Land of the Free and the “Substantially Unmoved” by Genocide

 

John Mueller, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is, according to his bio, a leading expert on terrorism and particularly on the reactions (or over-reactions) it often inspires. Recently, in The Week, he wrote this rather remarkable essay: Why the ISIS threat is totally overblown. What is wrong with us these days, he wonders?

Americans had remained substantially unmoved by even worse human catastrophes in the past, such as genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s and in Rwanda in 1994, as well as sustained criminal predation in eastern Congo in the years after 1997.

Indeed, but for some of us, that is cause for national shame, not a proud advertisement for a foreign policy proposal. People killing each other in faraway places of which we know nothng? Brown-skinned and Asian-skinned people, especially? Let’s be substantially unmoved. We are Americans. We are substantially unmoved.

Perhaps we should put that on our currency. Or the Lincoln Memorial.

Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime

we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at night

we drink and drink

we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie

There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes

who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair

Margareta

he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start

flashing he whistles

his dogs to draw near

whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand

he commands us to play for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night

we drink you at dawntime and noontime we drink you at

dusktime

we drink and drink There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes

who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair

Margareta

your ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky

where it’s roomy to lie

He calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing

and play

he tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue

jab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play

up again for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night

we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you

at dusktime

we drink and drink

there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta

your ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes

He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss

aus Deutschland

he calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke

in the air

then scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie

Black milk of morning we drink you at night

we drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland

we drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drink

Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is blue

he shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is true

there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta

he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky

he cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland

your golden hair Margareta

your ashen hair Shulamite

But we are substantially unmoved.

There are 30 comments.

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  1. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Miss Berlinski, the next poetry podcast is on Paul Celan, so I’ve spent dark hours reading that poem. Your translation is bad–a good translation is uglier still.

    I think I see your point, but I understand why Americans do not care. They have not seen. That is not all bad. It suggests they are in a way innocent. That might be necessary if things turn really ugly.

    An executive describe by energy, unity, secrecy, & dispatch is not built to depend on the people.

    Perhaps if people are told, these are monsters like the ones who blew up the Twin Towers, cousins if not brothers…

    • #1
  2. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Thirty years ago I purchased a vinyl single of We Are The World. Ain’t that enough?

    But if Yer gonna guilt Me, then Here:

    #stopgenocide

    There. Problem solved.

    • #2
  3. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    How does Mr. Mueller gauge our disinterest?  Media coverage?  Military action?  Charitable donations?  Social Media?  Government sanctions?

    Let us take his list in turn:

    Cambodia – Given the extraordinary push from the left to get us out of Vietnam, would they have really consented to us invading another Communist regime to knock out Khmer Rouge?

    Rwanda – Again, should we have dispatched the army in to sort it out?  What else could we have actually done?

    Congo – ditto.

    What does Mr. Mueller want us to do?  Rend our garments and beat our breasts?  Deploy our troops around the world?  Use more hashtags?  Demand our media do something?

    This sort of criticism just strikes me as another from of “building awareness” nonsense.  We are “raising awareness” for things all of the time, but to what end?  Interest in something must translate into action, else it is wasted emotional energy.

    • #3
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    1. You can blame liberals for Cambodia, but what did the peopel who were not liberals or lefties try to do? Were GOP members in Congress proposing to do anything? Was it on TV? Maybe someone is old enough to remember.

    2. You can blame Mr. Clinton for not doing anything about Rwanda. But the same questions arise.

    • #4
  5. inmateprof Inactive
    inmateprof
    @inmateprof

    No, you guys don’t get it:  The way to appear substantially moved is to say we are outraged, send a letter condemning these atrocities, and go before the United Nations.  Also, as previously mentioned, hashtags work very well.  We can also assess blame to some group or person.  Maybe a music festival.

    I don’t know what to do except give money to Christian missionaries or other charity groups who are in the thick of the slaughter.

    Should we go back to the strong man puppet dictator that would keep a lid on this stuff in exchange for financial and military support?  Should we redraw borders?  Those maybe solutions that don’t require a lot of military involvement.  I don’t know.

    • #5
  6. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    inmateprof: I don’t know what to do except give money to Christian missionaries or other charity groups who are in the thick of the slaughter.

    I remember my parents’ church was assisting Cambodian refugees here.  We helped a father and son who were the sole survivors of a much larger family.  The father had his teeth knocked out with a rifle butt.  I was too young to remember much, but my mother said their getting out was something of a miracle.

    • #6
  7. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Your question, I assume, goes to the issue of what is wrong with John Mueller, or maybe with the Cato Institute.  Given Cato’s libertarian underpinnings, one ought not be surprised.  For instance, they think that the Iran deal is “a clear success.”   They are, to put it charitably, short-sighted, not to say morally obtuse.

    • #7
  8. Jamal Rudert Coolidge
    Jamal Rudert
    @JasonRudert

    Can we get John Mueller as a Ricochet contributor?
    I for one would welcome some counterpoint to the usual conservative line on ISIS, i.e., that we should all be wetting the bed over their videos and be goaded back into the Iraq war.
    How would I deal with their threat? Obama’s response so far has been not too bad: ignore them and grudgingly authorize a few strikes to placate the pundits. But the ideal would be to just recognize ISIS as the official government of Iraq. Tomorrow morning would not be too soon. They will either collapse under the weight of their own craziness or rise to the occasion and create a government more stable than anything we’ve been able to install there.

    • #8
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Rudie, you may be finally losing it after pretending to lose it so often. These people are worse than the usual gangsters. Next, I suggest turning over Mexico to the local drug gangsters & maybe some paramilitary gangs. Also, high-crime neighborhoods might benefit from the leadership skills of gangs in American cities…

    • #9
  10. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Whatever it was we did or didn’t do 30 and 40 years ago, that must we do and not do for ever on.

    That seems to be Mueller’s singularly foolish and short-sighted view.

    Cato Institute really should know better.

    Eric Hines

    • #10
  11. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Titus Techera:Rudie, you may be finally losing it after pretending to lose it so often. These people are worse than the usual gangsters. Next, I suggest turning over Mexico to the local drug gangsters & maybe some paramilitary gangs. Also, high-crime neighborhoods might benefit from the leadership skills of gangs in American cities…

    The more ruthless gangs have better accounting and personnel management practices than most cities, and a much faster response time to incident reports (though their enforcement techniques would definitely qualify as “police brutality”).  Just sayin’

    • #11
  12. inmateprof Inactive
    inmateprof
    @inmateprof

    skipsul:

    Titus Techera:Rudie, you may be finally losing it after pretending to lose it so often. These people are worse than the usual gangsters. Next, I suggest turning over Mexico to the local drug gangsters & maybe some paramilitary gangs. Also, high-crime neighborhoods might benefit from the leadership skills of gangs in American cities…

    The more ruthless gangs have better accounting and personnel management practices than most cities, and a much faster response time to incident reports (though their enforcement techniques would definitely qualify as “police brutality”). Just sayin’

    Actually, that may not be a bad idea.  My dad was stationed near New Orleans in the late 50’s when the mob ran the city.  The mob kept things safe because if the tourists didn’t feel safe, then there would be no tourist money.  He said you used to be able to walk around the city late at night. Now, it is run by liberal dynasties and the city is crap.

    Wow, the mob or liberals.  What a choice.

    • #12
  13. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Jamal Rudert:the ideal would be to just recognize ISIS as the official government of Iraq. Tomorrow morning would not be too soon. They will either collapse under the weight of their own craziness or rise to the occasion and create a government more stable than anything we’ve been able to install there.

    Really?

    First off ISIS doesn’t control all of Iraq and isn’t exclusive to Iraq they also control half of Syria. So what exactly are we recognizing, then? But okay lets say we just acknowledge their current gains. Now they are a new official nation born from the ripped off chunks of two previous nations. Now isn’t this a great precedent to set. Any army of marauders can now go conquer a patch of land and become an upstanding member of the world community.

    Second. “Rise to the occasion” what a fantastic euphemism for killing everyone who fails to conform to their psychosis. I guess the Kim family “rose to the occasion” in North Korea, by this standard. Truly this will be a pillar of stability.

    Third. I don’t think the historical track record for collapsing under your own craziness is very good. I guess this is one of those clever long term strategies. One wonders why we bothered confronting anyone really, ever. Given enough time this too shall pass as the Bible tells us. Problem solved.

    • #13
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    skipsul:

    Titus Techera:Rudie, you may be finally losing it after pretending to lose it so often. These people are worse than the usual gangsters. Next, I suggest turning over Mexico to the local drug gangsters & maybe some paramilitary gangs. Also, high-crime neighborhoods might benefit from the leadership skills of gangs in American cities…

    The more ruthless gangs have better accounting and personnel management practices than most cities, and a much faster response time to incident reports (though their enforcement techniques would definitely qualify as “police brutality”). Just sayin’

    Maybe. Like the guy says, organized crime types can be quite the sticklers for organization. Then there are the people who exterminate people of different races & religions. I guess that’s another kind of organization…

    • #14
  15. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    Here are the two points of view expressed by very top quality people.

    Why the ISIS Threat Is Totally Overblown

    Mueller is expressing the point of view that has been completely dominant during the Obama years. It dismisses virtually anything around the world that isn’t an instantaneous threat. It swings back and forth between the easily provable fact that it has been hard to hit the North American Continent (except for 911) and the straw man that any involvement overseas for any reason will be exploited by the imaginary neocon conspiracy that is just itching to get this country into war. As a result genocides small and large have been ignored. Strategic weakening of our position has been papered over with illusory “regional powers” without regard to the real motives of these local bullies.

    At a deeper philosophical level Mueller is even more dangerous. Harmonizing with his view is the denigration of the idea of American Exceptionalism. Again the justification for the rejection is that such a philosophical point of view will be a means for the vast neocon conspiracy to get us into war. The comic result of this is when Obama after a G7 conference admitted that America was the irreplaceable nation. As irreplaceable actually denotes a higher degree of necessity than just exceptional this gave away the lie of the whole mindset.

    Gorka is looking at a highly targeted analysis of the specific threat of Jihad. He recognizes that when you focus on this (I have always thought we should have focused on Jihad and not Terrorism) you see a much different threat arising. I think his analysis is cogent and relevant to our overall security profile. The analysis tells us exactly where the maximum threat will be and differentiates Muslims who may very well wish to join us in a conflict with Jihadists. Meanwhile, it is realistic as to the source of the threat. Jihad is a theological belief in Islam. There is no way to soft peddle this. We estrange ourselves from allies in the Middle East by our vague terminology that they can make little sense of. ISIS are dangerous Jihadists. Nothing could be more obvious. The Administration’s meme (echoed by Cameron) that they have hijacked Islam is absurd and pointless. There is more than one interpretation of the Koran but extreme Jihadism has always been one of them. We must make it clear that this interpretation is unacceptable to us. I suspect that we will find many Muslims in the Middle East happy to see the end of ISIS.

    Gorka’s detailed analysis rests on a broader change in thinking. Our regional powers fantasy is just that. We can not rely on regional powers who’s ideological predispositions guarantee them running amok. We are the irreplaceable exceptional nation. We must lead. Obviously coalition is the smart choice. It makes our job so much easier. Flexibility is good. Purposelessness and Illusion are bad.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #15
  16. Dorothea Inactive
    Dorothea
    @Dorothea

    Jimmy Carter,

    #stopgenocide

    There. Problem solved.

    *********************************

    This seems appropriate:

    • #16
  17. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    inmateprof: Wow, the mob or liberals.  What a choice.

    just two different kinds of mob.

    • #17
  18. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Jules PA

    inmateprof: Wow, the mob or liberals. What a choice.

    just two different kinds of mob.

    Yes, but one of them is subject to market forces.

    But as for ISIS being just another bunch of gangsters, I challenge you Rudert to find another group of gangsters that sell elementary school children as sex slaves for a pack of cigarettes.  Even gangsters have more class than these … well, there is no word in Entish, Elvish, or the tongues of men for their barbarism.

    • #18
  19. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    James Gawron:Claire,

    Mueller is expressing the point of view that has been completely dominant during the Obama years.

    You may be right.

    At a deeper philosophical level Mueller is even more dangerous. Harmonizing with his view is the denigration of the idea of American Exceptionalism.

    Hell what about American “basic decency?” It’s fits hand–in-glove with the worst anti-American caricatures I’ve ever heard in the Middle East: that we’re indifferent to genocide, if not the perpetrators of it; that the only reason we make a song and dance about the Shoah and “never again” is that we’ve used this “myth” to install our neo-colonial puppet in the region, that Americans are completely unmoved by the suffering of anyone who isn’t “white,” …. and he seems to think this is not only true, but a good thing. And the reason I found out about this article is that it’s a big hit in parts of the world where they believe these things; they’re trading it on Twitter, saying, “See?” That’s why there are no airstrikes out of Incirlik, that’s what they’re like. They don’t really care.

    Gorka is looking at a highly targeted analysis of the specific threat of Jihad. He recognizes that when you focus on this (I have always thought we should have focused on Jihad and not Terrorism) you see a much different threat arising. I think his analysis is cogent and relevant to our overall security profile. The analysis tells us exactly where the maximum threat will be and differentiates Muslims who may very well wish to join us in a conflict with Jihadists. Meanwhile, it is realistic as to the source of the threat. Jihad is a theological belief in Islam. There is no way to soft peddle this. We estrange ourselves from allies in the Middle East by our vague terminology that they can make little sense of. ISIS are dangerous Jihadists. Nothing could be more obvious.

    Nothing. With an expansive, vigorous, coherent and successful ideology. And a proudly stated goal of not limited, but global conquest. And the money they’ve stolen from the oil fields and antiquity trade, the reputation for success — seemingly confirming their eschatological promises — to attract recruits as quickly as we kill them, which isn’t that quickly.

    The Administration’s meme (echoed by Cameron) that they have hijacked Islam is absurd and pointless. There is more than one interpretation of the Koran but extreme Jihadism has always been one of them. We must make it clear that this interpretation is unacceptable to us. I suspect that we will find many Muslims in the Middle East happy to see the end of ISIS.

    Gorka’s detailed analysis rests on a broader change in thinking. Our regional powers fantasy is just that. We can not rely on regional powers who’s ideological predispositions guarantee them running amok. We are the irreplaceable exceptional nation. We must lead. Obviously coalition is the smart choice. It makes our job so much easier. Flexibility is good. Purposelessness and Illusion are bad.

    Regards,

    • #19
  20. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Video.   Juicy videos.   The difference is the videos.

    The Khmer Rouge did not make videos of their massacres and post them to Youtube.   Neither did Idi Amin.

    Islamic State, on the other hand, produces slick beheading videos as a recruiting tool.   Americans have been trained to pay attention to video.

    • #20
  21. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Style comment.

    The post begins well, clear object and clear position. Nice summation in the seven italicized words. Then the exhortation regarding money – ok.

    The phrase mentioning the Lincoln memorial and the subsequent poem so utterly gobsmack me that I wonder what I am missing and how do these three things fit together.

    In other words – they make such absolutely zero sense– about as much sense as a human being told to “gnarfle the garthok”.

    • #21
  22. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    MJBubba:Video. Juicy videos. The difference is the videos.

    The Khmer Rouge did not make videos of their massacres and post them to Youtube. Neither did Idi Amin.

    Islamic State, on the other hand, produces slick beheading videos as a recruiting tool. Americans have been trained to pay attention to video.

    I think you’re right, MJ—nobody, including Seymour Hersh,  paid the slightest attention to the chaotic, lethal mess of the U.S. FOB at Abu Ghraib… until the pictures.

    When it comes to pictures, it helps to have both sex and violence. If all you’ve got is violence, ramp it up. (Beheading,for ex.)

    • #22
  23. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Instugator: In other words – they make such absolutely zero sense– about as much sense as a human being told to “gnarfle the garthok”.

    Since Titus is about to write about that poem and the poet, I won’t say much about him, but the poem is by Paul Célan.

    I of course added the last line.

    My meaning was that being “substantially unmoved” by genocide is not something I’d claim as a national virtue.

    • #23
  24. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Titus Techera:Miss Berlinski, the next poetry podcast is on Paul Celan, so I’ve spent dark hours reading that poem. Your translation is bad–a good translation is uglier still.

    You’re right about the translation. Here’s a much better one. “Mob-boss” is a terrible translation, it should of course be “master,” with all the allusions — master, master race, masterful at their craft, etc.

    • #24
  25. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: My meaning was that being “substantially unmoved” by genocide is not something I’d claim as a national virtue.

    I’d still like a definition of “substantially unmoved” along with examples thereof (with arguments as to how they apply) along with counter-examples of what it means to be “substantially moved”.

    • #25
  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    skipsul:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: My meaning was that being “substantially unmoved” by genocide is not something I’d claim as a national virtue.

    I’d still like a definition of “substantially unmoved” along with examples thereof (with arguments as to how they apply) along with counter-examples of what it means to be “substantially moved”.

    It’s his term, not mine, and it means nothing and it’s offensive. His argument seems to be, “Americans have ignored worse genocides, why should we care about this one?” It’s first untrue — although I do think it’s fair to say the Second Congo War was astonishingly under-reported. And second, it’s a non-sequitur.

    • #26
  27. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    skipsul:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: My meaning was that being “substantially unmoved” by genocide is not something I’d claim as a national virtue.

    I’d still like a definition of “substantially unmoved” along with examples thereof (with arguments as to how they apply) along with counter-examples of what it means to be “substantially moved”.

    It’s his term, not mine, and it means nothing and it’s offensive. His argument seems to be, “Americans have ignored worse genocides, why should we care about this one?” It’s first untrue — although I do think it’s fair to say the Second Congo War was astonishingly under-reported. And second, it’s a non-sequitur.

    Exactly right.   It’s Cato, and you are now forewarned.  The unspoken thought is “Americans have ignored worse genocides and it didn’t matter.”  The next step is, “Americans intervened to stop genocides and terrible things happened because they always do when Americans intervene.”

    • #27
  28. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    American interventions do end up with awful stuff more than rarely, but I’m not sure I know of interventions that created the awful stuff. Americans did do a pretty good job in Kosovo. Not a lot of slaughter since & maybe in the future good things will come.

    I wouldn’t say I can prove Americans really care about the horrors of this world, but presidents do now & then really make a difference for the better. It’s just really hard to have any kind of consistency when good ideas are acted upon…

    • #28
  29. Robert Lux Inactive
    Robert Lux
    @RobertLux

    I’m glad to see Titus will be taking up Celan.  I’ll never forget the day, 23 years ago, at Middlebury’s language school for German, an expert on Celan giving a guest lecture on the poet.

    One can hear Celan reading “Todesfuge.” Even if one doesn’t know German, it’s worth it to hear him reading it.

    One hears the musical cadence in his voice . . . and my eyes rather moisten every time I hear it.

    • #29
  30. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Robert Lux:I’m glad to see Titus will be taking up Celan. I’ll never forget the day, 23 years ago, at Middlebury’s language school for German, an expert on Celan giving a guest lecture on the poet.

    One can hear Celan reading “Todesfuge.” Even if one doesn’t know German, it’s worth it to hear him reading it.

    One hears the musical cadence in his voice . . . and my eyes rather moisten every time I hear it.

    Thanks for the kind words. & you are right about the quality of his voice & reading. Here’s a brief introduction to the poet, everyone, & here’s the podcast on his poem The vintners.

    • #30
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