Friday, February 20, 2015

American Giuliani-ism

Just read Jamelle Bouie's thoughtful essay on Obama's brand of exceptionalism ("The Past Perfect"). Bouie describes a recent speech by Rudy Giuliani to "businesspeople, conservative elites, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker," in which he lambasts President Obama's character and questions his patriotism. Hardly new. Obama's opponents have been doing that since he first ran for the presidency. Bouie doesn't take on Giuliani, though. Rather, he proposes an explanation for Obama's "less triumphant" version of exceptionalism:
The best answer, I think, lies in identity. By choice as much as birth, Obama is a black American. And black Americans, more than most, have a complicated relationship with our country. It’s our home as much as it’s been our oppressor: a place of freedom and opportunity as much as a source of violence and degradation. We’re an old American tribe, with deep roots in the land and a strong hand in the labor of the nation. But we’re often seen as other—a suspect class that just doesn’t fit.
I have less patience than Bouie with myopic visions of the US's exceptional role in the world. Consider this Giuliani line: “What country has left so many young men and women dead abroad to save other countries without taking land? This is not the colonial empire that somehow he has in his hand. I’ve never felt that from him.”

Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, 1898
 Well, Mr. Giuliani, we did take land by force. Since 1781, how did we gain "land" west and south of the original 13 states? The Seminole wars in Florida, in the first half of the 19th century. The invasion of Mexico in 1846. Warring against Native Americans, from the Cherokee wars of the 1780s-90s, to the last bloody skirmishes in the early 1900s. And there's the War with Spain in 1898, winning "land" in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

And not all forms of colonialism require direct, permanent occupation--just an occasional intervention by US marines, or covert operation (for a list of US interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean, from 1890 to 2009, visit this site).
US-supported right-wing Contras
in an Honduran training camp, 1989

That said, I do not make the claim that our country is evil. That's too simplistic a characterization of the US's complex history of war-making and foreign relations. As simplistic as Giuliani braying that we are innocent.


I'll finish with these lines from the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío (from the poem "To Roosevelt," 1904):

...You think that life is fire,
that progress is eruption,
that wherever you shoot you hit the future.

No.

The United States is potent and great. When you shake there is a deep tremble that passes through the enormous vertebrae of the Andes. If you clamor, it is heard like the roaring of a lion...You are rich. You join the cult of Hercules to the cult of Mammon, and illuminating the road of easy conquest, Liberty raises its torch in New York.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Revised Top Five Movie Lists

A couple of years ago I posted my top five movies, organized by various categories. Recently, a friend had a lot to say about my choices, and my brother sent me his comments, and his own top fives. In response, I've slightly revised some of my choices, and added some categories. Because I love almost all Coen brothers' movies, and John Sayles, I gave them their own categories. I almost did the same for Wes Anderson films, but he doesn't have enough feature length films yet. Both my friend and brother mentioned a category for sports movies. At first, I couldn't think of any, but on second thought, there were a number a really liked. I also added a category for movies on US politics. Can't believe I didn't think of this before. And I added a "Honorable Mention" for each category, a way to sneak in more movies.

A word about my criteria. In my earlier post I said "My criteria [are] basically two, what stands out in my immediate memory as being memorable, what would I watch again without much question." But it's more than that. Some are 'time and place' selections, like Camelot. I do like the movie and the music, but it's wrapped up in a fond memory of my first date (during which, to my 15-year-old horror, I spilled my soda in between my legs). Some of my choices have some serious flaws, like Q & A. Sidney Lumet unfortunately cast his daughter as a principle, and the music has not aged well, but the story is still relentlessly intriguing, and its analysis of race and ethnicity still resonates today. My brother thought my choices for top romances were odd, but I associate romance with tragedy (e.g., Terms of Endearment) and failed love (e.g. Broadcast News). I like intricate stories, so I included Brick, a noir story set among high school students. Finally, I selected movies that moved me. As with books, I don't see movies as distractions from life, but explorations of that life, ones that encourage me to think about that life in new or critical ways. I even want my comedic films to do that.

So many other movies I could have included. Off the top of my head, Fruitvale Station, Eastern Promises, History of Violence, American Hustle, Gandhi, High Fidelity, Say Anything, a ton of Woody Allen flicks, The Constant Gardner, and on and on...


Top five dramas
            Dr. Zhivago (1965)
            The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
            Quiz Show (1994)
            Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
            The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Honorable Mention: Brick (2005)



Top five comedies
            Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
            Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983)
            Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
            Raising Arizona (1987)
            Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Honorable Mention: There's Something About Mary (1998)


Top five horror
            The Exorcist (1973)
            Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
            Mulholland Drive (2001)
            Psycho (1960)
            Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Honorable Mention: Poltergeist (1982)

Top five romances
            Out of Africa (1985)
            Broadcast News (1987)
            Terms of Endearment (1983)
            Accidental Tourist (1988)
            When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Honorable Mention: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Top five with spiritual themes
            Doubt (2008)
            Donnie Darko (2001)
            Flesh and Bone (1993)
            Magnolia (1999)
            Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Honorable Mention: The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)


Top five guilty pleasures
            Angel Heart (1987)
            Wild Things  (1998)
            Lost Boys (1987)
            Basic Instinct (1992)
            Underworld (2003)

                                                      Honorable Mention: The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

Top five war movies
            Platoon (1986)
            Gallipoli (1981)
            Breaker Morant (1980)
            Apocalypse Now (1979)
            The Thin Red Line (1998)

Honorable Mention: Saving Private Ryan (1998)


Top five musicals
            Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (2008)
            Camelot (1967)
            Wizard of Oz (1939)
            Funny Girl (1968)
            Singing in the Rain (1952)

Honorable Mention: Enchanted (2007)

Top five cop and crime
            Godfather I (1972)
            Godfather II (1974)
            Miller’s Crossing (1990)
            The Departed (2006)
            Leon: The Professional (1994)

Honorable Mention: Cop Land (1997)


Top five sci-si/fantasy
            Brazil (1985)
            Alien (1979)
            Princess Bride (1987)
            Serenity (2005)
            Bladerunner (1982)

Honorable Mention: Wall-E (2008)


Top five Latin American
            City of God (2002)
            Kamchatka (2002)
            The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
            The Official Story (1985)
            The Silence of Neto (1994)

Honorable Mention: Destiny Has No Favorites (2003)


Top five documentaries
            Hoop Dreams (1994)
            Roger and Me (1989)
            The Fog of War (2003)
            Spellbound (2002)
            Jesus Camp (2006)

Honorable Mention: Wordplay (2006)



 Top five Coen Brothers flicks
            Miller's Crossing (1990)
            No Country for Old Men (2007)
            The Big Lebowski (1998)
            Raising Arizona (1987)
            O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Honorable Mention: Fargo (1996)


Top five John Sayles flicks  
            Lone Star (1996)
            Passion Fish (1992)
            Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980)
            City of Hope (1991)
            Sunshine State (2002)

Honorable Mention: Casa de los Babys (2003)


Top five sports movies
            Chariots of Fire (1981)
            Bull Durham (1988)
            Raging Bull (1980)
            Jerry Maguire (1996)
            Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Honorable Mention: Hoosiers (1986)




Top five movies about US politics
            Q & A (1990)
            Bulworth (1998)
            All the President's Men (1976)
            Missing (1982)
            Syriana (2005)

Honorable Mention: The Contender (1992)



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Book Review: Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith.




Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith is an excellent survey of the history of "religion in American war and diplomacy," though I'm not sure why he says "religion" when he really means Christianity, the principle focus of this work.

The title is drawn from Ephesians, chapter 6, where Paul instructs believers to put on the "armor of God." Preston uses this to sum up his argument that Christianity has placed two distinctive, even contradictory, pressures on US foreign relations.  "Sword of the spirit" refers the one current of Christians who believe in American exceptionalism and that their country, in both peace and war, can or does serve a providential role.  "Shield of faith" is a contrary current, one in which we find Christians taking pacifist or anti-interventionist stances.  Not sure the biblical reference really matches this current--no doubt the exceptionalists (like Romney and Ryan in the 2012 presidential campaign, or Bush before them) think their position is about lifting up that "shield of faith" as well as the "sword of the spirit."  Might be more appropriate to reference one of the jeremiads in the Old Testament (like one of those of my favorite prophet, Amos), or Jesus advising people to take the log out of their own eyes before trying to remove the speck from someone else's.  But it's hard to turn either of those into snappy titles, and anyway, it's silly of me to get snippy about a title.

Preston's history moves back and forth between three levels--cultural, organizational, and individual.  That is, he describes Christianity's impact on foreign relations works via ideas, religious pressure groups, and prominent religious and political leaders.  This broad approach probably wouldn't satisfy those political scientists looking to locate and weigh the explanatory weight of this or that factor.  But Preston is not out to make an argument about causation.  Rather, he wants to give us enough evidence to make his thesis believable--that we can't fully comprehend US foreign relations without some reference to religion.

I think he makes a pretty convincing case (though since I already agreed with the thesis, I may be biased), though I don't agree that "religion has had an almost uniquely intimate relationship with American war and diplomacy."  After all, religion played prominent roles in the Roman, Spanish, and British empires and other imperial ventures (State Shintoism accompanied the Japanese bid for regional hegemony in the 1930s and 40s in East Asia).  But that's about the only time that Preston seems to share the exceptionalism he examines.  The book on the whole neither trumpets Christianity's impact on US foreign relations, nor criticizes it, though, as he says at the outset, "Readers will of course use the material in this book to support their own beliefs that religion is either a productive or pernicious force in American foreign relations."  Thus 19th century US missionaries were both agents of informal empire-building and also brought the outside world back to their parishes, putting at least a small dent in the parochial character of many Americans.  But, really, the bulk of Preston's evidence is about the collaboration of many Christians with US interventionism and war-making.  Those with a "shield of faith" sensibility will wonder why their side lost out repeatedly, from the colonial massacres of Native Americans and conquest of a huge chunk of Mexican territory in the latter 1840s to the Vietnam war and our most recent bloody follies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One of Preston's more significant arguments is his chapter on the early Cold War period, which he titles "The Great Schism and the Myth of Consensus."  There he criticizes what he says is the common depiction of the years after WW II--a homogenous religious landscape.  He reminds us that there was a great deal of debate among Christians about whether and how the US should conduct its Cold War with the Soviets. I was surprised and fascinated to learn that even the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1946 thought the USSR had potential for good, and that Catholic groups refused to participate in air-raid drills.

The rest of the history is a recounting of the growing diversity of religious affiliations in the US, the schisms within mainline Christian denominations, yet their ongoing impact on US foreign policy via their mission activities, not to mention the importance of the Vatican II reforms and the later resurgence of Christian fundamentalism, particularly important to Reaganism in the 1980s. He wraps up the post-Reagan history quickly, perhaps too quickly, in an epilogue titled "The Last Crusade?" George W. Bush's administration gets about two pages. It deserved a bit more. This is a period, to my mind, that shows the declining purchase of conservative Christianity on US foreign policy. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but despite Bush's efforts (and those of his allies) to compare himself to Truman, and infuse the "Global War on Terror" with the religious sensibility evident in the early Cold War, he failed. The subdued narrative of US's providential mission in Afghanistan and Iraq never achieved purchase among the majority of Americans.  Yet Preston ends with a deft description and analysis of President Obama's religiosity, and its roots in Reinhold Niebuhr's "Protestant realism." It's a position that doesn't mollify the Left and its relativistic predisposition, nor the Right, and its pining for an exceptional, sinless America that does the Lord's work in the world.

In short, Preston has done us a service with this book. A complicated, rich history of the relationship between an ever-shifting religious tableau in the US, and its dealings with the world.


Book Review: Religion in America



Here's a worthwhile read: Denis Lacorne's Religion in America: A Political History.  He's French, and the book is an argument with his compatriots whom he believes have oversimplified the religious landscape of the US, and religion's relationship to politics.  He thinks puritanism has drawn too much attention, and suggests that the early 19th century evangelicals and the Great Awakenings contributed more to democratization--because American Christianity emphasized individualism and therefore anti-authoritarianism, and an egalitarianism that comes with believing that all are equal in the eyes of God.  Along the way, he examines and criticizes the observations of de Toqueville and other French visitors who have written about their travels in the US in the last two centuries.

He provides a good historical summary of the debate about the "wall of separation between church and state," and deftly dismantles the ahistorical argument of some Christian conservatives who maintain that the wall was never meant to exist, or that it's too high or thick.

He finishes with a quick take on Obama's "faith-friendly secularism," noting that the President has been a friend to the former President's creation--the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  He says in theory there shouldn't be a problem with this Office's activities if "No particular religion is favored and public funds are distributed equally between secular and faith-based organizations." I guess I'm not near as confident as Lacorne that this is indeed the case.  Still, if you're interested in a French point-of-view, and a useful, concise history of religion and politics in the US, one that doesn't attribute a host of current US political ills to evangelicals, you might check this one out.

Governor Walker vs. the Eggheads

It's a curious thing. Higher education in the US has expanded dramatically since WW II. About 2.3 million Americans were enrolled in 1947 compared to 20.6 million in 2012. In terms of the percentage of total US population, a move from 1.6 to 6.6% (National Center for Education Statistics). But this expansion seems to have done little to reduce anti-intellectualism in this country--what Richard Hofstadter called a “...resentment of the life of the mind, and those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition to constantly minimize the value of that life" (Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, 1963, p. 7). We could add a resentment of scientific findings that contradict cherished beliefs and material interests. Another strain is the campaign, with us since the creation of land-grant colleges in 1862, to confine higher education to churning out better workers, managers, and technicians to staff our economy.

Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, and his allies are proponents of that campaign. In the latest budget for the Wisconsin university system, Walker proposed a cut in spending by $300 million over the next two years, the equivalent of a 13% cut. Quite a hit, though not really surprising given Walker's anti-public sector stance.

Cagle.com
More disturbing, to me anyway, was that the budget proposal also included new language in the state code governing the university system. Here's how Inside Higher Ed summarized the proposed change:
In that draft of the governor's budget, gone from state code was the commandment that the university “search for truth.” Gone was the exhortation to “improve the human condition.” Gone was the charge to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses.” 
Instead, Walker, a Republican, inserted a new benediction: “meet the state’s workforce needs.”
At https://02varvara.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/
wisconsin-on-verge-of-blowup-due-to-tea-party-ignorance/
Way back when, we're talking about a century ago, there were many Wisconsin Republicans associated with the Progressives (such as Robert La Follette)--a movement to make government cleaner (that is, refashion government and politics to make them free of early 20th century equivalents of the Koch brothers), and make government more effective. This "Wisconsin Idea" meant that one of the central missions of the state's university system was to produce "specialists in law, economics, and social and natural sciences [who] would produce the most effective government" (Wisconsin Historical Society).

This Wisconsin Idea in the realm of academia, the notions of a constant search for truth, and that government should and could improve the lot of all under its purview, is what Governor Walker tried to quell. But he's backed off, after much pushback, One of his spokespersons said it was simply a "drafting error," though Walker had previously touted his revisions (see Politifact on this reversal).

Why is reducing the overall mission of the Wisconsin university system's mission to “meet the state’s workforce needs" ill-advised? In pragmatic terms, it implies the eventual transformation of institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Madison from a top-tier research university to a vocational mill. Moreover, it disregards how many graduates of the system will leave the state for jobs elsewhere (common in the Midwest), and the number of out-of-state or international students enrolled its system. State academic systems are not isolated. They are interwoven with regional, national, and international patterns of university or college enrollment. To say that the state's higher education should be about the "state's workforce needs" reveals an ignorance (perhaps willful, or feigned) of the nature of academia today.
At http://www.tildee.com/UlwKij

On idealistic grounds, well, we're back to the old argument of the purpose of higher education (there's a nice summary of this debate here). Is it to focus on skills associated with current labor market demands, or improve the cognitive abilities of students, or is it to produce critical thinkers with the capacity to keep on questioning and learning after graduation? I don't think these are mutually exclusive missions.

For example, my university requires students to take general education courses, trying to ensure that students get exposed to a variety of inquiries, content, and approaches to learning. A while ago I worked with GVSU alum who had majored in Spanish. He recalled taking a philosophy class, and thinking at the time that it was a waste of his time. He now was glad he had taken it--it had made him more aware of the social and intellectual origins of his own beliefs, and also more understanding of those who might not share his beliefs. Most of the students in my introductory course on Latin American Studies are majoring in pre-professional programs (Biomedical sciences, Engineering, etc.). And we have surprisingly lively and thoughtful discussions about the poetry of the Aztec ruler Nezahualcoyotl, 19th century paintings of trains in Mexico and what they might be telling us about notions of progress and modernity, about movies dealing with Argentina's traumatic "dirty war," topics that may be distant from their future careers. I have no idea of how much of this material will stick with them after graduation (I'm musing about all that I don't remember from my undergraduate days). Hopefully, though, work in my course has carved some new cognitive pathways in their brains that may used for learning about the cultural heritage and historical foundations of different peoples (with an assuredness that such learning is crucial).

Back to Governor Walker. Why would he have such a narrow vision of higher education? There is his instinctive hostility to the public sector, noted earlier. And he is part of a GOP faction inimical to the production of knowledge that doesn't sit well with its predispositions--such as former Senator Jim DeMint, who worked to cut funding to National Public Radio, or Senator John Cornyn's repeated efforts to slash National Science Foundation funding for social science research.
At http://ianchadwick.com/blog/anti-intellectualism-the-new-elitism/

Perhaps he is also working out issues from his own college experience--an acrimonious campaign at Marquette for student government president his sophomore year, ending in defeat. And then dropping out with a year to go, with an unremarkable GPA of 2.59, and never finishing his degree. Maybe he shouldn't have attempted a triple major in political science, philosophy, and economics. Maybe it was an acute case of senioritis (Politifact).

Lord knows I'm aware of the many problems in US academia, from skyrocketing tuitions, or the exploitation of adjunct professors, to its apparent function of replicating rather than reducing socioeconomic inequality. So we need to continue this conversation about university reform. Unfortunately, it seems Governor Walker doesn't want a conversation, just a radical reduction by fiat of higher education's complicated mission.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

WINGNUTTV 8

In September I began tutoring, once a week, a Central American teen living at Bethany Christian Services. This teen, as do the others in Bethany's ESL program, have refugee status.  That is, they have legal status according to federal law.  But you wouldn't know that if you had watched our local WOODTV 8's hysterical dreck  "A Secret School for Illegal Immigrants."

I never watch local TV news (I let my mother-in-law fill me on local news--typically stories of crime and other lurid happenings), but a friend told me about this news story from a year ago September.  I accessed it a couple of weeks ago, but evidently WOODTV has since then taken it down from its Youtube site, though you can still see the trailer for the story here.

This "Target 8 Investigating" story was bad in so many ways, I'm not sure where to begin.  So I'll begin with this.  I talked with a Bethany employee about this news story, and she told me the reporters came under false pretenses.  Ostensibly, Channel 8 wanted to know about Bethany's work with what are known under federal law as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC).  Actually, Channel 8 was after a story that would sensationalize the issue of undocumented immigrants.  So strike one, WOODTV, for irresponsible journalism.

Strike two? The title of the story. Bethany Christian Services is not a "secret school." It does not hide its work with refugee minors.  It just doesn't advertise it given that some of its minors are leery of the gangs that scared them out of their Central American country, or of the smugglers that helped them escape.  Moreover, they are not illegal as I noted earlier.  These students have legal status as refugees (under the title Unaccompanied Minor Refugees--a step up from UAC), and some even have green cards (Legal Permanent Residents--LPRs). The news story's title to my mind is libel.

Strike three. The voice-over narration. The male voice sounded like some reality show about undercover cops rather than a story about refugee minors. Melodrama and innuendo aren't journalism.

Strike four.  The claim that the Obama administration is secretly moving UACs into Michigan unbeknownst to Michiganders and its lawmakers. Apparently, it's only a secret to Michiganders and lawmakers that make no effort to do any research on the matter.  They may want to check out the Department of Homeland Security's website that explains the process regarding UACs, here (this took me a nanosecond to locate).

Strike five isn't really about WOODTV, but my district's congressional Representative, Justin Amash (who appears in the trailer).  He claims he's a libertarian, but why then would he argue against the free movement of people?  No doubt he's playing to the nativists in Michigan.

President Obama has said if Congress doesn't move on comprehensive immigration reform, he will issue another round of executive orders to give the eleven million or so undocumented immigrants a route to legal status, and to fix this problem:
We're deporting people that shouldn't be deported. We're not deporting folks that are dangerous and need to be deported.
No doubt, should he do this, there will be another round of hysteria about "amnesty." I wonder what the hallowed Ronald Reagan would say about all this? This is the president who signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted amnesty to around three million, and, given family reunification policies, drew in many more immigrants.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to work with this not-so-secret school, tutoring a very legal immigrant minor. A fine young man that has fled gang violence that, in part, my compatriots have encouraged--with their voracious demand for illicit drugs. A young man who suffers from migraines due to the stress of adjusting to life here, and missing his family. A young man who dreams of going to college for an engineering degree. I am happy to help him.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

War! Huh...Why bother declare it, yeah...


Thanksgiving, 1993 (I think), in our
Astoria, Queens apartment.
A colleague and friend of mine, Andy Grossman, had an interesting take on Representative Doug Lamborn's (R-CO) suggestion that generals who disagree with Obama's response to ISIS (or ISIL) should resign en masse.

Before I relate what Grossman said, a word about him.  And this will be quite a digression.  I first met Andy in grad school, in a survey course on International Relations.  We soon got the nickname "reactionary corner," apparently because we took realist positions among students who tended to be far left, and for whom realism is anathema (I should add that this label was given and received with good humor, and I'll say that we both shared, and share, the most unrealist concern with the impact of warmaking on democratic practices).  Anyway, Andy and I became friends, and we and a cluster of others began doing Thanksgiving together and summer croquet parties.

Andy finished his PhD long before I did, and secured a position at Albion College (Albion, Michigan), where he still teaches today.  He soon turned his dissertation into a book, Neither Dead nor Red, a very fine account of the origins of Civil Defense, framed as a strand of US political development.

I finally finished in 2000 and took a visiting position at Wabash College (Crawfordsville, IN). This one-year position turned into an extended one, and there was talk of converting my position to tenure-track.  In my fourth year, it became clear this wasn't going to happen.  I wasn't cut out for an institution with the unspoken rule that if you can't cheerlead for all male education, then keep your trap shut (its laughable slogan back then was "Boys go to college, men go to Wabash).  That said, I learned a great deal from fellow faculty there about teaching, the college fully supported my efforts to develop innovative curriculum, and I got to work with many fine students.  Still, I was out of work in the summer of 2005.  I'd been on market for a tenure-track position almost every year while there, had landed some interviews, but no luck.

2012.  A little party at Kim Geiger's home to
celebrate AG's promotion to full professor and
my successful bid for tenure.
This is where Andy Grossman comes back into the story.  He basically saved my academic ass.  One of the faculty in his department--political science--was moving to another institution, and he was able to offer me a visiting position.  That turned into a three year stint.  They were three great years of almost daily chats with Andy and others in the department about teaching and our research interests.  Still, it wasn't tenure-track.  So I was back on the market for three more years (a grueling process, let me tell you).  When I finally got an offer from Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Albion College countered with its own offer.  What a conundrum.  Take a position that allows me to be a Latin Americanist again, or stay with colleagues I really enjoyed?  After much deliberation, I accepted the GVSU offer.  Serendipitously, this turned out to be the right move.  Albion College, struggling financially, soon thereafter released numerous tenure-track faculty.

So, a shout out to Andy Grossman for resuscitating my professional life.  And now back to the topics of this posting: War, the US military, the Commander-in-Chief.

Another friend from grad school days, Kim Geiger, sent Andy Grossman a short piece titled "GOP congressman says he's urging American generals to resign rather than follow president's orders" (see also Tom Ricks' relevant commentary here). Here's what Grossman had to say in response.

I had not heard about this. A nice spin on this would be as follows. If generals disagree with the commander in chief, they should first resign. After said resignation, these now retired generals then can do as they please since they are now a citizens. They cannot disobey the President (in most cases--an order to commit genocide or other "crimes against humanity" would be grounds for disobeying the President) in uniform.

So here is what I think this Congressman and others are saying: if you are given an order or mission to "degrade and destroy" X--and if you deeply believe as a member of the military that this cannot be done in the fashion or within the guidance of the civilian leadership's parameters, you must resign. To carry out a policy you do not believe in is dangerous for a number of tactical and strategic reasons. From what I hear and read, almost nobody among officer corps believes it is possible to carry out the President's goals (as he enumerated them a few weeks ago) without actually using a lot of US military forces in Syria on the ground. So in this sense, generals that do NOT agree with the President must resign. What they cannot do--and if they do they should be relieved of duty and subjected to courts martial ASAP--is to disagree IN UNIFORM or to engage in the subversion of the civilian leadership's orders.

So a benign reading of the congressman's claims can actually be made, and I would support them. But is the Congressman thinking along these line of civil-military relations in a liberal democracy? I have no idea. I think to go war based on AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists] passed on October 12, 2001 is illegal. I support the goal of destroying ISIL militarily and with brutal force, and no apologies, but as of now we are, in my view, in an extra-constitutional war that has two parties responsible: The President of the United States and the Congress of the United States. I care more about the Constitution being followed than a supposed existential threat to national security when we go to war. I also believe in a draft, higher taxes to fight such wars, and most important, an official declaration of war. Absent that, no war.

I so agree.  And I'm reminded of President Johnson's presidency.  Of course Barack Obama's presidency won't end like Lyndon Johnson's--a one-term residency due to the justly vilified Vietnam war.  But I truly, truly hope we won't end up with the same tragedy.  As the GOP Eisenhower administration initiated our involvement in Vietnam, with the Demorats Kennedy and Johnson deepening it, so has GOP George W. Bush planted us in a Middle East quagmire, with the Democrat Obama unable or unwilling to extricate us.  Where is Congress on this?  Where are ordinary Americans? Shopping, partying, etc.