Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was quite a novelist, born in Poland as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, in Berdyczów (which is now Berdychiv and in Ukraine). Conrad's father was a writer and translator from French and English, and he was arrested by the Russian authorities in Warsaw for his activities in support of the 1863 insurrection against Tsarist Russia - and was exiled to Siberia. Conrad was an orphan by the time he was eleven, and ending up not much liking Russians. He then lived with an uncle who reluctantly allowed him to travel to Marseille and begin a career as a seaman, at seventeen - it seems he couldn't get Austro-Hungarian citizenship and that made him liable for a twenty-five year involuntary stint in the Russian army. No thanks. Off to Marseille and off to sea - and then a bit of gunrunning and political conspiracy, and the women that drove him crazy. In 1878, after a botched suicide attempt, he took a slot on his first British ship. With time on his hands learned English before he was twenty-one, and then in 1886 got his Master Mariner's certificate and British citizenship at the same time. In 1894, all of thirty-six years old, he left that sea stuff. He ended up living in London and then near Canterbury, down in Kent.
And he wrote - Nostromo, about a revolution in South America, and The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes - and those two deal with espionage and what we now call terrorism. There was Lord Jim and the others. But the novel everyone remembers these days is the short Heart of Darkness - a really scathing indictment of colonialism, and the nasty human exploitation and all too harrowing but predictable suffering that goes with it, and the despair on all sides in the end. The narrator sees lots of things while in command of a Congo steamer. Marlow meets Kurtz.
We're not a nation of readers so the only way most know of this book is through a film inspired by it, Apocalypse Now, where the quietly and profoundly evil Kurtz at the heart of all the darkness in that case turns out to be Marlon Brando, of all people. Caught in traffic up on Mulholland Drive a few years ago when Brando died and the local news vans had clogged the street by his place hoping to interview someone or other, anyone who looked sad, it was easy to think of Brando as the heart of darkness still. But the film was just a shadow of the book, and really about more than a few other matters.
Conrad himself is long gone - in 1923 he declined the offer of a British knighthood, saying he already had a hereditary Polish one (implying he rather not have one from this British Empire that had subdued the lesser races and all that). He died the next year. But he had nailed the darkness, spot on, in that one book.
It was easy to think of him when, on Tuesday, August 1, there's this - Michael Steele, the real-life hero of the 1993 events in Somalia that were turned into the film Black Hawk Down, is now under investigation - he may have either directly ordered the men he commanded, or implicitly encouraged the men he commanded, to go on a bit of a killing spree, as in just go kill all military-age males you find. This happening, of course, just as the Army has started to make its case against his four soldiers charged with murdering three Iraqi civilians. They say he gave the order, and they don't think it's fair to wholly blame them - they acted in self-defense, and were, anyway, under orders to kill all military-age Iraqi men, whether or not they were armed. So they did. But they just were not acting "in cold blood."
As for Steele, you are responsible for those you command. Responsibility flows upward, save for the Pentagon and White House. So Steele is in trouble. The scoop in the item from ABC News the day before the soldiers' hearing gets going is that Steele has already been reprimanded for the incident.
And the item adds this detail -
Charming. But Steele is not the heart of darkness, just unclear of the concept that the Army is now trying to drive home - in this kind of asymmetrical, fourth-generation, guerilla war of insurgency, or whatever you wish to call it, the native population is the prize you're trying to win, not those who just get in the way and can be eliminated when you really don't know who is the real bad guy, who might be, and who's a normal or goofy nobody in the area and you don't have the time or resources to find that out.
During the current conflict, Steele has been heard boasting about his unit's record of killing insurgents. Last November he said, "We are absolutely giving the enemy the maximum opportunity to die for his country."
A source familiar with the investigation said Steele kept a "kill board" tallying the number of Iraqis killed by units under his command, and in some cases he gave out commemorative knives to soldiers who killed Iraqis believed to be insurgents.
Steele may have really hurt our efforts, buy one could go higher, as in this - Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo, has resigned -
Is he Kurtz? Maybe, but he knows he's not going to rise, and he may be the fall guy, eventually, for all this. It's time to get out.
Miller chose to retire without seeking promotion and a third star, in large part because his legacy has been tarnished by allegations of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, according to military officials and congressional sources. Miller had hoped to retire in February, but his departure was delayed because members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to question him while he was still in uniform about his role in implementing harsh interrogation techniques at the two prisons.
Miller was allowed to retire only after he assured members of the Senate panel in writing that he would make himself available to testify if called. Congressional sources from both political parties said yesterday that they were not satisfied with several investigations into Miller's actions while he was commander at Guantanamo Bay and are still skeptical of his truthfulness in Senate testimony after the Abu Ghraib abuse surfaced in spring 2004.
… While the top officer at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and 2003, Miller implemented and oversaw a number of harsh interrogation tactics that included the use of dogs to frighten Arab detainees, and stripping captives naked and shackling them in stress positions to force them to talk. Such tactics later were used in Iraq, shortly after Miller and a team of experts visited in 2003 to help obtain more information during interrogations.
Miller has said he did not authorize interrogation techniques in Iraq. But according to slides he presented to Pentagon officials upon his return, he used his Guantanamo Bay experience as a baseline for suggestions such as having military police who guarded the detainees set the conditions for more fruitful interrogations. Weeks later, military police soldiers at Abu Ghraib took pictures of themselves using harsh and demeaning tactics similar to those at Guantanamo Bay.
And there's this -
Miller's retirement was postponed until after the court-martial of US Army Sergeant Santos Cardona, who was convicted of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib when he used unmuzzled dogs during interrogations. In testimony during Cardona's court-martial, Miller denied recommending the use of dogs during interrogations. Although Miller will not face disciplinary action for the allegations against him, he could be called back to active duty to face a court-martial, though military officials say the move will not likely happen. Pentagon officials last year refused to reprimand Miller as recommended by two generals investigating abuse at Guantanamo Bay.
There may not always be two generals who flat-out refuse to say you did anything at all wrong. Why chance that?
But then again there's this - the president has nominated General Bantz J. Craddock, to be the top military man at NATO.
Craddock currently commands the Southern Command, responsible for the Guantanamo prison, and is the guy, when the three prisoners there recently committed suicide, called the suicides an act of war on America. Whatever.
The Europeans get to nominate the top civilian at NATO, and we get to name the top military leaders - that's the deal. And this may be a Bush in-your-face thing at all the euro-weenies who bitch about Guantanamo and want us to shut it down, and don't like our secret prisons and don't like us grabbing people of the streets of Rome and sending them off for "enhanced interrogation" to places that don't exist, never to be heard from again. Maybe Miller should have stayed around. The senate, who must approve this nomination (the Europeans have no say), are a bit uncomfortable with this move, but the president's party still has the majority there. There are still enough angry no-one-can-criticize-us types that this will sail through, even if sailing through roughly. But it best be done before November. Things could change.
Given these items, one senses that there's a bit of an under the surface struggle going on here as Iraq disintegrates, the Hezbollah-Israel war widens and deepens, the Taliban retake parts of Afghanistan, and all the rest spins out of control. There are the "get tough" neoconservatives, echoing the words of Conrad's Kurtz - "Exterminate the brutes."
It's the Heart if Darkness, once again. Steele and Miller, and maybe Craddock and others - and Vice President Cheney in the shadows doing his Marlon Brando thing (think about it) - leading to things like this from the influential John Podhoretz -
Had will just killed every one of them there'd be no problem. Well, yes, genocide can be efficient, and bring a long period of no troubles. The Turks pretty much got rid of the Armenians way back when (many of those who escaped seemed to have ended up out here in California). Hitler almost got rid of all the Jews (and Schoenberg and Thomas Mann and so many others got out quick and ended up here in Hollywood). Those who aren't dead have left for California. But you hope you get them all. So the neoconservatives float a new theory.
What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?
And Podhoretz adds this - "If you can't imagine George W. Bush issuing such an order, is there any American leader you could imagine doing so?"
Podhoretz is saying Bush is the man, and he should have done it, and he's disappointed in Bush for not giving the order. But you could apply the lesson elsewhere.
An anonymous writer who uses the name Tristero, a character in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 - he's actually a composer whose works are performed by orchestras worldwide - says Podhoretz has concluded Conrad's Kurtz had the right idea - "Exterminate the brutes." That's here, with a collection of matching quotes from the Third Reich and other sources. It's not amusing.
As for exterminating the brutes, it may be too late now to kill all the Sunni males of a certain age, but now be the time to for mass slaughter of the Hezbollah crowd - men, women and children - but they're doing for us, or something, or so says Rush Limbaugh -here (emphases added) -
So they all need to be exterminated. Or so says Kurtz.
We've got the Hezbos, who have in interesting fashion, and I think the same thing is being attempted in Iraq, and it poses the same kind of trouble, or the same kind of challenge. The Hezbos have pretty much made - and we've heard the puff piece stories. Oh, they're wonderful humanitarians, the Hezbos, why, the social services they provide the general population, why, they're doing such wonderful things, they care about people, they passed out health care and whatever the hell it is. Well, what they're doing is making the general population of these countries dependent on them, and as such, that is how they secure - it's either through blackmail or genuine support, but it's how they get the support of the general population centers. You also have the Israeli factor in that. These are Arabs absolutely, so there are a number of factors in it.
But the one thing that has really changed in warfare, from World War II forward - and I know that tactics change, but strategy doesn't. The Art of War by Sun Tzu is still something that's regarded as timely, even though it's thousands of years old. The one thing that you just don't do these days is kill civilians. It used to be the name of the game in war. And it was done on purpose. Now, it was done to end wars, and it was done to achieve decisive victory, and it was done to save the lives of your own troops in the field. All of those things were factors.
So we had this episode at Qana. You know who really killed those people are the Hezbos. Hezbollah killed those people. Hezbollah put those people in that building and brought the rocket launchers in close by, knowing full well that the launcher would be targeted. That building didn't fall for eight hours after it was hit. What do you bet that the Hezbos finished the job that the Israeli bomb did not actually complete? What do you bet they killed their own people for the PR aspect? These people cannot compete militarily with any industrialized nation, so they have to fight the PR and the spin war. And it is amazing to me to see how easily the duped US and world media is.
… Every bit of it is staged and the still photographers know it. Yet they send these pictures out without saying all of this is being staged for us. They send these pictures out as though they are in a timeline of an exact sequence, which they are not, which you will see when you read it. So the point is, Israel is probably not even killing all these civilians. I asked the other day, when you have the Hezbos who don't wear uniforms, how do you know what civilian deaths are versus Hezbo deaths, how do you know who's who there? You don't.
… Until civilians - frankly, I'm not sure how many of them are actually just innocent little civilians running around versus active Hezbo types, particularly the men, but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks. What do you mean, civilians start paying a price? I just ask you to consult history for the answer to that. It's not their fault, Rush, it's not their fault! No. Not saying that it is.
But as long as you're going to allow these people to hide behind baby carriages and women and children and mosques and so-called apartment buildings, and if you're going to launch military strikes at military targets, which Hezbollah is not doing - 120 rockets into Israel yesterday. Nobody has a care in the world, nobody has one word of condemnation for that. We don't know what targets were hit, we don't know how many people died. The Israelis are not parading their victims around on TV for propaganda purposes. As long as we are going to pussyfoot and patty-cake around, we're not going to get anywhere, we're not going to make any real progress.
We may delay the inevitable, we may get ceasefire after ceasefire after ceasefire, but we're not going to deal with the root cause of the problem. And as such, your kids and grandkids are going to be saddled with that at some point when they assume responsibility for the fate and future of the country.
Digby sees the underlying idea here -
Yep, there's something going around, in the top circles of those who advise or support the White House now. It's that "kill them all and let God sort them out" thing. The ball is rolling.
So, the pictures of the dead are all phony, staged propaganda but the civilians need to be killed anyway in order to get to the root causes of the problem - which I understand to be too many living Arabs. If we don't kill them now, our kids and grandkids will have to kill their kids and grandkids later.
This blatant genocidal bloodlust has become de rigeur on the right now. It's on talk radio, TV and in the columns of respectable newspapers. They don't even pretend to be civilized anymore. Maybe it's just the SOS, but I've got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don't ever remember this kind of stuff being openly bandied about like it's normal. And those who did, like Curtis LeMay, didn't have audiences of 25 million listeners to spew their bilge to.
But hey, what do we expect? Once you explode the taboo against torture, can genocide be far behind?
Of course there are ironies. We just don't do genocide - going after whole races of people - men, women and children. We're the good guys - and just don't say anything about the Long Trail of the Cherokee as they were forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma, and then we took most of that away. That was a long time ago. So were the internment camps for the Japanese in the forties. It's not the same. We don't do such things.
But there is a rising tide here - Ann Coulter saying we should force their leaders to convert to Christianity, or kill them, the calls for getting tough and "taking the gloves off," Steele, Miller, the rules going away so people die in "enhanced interrogation" and others just disappear, the administration's documented plan to use nuclear weapons on Iran if they keep experimenting with that nuclear stuff, and so on, with Limbaugh saying "but until those civilians start paying a price for propping up these kinds of regimes, it's not going to end, folks."
Bill Montgomery here compares that to Osama bin Laden in March of 1997 is his Fatwa Against America -
Same thing. The gloves are off. (And see this the two quotes side by side on national television, and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC ruefully laughing at Limbaugh.
We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal.
… As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places.
But that's where we are.
One pro-administration fellow (Bill Ardolino) takes his own side to task here -
That's a start.
There's a common idea, almost exclusively promoted among right-wing pundits, that more force is necessarily more effective force.
... But the global war on terror is a wildly asymmetrical conflict that's only going to grow more frustrating and complex. ... As a result, much of the bluster about ditching Queensbury rules and going "Dubya Dubya Too" on our "enemies" as an evident solution to the conflict is simply that: bluster. … "Nuking Mecca" won't do a whit of good, and in fact [will] accomplish the opposite of any cowing intent.
... I think that it's time for some right-wing pundits to either move beyond the lazy general concept of "more force" is necessarily "better force," or at least present a practical, detailed plan for an aggressive subjugation of "the enemy" that goes beyond "we need to get serious! If only those ******s in Washington would take the gloves off!"
And then out here on Tuesday, August 1, Prime Minister Blair gave an odd speech. The night before it had been a pleasant night at the Getty Center with the mayor and the big guns. Tuesday was World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, at the Westin Bonaventure hotel (the glass cylinders one in all the movies and in the most recent Buck Rodgers series).
This was an odd speech. Billed as a major foreign policy address he called for a "complete renaissance" of the global approach to tackling extremism, with as much emphasis on "soft" power as military might -
We will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of value as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair and just in our application of those values to the world.
In reality we are at present far away from persuading those we need to persuade that this [is] true.
Unless we reappraise our strategy, unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win, and this is a battle we must win
You cannot win by bombing everything in sight, then rounding up everyone you can and torturing them to find out from the random sample who knows what?
No kidding, Tony. Dick Cheney may never let you talk to George again.
But this too is a start. On the other hand he's in trouble back in the UK and had to show he's really not George's prison bitch, and this would do. And he couldn't say this in Washington, only way out here where everyone is crazy anyway.