Tag Archives: America

The greatest, bestest, most super-free, country EVER!

We’re all fans of the U.S.A. (I friended them on Facebook!) here at TwShiloh HQ, but the Mrs. gets a bit annoyed when people start tripping over themselves describing America as a perfect diamond surrounded by 6 billion uncivilized, commie primates.

Well, Democracy in America addresses the issue of freedom in this post and point out that if you try to look at the question with actual data we may be in the top tier but we ain’t number 1 (We’re #30!  We’re #30!).  Now, Freedom Houses methodology may be too lefty/socialist (after all, they do consider civil liberties a social good!) and let’s face it, these rankings are a bit silly if you try to look at them too closely but this idea that America is beyond reproach is a bit silly as well.

Allow me to sum up with the words of the Economist:

The Economist remains bullish on America’s economy and polity, whatever frustrations we may have. America is exceptional, in its power and its dynamism. Meanwhile, read all of Freedom House’s narratives and you’ll find that there is no country report without criticism…The blanket statement that America is the “most free, most democratic” country on earth strikes the serious comparativist as what it is: not an empirical fact but as an article of faith, one that needs to be accepted before a true patriot can go on to make minor, qualified criticism. This is not clear thinking, and…no argument based on it can be solid either. Nor is it real patriotism: a real patriot is an honest critic.

And now, Colbert’s take on the issue…

Taking a step back…

I just got an email from someone who read my post about my experience with the Department of Immigration.  He said:

I’m surprised that’s how immigration people talk to foreigners. Worse still, in the presence of their spouses (I can’t imagine your Mrs. lookin’ like some terrorist in any remote sense). No shame I guess. & here I was wonderin’ a year ago whether it was a bright idea to go work & stay in your country (minus scarcity of jobs at present & economic uncertainty).

Now, that’s the real shame about this sort of thing.  The fact that incidents like this, by official representatives of the U.S., can be (even if only second or third hand) the dominate view of America and Americans really makes me mad.

So, before I go further, allow me to reassure any of you, my dear readers, who may come from terra ignota about America.

Despite news reports (including our own), our government policies and military adventures, Americans are really a great people.  We may have a plastic culture, not be particularly aware of the world outside our borders (find yourself on the map!) but Americans are open, friendly, and kind.  The battles you see on TV really don’t capture how most Americans (even the most partisan) live their lives or interact with others.  I tend towards the left politically and am dithering between atheism and Buddhism yet I have very close friends who are deeply committed evangelicals and hard-core right wingers.  The vitriol you can see and hear in the media doesn’t reflect our daily lives.

I, and others, may pick apart our country and fellow citizens on blogs and such but really we’re only focusing on the fringes.

Now, the other thing that came to mind when I was thinking about this post was my reaction to people who ask me why I’m in the Army.  Apart from the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a soldier, in the past few years I’ve increasingly come to believe that it’s important for our military to look like our society with all sorts of different people who believe all sorts of different things.

That same thing goes for our society in general.  We can, either by accident or intentionally, fall victim to partisan propaganda and self-segregate to interact only with people who think and act like ourselves.  We’re much better off being exposed to people who are different form ourselves.

So, I’d recommend to everyone to come to the States!  If not for you then for us.

Scaring the bejeezus out of Kalm

More on Peter Kalm and his travels through North America:

October 22, 749.  Here, Peter and some companions (French guides who he had never met before) were traveling through the wilds of Northern New York, returning from a trip to the French colony of Canada and on his way back to Philadelphia.  The weather was extremely unhelpful, delaying the waterborne portion of his trip for days.  I imagine sitting around in the same uninhabited area for days at a time, while the days are getting shorter and colder, among people who you are barely acquainted with and knowing that there remains a long way to go to the next settlement would begin to wear on anyone’s nerves.

Tales of Horror. During the evenings my companions were busy telling one another how they had gone forth in the last  war to attack the English; how they had had Indians among and how they had beaten to death the enemy and scalped him.  They also told how the natives often scalped the enemy while he was still alive; how they did the same thing with prisoners who were too weak to follow them, and of other gruesome deeds which it was horrible for me to listen to in these wildernesses, where the forests were now full of Indians who to-day might be at peace with one another and to-morrow at war, killing and beating to death whomsoever they could steal upon.  A little while ago there was a crackling sound in the woods just as if something had walked or approached slowly in order to steal upon us.  Almost everyone arose to see what was the matter, but we heard nothing more.  It was said that we had just been talking about scalping and that we could suffer the same fate before we were aware of it.  The long autumn nights are rather terrifying in these vast wildernesses.  May God be with us!

I can almost picture Kalm sitting around the fire with his compatriots, scribbling away furiously in his notes and trying like hell not to hear the stories about ambushes in the middle of the night and scalping the unsuspecting.  I’m guessing he didn’t sleep that well that night.

Don’t mess with the Esquimaux

I’m still reading Peter Kalm’s journal of his extended travels through colonial America and I continue to find interesting bits of information throughout.  Case in point, his treatment of the Inuits, or as he calls them, the Esquimaux.  Apparently they were not much liked by either Europeans or other Native Americans.

He says that in Esquimaux lands…

“…it is not advisable for Europeans to go on shore, unless they be numerous, for the Esquimaux are false and treacherous and cannot suffer strangers amongst them.  If they find themselves too weak, they run away at the approach of strangers; but if they think they are an over-match for them, they kill all that come in their way, without leaving a single one alive.”

“If they [Europeans] are ship-wrecked on the Esquimaux coasts, they may as well be drowned in the sea as come safe to the shore…[t]he European boats and ships which the Esquimaux get into their power are immediately cut to pieces and robbed of all their nails and other iron…”

Now, Kalm is no knee-jerk anti-Indian who believes that ‘the only good injun is a dead injun.’  He has spent numerous time discussing the positive attributes of various aspects of Native American culture (with the exception of their living quarters which he describes as overwhelmed with fleas, bed bugs and other stinging insects) and compares without prejudice, the Europeans who have adopted the Native American lifestyle and the dearth of interest among Native Americans in taking up the lifestyle and culture of Europeans.  So, I have to reject the idea that Kalm is attempting to stir up emotions in order to rally some sort of anti-Inuit pogrom.

I also find it interesting that this perception about the Inuits was also shared by many Native Americans.

“This inhuman proceeding of the Esquimaux against all strangers is the reason why none of the Indians of North America ever give quarter to the Esquimaux if they meet them, but kill them on the spot, though they frequently pardon their other enemies, and incorporate the prisoners with their nation.”

Inuit territory wasn’t particularly welcoming to Europeans so I can’t imagine that there would have been much demand to colonize their land even if they were friendly.  I wonder however, if their hostility was an additional factor in allowing them to get a better outcome than Native American populations that got decimated while being pushed across the country.  Does violence pay off when two cultures meet?

Waterboarding roundup

J., over at the Armchair Generalist, had a post a few days ago about the issue of torture as policy and why it doesn’t work.  He cited an op-ed piece by Stuart Herrington who’s got an extensive (over 30 years) record of conducting, teaching and evaluating military interrogation techniques and who says flatly that torture is unnecessary and counterproductive to intelligence gathering.  It’s a brilliant article, check it out.

You can hear more from Col. Herrington here in this interview from NPR’s Fresh Air.

There’s another very compelling article written in the Small Wars Journal blog, here, by another person with decades of experience as a special operations veteran and instructor.  In the course of his duties he’s both undergone and conducted water boarding (in the course of training U.S. military personnel) and he makes no bones about it:  water boarding is torture.  The end of the post also has a lengthening list of links that discuss the debate.  The comment thread is quite good as well.

Finally,  Kaj Larsen at the Huffington Post (a former SEAL member) actually demonstrates a water boarding.

One of the points brought over and over is that torture ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ are needed because ‘9/11 changed everything’ and that supposedly we’re in a new type of war that human existence has never seen before and our very existence is at stake.

Perhaps I’m over stretching a bit I think this has a lot more to do with filling a fantasy some of us have that we’re living in unprecedented, historical times of life or death struggle and that we’ll be remembered for millennia.  Members of both the Left and Right have this fantasy but those of the Right (in my experience) tend to focus on the military manifestation of it (and some times the religion aspect as well with the certainty that the ‘end times’ are coming).  Once you convince yourself that this ‘war’ is so vastly different than anything the human race or America has ever faced before you can begin to advocate things that would have been unthinkable.

I’ve always felt that we (Americans) deserve to ‘win’ because we at least try to hold ourselves to a high standard.  We advocate doing the right thing even if it leads to difficulties.  If our enemies are barbarous and commit atrocities our victory over them is all the more impressive because we don’t descend to their level and mimic their acts.  If we do utilize the same tactics that our foes do:  targeting innocent civilians, torture of prisoners, disregarding the rule of law and embracing inhumanity than I’m not sure why we should win.   What legacy do we pace on to future generations of Americans?   I haven’t had much patience for the Abu Ghraib/torture apologists (especially the ones who get their ‘knowledge’ of terrorism and the military from Tom Clancy and ’24’) and I think most of them are doing as much damage to our country as anyone with their finger on an IED trigger, if not more.

It’s a sad time for our country when people can openly consider, without derision, conducting torture in the name of our country.  I think history will not judge us favorably.