On Civil War monuments, American Nazis, white supremacists and (maybe) necessary limits on free speech

The Thinker by Rodin

Is there a difference between a Neo-Nazi and a white supremacist? My take: not really. A Neo-Nazi may be quicker to raise a Nazi salute and yell “Heil Trump!” (as happened in Charlottesville) while surrounding monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee. Both seemed happy to chant, “Jews will not replace us” readily enough. Both groups assert that whites are a superior race and should be in charge.

If you truly believe this then there is no room for the democratic process, which may explain why so many Americans like totalitarianism. That’s pretty much what the real Nazis figured out once they decided they were right. Jews and other minorities in Germany weren’t going to “self-deport” themselves. So the final solution of murdering them all seemed an obvious but grisly solution to their so-called problem. There is no reason to think American Neo-Nazis would think otherwise, particularly when they show their seriousness by arming themselves to the teeth during their “protests” and spend the night before hanging outside a Jewish synagogue.

Forgotten among all this Neo-Nazi news is exactly what the Nazis actually believed. If you were a Nazi, you agreed with Germany’s National Socialist German Workers Party. I doubt any of these Neo-Nazis would consider themselves socialists. Socialism means government controlling the means of production, which is far more Alt-Left (if such a community existed) than Alt-Right. Nazi’s believed that you had to have German “blood” to be a citizen. Presumably Neo-Nazis would demand that you have “white” blood to be a citizen, but most Neo-Nazis probably would not qualify there too. Somewhere in their recent genetic past are likely one or more non-Caucasians. Would they self deport themselves from America if true? I think not.

Nazis also wanted to abolish unearned income, like living off your interest and dividends. No Neo-Nazi would go along with that. Many of them live off inheritances already. Also, Nazis wanted the nationalization of German industries. Imagine the government owning GM or Ford! No Neo-Nazi today would ever conceive of doing this. Nazi’s wanted “old age welfare”, government appropriation of private lands, and to kill all “usurers” (moneylenders). So what makes American Neo-Nazis even more appalling than real Nazis is that they are more conservative than actual Nazis were. They want all the Nazi bad stuff without its modicum of good stuff!

Perhaps that’s why a scene from the day after Election Day, November 9, 2016, keeps going through my head. I arose in Nashville and was flying home, transiting through Atlanta. Obviously, Trump’s election was huge news and CNN was everywhere in the airport while I was there. I was riding the subway between concourses and was drawn to watching a black flight attendant. There was no mistaking the anguish on her face that she valiantly but fruitlessly tried to hide. She knew that Jim Crow had won the day. She now knew she had an explicit (rather than implicit) target on her back. She woke up like many of us into an America she no longer recognized. Me? Well, I was white. I would survive. Probably.

In any event, the real Nazis turned out to be a huge problem for the rest of us. It’s largely forgotten but the United States entry into the Second World War was hardly due to a national consensus. Then as now there were Steve Bannons around who wanted to keep us out of the war. We might not have entered the war without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Before the attack, President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program though showed our sympathies.) By then it was clear what we were dealing with: people so driven by ideology that only war could end them. We entered these wars not just because we were attacked, but also because we could not allow an evil this large stand. It was a completely reasonable to think that if the Nazis and the Japanese succeeded, our freedoms and liberties were in jeopardy.

The irony is that today America is perhaps the most Nazi-sympathetic country on the planet, as Donald Trump’s election attests. A postwar Germany went out of its way to avoid falling into the Nazi trap again. Displaying the Nazi flag in Germany today is a crime, as is doing a Nazi salute, wearing a Nazi uniform, shouting Nazi slogans and giving Nazi greetings. Many European countries have similar laws. Europeans learned the lesson: that National Socialism stuff is dangerous stuff!

Here in the United States though these things are allowed. We saw what a ruckus it can stir up over in the protests in Charlottesville. We allow most forms of civil protest even when these views if implemented would lead to the destruction of our liberal democracy. Curiously, in writing Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler admired the way Americans were separating its races through segregation and by making it hard for non-whites to hold power. Much of it was due to Jim Crow laws, but there was plenty of racism north of the Mason-Dixon line too. The Democratic Party of the 19th and early 20th centuries was largely a white nationalist and principally working class party. Somewhere in the middle of the 20th Century the roles got reversed. The Party of Lincoln is now the party of white nationalists.

This raises the question: should certain forms of free speech like advocating for Nazism simply not be allowed? Nazism literally ripped Germany apart, not to mention much of the world. It killed tens of millions so why on earth would any country permit it? Why play with such a dangerous fire? Our own Civil War supposedly settled the question of whether all of us were really equal before the law. But Charlottesville proves that there are plenty of people who didn’t like the answer. The Civil War monuments erected during Jim Crow and afterward prove that in some ways our bloody civil war was but a major skirmish and we have not quite settled the question.

It’s unlikely that removing these statues of the leaders of Confederacy will extinguish these racists feelings too. It might enflame these feelings instead. It’s worth a try and I hope state and local governments persist in these efforts. There are plenty of admirable Southern people deserving of statues in their place whose actions rests on a higher moral plain.

Defusing the angry Trumpsters

The Thinker by Rodin

Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. For being sort of retired, my life has been plenty busy lately. Mainly I’ve been hosting family, who seem to have finally accepted that we have moved to Western Massachusetts and suddenly want to visit. My brother arrived for a weeklong visit. In the middle of it my sister arrived, along with my stepmother. For eleven days we enjoyed their company, fed them and took them places. Now things are getting back to normal and I can think about blogging again.

What thought that have been occupying my brain these last couple of weeks have not been Donald Trump, but the people who support him. Trump has been true to his form, going from crazy to crazier. I no longer worry at all about him winning the election. As I said in June, Trump is toast. I’d like to think he is smart enough to realize this, but he is surprisingly tone deaf to things like his ultra high negatives and polling that shows him pulling farther behind Hillary Clinton.

He seems convinced that he will somehow pull this election thing off somehow, unless it gets “stolen” somehow. (What a strange concern from a party that has been putting up voting roadblocks for poor and minorities.) Even Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has thrown in his towel. For months he was dogmatically certain that Trump had us all hypnotized. He had said he had 98% confidence that Trump would win the election because he excelled at mass hypnosis and persuasion techniques. I do give him credit for one thing: Trump certainly has his followers hypnotized. It seems there is nothing too wild that he can say (the latest is that President Obama “founded” ISIS) that will dissuade his followers from voting for him. Fortunately this is but a sizeable minority of the country. To quote Bertrand Russell, the rest of us aren’t hypnotized; we are “uncomfortably awake”. You know you are in trouble when my stepmother, who reads Bill O’Reilly’s books and watches Fox News told us she couldn’t vote for Trump. Hillary will get her vote.

This is not my first rumination about Trump’s followers. This is America, and we’re entitled to believe any crazy thing we want, which is why many of us are dogmatically certain the earth is only 6000 years old. We don’t give up our prejudices easily and I’m no exception. Rest assured though that if Bernie Sanders were the pompous, gaseous windbag that Donald Trump is I would have been the first to run away from him. A few of Trump’s halfhearted supporters have seen the light, which is mostly figuring out what side their bread is buttered on. Establishment Republicans are working hard to shut their eyes and stop their ears until after the election. They too live in the real world and they know a political disaster of potentially Biblical proportions is about to be unleashed in November against them. They are hoping their firewall of gerrymandering will allow them to maintain some modicum of political control, at least in the House. The Senate is looking likely to flip back to the Democrats.

The late Eric Hoffer wrote a number of interesting books, including The Ordeal of Change and The True Believer. It is the latter book that I am thinking about tonight. Most of us are true believers in the sense that we have certain core beliefs that virtually nothing can change. I fall into this category too. We are not open to evidence that contravenes our predetermined positions, which is why it’s very hard to get someone to change those opinions and beliefs they are most passionate about. Sometimes it takes cataclysm. In the case of Japan, it took two nuclear bombs to get them to surrender and a benevolent overlord (the United States) to introduce rational government (democracy). Just to be on the safe side though we clipped Japan’s wings, not allowing it to develop nuclear weapons or an army capable of fighting in a foreign war. In Trump’s supporters I see a lot of people behaving a lot like the Japanese before their surrender, i.e. true believers. Trump seems to be egging them on with a recent comment that suggested that those who favor the Second Amendment might unseat a President Hillary Clinton using their guns, which most read as his sanctioning her assassination.

The most dangerous day for our democracy since the Civil War may be the day after the general election, November 9, and what comes out of Trump’s mouth when he loses. Based on his bullheadedness and lack of impulse control, I would not be surprised if he asked his followers to rise up. After all, it will be the only way to “make America great again” if we unwisely choose “Crooked Hillary”. It would probably land him in jail, but it’s unclear if this would bother him, as stoking his ego seems to be all that matters. Would his supporters actually try insurrection? And if so how can it be prevented?

I think at least some will, with or without an overt call. Trump will probably call for it using weasel words that will sound like he is not directly calling for such an action, but his supporters will know what he is signaling. I think even if he says nothing at least some of his supporters will attempt to take matters into their own hands. It may be a handful of incidents or it may turn into something much more long term: attempts at insurrection that could look indistinguishable from terrorism. After all, if your cause is just, terrorism is just another tactic.

It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for Trump supporters. If any group deserves to hit the concrete, it will be his supporters. In reality, the whole Republican establishment could stand for a tar and feathering. We Democrats though are too nonviolent to do something like this. His supporters though are full of energy and certainty about the rightness of their positions. If we know anything about energy, a pocket of energy will eventually burst its container if it grows large enough. So how does an enlightened society gently prick this Trump balloon so rather than explode violently it gently drains away? How do we lead the Tea Party and Trump supporters to a better and more productive place?

Ideally, Trump would be statesmanlike enough to do this, but that’s not a likely option here. Part of the solution would be for key Republicans to forcefully and repeatedly state that insurrection and violence are not options. It wouldn’t hurt if Republicans said that anyone advocating these things would be expelled from their party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be a good person to say this, as his loathing for all things Democratic is hardly unknown. Speaker Paul Ryan can and likely would do the same thing, but he has considerably less influence and power than McConnell. Doubtless the Bush family, Mitt Romney and most of the Republican presidential candidates would say the same. It’s important though for these people to speak up on this now, be clear and be loud throughout the general election campaign. At this point none of these people seem to be entertaining the idea that anyone in their flock needs such a lecture.

They also need a plan for the day after the election that Tea Partiers can latch onto with some measure of hope. It will be mostly more of what they did after Obama was elected: promising total obstruction, something Mitch McConnell was quite effective in doing. It won’t make a President-elect Hillary Clinton happy but it may staunch a rebellion. Hillary Clinton probably can and will speak forcefully after her election calling for calm and making it clear that she will not propose anything more than modest gun control legislation. (She is already doing the latter, but Tea Partiers aren’t listening or simply don’t believe her.)

What will prove key is how President Obama reacts to any scattered attempts at insurrection. We still have a National Guard that has controlling insurrection as part of its mission. However, when incidents are scattered and low-key, they won’t prove effective using traditional tactics. We do have police forces with plenty of armaments more suited to warfare than policing. That will help.

My suspicion is that Obama is already all over this, and this is part of his daily national security briefing. There are likely all sorts of contingency plans and all sorts of discreet surveillance going on by the NSA and FBI to nip a lot of these in the bud. But not even the NSA can be everywhere and it’s easy to acquire firearms. More lethal armaments are likely out there for those with the money and connections. All we can really do is hope they are doing their job. If they are, the bomb that are Trump supporters may mostly diffuse before Election Day.

Thoughts on the Civil War

The Thinker by Rodin

Mission accomplished! I have now completed reading a comprehensive history of the Civil War, specifically Shelby Foote’s massive three-volume, 2,968 page, 1.2 million word tome, The Civil War: A Narrative. This war is now about a hundred and fifty years in our past. It remains a source of considerable interest, at least to a small subset of Americans into history, primarily because it happened right around us instead of in some distant land. As a percent of our population killed or injured in a war, the Civil War is unlikely to ever be exceeded unless there is a nuclear war. It touched pretty much everyone in our nation.

This post is not so much a review of these books, which are well written and meticulously researched by Foote, as it is to provide some of my thoughts and observations about the Civil War, particularly things that surprised me or are simply not well known to those with only a casual knowledge of the conflict.

One of the primary lessons I took away from these books is that effective leadership and passion can surmount seemingly impossible odds. At the beginning of the war, most Confederates who graduated from West Point realized that the South could not win the war. At best Confederates held out hope that the Union would simply tire of the conflict and sue for peace. This was not an unrealistic expectation, but Abraham Lincoln was not an ordinary president. He ineffectively but doggedly continued to pursue the war. The North had all the odds in their favor, principally the resources, money and population. However, the South had leadership and passion, and this combination of forces prolonged the war and gave hope to a weary South. The South succeeded for so long, particularly in the first half of the war, primarily because of the brilliant General Robert E. Lee of Virginia and the many talented commanders who worked under him such as General Stonewall Jackson. However, they were also blessed by a series of ineffectual Union generals, most of whom did not deserve their rank. The Confederate Army proved amazingly agile and determined. Time and again this gave them the upper hand, often with half the army that the Union had at its disposal. They were the Spartans of this war. They depended on wile and guts and mostly it worked.

I knew the Civil War was bloody but I did not appreciate just how bloody it was until I read these books. Its bloody battle at Gettysburg gets a disproportionate amount of the press, but there are other battles that were arguably equally as bloody and in many ways far more horrifying. Two of General Grant’s early battles here in Virginia stand out in my mind, battles I had not even known about but whose descriptions by Foote had me wondering if any battle preceding it had ever been so nasty and bloody. I speak of The Battle of the Wilderness followed by The Battle of Cold Harbor. In some way these battles were reckless. Grant chose to throw massive amounts of Union troops into these battles, at a huge cost and for no appreciable gain.

In any war there are battles that turned out to be game changers. In the western theater, it turned out to be the Battle of Shiloh that brought Grant into prominence and was the first step in eventually bringing the Mississippi River under Union control and thus Balkanizing the South. In the east, arguably it occurred in Georgia at The Battle of Chickamauga. It was in some ways the straw the broke the Confederacy’s back. The Battle of Gettysburg is notable not just for being the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, but also for being the first major victory by the Union Army, although it was arguably a pyrrhic victory.

One of the great strengths of Foote’s books is not so much the meticulous documentation of the battles themselves, but it allows the reader to get an intimate understanding of the men who were central to the whole conflict, and the various tensions that existed between them. There were plenty of third rate generals, mostly on the Union side. Arguably the Confederacy had some as well including Beauregard and Johnston. In some ways Johnston and the Union general McClellan were two peas from the same pod: hesitant to engage, quick to withdraw and ready to blame others for delays and when problems emerged. Both were very popular with their men, perhaps because of these deficiencies. There were also notable generals who arguably deserve more attention than they got, Union general Thomas, for instance, arguably the most effective general of the war in that he never really lost a battle, although he was often slow in starting them (such as the Battle of Nashville, the last major battle of the war.)

One thing that struck me was just how undeveloped the United States was at this period of history. Roads were bad and largely impassible during the wet season. They weren’t paved but some of them were planked, so armies often hoofed it over muddy fields, trailing wagons by the thousands and cannons across frequently difficult terrain. Bridges were constantly being blown up and rebuilt. Railroads were the primary means of quickly moving soldiers and supplies, which made them very strategic. An occupying army’s first job was often to tear up railroad track. When you don’t have much in the way of roads, cavalry becomes vital. Toward the end of the war Union general Sheridan showed that the Union could have an effective cavalry, but mostly this was an area wherein the South excelled, principally J.E.B. Stuart in Virginia and Bedford Forrest in the south.

As with any good history, you will learn little nuggets that are just fascinating but not widely known. There was a battle in New Mexico, and some Confederates briefly occupied a town in Vermont. The Confederate Army briefly occupied part of Washington D.C. One assault on a Confederate ship took place off the coast of Brazil, and was arguably illegal under international law. Another took place off the coast of England in international waters with most Britons cheering for the Confederates. Months after the Confederates has surrendered, a rouge Confederate naval ship was attacking whalers in the Bearing Sea.

Foote’s history overall is quite engaging, although some shopworn terms (“butternut soldiers”) get endlessly repeated. It would be hard not to do this with so many battles to document, and even with three thousand pages some of them get just a casual mention. Overall the Civil War was intense, bloody, and often reckless and much of it seems unbelievable. It seems crazy that so many people would fight in such a bloody, intense and disruptive war.

It is also a war that is still underway, just being battled now in generally nonviolent ways, such as in voter suppression or gerrymandering. The reluctance of many Americans to embrace any gun control at all does not have its roots so much in the Second Amendment, but in the Civil War, and the ability of a gun to foment insurrection against the established government. I hope I am wrong, but a new Civil War may be in our future.

The Civil War is not over

The Thinker by Rodin

I haven’t been posting book reviews lately because I’ve been focusing on The Civil War. I’m slogging through the last volume of Shelby Foote’s history of The Civil War and with luck I’ll finish it in a month or two. I read it a few pages at a time in the evenings shortly before turning off the light next to my bed.

The whole Civil War is fascinating, appalling, complicated, and messy and much of it was poorly executed. Everyone agrees though that The Civil War reached its ghoulish zenith in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early July 1863. The town of course is infamous for the bloodiest battle of The Civil War fought in there from July 1-3, 1863. There were over 46,000 casualties and nearly 8,000 soldiers killed in the battle. It was a rare union victory at a time when one was needed, and one of the few battles ever lost by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

My wife and I toured the battlefield today, about a ninety minute drive from our home. It was not my first visit, having toured it briefly some thirty years earlier. Today we paid Gettysburg a proper visit. The battle may have been horrendous, but at least the National Park Service can say with pride that tourists visiting the battlefield will have a first class experience. Unlike some battlefields, this one has been meticulously preserved. It is not hard at all to imagine what the battle was like. While certain places like the peach orchard are gone, the terrain is still intact and largely undeveloped. Visitors like us can take a driving tour of the battlefield where there are ample opportunities to park the car and look out over the battlefield from various Confederate and Union positions. The only problem getting good views of the battlefield were due to the thousands of monuments on the grounds to various battalions, regiments and soldiers who participated in the battle. The visitor center offers a first class experience for tourists, with a twenty minute film about the battle, followed by a presentation of the huge cyclorama made in the late 19th century by French artist Paul Philippoteaux, and an extensive museum about the battle, its origins and its aftermath. Touring Gettysburg turns out to be a full day experience. It should be hard for anyone but whiny children not to be moved and a bit awed by the experience. There were ample park rangers and people in period costumes to help cement the experience as well. The theater, cyclorama and museum do not come free and cost about $18 a ticket, but it is money very well spent. The tour of the battlefield is free unless you take a chartered bus tour. Most people do it with their cars, but there were some bicyclists and even some people touring the battlefield in Segways. Blue skies and hot but dry air made visiting the park tolerable and even pleasant when there was a breeze.

While Lincoln preserved the Union and freed the slaves, I left Gettysburg realizing that we are still waging The Civil War. We fight about largely the same issues. Back then it was North vs. South, slavery vs. freedom and state rights vs. federal rights. Today it is Red State vs. Blue State. The issues today are not that much different than they were in 1863. Some people, mostly in red states, believe they should have more power than other people by virtue of their place in society, money in the bank, and yes, sadly, based on being white and male and will do their damnedest to make it happen. One of them, Paul Ryan, was picked today as Mitt Romney’s running mate. They have used the last 150 years to erode the gains that were cemented in the 13th and 14th amendment. It came early in the guise of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. Today it comes in the erosion of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision and through blatantly discriminatory voter disenfranchisement laws, such as those in Ohio which gives red counties extended voting hours but prohibits them in many blue counties. See it also at work through gerrymandering of legislative and state districts.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought, in part, to provide a new birth of freedom for Americans, at least according to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But freedom remains unequal and new freedoms are often acquired only by tooth and nail. Sometimes we get them through fiat, such as when the Supreme Court invalidated state sodomy laws. Most of the time they are granted begrudgingly and haltingly, as with gay marriage. So many people who talk the line on freedom want to grant it only to people a lot like them.

When does this game end? Many of us hoped it ended at Gettysburg, or at least at the conclusion of The Civil War. In reality, it never ends because so many people simply don’t want others unlike us to have the freedoms they enjoy. The privileged vs. the non-privileged must seem to them a natural order, and freedom seems unnatural.  At least for the moment, the battle is fought through largely democratic means instead of through horrendous acts of violence that we tuned into today at Gettysburg.

It is a long struggle, but the bloody battle in Gettysburg nearly 150 years ago was sadly just one small step towards true freedom for all.

Next up on our vacation: Philadelphia, where our nation’s new birth of freedom began.

Review: Glory (1989)

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m going through a Civil War phase (currently reading these books) so I thought I would supplement my reading with one of the many Civil War movies out there. Glory (1989) got some good reviews, so it seemed like a safe bet. However, Glory is a much different Civil War movie, because it focuses on one of the first regiments of African American soldiers who fought for the Union, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Matthew Broderick plays Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who fought valiantly at Antietam as well as many other prominent Civil War battles. Shaw is picked to lead the 54th, perhaps because he counts among his lifelong friends a bookish Black freeman Jupiter (Jihmi Kennedy). Jupiter is one of the first in line when the regiment is formed, which makes for some awkwardness because Shaw must treat Jupiter as a private, rather than as his personal friend. Everyone in the 54th seems to inhabit an uncomfortable personal space. The Irish drill sergeant Mulcahy (John Finn) has to turn these men into soldiers, and frequently transgresses an uncomfortable color line in doing so. These black soldiers feel and frequently are treated as inferiors to their white comrades. The tension of a black regiment led by whites is also palpable.

Glory gives us a lot of fine performances, but for much of the movie Broderick seems a little out of his element, projecting an overly meek and timid officer who has trouble assuming the full weight of command. Overall, the performances are excellent and include Denzel Washington as Private Trip and Morgan Freeman as Staff Sergeant John Rawlins. Movies about African Americans are quite rare. Here we are blessed with a fine set of African American actors and get a chance to inhabit their personal space and issues. Mostly what the 54th lusts after is a chance to go into combat, but once out of basic training their work is logistical and behind the lines. In order to see combat, Colonel Shaw has to sell his regiment to a skeptical set of superiors. When finally allowed to test themselves in battle, they prove their stripes at the cost of many lost.

Overall, Glory delivers the goods: fine acting, a compelling story and a rendering of the Civil War that feels authentic. The movie moves toward its climax when the 54th is asked to lead a doomed attack on a rebel fort in the Charleston harbor. Here is where many Civil War movies would come up short, for it is quite hard to get all the details right and merge them with fine acting. However, Director Edward Zwick pulls it off exceptionally well. The 54th is largely wiped out as a regiment, but their heroism led to greater inclusion of African American regiments in subsequent battles of the Civil War.

This is a Civil War movie in miniature, which gives us the chance to know people and personalities with an intimacy often missing from Civil War movies. While hardly a perfect movie it is compelling and well executed. If trying to get a taste for the Civil War, watching Glory would be a good place to start.

3.2 on my four-point scale.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

Why we must withdraw from Iraq

The Thinker by Rodin

As I suggested last October, there was no way to put the state of Iraq back together again. That does not mean, of course, that President Bush is not going to try. He is asking Congress for $100 billion more this fiscal year and $145 billion next fiscal year to try to salvage both Iraq and Afghanistan.

What does all this money buy? If the latest National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed (and granted their track record has not been great), at best it keeps Iraq from descending into complete chaos. Reading between the lines in the NEI, it judges our chances for ultimate success in Iraq to be slim to none. Even if we can improve the security situation there, it suggests that it is unlikely that Iraqis will find an acceptable political settlement. Even if they come up with one, the forces of chaos in the country mean it is unlikely to stick.

It reports that a civil war is underway in Iraq, but calling it just a civil war is inaccurate. It is more than Shia and Sunni killing each other and the de facto partition of Iraq under ethnic lines. It is also Shia killing Shia, as various paramilitary groups try to dominate. Meanwhile, not all is kosher in Kurdistan. Ethnic Arabs are resentful of Kurdish attempts to dominate the city of Kirkuk, which is leading to violence between Arabs and Kurds, and attacks like this one. Al Qaeda in Iraq, though a minor player in this whole mess, is getting more adept at hitting us where it hurts, like shooting down our helicopters.

If forced to find one word that describes Iraq today (and one word seems to be necessarily for the Bush-ites, since they cannot handle complexity), anarchy would suffice. Our forces are simply keeping Iraq from crumbling faster than it would without us. For all practical purposes, the only part of Iraq that is under control is the Green Zone in Baghdad, and even that gets the occasional mortar lobbed into it.

Despite all our forces, we are simply not staunching the chaos. In fact, as the NIE notes, it is clearly getting worse. If some big event happens, like the Sunnis leaving the government, or mass sectarian killings (which has already happened) the NIE sees three scenarios resulting. Notably, a successful outcome is not one of them. The scenarios are partition, the emergence of a Shia strongman, or “anarchic fragmentation of power”.

Those of us in the realist camp can pick out the final solution here. I pick C, “anarchic fragmentation of power.” Why? Because it describes what is already happening. In fact, no one force can completely dominate the other. It is also clear that there is insufficient will to bring the country together. Therefore, the current anarchy will simply continue and worsen. Eventually, mixed neighborhoods will simply cease to exist. The ethnic militias, which already exist, will increase in power as each ethnic group tries to protect its own.

A smaller version of Iraq is playing out in Palestine, and in particular in the Gaza Strip. There the issue is not an ethnic one, but political parties trying to win control through force of arms. Hamas and Fatah, the two dominant political parties in Palestine, are effectively engaged in a civil war with each other. The same may soon be said of Lebanon, where Christian and largely Shia communities are jockeying for power. For now though, Lebanon does not appear to be rushing toward another civil war. Perhaps their bad experience in civil war is holding it at bay.

What can be accurately said about the Iraq mess is that civil war is an inherently internal affair. The NEI, while it notes external influence being exerted by Syria and Iran in Iraq, see their influences as minor.

Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics.

Thus, our forces are trying to control what is only in part a civil war. The Bush Administration, however, refuses to refer to the conflict in Iraq as a civil war even though its own intelligence agencies assess it otherwise. Iraq is a civil war that we triggered with our invasion of Iraq in 2003 but which I am convinced would have occurred at some point anyhow. We bear culpability for letting the genie out of the bottle. However, the genie would have escaped at some point anyhow, probably when Saddam Hussein died. In any event, try as we might, and we have tried at the cost of over three thousand of our soldiers dead and tens of thousands wounded, we will never be able to put this genie back in the bottle.

That is why we must get out of Iraq. It is not because we do not have compassion for the suffering underway in Iraq. Nor is it because it will likely get worse, at least in the short term, after we withdraw. It is because we are playing the role of an understaffed medic on a battlefield. We can try to staunch the wounds around us, but they are too many and they are too severe. We must not delude ourselves that can we stop the violence there.

All we can do is acknowledge that Iraq is out of our control, and that we bear some but certainly not all the responsibility for the mess. While we bear some responsibility for it, we cannot control the forces that have become unleashed. Iraq as a state is like a car that was totaled in an accident. No amount of fixing will restore it. Once the violence has played out and some rough order returns then we may be able to help in its reconstruction. Most likely, this will cost less than the $245B that President Bush wants to spend in Iraq and Afghanistan through fiscal year 2008.

However, our withdrawal will have the effect of ensuring that no more of our soldiers have to die in this ill-conceived war. In addition, it will give our military, and our nation, time to heal, and to relearn some important lessons on the limits of our power that we should have retained from Vietnam.

The Battle of Ox Hill: Developers: 1, Preservationists: 0

The Thinker by Rodin

You would think that having lived in Northern Virginia twenty years I would have some idea of the Civil War battles fought in my area. Yes, I was aware of both Battles of Manassas. I have even visited the site with my daughter a few years back. It was a sobering experience to walk across the battlefield. It was not difficult to imagine the carnage and horror that were twice visited there because it has been well preserved. You can walk for miles along well-defined paths and read the many markers along the way. You can also refer to the brochures liberally handed out at the Visitor’s Center.

Fortunately there is not much in the way of development encroaching on this sacred ground. But don’t think developers haven’t tried. In the early 1990s Disney purchased some acreage along the battlefield to develop — what else — a theme park based on American history. Thankfully the community and preservationists managed to kill the proposal before a spade’s worth of dirt was turned over. And yet development encroaches along the battlefield’s edges. As real estate prices escalate and as our memories of the Civil War recede I wonder how much longer this battlefield can remain unspoiled.

I hadn’t realized that a significant civil war battle was fought right here in Fairfax County. It was called the Battle of Ox Hill (or sometimes the Battle of Chantilly). It occurred on September 1, 1862 during a hellacious thunderstorm. All this history happened about five miles from my house. This was not some minor skirmish. This battle occurred shortly after the Second Battle of Manassas. Union forces were busy staging a hasty retreat after having gotten beat badly by General Stonewall Jackson and the Army of Northern Virginia at Manassas. There were believed to be 2100 casualties from the Battle of Ox Hill. Among the dead were two Union generals: Major General Philip Kearny and Major General Isaac Stevens. I’m no civil war buff but I’m pretty sure the Battle of Ox Hill was the closest Civil War battle to Washington, D.C. After the battle, General Robert E. Lee, trying to outflank the Union forces sent his army toward Leesburg. From there his army crossed the Potomac and eventually participated in the Battle of Antietam on September 16th, 1862. That battle of course became infamous as the bloodiest of the Civil War. It killed or wounded over 23,000 soldiers.

Those of us who live in Fairfax County might be wondering where the hell Ox Hill is anyhow. In Fairfax County we don’t have mountains. I didn’t even know there was an Ox Hill. It is an area that sits at one of the highest points in Fairfax County near the corner of Monument Drive and West Ox Road between Chantilly and Fairfax City. Aside from the vista it provided at the time it was also somewhat strategic. It was near the crossings of two major roads. Today we know them as Routes 50 and 29.

The battle comprised at least a mile of terrain in all directions. But what is left? I’m almost embarrassed to report there is only a tiny 4.5 acre “park” maintained by the Fairfax County Park Authority. I passed by it hundreds of times and had no idea it was even there. But my wife said she remembered seeing a sign about the battle. So yesterday I got on my bike and peddled down to the park to see it for myself.

The park is stuck between two major thoroughfares. Despite the small patch of woods that comprises the park the sound of traffic is deafening at times. There is one short path that goes through the park. It is gravel and it disappears as the hill slopes down. Through the trees of the park you can see nearby apartment complexes. Across Ox Road sits more apartments. Across Monument drive is a major retail complex holding a Safeway, a Tower Records and a cinema, among many other stores.

Inside the park is this small monument to the fallen Union generals Kearny and Stevens.

That’s it. There is not even a park bench in which to rest your tuckus while you contemplate the horrors of that day.

If you read the full story of the Battle of Ox Hill you realize that for days abandoned wounded soldiers of both sides quietly died in the woods. You learn that fellow Unitarian Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross, treated wounded soldiers from the courthouse in nearby Fairfax. Buried in these sacred grounds, now covered with strip malls, condos and apartment complex are doubtless the remains of more civil war soldiers like this.

And yet it is like it never happened. The markers are innocuous enough not to be noticed by most people. We zip by in our cars rushing on our errands and are largely unaware we do so on hallowed grounds.

It is too late to reclaim this land. All that is left of the battle is this tiny snippet of land, not easily accessible by car, with its small monument hidden in the woods and a few placards along the side of the road.

Perhaps because Fairfax County realized it made a mistake, there are plans to improve the site with a parking lot and a visitor’s shelter using some money proffered by the original developers of the site. This is certainly better than nothing but it’s not much better. The whole area should have been left undeveloped.

It is nothing short of a scandal that we allowed developers to pave over our heritage. And I suspect the Battle of Ox Hill is but one of many lesser known civil war battles that have largely disappeared under the banner of progress.