Publick Occurrences Extra
Occasional historically-oriented comments on current events and other subjects.


3 March 2008
Obviously I was not using it much anyway, but this space has now been superseded by my new blog at Common-Place. That will be my main online outlet for the foreseeable future.
2 April 2006
Shockingly enough, my most recent Common-Place column, "The Kingness of Mad George," was excerpted in the New York Times "Week in Review" section today. 
10 September 2005
While I am not blogging anywhere regularly right now, I do have blogs going for the courses I am teaching right now. The blog for my history of conspiracy theories course actually contains a lot of general-interest material along with the reading assignments. Go take a look.
1 April 2005
My "Publick Occurences" column on Common-Place  is back today after nearly three years. Look for responses and elaborations on the "Common-place Coffeeshop" message board.  
4 November 2004
I was really long-winded today: Advice from a Red-State Democrat
3 November 2004
I have been trying to spend my research leave on research rather  than the Internet, but the recent election, in which our whole family and neighborhood got extremely involved, has naturally generated some comments:
It's the War, Not-So-Stupid
Our Spin: Narrowest . . . Re-election . . . Ever
20 May 2004
Training Wheels: The Racist Origins of Bush's Iraq Policy (From my dailyKos diary )
I normally do not go in for this sort of "shrill" argument, but Shrub's pep talk to congressional Republicans today makes one thing perfectly clear: Racism (or ethnocentrism, or prejudice, if you prefer) explains much of what the US has done in Iraq:

President Bush sought to rally Republican lawmakers around his Iraq plan Thursday, saying Iraqis are ready to "take the training wheels off" by assuming some political power, but warning that violence is likely to worsen as that transfer approaches.

To Bush, then, Iraqis are moral, cultural, ane mental children who needed the tough love of invasion, conquest, and occupation, with frequent corporal punishment (the kind fired from planes and tanks), so they can grow up to be like their Uncle Sam. The infantilization of nonwhite peoples is one of the oldest and most revealing themes of old-fashioned western imperialism, of the "white man's burden" type.

It also reveals a profoundly low estimation of the worth of nonwhite lives that Bush could use a homely analogy to suburban American childhood to describe a military occupation that has killed thousands of mostly innocent Iraqis, imprisoned, "abused" or greviously wounded many others, and wrecked countless Iraqi homes and neighborhoods. This is the old Euro-American racial calculus, going back to the early American Indian wars, in which a single raid (often retaliatory or highly provoked) could bring on a massive war of extermination and expropriation. Check out the origins of such conflicts as Lord Dunmore's War of 1774 or the Creek War of 1814. The overwhelming white response to the abortive slave rebellions of Gabriel (Virginia, 1800) and Denmark Vesey (South Carolina,1822) flowed from the same source. Quite simply, white lives were regarded as worth many times what nonwhite lives were, justifying whatever scale of retribution and violence whites cared to inflict. Fallujah, anyone?

Link to this post and comment on it here -- I actually agree with a couple of the responses myself

13 May 2004
Exploding the Neocons (updated 12:05 CST)

I would be quite curious to know whether others think the Post's observation is accurate. You can answer this question or comment on this post in a "diary" I just posted on dailyKos.
11 May 2004
Monarchy Watch
From Paul Krugman's most recent column, shades of what Americans revolted against 230 years ago:

"Just trust us, Paul Bremer said, as he took over in Iraq. What is the legal basis for Mr. Bremer's authority? You may imagine that the Coalition Provisional Authority is an arm of the government, subject to U.S. law. But it turns out that no law or presidential directive has ever established the authority's status. Mr. Bremer, as far as we can tell, answers to nobody except Mr. Bush, which makes Iraq a sort of personal fief."

Treating conquered territory as a personal fief, or a possession, is what monarchs do. That's why, according to the British, King George (British model IV), had absolute "prerogative" over the colonies, if that is the legally and grammatically proper way to put it, while his power more limited in Great Britain itself. In other words, the British Constitution applied at home, but in the colonies, not so much. The Founders' term for the state they finally understood themselves to be in, with regard to British theory and policy, was "slavery."

10 May 2004
Whose Culture Is It Anyway?
A question I ask of the quotation below in light of the Bush administration's approach toward our Constitution and many international agreements, like those pesky Geneva conventions, that are in fact part of American law:

"We can write all those things into law and it won't do any good," Lang said. "[The head of state] had a constitution with some of those same words, but none of it worked because they ignored it. That's their culture." -- Washington Post

3 May 2004
Historians, Mark Your Calendars
This past week and month are going to be remembered, and analyzed, for many years to come. I think it's going to go down as the moment when not only IraqWar, but whole experiment with a post Cold War American empire dropped into the trash compactor of history, of which further developments will soon push the button. Even if Bush wins re-election and we do manage to stabilize the situation in Iraq, the "democratic dominoes," "last great power," and "better than doing nothing" rhetoric of 2002 and 2003 is never going to be the same again. Any notion of Iraq as an opportunity to dispel the ghosts of Vietnam, and free up American power for robust and repeated use in the future, has failed utterly. Now we have all new ones that will be haunting us, with suicide bombs and those revolting prison pictures, possibly for the rest of our lives. Also, Iraq has now officially outdone Vietnam in one important respect. Even in the face of My Lai and the many other stories of military misbehavior in Vietnam, I am not aware that Nixon ever admitted that U.S. troops or the military establishment were at fault. Shrub, always willing to see the buck land anywhere but in his lap, rolled over on his troops instantaneously once the word was out. More on this later . . . 
29 April 2004
Site News
It's going to remain technologically crude for a while, and still very orange, but I am nevertheless trying to upgrade this page into a true blog. I will be updating it more often as we move through this election year, I promise, and may even incorporate other features like comments if I get the idea that anybody is reading this. 
28 April 2004
Missouri Repays Some of Its Debt to Society
I mean primarily the one owed on the Ashcroft account. Westminster College is one county east of where I live, and not a place anyone would consider a hotbed of leftism. Yet, like many of us here in this part of the world, they seem to be rather honest and trusting people over there in Fulton. They did not expect to be taken advantage of by an honored guest, and actually complained about it in a way the so-called powers that be in many of our national institutions seem no longer able to manage. So, God bless Westminster President Fletcher Lamkin for showing some of that Trumanian candor that we used to be so famous for out here. If Kerry gives a good speech in Fulton on Friday and goes on to win this state in November, Lamkin's email will probably become an historic document. Presidential winners always win Missouri, and what a Democrat needs here is at least some votes from the rural interior to go with his majorities in Kansas City and St. Louis. Westminster has provided links to most of the local news coverage of the controversy on its web site.
      As an index of what an egregious error  Cheney may have made, check out this editorial cartoon from our local conservative rag here in Columbia. Not the usual Columbia Tribune perspective,  I can tell you. Cheapening the Churchill "Iron Curtain" speech, mid-Missouri's one and only moment in the spotlight of world history, was a really bad idea that went well with many of Cheney's other recent bad ideas.
      While considering Missouri, also take a look at this local letter to the editor from one of my neighbors (not an effete professor like myself) and consider whether that stuff you read in the national papers about the red states really tells you everything there is to know about how people feel out here. 

Me on Other Web Sites

bulletAlexander Hamilton and the "World's Sexiest Founder" competition -- read it if you need an explanation
bulletThe first comment I ever posted on someone else's blog (I think)
9 April 2004
Rice Paddies
I think it's time to stop apologizing about the Vietnam parallel. It's just getting way too obvious. I am not talking parsing the definition of "quagmire." Colin Powell seems to be trying to taking advantage of Iraq's climate with the comment that of course Iraq "is not a swamp that is going to devour us." (Saddam drained the marshes after all, you liberal idiots!) Yet in another recent comment, Powell makes it clear that after the June 30 handover, the situation is going to get more Nam-ism than ever, with hundreds of thousands of American troops defending a pathetically weak, unpopular local regime. But let Colin tell it:
This will be a new government that is still getting its sea legs, that is still developing institutions of democracy, that has not yet finished a constitution and has not yet held an election to give it full legitimacy.

 In other words, Prime Minister Chalabi or whoever is going to wish he was in as strong a position as Diem or Thieu.

Then there's the matter of the "thinking" that got us into the present situation. Vietnam was foisted on us by Cold Warriors who knew (and cared) more about grand strategy and the theory of totalitiarianism than the local conditions in the countries they manipulated. Saddam Hussein and the "Axis of Evil" were stand-ins for the old Cold War enemies, used as strategic straw men by policy-makers trained in the late Cold War's institutions and looking for new conflicts in which to apply their favorite nostrums. Condoleeza Rice, who had busily trying to reinstall Ronald Reagan's foreign and defense policy (despite the lack of  those policies' chief target) at the time of 9-11, fits this description exactly, and made it perfectly clear in her testimony yesterday that, like any good Cold Warrior,  she was far comfortable with "structures" and strategy other stuff that Henry Kissinger might have taught a class about than more mundane and specific problems like Al Qaeda or reforming the bureaucracy or actually knowing who actually lived in Iraq and how they might enjoy a long-term occupation by us.

8 April 2004
Vigilantly Resolving on a New Vietnam
One of the many isolated side roads that conservatives are going to try to take us down, as every foreign policy thought that ever entered head explodes before their eyes in Iraq, is outrage over allegedly false comparisons between the current Iraq situation and Vietnam. Scale-wise it's not close -- give it a decade and we'll talk again -- but in many ways relating to our motives and attitude and exit options, the comparison is actually rather on the apt side. I won't try to canvass this fully, but we should surely start with the population we are there to help turning out to hate our guts. (Don't ask me how it can come as a shock to so many Americans that the people of invaded and occupied countries tend not to admire their invaders and occupiers.) There's no Ho Chi Minh or Viet Cong in Iraq as yet, but if you crack open a 1960s newspaper story on Vietnam, or even sit through The Green Berets, you'll find that back in the day the American political/media/military establishment regarded the enemy there as little more than egregious thugs and terrorists who had to be shown our resolve.  And then there is this "resolve" issue,  the idea that American power and prestige will irrevocably damaged if we are seen to lack "will" or back down or do anything other respond to violence with great levels of violence. This kind of thinking kept us in Vietnam for at least 6 or 7 extra years, and in some ways, got us in there in the first place.  In Iraq, every new setback is interpreted as a challenge to our "resolve" that we must have the "will" to meet, even if that means continuing the same misguided policies that created the mess in the first place. Steely resolve makes a lot of emotional sense, but it's no substitute for a strategy. The same emotionalism that makes "resolve" and "will" such satisfying qualities to project allows for no satisfying endings other than suicide or clear-cut victory. (It's no accident that these are the preferred endings of so many of the imperial melodramas that us Cold War kids grew up with: the Khartoum option or  Zulu option.)  If the situation in Iraq becomes truly untenable, will we even allow ourselves to realize it? 
7 April 2004
But Enough About Your Ruined Country; Let's Talk About How We Feel
I have been trying to keep quiet lately, but this last week has made it very difficult. Just about every negative thing any of critics ever said about IraqWar and the administration's approach to it is turning out to be absolutely correct. To my eternal surprise, even limited Vietnam analogies are starting to look pretty good, at least as far as our situation there goes. As Maureen Dowd pointed out, we are in the process of destroying Fallujah in order to save it, while the administration/conservative justification of sticking with Bush and his policies increasing devolves into hoary b.s. about the need to show our "resolve" and "will." Lots of examples, but the starkest and dumbest I saw comes from a Bush supporter in Arizona

Mr. Romley said he was worried about the turn of events but also saw opportunity in them.

"I think this will be a pivotal time," he said. "I think there is a general perception that America will cut and run when it gets difficult. If we stick it out, it will send out a different message than what America is perceived as, be it Vietnam or Somalia."

When will we -- alright, let's be honest, they -- learn that when we send in a massively superior military force to conquer some  foreign country with the idea that we're there to help the people of that country, the resolution of the situation lies not with us, but with them. This war is about Iraqi death and destruction, not American attitudes. Who exactly are we signaling to regarding our "will"? Whose "test" are we taking? We're not talking about a global chessmatch with the Kremlin anymore, are we? Terrorists and revolutionists love "resolve" of the Bush type. They are trying to create an intolerably violent, chaotic situation, and increasingly extreme military responses fit that bill real nice. 

 It's this self-absorption, this conviction that Americans win or lose only because of their own inner feelings rather than any external factors, that gets us into these situations over and over again.  If American policymakers could get over themselves just for a moment, they might suddenly grasp such subtle principles of world politics as,  "People really hate it when foreigners blow up their country and tell them how to live" and "blowing up more stuff just makes them resent even more." 

4 Feb. 2004
The Show-Us State
 I never blogged on the Missouri primary because literally nothing happened outside of Kansas City and St. Louis, and not much even there. It was a bit puzzling that none of the candidates focused on us, given that we were the biggest state up for grabs. The size factor may have made us too daunting for campaigns that were running out of money. I also can't say that I would have predicted that we would be John Kerry's banner state. People here pride themselves on independent-mindedness, but in this case it looks like we did what told us to on CNN. (My house, excepted, of course.) I sure hope CNN is right, but it all smells a bit too Dukakis-like to me. I'll explain that later.
28 January 2004
The Reawakening
The urge to blog has returned a little bit with the approach of the suddenly-meaningful Missouri primary. I'm not sure if "Left-Wing Cub Scout" on HNN will be back, but I am going to try to get back into the commentary habit if I can, perhaps with not quite such an exclusively political focus. Not likely, I know.Eventually I would like to set up a more elaborate blog system on this sight. For now, I will just post stuff here occasionally. 
     This will be an interesting week since the two opinionated voters in this household are (unprecedentedly)  nearly undecided. We're probably still for Howard Dean, but open to whatever may develop over the next week. I know the party establishment and the media will be eager  to have Kerry wrap it all up in the next couple of weeks, but I think it's important that that not happen. We need to see how all these guys can do and what us less experienced primary voters think about them. Whoever wins, Dean deserves the credit for  waking the mainstream Democratic party up to the dangerousness of the current moment in U.S. history and the regime that has brought us to this point so rapidly. Not to mention the Democratic electorate's extremely torqued state of mind! At any rate, it's impossible to imagine former D.C. pod people like John Kerry and John Edwards and even Joe Lieberman slinging the relatively tough anti-Bush rhetoric they have been using on the stump without Howard Dean's early success, in fundraising and organization and media attention. Especially fundraising, because $$$$$$ is the only that really impresses anyone in Washington these days.  Sometimes I think money's the only thing they believe is actually real and always worthy of respect.

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2004-2005 by Jeffrey L. Pasley. Posting of these comments on other sites (with proper credit & a link to this page) is welcome.