In the latest Vanity Fair magazine, there’s a particularly offensive article by Christopher Hitchens on Mark Daily, an American soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb in Mosul, Iraq. Hitchens had learned from an LA Times article forwarded by one of his few remaining friends that Daily was inspired to enlist after reading Hitchens.
The LA Times article states:
After the 9/11 attacks, Daily was not convinced that a military response was the best option. In his MySpace essay, he runs through the gamut of reasons he used at one time or another to argue against confronting the Taliban and Saddam Hussein: cultural tolerance, the sanctity of national sovereignty, a suspicion of America’s intentions. Weren’t we really after their oil? he wondered.
Too bad that Daily didn’t live long enough to read Alan Greenspan’s memoir. He might have saved his family a lot of grief and Hitchens the opportunity to grandstand in the pages of Vanity Fair.
After initial reservations about the “war on terror,” the LA Times reports that Daily decided to join the military after being exposed to Hitchens’s warmongering:
Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him. A 2003 phone conversation with a UCLA ROTC officer on the ideals of commitment and service impressed him.
The LA Times article tries to convey the impression that Mark Daily was an example of the kind of pro-intervention liberal that NY Times op-ed scribbler Roger Cohen hailed in yesterday’s edition:
Liberal interventionists, if you recall, were people like myself for whom the sight in the 1990s of hundreds of thousands of European Muslims processed through Serbian concentration camps, or killed in them, left little doubt of the merits, indeed the necessity, of U.S. military action in the name of the human dignity that only open societies afford.
Without such action in Bosnia and Kosovo, Europe would not be at peace today.
One reluctant liberal interventionist signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 that said: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein.” His name was Bill Clinton. Baghdad is closer to Sarajevo than the left has allowed.
For this left, anyone who supported the Iraq invasion, or sees merits to it despite the catastrophic Bush-Rumsfeld bungling, is a neocon. That makes Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik and Kanan Makiya and Bernard Kouchner neocons, among others who don’t think like Norman Podhoretz but have more firsthand knowledge of totalitarian hell than countless slick purveyors of the neocon insult.
Cohen wrote this article to redeem the whole idea of military adventures in the name of democracy in the aftermath of nearly five years of neconservative horror in Iraq. It is basically a defense of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy against George W. Bush’s. One wonders why such a distinction is being made after watching the Democrats bowing and scraping before the President over the past few weeks. If Hillary Clinton gets elected, it will lead to a continuation of Bush’s policies. I should mention that this is not something that I read in Counterpunch, but that I heard straight from the horse’s mouth:
As Bush was describing his thinking about Iraq and the future, he indicated he wants to use his final 16 months to stabilize Iraq enough and redefine the U.S. mission there so that the next president, even a Democrat, would feel politically able to keep a smaller but long-term presence in the country. The broadcasters were not allowed to directly quote the president, but they were allowed to allude to his thinking and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News later cited the analogy of Dwight D. Eisenhower essentially adopting President Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy despite the Republican general’s 1952 campaign statements.
“He had kind of a striking analogy,” Stephanopoulos said of Bush on air a few hours after the lunch. “He believes that whoever replaces him, like General Eisenhower when he replaced Harry Truman, may criticize the president’s policy during the campaign, but will likely continue much of it in office.”
According to the LA Times, Mark Daily started off in life quite a few degrees to the left of Bill Clinton.
His family says he became a registered Democrat who read voraciously and delighted in fervent debate. He read liberal intellectual Noam Chomsky, conservative Sen. John McCain of Arizona and everything in between.
His first passions were animal rights and environmental protection, prompting him to become a vegetarian and Green Party member in high school for a few years. He defended American Indian rights so loudly in one backyard debate that Linda Daily imagined the neighbors would think it a family brawl. His heroes were immigrants because “they risk their lives to achieve better ones,” he wrote on his MySpace page.
Leaving aside the characterization of Noam Chomsky as a “liberal intellectual,” the rest of it seems fairly plausible. Daily obviously believed in human rights and all the rest, but sadly could not reconcile his beliefs with his conduct, especially in light of the fact that he decided to join the military in October 2006 and not in the aftermath of 9/11. One can understand somebody like Pat Tillman making such a mistake but there was far too much water under the bridge in late 2006 to assume that any good could have come out of fighting in Iraq.
On Myspace, Daily tries to explain why he joined:
Maybe the reality of politics makes all political action inherently crude and immoral. Or maybe it is these adventures in philosophical masturbation that prevent people from ever taking any kind of effective action against men like Saddam Hussein. One thing is for certain, as disagreeable or as confusing as my decision to enter the fray may be, consider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics. Often times it is less about how clean your actions are and more about how pure your intentions are.
With all due respect to the late Mr. Daily, this sounds more to me like adolescent turmoil than anything else. As I tried to point out in my review of Ken Burns’s “The War” the other day, many GI’s entered the service as a kind of rite of passage and Mark Daily does not sound that different from those who went off to kill Japs or Nazis. Indeed, the LA Times reports: “Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose’s writings on World War II and the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of fascism.” Meanwhile, he describes himself on MySpace thusly: If you really want to understand me, watch Schindler’s List followed by Saving Private Ryan.” Perhaps, the main person to blame for poor Mark Daily’s early demise is Stephen Spielberg rather than Christopher Hitchens.
The WWII enlistee did of course have the justification that the enemy did appear to be bent on conquering the world and imposing a regime of torture and exploitation. Any sensible person might have realized that in October 2006 it was the USA that had supplanted the Axis in that capacity.
Somewhere along the line, Daily began to sound more like a neocon than one of Roger Cohen’s liberal interventionists. His Myspace page reports that his occupation is “world police”. That is a striking admission. He also offers up “The Arab Mind” as one of his favorite books. This book was written by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at several US universities, including Columbia and Princeton. Here are a few quotes:
“Why are most Arabs, unless forced by dire necessity to earn their livelihood with ‘the sweat of their brow’, so loath to undertake any work that dirties the hands?”
“The all-encompassing preoccupation with sex in the Arab mind emerges clearly in two manifestations …”
“In the Arab view of human nature, no person is supposed to be able to maintain incessant, uninterrupted control over himself. Any event that is outside routine everyday occurrence can trigger such a loss of control … Once aroused, Arab hostility will vent itself indiscriminately on all outsiders.”
Patai’s book emerged out of obscurity when Seymour Hersh mentioned it in a May 24, 2007 New Yorker magazine article on torture at Abu Ghraib. Referring to the sexual nature of some of this abuse, he wrote:
The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
One book that was frequently cited was The Arab Mind … the book includes a 25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression.”
The Patai book, an academic told me, was ‘the bible of the neocons on Arab behaviour’. In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged – ‘one, that Arabs only understand force, and two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation’.
Parenthetically, one wonders how anthropologists can lend themselves to such projects even taking into account the ongoing debasement of the university in imperialist nations. Just today, the NY Times reported that anthropologists are helping the US military in Afghanistan:
SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan — In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.
Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.
Extending the analogy of the US empire today to the WWII Axis powers, the answer ostensibly lies in the tendency of a particularly aggressive and increasingly irrational world power to drag everybody into the abyss with it, including many of its intellectuals–not the least of which includes Mark Daily, a young man who should have taken the opportunity to allow his ideas to ripen.