Showing posts with label war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label war. Show all posts

18 January 2018

Death by Fairytale


A week ago, I posted this image on my Facebook page, and Paul Marks commented, "Eve, I think there's a SleuthSayers column in this":

r/CasualUK - Causes of death in traditional English folk songs... An accidental find in an otherwise serious music group :)...

And he's right, so here it is!

Traditional English folk songs can be history (a little mossy, a little mutated), myth retold (look, everyone really wants to go to Elfland, if they can just figure out a way to come out alive), news (remember when Alisoun got shot cause they thought she was a swan?), and the occasional unique idea (I'll let you know when I find one).  They're all sung in a minor key, and can be very haunting.  That's why they're still being sung.  And why I still listen to them.

But let's break down these categories a bit:

Most of English folk songs have people dying of a broken heart.  "Barbara Allan" is actually unusual, in that it's the lass that's hard-hearted (although she does die for her dead lover in the end:  "my true love died for me today, I'll die for him tomorrow").  Most of the time it's the lass that got knocked up on velvet green and was abandoned who dies of sorrow (and sometimes childbirth).  But there's a lot of broken hearts, and there still are.  For one thing, it's hard to get to a ripe old age and never have your heart broken once.  And sad songs are cathartic.  There's nothing like a good cry, especially when accompanied by alcohol and maybe a group sing-along in the bar...

The amazingly large number of deaths by drowning makes just as much sense.  Drowning was actually a major cause of death in the Middle Ages because:
(1) People drank a lot.  Beer in the morning, beer at midday, beer at night.  Granted, a lot of it was small beer, but there wasn't any caffeine in those days, and the water wasn't safe to drink and they knew it.  And even if it was, they were still going to drink beer.  Or wine.  And if anyone offered them some whiskey, well, they wouldn't turn it down.
(2) Almost every village and every city was built along water, because water was necessary for cooking, transportation (barges were the equivalent of modern semis), power (mills), and the occasional cleaning.  This meant there was lots of water to fall into while drinking, either from the banks, bridges, or well.  You combine drinking with darkness, and stumbling along home after a few pints at the pub could lead to serious injuries and more drownings.  And the Middle Ages were not known for their seating:  it was common to sit down on a bridge or the edge of a well and have a long pull at a noggin, and tip back, back, back...  Well, watch Oliver Reed in "The Three Musketeers" above...
(3) All that alcohol and water gave you a handy place to toss someone you were tired of, whether it was your spouse, your friend, or the occasional stranger.

Cruel wars...  Well, there's still, sadly, a lot of those.  Of course, back then men were often pressed into service at sea or land, against their will, or deliberately inebriated by recruiters and signed up, or ran off to join the wars, any wars.  Most of the sad songs are about peasant lads being pressed into service and never seen again by their own true love...   Sometimes the loved one goes off in search of her true love, but that rarely ends well, either.

NOTE:  The most amazing story is a real one:  "The Return of Martin Guerre" is about a peasant who went off to the wars, leaving his wife and family, and returned many years later and resumed his life as husband, father, peasant and all was well...  until the real Martin Guerre came back from the dead, years after that, and booted the imposter out and up onto the gallows.  The movie, starring a young Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye, is magnificent.

Execution...  not so often, and usually NOT for being a highwayman or a footpad.  Although there are lots of serial killers, then and now.  And there are songs about the victims of said serial killers, such as "Reynardine", in which the lass is led over the mountains by a serial killer werefox cannibal "whose teeth did brightly shine". 

But most are about escaping Bluebeard types in the folk songs, legends, stories, and fairy tales:  a man who marries successive wives and kills them all, except the last who somehow figures a way out of it.  My favorite version is Grimm's "The Robber Bride".  I was fascinated as a child by the three glasses of wine the Robber gave his victims (one white, one red, and one yellow, which knocked them out), grossed out by the dismemberment (read it yourself HERE), and cheering when the Bride cleverly exposes him at the wedding feast, and he and all his band are executed.

Another version of nailing Bluebeard is a very old folk song called "The Outlandish Knight". Flora Thompson quoted hugely from this in her memoir "Lark Rise to Candleford", because she heard it almost every night from the local inn, as old David sang it to wind up the evening's drinking:



"He turned his back towards her  
   To view the leaves so green, 
And she took hold of his middle so small 
   And tumbled him into the stream.
And he sank high and he sank low 
   Until he came to the side. 
'Take hold of my hand, my pretty ladye, 
   And I will make you my bride.' '
Lie there, lie there, you false-hearted man, 
   Lie there instead of me, 
For six pretty maids hast thou drowned here 
  And the seventh hath drowned thee.'


"The Outlandish Knight" is a variation of "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight".  (See Steeleye Span's version.)  There's a lot of songs about Elf Knights, Elf Queens, and elves in general, and all I can say is, you don't want to go there.

Except you do.  Because it's an incredible place, full of mystery, beauty, glamour, and as long as you're there you'll never get old.  And who knows?  You may be as lucky as Thomas the Rhymer, who returns with the gift of prophecy and poetry...

Nonetheless, it can end badly, unless your true love comes to fetch you, like in Tam Lin ...  Otherwise...  I'd stay home.

And now we come to the last two:

"Wandered off, lost in the woods, and died".  One variant is the Babes in the Wood, a/k/a Hansel and Gretel, who were either murdered or driven out to starve to death in the woods... and do.  (The frequency of these tales can make you wonder about human nature.  Then again, having just seen this on the news, maybe not...)

The other variant is Rip Van Winkle, who drank the wrong wine / ale given to him by ghosts / elves / trolls, falls asleep, and awakens a hundred years later, which means that all his generation thought he died.  While Washington Irving based Rip Van Winkle on a Dutch story, "Peter Klaus", it's a very old legend.  The first go-round apparently was when, in the 3rd Century BC, the Greek historian Diogenes Laertius told the story of a shepherd, Epimenides of Knossos, who fell asleep in a cave and woke up decades later. But it might well be older than that.  There are tales of long sleepers in the Orkney Islands, where a drunken fiddler meets up with trolls, in Ireland, China, Japan, and India.  The Babylonian Talmud tells a version of it.  Who knows?  There are probably some in ancient Egypt and Sumer.  This is VERY old stuff.


Also (imho) old, old, old stuff is "being mistaken for a swan by a trigger-happy hunter."  I totally buy this one.  For one thing, swans used to be eaten, in ancient Rome, in Elizabeth times, and on.  They were apparently a delicacy.  Anyway, hunting them used to be common.  And God knows it still happens, although they're not taken for swans anymore.  Back in November, 2017, a Pennsylvania woman, out walking her dogs, was shot by a hunter who mistook her for a deer.  (Newsweek)  November was actually an interesting month for mistaken shootings:  another hunter in New York shot a brown pick-up that he mistook for a deer, still another up in Hebron, Maine killed a woman on the opening day of hunting season, and yet another hunter in Oxford, Maine shot a man in the arm.  Personally, I'm staying away from the Northeast during hunting season.

Anyway, as you can see, the "Causes of Death in Traditional English Folk Songs" can all still be used today by the modern mystery writer.  Our victims can die of a broken heart, accidents, drowning, drinking (or drugs), execution, serial killers, escaping serial killers, Elf land (think cults of all kinds), babes in the wood, and hunting accidents.  The technology may change, but the ways, and the motivations, stay pretty much the same.

Related image

And you could do worse than to start with folk songs...











25 October 2017

Collaborators


French actress Danielle Darrieux died this past week. She was 100, her career beginning in 1931 and lasting until 2016. Her death notices all remark the fact that she stayed on in Paris after WWII broke out, and kept making pictures during the German occupation. Some of the obits go so far as to call her a Nazi collaborator. I'm guessing the story admits of rather a few more complications.



Let's begin with the fiction that French resistance to the Germans was fierce and widespread. Don't kid yourself. This was a wartime convenience, for Allied propaganda, and for French domestic political purposes after the war. De Gaulle insisted on it. It lifts us on angels' wings above the black market of hypocrisy, corruption, and grievance that characterized the Occupation. The pre-war climate in France echoed the America First movement in the States, a strong dose of appeasement and anti-Semitism, and there were more than a few French admirers of Hitler's scorched earth Jewish policies. And as for the Resistance, the Maquis itself was never organized into any unified chain of command, it was bitterly factionalized and fragmented, the Communists, the Free French, fugitives and draft dodgers and deserters. Lines of authority were disputed, one partisan group was as likely to rat out rival operations to the Vichy milice or the Wehrmacht military police as not.


How do you accommodate your occupier? Good question. We can look at Alan Furst's novels about wartime Paris and get a flavor of what it might be like, daily life in a captive capital. The World at Night, as it happens, is about the French movie biz, even, during the war, and how it was subject to German censorship. More accurately, pictures that didn't fit the bill simply weren't approved - were never greenlighted - so censorship, in that sense, before the fact. What do we make of the real-life example of Danielle Darrieux? When the Germans took Paris, in June of 1940, she'd just turned twenty-three, and her 30th film had been released, Battement de Coeur. I'm not making excuses for her, but twenty-three? In the movies since she was thirteen? Maybe she was a sheltered princess. We suspect, though, that she was a pretty savvy gal. She'd gone to Hollywood the year before, and made The Rage of Paris with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She was a bankable star, and the German movie industry understood both market value and how useful pictures were in the climate of opinion. Alfred Greven, the Nazi film czar in France, supposedly offered Darrieux a deal. She'd stay and make movies, they wouldn't send her brother to Germany as slave labor.

Blackmail puts a sifgnificantly different complexion on things. You give in the once, you're on the hook for more. The hole only gets deeper. Danielle divorces her husband Henri Decoin, who directed her in half a dozen pictures, and falls for the Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. (Army officer, diplomat, bag man, race car driver, and polo player, a favorite of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, he's usually characterized as the 'notorious' Porfirio Rubirosa - and the model for Dax Xenos, in Harold Robbins' novel The Adventurers. A whole other story, there.) Rubirosa fell foul of the Occupation authorities because he made no secret of his anti-Nazi sympathies, and they put him under house arrest in Germany. Danielle gets him sprung by agreeing to a publicity tour in Berlin. When next heard of, the two of them have managed to get to Switzerland, and they spend the rest of the war there.



In other words, we've definitely got some missing pieces along the way. Maybe it was all very ordinary, or maybe it was one hair's-breadth escape after another. Again, a nod to Alan Furst. I'm thinking Mission to Paris. But the story reminds me even more strongly of the Andre Cayyate movie Passage du Rhin - released in the U.S. in 1960 as Tomorrow Is My Turn, a truly cheesy title. (Cayatte directed Darrieux in 1942's La Fausse Maitresse, made under the German film industry's wartime sponsorship.)

Cayatte's picture is about two French soldiers, taken prisoner by the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the war and sent to work on a German farm. One of them (Georges Riviere) seduces the farmer's daughter and escapes to France. The other one (Charles Aznavour) stays at the farm. Back home, Georges takes up sabotage work with the Resistance, but he's eventually sold out to the Germans. A last-minute reprieve saves him from the firing squad, and then Paris is liberated. Charles is repatriated, and takes up where he left off, working as a baker, bullied by his wife. Charles goes to Georges and confesses he's miserable, Georges agrees to take Charles back to the German border. Charles crosses the bridge over the Rhine, stepping into an uncertain future, and meanwhile, the clouded past catches up with Georges. His girlfriend was sleeping with a high-ranking German officer during the Occupation, and he kept Georges from being shot. When the truth comes out, Georges' record as a war hero will be ridiculed, his girlfriend a German whore. She has to leave him. Fade-out on the two men at the Rhine bridge.

Okay, the summary makes it sound stupid, but it's not. It's about loyalties, and betrayals, and compromise, honor and shame, love and deceit, the whole nine yards, and the kind of thing French pictures are really good at. For our purposes, it's a late-breaking discussion (fifteen years after the fact) of questions the French preferred to turn a blind eye to, wartime derelictions. There's no denying some people showed incredible bravery, and some people were utterly contemptible, but a fair number were probably just trying to get by. It's a variation, or the obverse, of the Good German. 



I don't know what the moral is, or even if there is one. I suspect people play the hand they're dealt, and some of us rise to the occasion better than others. Darrieux didn't embarrass herself. Maurice Chevalier, Jean Cocteau, Sacha Guitry? A little less honorable. Arletty, whose acting career flourished during the Occupation, most famously Les Enfants du Paradis, got jail time for sleeping with the enemy. ("My heart is French, but my ass is international," she later remarked.) Sartre, who wrote for the underground paper Combat, says, "Everything we did was equivocal." Not to put too fine a point on it, pretty much everything they did was self-serving.

David Bell, reviewing Alan Riding's book about Paris during the Occupation, And the Show Went On, reminds us that the French basically lucked out, compared to what was going on in, say, Poland. French artists and intellectuals suffered chaos, and scarcities, and many dangers. But more than a few prospered. And most of them survived to argue about it another day. [The New Republic, 03-03-2011]

It's instructive, I guess, that I'm still raking over the coals myself. We simply don't know how we'd react in a claustrophobic climate of fear, which makes it harder to judge what they did. When you hear the tumbrels passing in the street, you don't want them stopping at your door.

23 June 2016

Gods and Demi-Gods


Ever since the Orlando shooting, I've seen a lot more memes about how America doesn't need more laws, it needs to turn back to God.  But America has turned completely to its gods, which are money and power.  We sacrifice human beings on their altars every day, and guns are one of the ways we do it.  We swallow the deaths of 20 children, 50 people, a mass shooting every day, without a qualm because we know our gods are righteous and just and POWERFUL.  Money and power require these (and other) human sacrifices, because otherwise we would not realize how powerful - and false - these gods are.  Their worship is mediated through their denominations, (the modern, international corporations), their priesthood (lobbyists and politicians), and their demi-gods (celebrities and millionaires/billionaires).
  • The first thing to understand is that when money and power are gods, ALL corporations must make constant profits:  the latest economic doctrine - "maximizing shareholder value" - says that a corporation has no purpose but to make profits for its shareholders.  This means that employer/employee loyalty and customer service/satisfaction are both irrelevant.  Pensions and/or health benefits can and must be cut whenever it's expedient to the bottom line.  Jobs must be outsourced to the lowest bidder, taxes must be avoided by offshoring whenever possible, nationalism/patriotism is a 20th century concept (i.e., ridiculous) and the fact that unemployed people do not buy much is ignored.  The honest truth is the United States is no longer the preferred customer of most corporations, including Coca-Cola:  China is king.  
  • When money and power are gods, everything must be privatized, i.e., put into the hands of corporations.  At the same time, the corporations are no longer national, they are global, in order to maximize shareholder value (see above).  Government - on any level - is an impediment to profit, so it must be made as small and neutralized as possible, except when needed to help the corporations (see below).  
    • NOTE:  I am constantly amazed at how, in one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in history, our government (a democracy, where the government is "we, the people") has become more dangerous in many people's eyes than corporations such as Monsanto, R. J. Reynolds, Dow Chemical, and Smith & Wesson.  At least with government, I can vote the bastards out: corporations, can't even be sued any more (see Legal Restrictions below).
        President Eisenhower Portrait 1959.tif
    • Corporate profits must be maintained, at all costs, including military.  Eisenhower recognized the beginnings of this in his Military Industrial Complex Speech.  Since the end of the Cold War, there has almost always been an economic rather than political reason why troops are sent where they are, why outrage is expressed over certain international incidents and not over others.  (This is why, for example, the entire international community joined the United States to invade Iraq in 1990-91's First Gulf War, a/k/a the 710 War, but everyone stood on the sidelines and watched as 800,000 people were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.)  And many aspects of war - supplies, security, etc. - are now routinely privatized to corporations which make a hefty profit with almost no oversight, including Bechtel (which was accused of  war profiteering), Halliburton, and Blackwater (which was brought before Congress in 2007 for "employee misdeeds," among other things).  
        • NOTE: In the run-up to the Iraq war, Halliburton was awarded a $7 billion contract for which 'unusually' only Halliburton was allowed to bid (Wikipedia - Halliburton)  It might not have hurt that Dick Cheney had been Chairman and CEO from 1995-2000.    
    • The gun manufacturers and armament industries must make constant profits, which means sales must be constant, and so the NRA preaches the complete and total ownership of any firearm of any kind by anyone at any time.  (Soon coming to your neighborhood:  personal flamethrowers!  Sadly, I'm not kidding.)  That's why each new shooting must be propagandized in whatever way that will increase sales:
    1. there are crazy people out there with guns, buy more guns now;
    2. the terrorists are coming to kill you, buy more guns now;
    3. the government is coming to take away your guns, buy more on guns now.
    • Also, to ensure constant profits for the weapons industry, our entertainment and news media must be saturated with ever-increasing levels of threats and violence both to keep the fear and anxiety at suitable levels and - very important, very underestimated - product placement. (Remember that every prop / weapon / outfit / drink you see on Criminal Minds, James Bond, the Bourne Identities, etc., is there in order to sell one to you.)  

    • NOTE 1:  If you don't believe that violence in media has any effect on people's behavior, then why do corporations spend billions on advertising?  If the constant barrage of news feeds, hour-long TV show, binge-watching television shows, and movies, or unlimited video games has no effect on our minds and behavior, then why should corporations pay billions for a 30-second ad spot?  Why do politicians and super-PACs do the same?  Are they all stupid?  
    • NOTE 2:  If you don't believe that violence in media has increased, watch an episode of Gunsmoke on RetroTV some time, and note how seldom Matt Dillon (or even the bad guys) used a gun.  Some day count the number of weapons on display in previews during the morning news.  (The average child will see 8,000 murders on television before finishing elementary school:  Link).  
    • NOTE 3:  The quantity of violence not only has increased, but, as the public becomes more jaded, it has become more and more perverse.  On the news, "When it bleeds, it leads!"  Literally.  As for entertainment, in the 1980s, Law and Order SVU was considered fairly hard-core, with story-lines of children being abused and murdered, women and children being raped, tortured, etc.  Not any more. Criminal Minds, Dexter, Hannibal, and other shows upped the ante with on-screen cannibalism, eye-gougings, etc.  On "Game of Thrones" human beings are being castrated and flayed alive.  Live, to-the-death gladiatorial contests cannot be far behind.  (But it's all in jest, they but do poison in jest, no harm in the world...)
    When money and power are gods, and corporations are their high priests, it has real world consequences.  And one of those is that the poor - collectively and individually - are sinners, and must be punished by any means at the disposal of the powerful.  The results are:

    Propaganda:  The poor are "losers", "moochers", "lazy", "worthless", "stupid".  Social Security and Medicare - both fully taxpayer funded, i.e., paid by us - are called "entitlements", which implies that they haven't been earned, but are something we moochers wrongly feel "entitled" to. (Damn straight I feel "entitled" to Social Security - I paid into it for 40 years!)

    Political restrictions:  Between gerrymandering, voting restrictions, and Citizens United, the powerful have done an excellent job of ensuring that the votes/interests/representation of the working class and poor are rendered irrelevant to the political process.  My own congresspeople - John Thune, Mike Rounds, and Kristi Noem - respond to my e-mails and letters with form letters.  I don't have the money to make them hear me.

    Legal restrictions:
    • Our right to sue corporations is being stripped away from us by "mandatory arbitration clauses" put in place by most health insurance plans, dealership or franchise agreements, billing agreements (think credit cards), and many, many, many other corporate contracts.  These deny the right of the consumer, employee, or contractee to sue in favor of arbitration before an arbiter of the corporation's choosing, at your expense (think $200-$300 an hour).  See Public Citizen Access - Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.    
    • Gag orders have become common as part of settlements with large corporations.  See Fracking gag order.  
    • If you are poor and arrested, even if you are found innocent, in many states and counties, you will be charged with court costs, fines, and fees for your (hopefully short) stay in jail.  In some counties, you will be charged for a public defender, despite the Miranda Law's assurance that one will be provided for you.  
    • The prison system - which has been privatized in many states - must make constant profits, and their contracts require full prisons, no matter what the level of crime actually is.  Therefore any laws which decriminalize any drugs must be fought.  Also, addiction, mental illness, and mental disability have been unofficially criminalized, because there's not enough money for state or federal mental health facilities and private mental health facilities are only for those with excellent health insurance.  
    When money and power are gods, human life has no meaning and really doesn't matter other than as just another sound bite to convince us that we are righteous, we are the best, we are exceptional, and everything's fine. But the real purpose of life under these gods is to make money and consume goods, nothing else. Allegiance must be mindless, generated by carefully crafted sound-bites.  Mental processes must be carefully controlled, so that no one ever considers that there might more to life than making money, shopping, sports, and/or the latest entertainment craze.

    1984first.jpgBut fear counts above all.  No one must ever question why - living in the richest, most privileged, most free society on earth, the "home of the free and the brave" - why they are so afraid, all the time, everywhere.  And, why is the object of fear constantly changing?  In Orwell's "1984" Oceania always at war, but the enemy kept switching from Eurasia to Eastasia.  In my lifetime I have watched the enemy - the one who will destroy us at all costs - change from Communism to the Evil Empire (Soviet Russia)/China to Japan to the Axis of Evil (Iran/Iraq/North Korea) to Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden to Radical Islamic Terrorism, with a few stops along the way at black ghettos, hippies, drugs, black gangs, urban thugs, illegal immigrants, illegal immigrant children, legal refugees, and anyone wearing a turban.  Not to mention polio, HIV, SARS, H1N1, Ebola, and Zika viruses.
    • NOTE:  So far, we're still here.  
    But let's not think about that.  Above all, let's not think about either of the following facts:
    • Money and power are abstractions, fictions, a belief system rather than a reality, to which we sacrifice real human beings, not to mention real air, real water, real food, real life, daily.  
    • No matter how much money and power is worshiped, acquired, accumulated, fought for, praised, and sacrificed to, life will never be 100% safe, and 100% of all people will all still die naked and alone.  Including the wealthiest of the 1%.  The gods of money and power, the church of the corporation, the priests of politicians and lobbyists, the demi-gods of celebrity will not save any of us from that fate.  
    This is the truth about the gods that America has chosen.  Like any pagan deities, they require regular human sacrifice.  And they are getting it.




    11 November 2015

    Close, But No Cigar


    Some of you might remember a column I wrote awhile back about Valerie Plame Wilson, the Iraqi intelligence asset CURVEBALL, and the Nigerian yellowcake controversy, pieces of a larger puzzle, the much-disputed evidence for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Here's something of a postscript.



    Any man's death diminishes us, as Donne says, although we all harbor an occasional hidden glee when some particularly pernicious bastard falls off his perch. Are there graves I'd piss on? Without even thinking twice. And as luck would have it, Achmed Chalabi died this past week. I wouldn't call him the blackest of villains. A shameless opportunist, a con man, an embezzler, a fabricator, a scoundrel, even a patriot - all things to all men, it might be said.

    This is the guy who sold the Iraq war. CIA didn't trust him worth a hoot, but he had the ear of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary and Rumsfeld's point man on WMD. Wolfowitz set up a spook shop in the Pentagon basement called the Office of Special Plans, and handed it off to one of his house attack dogs, Doug Feith. OSP's brief was to reassess the raw intelligence product regarding Iraq, since it was obvious to the administration war hawks that CIA and the rest of those goldbricks hadn't gotten the God damn memo. In other words, somebody had to come up with the smoking gun, and in their hour of need, a champion did indeed appear.



    Now, as to why you'd buy warmed-over merchandise from a tainted source like Chalabi, this is a naive question. Yes, he'd been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan, and there were later questions about accounting practices at the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group he founded - during one three-year period it was kept afloat with some 30 million bucks of U.S. State Department aid money - but let's not be churlish. Chalabi was preaching to the converted. They'd already seen the light on the road to Damascus. They were hearing what they wanted to hear, the mobile labs for chemical and biological warfare, missile payloads, nuclear research. BND, the West German security service, was raising doubts, but these were dismissed. The story got legs. It's all a twice-told tale.

    Chalabi's legend starts to unravel, afterwards. I'm using the term legend advisedly. In the secret world, it means a false biography or back-story, that supports a deception. If we start from the premise that Chalabi wanted to liberate Iraq, well and good, but then we begin to wonder, at what cost, and to whom? Couple of examples. Chalabi encouraged the Kurdish resistance, in the mid-1990's. It was brutally suppressed, he escaped. He was back, with U.S. forces, in 2003. He was unrepentant. Nor was he apologetic for feeding us bogus information. (It's been remarked, however, that intelligence he provided about his personal or political enemies turned out to be entirely accurate.) A more damaging suspicion is that Chalabi sold out early, and the high bidder was Iran. Supposing it to be true, and there's reason to believe it, everything turns inside out. We've got the accepted narrative backwards.



    Sake of argument, let's just imagine one of OSP's chief resources was in fact an Iranian agent. How would it affect our Iraq policy - what would the desired result be, from Iran's perspective? A humiliating American failure, sure, but that's collateral damage. The big draw is a weak or compromised Iraq, fractured by tribalism and religious faction, near collapse. Low-hanging fruit. You could make the case that this is exactly what's come to pass, and the long game has worked in Iran's favor. They've got good position. And it shouldn't come as any surprise that they're ready to climb in bed with the Russians, either. The self-cultivated image of the mullahs as fanatics is a lot more bark than bite. They're a pragmatic bunch, by and large, and it may simply be that we've been played like a violin. It wouldn't be the first time we were undone by better technique or tradecraft. 

    This is total speculation, of course. I'm not saying any of it's true.


     http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

    11 September 2014

    Holy War


    • "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them." -Umberto Eco 
    • “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
    There are a few obvious things about people in their teens and early twenties: an excruciating focus on themselves, a low thresh hold for boredom, an even lower tolerance for criticism [while dishing out lots of it to others], a disgust for trivia, gossip, and mass culture [usually while digesting huge amounts of it], a constant pursuit of sheer sensation [which is their definition of knowing that one is alive], and a determination that their lives will in no way ever, ever, ever resemble those of their elders (I know: I remember it clearly).

    And God knows there are so many options: drugs, video games, sex, crime (more for its thrills and potential violence than even any financial gains), war, love, learning, religion (ranging from strict to cults), and anything else that can give meaning to a life that... well, in the industrialized world, is pretty safely fenced in from all but self-inflicted dangers. And those self-inflicted dangers are very enticing.  Danger is very enticing.

    So we have young men from all over the world, including America, Canada, and Europe, heading off to jihad in the Middle East or wherever else they can find it.  Much fewer women. (Perhaps because women's lives, everywhere, offer a little more danger than men's on a daily basis.)

    It's very reminiscent of all the young men who could not WAIT to sign up to go off on the Crusades during the 11th-13th centuries.

    Only the first Crusade was successful, if by successful you mean attaining the military objective of "getting Jerusalem out of the hands of the infidel."  Successive crusades were either a waste of time, blood and manpower, OR they were remarkably successful, if your definition of success is "getting a whole lot of loot by sacking Christian cities" like Constantinople.

    The Crusades were packaged as a religious war, which would take back the Holy Land (as if it had ever been ruled by Europeans).  But it was also, in a practical sense, a way of dealing with a whole lot of single young men who, lacking video games, were rampaging through Europe fighting and feuding and being generally destructive.  A very modern note is that most of these young men did not have a chance in hell of ever getting married:  medieval Europe had a gender imbalance (more men than women) among the upper classes, thanks to bad medieval medicine, monasteries as birth control, and probably a certain amount of gender-specific infanticide.  And, even if there was an available woman, it took a lot of money to get married, because you had to be able to support the wife, children, and retainers of decent knightly living. And most of these were younger sons:  no money, no land, no marriage.

    Believe me, medieval rulers, both church and state, recognized the problem of these young men, and so they tried to "curb socially destructive fighting" with chivalric ideals, with church rules, with tournaments, and you know what?  It was still out of hand.  So they shipped them overseas and let them fight their hearts out.

    Massacre of Jerusalem
    The guys, of course, went because this was the adventure of a lifetime.  A young man's job was to fight. Reading letters and memoirs (read Villehardouin about the Fourth Crusade; Joinville about, God help us, the Seventh), it's obvious that every one of them expected to fight hard, kill lots of the infidel, and win castles, lands, women, money, everything they need to live well.  And they're going to have a glorious time, because young men know that they will never die in battle.  (In fact, most of them died of dysentery, typhus, and gangrene.)  So off they went, and the First Crusade (1097-1099) did indeed take back Jerusalem, and win the Four Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer: Jerusalem, Edessa (Turkey), Antioch (Syria), and Tripoli (Lebanon). And they massacred their way through all of it:  in Jerusalem, to celebrate and cement their victory, the knights beheaded every Muslim (men, women, and children).  When the Jews fled for safety to the synagogue in Jerusalem, the Crusaders burned it - and the Jews - to the ground.


    Keeping Outremer was the problem.  For some reason, the locals wanted their country back, and Saladin's grandfather, Zangi, led a jihad that took back the Kingdom of Edessa.  As soon as word got back to Europe, a Second Crusade (1147-1149)was preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which accomplished very little except get Eleanor of Aquitaine quite a reputation, and St. Francis of Assisi an opportunity to preach to a Sultan, while the English forces got sidetracked with kicking the Moors out of Lisbon.

    Forty years later, the Third Crusade pitted Saladin against Richard the Lion-Heart of England (Eleanor of Aquitaine's son by Henry II). The two great medieval warriors got involved in a very chivalric exchange of poetry and gifts before Richard beheaded 2,700 Muslim hostages because they got in his way. On the way home, Richard got captured and held for ransom by Duke Leopold of Austria.  (It's Richard's absence in the Third Crusade that gave the legend of Robin Hood real fire.)


    Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).  Where the Crusaders, tempted by the wily Venetians, said the hell with the Holy Land and attacked, looted and sacked, first Zara and then Constantinople, both Christian cities.  The bronze horses, the winged lion, and a lot more "Venetian" treasures were taken in this Crusade.  About 10% of the Crusaders did go on to the Holy Land, but they might as well not have bothered.  In fact, by sacking Constantinople, the "Crusaders" made it easier for the Ottoman Turks to eventually take over not just the Middle East and North Africa, but most of Eastern Europe...  But that's another story.

    There were more Crusades, one of which was successful:  In 1228-29, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II went over and - rather than fighting - negotiated a 10 year truce with the Muslims, regaining the City of Jerusalem back for the Crusaders in exchange for religious toleration of Muslims in the Holy Land.  For this, he was excommunicated by the Pope and considered a heretic (and a softy) by everyone in Europe.

    And then there were the "crusades" of the common people:  The People's Crusade under Peter the Hermit, in which 20,000 peasants - men, women and children - got slaughtered by either the Hungarian Magyars or the Turks. The Children's Crusade of 1212, where a young French shepherd named Stephen and Nicholas from Cologne both had visions in which they were commanded to raise an army to free the Holy Land.  They got thousands of children to accompany them, all across Europe.  (Which leads to the obvious question:  what the hell were their parents thinking?)  Anyway, the children made it to Marseilles, where two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, put them on 7 ships to the Holy Land, where every single one of them was sold into slavery.
    Siege of Baghdad

    None of the Crusades succeeded in taking out the Muslim Abassid Dynasty.  That job was reserved for the Mongols, who invaded in the 1200s.  In 1258, Hulugu Khan (grandson of Genghis) invaded, sacked, and burned Baghdad to the ground, killing one million Muslims.  In 1291, his successors took the entire Muslim world while other great-grandchildren of Genghis were banging on the gates of Vienna.  Eventually the Mongol Empire -stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean - spread Islam all the way to China.

    There have always been holy wars, preached by old men, fought by young men - but the results are rarely what either hopes for.  Nobody "won" the Crusades.  Nobody "wins" any holy war; the end usually comes down to the stark realities of wholesale massacre and/or endless blood feud, all in the name of religion.  But holy wars, under any name, are indeed a force that give certain people meaning, and give certain people extreme excitement, what with bloodshed and massacre made legal, even holy.  To quote from Dexter Filkins' "The Death of Steven Sotloff" (New Yorker, 9/2/14), "the political goals [of ISIS]—a civil war, in which Islamist forces would triumph—seem secondary to the promise of terrible destruction... 'If the enemy wins, we will burn everything.'" Which is exactly what the Crusaders, the Muslims, and the Mongols did, to everyone they ran across, time and again.

    Filkins continues, "...[to] the guys who signed up for ISIS—including, especially, the masked man with the English accent who wielded the knife—killing is the real point of being there. Last month, when ISIS forces overran a Syrian Army base in the city of Raqqa, they beheaded dozens of soldiers and displayed their trophies on bloody spikes. 'Here are heads that have ripened, that were ready for the plucking,' an ISIS fighter said in narration. Two soldiers were crucified. This sounds less like a battle than like some kind of macabre party." And that is exactly what holy wars are:  a macabre party, in which anything goes, anything is acceptable, anything can be done, no matter how depraved or despicable, because the cause is "right".

    It's everyone else who suffers.