This story is too disturbing to describe, so I’m going to just give you the link. Briefly, it involves a couple, she a veteran, he a soldier, killing their therapy dog, laughing as they did it, and filming the event. They were arrested on charges of animal cruelty. Read the story, here, and then consider the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day, which is…
Category Archives: War and the Military
The latest Sean Spicer controversy was so, so stupid that I swore—swore I tell you!—that I would not lower myself to write about it.
The Trump Administration spokesman, making the dumb assertion that Assad is even worse than Hitler because Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” was absurdly—gleefully?— attacked as a Holocaust denier.ThnkProgress, which I am going to have to place on my “never trust these hacks” list, wrote that Spicer “argued that the Nazis never used chemical weapons during the Holocaust,” which is a lie, flat out. Spicer didn’t mention the Holocaust at all. Then The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect released a statement saying,
“On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death.”
This is perhaps not quite a lie, since the combination of confirmation bias and paranoia could make this organization see Holocaust denial behind every rock, but it is no less ridiculous, inflammatory and unfair. Then some of my 2016 election-deranged friends—I now picture them wrapped in tin foil, wearing Groucho glasses and spreading DDT around as they sit cross-legged in a teepee with a flaming penguin on their heads—began citing the Anne Frank Center slander with approval, and garnishing likes from a lot of people who I usually like and who once had brains larger than marbles.
So now I have to defend Sean Spicer. Yecchh.
1. Everyone is calling for Trump to fire Spicer. Of course he should fire Spicer. He should have fired Spicer months ago. Sean Spicer is incompetent, bumbling, inarticulate and gaffe prone. He is even more incompetent, bumbling, inarticulate and gaffe prone than Robert Gibbs, who was the most incompetent, bumbling, inarticulate and gaffe prone press secretary I ever had the pain of watching. (Obama’s subsequent press secretaries were just liars.). Spicer is much worse than Gibbs, though he doesn’t say uh-uh-un-um-um-um as much. I wish he would: they would be an improvement over what he does say. Spicer looks stupid and sounds stupid, so he represents the President and his entire administration as stupid WHICH THEY MIGHT BE, but his job is to place both in the best light possible. He does the opposite. This Hitler botch was just the most recent example.
2. Trump promised to appoint and hire “the best people,” so having one of the worst people imaginable representing his Presidency to the news media and the public leaves “incompetent” in the dust as “suicidal” takes over. This is especially true since the President knows that the news media is actively hostile to his leadership and is actively allied with the Democrats to bring him down and cancel out that damned election by any means possible. Trump’s situation screams out for a spokesman with the credibility, suave and wit of the late Tony Snow or the fierce intellect and articulateness of the very much alive Laura Ingraham. The fact that Trump can’t see that, and that his advisors haven’t threatened to walk out and join an anti-Trump rally if he refused to fire this clod and send him back to the Budget car rental desk or wherever he came from is really ominous. If “best people” means people like Spicer…well, I don’t like to think about it. And if the “You’re fired!” executive won’t fire someone who performs as horribly as him, who will he fire?
3. The Hitler statement was, no question, idiotic. At best, it was the most egregiously warped use of Rationalization # 32. The Unethical Role Model imaginable: Spicer was really saying, “why couldn’t Assad be more like Hitler?”! At worst, it was like walking into the buzz-saw of the Trump-hate narrative that the President and his team are virtual Nazis and secret anti-Semites. It was so dumb that the fact that Spicer didn’t physically try to stuff the words back into his mouth as they started coming out is signature significance that the man belongs in a home. Continue reading
Yesterday’s U.S. missile attack on Syria prompted by Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians clarifies just how inept and feckless President Obama’s handling of foreign policy was.
In an article today in the reliably progressive and Democratic Party-boosting The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg writes,
“President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, like many foreign policy doctrines, was contradictory at times, and it sometimes lacked coherence.”
1. At times?
2. Sometimes lacked coherence?
3. Notice the obligatory “like many foreign policy doctrines” to cushion the blow. Journalists are in permanent denial over just how epically awful the first black President’s administration was.
Goldberg eventually gets around to Obama’s “decision, in 2013, to go back on his promise to punish the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons on civilians. Early in the Syrian civil war, Obama publicly drew a red line concerning Assad’s behavior, but later decided to forgo military strikes, even after being presented with near-definitive proof that Assad had crossed the red line in grotesque fashion. “ This inadequate description intentionally leaves out the dispiriting details of that fiasco. Here is what Obama said in August of 2013 when the first “red line” appeared:
“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation….We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.”
Now, lawyers and grammarians may argue over what “a red line” means, what constitutes “use” and “a whole bunch,” and what the President considers “enormous consequences.” None of that matters. What matters is what the statement was understood to mean around the world, and it was widely understood to mean this: If chemical weapons are used against the Syrian people by Assad, the United States will act decisively. Last week, reliable evidence indicated that indeed chemical weapons had been used, and that the “red line” had been crossed.
Obama’s response? Double-talk, backtracking and word-parsing:
- The President to reporters Friday with Jordan’s King Abdullah in the Oval Office: “What we have right now is an intelligence assessment. And as I said, knowing that potentially chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria doesn’t tell us when they were used, how they were used. Obtaining confirmation and strong evidence, all of those things we have to make sure that we work on with the international community. And we ourselves are going to be putting a lot of resources into focusing on this. And I think that, in many ways, a line has been crossed when we see tens of thousands of innocent people being killed by a regime. But the use of chemical weapons and the dangers that poses to the international community, to neighbors of Syria, the potential for chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists — all of those things add increased urgency to what is already a significant security problem and humanitarian problem in the region. So we’re going to be working with countries like Jordan to try to obtain more direct evidence and confirmation of this potential use. In the meantime, I’ve been very clear publicly, but also privately, that for the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues. So this is not an on or off switch.”
- A White House official to reporters Thursday: “I think what the Assad regime needs to know is that we are watching this incredibly closely. Were he to undertake any additional use [of chemical weapons], he would be doing so under very careful monitoring from us and the international community. There should be no mistaking our determination not just to get to the bottom of these reports, but to send a message … that Bashar al-Assad and his regime will be held accountable for these types of actions. We’re going to be methodical, rigorous and relentless … so we can establish exactly what happened…all options are on the table in terms of our response…If we reach a definitive determination that the red line has been crossed … what we will be doing is consulting closely with out friends and allies … to determine what the best course of action is.”
So those “enormous consequences ” of the “red line” being crossed is that the United States will start consulting with friends and allies?
Well, yes, in a word. Continue reading
It is now April, and though I vowed at the end of February to finally post a thorough essay on the significance of the Alamo to U.S. culture, ethics, traditions and ideals at some point during the dates corresponding to the fort’s siege and fall on March 6, 1836.
I never did.
I thought I had posted an earlier essay about the Alamo. No, I haven’t. This is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. The Alamo is by far my favorite historical landmark, and one of the events in American history that most inspires and fascinates me, beginning from when I looked on in horror as Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett, desperately clubbed Mexican soldiers as the last Alamo defender standing, and hundreds more charged toward him, as I heard on the soundtrack,
His land is biggest an’ his land is best, from grassy plains to the mountain crest
He’s ahead of us all meetin’ the test, followin’ his legend into the West
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!
I learned all about Davy, of course, the real Davy, America’s first pop culture celebrity who created a legend about himself and by fate, irony or justice, inadvertently placed himself in a situation where he had to live up to his own hype—and by all accounts,did. Then there was Jim Bowie. I had seen several dramatized versions of his famous last stand, fighting off soldiers from his cot, finally dispatching one last attacker with his Bowie knife. It is one of the great examples of a scene so good it should have been true, though it wasn’t: Bowie was dead or unconscious by the time the Mexican burst into his sick room. Never mind: that’s how an American hero goes down, fighting. “Print the legend.” Later I learned how Bowie really was one tough, brave SOB, the perfect man for the Alamo, if he hadn’t been dying of cholera.
My impression of William Barrett Travis was biased by Lawrence Harvey’s portrayal of him as a martinet (with a British accent that supplanted his Southern one after the first scene) in the John Wayne film “The Alamo”, my favorite movie as a kid. The real Travis was a pefect example of someone who had failed in everything, including as a father and a husband, but redeemed himself magnificently at the end. His final letter to the world is one of the great proclamations of defiance, dedication and courage in all of history.
I will never forget my first visit to the Alamo, and seeing Texans weeping, openly, proudly, as they read the plaque with Travis’s words engraved on it:
Commandancy of the Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24, 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World
Fellow citizens & compatriots
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country VICTORY OR DEATH.
William Barret Travis.
The story of the Alamo isn’t taught in schools outside of Texas. It wasn’t taught in my school, either: like most American history, I learned about the event though a thick mixture of pop culture, reading (Walter Lord’s “A Time To Stand” was a birthday present in 1961) and ongoing research. I recently completed “Texas Rising,” which was also just broadcast on cable as a mini-series starring the late Bill Paxton as Sam Houston. Historian Stephen Moore is a plodding writer, but he nicely puts to rest the currently popular politically correct slander that the defenders of the Alamo and the Texas rebels were fighting to keep their slaves, and trying to steal Mexico’s land. The Texians were opposing a dictator who had changed the terms under which they had come to the territory, and anyone familiar with the American character could have predicted what would happen when a despot demanded that they submit to unelected authority. The Alamo was a fight for liberty and democracy, and its martyrs exemplified sacrifice for principle and country.
I let them down. The story of the Alamo should be told and retold, with its ethics lessons made clear and bright. Next year, on March 6. 2018, Ethics Alarms will honor Davy, Bowie, Travis, Bonham, Almaron Dickinson and the rest of the 220 or so heroes who died that day, and do it the right way, not as an afterthought.
Don’t let me forget.
Happy Non-Birthday, Frederick! And Welcome Rationalization 25A, Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” To the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List
As any Gilbert and Sullivan fan knows, February 29 is the troublesome birthday of Frederick, the dim and conflicted hero of “The Pirates of Penzance.” (He doesn’t get a birthday this year.) Apprenticed to a pirate as a child by mistake (his nurse heard “pirate” rather than “pilot”), the lad was bound to serve as a cutthroat until his 21st birthday, and thinking that the terms specified his obligation to reach until his 21st year, quits the pirate band that raised him and joins the police, who are seeking to put his old comrades behind bars, or worse. But poor Frederick learns that because he would only be free of his obligations until his 21st birthday, and since he was born–Oh, horror!—on Leap Year, he is technically only five (“and a little bit over”), and won’t be 21 by the terms of his apprenticeship until he is 84 years old. His beloved, the equally dim Mabel, vows to wait for him. Meanwhile Frederick, declaring himself a “slave of duty,” joins the pirates again, as they prepare to murder Mabel’s father.
W.S. Gilbert, who wrote this famously nutty plot, was satirizing the substitution of duty (and legal contracts) for reason, morality, ethics, and sanity. The latest addition to the Rationalizations List, Frederick’s Compulsion is a sub-rationalization of #25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!” Frederick believes that the existence of a contract creates a duty that he must obey without question, regardless of the consequences. He would have made a fine Nazi soldier. He would have shined in the Nixon White House. Continue reading
Desmond Doss, who died on March 23, 2006 at the age of 87, was the very first hero to be enshrined in the Ethics Alarms Hall of Heroes. I wrote about him before there was an Ethics Alarms, shortly after he died. I had never heard of Doss before, and I remember being angry that I had never heard of him. Everyone should know about him. There literally are no Americans who were any more heroic, and whose ethical conduct was any more astounding, than Desmond Doss.
If the values of this nation, and especially Hollywood, were healthy and correctly aligned, he would be a household name, and the film about his World War II heroism would have been made long ago. Finally “Hacksaw Ridge” was produced in 2016, and has been nominated for an Academy Award, although it will never win.
When I first read about Doss, I couldn’t get my mind around what he had done to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only conscientious objector ever to achieve that honor during combat. During the battle of Okinawa, we were told that he survived heavy enemy fire as he struggled to carry seventy-five wounded soldiers to the sheer cliff at Hacksaw Ridge, personally picking up each one and lowering them over the edge the cliff 400 feet to safety. How is that possible? Now that I’ve seen the film, it still seems impossible.
Desmond Doss proved that principled opposition to violence against his fellow human beings need not be based on fear, self-interest or self-preservation. It is often impossible to tell whether those who oppose armed combat really object to the spilling of all human blood in battle, or only their own. With Desmond Doss, there was never any doubt. He didn’t like the term “conscientious objector,” preferring the term “conscientious cooperator.” He enlisted in the army following Pearl Harbor, believing that the war against the Axis had to be fought and wanted to be part of the war effort despite believing, as a devout a Seventh Day Adventist, that it was a sin to kill, with no exceptions. Thus he refused to carry a rifle (or shoot one, even in training) but yet insisted that he be involved in combat as a battlefield medic. He achieved conscientious objector status but would hot accept a deferment. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic, Doss was hazed, abused and ridiculed for his dedication to non-violence, and as the Mel Gibson-directed film shows, many of his tormentors eventually owed their lives to his astonishing heroism. All of his compatriots were amazed by his evident fearlessness under fire and remarkable dedication to duty, never hesitating to go after a wounded soldier no matter what the personal risk. As a combat medic on Guam and at Leyte in the Philippines, Doss had already been awarded the Bronze Star before the three-day battle at Hacksaw Ridge.
Many of the soldiers in Doss’s 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division were driven off the ridge by a furious Japanese counter-attack, and wounded G.I.s were stranded atop it. Doss remained with the wounded, and, according to his Medal of Honor citation refused to seek cover, carrying them, one by one, to the edge of the ridge in the face of enemy fire, some of them from behind enemy lines. He lowered each man on a rope-supported litter he improvised on the spot, using double bowline knots he had learned as a youngster and tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump to serve as an anchor. Every wounded man was lowered to a safe spot 35 feet below the ridge top by the 145 pound medic. Finally, Doss came down the ridge himself, incredibly, unharmed. Continue reading