I love how Morfeld whines that dissention isn't allowed in this country despite the fact that his column is being very publicly run in a mainstream newspaper with national circulation. His argument is basically "the majority of the American public (according to recent polls, anyway) disagrees with me and it's *clearly* because our national leaders - who are all incompentent warmongers - are shoving bullshit propaganda down their throats. And everyone's just buying it! I just want to go back to an America with large dogs, wet kisses, and red wine..." (all of which Morfeld seems to think were achieved through non-violent means.)

The guy seems to be a good writer, but his actual analysis is as deep as a cess pool. All style; no substance.
posted by lizs at 3:07 PM on November 5, 2001


I think his whole point was that we live in a country where you can dissent, as he did in his commentary; no alternative proposals, just speaking one's mind.

I found the piece patriotic -- that is, written by someone who loves his country, warts 'n all -- and, above all, a real hoot. Thanks, skallas, for turning me on to this cool writer.
posted by verdezza at 3:23 PM on November 5, 2001


My favorite Morford column was the one he wrote shortly after the attacks. I have a hard time putting feelings into words, and he covered the way I felt almost perfectly.
posted by culberjo at 3:29 PM on November 5, 2001


does anybody else feel he read "get your war on"?:

The nation had a nasty drug problem and we declared a war on drugs and spent billions over many years and now you can't buy drugs anymore.
posted by signal at 3:39 PM on November 5, 2001


but his actual analysis is as deep as a cess pool

Block that metaphor! How deep is a cesspool?
posted by rodii at 3:44 PM on November 5, 2001


...his actual analysis is as deep as a cess pool. All style; no substance.


I kind of thought that a cess pool had more substance than style. No accounting for taste, I guess.
posted by signal at 4:35 PM on November 5, 2001


The piece Culberjo mentions is one of the better post 9/11 commentaries I have read and it was something I sent to a couple of people shortly after receiving my Morning Fix that day.

While I may be incorrect, it is my belief Mr. Morford's writings do not appear in the SF Chronicle proper, but on the SFGate website and through his daily emailings of The Morning Fix. Therefore, the audience is perhaps a tad more select than some would think.
posted by sillygit at 4:58 PM on November 5, 2001


I liked his reasonable article on paranoid anthrax scaremongering.
posted by zeb vance at 5:05 PM on November 5, 2001


What makes your right to be allowed to live so much more important than someone else's just because you happen to live 1/2 a world away, and are considered an "American"?


That's the missing piece in the whole puzzle of current news coverage. Face it, It's the simplistic "we good/you bad" infantile judgement that has brought all this trouble, and besides, it always gives the impression the US Army is always yearning for a chance to display its power to the rest of the world in a "because we can" sort of way...

At least that's what you could conclude from the way news coverage is driven. Fortunately I happen to know many people who actually use their head and know better.
posted by betobeto at 5:07 PM on November 5, 2001


OK, so he doesn't like what's happening now. But what, exactly, does he think we should be doing instead? From reading this, the only alternative he seems to suggest is that we should be considering alternatives. That's not very helpful.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:32 PM on November 5, 2001


the only alternative he seems to suggest is that we should be considering alternatives. That's not very helpful

I agree, Den Beste, but when we don't hear anything about alternatives on television or in the newspaper, you can understand why some respond as they have to this.

Of course, maybe it's because there is no good non-military (at least in part) solution.

I don't think there's an alternative to military action, it's the scope of the action, the framework of the action, and the goals of the action that I would like to hear more about, and engage in more public debate about.
posted by cell divide at 5:35 PM on November 5, 2001


One may or may not like a war but the idea that there will be a p[ublic ebate about what we should do seems plain silly. We elct leaders. They must act. Then when an action undertaken we can voice our feelings about it, one way or the other. But after a lengthy debate, what do we do--have a vote taken?
posted by Postroad at 6:49 PM on November 5, 2001


Cell divide, this isn't a matter of collective decision. Rest assured that many alternatives were considered before they decided on this course of action.

But to tell us the alternatives which were rejected would be to tell our enemy what we are not going to do. That could be important to them and could make the difference between victory and defeat.

The decision to fight a war is a political one; we all are collectively involved in that one. In our representative form of government we didn't vote on it directly but our leaders certainly knew how we all felt about it -- and while we were not unanimous to fight, certainly the vast majority felt that way.

But how to fight is a military decision, not a political decision; we as voters and citizens don't get intimately involved in that except to the extent that those military decisions have significant political ramifications.

We haven't heard about alternatives because we don't need to know them, and telling us about them could cost the lives of our soldiers. That's too high a price to pay.

Nonetheless, if he doesn't like what we're doing and if he wants us to do something else, he needs to tell us what. There's nothing wrong with private citizens suggesting alternatives -- but saying that you don't like what is happening without suggesting an alternative is pointless.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:20 PM on November 5, 2001


SDB: Rest assured that many alternatives were considered before they decided on this course of action.

That's certainly your choice; I have somewhat less faith in this government, its wisdom, and its sense of morality than you do. Although, I have to say I'm a little surprised--before 9/11, you've been known to be as critical of government policy as anyone on MeFi. Surely it can't surprise you that some of us continue to be suspicious of the government's motives now.

There's nothing wrong with private citizens suggesting alternatives -- but saying that you don't like what is happening without suggesting an alternative is pointless.

The problem that this article addresses is that there are many people in the U.S. who don't agree with you that dissent over American actions in Afghanistan is okay. (c.f. Ari Fleicher and his skewering of Bill Maher.) I think it's very important for dissidents to be reminding us what these American freedoms we purport to be defending actually are.
posted by shylock at 8:29 PM on November 5, 2001


Rest assured that many alternatives were considered before they decided on this course of action.

I'm not assured. Why should I believe this? Am I supposed to take it on faith, that really, the good people in the oval office are doing the right thing, never mind that we don't exactly know what it is that they are doing?

but saying that you don't like what is happening without suggesting an alternative is pointless.

Not at all. I'm not a politician. It's not my job to come up with these ideas. I have no experience in the field and only a layman's understanding of the problems and the pitfalls involved in their solutions. Of course I could come up with lots of ideas, but I don't have the detailed knowledge required to make them practical.

But I am a citizen. I am eligible to vote. And it is my job to watch the government carefully and judge it against my standards. It is my job to decide whether elected leaders are behaving responsibly and wisely, and to complain as loudly as I can when they aren't in hopes of bringing others' attention to the problem. "Saying that you don't like what's happening" is part of one's responsibility as a citizen of a democratic nation.

I'm tired of this "don't complain unless you have a better solution" line. We don't all have the same areas of expertise, and it's silly to suggest that we all need to be political experts before we can pass judgement on the behaviour of the leaders we have to vote for.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:57 PM on November 5, 2001


I think it's important to understand that it is both completely OK to dissent -- and completely OK to criticize those who dissent. Bill Maher was an ass, but note that he was not imprisoned, nor threatened with prosecution for what he said. It's just that other people told him he was an ass, and that his commercial sponsors pulled out (which is their right). The right of dissent doesn't include a right to be free of criticism for that dissent. (How could it? Dissent is itself criticism.)

I think it's also important to say that I'm not 100% sure that what the government is doing is correct. What I do know is that sometimes you have to trust the driver; 100 people can't simultaneously steer a bus. Maybe the driver is stupid or mad but having a single driver is better than having a hundred people grabbing for the wheel while the bus is moving.

Mars, I didn't say that no-one should complain. What I said is that if you're actively trying to change the status quo, you have to have an alternative. If all you want to do is bitch, please be my guest. But you won't have much effect that way except to vent your frustration -- which may be sufficient.

On the other hand, sometimes we as voters have to be patient. The fact that we don't see progress doesn't mean progress isn't being made. The fact that we don't know the destination doesn't mean our leaders don't know what it is. But it is important that they conceal that destination from us because to tell us would be to tell our enemies and to nullify the plan. War is different from peacetime; we have to tolerate less visibility of government behavior during war or risk losing it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:18 PM on November 5, 2001


Cheney's chthonic creepiness

that's the phrase of the day
posted by billder at 10:27 PM on November 5, 2001


I find Steven Den Beste's continuous appeals to "our leaders" sycophantic, quite apart from the fact that he appears not to recognize that "we" have more than one set of leaders.
posted by joeclark at 4:18 AM on November 6, 2001


Sycophant: "A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people"

Do you reall think (or think that I think) that George Bush or anyone in Washington is reading Metafilter and noting my support with intention to reward me for it?

As to sets of leaders, there's only one set of leaders who are making decisions about this war, and that's those in Washington. (Besides which, any given voter in any given country only has one set of leaders.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:20 AM on November 6, 2001


As to sets of leaders, there's only one set of leaders who are making decisions about this war, and that's those in Washington.

Better tell Blair, Straw and the rest to get back to crippling the National Health Service, or whatever it is they do in between dusting the toilets in the House of Commons, then.

I think sycophantic was a poor choice of words, but you do come across very pro-establishment sometimes, Steven. Not that there's any problem with that. Personally I always appreciate the time and patience you take in your arguments, even when I inevitably disagree ;p

Getting back to the topic: I think a healthy degree of skepticism is always called for when dealing with any government and their pet media. I'm absolutely certain that we're misinformed, blinkered and propagandised for more cynical reasons than "national security", all the time.
posted by walrus at 7:19 AM on November 6, 2001


Finally, a political thread that doesn't make me want to leave MeFi till the war is over.
posted by Hackworth at 8:02 AM on November 6, 2001


trite aphorism
this is another war for oil, fought for the cameras.
not in my name.
/trite aphorism

nice quote i heard recently (sorry no site):

'never believe anything to be true, until it has been denied by two government departments'
posted by asok at 9:40 AM on November 6, 2001


Basically there is a hell of a lot at stake here, which is why I think its so important to hear every voice. If America is not successful in its campaign (in Afghanistan and around the world), there will be very negative repercussions. And it will take a lot to be successful. Success to me is preserving the good things about America and the West, and that can't be won by single-minded military options alone.
posted by cell divide at 10:24 AM on November 6, 2001


Success to me is preserving the good things about America and the West, and that can't be won by single-minded military options alone.

Yes, such things as democracy and freedom, which the west hasn't tended to be absolutely successful at leaving behind after it's military campaigns elsewhere. I really wanted to see a UN-led force in Afghanistan. America and Britain too often seem to act unilaterally with some handwaving support from Europe.

This is the kind of attitude which pisses people off in the eastern world. It smacks of hypocrisy: here are the rules, but we're going to break them anyway because of our private little club. I think we need to include the international community in our response rather than stamping around like the bully in the playground (which is how we're seen in the east).

And, if I could just mention the potential 5.5 million martyrs which the UN says we will create in Afghanistan this winter through continuing a situation which denies them food aid? Is the west ready to cause all those deaths for the purpose of swift vengeance?

ps. to reiterate: I'm not necessarily against military action, I just think we're doing it all wrong.
posted by walrus at 3:09 AM on November 7, 2001


Actually, Walrus, the UN says that it is the Taliban which will be creating those martyrs.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:08 AM on November 7, 2001


They also say "end/pause the bombing or these people will die" or somesuch. Ignoring the UN does little for America's international reputation.
posted by walrus at 7:37 AM on November 7, 2001


... and (sorry to double) ... no-one in the east is likely to believe it's the Taliban's fault. Bin Laden and his gang are probably cackling even now at the merry dance they're leading us.

All I'm saying is that a small pause for thought and UN ratification might have been better than just getting on with it. It's the political ramifications that we'll all be dealing with for ten years, not the military ones.
posted by walrus at 7:41 AM on November 7, 2001


Go ahead and say it, Walrus. You're wrong, but by all means go ahead and say it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:33 AM on November 7, 2001


Oh that's a good argument. No, you're wrong. Look: we made it to the logo ...

Possibly I am wrong. Unfortunately only time and events will tell. I hope I'm wrong, even.

I don't want 6 million people to die of starvation this winter, and I don't want to see a world war escalated within my lifetime.

Just for my information though, could you tell me why I'm wrong to want UN ratification for the military action, and why this whole sorry affair won't come back to haunt us if we are seen to have allowed millions to starve to death? If I'm naive, give me the commonly available information which will stop me worrying.
posted by walrus at 12:43 PM on November 7, 2001


UN "ratification" is already in place; it was passed long ago. UN control of this would be a complete disaster; they can't even agree on what words like "slavery" and "terrorist" mean, let alone on what to do about this. But more to the point, it was we who were attacked, not the UN, so we are going to respond.

The problem with getting the UN heavily involved is that it totally misunderstands what this is about. There still seems to be some sort of idea held by some people out there that this is somehow about justice, and that this war is being fought to "punish those who attacked us." Nothing could be further from the truth.

This has nothing to do with law enforcement. We're not attacking so as to get those who bombed us. (They're already dead; they died in the planes.) We're not doing it to get those involved in planning it who are still alive.

The purpose of this war is to remove a danger to our nation and our way of life. That danger has now gotten sufficiently bad so that it has to be excised, no matter where it is, to make sure it doesn't attack us again. This is a completely selfish thing in the sense that we're not doing this for the world: we're doing it for ourselves. As a result, the real question is "What business is it of the UN anyway?"

Other nations are only involved to the extent that they befriend one side or the other in this struggle. Some are thus heavily involved; many don't have any involvement in it at all. But letting them help steer would be fatal, because it would mean that the goal of the war, that selfish desire to make sure another US city doesn't get creamed, might be diluted and blunted by a hundred other selfish desires from around the world which don't relate to preventing another US city getting creamed.

For an example of how well the UN runs things, just go back and read about the conference on Racism in Africa. Pfeh. You want them running this war?

I don't want 6 million people to die of starvation this winter, and I don't want to see a world war escalated within my lifetime.

I'm not too thrilled with those prospects either. But in war you often don't have the choice of a good alternative; you have to select amongst bad alternatives, and in this case I think that the bad alternative we are already embarked on, which may well lead to the results you say, is better than any of the other alternatives, all of which in my opinion would lead to even worse outcomes in the long run.

But it's intellectually easy to counsel restraint, and attractive, too. It takes guts to act. About 30 years ago Henry Kissinger put it well: "There is almost always a crisis in the division between doves who seek evidence for delay, wrapping their hesitation in the mantle of 'diplomacy', and the hawks who want pre-emptive action. Generally, the advocates of passivity seem to have the stronger case in the beginning of a crisis because the risks of action are evident, while those of passivity are deferred or conjectural."

The real question is not whether what we're doing might cause those 6 million starvation deaths (or, more likely, on the order of a hundred thousand which would be bad enough). It has a fairly good chance of doing so, and that's not good. The question is whether doing something about it -- like stopping the bombing so that supplies could move in -- might lead to something even worse later.

Like the nuking of an American city. The answer is that it could. But it's more conjectural; it's harder to prove. It's no less of a danger, it's just harder to demonstrate.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:26 PM on November 7, 2001


I think you miss something when you discount other nations involvement. As a primer: how many non-americans died in the WTC atrocity?

Do you have a link for the UN ratification? I'm sadly bereft. I agree that the UN is largely ineffective. We must do better. As an aside, do you think the world needs a UN? Does America need a senate, etc?

You're right about the 100,000: I've looked deeper. Sorry for the hyperbole, etc. Would stopping the bombing, for say two weeks, lead to the nuking of an american city? I realise you can't be precise.

ps I don't oppose the attack on Afghanistan ... we're still talking operational details aren't we?

pps when I don't respond to something directly I generally don't disagree with it

and by the way, it takes guts to be "passive" if someone is trying to hit you
posted by walrus at 4:45 PM on November 7, 2001


The fact that many non-Americans died in the bombing gives their government grounds for waging their own wars -- but it doesn't give them grounds for interfering with ours.

Would stopping the bombing, for say two weeks, lead to the nuking of an american city? I realise you can't be precise. That's not the only argument against doing so. First, it's by no means obvious that doing so would have any important effect on the humanitarian crisis; so far the evidence is strong that if the Taliban's situation gets worse they're liable to seize the food anyway. (Note the way that they've already been looting headquarters of international aid agencies and how they've been charging a "highway tax" on aid convoys already trying to move in.)

Besides which, once you begin a war like this you can't really stop. You don't take coffee breaks; it would give your opponent time to reorganize and could lengthen the war -- and result in more casualties on your own side.

You're probably not going to agree with this and I won't try to defend it, but my primary concern is how many US soldiers have to die or be wounded in this war, and that's more important to me than how many Afghan civilians may starve. We will be asking our soldiers to go into harm's way to secure an important political goal for us, and we owe it to them to make sure that when they do so they have the highest chance of prevailing with the lowest number of casualties consistent with getting the job done. A two week pause in the bombing, no matter what it's for, will make it harder for our people when the time comes because it will allow the Taliban to disperse their assets and reinforce their positions and generally reorganize. That's not acceptable.

As to whether it might lead to the nuking of a US city, there's simply no way to know. But it could and it's a chance we really can't take. Once you've decided to fight a war (and though you don't like it, we Americans have collectively done so) you go balls to the wall.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:39 PM on November 7, 2001


The fact that many non-Americans died in the bombing gives their government grounds for waging their own wars -- but it doesn't give them grounds for interfering with ours.

Do you call British special forces spotting targets for your planes, British ordnance supporting your war effort and British planes and missiles hitting Taliban targets "interfering" then? I'm British, and have a legitimate interest in the execution and outcome of our war. You're wrong to imply otherwise.

I'm minded to agree to some extent about the Taliban grabbing humanitarian aid. I didn't really mean to imply it was our fault and not theirs. I still think we need to send some. Their soldiers aren't going to starve whether we do or don't, so at least we aren't helping them.

I can't put one life over another as easily as you, unless it was someone I knew, and then I'd probably be selfish about it. British, Afghan, American ... we're all human. None of the people who starve will have had involvement in the WTC atrocity. The intent is different, but in both cases the ends cannot justify the means for me.

Personally I think a nuke is more impossible, than unlikely. If a strike is made against the US (or Britain, conceivably), it could just as easily be someone already outside Afghanistan (Al Qaeda is an international organisation) or someone who has slipped over the rocky borders with Iran or Pakistan, so I don't think pausing puts either of us in more danger.

In a ground engagement I would agree with your "coffee breaks" comment. I'm not sure it applies to standing off and lobbing munitions. How are they going to hit our troops while we're supping coffee? It might lengthen the overall bombing campaign, given.

I fervently hope that this whole business can be concluded with the minimum loss of further life. You are prepared to accept greater losses than I am. I don't think that particularly makes either of us "right" and I'm glad we've had this chance to explore each others viewpoint more.

We should probably take this to email if we're going to continue though, because I expect everyone else has stopped reading by now, and we're therefore "wasting" public bandwidth for a two-way conversation.
posted by walrus at 4:08 AM on November 8, 2001


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