Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bombing Isn't A Form of Helping

Nobody is fooled, warmongers.


Esebian said...

What about "just wars"?

Dale Carrico said...

They're just wars.

Athena Andreadis said...

"Εις οιωνός άριστος, αμύνεσθαι περί πάτρης."

Wars of defending one's home are just.

Dale Carrico said...

It's been a long time since an American bombing was self-defensive in any reasonable construal.

Athena Andreadis said...

Absolutely. But I thought the discussion was a larger one.

Dale Carrico said...

I know you're no warmonger, fear not. Blows kisses.

jimf said...

> . . .in any reasonable construal. . . .

FSVO "reasonable".

The War on Communism was once (no doubt still is, by some)
thought of as a pro-active defense of one's home (cue
the Domino Theory, etc.).

And so is the contemporary War on Terror.

It's not easy running a world empire!

You know, the article in today's Times magazine about
Google X mentions one Astro Teller
( )
who, it turns out, is the grandson of none other than
Edward Teller, the guy who was so keen on building
H bombs and who got into a tangle with Robert Oppenheimer
about it.

I've just been reading a book about the early history
of electronic computers:
_The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and the
Revolution That Made Computing Personal_
and there's stuff in there about Edward Teller's
fellow Hungarian emigre, John "von" Neumann (ne Janos Neumann --
the "von" was a Germanized version of the Hungarian
honorific "Margittai").

Anyway, p. 90 of that book contains:
Von Neumann, for his part, was a figure of the sort that many
in the post-Vietnam generation find all but incomprehensible:
a genuinely kind, outgoing, and supremely rational man who
was also a grimly determined Cold Warrior. In fairness,
his attitudes were quite comprehensible in context. John
von Neumann had reason to be profoundly afraid of the Soviet
Union. Not only had he seen his native Hungary forcibly
made into a Soviet satellite state, but he had experienced
Soviet-style communism firsthand: in 1919, in the turmoil
following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
a short-lived Bolshevik regime in Hungary had filled
the streets of Budapest with gangs of homicidal thugs
known as Lenin Boys and driven the wealthy Neumann
family into exile.

That said, though, he did throw himself into the arms race
with an undeniable zeal. He had no compunction about
continuing to work on the hydrogen bomb -- which would
be thousands of times more powerful than the uranium and
plutonium bombs that had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki --
even as many Manhattan Project veterans were openly
questioning the morality of such a device, not to mention
its technical feasibility. "I believe there is no such
thing as saturation," he once told Robert Oppenheimer.
"I don't think any weapon can be too large." And after
August 1949, when the Soviets stunned the world by testing
an atomic weapon of their own, von Neumann was reportedly
willing to contemplate a preemptive war: "If you say
why not bomb them tomorrow," he was later quoted as having
suggested, "I say why not today? If you say today at
five o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?"

Dale Carrico said...

SVO "reasonable". The War on Communism was once (no doubt still is, by some) thought of as a pro-active defense of one's home (cue the Domino Theory, etc.). And so is the contemporary War on Terror. It's not easy running a world empire!

Your final snark demonstrates that even while drawing my attention to the fact that the "self-defensive" is a usually contested term in war discourse, it actually is not exactly a non-adjudicable one: to declare offensive/aggressive warmaking "self-defensive" is not finally reasonable, however commonplace.

I'm not surprised in the least that champions of artificial imbecillence responded as robotic reationaries to the complexities of the cold war or leap at its facile war on terror analogies. The simultaneous reductive/ triumphalist assumptions and aspirations of superlative futurology and its antecedents lend themselves to anti-democratic and authoritarian and reactionary politics as I have pointed out over and over -- even if Lindbergh-through-Reagan spontaneist libertopian techno-freedumb discourses provided many suave PR rationalizations to help them get away with that stuff for generations.

Athena Andreadis said...

Sorry, Jim -- I didn't realize we were defining what "is" is.

jimf said...

> Sorry, Jim -- I didn't realize we were defining what "is" is.

It's a symptom of the extreme political polarization (in this
country, at least) that that the poles (the Proles? ;-> )
**cannot** agree on what "is" is.

Dale Carrico said...

It's a big topic, needless to say too big for a thread to adjudicate -- this thread seems to keep wanting to be about more than the prompt that provoked it!

But this topic of disagreements on facts of the matter is one that comes up in my rhetoric courses quite a bit. One opening is sometimes the recognition that disagreements about what "is" is in some dispute often involve one of the disputants suddenly and selectively applying different standards or making recourse to difference authorities in the determination of that is than they generally do where questions of what other "ises" are.

Since anthropogenic climate change denialism has become a culture war issue, many denialists behave as non-experts differently than they would as non-experts in other arenas, trusting in the consensus of medical experts on the question of a medical prescription while denying the consensus of climate scientists on the question of the causes of climate changes that also imperil lives.

There are other possible proposals. I'd be interested in hearing them.

On the topic at hand, applying something like the idea I mentioned above about inconsistent standards, it really is hard to believe that anyone with an awareness of history thinks it is a self-evident gesture of self-preservation to start offensive land wars in Asia based on loose talk of existential threats or falling dominoes.

Advocates of air strikes in Iraq right now are often *literally* the same people who advocated it before. John McCain advocates strikes and weapons dispersals and US advisors in conflict after conflict after conflict -- hell, if he had his way we would be arming most sides of every conflict and possibly indefinitely occupying every single country in the middle east, southeast asia, and eastern europe right now -- which is insane a dozen ways to Sunday.

Come to think of it, there *isn't* polarization on the question of aggressive foreign policy right now. Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of airstrikes and even more boots on the ground. They disapprove drone strikes and extrajudicial killings. They disapprove domestic spying and other innovations exacerbated by the patriot act and the delcaration of the war on terror in the context of the notion of the unitary executive -- exacerbated by the obstructionism of a Republican congressional cohort seeking literally traitorously to make Obama make mistakes they can benefit from electorally.

Most Americans want common sense gun safety regulations. Most Americans approve the provisions of the ACA -- unless you call it Obamacare. The whole question of polarization is as obfuscating as it is clarifying -- the desperate last ditch defensiveness of white supremacy anchored in the old confederacy but finding a lodgement in nearly every state (since every US state is a red state -- some with blue cities populous enough to swing the state) in the face of secularization and diversification isn't exactly best described as "polarization" when all is said and done in my view.

As you see, many topics are bound up in this one!

jimf said...

> I'm not surprised in the least that champions of artificial
> imbecillence responded as robotic reationaries to the
> complexities of the cold war or leap at its facile war on
> terror analogies.

Well, von Neumann was one of the inventors of the mathematical
Theory of Games, dontcha know.

I'm reminded of a TV movie from the 70s that I found on YouTube
not too long ago -- "The President's Plane is Missing"
( )
which is a surprisingly sophisticated drama about what happens
when the POTUS's plane has (apparently) crashed, leaving a
not-too-bright VP (Buddy Ebsen) in charge, apparently helpless
to resist a pipe-smoking academic type (Rip Torn) who tries to cram
war down his throat.

jimf said...

From _The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and
the Revolution that Made Computing Personal_:

p. 125
In late 1954 [von Neumann] was offered a seat on the
Atomic Energy Commission -- at that time the highest
official position in the U.S. government available to
a scientist. . .

He was confirmed by the Senate on January 10, 1955 and
moved with his family to Washington D.C. that spring,
setting aside all his research and consulting activities.
For the duration of his five-year term, he planned to
focus his prodigious energy almost exclusively on
the business of the AEC.

But. . . that was not to be. Just a few months later,
in the summer of 1955, von Neumann slipped in the corridor
of an office building and bumped his left shoulder
painfully. **Very** painfully; the soreness refused to
go away. That August, the diagnosis came back that this
was no bruise: von Neumann had bone cancer.
Metastatized. Inoperable. Terminal.

His initial reaction was denial. . . He. . . started
drafting what would be his last sustained intellectual
effort. . . "The Computer and the Brain," as he called
the series [of Silliman Lectures at Yale], was to be a
synthesis and an extension of all he had done so far in
his General and Logical Theory of Automata -- or, as he
described it, "an approach toward an understanding of the
nervous system from the mathematician's point of view." . . .
In April, 1956 von Neumann entered Walter Reed Army Hospital
in Washington for the last time.

He seemed inordinately terrified of death. "When von Neumann
realized that he was incurably ill," wrote his childhood
friend and lifelong colleague Eugene Wigner, "his logic
forced him to realize also that he would cease to exist,
and hence cease to have thoughts. Yet this is a conclusion
the full content of which is incomprehensible to the human
intellect and which, therefore, horrified him."
To the astonishment of everyone who knew him, von Neumann
the lifelong agnostic now sought spiritual counsel -- not
from a rabbi but from Father Anselm Strittmatter, who began
visiting him regularly in the spring of 1956 to instruct
him in the Catholic faith. Perhaps is helped. But
even if it did, it was not enough to stave off the panic
attacks or the screams of terror in the night.
"I think that von Neumann suffered more when his mind
would no longer function, than I have ever seen any
human being suffer," said Edward Teller.

For all that, however, von Neumann remained a member of the
AEC until the last. Indeed, the dying man was so central
to the nation's nuclear-weapons program that he could be
attended only by air force orderlies with top-secret
security clearance, as there was considerable concern
that his pain and mental distraction might lead him to
babble classified information. Years later AEC chairman
Lewis Strauss told of one final meeting at Walter Reed
Hospital near the end: "Gathered around his bedside
and attentive to his last words of advice and wisdom
were the Secretary of Defense and his Deputies, the
Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and all
the military Chiefs of Staff . . . I have never witnessed
a more dramatic scene or a more moving tribute to a
great intelligence."

John von Neumann died on February 8, 1957. He was
fifty-three years old.