Category Archives: History

The ISIS Mission: Once Again, “The March of Folly”

March into wall

[I'm back home., and am almost finished with doing six ethics presentations in seven days in four states. I just added the photo of the Faber band marching into the wall in "Animal House"---the ultimate "march of folly"--- and more importantly, fixing about ten typos in the post. I knew ttey would be there. I had an 8 AM start time for my seminar, which would end at noon, and then had to drive to Boston, ditch my rental car, and fly back to Virginia. I wanted to get the post on this topic up, but knew it would be rushed, and that I wouldn't have time to proof it carefully until late in the day. Maybe I should do that; I don't like posting sloppy content. I apologize for the typos, but it was either a timely post with mistakes, or a late post without.  My choice; I'll accept your verdict.]

“The March of Folly” was historian Barbara Tuchman’s most specific exploration of the theme of many of her works. It was a cold-eyed retrospective of how supposedly brilliant people in power can follow through on destructive and objectively stupid policies; how a mission, ordered by a  leader, travels the arc from aspiration to delusion, and how the public, paralyzed by deference to authority, inertia, restraint, and irrational hope. accepts flawed premises long after the damage they are doing and will continue to do are obvious and undeniable. Tuchman calls this lethal tendency of policymakers throughout history a “process of self-hypnosis.” She concentrates on its long and bloody history using examples spanning the Trojan War,  through the British handling of the American rebellion, and the Vietnam War. In another book, she applied similar analysis to the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. This is exactly what is going on with the ridiculous and pre-doomed Obama plan to arm the Syrian rebels to fight ISIS—but not the Syrian regime, which is who they are currently fighting. I doubt whether anyone with the necessary influence will stop it until it becomes a chapter in another historian’s sequel to Tuchman’s classic.

Because I have been in a hotel room between three ethics presentations in the Providence area, I have had a rare opportunity to watch much of the hearings on the proposed ISIS plan, as well as listen to the reaction on all of the news networks, from all sides of the political spectrum. I have also watched the President’s speeches on the subject. Seldom has something involving national policy unfolding before my eyes so clearly indicated a shocking deficit of either ethical leadership, or, in the alternative, competent leadership.

I don’t need to bombard you with links: nobody, with the possible  (and frightening) exception of President Obama, believes the proposed plan to defeat-degrade-stop-“send to the Gates of Hell” (pick your rhetoric) can possibly work as it has been described. Not the generals; not Republicans; not Democrats, not CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello, who kept shaking their heads in amazement during the hearings, and not Fox News’ Shepard Smith, who was  hilarious as well as eloquent in his sarcasm and dead-eyed disgust while questioning various experts and pundits about what was being said on Capitol Hill.

Nobody believes that American air power and “advisors” alone can accomplish the objectives of this campaign without eventually involving combat troops. The idea is being ridiculed by anyone who knows the region, the participants, and the facts of military strategy, and who is not under orders by the President to toe the official line. (Who knows what poor John Kerry and Chuck Hagel think?Who knows if they are even thinking….) Yet it appears Congress is going to approve this born-to-fail plan anyway. Why? Well, some Republicans and Democrats believe that when the Commander-in-Chief asks for Congressional approval in a military action, he should get it. This is irresponsible. Some Republicans want an Obama military fiasco to hang around his neck, and are willing to spend billions and kill people to do it. Some Democrats would support their man in the White House if he asked them for a resolution that the moon was made of cheese. And some are undoubtedly idiots.

Is the President? No, he’s not an idiot. He is a hopelessly, tragically over-matched leader without the skills or character required for the job, making terrible choice after terrible choice and lacking the courage to forget politics and lead. He hates war–real war, not video game war, but war in which  Americans get shot, blown up and killed, and where the bad guys can’t be attacked solely from the safety of the skies, which is to say, war. His ideals in this respect are and always were completely contrary to the requirements of being the President of the United States. He is as close to a pacifist as we have ever had in that office, and pacifists do not belong there.

Sometimes, international crises and threats require American soldiers, with weapons, fighting. The President doesn’t like it? Too bad. (“I…hate…war,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in one of his many memorable speeches.) The public is tired of combat? Tough. The nation still has obligations, and sometimes there are no happy choices. “I’m tired of being responsible; I’m tired of having to sacrifice; I’m tired of being part of the constant battle against chaos that is life”—none of these are rational and responsible sentiments, and a competent leader has to know when to ignore them. The Democratic Party’s progressive base is, in essence, pacifist in philosophy? Gee, sorry. Republicans have their screwballs too. This isn’t the time for politics, partisanship, or ideology unhinged to the real world.

What’s going on here?

Incredibly, it really seems to be this simple: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Leadership, War and the Military

Presenting Rationalization #45: The Abuser’s License, or “It’s Complicated”

complexity

I owe Carol Costello for this one, which she unveiled today while explaining why it was unfair to criticize Janay Palmer for marrying Ray Rice, the pro football star who punched her lights out in a hotel elevator when they were engaged.  “It’s complicated,” Carol said, as her entire argument, as if this settled the issue.  My rationalization alarm immediately began clanging. Then I thought about all the other times I have heard that explanation used to avoid accountability or blame for wrongful action. Thus Ethics Alarms will add to its useful and always growing Rationalizations List…

45. The Abuser’s License:  “It’s Complicated”

 Costello later noted that the decision to stay with a potentially deadly partner was related to the emotion of love, as if love deserves an ethics pass that other emotions do not qualify for.  In this context, “It’s complicated” is a matched set with #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Love does not get a pass, or warrant one. Love is one of the most powerful of the non-ethical consideration magnets that stop ethics alarm clappers from moving when they should, and the sentimental, warm and fuzzy tradition of excusing harmful, irresponsible, clearly wrongful conduct because it might have been motivated by love is a rejection of ethics in favor of romance. Love is not the most benign of impediments to sound ethical reasoning, but rather one of the most insidious. Some of the worst crimes in human history have been rationalized by lovers. If the the coded meaning of “It’s complicated” is “it’s love, and we can never plumb the mysteries of the heart!”, the sentiment should be received with exactly the same contempt as “It’s greed,” It’s hate,” or “It’s revenge.”  Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Love, Romance and Relationships, Sports

My Street Just Went Stupid: Now What?

The Stupiding is coming...

The Stupiding is coming…

For the last 34 years I have lived on Westminster Place in Alexandria, Virginia. The address, a cul de sac, was a happy accident, as a wonderful, affordable house just happened to be there and for sale the day after I asked my wife-to-be to marry me, but it has always given me pleasure. Westminster Abbey is third among my five favorite and most cherished places on earth, the others being Fenway Park, The Alamo, Disneyland, and the Gettysburg battlefield.

Protecting my address’s integrity isn’t easy. Everyone, from clerks to salespersons to the people who address our junk mail try to change the name to Westminister Place, only to be corrected by me, or when it happens to her,  my anglophile wife. “It is Westminster Place, no “i”—you know, like the Abbey,” we say politely. The number of times the response is, “Huh? What abbey?” is a fact too depressing to relate.

Nevertheless, we refuse to let this constant attempted error pass. We have seen what can happen when illiteracy and ignorance are permitted to prevail and fester.

Just a few blocks away from us is the intersection known locally as Stupid Corner, where for decades the Waffle House there has sported a sign reading “WAFLE HOUSE.” The sign immediately lowers the IQ of anyone nearby: there mothers push their baby carriages into traffic, and pedestrians mysteriously forget where they were headed. (I just made four typos even writing about it.) When they repainted the traffic lanes—I’m not making this up—there was an arrow turning LEFT painted in the far right lane, an arrow point RIGHT in the middle lane, and an arrow pointing STRAIGHT ahead in the far left lane, when in fact no lane could go straight, since the road ends there. It was like a Stephen King story. “The Stupiding.” Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Daily Life, History

Ethics Hero: Judge Richard Posner

Sure, you have a right to think there's something wrong with that, but the state has no business acting as if it thinks so too.

Sure, you have a right to think there’s something wrong with that, but the state has no business acting as if it thinks so too.

Because Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court was appointed by Ronald Reagan, he is usually describes as a conservative judge. He’s better described as an unusually smart, articulate, thoughtful and courageous judge, and in responding to oral arguments  lawyers for Wisconsin and Indiana defending their state’s marriage bans, he proved it.

I have frequently attempted to draw a distinction between those guided by archaic religious morality that causes them to regard same-sex marriage as sinful, and the attempt to use the government, which must not be guided by religion to make such marriages illegal. Morality doesn’t have to be defended by logic—God works in mysterious ways, you know—but laws do. A complete evisceration emanating from a place of authority of the specious and often absent reasoning behind gay marriage bans was much needed, and knowing that he risked criticism as a “judicial bully” for doing so with gusto, Judge Posner came through.

Here is a sampling of the barrage he placed on Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher and Wisconsin’s assistant attorney general Timothy Samuelson: Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Ethics Heroes, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote of the Month: President Obama

“We don’t have a strategy yet.”

President Barack Obama, responding to a question regarding the military response to ISIS in Iraq and Stria.

But hey, there’s no rush!

no-we-cantI don’t enjoy beating dead horses, I don’t like using Ethics Alarms to pile on, and I try not to say I told you so. However, if you were looking for a statement that constitutes signature significance of this man’s complete lack of fitness to serve as a leader of anything more complicated or important than a Rotary Chapter, this is it. Let’s see:

  • It is an admission of inattention to duty.
  • It is a confession of incompetence.
  • Coming on the heels of studied disengagement via fundraisers and golfing, it is proof of neglect.
  • In the context of Obama’s reported focus on illegal immigration and climate change, it demonstrates warped priorities
  • It is frightening, and
  • Even if  true, this is an irresponsible thing to say in public if you want to be taken seriously as Commander-in-Chief and as a world leader.

It is depressing to read the comments of desperate Democratic Obama enablers on various websites. One said, “You don’t reveal to your enemy that you have a strategy!” No, you utter fool, you don’t reveal to your enemy what your strategy is. (Obama has done this too, in Iraq and Afghanistan.) If you believe world leaders benefit by acting as if they just walked off the street with no clue what they are doing, perhaps Obama’s next brilliant ploy should be to appear wearing a propeller beanie and speak like stroke victim. That should really fool ‘em!

Finance blogger Jeffrey Carter explains why the answer is so alarming and ominous (though, I have to say, it shouldn’t be surprising): Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, War and the Military

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal.)

Great, John, now you've killed Rep. Lee's brain. Oh, by the way: Shut up.

Great, John, now you’ve killed Rep. Lee’s brain. Oh, by the way: Shut up.

[ I am on my way back from Newport, preparing to drive for heaven knows how long back to Alexandria, VA, and typing in a small room with no desk, my roommie drying her hair and a Jack Russell that keeps jumping on the keyboard.  I am necessarily saving  expanded commentary about the ethics of the Unites States' abdication of its vital role in the world for a later date, hopefully tomorrow. Until then, I will just touch on one particularly offensive example of the dishonest and pusillanimous attitude of so many of our elected leaders, who essentially are trying to poison U.S. culture with one of the most unethical pathogens of all...pacifism.]

 “I support strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.” 

—-Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the House’s most reliably knee-jerk opponent of any use of U.S. military force, objecting to the President’s air strikes against ISIS

What a nonsensical, deceitful, irresponsible statement, and stupid as well. An elected official who would utter such intellectually and morally bankrupt gibberish in public has disqualified herself for responsible office, as it makes almost everything about her qualifications suspect—her intelligence, her honesty, her judgment, her education, her sanity. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, War and the Military

The “Ordinary People Who Are Struggling Within Gaza” Are Not Innocent

President Obama continued a pattern of declaring deceitful formal support of Israel while throwing coded support for Palestinians to the Democratic base, which is, disgracefully, largely siding with the anti-Israel forces in Europe. His reluctance to commit the moral weight of his office against the conduct of Hamas and behind Israel was embarrassingly clear when he said, “I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately siting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy.” Intentionally placing its own citizens, including children, in harm’s way to maximize photo-ready casualties that can turn world opinion against Israel is not “irresponsible.” The President trying to play both ends against the middle in the Gaza crisis is irresponsible. Using Gazans as human shields when Hamas forces Israel to respond militarily to missiles and tunnels is indistinguishable from evil, and the President, were he responsible, would say so unequivocally. Instead, he resorts to weasel words, equivocations. Surely, this President extolled for his eloquence knows the meaning of the words he uses.

Then, this week, Obama gave us this:

“I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.”

Godwin’s Law be damned: a Nazi Germany analogy is instructive here. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, War and the Military