• I Have Become An Old White Straight Male (OWSM)

    August 2, 2017 // 5 Comments »

    angry-old-men

    I can’t help it. I was born this way.

    When I was hiring and managing people, I worked hard to choose the most qualified candidates whoever/whatever/however they were. When I managed I tried to judge only performance. I acted as I did because it was the right thing. Please don’t dismiss me by saying “well, good for you, you at least had that choice.” To me it was not a “choice” but a part of who I am. I never used racial slurs, and am pretty sure the last time I referred to a person with a gay slur was at age 13 in a Midwestern junior high school. Got me there.

    Am I telling you all this because I seek your approval? Mansplaining? Defensive much? Looking for a white-guilt laden liberal high-five (which used to be a gesture reserved for urban Blacks until appropriated by everyone)?

    Nope. Because I am not your stereotype, here for you to make yourself feel woke by telling me I’m not.



    And that’s by way of introduction to me recently becoming an Old White Male (OWM.) I did not know I was this until recently, but I guess it’s true.

    Built into that OWM label is the implication that I am also straight, er, cis. I am also implied to be boring, which I concede. I guess you can look at me and see I am old, white, and male, but I’m not sure how anyone knows my sexual orientation. But let’s call it Old White Straight Male (OWSM.) I know we’ll soon enough get caught up in nomenclature during this essay, but let’s try and forestall that as long as we can.

    Whatever, I am so many people’s enemy now, part of so many people’s problems. At one place I recently worked, people who looked like me were referred sotto voce as “red hats,” for the invisible #MAGA caps we were all assumed to be spiritually wearing.

    I guess I am supposed to be shamed, and/or ironically awareness-raised that I am being judged by the color of my skin, my gender, my age, and my (implied) sexuality.

    Here’s an example of what people say now (written online, but I’ve been told things very much the same):

    But as a white woman, it would be tone-deaf of me to assume that there’s nothing problematic about me taking a black person’s lived experience and making it cutesy and palatable for a mostly-white audience. Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” isn’t about Trick or Treating with his family; the song is about Snoop’s teen days in Long Beach, which belong to him — warts and all. De-contextualizing his music and obscuring the history behind it is a form of erasure and, let’s be honest here, a form of racism. Similarly, adopting the mannerisms, dress, and slang of black artists, like the white rappers in popular YouTube parenting raps — that’s racism as well. It’s little better than contemporary blackface.

    For the record, I have made no rap videos. Unlike about 99% of the white people I see on Facebook and Instagram, I have never posed for a photo making exaggerated kissy lips throwing what I imagine is a gang sign with “my boys/my bitches.”

    Some good news is as an OWSM I do have one tiny carve-out exception available.

    And that’s if I can tie myself to someone younger, less white, less straight, and/or less male. So, if say my spouse is Black I’m “allowed” to comment about Black stuff more. I think. I think it works the same way as if someone has never served in the military but can kind of inherit military vet dry humping cred by saying stuff like “You can’t say that, man, ’cause my cousin fought in Iraq (I’ve heard it as “my dad in WWII” as well) and it’s disrespectful to our troops!”

    A big problem I recently discovered is that as an OWSM I do not belong to any “community.”

    I am not part of the Hispanic community, which does include the 55 million persons of Hispanic ethnicity in the U.S., and maybe the millions more in places like El Salvador and Argentina though I don’t think we count them. Not part of the gay community (I said it, yes, I am straight, but you already supposed that.) About the best I could do to join a community is get some disease, and thus be a part of the liver cancer community but there’s not much future in that.

    I get “privilege” and do not in any way imply our society is not chock-a-block with prejudice. But note more than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute. Also, a bit of history. Before we were a monolithic heap of “white men,” we were Paddys, Kikes, Hillbillies, Wops, Hunkies, Polacks, and all the other forms of prejudice and discrimination.

    A big messy part of all this is Trump, who has been anointed the leader of the OWSM “community.”

    Trump is an OWSM. He does not represent me, and I do not support him or what he stands for or the way he acts. FYI, I also did not support Hillary Clinton, who is by the way an OWSF, three-quarters of what I am. And don’t dismiss my deeply-thought political choice of whom to vote for as misogynistic.

    Yet I’m pretty sure a decent number of people stopped reading this essay a few paragraphs above thinking Trump and me have a lot in common.

    One thing I can say about being the old part of being an OWSM is after 57+ years (full disclosure: some of that in diapers and before I could read) of following the same basic set of liberal, trying always to be fair and reasonable, trying to treat all people with respect, things, I am pretty sure I’m going to ride those values into my grave. No deathbed conversion to hate crimes planned. I have proved myself to myself.

    So why do my fellow liberals have to be such boring but self-righteous stereotypes in treating me as an OWSM? Such scolds outrage me, offended warriors so quick to dismiss whatever successes I’ve had to privilege. It’s not nice to use any large group as a punching bag. As my personal needs system is in pretty good shape, I will sum it up as less offended than saddened.



    Maybe I’ve been too harsh, so let me end in a way to make you feel better about boxing me in as an OWSM: Hey you kids, get off my lawn!

    Even that doesn’t work. I don’t have a lawn, I live in an apartment. Dammit.



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    America’s Refusal to Face the Hard Moral Issues of War

    April 18, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    kobane

    (Today we feature, with permission, a guest post by Daniel N. White. The post originally appeared on Contrary Perspective. All opinions are the author’s.)

    James Fallows, a noted journalist and author of National Defense (1981), is tits on a boar useless these days.

    That’s my conclusion after reading his Atlantic Monthly cover story, The Tragedy of the American Military, in which he asks, “Why do the best soldiers in the world keep losing?” It is a truly terrible article that, regrettably, is mainstream U.S. journalism’s best effort by one of their better talents to answer a vitally important question.

    Right off the bat, I’m going to have to say that the U.S. Army doesn’t produce “the world’s best soldiers” — and it never has. We Americans don’t do infantry as well as others do. This is reasonably well known. Anyone who wants to dispute the point has to dispute not me but General George Patton, who in 1944 said: “According to Napoleon, the weaker the infantry the stronger the artillery must be. Thank God we’ve got the world’s best artillery.” Operational analysis of us by the German Wehrmacht and the PLA (China) said the same thing. We should know that about ourselves by now and we don’t, and the fact that we don’t, particularly after a chain of military defeats by lesser powers, says a good deal bad about us as a people and society. The Atlantic and James Fallows are both professionally derelict to continue printing these canards about our infantry prowess. “The world’s best” — there is no excuse for such hyperbolic boasting.

    Why the U.S. keeps losing its wars, and why James Fallows has no clue as to why, is revealing of the American moment. It’s painfully obvious the U.S. has lost its most recent wars because it has lacked coherent and achievable objectives for them. (Or no objectives that our ruling elites were willing to share with us.)

    Just what, exactly, was the end result supposed to be from invading Iraq in 2003? If the Taliban were willing as they stated to hand over Osama Bin Laden to us, why did we invade Afghanistan? Why did we then start a new war in Afghanistan once we overthrew the Taliban?

    Of course, this isn’t the first time in recent history that the U.S. has fought wars with no coherent rationale. Vietnam had the same problem. The Pentagon Papers showed that insofar as we had a rationale it was to continue the war for sufficiently long enough to show the rest of the world we weren’t to be trifled with, even if we didn’t actually win it. Dick Nixon was quite upfront in private about this too; that’s documented in the Nixon tapes.

    Not having clear and achievable political objectives in a war or major military campaign is a guarantee of military failure. Here’s what arguably the best Allied general in WWII had to say about this, William Slim, from his superlative memoirs, Defeat into Victory, writing of the Allied defeat in Burma, 1942:

    Of these causes [of the defeat], one affected all our efforts and contributed much to turning our defeat into disaster — the failure, after the fall of Rangoon, to give the forces in the field a clear strategic object for the campaign… Yet a realistic assessment of possibilities there and a firm, clear directive would have made a great deal of difference to us and to the way we fought. Burma was not the first, nor was it to be the last, campaign that had been launched on no very clear realization of its political or military objects. A study of such campaigns points emphatically to the almost inevitable disaster that must follow. Commanders in the field, in fairness to them and their troops, must be clear and definitely told what is the object they are locally to attain.

    Anyone who wishes to dispute the lack of clear and achievable objectives for America’s wars should try to answer the question of what a U.S. victory in Iraq or Afghanistan would look like. What would be different in the two countries from a U.S. victory? How would the application of force by the U.S. military have yielded these desired results, whatever they were?

    I invite anyone to answer these questions. They should have been asked, and answered, a long time ago. All the parties concerned — the political class, the intelligentsia, the moral leadership, and the military’s senior officer corps — in America have failed, stupendously, by not doing so.

    Indeed, the lack of coherent objectives for these wars stems from the fraudulence of our pretenses for starting them. Even senior U.S. and UK leaders have acknowledged the stage-management of falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction for a rationale for war with Iraq. When wars are started on falsehoods, it isn’t reasonable to expect them to have honest (or moral) objectives.

    The question then arises: What were the real objectives of these wars? Economic determinists/Marxists look to oil as the underlying reason, but this can’t be it. None of the economic determinist explanations for the Vietnam War made a lick of sense then or now, and any arguments about war for oil make an assumption, admittedly a remotely possible one, about the ruling elites in the U.S. and UK not being able to read a financial balance sheet. The most cursory run of the financials under the best possible assumptions of the promoters of the wars showed Iraq as a giant money loser, world’s third largest oil reserves or not. Economic reasons for a war in Afghanistan? Nobody could ever be that dumb, not even broadcast journalists.

    Judging from the results, the real intent of our political leadership was to create a state of permanent war, for narrow, behind the scenes, domestic political reasons. The wars were/are stage-managed domestic political theater for current political ruling elites. The main domestic objective sought was a Cold-War like freezing of political power and authority in current form by both locking up large areas of political debate as off-limits and increasing the current distribution of societal resources toward economic elites. This was the real objective of both sides in the Cold War, Americans and Russians both, once things settled out after 1953, and most historians just lack the ability and perspective to see it.

    A related factor Americans aren’t supposed to discuss is how much of the drive to war was neo-con war promotion manipulated by Israel. There’s no getting around the high percentage of Jewish neo-cons inside the Beltway. There’s a seven decade-long history of American country-cousin Jews being manipulated by their Israeli city-slicker relations, too, but I’d call this a contributing factor and not a causative one. But the willingness of American neo-cons to do Israel’s bidding and launch a war against Iraq is most disturbing and does require more research. (They all seem to be willing to do it again in Iran – was there ever a neo-con ever against an Iran war ever? Just look at the current situation vis-à-vis Iran, and the direct intervention by the Israeli Prime Minister into American foreign policy.)

    There is one other possibility: that America’s leaders actually believed their own PR about spreading democracy. That’s been known to happen, but under present circumstances, their coming to believe their own PR knowing it was false from the git-go would be something truly unique and horrifying. But not impossible, I’m afraid.

    Cui Bono? (To whose benefit) is always the question we need to ask and with 13 years of war the beneficiaries should be obvious enough. Just follow the money, and follow those whose powers get increased. James Fallows, and everyone else in the mainstream news media, hasn’t.

    But the most pressing issue isn’t any of the above. The most pressing issue is moral, and most importantly of all our society’s unwillingness to face the hard moral questions of war.

    Above all else, war is a moral issue; undoubtedly the most profound one a society has to face. Wars are the acme of moral obscenity. Terrible moral bills inevitably accrue from the vile actions that warfare entails. It has always been so. As long as there has been civilization there has always been great debate as to what political or social wrongs warrant the commission of the crimes and horrors of war. About the only definitively conceded moral rationale for war is self-defense against external attack. Domestic political theater is nothing new as a reason for war, but it has been universally condemned as grotesquely immoral throughout recorded history.

    Our country is ostrich-like in its refusal to acknowledge the moral obscenity of war and its moral costs. Insofar as your average American is willing to engage with these moral issues, it is at the level of “I support our troops” to each other, combined with the “Thank you for your service” to anyone in uniform. Moral engagement on the biggest moral issue there is, war, with these tiresome tropes is profoundly infantile. It isn’t moral engagement; it is a (partially subconscious) willful evasion.

    The Hollywood sugarcoated picture of what war is hasn’t helped here; blindness due to American Exceptionalism hasn’t helped either. Our intellectual and moral leadership—churches in particular—have been entirely AWOL on the moral failings of our wars and the moral debts and bills from them we have accrued and continue to accrue. And these bills will come due some day, with terrible interest accrued. Anyone paying attention to how the rest of the world thinks knows that we currently incur the world’s contumely for our failings here on this issue.

    Mr. Fallows and the Atlantic are both equally blind and AWOL on the moral issues of our wars. The moral issues, and failings, of the wars are paramount and are completely undiscussed in the article, and the magazine, and always have been since before the wars began. Mr. Fallows, and the Atlantic, by framing the war issue in terms of “why the best (sic) soldiers in the world keep losing our wars” are avoiding them in a somewhat more sophisticated way than the “Thank you for your service” simpletons are. They should know better and they don’t, and they lack the situational- and self-awareness to understand that they are doing this. They deserve our contempt for it. They certainly have mine.

    The issue isn’t why the world’s best (sic) soldiers keep losing our wars. The issue is why we started and fought wars this stupid and wrong and show every sign of continuing to do so in the future. Why do we learn nothing from our military defeats? How can we remain so willfully and morally blind? Well, types like James Fallows and The Atlantic Monthly are a large part of why.

    Missing the biggest political and moral question in our lifetimes, for this many years, well, hell, The Atlantic Monthly and James Fallows are just tits on a boar useless these days.



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    Hearing the Little Voices, or Why History Matters

    July 26, 2014 // 7 Comments »




    From time to time we turn this blog over to a guest post. Today’s is by historian Daniel N. White.

    Why do we need to read history? Why does history matter? Because history helps us to hear the little voices, to discriminate among them, and to silence, perhaps, some of the more troublesome ones. And to act on those little voices, the right ones, when they tell us something important.

    For an explanation of this, let’s crack open my favorite novel, The Sand Pebbles, by Richard McKenna. You might have heard of it somewhere along the way; you might also have seen the 1968 movie, with Candice Bergen and Steve McQueen, which was a fairly decent film.

    The book is noteworthy because it is one of a scant handful of novels about machinery, written by an author who firsthand knew and understood the world of machinery. I’ve always been a sprockethead first class, so seeing machinery written about this well always appealed to me. The book also has passages of descriptive sociology and cultural anthropology of the first order running through it; particularly about the world of men. It is also the best book ever written about the below decks Navy—the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis thought so too and said so on the dustjacket when their press reprinted it some years ago.

    McKenna wrote this book after he retired after 20-something years as a torpedo mechanic in the Navy. Sadly, McKenna died way too young from a heart attack, shortly after this book’s publication.

    The Sand Pebbles is the story of a Caliban-like machinist’s mate in the China Fleet in the 1920s, back when the US, as well as the other Western powers, ran their warships up and down the major rivers of China. The protagonist, Jake Holman, is posted to the most obscure ship on the China Station, patrolling the far reaches of the Yangtze River. Once aboard, Holman makes it a point, as he always had done, to master every single aspect of the ship’s engineering spaces. The ship is a creaky old relic taken from Spain after the Spanish-American War of 1898, and it has a knock in the engine that has always been there and that has always defeated all prior repair efforts. The knock causes main bearing wear that in turn causes increased coal burning and regular major repairs to clean and re-clearance the ship’s crank bearings. Holman is driven to find out what the cause of the knock is, and to fix it.

    Early on in the book Holman is spending time in the ship’s bilges, sloshing around in the dirty bilge water, getting the rustproofing tar in his uniforms and skin and hair, staring at the huge pieces of rotating machinery just inches from his face, trying to figure out the problem.

    McKenna talks about all the little voices in the engine room around Holman, all the little noises of the machinery in operation, all its sights and smells, and how it is all a confusing welter of little voices, each trying to be heard. He can hear them, but he can’t hear the right one, on account of the crowded welter of them all, and his ignorance of what voice he should be listening for.

    Under the ship’s main crank spinning overhead, Holman sees a drop of oil on the engine soleplate, a drop of oil that expands and contracts regularly. All of a sudden, Holman recognizes that he’s seeing something important–this drop of oil, expanding and contracting, indicates relative movement in the soleplates, where they should be absolutely dead tight. Holman picks up a ballpeen hammer and beats on all the soleplate bolts, and discovers that many of them are loose.

    The light bulb goes off in Holman’s head–the soleplate bolts are loose, and the soleplates therefore are in misalignment, causing the rest of the machinery to be in misalignment, all on account of a long-ago grounding that bent the hull slightly. Making the soleplates true and tight to the hull will fix the problem that has dogged the ship’s engine for decades.

    McKenna goes on for a spell about the little voices in the passage that tells the above story. Anyone who has worked around machinery knows about those little voices, because they are always out there in machinery, telling you the machine’s story about what’s right and what’s wrong, and what you can do to fix it if it is broken. Anybody who is any good as a wrench, or e-tech, knows about the little voices and how important it is to listen for them. You don’t fix broken things very well without having an ear for the little voices, no matter how skilled you are as a technician. To be any good, you have to have the craft knowledge, the skills, AND the ear for the little voices.

    The story of Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles is really the same story about us and history. History gives us, should we choose to use it, the ability to hear the little voices that tell us the key important facts about some big event going on around us, some big event that is surrounded by a huge welter of competing voices. And if we read history with a keen eye—if we listen to it with discriminating ears–we are far better able to pick out the right little voice out there from all the welter of them that explains things to us, and gives us, combined with our life craft-skills that we acquire as we live and learn, the ability to understand, and perhaps even fix, the problems in our world that bedevil us.

    Ace technicians, with a sure eye, ear, and feel for the little voices, are rare, as are ace historians, and ace political leaders. But we all can do better if we are aware of these little voices, and try at least to listen for them. And that is what the study of history is for.

    Here’s an example from our today. In our train-wreck of a war in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) troops, which the US military is training, sometimes turn sides and shoot the trainers—Green on Blue violence is what the Pentagon calls it. Shoot the trainers, and if they aren’t themselves shot, they then defect to the Taliban.

    Such attacks, according to the Pentagon, are unprecedented in human history. That’s rubbish. We only need look back to France’s war in Algeria (1954-62): to cock our heads and listen to the little voices of that war. Listen for that voice, and maybe heed it:

    One day in the war there was this French infantry patrol out in the bled (the deep countryside) that got fired on by someone hiding in an orchard just outside this small village. The French patrol returned fire, and a dead fellaga (FLN—Front National Liberation, the Algerian Muslims fighting for Algeria’s independence from France) fell from one of the trees. The members of the patrol went over to his body to investigate and discovered that the person who shot at them was a very old man, who had let fly at them with some antique muzzleloader. The soldiers went through his pockets, and found a Medaille Militaire in his pocket, from the old man’s First World War days in the French Army. Thumbing the medal, and looking down at the corpse of the dead old man, the Lieutenant said, “You know, there’s just something terribly wrong with this war, terribly wrong.”

    That fellaga, a combat veteran, knew what he was up against and what he was doing and how suicidal it was for him when he grabbed his muzzleloader and went to try and bag him a Frenchman. The obvious lesson was that the gig was up for France in Algeria, and that France had to leave. Even if that wasn’t quite clear yet to that Lieutenant. He, and most all of France, had not yet the ears to hear, even if the little voices were screaming it.

    In that war, there were dozens of instances of Algerian troops killing their French officers and NCOs while they slept and then deserting to the FLN—in at least one instance, a full company of men did.

    The French were deaf to what events like these were telling them about Algerie Francais. They refused to hear the little voices. We are equally deaf, and I’d say deliberately so in the Pentagon’s case, with what Green on Blue attacks are telling us about our war in Afghanistan.

    When the Pentagon claims these attacks are unprecedented, beyond human ken and understanding, they’re willfully refusing to pay any attention to the discordant voices of history. Anyone who has read anything about the French war in Algeria knows better about the lazy canards about Green on Blue put out by the Pentagon. Anyone who has read anything about counterinsurgency has read about that war, as the French were the foremost practitioners of counterinsurgency in the 20th century, and knows about the Algerian soldiers regularly mutinying and killing their French leaders and deserting.

    The gig is up for us in Afghanistan, and the American endeavor in that country is every bit as dead as Algerie Francais. That is clear and beyond refutation.

    That lesson should be obvious, if you know your history and understand the little voices studying it lets you hear. Few in this country have read any of that history, any history much period, and so we don’t hear those little voices, and so the problems we face remain beyond our ken to understand enough to fix. But Jake Holman heard those voices in the engine room, and he fixed that engine. But that’s another, absolutely great, story from that book that I’ll leave to you.

    This piece by Dan White originally appeared on The Contrary Perspective and is reprinted by permission because it is worth reading.




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