International Law Matters (Except When It Doesn’t)

(It was my intention to post another lost poem of Rudyard Kipling, but the administration’s blathering and dithering over Syria requires a few words.)

Among the plethora of generally vague reasons offered by the administration as justification for some sort of attack on Syria far and away the most hypocritical is Assad’s violation of international law by deploying chemical weapons. The President, along with members of his administration, specifically cited this abuse of international covenants as a reason to go to war – or at least quasi-war. A spokesman for the President stated at a press conference that international laws are “important” and that it was “not appropriate to flout them with impunity.”

 
The hypocrisy is staggering. We constantly violate or fail to enforce traditional international behavior and covenants we have pledged to honor; in the case of Israel we refuse even to talk about blatant transgressions of international agreements we are legally bound to uphold. We have invaded the airspace and sovereignty of other countries with “impunity,” and we have engaged in torture, which is specifically outlawed by several major conventions. And now, thanks to the “traitor” Snowdon, we discover that we are violating agreements with and the domestic laws of close allies, whose concerns are dismissed with incredible arrogance.

 
We are of course right in condemning Assad’s use of poison gas, which not even Hitler was tempted to use. It is an indiscriminate killer, hard to control, and unlike artillery shelling, which also kills many innocents, it is virtually impossible to escape. That chemical weapons kill innocents as well as combatants is the major reason they are banned, and correctly so. But we are killing innocents on a regular basis with our drone strikes, and while the civilian casualties from each attack are limited, at least compared to what is happening in Syria, the numbers are steadily growing.

 
Humanitarian outrage is rarely the primary reason behind foreign policy decisions (Kosovo was an exception, but of course that happened in Europe), and more than two thirds of Americans oppose intervention, regardless of any outrage. Naturally, the administration pays little attention to public opinion unless it relates to elections, and consequently the President has brought out the heavy weapon of “national security,” since this trumps the opinion of the public. In addition to the usual list of security reasons – Middle East stability, security of Israel, terrorism – we were actually told these chemical weapons could be a threat to the United States – not United States interests but the United States itself. When questioned about this ludicrous assertion, the spokesman simply avoided answering.

 
But what about American credibility? Well, if losing face is a problem, then it is solely the fault of President Obama and his non-existent policy in the region. In any case, who cares? One would think a country with a $600 billion military and eleven carrier groups had plenty of credibility. It is the administration’s credibility that is at risk, not America’s, and for that reason we will lash out.

 
So once again America is about to commit an act of war against a country that has done absolutely nothing to injure us, an act that would result in massive retaliation were it done against us, which in fact is what happened in December 1941. (At this very moment on the TV behind me John Kerry is telling us that even though we are weary of war we cannot ignore our responsibilities. Responsibility for what exactly in this instance?) And we will be doing it without Congressional authorization and (with the likely exception of France) apparently alone; even faithful little Britain has opted out, since Parliament still decides on war and peace there. This is to say, we are once again about to violate international law, which is supposedly a major reason why we are about to go to war.

 
One does not need a military expert to understand that firing even hundreds of missiles at Syria will have little to no impact on the general situation. But it will make Obama feel better and save the credibility that most would suggest he no longer has.  Meanwhile, more Syrians will die, this time killed by our government, mostly in the service of domestic politics.  What has happened to us?

should be hanging from a lamp post

should be hanging from a lamp post

under alien mind control?

under alien mind control?

sarin gas

sarin gas

 

 

 

 

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Stuff from Way Back #19: All Hail the (Greek) Phallos

Virtually overnight the western world, including even parts of Latin America, has come to accept homosexuality, and the major issue is no longer tolerance but the public and legal status of a homosexual marriage.  On the other hand, there is central Africa, where practicing homosexuality can mean death, and the hypocritical Islamic (mostly Arab) world, where homosexuality is typically a crime but often engaged in because of the extreme sexual segregation, especially in the Gulf states.  And of course Russia has now enthusiastically embraced homophobia, hardly surprising in a county where the majority of the population is still coming to terms with the nineteenth century.

 

This sort of serious hostility towards homosexuality is yet another gift of the No-Fun God, who declares such behavior unnatural and an abomination, and prior to the arrival of the Christians (and outside Judea) attitudes were very different.  While there are exceptions, most non-Abrahamic societies have tolerated or in some cases even accommodated homosexuality in their social and religious values.  The Greeks are an excellent example, and ironic, since Greek values and ideas are at the heart of the western tradition, while their sexual practices were vehemently rejected by the religion that affixed itself to that tradition.

 

Because of deep-seated hostility in the Christian west to such practices, Greek homosexuality traditionally received little or no attention in the standard histories, and when it did, the account was typically distorted by the moral prejudices of the author.  Otherwise competent scholars turned a blind eye to the evidence of widespread homosexuality, including the so obvious and explicit scenes found on pottery.  (The Greeks depicted every sort of activity on their pots.)  Only recently has classical studies turned to serious investigation of Greek sexuality, much of which investigation is unfortunately marred by new prejudices.

 

It should be noted right off that if modern terminology is to be used, Greek society was not homosexual, but rather bisexual.  Homosexuality may be defined as the more or less exclusive sexual preference for members of the same sex and must be considered some sort of biological aberration (no offspring can be produced) affecting a minority in every society.  Bisexuality is the willingness to entertain sexual partners of either gender and would appear to be in large measure a socially determined trait, unless we assume that the Greeks were somehow physiologically different from other people.  Thus, while there was surely the usual homosexual minority, many urban Greeks, especially those of high social status, were apparently bisexual, seeking different things from the different sexes.  In fact, to judge from the large numbers of female prostitutes and evidence such as the successful sex strike launched by the Athenian women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, heterosexual relations were very important to Greek men.

 

Using modern terminology is in any case a dangerous practice, since there is the risk of also projecting into the past modern concepts that have a different or no meaning in ancient society.  The terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” which are little more than a century old, are valid classifications for Greece only in the most superficial sense, that is, labeling a single different-sex or same-sex act.  As more general characterizations they are useless because they group behaviors that the Greeks considered very different, the sex of the partner, for example, being almost a trivial concern compared to the all-important issue of social status.  Dominance and issues of penetration and receptivity were frequently of far greater importance than gender, and certain areas of Greek society might be more appropriately described as phallocratic rather than heterosexual or homosexual, though this term as well is too restrictive and potentially misleading.

 

Why ancient Greece – or at least the upper levels of its urban population  – should have been one of the very few openly bisexual societies in history, certainly in the West, is not perfectly clear.  The origins of male homosexuality were seen by the Greeks in the sexual segregation of the military societies of the Dorians (the second wave of Greek-speaking invaders from the north, c. late 13th to early 11th centuries), and Plato in fact blames the Spartans and Cretans, who were Dorians, for spreading the practice.  But while Plato may be reflecting an opinion generally held in Greece during the classical period, that opinion is not necessarily true, and there is no hard evidence for the diffusion of Dorian practices through the rest of Greek society.  It is true, however, that the overwhelming male orientation of polis (city-state) society, which resulted in a sort of sexual segregation, can probably be traced back to the warrior communities of the early Dark Age, which resulted from the Dorian invasions.  The warrior hosts disappeared, but because of the endless intercity warfare, the polis was in many ways also a warrior society, and the absolute dominance of males continued.

 

The pertinent fact here is that outside of childbearing everything that mattered in the polis was in the hands of males, which meant in turn that outside of heterosexual relations everything that was of any concern to a Greek male involved other males.  With very few exceptions women were completely uneducated and uninvolved in anything beyond the household and the odd cultic practice, and consequently, for meaningful companionship and a relationship with any intellectual content whatsoever a male normally had to turn to another male.  Male relationships thus filled a basic social need.  This situation of course does not necessarily lead to open homosexuality and did not in most other similar societies.  Further, while it is perfectly clear that extreme sexual segregation inevitably leads to some degree of homosexual behavior (look at any prison population), it generally does not lead to open, socially acceptable homosexuality.

 

Why then the Greeks?  An entirely satisfactory explanation is elusive, and I can only suggest a few reasons.  First, the relatively high level of social and intellectual freedom in Greek society, due in part to the open nature of the constitutional polis and in part to the fragmentation of Greece into hundreds of separate political units, which encouraged some small measure of diversity.  This resulted in a social atmosphere more conducive to change and acceptance of different practices.  This is not to suggest that Greek society was wildly progressive – it certainly was not, even in the heady days of change in the sixth century – but rather that the polis was at least marginally more inclined to accept nontraditional behaviors than the average pre-modern society.  Much more important, the Greeks had no inherited prohibition of homosexuality, no command from god that erotic experiences between persons of the same sex were wrong, which would allow the homosexuality inevitably practiced in secret in sexually segregated societies to come out into the open.  Finally, because sex was viewed as an important expression of status and citizenship, social position became much more important than the actual gender of the partner, producing an environment more open to sex between males.  In short, the male dominance and sexual segregation fosters the bisexuality, and the relative social freedom and lack of any serious religious prohibition brings it out of the closet.

 

But let us not misunderstand Greek sexuality and think simply of cheap thrills and bathhouse promiscuity.  Obviously, there were those who engaged in casual sex, especially with slaves and male prostitutes, but a serious relationship involving free males was bounded by a strict set of rules, and behavior that publicly violated those rules was socially unacceptable and sometimes criminal.  An acceptable pairing involved an older male, the erastēs, who was the active partner, and a younger male, the erōmenos, who played a passive role.  The erōmenos could not be too young, less than about twelve, and there would be talk if he were still playing the passive role much beyond the age of fifteen or sixteen (“when the beard was grown”).  The pair could not openly engage in oral or anal sex, because that would compel the erōmenos to play a subordinate, female role and not only bring shame upon him, but also injure his future status as a citizen.  Personal physical inviolability was one of the hallmarks of citizenship, and penetration of a male would place him in the category of slave and woman.  The kinaidos, the man who allowed himself to be so used, was the negation of everything represented by the hoplite, the heavy infantryman who defended the polis: manliness, citizenship and dominant status.  Indeed, the worst insult you could deliver to a man was to call him euryprōktos, “wide-assed.”  The acceptable practice was intercrural copulation, in which the erastēs, facing his partner, thrust his penis between his thighs, thus avoiding penetration.

 

Such at least was the social ideal, and some men maintained lofty attitudes regarding their liaisons, emphasizing the educational aspect of the relationship and their responsibility for the development of their erōmenoi as men and citizens.  There is some truth to this, inasmuch as Greek society (excepting Sparta) had no formal educational apparatus and the continued absence of the urban father from the household may have strained the relationship between father and son, but this must not be exaggerated.  The evidence suggests that sexual attraction to and pleasure with adolescent males was the common motivation and that penetration was frequently practiced, for all that one never spoke of it in public.  The Romans, incidentally, shared these attitudes, though unlike the Greeks they considered citizen youths out of bounds, and the distinction between penetrating men (permitted for virile males) and being penetrated by men (definitely not permitted) is still made among males in some Mediterranean and Latin American societies.

Greek honesty concerning homosexual behavior was only a single facet of their incredibly open attitude about human sexuality in general.  Sex, and in fact body functions in general, rather than being a taboo subject were a source of great amusement, as is readily obvious from Aristophanes and from Greek pottery (the stuff hidden away by Christian museum curators).  Aristophanes’ comedies were at heart social and political satire, the highest form of comic expression, but that satire was wrapped in humor that a modern audience would find obscene and puerile – jokes about farting, penis size and suchlike.  But the Athenian audience loved it, and these were people who had just sat through and enjoyed several tragedies; the modern equivalent might be several Ingmar Bergman movies followed by some mixture of Redd Foxx and the Three Stooges.

 

Free of any divine commandments to the contrary, the Greeks were able to develop a more open attitude about human sexuality, and I suspect their society was all the more psychologically healthy for it.  The Greeks were far more willing than most civilized peoples to recognize the inner nature of the human animal and squarely face what this meant in terms of human needs and behavior.

 

Finally, a popular Greek “pottery joke.”  There were traditional shapes for wine cups, and one was similar, though smaller, to the common chamber pot.  A picture of a woman peeing was painted on the inside bottom of this type of cup, and when the imbiber (inevitably male) finished his drink, he suddenly discovered the squatting woman and got the joke.  Yes, these are the same people who discovered democracy and philosophy, and yes, they would have found dribble glasses and whoopee cushions completely hilarious.

 

When men were men

When men were men

Hey, it's Greek art

Hey, it’s Greek art

And women were women

And women were women

 

A Just Peace

(The current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks engineered by Secretary of State John Kerry reminded me of similar negotiations that took place some seventy years ago.)

In a deal brokered by the American Secretary of State the German Chancellor today announced that Minister for Foreign Affairs Joachim von Ribbentrop would be traveling to Warsaw in an attempt to revive the peace process with Poland, which has been occupied by German troops since the 1939 war. Chancellor Hitler repeated his commitment to the “two state solution” but cautioned that “minor adjustments” would have to be made to the pre-1939 frontiers.
The Chancellor insisted that there be no preconditions for the talks, a clear attempt to circumvent the question of the Polish Right of Return. “Everything is on the table,” said Ribbentrop, noted for his earlier arrangement of a peace agreement with the Soviet Union. “We are willing to discuss every issue, even the difficult ones, in order to secure a just and lasting peace that will provide for the security of both the German Reich and the Polish people. We will settle for nothing less.”
Ribbentrop’s enthusiasm and optimism is, however, not shared by some observers. “There are simply too many serious problems that the Poles have shown no inclination to address,” explained Governor-General Hans Frank, who is opposed to the “two state solution” because it would eliminate the Reich-supported Governorate General, which he administers. “Our construction projects in the Governorate General have produced jobs for Poles and raised their standard of living in areas such as Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Belżec.”
A particularly thorny issue is the German settlement program. It is estimated that there are some two million Germans living in the occupied territories, two thirds of them brought in as new settlers. The remaining third are pre-war inhabitants rescued from Polish terrorism. The settlements are widely considered a violation of international law, particularly the fourth Hague Convention, but the Reich contends that Poland has never really been a defined national state and consequently international conventions are not applicable.
The creation of a Polish state would pose a serious problem for these Volksgenossen. Remaining in their homes would result in their being an oppressed minority, especially considering the primitive nature of Polish society and culture, which naturally views Germans with envy and hatred. But most would resist leaving their homes and land, which could only lead to violence, especially since the Poles have less regard for life than the Germans and other civilized peoples.
The case is also made that most of the territory claimed by the Poles is in fact German. The issue of West Prussia and Posen is of course clear to everyone: this obviously German territory was stolen from the Reich by the Versailles Treaty and must be returned. More controversial is the land that comprises central Poland. While this area has not been part of the modern German state, it was once German territory, as evidence by the large number of Germans living their prior to the 1939 war. It was inhabited by Germans as long ago as the third century, when the area was controlled by Vandals, Goths, Burgundians and other groups that made up “Germania,” which stretched from the Rhine to beyond the Vistula.
This is, however, an extreme view, and the Chancellor has indicated a willingness to make concessions to the Poles, such as granting them Warsaw and Lodz. In return the Poles must publically recognize the existence of the Reich as a “German” state. Any new Polish state would of course be demilitarized, and the Reich would maintain control of key strategic areas, such as the Vistula River. Such measures would be necessary to protect the Reich from any attacks emanating from Polish territory.
The Chancellor meanwhile commented on the current situation, denying emphatically that the condition in the Governorate General could be characterized as “apartheid.” He pointed out that the areas and roads restricted to Germans are solely for the purpose of protecting the population from Polish terrorism, and he explained how these measures also helped protect the Poles, who could be hurt by the high speed roads and unfamiliar machinery.
Finally, Chancellor Hitler addressed the recent bombing of Cracow. “Terrorists throwing rocks at German citizens cannot be allowed to go unpunished or the violence will only spread. If the casualties in Cracow seem disproportionately large, it is of course because the terrorist criminals were using innocent civilians as human shields.” He also noted that indefinite detention is in complete accordance with the laws of the Reich, as is the use of moderate physical pressure in obtaining information that could well save lives, both Polish and German. “We are not barbarians!”

Polish terrorist

Polish terrorist

Ambassador Ribbentrop

Ambassador Ribbentrop

Polish negotiator

Polish negotiator

A Lost Poem by Lord Byron

(This may be an early draft of the famous “Destruction of Sennacherib.”  If it is, Byron was certainly prescient.)

 

 

The Destruction of Obama

 

 

The American came down like the wolf on the fold,

And his cohorts were loaded with silver and gold;

And the sheen of their guns was like stars in the sky,

When the Hellfires roll nightly to kill on the fly.

 

 

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,

That host with their weapons in Kabul were seen:

Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,

That host in a decade lay scattered and strown.

 

 

For the fighters of God spread their creed with a blast,

And shot at the face of the foe as he passed;

And the hopes of the soldiers waned deadly and chill,

As their friends tread the mines and forever grew still!

 

 

And there lay the Humvee, just blown on its side,

With the gas spilling out and the bodies inside;

And the blood of the wounded lay red on the ground,

And the dead and the dying made hardly a sound.

 

 

And there lay the soldier all mangled and torn,

With comrades and sweethearts now ready to mourn:

And the barracks were silent, the colors alone,

The rifles unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

 

 

And the women now widows are loud in their wail,

And policy lies broke in the Afghani pale;

And the force of the US, almighty before,

Hath melted like snow in the Taliban’s war.

King Obama

King Obama

King Sennacherib

King Sennacherib

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Wogs Need Not Apply

This is an issue of small significance compared to the revelation of our government’s massive surveillance programs and the administration’s Gestapo approach to dealing with informants, but it is symptomatic of our lopsided and self-destructive support for Israel.  And you are hardly likely to hear about this in the mainstream media.

 

Congress is now considering two bills (S. 462 and H.R. 938), which are both versions of the United States-Israel Strategic Partner Act of 2013.  Though the US and Israel have been joined at the hip for forty years, Congress continually passes bills such as these in order to fine tune the relationship, which is to say, add more clauses.  These are inevitably in favor of Israel, often to the detriment of Americans, and some are simply baffling.  For example, last year Congress passed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Act of 2012, which commits the US to “the security of the state of Israel as a Jewish state.”  What does that mean?  How (and why) are we to guarantee the cultural make-up of a foreign society?  What exactly does “Jewish state” mean anyway, when twenty percent of Israel’s citizen body is not Jewish?

 

This new partnership act includes a visa waiver agreement with Israel.  The Visa Waiver Program permits the US and a foreign country (currently thirty-seven of them) to allow their citizens to visit one another for up to ninety days without a visa.  This is of course an excellent arrangement for friendly nations, but not surprisingly the agreement with Israel will contain a provision absent from previous agreements: Israel will retain the right, not extended to the US, to deny entry to any American citizen without explanation.  Apart from being blatantly unfair and insulting to Americans (who were not consulted about this), this provision is a humiliation for America.

 

Israel’s history of hassling visitors and denying many access to Israel or the Occupied Territories, often seemingly capriciously or for incomprehensible reasons, is so rich that the Department of State felt compelled to post a travel advisory on its website:  “U.S. citizens are advised that all persons applying for entry to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza…may be denied entry or exit without explanation.”  One would think that this essentially guts the agreement as far as Americans are concerned, but nothing is impossible in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of our relationship with Israel.  And the advisory specifically notes that “U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin may face additional, often time-consuming, and probing questioning by immigration and border authorities, or may be denied entry.”

 

Indeed!  Negroes and Irish need not apply.  This sort of blatant profiling and discrimination is technically illegal in America and counter to our stated values, but one might argue that given Israel’s experience with Palestinian terrorism, it is a perfectly sensible policy.  Perhaps, if the profiling actually only dealt with reasonable suspicion of a threat, but example after example demonstrates that this is quite obviously not the case.  If there is even the vaguest suspicion that you are pro-Palestinian or a critic of Israel, that you work for an NGO that has been critical of Israel or that you have simply visited a country hostile to Israel, you will be hassled and possible thrown out.  That this sort of thing really does happen is clear from the State Department advisory, since the statement must necessarily be an implicit criticism of Israel, something that is normally a mortal sin for the US government.

 

Here is a particularly obnoxious though typical example.  Nour Joudah, a US citizen, began teaching high school in the West Bank town of Ramallah last year; she had a one year multiple entry visa and a residency permit.  After one semester she took a vacation out of the country, and when she returned in January via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan, she was held up for six hours and then denied entry with no explanation.  Acting on the advice of the Israeli embassy in Washington, she tried again through Ben Gurion airport.  This time she was interrogated for hours, strip searched, taken to a detention center and deported back to Jordan the next day.  A surprisingly frank call from the US Consulate in Jerusalem informed her that nothing could be done to help “when it comes to Israel.”

 

There are endless stories similar to this, and I also experienced this petty behavior, though on a much smaller scale.  In 1991 I entered Israel through the Ben Gurion airport and made the mistake of accompanying my travel companion to the same customs station.  He was a Black from Cincinnati who had converted to Islam and adopted the very unlikely name of Herb Mohammed.  When the official saw Mohammed on his passport, she asked me if I was with him, to which I said yes.  We were then both sent to a room occupied by what looked like the Israeli military, who took our passports.  After cooling our heels for an hour or so we were given our passports and dismissed without a word of explanation.  Trivial perhaps, but common – and insulting, especially for a citizen of a country that is sending Israel, a very wealthy state for its size, a few billion dollars every year.  Incidentally, when I left Israel on El Al, I received the most thorough search I have ever experienced, and I had crossed frontiers in the Warsaw Pact curing the Cold War.

 

Why are our national politicians so willing to do this sort of thing?  Can you imagine this arrangement being proposed for any other country?  Are they afraid to be called anti-Semites?  Do they believe in some Jewish international financial cabal that will finance their campaigns?  It must be some sort of fear thing, since it is very hard to believe that virtually all our national politicians are so enamored of Israel, a state that frequently spits in our face and violates almost as many international agreements as the Third Reich, that they would continually adopt positions that are actually detrimental to the US.  Apparently the powerful Zionist lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, looms over the frightened gentiles in Congress like some Lord of Hosts, ready to smite those who will not do Their will.

 

Actually, the Christian extremists perhaps have a positive reason: watch over Israel and lobby for the third temple, which would bring on the End of Times they desire so much.  Then those pesky Jews will either become good Christians or be slaughtered.  Meanwhile, better that Jews should live in Israel instead of their neighborhoods.

terrorists

terrorists

not a terrorist

not a terrorist

not a terrorist

not a terrorist

not a terrorist

not a terrorist