Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Potpourri: Wisconsin, Iraq, Chile

Dear Colleagues:

1. Wisconsin. The killing of six hunters in the North Woods of Wisconsin brought back some memories -- not of killings, but of the North Woods. I spent four years attending an eight week-long summer camp up there, near Eagle River (does anyone out there in cyberspace remember Zimpelmann’s in Eagle River?). Eagle River is roughly a hundred miles or so east of where the killings occurred. I also spent a couple of vacations up there as an adult father with small kids.

The North Woods of Wisconsin may not be widely known around the country - - not like Big Sur or Aspen, for example -- but they are truly beautiful, filled with birch and other trees and small lakes everywhere. There are so many lakes that they are almost underfoot, so to speak. The area is lovely, especially to a kid who spent the rest of his time in the concrete jungle of Chicago, where the heat shimmered from the downtown concrete pavement in the summer and one froze in the winter.

At camp many of us learned to shoot rifles - - 22's (although I actually first learned to shoot rifles a few years before that at a wonderful military academy when I was ten). But we killed neither animals nor people. And far from being a total anti-rifle crusader, this blogger owns some very powerful gas powered and air powered pellet guns (one a fancy German make, wouldn’t you know). Their muzzle velocity can far exceed that of Civil War Springfield rifles, which probably killed tens or scores of thousands of Confederates (but of course fired heavy lead bullets as opposed to pellets). Used wrongly they could, despite the fact that they fire only pellets, be dangerous weapons that put out an eye or, as I recently read, even kill someone. (Although to someone like Rush Limbaugh or Arnold Schwartzenegger they might be girlie guns.)

So I’m not against all rifles or shotguns or their proper use (e.g. target shooting, skeet shooting, killing predators like wolves who are killing stock, etc.) I do concede, however, to being against using rifles, shotguns and assault weapons to kill inoffensive animals wholesale or to kill people. This "aginness" caused me to wonder about a few things when reading about what happened in the beautiful North Woods that I remember so fondly.

One of the early stories quoted a hunter who, it said, "was looking forward to the time he could take his son, who is 4 [4!], on a hunting trip." "‘You have to be 12 to get a license, but sometime before that I’ll be bringing him out to show him what it’s all about,"’ the New York Times quoted the man as saying. (When? When the kid has reached the ripe age of 6? Of 8? Of 10?) The owner of a sporting goods store, where hunters come to fill out forms registering their kill, said the deer season "was ‘a huge thing. It’s what families do together . . . . Schools close down. Even sons and daughters and cousins who have moved away come back for it.’" And even a Lutheran minister -- a supposed man of God for crying out loud -- "turned up with a buck and a doe" and said ‘"I plan to be"’ back next year.

A few days later, in an article which, like so many of its pieces, was heavily a rehash of what it had reported previously, The Times added a true nugget of fact. The deer "season" in Wisconsin is only nine days long. The Times said that, according to a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of National Resources, on only the first two of those nine days hunters reported killing 140,000 deer. 140,000 deer in just two days? Wow! If true, this is some kind of slaughter.

So where does all this take me. Well, maybe it’s harsh to say, but the unpalatable truth is that what we seem to have here is a culture of killing. To bond, it seems, dads take their sons -- and daughters -- out to kill. In blue areas (as in blue states), maybe blue dads take their kids to basketball or baseball games, or to movies, or even, God forbid, to museums or art institutes, or, heaven forfend, to book stores or libraries. But in other areas they take them out to kill.
Am I the only person in the United States who thinks it possible, maybe probable, that this culture of killing makes a contribution to Americans’ willingness to try to get our way in the world by killing gobs of other people if they won’t do what we want -- to slaughter Viet Namese by the millions and now Iraqis by the tens -- or even scores? -- of thousands? Our willingness to kill others is also fostered, of course, by our violent John Wayne type movies, our violent electronic games, our street gangs (which go back 150 years apparently), our entire history of getting what we want by killing Indians, Mexicans, Filipinos, etc., etc. But am I the only person who thinks that teaching people that killing deer or moose or buffalo or ducks or geese is fun and is a great bonding experience causes them to place less of a premium on the general principle (as it were) of life, and to be more likely to see it as okay to kill Gooks, slant eyes, A-Rabs and any others whom we call by devaluing names such as these? Who knows? -- maybe I am the only guy who thinks this.

By the way, were any of these deer hunters in the North Woods killing animals because the hunters themselves were somewhat or greatly poverty stricken (in a country which is driving its poor into ever greater poverty) and needed the animals they killed for food -- not merely used them for food (if they did) but needed them for food (as on the old frontier)? I really don’t know -- there was no discussion of this that I can remember, although surely some of the hunters must have needed the animals for food. That need, where it exists, puts a different complexion on things to the extent that the killing does not exceed the need.

One last, somewhat ironic point. The Hmong-American who killed the six people did it with an SKS 7.62 millimeter semiautomatic assault rifle, said to be the precursor of the much more expensive AK-47 assault rifle. The Clinton Administration banned the importation of these SKS rifles from Russia and China. But their importation from Yugoslavia and Albania (Albania?!) was specifically authorized by the Administration of George W. Bush, who is, of course, the king of red staters.

2. Iraq. Speaking of our culture of being perfectly happy to kill huge numbers of other people in order to get our way naturally brings to mind the latest example of this, Iraq, where people are dying in droves to fulfill the ignoramus follies of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, et. al. In a war that supposedly was going to lead the way to democracy across the entire middle east, with a pioneering election scheduled for January, 2005, we now find Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds split on whether the election should be held then, whether to participate in it, and so forth. One wonders yet again: why not adopt the common sense solution of dividing the country (which was artificially created in the first place) into its three component religio-ethnic (and largely geographical) parts, creating one nation for the Kurds, one for the Shiites and one for the Sunnis? Each group would have, would run -- and likely would be satisfied with? -- its own nation, instead of fighting to be a major player in or even to control an artificially constituted single nation.

Of course, this is too simple a solution for the geniuses who run our foreign policy. They have big-think problems to consider, like the Turks would worry that their Kurds will want to secede, and other countries may divide (as Russia and Yugoslavia did and as is being threatened in Ukraine). Why is it that, emulating the lawyers’ technique of messing up today’s concrete problem by worrying -- often needlessly -- about tomorrow’s theoretical problem, our foreign policy geniuses, starting with Bush, cannot see what is right in front of their faces -- cannot see the obvious three state solution that events may ultimately force them to agree to anyway? Why is it that we have to have tens or scores or hundreds of thousands of deaths before the geniuses will recognize the obvious?

As for Turkey and its Kurds, I don’t mean to be flippant or callous, but we regularly bribe other countries to go along with what we want, as we’ve bribed Pakistan recently, and as we bribed South Korea and the Philippines during the Viet Nam War. (But, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, who wanted plagiarism to be called research, please don’t call it bribery, please always to call it foreign aid or military aid or economic assistance.) So mollify the Turks, if necessary, with some good old fashioned American bribery -- lots of tanks and jets, called military aid, should do the job. As for future "secessions," let’s worry about them if and when they occur, and then only if they are bad rather than good. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be good. And right now they are in the realm of theory, speculation, maybe so’s but maybe nots. Whereas in Iraq we have a concrete problem in the here and now.

3. Chile. Our culture of being willing to see other people killed to get our way also brings to mind a recent report from Chile. It seems that the Chileans will soon publish a 1,200 page official report about torture and killing during the Pinochet regime. It is said these kinds of things occurred at 1,200 sites, and were done by the army, the police, the navy, et. al.
This is, of course, no great surprise. But tell me: isn’t Henry Kissinger often thought to have had something to do with giving great support to the murdering Pinochet regime? I believe the answer to this question is yes, and I know Henry the K had a lot to do with the deaths of hundreds of thousands -- probably millions -- of Southeast Asians, not to mention 30 thousand or so additional Americans. Why isn’t his neck stretched like those of some other Germans one can think of?

Well, we don’t do that in America. We don’t put our leaders in the dock -- and we won’t let other countries put them in the dock -- no matter how many hundreds of thousands or millions of useless deaths they are responsible for. But, you know, until some of them start getting put in the dock, and/or their kids became combat infantrymen fighting in the streets of the Fallujahs of the world, we are bound to remain the militaristic, bloodthirsty nation we have long been on the international scene. It’s not just the hunting culture, or our bloodthirsty history, or the fact that it’s been 140 years since we had first hand experience within our own country of all the ravages caused by war, that causes us to readily go abroad in search of monsters to destroy (a rough reverse paraphrase of something once said by whom -- J.Q. Adams?) It is also, as said here before, and as will be said here again, the fact that our leaders are immune from any and all law, so need never fear punishment for their horrible misdeeds -- need never fear neck stretching for them, and it is not their kids who fight our wars, but the children of the poor and the working class. This may be harsh to say, but it is true.*

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