4.0947 War, Rhetoric, and Protest (6/216)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 25 Jan 91 16:55:04 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0947. Friday, 25 Jan 1991.

(1) Date: Thu, 24 Jan 91 23:39:34 MST (81 lines)
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Are academics jes' folks?

(2) Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 00:15:47 MST (9 lines)
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Postcript to: Are academics 'jes' folks?'

(3) Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 03:18:36 CST (49 lines)
From: "Bill Ball" <C476721@UMCVMB>
Subject: "evil", Sanskrit to English, Updike, misc.

(4) Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 8:34:13 EST (35 lines)
From: Ed Haupt <haupt@pilot.njin.net>
Subject: Causes of the War

(5) Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 10:07 EST (17 lines)
From: NMILLER@trincc
Subject: Re: 4.0940 War and Rhetoric

(6) Date: Fri, 25 Jan 1991 7:43:58 PST (25 lines)
From: AUGUST@JPLLSI.JPL.NASA.GOV (Richard B. August)
Subject: RE: 4.0945 Responses on War and Protest

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 24 Jan 91 23:39:34 MST
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Are academics jes' folks?

Stephen Clausing writes:

>Finally, the point was raised previous to my message that we
>Humanists were better qualified to raise this issue than others.
>To me this is academic arrogance and I see that arrogance in the
>arguments presented on this issue. I would like to see just once
>that the members of this profession realize that they are just
>people like everyone else and that their political views are no
>wiser or more profound than those of the janitors in their
>buildings. Consequently, I suggest that they discuss this issue
>with their friends, relatives, and neighbors.

What a curious view to take. First, I have no doubt that we
are all discussing this issue with our friends, relatives and
neighbours: we are not creatures who exist by and for e-mail. We
are, in fact, "just people like everyone else." But, let it
pass. As to the relative wisdom of academics, I have nothing to
say. But as to whether academics have a more profound knowledge
than most people, I think Clausing had best reconsider. How much
sense would this statement make if we were to alter a single

"I would like to see just once that the members of this
profession realize that they are just people like everyone else
and that their views on literature are no wiser or more
profound than those of the janitors in their buildings."

If I had spent the greater part of my adult life studying
philosophy or political science, I would certainly have cause to
be deeply offended by Clausing's remark. If the people who have
dedicated themselves to studying ethics and politics have no more
profound insight to offer than anyone else, what is their
justification for doing what they do? Perhaps our society has
forgotten why it pays its academics, but if it is not to spend
time and energy finding out knowledge wiser and more profound, I
wonder what frippery we are all engaged in.

None of this is meant to suggest that non-academics have no
right to express political opinions, only that there are some
among us who have studied the questions more carefully and
thoughtfully, who have profounder insights to offer.

I am lately returned to the academy after a decade spent
working in a warehouse, as an office clerk and, indeed, as a
janitor (by Clausing's lights, my remarks should be taken as
doubly authoritative). I have spent the last two-and-a-half years
studying medieval literature. My special topic has been ethics,
and, in small part, the ethics of war. My ignorance is only
slightly less profound than it was, but you may be sure it is
also somewhat less profound than the writer who suggested to the
editor of our local paper that a nuclear strike against Iraq
would "solve" many problems in the Middle East.

I will not bore you with what people thought about war in the
Middle Ages: it isn't particularly relevant at this point, though
some of you who bandy "medieval" about as a pejorative would be
quite surprised at the nature of the debate. I would be happier,
however, if the "posturing" in this discussion was turned to more
clearly humanistic concerns about the necessity and morality of
war in general, and about this war in particular. I would like
to hear people who support the war explain whether it is moral or
only necessary. Obviously self-defence is necessary, but is it
moral if it requires other persons to die in the smoking rubble
with their guts in their hands? Is "their guts before ours" a
moral stance that a humanist can support? Does necessity equal
morality? And from those who oppose the war, I would like to
hear whether tyranny should be allowed to prevail if it means
terror and mutilation for its victims. Is "terror and
mutilation" a reasonable price to pay to remain moral?

My request may seem unnatural, and even smug, especially to
those under present threat of bombardment. But as long as some
can spin homely tales of a walk through a city after a missile
attack, they should still be capable of a thoughtful investigation
into the meaning of their situation. So should we all be. It
is not arrogance for us to attempt it. It is our purpose as
humanists, and it is demanded of us.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------17----
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 00:15:47 MST
From: John Morris <JMORRIS@UALTAVM>
Subject: Postcript to: Are academics 'jes' folks?'

I hope no one thinks that "homely tales" was meant as a pejorative.
Bob Werman's stories are much appreciated here. They are much more
vivid and humane than the endless hours of talking heads speculating
on conjecture that passes for news coverage of the war in North
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------57----
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 03:18:36 CST
From: "Bill Ball" <C476721@UMCVMB>
Subject: "evil", Sanskrit to English, Updike, misc.

I first apologize for such a barrage of miscellaneous ramblings but they
all seem relevant to Humanist, and given its after 3 am I have no one
else to bother with them.

For quite awhile I've wondered just how closely connected the word "evil"
is to religious notions. Since Saddam is now labeled "evil" this again
comes to mind. Does it not really make sense for a non-believer to call
someone evil--in the same way it seems silly for the same person to call
something sinful? Or is "evil" less linked to religiousity than I think?

Another word question: looking up some English word origins recently I
was struck by the number attributed to Sanskrit. This makes sense for
some obviously picked up during the colonial era (e.g. "thug"), but
several seemed older than that. I am wondering if we got words from
Sanskrit before colonialization, and if so, how?--What were the means of
transmittal between such distant cultures?

Back to war-related material: A quote that seems particularly
appropriate, attributed to John Updike (from The Washington Post Weekly
Edition, Jan. 14-20, 1991, p. 12)

"America is beyond power, it acts as in a dream, as a face of
God. Wherever America is, there is freedom, and wherever America
is not, madness rules with chains, darkness strangles millions.
Beneath her patient bombers, paradise is possible."

I read it to my students, but it didn't seem to make much of an

Last one: It has really struck me lately (about time since I am half-way
through a dissertation on this (at least now I know what it is about))
how there is a fundamental conflict between knowledge and politics--an
instance of conflict between thought and action. The lack of a need to
say THIS is why we are at war, and stick to it, is painfully obvious at
the moment. A similar phenomena occurs in markets: tonight a newscaster
reported that financial marketers were acting cautiously because they
now realize that the war could be protracted--yet EVERYONE has predicted
it would not be short for months. The need to act not only forecloses
the ability to achieve certitude, or in moral matters "reflective
equilibrium" (Rawls)--both knowledge and politics/action seem out to
vanquish the other.

BTW: the discussion lately on Humanist has been the best ever. Keep it up.

Bill Ball
Dept. Political "Science"
U. Mo.-Columbia
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------45----
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 8:34:13 EST
From: Ed Haupt <haupt@pilot.njin.net>
Subject: Causes of the War

To oversimplify everything, I do believe that one of the major causes
of this war was the power that Saddam Hussein accumulated. I think the
United States has more to do with this than just "tilting" (I find that
one of the obnoxious barbarisms) toward Iran.

While there is greed enough in German companies to blame them for the
supplying of chemical materials, plants, and bomb shelters to Hussein,
I believe that the United States was complicit in this. About two years
ago Der Spiegel had a rather large article on American listening posts
in Germany. I did not read it in detail, but I remember something like
finding passages of material gotten from phone conversations of the
Schleswig-Holstein minister of the environment, which is roughly
equivalent to the Rhode Island Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

Extrapolating from this, I cannot but believe that the Americans were
listening too, to all the traffic of firms that could supply chemicals,
etc. I think the United States deliberately looked the other way, and
whatever you think of Kohl's government, it was complaisant (compliant
is too strong) to American needs, just as it seems now compliant to
many specific American requests to prosecute those who sold the chemical

Those feelings, the necessary destruction of infrastructure on which
Iraqi ordinary people depend for their lives, personal feelings about
my grandfather's baptismal church being destroyed in 1943, all combine
to make me feel deeply unhappy about this war, and to think that World
War I, in which the powers did not work hard enough to prevent it, is
the best model.

Edward J. Haupt
Montclair State College
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------23----
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 91 10:07 EST
From: NMILLER@trincc
Subject: Re: 4.0940 War and Rhetoric

While I happen to agree with Lakoff's critics I can't help but
be amused at Dr. Knox's dictum that "words are just words". I used
to threaten my students with instant excommunication (I stopped
because it turned out that some believed I was a priest) if they
ever used the word 'just' in the Knoxian sense. That aside, the
proposed explanation of how the English came to believe what they did
of the Irish (Dr. Knox will greatly oblige us all if he repeats the
exercise for English perceptions of the Welsh, Scots, Jews and French)
smacks of the bad old days when historians on principle ignored any of
the insights into human and social behavior that were not readily available
in the pages of the Readers Digest.

Norman Miller
(6) --------------------------------------------------------------34----
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 1991 7:43:58 PST
From: AUGUST@JPLLSI.JPL.NASA.GOV (Richard B. August)
Subject: RE: 4.0945 Responses on War and Protest

RWERMAN@HUJIVMS suggests that "Hussein is evil or mad or both..." He is
neither! Hussein is ruthless. This is a word seldom used today to
describe tactics such as Hussein's. The press and individuals would
rather "soft-peddal" the fact that a person can be without care for
the effect their actions have on others. Language is an interesting
thing. In WWI people on the front suffered from "shell shock". In
WWII these people suffered from "combat fatigue". In Vietnam they
suffered from "post traumatic stress syndrome". Each time the selection
of words suggests that it is not as bad as the previous. If it looks
like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck...it must be
a duck. Evil is a judgement call, mad is poorly defined. Ruthless
on the other hand describes one without care for their fellow man.
Hussein is ruthless! Not mad. Evil? We could argue about that. I
think the guy is a danger to most of us and should be eliminated.

[stepping down from soap-box]


Richard B. August