Probably the most clearheaded editorial on the John walker case.
December 7, 2001 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Probably the most clearheaded editorial on the John walker case. Though it may not be fashionable or politically correct to say it, Dan Kennedy has articulated my feelings on this issue quite well. It may be a few days old but this event still sticks in my craw, and my craw is full at the moment. IMO, this Walker is the creation of a deadly cocktail of affluence, over-indulgent parenting, psuedo-multi-culturalism run amok and a societal unwillingness to make any moral judgements whatsoever. The only good outcome of 9/11 is that maybe, just maybe that day snapped some of us out of that mindset for good.
posted by jonmc (67 comments total)
If this guy was Canadian, would that make a difference to anyone?

I think it would to me, mostly because it wouldn't be treason. A Canadian Taliban, somehow, seems more palatable to me. I don't know why this is, but it's the way I feel. How about you?
posted by phalkin at 4:21 PM on December 7, 2001

I couldn't believe the SF Chronicle article. I agree, his father made him sound like he had just snuck out one night or gotten a little drunk. Not disappeared, taken up arms against his country, and condoned the attacks on the Cole & Sept. 11. In fact, I think he Dad said something like "We're upset the boy didn't ask our permission to go to Afghanistan." My thoughts on that... "Is the father sane?"
I hope they make an example of "the boy." Our nation allows you to do an awful lot of things against it with impunity...protest, write, speak out, vote, etc, but we have to draw the line somewhere. I think "the boy" crossed that line, and then some. He has to pay the price, and in my mind, that price is the death of a traitor.
posted by aacheson at 4:25 PM on December 7, 2001

The author's main point seems to be to withhold judgement until we know more. As far as I'm concerned, Walker effectively renounced his citizenship when he joined the Taliban, and surely when he joined the battle against U.S. soldiers.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2001

that price is the death of a traitor.

Yeah, gotta show these Taliban fuckers how things work in a humane, civilized democ^H^H^H^H^Hrepublic.
posted by Eloquence at 4:35 PM on December 7, 2001

Walker's probably insane. Happens even to people with the best parenting and moral instruction, so it has nothing to do with any "cocktail of affluence, over-indulgent parenting, psuedo-multi-culturalism run amok yadda yadda yadda."

Or he's been a CIA plant the whole time. That's Virginia Postrel's movie pitch.
posted by gojomo at 4:40 PM on December 7, 2001

IMO, this Walker is the creation of a deadly cocktail of affluence, over-indulgent parenting, psuedo-multi-culturalism run amok and a societal unwillingness to make any moral judgements whatsoever.

Frankly, I think its silly to take an extroidnary isolated incident(its not 100s of kids joining the taliban) and try to use it as a platform for attacking amoral society. I'd say "moral" societies are the problem, the Taliban was certainly one of those, whether you agree with their morals or not.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely agree over-indulgent parenting was a problem here, but you've got a very weak case for saying this is a society-wide problem.

Side note: There is a rumor that he was part of the late-comer straight edge movement*, many groups of which splintered off and converted to some pretty surprising religions (Hare Krishnas, as well as Islam), mostly in a constant effort to out-hardcore/self-denial each other. If this is true, it certainly says a lot about that particular subcultures society.

*Straight Edge, for those who don't know, was an outgrouth of the hardcore punk scene, started out with the No Drugs thing, some had No Meat, No Sex, etc.
posted by malphigian at 4:49 PM on December 7, 2001

Marin turns out some of the wierdest kids, I must say. I should know... I went to high school with that guy. Gonna look him up in my yearbook when I get home next week.
posted by atom128 at 4:50 PM on December 7, 2001

I don't understand the treason bit. Treat him like any other Taliban fighter. When he grabbed his gun and headed to Afghanistan, he pretty much gave up on being an American citizen. I don't see any point to stringing him up due to where he happened to be born and raised. He's not offering any American secrets, or giving away gov't plans, he's just a guy fighting for the taliban. He's a war prisioner like everyone else captured, treat him as such.
posted by mathowie at 4:50 PM on December 7, 2001

The fact is there will always be people like John wandering around switching ideologies and religions and joining causes at the drop of the hat. Some end up in cults/churches, others become cabin-in-the-woods loners, and now one is fighting for the bad guy.

skallas, the first thing I thought of when I read your post was Into The Wild, a great story of a similar young man that went off into the woods to be a loner.

Society falling apart? I think not.

Agreed. I see this angle a lot on the news, how this sort of thing could happen again, when I'm willing to bet dollars to doughnuts this guy was an outlier.
posted by mathowie at 4:56 PM on December 7, 2001

Man, tonight's CBS Evening News clip of him getting questioned by the CIA, before the prison uprising, really freaked me out. I'm still trying to figure out if ABC is trying to imply that the questioning led to the revolt.
posted by acridrabbit at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2001

skallas- I'm not saying that this admittedly isolated case is an indication of society falling apart, just using his parents behavior and some of the more dimwitted reactions from the media to make my attempt at an answer to the question "Why did this happen?"
And from his father's monumentally asinine appearance on Larry King, I'd have to say he is the ultimate in over-indulgent parenting. "He's a good boy."
Sounds like every other criminal's parents.
As for the rest of it, I offer you this quote from Neal Stephenson:

"The only real problem is that anyone who has no culture, other than this
global monoculture, is completely screwed. Anyone who grows up watching TV,
never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral
relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV
news, and attends a university where postmodernists vie to outdo each other
in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come
out into the world as one pretty feckless human being. And--again--perhaps
the goal of all this is to make us feckless so we won't nuke each other."
posted by jonmc at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2001

"Treat him like the other Taliban" is an unpalatable solution.

The vast majority of Taliban foot-soldiers have already been released, or will be released shortly after a brief detention period. There's no grounds at law (any kind of law, including US law) for imprisoning Taliban rank-and-file who cannot be connected with specific war crimes or terrorist conspiracies.

Walker will have to be treated as some kind of special case. My prediction is that he will plea-bargain out to some 10-20 year sentence to be served back at Leavenworth, to avoid the treason trial.

He can't be tried by a tribunal unless he's first stripped of his citizenship. That's a difficult process, to say the least -- a plea bargain will appear to be the better course to everybody.
posted by MattD at 5:06 PM on December 7, 2001

mathowie, your post just forced me to delete a long post I was previewing, and change tracks a bit.

"When he grabbed his gun and headed to Afghanistan, he pretty much gave up on being an American citizen."

I have to disagree. When he "grabbed his gun and headed to Afghanistan", his actions were treasonous. Since we're a nation of laws, we must follow the law and try him according to Article III section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:

Section 3. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

He is not simply "...a war prisioner (sic) like everyone else captured...", he is an American citizen who chose to take up arms against his own country. I hope he's tried, found guilty, and executed, regardless of how it might offend the sensibilities of Eloquence and others like him(her?).
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:09 PM on December 7, 2001

mr crash davis- thanks for not being one of the feckless folks my main man Neal Stephenson decries in the above quote.
posted by jonmc at 5:13 PM on December 7, 2001

I don't understand the treason bit. Treat him like any other Taliban fighter. When he grabbed his gun and headed to Afghanistan, he pretty much gave up on being an American citizen.

Eh. I don't buy it. Renouncing your citizenship isn't that hard to do - it takes all of five minutes at wherever the local US embassy is. He didn't do that. Hence: he is a traitor. I don't think that he deserves the death penalty, but I'd be pretty happy to see him sent to Leavenworth for the rest of his life.

An analogy: if you're married and fall in love with someone else, you'd be well advised to seek the divorce before you start cheating on your spouse. Showing up in divorce court and saying "Yeah, well I had pretty much dumped her already, so it's not like I was really cheating" isn't likely to get you half of the property.
posted by jaek at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2001

As a mom and as an American who lives in the same city as the families of many of our Special Forces troops, this whole story tears my heart out.....

Actions have consequenses....did this kid ever learn that at home?

To his father's sorrow, I am afraid the lesson has finally come-heartbreakingly too late......

I wonder which we will see now- a 20 year old still committed to his ideology-or a whining scared youth who will try to play the American card he thinks he still has up his sleeve.....
posted by bunnyfire at 5:38 PM on December 7, 2001

jonmc: That stephenson quote was amusing (maybe he's upset that academia doesn't like sci-fi?) -- I particularily like how he conflates the TV-Nation attack with the evil-liberal-academia attack. Certainly if there is one thing that recent events have taught us, its that we need more religion!

Moral Absolutists have done much worse (Taliban, Nazis, Crusades, Inquisitions, Red Scares, Witch Burnings, you know the drill)... all of which are steeped in Religion, Morals, and certainity in the Truth.

What's missing in all of these, and our misguided Taliban, is reason and critical thought, something the better "postmodernists" are big on. Of course, Stephensens arguement really boils down, in that line, to needing an opiate for the masses. Maybe he's right, not ready to let go of my Enlightenment ideals just yet, though.

PS. Although I'm clearly one of the "feckless", I too think he commited treason and should be put to death.
posted by malphigian at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2001

Standing logic on its head happens when we take a sensational, particular case like this and use it to pummel middle class American parenting. This was one kid, just one kid, not a mass movement. Crap, we probably have more to worry about losing kids to the Moonies than we ever did to the Taliban.

As for Walker, fuck him, in plain Anglo-Saxon. He made a bad decision, but one that has serious consequences. Too bad.
posted by MAYORBOB at 5:52 PM on December 7, 2001

malphigian-I agree and I think Stephenson agrees that critical thinking is extremely important, especially at times like these, and for the record I've seen enough posts of yours here on MeFi to know that you are not, repeat, not among the "feckless."
Now religion and/or philosophy taken to extreme can obviously create societies like Nazi's and the Taliban, however, intelligently and prudently applied they can help destroy them as well-witness Gahndi, Martin Luther King and dare I say it, the US in WWII.
I think the point both me and Stephenson are trying to make is that the whole "po-mo/moral relativism/multi-culti/make no judgements" trip is equally destructive when carried to extremes.
And then again, maybe I'm just tired of pundit types on both sides of the political fence using 9/11 to promote their pet causes. Instead, they should realize that we've been plunged back into the jungle right now and to cut us ordinary citizens a little slack and let us as Dennis Miller put it "get in touch with our Paleolithic side" and enjoy a little cathartic revenge, at least metaphorically.
posted by jonmc at 5:59 PM on December 7, 2001

to requote the quote from mr_crash_davis:

shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. [emph. mine]

one might make a case that as soon as the US started bombing Afghanistan, then he became a traitor. up until that moment, he was fighting for an army (Taliban, not, from anything I've heard, al-Quaida) that, while we weren't for them, we weren't at war with them either.

whatever. he sounds like a tripper of the most annoying/disturbing sort.

what I've heard that boggled my mind is that he got started on all this by reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X....

"I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."
[extended quote]
posted by epersonae at 6:00 PM on December 7, 2001

Normally, I'm against the death penalty. I'm also not-so-thrilled about this whole war thing. But this guy committed treason, no ifs-and-or-buts, and he has admitted to it. In the cases of treason and taking (or risking taking) the lives of American Soldiers, he deserves either the death penalty or life in prison.
posted by benjh at 6:00 PM on December 7, 2001

mayorbob- i agree with most of what you said but from everything I've seen Walker's background was well above what I'd consider middle-class, his old man was a corporate attorney for cryin' out loud. The little shit reminds me of this rich chick I knew in high school who walked around with a(no lie)Karl Marx t-shirt on. The original cadillac commies, both of them. As for middle-class parenting, my own middle-class parents reaction to me doing something like this would range from bringing out the straightjacket to having me lobotomized.
posted by jonmc at 6:04 PM on December 7, 2001

Umm, the father's plight reminds me a lot of John Hinckley's parents reacting to their son's deed.

First off: Woven throughout is a strange and specious presumption: That his actions are a shock, because his upbringing was affluent, so somehow this was less likely to happen.

Which is a crock of dung. This kid is indistinguishable from any kid being rudely brought out of a cult like induction.

It seems that all the coverage and everyone's take on the same is missing the point. He was in an Al Quaida training camp where Bin Laden appeared three times and none of his islamic brothers seemed concerned he could be a spy for the infidels. The same people they swear to kill in their daily prayers.

So color him fully inducted like any other cult member. The kid is naive, like 20 year olds often are. And he's gotten himself in a major dumb place. Meanwhile...

I listened to Limbaugh yesterday refer to him over and over as John bin Walker and say he desearves to pay for his actions. He's made his bed so now he'll sleep in it was the general thrust of his take on this.

Limbaugh preaching from his pulpit while arabicizing his name is is heartless, and racist scape-goating on a scale akin to the early days of Nazi Germany. His minions are famous for taking his positions whole and pre digested.

This alone has been to me the most chilling development since the attacks themselves. These are scary times and this issue truly runs much deeper into what this country is becoming than it seems most people want to face. We are scared and it is reflected in out collective thinking.

He's wrong and even if they just let him go this will haunt him where ever he goes for a very long time. At this point, I think it would be dificult and dangerous for him to return to the US to live as a private citizen. And that alone is a heavy punishment for him to bear.Not that he seems att all eager to return.

If the Al Quieda movement can so thouroughly turn a peaceful california religous nut into a a warrior against his own country, then imagine the depth of conviction in Al Quieda. Not the ones seemingly trapped in caves, but the ones everywhere else...

And man do I miss plastic right now... MeFi rocks in tis own way but this thread is begging to be really kharma'd out ...
posted by BentPenguin at 6:23 PM on December 7, 2001

I think the point both me and Stephenson are trying to make is that the whole "po-mo/moral relativism/multi-culti/make no judgements" trip is equally destructive when carried to extremes

jonmc, anything taken to enough of an extreme is equally destructive as taking Islam or Christianity to extremes. The guy was a religious zealot.
posted by mathowie at 6:29 PM on December 7, 2001

mathowie-wow, I brought out the big man himself, excuse me while I gloat. Just kidding, actually thanks for creating a site where opinionated mutts like me can speak their minds and get intelligent respones.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 PM on December 7, 2001

jonmc: Thanks for the kind response. I'll echo Mathowie, you won't get any debate from me that moral relativism carried to extremes (e.g. anything is okay ) is just as dangerous.
posted by malphigian at 6:53 PM on December 7, 2001

johnmc: What was the deal in the quote with postmodernism and universities? The guy never went to college, as far as I've read.
posted by raysmj at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2001

raysmj-as far as the quote goes I was speaking more to some peoples responses rather than to walker's own behavior, although perhaps simply by being an affluent young white American he was so steeped in moral relativism that he believed terrorism was "ok" in "the right circumstances"
posted by jonmc at 7:20 PM on December 7, 2001

johnmc: But, as noted by others here, the Taliban is not known for moral relativism. Knowing when to be tolerant of choices and when to worry about said choices are, regardless, not a matter of being relativist or absolutist, but of using your freakin' head. More to the point, it's a balance thing. For more on this subject, consult Jung.

Anyway, I heard someone say elsewhere that America's long felt pride at having been merciful to the vanquished in World War II, and we shouldn't think ourselves wrong for feeling pity for the guy here. True, but it also doesn't mean that letting the laws be enforced means one lacks mercy, although I don't agree with the death penalty. (I believe even Bush called him, "This poor fellow.") Treason, if he's guilty of it, is a huge crime and he would have to face life in prison. The government doesn't ask much of you, except maybe to shop this Christmas. Which is appalling, but that's another story. The decline of the public sphere, as contrasted with the private, and all that.
posted by raysmj at 7:40 PM on December 7, 2001

Limbaugh preaching from his pulpit while arabicizing his name is is heartless, and racist scape-goating on a scale akin to the early days of Nazi Germany

No, I think he just thought it sounded clever, like Van Halen fans calling the Sammy version Van Hagar. Y'know, that's Osama's name and let's put it together with . . . oh, never mind. This is apples and oranges. What famous Jewish person was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Germans? Answer: None. What famous Arab person is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans? A guy with the last name "bin Laden."

The only unfortunate thing here? It's not known if Walker actually broke the law. Innocent until proven guilty is the rule, I think.
posted by raysmj at 7:55 PM on December 7, 2001

Treason is actually hardly ever prosecuted. Something like 30 times in US history, I think. It's just too explosive a thing.
posted by rodii at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2001

skallas- to quote Heathers right back atcha:
"the american public nods it's head at every horror the American teenager can bring upon itself."
This may be a case in point. Unfortunately, his display of angst, or religious fervor or gatrointestinal distress for all I know endangered the lives,(and symbolically, at least condoned the deaths of)many Americans who could have been classmates or freinds of his. This is reality not just theory, folks. When we endorse or condone barbarism in farflung lands, be it sponsored by our own government or by nutjobs like Osama and his ilk, it can blow back and cause real suffering very close to home. Maybe that's why this whole thing bothers me so much, I don't know.
And rodii-the reason it's so rarely prosecuted is that even the most radical among us are inculcted from birth with enough repect for our fellow citizens not to cross that final line. Thanks to everyone for letting me speak.
posted by jonmc at 8:12 PM on December 7, 2001

just a note to everybody-there's no "h" in my name it's "jonmc." Just another thing sticking in my already full craw.
posted by jonmc at 8:24 PM on December 7, 2001

Treason is hard to prove, according to an expert on the subject interviewed on NBC Nightly News this week. It requires two witnesses to an overt act against the country. Contrary to Kennedy's linked article, Walker can't be tried by a military tribunal because he's an American citizen.

I'm not sure anyone is finding evidence that our society is one in which people refuse to make moral judgments. There's no shortage of moralizing and publicly proclaimed piety in this country today -- especially from the kind of people who like to get their prayer beads in a twist about fictitious maladies such as "pseudo-multiculturalism run amok."
posted by rcade at 9:00 PM on December 7, 2001

just a note to everybody-there's no "h" in my name it's "jonmc." Just another thing sticking in my already full craw.

"Lighten up, Francis."
posted by terrapin at 9:06 PM on December 7, 2001

this law professor cites a few problems with a treason charge against john walker lindh, among them, that it's not clear when he joined the taliban (prior to 9.11?) and that we're not at war.
He has told reporters that he joined a military unit to fight against India in the Kashmir region long before the Sept. 11 attacks and spent six months in Afghanistan before being taken prisoner at Kundu....
Any defense of Walker also may cite a long history of Americans fighting in other countries for religious, cultural or political reasons. Americans fought in the French Revolution in the 18th century, and in the 20th century they fought with various foreign detachments including the Israelis and with the republican forces against Gen. Francisco Franco in Spain. Walker could claim that he fought for his religion, not against the United States
posted by rebeccablood at 9:06 PM on December 7, 2001

terrapin-you've used that line before, get a new writer.
posted by jonmc at 9:11 PM on December 7, 2001

terrapin's line is from the movie stripes. and if terrapin touches my stuff, i'll kill him.
posted by d_brown3 at 9:28 PM on December 7, 2001

If only Walker could have received a more well rounded education at, say, Columbine High School in Colorado. Maybe he would have befriended Eric & Dylan, and taken them with him. If only...
Unless there are other charges we havn't heard yet, I believe young Mr. Walker will not be charged in the US, ever.
posted by Mack Twain at 9:28 PM on December 7, 2001

the kind of people who like to get their prayer beads in a twist about fictitious maladies such as psuedo-multiculturalism run amok."
And what kind kind of people might those be, my freind? Just curious to see how you stereotype those who see things differently than you.
Dare to criticise the predominant mode of discourse and all of a sudden I'm a prayer bead twister. You may have just proved my point for me. You don't know me, rcade so think twice before getting nasty.
posted by jonmc at 9:40 PM on December 7, 2001

As I understand it (from looking at the back of a passport) your citizenship is (or "may be") revoked the minute you take up arms against the United States, which means that the minute we started Bombing Afghanistan, this guy stopped being a citizen. Unless we decide to make an example out of him, which would be .. wow.. unbelievably wrong. In most cases, however, it's safe to say he should be treated like every other prisoner of war.

Also, I'm noticing a lot of rash conclusions being jumped to. You do NOT know this guy, and you CANNOT make evaluations about his character, sanity or intelligence. All you know about him is that he said he joined an army to defend what he believed in, which is more than 99% of the pro-war crowd in this country are doing.
posted by Hildago at 10:21 PM on December 7, 2001

jonmc -- lighten up, those comments weren't aimed at you unless I'm totally misreading them.

rebeccablood, or anyone -- why exactly is it that the U.S. hasn't declared war? I'm assuming there's some sort of politics to all of it, but I can't make out what they are.
posted by cps at 10:26 PM on December 7, 2001

cps -- I don't know either, and it's something I've been wondering about, and have been worried by. Here's what I think: We do not recognize the Taliban as a government. Al Quaeda is not a government either. "Terrorism" is just way too vague a target. Who would we declare war on?
posted by Hildago at 10:28 PM on December 7, 2001

Some useful data points:

Title 18, Section 2381, the crime of Treason:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

It's notable, I believe, that al Qaeda declared war against the United States in 1996. But even if Walker didn't participate in that war, he certainly adhered to our enemies. I do think this is a red herring, because we were attacked; that Congress did not declare war has little to do with whether a state of war existed. Clearly, we were able to mainly ignore the war that al Qaeda waged against us for some five years. The test case for this argument, I believe, would be if a US citizen had assisted the 9/11 attacks. I think that would clearly be treasonous, more so perhaps than any prior indictment, and yet 9/11 there could not have been a US-declared war because we didn't know about it yet.

I'd be happier for rhetorical clarity and purpose if we had actually passed a declaration of war, but for a variety of legal and political reasons Congress and the White House prefer to dance around this issue. Suffice to say that whether someone "levys war" against the US is easily capable of being individually determined without linkage to legislative action declaring war.

Title 18, Section 2390, Enlistment to Serve Against US, seems to require that enlistment take place in areas under our jurisdiction. That may not count, though jurisdiction has been expanded to the globe in certain crimes. There's a chance he may be guilty under certain provisions of Chapter 113B, Terrorism, particularly the conspiracy clause, especially since it doesn't matter where in the world he was.

He's definitely come close to having his nationality revoked, whether or not he specifically renounced it. But it would be tricky to use that as a reason to deny him due process (not that I'd be surprised if John Ashcroft argued thusly).

All things being equal, it is not illegal for a US citizen to take up arms in one state against another, as long as the US is not a party. (This is apart from whatever crimes he may commit on foreign soil according to that jurisdiction, q.v. Lori Berenson.)

cps: There was a declaration of war in Congress September 12, but it was tabled to committee. Instead, Congress passed a resolution affirming its support of the President in whatever military action was necessary, and noted that this support did not nullify Congressional oversight of executive military actions under the War Powers Act -- oversight which has never been tested constitutionally and may never be. See, the Constitution says the President can wage war as commander in chief; but says only Congress can declare war. The War Powers Act is an attempt by Congress to assert oversight, but having that tested in the Supreme Court might result in them losing that authority (and goodness knows what else by that precedent). So they routinely affirm their support for the president, and note that they're not nullifying the act by failing to exercise the oversight they've asserted for themselves. Conversely, Presidents don't recognize the War Powers Act's oversight authority, but they still come to Congress and report on operations progress, "complying" with it. By such mutual fig leaves a nasty constitutional crisis is averted -- something like an insurance lawsuit settlement. It's been this way for a generation. It may be an appropriate (if awkward) solution to an era of fighting limited wars.
posted by dhartung at 10:39 PM on December 7, 2001

Congress invoked the War Powers Act on September 14.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:52 PM on December 7, 2001

This is one long argument for more 'what's your favorite small appliance/manga/kittie picture' posts. What a night: Software wrinkles vs ax grinding over one person. Start boiling the oil. Bring on the prutanshyr.

There's a German idiom for 'deathly boring'... But I'm too far there to remember it.
posted by y2karl at 1:42 AM on December 8, 2001

The interesting thing to me in this thread is the importance of "being an American". It's strange how the US approach to multiculturalism differs from the UK version. Here, there were articles about British people going to fight for the Taliban, but no-one seemed to think much of it (although there was quite a funny story when one came back complaining that they didn't appreciate him very much). Presumably most/all were from families that had arrived in this country from Pakistan/India/Afghanistan within the last few generations, but I can't imagine the media bothering much with a story along the lines of "and one of the Briatins joining the Tailban is white".

I'm not saying it's necessarily better one way or the other - I prefer "our" way, but can see advantages to a strong national identity. I just wanted to point out that there's a large implicit assumption underlying this whole discussion, which is that there is something outstanding about someone fighting against the army of their own country. Maybe it's an historical thing - I suspect many Europeans fought against armies from "their own country" during WWII.

PS I'm not saying this isn't a problem here - I guess there are people wondering what to do with those returning from the war - but it wasn't/isn't a burning moral issue.

PPS Thinking about this a bit more, is this a racial thing? Presumably some South/Central Asian descent American citizens also went to fight, but this discussion is focussing on the one "white" person? Is it only white Americans that can be guilty of treason? Or was this really the only US citizen involved?
posted by andrew cooke at 2:15 AM on December 8, 2001

andrew: There are supposedly two others who ID'd themselves as Americans, but the reports turned out to be false. (Or, rather, the guys weren't really American.) Methinks it's more a class thing, and that race sometimes disguises class. Y'know, he's been given everything, so why did he do this, etc. Whereas I've heard from others, He had to be insane (the implication being that no one would want to leave an upper middle class lifestyle unless brainwashed). Have to admit that the whole oddity of it was what fascinated me. Really. The CIA's apparently had trouble recruiting the best and brightest for Afghanistan because they'd rather live a nice life in northern Virginia and work on big new guv'ment computers, etc. Or something like that. Is what's to blame the focus on money and comfort at the expense of worrying about anything that will last after we're dead? Like, say, the government of the United States?

The other thing that bothered me here is the guy's being treated as an adolescent. I was really startled by that. He's 20 years old. And yeah, a lot of black men at that age would be thrown in a hellish state prison without a second thought for lesser charges than alleged here. Can't imagine if one was caught and charged (even just via the media) with treason.
posted by raysmj at 3:07 AM on December 8, 2001

Nobody apart from acidrabbit has talked about that video. "The problem is, he's got to decide if he wants to live or die. If he wants to die, he's going to die here. Or he's going to f****** spend the rest of his short f****** life in prison. It's his decision, man." Why didn't they just wait until things settled down and they were more organized to interrogate the prisoners? And why interrogate like this with such a high risk of the press finding out the tactics?
posted by mmarcos at 4:55 AM on December 8, 2001

What a strange thread.

--==Warning: glaringly obvious, embarrassing-to-write statement ahead==--
John Walker is neither product nor harbinger of an overly-enlightened, too-free-for-its-own-good society.(WTF?)

And how a pomo-basher can beam Neal Stephenson into a deathwatch-infested Star Chamber based on a thoroughly out-of-context anteBinBellum quote is proof everlasting that wily pomo never dies - it just masturbates quietly under Scarlet O'Hara's crinoline.

John Walker stumbled into the closed-set production of "Gung-Ho II". He is now making everyone uncomfortable, and interfering with the smooth narrative flow, so he will be de-Americanized, de-humanized, lobotomized and loonified as quickly as possible. His fate will be determined when some suitably righteous un-feckless fellow throws an official dart at a vast array of wildly disparate American moral relativisms.

(See, andrew cooke, not all Americans are frantic to frankenstein a celebrity.)
posted by Opus Dark at 5:06 AM on December 8, 2001

To the San Francisco Chronicle's Louis Freedberg, John Walker is "A product of Bay Area culture." Freedberg writes: "Charging Walker with treason would mean showing him less compassion than Taliban fighters who are being welcomed with open arms by Northern Alliance fighters, or Pakistani fighters who were flown back to their villages with tacit U.S. approval. Instead of labeling him a traitor, as we did to Aaron Burr, Tokyo Rose and Ezra Pound, President Bush should allow Walker's parents to fly him back to Fairfax, and let him get his life back on track. We'd want nothing less for our own children, who could easily have found themselves in a similar mess."
posted by Carol Anne at 7:05 AM on December 8, 2001

From the editorial linked above:
The Bay Area is also a place that encourages critical thinking about the U. S. role in the world. That may have played a part in his vulnerability to the Taliban's extreme propaganda.

Wow. Ringing endorsement of "critical thinking" there. Or was something missing from the type of "critical thinking" to which he was exposed? Some missing link? Some confounding variable, something? A missing sense of history? He should have heard plenty about respect for women, right? Then why support the Taliban? Doesn't sound like much critical thinking was done here.
posted by raysmj at 8:09 AM on December 8, 2001

It's nice to have curiosity about other cultures, but joining the Taliban in the first place is ethically and morally dubious. All the press I've seen about Walker skips over the part between when he joined the Taliban and the prison battle. Unless he was imprisoned by the Taliban, I'm going to have a hard time not thinking he's a traitor for staying with them after the US Air Force starting bombing them. I don't support the death penalty, but I think he should get life in prison. Fighting against your country is a serious crime and it needs to have serious consequences.

This Washington Post article mentions that Walker could be be charged as an accessory to the murder of the CIA officer, or possibly seditious conspiracy, in addition to treason.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:14 AM on December 8, 2001

What I now want to know--and I'm coming in late--is more about this story, that John Walker evidently gave to Newsweek, that the uprising at Qala-e-Jhangi began spontaneously--after CIA officer Johnny Span shot three men in the head during interrogations there, that the riot that ensued wasn't just a bunch of some Al Queda fanatics determined to fight to the death, but the reaction of frightened prisoners of war who assumed they were all going to die.

Now, I've just heard half this story on rising, on a station I thought was the local NPR station, but was Paul Allen's KEXP. And the show was Counterspin? I'll have to check this out. Suicidal fanatics or desperate men with nothing to lose?--I'd like to see some critical reporting about that. Now I'm beginning to wonder what really happened there--and agree with whoever said there's a book to waiting be written with what really happened at Mazar Al Sharif.

John Walker is one--one!--person whose whole story I don't know. I don't want to rush to judgement in either direction, and I'm sick of all the self-righteous chest beating going on here by the armchair generals and wannabe pundits over one person whose story I don't know.

But I will say this--I believe in an open society, and what really really troubles me is the total news black out going on here. I'm afraid that trust-me-I'm-a-pro assertion in that dubious letter in another thread aside, now I do want to know. The story of Attica comes to mind: it was portrayed as one thing at the time and turned out to be far more complex and troubling with more detail.

As will this war in Afghanistan. I, for one, wish the coverage in this war was like that in Viet Nam--I think we need to know the truth about this. Had we had this sort of news blackout then, My Lai would never been heard of. I apologize for some of my previous comment--this is not boring, this is serious. I, too, saw a news clip--sans spin--of some of Walker's interrogation, among others, by Span on CBS last night, too. It was conducted preety much the way I assumed it would be with men being led away one-by-one, being threatened with by death, among other things, and it mades this other story of the uprising that much more possible.

I didn't want to wade into this but I have to say, the more we know the sooner, the better.
posted by y2karl at 9:51 AM on December 8, 2001

jonmc: Just curious to see how you stereotype those who see things differently than you.

The same way you're stereotyping Walker's parents (and Americans in general) based on absolutely no evidence. For all we know, Walker was over there to get away from the black helicopters.

Dare to criticise the predominant mode of discourse and all of a sudden I'm a prayer bead twister. You may have just proved my point for me. You don't know me, rcade so think twice before getting nasty.

Sorry -- it was not intended as a direct insult. I just don't see where all the moralistic moping in this country comes from about parents being too lenient with their kids (or multiculturalism being a problem -- run that one by me again?). In the U.S. it seems like everyone wants to believe the worst about everyone else.
posted by rcade at 1:05 PM on December 8, 2001

Going back to orginal premise of this thread, it makes no sense to me at all. What exactly did Walker's parents do wrong? He was obsessively interested in religion; for many people, that's considered a *good* thing. He eventually converted to Islam; that's definitely unusual but not itself a bad thing. Kids get involved in dangerous, unethical or destructive things every day; isn't embracing Islam better?. He wanted to go to Pakistan to study; I'd be alarmed if I was a parent, but again, kids have wild world-travelling adventures all the time. At what point should Walker's parents have foreseen the future and said "this must stop, or it will end with our son taking arms against a US invasion of Afganistan!"

And what does any of that have to the strawmen of affluence, "over-indulgent parenting," or "ps[eu]do-multi-culturalism"? I'm sure the children of poor, under-indulgent, crudely mono-cultural parents have gotten into mischief that dwarfs the misadventures of John Walker.
posted by rodii at 1:42 PM on December 8, 2001

You won't get any argument on that from me, rodii.

Clearheaded is not a word that applies to the post or editorial, all digressions herein aside. He's a kid to me--but then most anyone under 28 is as well--who went over there asa teenager. People do stupid things with their lives. If they're lucky, they get to be poster boys or girls on MetaFilter. Or TV...

This talk of treason and execution... there is just no good in that. As you also pointed out.

I was so turned off by all this, though, that I missed mmarcos link above until after my last comment--off topic here, for sure, but a story we're all going to be hearing more about.
posted by y2karl at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2001

y2karl: People of 19-20 year old go to prison and fight and have babies and families, huge debt loads (which they'll mostly be responsible for in coming years, sometimes decades), vote, you name it. They're out working their way through college, around the clock, with big bags under their eyes, working harder than a lot of people twice their age. They are in the armed forces. Some are even kicked out of the house, and forced to go it alone. More than you think, probably. They can't legally drink (as a result of stats which show drunk driving to have been higher in the 18-20 group), but otherwise they are adults in the eyes of the law. You can't change that. It doesn't matter whether you feel compassion for him, or even whether he did anything at all. The law will decide, y'know? The execution bit I don't agree with for anyone, a 20 year old or otherwise.
posted by raysmj at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2001

And 28 is just a kid? Hmm. John Jay, the nation's first Supreme Court justice, was 28 when he took part in the Constitutional Convention. Does adolescence go up to 35 in coming years?
posted by raysmj at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2001

I don't really buy this "he's just a kid" argument -- American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan are about his age, I bet they're supposed to be responsible for their actions. I can't really see how he can get away with it, rich daddy and all.
The pressure to convict him of something, anything, or to have him plead his crime (whatever that might be, treason, attempted murder, I don't know) down to something where he actually has to spend a few years in the slammer (or in the loony bin) will be too strong. I bet the guy won't be able to walk. I don't think moderate Muslims will have much sympathy for him either, I haven't seen any polls, but it would look bad, politically I mean, if the Justice Department or the Pentagon decide not to press charges.
posted by matteo at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2001

I know I'm late in this thread, but I have a nit to pick. How can someone call the attack on the USS Cole an act of terrorism? It's a goddamn WARSHIP; if that's not a military target, I don't know what is.
posted by electro at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2001

raysmj, that was a facetious remark. It only seems that way when you get older and think of how stupid you were at that age. But that's a life long experience--like the priest told Gide: there is no such thing as a grown up. You had parents like the rest of us-surely you know that...

And your point re responsibility is taken. But this John Walker is just a whipping boy to me.

As for matteo's, remark, well, yes, this is the truth about basic training: people, unless perhaps they grow up in places like Afghanistan, don't naturally kill strangers on orders. You have to break their wills first and then train them for the job. That's the way it's done. The younger, the better.

Walker was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong side--he'll pay for it. Sounds like he's already seen worse than a state prison.

A lot of people want revenge for what happened September 11th. But at what price? I would settle for it never happening again.
posted by y2karl at 3:23 PM on December 8, 2001

How can someone call the attack on the USS Cole an act of terrorism? It's a goddamn WARSHIP; if that's not a military target, I don't know what is.

The definition of terrorism is a source of much debate, but I think the Cole attack is terrorism because the U.S. wasn't at war when it was hit. If the Pentagon was the only thing hit on Sept. 11, I would still consider it terrorism, even though it's clearly a military target.
posted by rcade at 9:03 AM on December 9, 2001

I think the point both me and Stephenson are trying to make is that the whole "po-mo/moral relativism/multi-culti/make no judgements" trip is equally destructive when carried to extremes.

That Stephenson quote is taken way out of context. In context, one of his characters (not Stephenson himself) is pondering the role of strong beliefs and commmitments in purpetuating violence and wonders if TV culture is a peacemaker because it renders people incapable of believing something strongly enough to kill or die for it.

Not that Stephenson doesn't take potshots at moral relativism or seem to find admirable people whose beliefs are strong enought to kill/die for, but what he says is more complicated and nuanced than that out-of-context quote. He more clearly recognizes the trade-offs and extremes of both sides than you seem to.
posted by straight at 8:57 AM on December 10, 2001

but I think the Cole attack is terrorism because the U.S. wasn't at war when it was hit

But by this logic, almost all of the military action by the United States in the past 20 years would be terrorism. Even moreso, as our ship was in foreign waters, whereas most American military actions have been on foreign soil.

I think it's better to draw distinctions between targetting civilians and targetting the military-- otherwise it opens a can of worms on a slippery slope, and if that isn't an ugly metaphor I don't know what is.
posted by cell divide at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2001

"I think the Cole attack is terrorism because the U.S. wasn't at war when it was hit."

rcade, the US hasn't declared war on Afghanistan at any point during the past three months. Um...
posted by mmarcos at 11:11 AM on December 10, 2001

Straight, I'm pretty sure that quote is (ahem) straight from Stephenson's In the Beginning Was the Command Line. Not fiction, and his own voice. Even if the quote isn't from that piece, the piece makes very similar points. It is, however, out of context in the sense that he adds much more to the picture.
posted by cps at 2:10 AM on December 11, 2001

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