Friday, November 30, 2012

The Palestinian Problem

Some things never seem to end. This month there has, once again, been serious military action between Palestinians and Israelis. There has been intermittent fighting between Palestine and modern Israel since November 1947.
Sixty-five years ago, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews and allowing for the formation of the Jewish state of Israel.
The following day there were protests by Arabs throughout the country, so 11/30/47 was the beginning of “civil war” in Palestine. That led to what is called the First Arab-Israel War, which began in May 1948 and ended in March of the following year.
The story of the struggle the Palestinians and the Jews, both seeking a secure place to live, is engagingly told in The Lemon Tree (2006) by Sandy Tolan, an American journalist, teacher, and documentary radio producer.
Tolan’s book is a fascinating true story about the Khaira family who lived in the Palestinian city of al-Ramla and who had a lemon tree in the back yard of their home. In May 1948, though, Bashir Khaira, who was six years old, and his family had to leave their home, for it was then considered to be Israeli territory.
Six months later the Eshkenzai family, Jews who had been living in Bulgaria, arrived in Palestine and subsequently moved into the former home of the Khairas.
Nineteen years later, in 1967 when he was 25, Bashir went back to al-Ramla and met Dalia Eshkenzai, who was born just three days after the November 1947 decision by the United Nations and who had been living with her family in Bashir’s former house since 1948. Dalia and Bashir begin discussions which have lasted for 45 years now.
Dalia & Bashir
The Palestinian man and Jewish woman were respectful of each other and actively sought to understand each other’s point of view. But to the end of the book there seemed to be no good solution to the problem that resulted from the 1947 U.N. decision—and the subsequent fighting between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
At the very end of the book, though, after the old lemon tree had died, some Palestinian and Jewish young people met in the back yard of the Khaira/Eshkenzai home, and together they planted a new lemon tree. So maybe there is hope for the distant future. But the immediate future still looks bleak.
While not unsympathetic with the plight of the Jews, who were treated so brutally in Europe during the 1930s and early 1940s, I have long thought the Palestinians have been grossly mistreated since 1947. My thinking this way was strengthened by reading Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006). I highly recommend his book.
Carter is probably right when he says that the “two state solution” is the only realistic path to peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians—but that solution is becoming more and more difficult because of the Israelis occupying more and more of the territory.
(The current land area held by the Palestinians is considerably less than what was proposed by the U.N. in 1947, as indicated by the accompanying maps.)
Earlier this month Carter lamented that Israel seems to have abandoned the two-state solution. “Their policy now is to confiscate Palestinian territory,” he said.

So, the Palestinian problem remains dire, especially for the Palestinians. But it is also serious for the Israelis as they are frequent targets of various violent acts of desperation by the beleaguered people of Palestine.

Let’s hope and pray that there will be peace and justice in Palestine soon. Maybe the 11/29/12 U.N. decision was a step in the right direction.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Droning On

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is the more technical name for what we commonly call a drone. The UAV or drone is, simply, an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Its flight is either controlled autonomously by computers in the vehicle, or under the remote control of a navigator or pilot, which the military calls a Combat Systems Officer.  
UAVs (drones) are of particular concern to many people (including me) at this time because they are systematically killing people in several different countries. For example, the U.S. government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004 using drones controlled by the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
There are a number of groups monitoring the use of drones in covert warlike activities. One such group is the British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. They report that as of this month, some 350 drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed between 2,600 and 3,400 people, including as many as 885 civilians.
The U.S. is not the only country to have drones, of course. The Israelis used drones in their attacks on Gaza earlier this month.
UAVs are sometimes called “killer robots,” and Human Rights Watch, based in Harvard Law School, earlier this month released a 49-page document titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” The report “calls for an absolute ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.” (That extensive report can be accessed here.)
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is another organization actively seeking to halt the use of drones. Last week I participated in their webinar on the subject. The first presenter was Medea Benjamin, the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (Kindle, 2012).
My question to Medea was, Aren’t drones preferable to “boots on the ground?” The response was similar to what the FOR has been advocating since it was founded in 1915: surely there is a better way to solve differences than by the use of drones or ground forces.

One page on FOR’s website is “Faith-based communities say no to drones.” (There is a link for signing a petition against the use of drones, which I have done.) Among the aspects of drone warfare that FOR finds particularly disturbing are these:

The Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to a dangerous abuse of executive power. (This is a similar concern that Rachel Maddow writes about in Drift, the subject of my previous posting.)

The President and his aides draw up a Kill List in which they play the role of prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. People on this secret Kill List have never been charged, tried or convicted in a court of law, and are given no opportunity to surrender. (As most of you know, I voted for President Obama’s reelection, but this is an aspect of his administration that I oppose; of course, there would likely have been similar, or even increased, use of military UAVs by a Republican administration.)

If you want to think more about this important issue, click on the links given above—or the many other websites available at your fingertips such as

Steps need to be taken to keep this country, and others, from droning on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Did You Catch Rachel's "Drift"?

The Rachel Maddow Show is my favorite non-sports TV program. Actually, I don’t watch TV much except for a few athletic contests, such as now some of the Chiefs’ games (which are pretty hard to watch this year) and most of the Missouri University Tigers’ football and basketball games—and the Rachel Maddow Show (maybe about a third of the time, including watching some of it online the following day ).
For you who may not know, Rachel Maddow (b. 1973) earned a degree in public policy from Stanford in 1994. She received a Rhodes Scholarship which led to her earning a Doctor of Philosophy in politics from Oxford University in 2001. Since 2008 she has hosted “The Rachel Maddow Show” five nights a week on MSNBC.
Earlier this year when I heard about Rachel’s (or should I say Dr. Maddow’s?) new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, I wasn’t immediately inclined to read it. But because it was Rachel’s book, I decided to take a look at it. I found it quite well done—and quite important.
In the first chapter, Rachel cites Thomas Jefferson, who in 1792 wrote, “One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier,” and seven years later he declared that he was “not for a standing army in a time of peace” (cited on p. 9). Throughout her book Rachel points out how greatly this country has drifted away from that idea, which was long upheld in the U.S.
“Stupid Regulations” (words spoken by Ronald Reagan) is the title of the fifth chapter, and early in that chapter Rachel writes, Every Congress is meddlesome, disinclined toward war, and obstructive of a president’s desire for it—on purpose” (p. 96). But, largely due to the Iran-Contra scandal (remember that?) and the work of Ollie North (remember him?) things changed greatly.
Among other things, North solicited funds for the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty and operated a “mirror image” of the CIA’s secret support to the Contras. “But unlike the CIA, which had to depend on money from Congress, this privately funded entity had added value: the privatization of Reagan’s foreign policy initiative turned out to be just the ticket for evading all those barriers the legislature had erected. (Stupid regulations!)” (p. 112).
In his written dissent to the congressional investigation of the Iran-Contra affair, Dick Cheney insisted that “Reagan was right to defy Congress, because there was nothing in Congress, nothing anywhere in America’s political structure, that could constrain a president from waging any war he wanted, however he wanted” (p. 124).
Thus, “By 9/11, the war-making authority in the United States had become, for all intents and purposes, uncontested and unilateral: one man’s decision to make” (p. 125).
There is much more I would like to share from Rachel’s Drift. But I will close with just a couple of items from Rachel’s “to-do list” for the country:
Going to war, being at war, should be painful for the entire country, from the start. Henceforth, when we ship the troops off to battle, let’s pay for it. . . . Whenever we start a new one, we should raise the money to pay for it, contemporaneously. . . .
Let’s do away with the secret military. If we are going to use drones to vaporize people in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, the Air Force should operate those drones, and pull the trigger (p. 249).
Soon I plan to write about how this country keeps droning on.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

“Banzai Babe Ruth”

At this time seventy-eight years ago, in November 1934, the U.S. major league baseball All-Stars were on noteworthy trip to Japan. The story of that tour is engagingly told in Robert K. Fitts’ new book Banzai Babe Ruth (2012).

Actually, Fitts’ book is about much more than baseball: the subtitle is Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan. There is a lot about intercultural relationships and politics in the book as well as baseball. I found it a most interesting read.
The manager of the American team was the venerable Cornelius McGillicuddy (1862-1956), better known as Connie Mack.* The All-Stars were headed by Babe Ruth, who was extremely popular in Japan, and it included other notable players, such as Lou Gehrig and “Lefty” Gomez.
On November 2 the American team arrived on the Empress of Japan and five thousand Japanese fans greeted them with shouts of Banzai! Fifteen games were played between the U.S. and the Japanese All-Stars—and the American team won them all, with Ruth hitting eleven home runs. 

The closest contest was played in Shizuoka on November 20, and the Americans won by a score of 1-0 on Gehrig’s home run in the sixth inning. The Japanese pitcher was the 17-year-old Eiji Sawamura.**
Connie Mack was so impressed by Sawamura’s performance that he tried to sign him to a Major League contract. Sawamura declined, saying, "My problem is I hate America, and I can't make myself like Americans."
At the time, though, the Americans were very positive about baseball diplomacy. During the 1934 tour, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew said, “Babe Ruth . . . is a great deal more effective Ambassador than I could ever be” (Fitts, p. 83).
Connie Mack said that the trip did “more for the better understanding between Japanese and Americans than all the diplomatic exchanges ever accomplished” (p. 226).
Mack also declared that “there would be no war between the United States and Japan, pointing out that war talk died out after the All-Star team reached Nippon” (p. 230).
But such sentiment did not hold. Seven years later Pearl Harbor was attacked and the U.S. entered the bloody Pacific War. In the ensuring conflict, some in the Japanese infantry screamed “To hell with Babe Ruth!” as “they charged to their deaths across the mangrove swamps of the South Pacific” (p. 256).
After seven stellar years as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants, Sawamura, who hated America even as a teenager, enlisted in the service for the Emperor and died in battle in 1943.
As for Ruth, he was “absolutely furious” when he heard about the 12/7/41 attack. “For him, Pearl Harbor was a personal betrayal” (p. 255).
But just before his death from cancer in 1948, Ruth reflected,
Despite the treacherous attack the Japanese made on us only seven years later, I cannot help but feel that the reception which millions of Japanese gave us was genuine. . . . No doubt there were plenty of stinkers among them; but looking back at the visit I feel it is another example of how a crackpot government can lead a friendly people to war (pp. 256-7).
The latter statement, perhaps, also describes the U.S. in 2003.
* Connie Mack III & IV
Connie Mack's grandson Connie Mack III was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 1989 and the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2001, and his great-grandson Connie Mack IV currently serves in the House, although he lost his seat in last week’s election.
** The Sawamura Award
Japan's equivalent to the Cy Young Award in the U.S. is the Sawamura Award, which has been given to the best professional pitchers in Japan since 1947. It was named, of course, in honor of Eiji Sawamura. The award was given to Yu Darvish in 2007 and Hisashi Iwakuma in 2008; they were both starting pitchers in the U.S. Major Leagues this year.