Saturday, March 22, 2008

Questions to the Illusionists

[Illusionists is my term for people influenced by a broad spectrum of religious and philosophical systems and beliefs that deny the reality of the sensory world. That is, they believe that ordinary reality as experienced by human beings is in some sense an illusion.]

Do you believe that Mount Everest is real? What about Mount Rainier? What about your local hills or mountains?

If you don't believe mountains, or particular mountains are "real," then you define "real" in a peculiar way.

Do you believe that what is happening now, around you, is real? [Hard core Illusionists deny even that.]

Do you believe that what happened to you ten minutes ago was real? Are things that happened in the past not real? Do you believe events really occurred in the past only if you remember them? If you don't remember something, did it not happen? If you remember now but forget later?

Let us admit that both what is in the past and what is distant is real, while admitting that we may have incorrect or missing information about the past or what is distant. We may even may be incorrect in our opinion of the here and now.

Now consider the life of an animal, say a dog. The dog has a beginning that has (or had) a place and a time. You can choose birth or conception for the beginning point, but then stick to that for this example. The dog also has (or had, or will have) an end, for which we will use its death. The dead body of the dog is of no use in this example.

Our dog is like Mount Everest in that, while it is alive, it is real. Even if it is away from us. Most people know there are living dogs all over the world. We may know some individual dogs quite well. Aside from being a living animal, a major difference between a dog and a mountain is the short life time of the dog. The lifetime of a dog is very comprehensible to humans because they typically live a fair fraction of a human lifetime.

Now further suppose there is a dog in New York City (if you are in New York City, suppose it in some other city) and the dog's master has taken a vacation to Florida. The dog is being cared for in New York City by a friend of the master.

The master may or may not think of the dog while on vacation. A sane master knows the dog is in New York City. He does not need to imagine that the dog is also in Florida, physically or "in spirit."

We can accept that Mount Everest is real, but far away. We don't imagine that an invisible, intangible copy of Mount Everest must be with us in order for it to exist.

When the dog is in the past, when it has died, in a sense it is far away in time. Yet we should not need to believe that it has an invisible, intangible copy of itself in our presence, or in some imaginary space like heaven. The dog is real, but it is in the past.

Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other Illusionist doctrines are elaborated systems of confusing the real and the imaginary.

In particular they prey on people's fear of death and emotional attachments to people who have died.

When in fact people who have died are real, they are just in the past.

For more essays by William P. Meyers on this and related topics, see his:

Philosophy main page
Religion main page

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Vietnam, Iraq, and the U.S. Senate

"...Congress lagged even farther. The legislature's main instrument was its constitutional authority to appropriate money for the war, but senators and representatives ... consistently balked at using that prerogative, lest they be charged with shunning their patriotic obligation to furnish funds to the fighting men in the fields."

We can say this about the Democratic Party majority in the United States House and Senate post the 2006 elections. But the Democratic Party had an even larger majority in 1967, which is the year intended by this quote from Stanley Karnow's Vietnam, A History.

And who were the leaders of the Senate from 2007 until today? Presumably the three Senators who are still possible presidential candidates, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.

At the end of 1967 Senator Eugene McCarthy declared himself an anti-war candidate for president against the incumbent, Lyndon Johnson. Because he had served almost two full terms, Johnson announced he would not be a candidate on March 31, 1968. Then Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Robert (Bobby) Kennedy jumped into the race. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968. Kennedy, like his big brother and former President John, had been an eager communism fighter earlier, but had turned against pursuing the war in Vietnam. Humphrey became the Democratic nominee, but narrowly lost the election to Republican candidate Richard Nixon, who said he had a peace plan.

Unfortunately Nixon's peace plan consisted of threatening to drop atomic weapons on North Vietnam. When the Vietnamese government called his bluff he just amped up the conventional war. When that did not work he made a deal to withdraw U.S. troops. Not long after troops were withdrawn Vietnam was reunited under the North Vietnamese government.

At this point the U.S. is in Iraq because the U.S. is in Iraq and no one has had the courage to pull the plug on the idiocy. Nothing particularly bad is going to happen if U.S. troops are withdrawn. Maybe democracy will work, maybe a new un-democratic leadership will emerge, maybe the nation will break into pieces.

It just is not any of the U.S.'s business. We can't even fix problems here. We have wasted an astonishing amount of money that we will never get back.

Things might change after the 2008 elections. But don't be surprised if the Iraq War goes on in some form or another. Because George W. Bush is not particularly stupid or cowardly as U.S. politicians go. What we have is a stupid system. Stupid in, stupid out.

More on Iraq by William P. Meyers

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quagmires: Bush's Iraq and Kennedy's Vietnam

Barack H. Obama is being promoted as another John F. Kennedy. Given his likely nomination and presidency, this is a good time to compare real Kennedy to the Democrat Party propaganda image of him. As a standard of comparison I'll use the current President, George W. Bush, because his record is still relatively fresh in people's minds. We'll start with the foreign wars of these two Presidents; other parallels will have to wait for later essays.

The Iraq War has been called a quagmire, as was the Vietnam War. The image of armies wading into swamps and disappearing in the mud was nearly literal in the Vietnam War. Iraq is a desert country; dying of thirst in the desert, or sinking into the sands, would be a more appropriate metaphor for U.S. military efforts there.

John Kennedy was the son of a billionaire; his political ambitions were backed by a lot of money. He received an undergraduate degree from Harvard. His thesis was published in book form as Why England Slept and made him famous at an early age. He asserted that World War II was caused by England's appeasement of Adolph Hitler. After World War II Kennedy was vehemently anti-communist and was a strong supporter of Joe McCarthy's red-baiting. He had won a seat in the House of Representatives in the 1946 elections and voted against many of the New Deal programs of Harry Truman. In 1952 he was elected to the US Senate, then re-elected in 1958. In 1960 he beat Vice-President Richard Nixon to become President of the United States largely because Nixon's record on civil rights alienated voters in the southern states who had been willing to vote for Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy had a poor civil rights voting record and was supported by segregationists (racists) in the Democratic Party.

JFK had become involved in Vietnam long before his presidency [See Stanley Karnow's Vietnam, A History] as a supporter of Catholic anti-communists. Dwight Eisenhower had "lost" North Vietnam, but actually that had been a pretty good deal because the Vietminh would have easily won nationwide elections. When Kennedy took office the U.S. had less than 500 military personnel in Vietnam, and they really were advisors. That was not anti-communist enough for John, who gradually increased American involvement in the civil war there. His "advisors" in Vietnam numbered 16,000, flew South Vietnamese army troops into battle, bombed and strafed "the enemy," and were seen by U.S. journalists engaging in combat. The South Vietnamese army was not half as interested in fighting communism as John Kennedy was, and kept trying to negotiate deals for a "neutral" government including the Vietcong, but Kennedy (and then Johnson) threatened to cut off all U.S. aid if a peace deal was made. Not happy with Ngo Dinh Diem's prosecution of the war, Kennedy gave the nod to a coup. Which was followed by a series of coups as corrupt Vietnamese military leaders fought each other for power.

In summary: Kennedy took the U.S. deeper into a quagmire. In retrospect it is easy to see that the Vietminh, while communist, where not just following orders from Moscow or Peking. They would eventually form an independent communist regime that has never been a threat to U.S. security.

George W. Bush was way different from John. F. Kennedy. He went to Yale instead of Harvard. His family was rich, but no where near as rich as the Kennedy family, but his grandfather Prescott Bush had been a Senator and his father George H. W. Bush served as President from 1989 until 1993. George followed a slightly different path, publishing no best-sellers, not seeing combat during his military service, but graduating from Harvard Business School and setting up a business in the oil industry. He became governor of Texas in 1995 and was elected President of the United States in 2000.

President Bush inherited the Iraq War from the Clinton administration, which in turn inherited it from the original George Bush (W.'s father). During the Clinton administration it was a low-level war mainly consisting of an economic embargo, "no-fly zones," and the occasional bombing run.

After the September 11, 2001 attack by Al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the American public was looking for vengeance. Al Qaeda was then based in Afghanistan, so the U.S. attacked that nation when its government refused to cooperate. By then it was long standing U.S. policy to want to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

In contrast to John Kennedy, who snuck U.S. troops into Vietnam, tried to hide the reality that they were engaged in combat, and tried to deny that he had anything to do with the coup against Diem, George W. Bush was open about his intention to have a full-scale war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. However, Bush also lied. He falsely claimed that Iraq was developing atomic and chemical weapons. His problem was there was no real just cause for war. Iraq had never attacked the United States.

Like Kennedy in Vietnam, Bush misunderstood the situation in Iraq. He thought the Iraqi people would welcome a U.S. victory, then quickly set up a stabile democratic regime that would be able to develop the country along Western lines. Bush appears to not have contemplated a prolonged U.S. mission in Iraq. But as with the anti-communist politicians and sects of South Vietnam, the anti-Saddam politicians and sects of Iraq have been more interested in their internal rivalries than in following the U.S.'s desires.

So the Iraq quagmire will be handed over to whoever wins the U.S. presidential elections of 2008. If history is any guide, things will only get worse. Lyndon Johnson ran in 1964 as a Democrat considerably to the left of Kennedy who would keep us out of war in Vietnam, but he sank us way deeper into the quagmire. Richard Nixon ran as a moderate Republican in 1968 saying he had a plan to get us out of Vietnam right away, but the North Vietnamese did not cooperate, so the war just kept getting bigger until Nixon finally withdrew all American troops in 1973.

The Democratic Party gained control of the House and Senate in the 2006 elections largely because the American public wanted to see U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq. Two years later it is the Democratic Party's quagmire. Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama had the will or leadership skills to end the occupation despite being prominent leaders of a party that controls Congress. Clearly Senator McCain intends to continue the war if elected.

While fine points can be argued, George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy were products of the same mind set and conducted themselves in practically identical manners. To change U.S. foreign policy, the people of the United States themselves must change their mind set and then have the courage to elect new politicians who will govern effectively. We need to take a broom and clean away all the old Democratic Party and Republican Party politicians.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Somalia: Another Day, Another U.S. War Crime

Was the CIA-created government of Somalia even consulted? I can't tell from the reporting. Everyone agrees that on Monday March 3, 2008 the U.S. Navy launched a missile attack on Somalia. That would be a war crime. Since civilians were killed, that would also be a crime against humanity.

The alleged target was a Kenyan, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. No attempt was made to capture Mr. Nabhan. Execution without trial is the new U.S. way of doing things. Unfortunately, while no one was killed, three civilians were wounded. Mr. Nabhan was not hurt. For once, we can applaud the Navy's incompetence.

Those who would rant against President Bush might want to not that none of the remaining presidential candidates deplored the war crime. It is just business as usual for the ruling class and their carefully bought politicians. Congress will do nothing.

Meanwhile, the perception among 1 billion Muslims that the U.S. is at war against Islam has been re-enforced.

Mr. Nabhan is accused of helping to kill 3 Israeli tourists in Kenya. The U.S. attack looks like the sort of execution of civilians without trial that the Israeli government is so fond of.

Meanwhile, the U.N. and CIA-backed "provisional" government of Somalia does not seem to be able to govern at all. It is not so much that the U.S. government never learns. The U.S. could have given aid to moderates in the Islamic Justice Courts. By now there would be peace and prosperity in Somalia. But that is not U.S. government policy. Our policy is to keep African nations and Islamic nations weak and helpless. That policy has not changed in 200 years.

See also: my Somalia page
Wikipedia Somalia page

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Vietnam: Harry Truman's War?

Democratic Party partisans like to remember Vietnam as Richard Nixon's war. Clearly that view is merely propaganda. Richard Nixon ended American involvement in the war, accepting the political consequence of a defeat of the United States and its South Vietnamese allies by the communist party of Vietnam. It is true that the peace plan Nixon had when elected in 1968 did not work out (basically, peace through victory), and a lot of people died needlessly during further years of bloody fighting, with U.S. troops involved until 1973. But it was Richard Nixon's war by inheritance only.

Former president Lyndon Johnson gets most of the blame for the Vietnam War. He deserves it. He was, of course, the leader of the Democratic Party, so its partisans like to try to pretend he did not exist, except when you start talking about Civil Rights. Lyndon Johnson was the first Democratic Party President of the United States who really fought for civil rights [possible exception: Harry Truman].

Lyndon Johnson became President when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. At that time the United States had a major presence in South Vietnam, mainly providing economic and military aid to the puppet government of Ngo Dinh Diem. But the U.S. already had 16,000 military personnel stationed in South Vietnam. We had a naval fleet off the coast of Vietnam (including off North Vietnam) and a large military presence in our nearby former colony, the Philippines. While Diem was a Vietnamese nationalist who did not like taking orders from the U.S., his ability to fight to retain his hold on South Vietnam was nearly totally dependent on U.S. aid. So in effect South Vietnam had become a U.S. colonial possession with a government that was semi-autonomous. Just like under the old French colonial system. Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. Navy faked the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to justify even greater U.S. military intervention. When Johnson left office in early 1969 the U.S. had 550,000 troops on the ground in South Vietnam and was bombing North Vietnam on a daily basis.

Democratic Party partisans hate it when you blame the war on John F. Kennedy. They like to say that if Kennedy had lived he would have with withdrawn U.S. troops from Vietnam. Some conspiracy theorists believe that Kennedy was getting reading to pull the plug; that was why he was assassinated. It is not that there is absolutely nothing to support this view, but the support is thin. The basic facts speak for themselves: when Kennedy entered office the U.S. had 500 military advisors in South Vietnam. When he died he left 16,000 U.S. soldiers there. That sounds like a solid escalation of the conflict to me.

But hey, most sources put the number of U.S. military men in South Vietnam when Ike left office in 1961 at 500. I heard a Democratic Party hack say the Vietnam War was a Republican Party war because Dwight Eisenhower was the first to send military advisors to Vietnam. This takes us back to 1953, when a variety of Vietnamese nationalist groups were trying to oust the French colonial rulers. The communists, or Vietminh, were the largest group and were the only serious military threat to the French. The U.S. was providing most of the money and military material that enabled the French army to fight. Then in 1954 the Geneva Conference was held. The French agreed to withdraw from Vietnam. A non-communist but nationalist regime would take temporary control of the South. The Vietminh took over in the North. A nationwide election was to take place within 2 years. The Vietminh would have easily won a nationwide election, but might have allowed non-communist parties to be part of the government.

The U.S. and France, however, were determined to stop communism from spreading. The gave the governance of South Vietnam to Ngo Dinh Diem and his crew. No national elections were held. The communists were not particularly strong, militarily, in the south. U.S. aid and a handful of advisors, along with continued French ownership of important businesses, were all that were needed during the Eisenhower years. Of course Richard Nixon was Eisenhower's Vice-President, and was as anti-communist as the Kennedy brothers were at that time. It should be noted that one of Diem's big supporters in the U.S. in the 1950s was Senator John F. Kennedy.

But the whole idea of aiding the French to defeat the Vietminh goes back to Harry Truman. Both parties and the media blamed him for losing China to the communists. He (and most high-ranking Americans) saw communism as monolithic. He did not want to involve U.S. troops. So he paid the French to fight the Vietminh, which they were happy to do, given the economic benefits to France of retaining their colony.

To add some irony to the situation, Vietnam had been one of the sore points that had led to the conflict between the U.S. and Japan in World War II. In Vietnam during World War II the French were happy to follow the orders of Hitler's puppet Vichy regime in France, and Hitler's orders were to do what the Japanese occupiers said. So when the U.S. was trying to get guerillas to fight Japan, which in Indochina meant fighting the French army, it trained and armed -- the Vietminh! Then, instead of punishing the French in Indochina for siding with the Nazis, the U.S. backed their continued control of the colony!

So which president is to blame for the Vietnam War? Take your pick. Or think of it this way: the U.S. has a ruling elite. The elite rules regardless of which party is in power. And a policy, once set, can go on for decades no matter how stupid or inhumane it is.

recommended reading: Stanley Karnow's Vietnam, A History